Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

Underwhelming sequel albums

06:07am 21 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Over the weekend I watched The Trip To Italy (a sequel to The Trip). As a Friday-night-on-the-couch movie it had its moments but it was a largely inferior (often desperate) sequel. It even decided, in the most ham-fisted way, to reference its sequel status in the opening minutes - the characters discussing sequels never quite living up to the original, mention of Godfather II was even dismissed as being the obvious answer when looking for an exception to the rule.

That same conversation around sequels and their inferior status popped up in the opening pages of a book I've just started about the Beastie Boys album Paul Boutique. The author has previously written about the album so talks about how sequels are often written off as underwhelming, under-delivering, and then hopes he's managed something worthwhile, something different. The writer also praised the idea of sequels for being a nostalgia-nod, a way of continuing the story, of acknowledging that the original concept can be carried on - and (apparently) should. Never mind the execution, the fact that there is an answer to the question what if this doesn't have to end can be good enough.

This got me to thinking about sequel-albums - almost always disappointing, more so than with movies. Almost always a cash-grab, a realisation that linking back to the classic work will make more money than a fresh idea and a new title...Marshall Mathers LP 2

I loathed Eminem's Marshall Mathers 2 - I might have been in the minority, but I just couldn't see it sitting alongside the original in any way, and was so clearly named and framed as a sequel because - critically - his stock was sinking. It had a desperation to its self-referencing shtick, it sounded cold and ugly.

But as far as sequel albums go I can acknowledge that he did it better than most. It just wasn't to my taste. I've obviously moved on from any interest in Eminem.

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Illmatic XX

06:10am 20 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I was pretty excited about the news that Nas' Illmatic 20th Anniversary Tour is coming to New Zealand in January 2015. That's the first great gig of next year announced right there. Nas

I know this because I've seen Nas perform live twice - and he was a show-stealer both times. He was here with Damian Marley in a show that made my top 10 gigs of 2011 - they'd released a duo album and that was a decent enough record.

Marley was great on stage as he and Nas worked through material from that recording. Marley was also very good when left on the stage to perform some of his own songs but the highlights for me were when Nas was on the stage spitting through the cuts from his solo albums.

I'd already seen him once - as opening act (and show-stealer) when Kanye West dropped the ball big time.

Now there are plenty of shining moments on Nastradamus and Stillmatic, on God's Son and Hip Hop Is Dead. I'm a fan of 2008's Untitled record and I really did dig the Distant Relatives album (the one with Marley) but Nas' classic is his debut, Illmatic.Illmatic

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Happy Jakob Day!

01:32pm 16 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Today sees the release of the brand new album by Jakob, the band's first in eight years. Some of you correctly guessed that I was gushing about Jakob when I talked, earlier in the year, about Hearing The Very Best. I've had an advance copy of the album for quite a few months - I've listened to it more than I would normally (get to) listen to an album before reviewing. Sines

Also recently I spoke with the band's guitarist Jeff Boyle and if you haven't yet read the interview it's worth checking out, it takes in the huge story around the making of this album, a lot of false-starts.

Sines, the new Jakob album arrives some eight years after Solace. That's a great album - but Sines is a step up. Each time Jakob releases an album they reinvent the Jakob sound, they stay faithful - truthful - to the Jakob sound but they update it, refine it - re-define it. They improve and move forward. You would think this is what any band does - or hopes to do. But that's not often the case.

You can line up the Jakob albums and listen to them in a row and it's easy to work out the order that they arrived in, you can hear the improvements, refinements, the movement, maturity. You can feel it.

Sines is the band's very best album - and it is, I believe, the very best record they could make.

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The memories that come from ticket stubs

06:24am 16 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've got a box of old ticket stubs, although I haven't kept all of the tickets from shows I've been to. For about a decade I didn't bother, just tossed them away.

I leave a few lying around to use as bookmarks - but I stopped keeping them, probably because when I started getting my name on the door, to review, it often meant no physical ticket. I think the aim, at one point, was to catalogue everything I went to - keep the ticket as a souvenir, a record of the event. 

This was before we could simply Google the setlist, even to a show 20 years old - or older. This was before I was writing about music every day - and several times during each day.

This was when, for a while there, I was actually keeping the tickets in a scrapbook.

I miss the tickets that were different shapes and sizes. Different colours.

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Turning (it) up

06:43am 15 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I found this quote just yesterday - "Inspiration is a word used by people who aren't really doing anything. I go into my office every day that I'm in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant". That's from Nick Cave. I like that. I certainly understand it. Today is a day where I'm required to do something in the vague shape of work - but I have nothing. I'm here though. I'm going to try.Neil Young

The best that I think I can do right now is point you in the direction of a wonderful collection of Neil Young covers that I found. Click that link and you can check out the album, even sample it yourself. It features a range of covers from Neil Young's first decade of work - an extraordinary decade of work as already captured on the Neil Young compilation, Decade. So many great songs - through various styles and in and out of bands.

Neil Young sure knows a lot about turning up to work even when there's no - or little - inspiration.

Some things on the horizon that I'll mention too - the release of Jimmy Page's visual autobiography, previously a limited edition now available as a general release. I flipped through this book last night, full review to come, but it is a beautiful book with some quite stunning photos. It takes you through the Led Zeppelin years but starts back when Page was a teen, working through The Yardbirds and the various sessions he played before that and then going on to show images from around his soundtrack and solo work, The Firm and his reconnecting with Robert Plant.
Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page
I'm also reading a book of Van Morrison's lyrics - this is due out here start of November. It's a selection rather than the full collection, it's probably only a third of his lyrics in total but already it's a reminder to head back to that catalogue of often extraordinary work. Some of the lyrics dance across the page, most remind you as you're reading them of that singular voice that allows them to really soar in their recorded versions.

I've also been working through Ry Cooder's recently released box-set of soundtrack work. If you've previously not bothered with his film scores, beyond perhaps Paris, Texas and/or Crossroads you need to check out some of the other fine work he served up in this role. Today's favourite is Johnny Handsome - have had the record for a few years, bought for a buck or something like that, such tasteful playing.

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