in the nah

I suppose I shouldn't be too terribly surprised but the new Hidden Cameras album is not very good.

It's not for lack of trying - it's more that it is trying too hard to be to many things at different times in it's running length...and failing at pretty much all of them.

Joel has been saying recently that he's making a conscious effort to move away from the mega-chamber-pop that defined the first two records. That was hinted at at points on 2006's 'Awoo' - see "Follow These Eyes" for an example - but it is pretty overbearing here. Therefore, the album starts out with 2 minutes of formless drone before "Ratify The New" really gets started...and then goes absolutely nowhere over the course of six-and-a-half minutes.

Things pick up a bit for current single "In the NA" - on album we discover that the only thing extended about the version on the single was the two-minute intro of heavy breathing...lucky us. However even in its shortened version, the song never really takes off - a problem that 'Awoo' ran into frequently as well. It wants to be a big, joyous pop tune but it's just not.

Those two issues pop up over and over on the album. "He Falls To Me" sounds like it is trying very, very hard to retroactively fit in on 'The Smell of Our Own' - I swear that song title sounds familiar so perhaps it is a hold over from that period? - but ends up sound like, well, it is trying to hard.

In the second half of the album we run into another issue. A good chunk of the songs that make up "side b" - if you will - sound like the cast album to The Hidden Cameras - The Musical!. Obviously the band has always had a theatrical side to them - you've seen the live shows, right? - but the songs never suffered for it. Here, they do. Maybe it's my deep-seeded dislike of all things Broadway but it is incredibly off-putting and ruins any chance the album might have of winning me over. We won't even talk about the nonsense that is "Underage" - 80's dance beats and completely ridiculous lyrics that come off sounding totally pervy in an uncomfortably creepy way.

It's completely disheartening for a couple of reasons. First: I love love love this band in ways that are impossible to put into words and it always sucks when your favorites fall. [See also: Super Furry Animals' 'Dark Days/Light Years'.] Second: I honestly didn't think we'd get a fourth Hidden Cameras album proper after all of the stories that had been swirling around the band for the past few years so it's disappointing that what should have been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise is quite the opposite. Third: they still have it in them and there's proof. Hidden away on the "In the NA" EP released a few months ago was a little track called "Mind, Matter and Waste" that was truly a stone cold Hidden Cameras classic. Fourth: there are AMAZING songs hiding in the vaults that, for whatever reason, Joel won't commit to record. Performed during the period between 'The Smell of Our Own' and 'Mississauga Goddam' were two gems called "No Gay Goth Scene" and "Men: Vous Etes Les Memes". Both are totally brilliant - I'd even go as far as to say "No Gay Goth Scene" is my second favorite Hidden Cameras song, behind "Ban Marriage" of course - and both continually get left off of tracklisting after tracklisting whenever a new release comes out. What gives?



mono mystery tour

So long story short, yesterday I ended up with a copy of Mono Masters thanks to a broken street date and a stroke of luck. [Though apparently there were some to be had in stores this morning for a bit cheaper than I ended up paying, but with that being unknown until doors opened this morning I basically paid for insurance.]

They are definitely not numbered. Boo! They are, however, gorgeous. Are they worth it? Absolutely - the packaging alone is beautiful and you really feel like you're holding something special in your hands rather than just something that was thrown together. [That said, they really could have numbered the sleeve of the White Album like the original run, but that's a minor, minor complaint.]

Comparison shopping - do you need both mono and stereo versions? Let's deep dive into 'Magical Mystery Tour', shall we? [I should note that I'm on my 7th listen to the album in 48 hours as I type and it's still exciting. Make of that what you will - perhaps I'm just easily amused.]

Song by song breakdown:

[01] Magical Mystery Tour - Honestly, I don't notice much difference between the mono and stereo mixes. Maybe this isn't necessary...

[02] The Fool On The Hill - I described before how bright and full this one is on the new stereo master. It still sound better than ever in mono however it doesn't "pop" as much, track cluttering and all that. Score one for stereo.

[03] Flying - To my ears the instrumentation is slightly different in mono, particularly the ending loops, but neither stereo or mono has the edge.

[04] Blue Jay Way - In terms of clarity stereo is the clear winner here. [See what I did there?] However, that's not really the point of "Blue Jay Way". In mono it still sounds nice and spruced up thanks to the remaster but retains more of its haze and mystery. It's all tied up now.

[05] Your Mother Should Know - This is a toughie. Even more than "The Fool On The Hill", "Your Mother Should Know" positively shines in the new stereo master and if you were judging each song individually, this would win hands down. However, in mono there are lots of neat little effects and piles of reverb near the end that aren't present in the stereo mix. While it might not fit the song as well, it ties it in nicely with the rest of the album and is very appropriate for it as a whole. I kind of doubt you're ever going to say to yourself: "You know what song I really want to listen to right now? "Your Mother Should Know". If you were, the stereo mix would be the one to go to as its pretty much perfection. In the grand scheme of 'Magical Mystery Tour', however, mono wins.

[06] I Am The Walrus - Another six-of-one-half-dozen-of-the-other instance. I voiced my complaints about the stereo mix yesterday and those issues are not present here. No sudden aural snaps, no obnoxious constant left/right panning in the fade out, no terrible stereo separation distracting from the song. That said, the mono mix is very clearly derived from a different take than the stereo mix. There are two very, very obvious differences: Ringo's drum fill before the second half of the first verse is totally gone and the backing track all but drops out about 1:20 into the song before John's first extended "I'm cryyyyyyying" leaving only vocal and strings. Not really huge differences, but if you grew up on the stereo mix you're going to notice it and it might be distracting. Neither mix is perfect - unless, of course, you're used to the mono mix - so you kind of need both here.

[07] Hello Goodbye - I didn't notice any big differences.

[08] Strawberry Fields Forever - HUGE improvement in mono. Every part plays nicely together and the genius of the song is back on display here. Not even a contest, mono wins. That said, the first fade out/in is much quicker in mono and the second fade out starts much earlier though the song lasts the same amount of time. Not as dramatic as the "Walrus" changes, but noticeable.

[09] Penny Lane - Not as definitive a victory for stereo as mono's win on "Strawberry Fields Forever" but it is still the hands down winner. The mono mix just sounds flat. If you hadn't listened to the stereo remaster yet you probably wouldn't know what you were missing. However, this track is one of the shining examples of what a good remastering job can do on the stereo disc.

[10] Baby You're A Rich Man - Mono wins again for the same reasons it won on "Strawberry Fields Forever".

[11] All You Need Is Love - Slight fidelity differences and different instruments higher in the mix between the two versions and an earlier fade, but nothing major. [No "She Loves You" at the end though? Or did I just miss it?] Not one of my favorites to begin with so I'm not particularly bothered either way.

So make of that what you will. In a few month's time when the shine of the new has worn off I honestly don't know what version of this album I'll reach for. On headphones it will be the mono mix no question - the stereo separation is way too distracting that close up. On a good set of speakers, though, the slight differences in the mono mix would probably be enough to draw me back to the comfort of the stereo mix.

On a similar note, the mono mix of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' is also considerably different from the stereo mix and, in my opinion, stronger for it. I haven't listened to the new stereo master yet but I almost don't want to - my appreciation for the album grew immensely after listening to the mono and I will certainly use that as my go-to 'Pepper' in the future.

For the record, the first five albums are just fine in mono - 'Help!' being the only one that was in stereo on the original CD issue anyways if I'm remembering correctly - so these will work for me. [I can't tell you the last time I listened to, say, 'Please Please Me' prior to the box yesterday and I can tell you I'm not in any hurry to put it on again.] 'Rubber Soul' and 'Revolver' have me torn - they both sound great in mono, however I just know that they're going to be bigger and better in stereo. However I don't believe there are any major mix differences between the two - please correct me if I'm wrong. I'm also undecided on the Past Masters set - everything bar three tracks is on Mono Masters so dropping another $17 seems silly. However, two of those missing tracks are the a- and b-sides of one of my favorite Beatles singles, "The Ballad of John and Yoko" and "Old Brown Shoe". Since I've already spent well over $300 on this project I think I'll be holding off for now. Christmas is coming, after all...


roll up for the mystery tour

I thought I didn't care about the Beatles remasters. The soon-to-be-not-current CD issues always sounded fine to me [a bit quiet in this modern age, sure, but that's nothing the volume knob can't fix], they were being presented in kind of terrible tri-fold digipaks which I loathe, and there is little to nothing in the way of new material to be had in the set. The only thing I was marginally interested in - the mono mixes - are only available in an expensive box set that is a bit out of my price range for something I'm only slightly curious about. And really, I don't listen to the Beatles often enough to upgrade 7 or so albums at $12 a pop. [I really have little to no interest in early Beatles - I can get all the fix I need on the Past Masters set thank you very much - so I'd only be getting 'Rubber Soul' on up through 'Abbey Road' plus Past Masters, really. 'Let It Be'? Eh, no thanks.]

This all changed last week when I listened to the Beatles version of "Blackbird" back to back with the Dandy Warhols slaughter of it. [I appreciate the story behind it - applaud it, even - but it's shit.] Wow, the Beatles version sounds pretty terrible doesn't it? Maybe these do need a clean up...

There was no shortage of hyperbole-filled reviews to be found on the internet - of the individual albums, of mono-vs-stereo, of do you need to upgrade?, of is the mono box worth it...you name it, it was out there. I'll admit, I totally got caught up in the hype - plus, who doesn't love a good reissue campaign. So I got myself on board for it...after the mono boxes were long gone, of course, but apparently we'll be getting more, non-numbered editions later in the year so I can wait.

Thursday at work we got our copies of 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band', 'Abbey Road, 'Rubber Soul' and, er, 'Help!' in. Copies I could hold in my hand but couldn't have. Them being that close yet so far away only made me want them more, of course...

On the way home from work Monday, I stopped by an indie notorious for breaking street dates and there they were - all of the remastered albums ready for me to purchase. Slightly more expensive than they would be in a few days, but I needed something to hold me over. The double albums - the ones I want most, of course - were considerably more expensive than the rest so those weren't an option. The albums I could get even cheaper at work come Wendesday were also out, which left me with the choice of 'Revolver' or 'Magical Mystery Tour'. I chose the latter for sentimental reasons and - let's be honest - because I enjoy it way more than the kind of overrated 'Revolver'. [It's inconsistent folks, come on. 'Rubber Soul' might not reach the heights but it's a more solid listen over all and you know it.]

I got in the car and put it on, expecting to be blown away. Aaaaand, I wasn't. Sure, it sounded a little better but was it a total revelation like some reviews wanted me to believe? No. Of course, we're on a relatively crappy car stereo system here, maybe it'll be better at home. Except as the album went on, it started to get more and more impressive. The title track is still covered in a layer of haze - part of its charm, really - but "The Fool on the Hill" is crystal clear and sounds better than it ever has. "Flying" packs far more of a punch than I ever knew it had. "Blue Jay Way" goes back to the haze, but "Your Mother Should Know" was truly a revelation. Always kind of a non-event for me, it has a real zing on this new reissue that almost makes it a whole new song. The bass really does pop, as cliched as that is to say.

At home, I put it on a stereo with good if not great Sony speakers. Now it made sense - the album sounds amazing. The haze still hangs over the album - or, at least, half of the album - because it's supposed to be there. You take that away and you totally kill the songs.

A third listen to the album on iPod headphones - again, good but not great - revealed a bit of a mixed bag and the argument for mono vs stereo totally made sense. The stereo separation on tracks like "I Am The Walrus" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" reveals the inner workings of the tracks and take away from their magic - on this new remaster on headphones, the separation is striking to the point of distracting and almost ruin the songs, particularly "Strawberry Fields Forever". It takes away and punch it has and makes it sound like a bunch of unrelated parts playing together at the same time to make a bit of an unholy racket rather than one of the greatest psychodelic-pop songs of all time. Ditto for "Baby You're A Rich Man". I imagine cluttering them all back together on a single mono-track will benefit them greatly as it will retain their mystique, though I have to wait on that one until the production lines can churn out some more sets.

On the flip side, the slick Paul McCartney numbers sound even more amazing on headphones. "Penny Lane" is MASSIVE as every element gets breathing room and you can hear each crystal clear, yet they come together to raise the song to a new level - something I think the mono version will miss out on. [Again, wait and see...follow up post to come!]

"I Am The Walrus" on headphones - that was the key track and the best way to gauge your interest in the mono/stereo debate. According to the liner notes - which themselves are interesting if a bit slight, but then again how much more can be written about the Beatles output? [Yes, I get it.] - they couldn't reproduce the radio fade ins/outs for the stereo mix so they created a "false stereo" mix by double tracking the mono mix halfway through the song. You can totally hear it - halfway through when the first King Lear line pops up there is an audible change in fidelity and the whole sound of the song changes. Prior to that you've got the "Strawberry Fields Forever" dilemma I described above going on. At that moment, everything snaps together and the masterpiece that is the song reveals itself as everything is firing together. Amazing. That then changes again near the end of the song as they decided - for some reason - to then snap back out of fake stereo and just fade the mono track back and forth between the two channels, giving you an odd bouncing effect.

Those two-ish mono-minutes in "I Am The Walrus" are what you need to decide how dedicated to the whole project you are. Myself, I was on eBay checking out box set prices. A bit more than I want to pay - I guess discovering new sounds via the stereo mixes will have to tide me over - not entirely a bad thing.

the new La Roux video is bizarre

After what seems like ages, they're finally getting ready to lift the next single from the La Roux album. September 28th sees the release of "I'm Not Your Toy" and the video for it showed up on line a few days ago. They've disabled embedding but it's worth a click through, I promise:

I'm Not Your Toy

It reminds me a bit of a GusGus video from the 'This Is Normal' era, or perhaps "Barry". That is, by the way, a very good thing.


oh now look what you've gone and done!

I can sum it all up in two words:

Dancing skyscrapers.

Oh, yes. The Pet Shop Boys brought their live show back in a big way.

Say what you will about how great 2006's 'Fundamental' album is/was - better than 'Release'! Oh wait, even past that it's quite good on its own merits, isn't it? - the tour behind it was...well, a bit lacking. Some very welcome set list surprises to be sure - "Shopping"! "Flamboyant"! Did I mention "S-H-O-PP-I-N-G"?! - but the stage show itself was a bit boring even with the kind-of-neat-but-could-have-been-used-to-better-effect evolving boxes. Those dancers? Terrible. Even the music wasn't as mixed up as they usually get for the live show, giving you the same effect of staying at home and turning up the records really, really loudly.


I am very, very happy to report that all of those problems have been fixed and Pandemonium - On Tour ranks up there with Performance and Discovery in terms of Pet Shop Boys tours. Yes, I said it.

First, the set list! When it first appeared on the internet, people were very quick to cry "FAKE!", and with good reason. Not only did it contain just half of current album 'Yes' but there were some real oddballs and too-good-to-be-true songs on there. "Two divided by zero"? "Why don't we live together?"? "Do I have to?"? Did someone expect us to believe this?

Except believe it we had to because it was real. Much like the set lists from PJ Harvey's tour behind 'Uh Huh Her', it's as if the Boys got bored in the studio one day, wrote down all of their songs on little pieces of paper, threw them into a hat and picked out the first 20 or so to be the set list for the upcoming tour. It is, honestly, as close as you can reasonably expect to get to a perfect Pet Shop Boys set list in 2009.

[So, of course I've some issues with it. First - please stop it with "Se a vida e". It's one of your three worst singles ever and we don't need to hear it every tour. Thank you for using "Discoteca" as the ending coda to it, that was very welcome - maybe do that one instead next time? Thanks.

Second - the Boys obviously have a vast catalogue and you're never going to be able to fit everything you want to into one show, particularly when you're as chained to a non-changing set list as their shows require you to be. The medley of hits at the Brits was fun and even necessary in such a situation, but layering one song on top of another and/or teasing us with something we wanted to hear a lot - say, "Closer to heaven" - before launching into something we wanted to hear less - "Left to my own devices" in this example, which it should be mentioned had been teased a song earlier leading into something we wanted to hear even less, "Always on my mind" - got a bit tiring. That said, did we need to hear "Go West" again? Probably not. Did we need to hear "Go West" with the beats of "Paninaro"? Abso-fucking-lutely. So thank you.

Third - "New York City boy"? Really? Oh well.]

Gripe #1 over.

As mentioned before, the set list doesn't change from show to show so there's no point in reproducing it here. I will, however, talk about some of the highlights:

ONE: "Two divided by zero" / "Why don't we live together?": with a bit of "In the night" thrown in for good measure. Where do we begin? First, two completely overlooked gems from 'Please' - which is overlooked in its own right, all you ever hear about are the singles - back to back for a nice flashback to 1986. As if that wasn't enough, during the former we got a cube-head fashion show and the latter not only brought us singing and dancing skyscrapers but also a Chris Lowe dance. Check this shit out:

Amazing. Following it with "Always on my mind" was mean - yes, we get it you need to play the #1s but let us down from our shock high a little easier next time.

TWO: Starting the show with a "More than a dream" tease before launching into "Heart". With cubeheads for everyone! The only downside of this was we didn't get a proper "More than a dream", but it was worth the sacrifice. [PS - "Heart" makes a great opener even if I never would have thought of it myself.]

THREE: The slow section in the middle. Yes, I loved the slow section. People don't usually say that, but here goes. You've just finished the one-two punch of "Always on my mind" and "Left to my own devices" and the crowd is going apeshit. [I might be tired of the former but apparently I'm the only one.] It's time to follow up with another hit. So we get a Chris Lowe piano solo [*SWOON*] followed by a down-tempo b-side, "Do I have to?" And it totally works. I'll admit, I've never been a big fan of the song but this performance totally changed my mind about it. Beautiful. AND THEN, let's morph that into "King's Cross" and get everyone super wistful. Check and check. Next we'll pick up the tempo ever so slightly with the also not-exactly-uplifting-but-gorgeous "The way it used to be". Done. Finally, cap the section off with an absolutely MASSIVE rendition of "Jealousy". Perfect. It's so thrilling - again, remember this is the slow section - that my excitement carries me through *yawn* "Suburbia" [again, fine but it's been done] into...

FOUR: "ALL OVER THE WORLD". Why isn't this a fucking single? As ridiculous as you'd think it would be live and then some. As great as their singles discography is, the Boys have had plenty of missed opportunities in that department but this one shoots right to the top spot of "Pet Shop Boys songs that should have been singles". Seriously.

Then they ruin that with "Se a vida e" *eyeroll* and the not-as-bad-as-I-was-expecting-but-overall-kind-of-pointless "Viva la Vida" cover over the backing track to "Domino dancing". At least we got to see Neil in a crown and cape walking around a park with an umbrella.

"It's a sin", duh, ends the main set. It is, of course, HUGE. They disappear and come back for...

FIVE and SIX: "Being boring" and - wait for it - "West End girls". Yes, "West End girls" was a highlight. They did it dance mix style, for heavens sake. I thought I was tired of it, but I totally wasn't.

Not to gloss over "Being boring" - gorgeous. Stunning. I was going to call "Jealousy" their best slowie but I'd have to save it for this one. There's a reason this is a fan favorite - no, THE fan favorite.

Question one: when's the DVD?

Question two: when's the next tour? [I've decided it has to include "Violence". It just has to.]

Oh yes, quick Gripe #2: the tour merchandise was terrible this go round. T-shirt selections:

- a red shirt with the "Go West" buttons printed on the front. A bit late with this one, aren't we?

- a black shirt with a gold/purple/shiny Pandemonium "P" on the front. Kind of tacky and unwearable - though Neil was rocking it for the first part of the show. He's so cool and uncool all at the same time, I love it.

- a white shirt with the 'Yes' checkmark on the front and "YES" in black letters on the back. Not bad, but white shirts are kind of terrible. Would've been AMAZING on black.

- a really ugly olivey/grey shirt with the PSB block logo in multi color on the back and tour dates on the back. Now you're getting somewh....wait, those are the European dates. Nevermind.

Then there were a couple girl shirts - including a "West End girls one", was this a PSB clearance house? - along with an overpriced hoodie, the obligatory tour book, and a coffee mug. Oh, and a poster - but not the cool hand drawn poster from that contest they had on the website which I totally wanted, just the album cover that sad "On Tour 2009/2010" on it. Bummer.