Music

Morrissey: Low in High School

Low in High School

Confession: I love Steven Patrick Morrissey. I own (and revere as scripture) every Smiths album. Type the name “Morrissey” into my iTunes search box, and it returns 1,158 songs. Back in my early-‘90s college days, I once wore a different Morrissey t-shirt every day for two straight weeks.

 

Another confession: I also sometimes hate Steven Patrick Morrissey. In 1992, I attended a mediocre concert in Dallas that lasted a whopping 52 minutes including the encore. That night opened my eyes to the fact that my musical hero wasn’t perfect, and over the years Morrissey himself has hammered that point home with frustrating regularity.

 

His anti-establishment political leanings have always made for controversial headlines, but his loud stance against immigration in his native U.K. left a sour taste in the mouths of many longtime supporters. How could Morrissey, the artist so many of us saw as the ultimate champion of the outsider, continually make so many racially insensitive comments?

 

The truth is that it has been very difficult to be a Morrissey fan over the past decade. Fans have been exposed to a string of mediocre albums, cancelled tours, and increasingly confounding takes. Just last year, Morrissey essentially victim-blamed the accusers in the Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey scandals. (He later claimed he was misquoted.) He did this while promoting the release of Low in High School, his eleventh solo album—and the first one I didn’t rush out and buy on the day of release.

 

But then I started to hear things.

 

“Best record in years.”

 

“As good as Vauxhall.”

 

I finally gave in and bought Low in High School. I was immediately taken by “My Love, I’d Do Anything for You,” the crackling first cut. Full of swagger and sounding like a great lost outtake from 1992’s Your Arsenal, Morrissey makes a bold declaration:

 

You know me well, my love
I’d do anything for you
Society’s hell
You need me just like I need you.

And over the course of 12 songs, Morrissey proves to me that I do need him. The playfulness that seemed to disappear years ago returns in force with “Spent the Day in Bed,” a ridiculously catchy song in which Moz decides to turn off the news and stay in bed by himself all day “even though I’m not my type.” “I Wish You Lonely” is both a great title and a great song, while “Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage” somehow works both as a metaphor for Brexit and Morrissey’s own contentious public persona.

 

There’s a strong anti-war current running through the middle of the album, although the bombastic “I Bury the Living” takes things a bit too far. “In Your Lap” serves the same subject matter in much stronger fashion, and continues a running theme on the record involving Morrissey’s face and contact with various laps and crotches. Obsessions with genitalia aside, Low in High School is easily the most complete album Morrissey has released since the ‘90s.

 

Most of those t-shirts I had in college have long since vanished, but I do still own one featuring the artwork from The Queen is Dead. That seems appropriate, as the cover of Low in High School depicts a child outside Buckingham Palace with a hatchet in one hand and an “Axe the Monarchy” sign in the other.

 

“Has the world changed, or have I changed?”

 

Of course, we have all changed—after all, it has been thirty-two years since the release of The Queen is Dead. I may no longer view Morrissey through the same melancholy-tinted glasses he wore in my youth, but Low in High School proves that he can still make powerful and thought-provoking music. Now if he could just stop cancelling concerts at the last minute . . .

Gary Maxwell

Gary Maxwell lives in Dallas with his wife, three cats, 6,000 LPs, and a vintage Atari 2600.
He once attended 218 consecutive Texas Longhorn football games over a span of 17 years,
yet he seems unable to commit to a particular brand of shampoo. His all-time favorite TV
show is Star Trek, except when it’s dark on Tuesday. When someone asks Gary if he prefers
the Beatles or the Stones, his answer is “The Who.”

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Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk essentially invented electronic pop music in the 1970s. Their brilliantly original, distinctive musical and visual style has led to L.A. Weekly—among many otherscalling them “the most influential pop band of all time.”

 

The Catalogue 3-D Blu-ray set offers abundant evidence, featuring live concerts from various locales of all eight “official” Kraftwerk albums. (Remaining original member Ralf Hütter and co-founder Florian Schneider view the earlier Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf and Florian albums as “archaeology.”) Which means all the hits are heretheir international breakthrough “Autobahn,” “The Model,” “Computer Love,” “Tour de France,” and the hip-hop-germinating “Numbers” and “Trans Europe Express,” along with everything else plus “Planet of Visions.”

 

This four-disc set features 3D/2D-compatible video, Dolby Atmos/5.1/PCM stereo-compatible sound, and Headphone Surround 3D mixes (which can be listened to on standard headphones), and includes a 228-page book of images from the concerts.

 

The sound quality is astounding. Kraftwerk have always been sonic perfectionists, and The Catalogue 3-D is another technological step forward.

 

Since their electronic music doesn’t have to replicate any kind of sonic “reality,” Kraftwerk is free to place sounds anywhere, fixed in place and moving around the soundfield, morphing and shaping aural space to their will, from tightly focused to vastly expansive. Their use of echo and delay alone is masterful.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

The dazzling variety of “synthetic, electronic sounds” (to quote “Techno Pop”) is reproduced with extraordinary clarity, dynamic range, and wide frequency response. The low-frequency synth sounds and bass drums are exceptionally powerful and articulate. You can hear the time Kraftwerk spent crafting these sounds. There is no crowd noise mixed in. This is simply state-of-the-art demonstration-quality sound.

 

I don’t have a Dolby Atmos system (I have 6.1 surround), but I heard previews of some tracks at an Atmos demo, and the added height dimension contributed to the sense of immersion. But those who don’t have Atmos won’t feel shortchanged. The Headphone Surround 3D mixes work well, sounding spacious without being exaggerated.

 

Kraftwerk’s retro-futuristic visuals and minimalist color palette are presented with stunning clarity, from the charming animations of Volkswagens and Mercedes whizzing down the autobahn to the stark abstractions of “The Man Machine” and Spacelab flying at you from Earth orbit (a particularly fantastic effect in 3D). The band is seen from time to time playing their keyboards, controllers, and computers, dressed in their future-man grid suits. (An included “Film” version presents the visuals only.)

 

Why would Kraftwerk bother doing another live album and why would they change (some would say tamper with) iconic versions of their songs? Well, they have always evolved and incorporated new sounds as new musical technologies become available, so the band’s performances now are different than even a few years ago. I suspect that Ralf Hütter and company wanted to capture the band using the latest audio and video technology to have an historic record of Kraftwerk live. (Sure, I’d love to hear an album of new materialbut if this is where Kraftwerk pushes the Stop button, I’m OK with that.)

 

Seeing Kraftwerk live sometimes seems less like a rock concert than witnessing some kind of alien transmission from another galaxy. This Blu-ray set goes a long way toward conveying that experience.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Kraftwerk The Catalogue 3-D

Kraftwerk: The Catalogue 3-D

Kling Klang/Parlophone 190295924959

 

4-disc Blu-ray 3D/2D set

Dolby Atmos, Headphone Surround 3D, and
PCM stereo audio formats

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Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant fans are going to be thrilled by Three Piece Suite, the new Blu-ray/CD set of Steven Wilson 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround remixes, stereo remixes, and straight 96/24 stereo transfers of the band’s first three albums: Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, and Three Friends. (There’s also a bonus demo track.)

 

Former Porcupine Tree member Wilson is renowned for his surround remixes of rock albums. It shows. And if you’ve never heard Gentle Giant, this is a wonderful place to start.

 

Gentle Giant was one of the most distinctive and individualistic 1970s progressive-rock bands. Brothers Derek, Phil, and Ray Shulman played a vast variety of instruments, with guitarist Gary Green, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kerry Minnear, and drummer Martin Smith (replaced by Malcolm Mortimore on Three Friends and John Weathers on later albums) rounding out the lineup.

 

The band’s unique style encompasses almost unhumanly virtuosic ensemble playing, complex arrangements, circular, fugue-like passages, and vocals from the Shulman brothers and Minnear that range from sweetly plaintive (“Nothing at All”) to choral-like harmonies (“Three Friends”). A feeling of anything-goes adventurousness permeates the band’s work.

 

The original albums were well recorded and producednot surprising considering the involvement of people like Tony Visconti (David Bowie), Martin Rushent (Human League), and Roy Thomas Baker (Queen). The songs employ a dazzling range of keyboards, mallet percussion, woodwinds, violin, guitars, and more. (Ray Shulman gets a credit for “skulls” . . ?)

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

I compared Three Piece Suite with the BGO Records CD reissue of Gentle Giant/Three Friends (BGOCD1095) and the original Three Friends vinyl LP (Columbia PC 31649).

 

The 5.1 surround remixes (there are 10 on the Blu-raynot all the original multitrack masters could be located) are a resounding artistic success, enhancing the clarity and separation of instruments and vocals, and adding varying degrees of surround sound immersion. Dynamic contrasts are much better, and there’s none of the exaggerated, gratuitous placement of instruments off to the side and rear that plague other surround remixes I’ve heard.

 

Both the surround and stereo remixes have a warmer tonal balance, with a better defined low end, along with a richer midrange and detailed highsalthough the vinyl has that all-analog sweetness the digital formats don’t quite capture.

 

Wilson changed some of the vocal and instrumental balances. For instance, you can hear details like the “Oh! Yeah!” exclamations in the background during “Giant” that were almost inaudible before.

 

Whether the gorgeous acoustic guitar and vocals on “Nothing at All” or the synthesizer intro to “Pantagruel’s Nativity,” everything sounds more substantial and dimensional. (The vibraphone solo on the latter is simply stunning.)

 

The straight CD transfers of the three albums were done flat, making them quite faithful to the originals. I applaud Wilson’s decision not to hype them up with “improved” highs and lows or gratuitous compression and processing.

 

The Blu-ray Disc’s visuals complement the songs in a simple, deliberately unfolding manner without being overly garish or distracting, like the surreal floating images of office chairs, paper clips, and briefcases that complement the mood of “Mister Class and Quality” and its businessman protagonist. All in all, Three Piece Suite is a superb addition to Gentle Giant’s body of work.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Alucard ALUGG057 Two-disc
Blu-ray/CD set

 

Blu-ray audio formats: DTS-HD
Master Audio 5.1 surround, 96/24 5.1
LPCM, 96/24 stereo LPCM. Includes
CD with stereo remixes.

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