Michael Lee

REVIEW: Still Crazy – Soundtrack (1998)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_20161024-4STILL CRAZY – Soundtrack (1998 Warner)

What a band Strange Fruit would be…if only they were real!

The film Still Crazy chronicled the tale of the fictional band, Strange Fruit.  The Fruit were led by brothers Brian and Keith Lovell (guitar and lead vocals respectively).  When Keith died, they carried on with new singer Ray Simms (Bill Nighy).  The inevitable internal tensions led to the band’s demise.  However in 1998 there was enough interest to get the band back together — minus Brian, who is assumed to have also died.  The surprisingly emotional film boasted fine performances from Nighy, Jimmy Nail, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and more.  The key however to any movie about a fictional band is to come up with a soundtrack of original material that sounds like it could be classic.  Still Crazy accomplished this.  You wish for Strange Fruit to be a real band, so good are the songs.

The ballad “The Flame Still Burns”, which in the fictional movie was written by bassist Les Wickes for the fallen Keith, is sung by Jimmy Nail in real life.  (The song was written by the team of Mick Jones, Marti Frederikson, and Chris Difford.)  This fine song is a perfect example of something that sounds like it must have charted somewhere many years ago.  In the film, this song is the cause of much tension between Les and Ray, who did not want other band members to sing lead vocals.  The beautiful thing about Still Crazy is that there is a tremendous amount of history to the band, most of which is not seen on screen, only felt through the actors portraying the memories.  Jimmy Nail sings another sorrowful ballad, “What Might Have Been”, and does a fine job of it.  It’s a lovely acoustic song with a little mandolin and another standout performance by Nail.  He gets a chance to sing an upbeat number with “Bird on a Wire” (not that “Bird on a Wire”).  This is a darn fine Wilburys-like rock tune.

To be clear, Strange Fruit are not a ballad band even though “The Flame Still Burns” is clearly that.  Strange Fruit are a rock band, and “All Over the World” is a prototypical set opener.  Bill Nighy would make a damn fine rock frontman, if he wasn’t too busy being a fine film actor.  It’s not about the notes he sings but the style in which is he sings them.  Nighy sounds like a veteran rock singer (and in the film, you believe it 100%).  The track “Dirty Town” has a nifty little riff reminiscent of “Layla”, but this track sounds more like 80’s Deep Purple, right down to a blazing guitar solo.   “Black Moon” verges on heavy metal.  If you’re wondering why it rocks so hard, it probably because of Michael Lee on drums.  It’s Purple, Sabbath and Cream all in one.  Nighy gets to be a heavy metal demigod on “Scream Freedom”, which was one of the funnier scenes in the movie.  The best Fruit tune might be “Dangerous Things” which plays in the movie like it’s one of their biggest hits.  This too has Michael Lee on drums, along with bassist Guy Pratt.  That’s some heavyweight talent, folks.

A movie with Billy Connolly in it is twice as good as a movie without (studies have shown).  A movie with Connolly singing in it is four times as good.  The traditional “Stealin'” is a fine fit for the Big Yin and his banjo.  There is even a great vintage-sounding rock track by Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake) that is plenty of fun (“A Woman Like That”).   This is incidental to the main feature, which is the host of Strange Fruit tracks, but a nice inclusion.  Unfortunately the techno track “Ibiza Theme” doesn’t fit the disc at all and can be safely skipped by most listeners.

Admittedly, the Still Crazy soundtrack is more enjoyable if you have seen the film.  When I hear “Dangerous Things” I picture things that Nighy as Ray does on stage.  “The Flame Still Burns” is more powerful when you remember the friction it caused because of petty jealousies.   Regardless, these songs were all written and performed by professional musicians, and they do stand up as individual tunes.  Memorably so.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: The Cult – Live Cult (Marquee London MCMXCI)

 

THE CULT – Live Cult (Marquee London MCMXCI) (Reissue)

This double live album was once the “Holy Grail” of Cult collectibles.  It was originally a limited release involving a confusion of two separate discs, mail orders and bonus CDs in some versions of Pure Cult.  Whatever, it’s been reissued (both CDs, the complete set) at retail…and now everybody can hear why The Cult went on hiatus at the beginning of the 90’s.  It’s just not that good.

Like almost all live albums, this one has its pros and its cons. To me, the biggest con is that The Cult had dug themselves into this vaccuous, stiff, homogenic, generic rock/metal sound. For example, the cuts from Electic, in particular “Wild Flower”, are robbed of all their energy and groove. The rhythm section was new, but did consist of the late, great Michael Lee (later of Page & Plant). But these were not the same guys who recorded Love, or Electric, in fact they had never played on a Cult album. Perhaps that is why these songs don’t sound like The Cult that we know, but some early 90’s rock metal hybrid version of The Cult.

Another con is that Astbury was pretty hoarse that night. However in a sense that is also a pro — the liner notes proudly state that there are no overdubs or edits, that this is “as it was” on that night. And I will take a genuine live album with a hoarse singer over any overdubbed live album, every single time. In fact one entire track (“Amplification Breakdown”) is dedicated to the space between two songs while Duffy gets an amp fixed!

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The track selection was adventurous, with lots of songs from Dreamtime and Love. “Brother Wolf, Sister Moon” is played live for the first time ever, according to Ian. They threw in a B-side (“Zap City”) and only a couple songs from their then-latest record Ceremony: They studiously avoided the too-mellow singles, and opted for lesser known rocking album tracks.

While this album was important as a document of a pre-hiatus Cult, before they reinvented themselves in 1994, it is a shame that the band was sounding so generically “rock” at the time, and little like the classic Cult. Perhaps that is why Ian and Billy felt like they had to reinvent themselves.

3/5 stars

More of THE CULT at mikeladano.com:

Weapon of Choice (iTunes exclusive release) + Capsule 1 + “Lil’ Devil” (double 12″ EP)