For this week's show, I unpack the myth of 'lost' albums, in light of Dr Dre's announcement to scrap his long-awaited 'Detox' album. We also take a look at folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner's new album of raucous positivity, and shine a light on a long-lost posthumous album by Jimi Hendrix, First Rays Of The New Rising Sun.
- Dr Dre's 2015 album Compton can be downloaded from iTunes here.
- Frank Turner's 2015 album Positive Songs For Negative People can be downloaded from iTunes here.
- Jimi Hendrix's 1997 posthumous album First Rays Of The New Rising Sun can be downloaded from iTunes here.
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Hi there everyone, you’ve just tuned into the sixth edition of Musicology With The Eagle, and I am your host, The Eagle. I hope you've all had an excellent week because mine was got rather interesting after a chance encounter with some pretty cool individuals.
So here's how it happened: I met for drinks with two musician friends of mine that play in a local covers band called HOT MESS. Now that's HOT MESS in all capital letters – so get it right, okay? The bassist says that we’re going to be joined for drinks by three music producers and recording engineers, and he said that they’re pretty good at what they do.
So I find out that they’re working at a nearby cultural village which hosts many studios and art centres, and the one that they've been hired from overseas for is an orchestral one. So we're talking every type of room that you could require in terms of quality and size; it can even host a hundred-person orchestra. One of the guys whipped out his iPhone and started showing photos of the studio space and some of the mixing consoles and equipment inside it, and you can see that the money that's been invested in it is definitely been used to attract our tiny country’s top recording talent or philharmonic orchestra.
Since I was in the company of producers and musicians and musician types, I thought I would bring up a video series about an artist we’re going to cover later this episode, and how they filmed the original recording engineer sitting down at the mixing desk with the original master tapes, showing how some of the most famous songs were built up track by track. I had gotten about that far in the explanation before one of them piped up, saying “Oh, I had seen that guy at Abbey Road Studios in 2009 giving a masterclass on the exact same thing.” Way to take the wind out of my sails! (laughter)
But probing a bit deeper, I found out that he had over ten years’ experience at EMI Records in the UK, and had worked on all the Amy Winehouse albums, The Killers’ Live At The Royal Albert Hall album, and all of Adele’s albums - including a third one, which is being recorded……drum roll……as we speak. There’s some inside info for you (laughter)
On our first segment this week, we have some surprising news from the legendary hip hop artist and producer, Dr Dre. He recently announced the demise of his long-awaited third album Detox. In the music industry, let alone the hip hop game, there haven’t been many albums that have been as hyped up and delayed as this one.
Work apparently started as far back as 2001. Now that's the year, not the name of his second album, which was 1999’s 2001. At the time, the first versions of it were described as “the most advanced rap album ever” by fellow producer Scott Storch. But from the early-2000’s onwards, Dre began focusing on producing other artists, particularly ones on his Aftermath record label. This included long-time protégé Eminem, starting with his Marshall Mathers LP album in 2001 – which included the Grammy-winning lead single ‘The Real Slim Shady’ - and continued through Eminem’s stratospheric rise to fame. He also helped co-produce 50 Cent’s smash-hit debut Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, and has lent his hand to old partners in crime, such as Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z, as well as new talents such as Kendrick Lamar. Occasionally lightning would strike in the most unlikely of places. Remember that one-hit wonder by Eve, featuring Gwen Stefani of No Doubt, called ‘Let Me Blow Your Mind? Well, Dre had a hand in that too.
For the rest of the 2000’s, the delays just continued, and only in 2010/2011 did two singles from the supposed album appear: ‘Kush’ and ‘I Need A Doctor’, which featured Eminem and Skylar Grey - or Holly Brooke as she was previously known. But looking back, it's easy to see why he might have been distracted during this period, because in 2008, Dre founded BeatsByDre - a company which produces high-end consumer audio products. You've probably seen them around recently thanks to Apple buying them for 3 billion dollars in 2014, making Dre the richest man in hip hop.
But there was an additional surprise when he made this announcement on his Beats One radio show ‘The Pharmacy’ on the first of August 2015: not only was Detox being scrapped, but a new album was being released in its place. In the words of the immortal Nate Dogg: “Hold up, heyyyyyy”. Are we seriously gonna get ‘The Next Episode’? Turns out that Dre wasn't lying, and now we can see the rise of Compton: a self-described soundtrack to the film ‘Straight Outta Compton’, which chronicles the early career of his pioneering hip hop group, N.W.A.. To quote the man himself:
“I was leaving the set, coming to the studio, and I found myself just being so inspired by the movie that I started recording an album, and I kept it under wraps, and the album is finished. It's gonna be my grand finale”.
Yes, the album was inspired, but I feel that that inspiration is coming from a slightly different source, particularly after the first few listens. Although Dre’s execution is visionary, he's always had a chameleon-like approach to adopting the style of the biggest rappers of the time - particularly if he has produced them or is currently nurturing them. So just like Snoop Dogg and Eminem before him, the paw prints of Kendrick Lamar are all over this record, and it’s as dense, ambitious, and musically complex as his work on 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly.
Dre has also at his game on the rapping front, and his flow is incredibly dexterous and supple - so much so that you might not recognize his trademark bellow from his previous records and appearances. He's also recruited the usual suspects to help pad out his behind-the-scenes producing persona, and two that stood out for me were Ice Cube - his original compadre in N.W.A. - and the South African singer Candice Pillay - which was a particular source of pride for me as a South African myself.
But despite the sonic pleasures of the new Compton album, I was still thinking about Detox’s status in the faded mythology of lost albums. Now many a release from a big-name artist has been lost to the sands of time, but in this case I consider an album to be lost when if in the lifetime of the artist, an album was not released for whatever reason. I’ve managed to find a few examples from history. So let's see where Detox fits into, compared to other famous lost albums.
Firstly, you have the botched execution. Now this is normally seen as a failure for the creator to translate a grand idea into finished product. Good examples of this are The Beach Boys’ Smile album, and The Who’s Lifehouse album – both which saw grand concepts about the unifying American experience and a futuristic portrayal of the communal aspects of music get turned into hit singles that would appear on later albums.
Secondly, you could have a complete change of sound or alter ego from the artist - an experimentation that just never gets released. In 1986, Prince began working on an album called Camille, where he performed eight songs of vocal transvestism, spotlighting his weird new obsession of speeding up his voice in the studio to make it sound female. Calling himself ‘Camille’, this project was mysteriously canned, but you can still hear remnants of it on the song ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’ on his follow-up double album Sign ‘O The Times.
Thirdly, the album could be stolen or literally lost, as was the case with Green Day’s album, Cigarettes And Valentines. In 2003, the master tapes of twenty songs were stolen from the band's recording studio, and the album that they had been working on was said to be a return to the band’s hard, fast-tempo punk-rock sound. Instead of trying to capture lightning in a bottle again, the band decided to start from scratch. The resulting album: 2004’s ambitious, Grammy-winning, multi-platinum American Idiot.
Fourthly, we have a dramatic or near-death experience that can change the band dynamic. In 2007, alternative-metal giants Deftones began recording their final album with bassist Che Cheng, and was set to release the album in 2008 or 2009. But after Cheng’s 2008 car accident, which left him in a semi-comatose state until his death in April 2013, the reportedly very dark album Eros was shelved. In its place, Deftones decided to move on and record the more upbeat, optimistic 2010 album Diamond Eyes with their new bassist Sergio Vega.
Lastly, you have albums which were banned but somehow were made to have an unofficial release, such as Danger Mouse’s Grey Album - which made an unholy alliance of vocals and raps from Jay-Z’s Black Album with instrumentals from The Beatles’ White Album. The resulting legal drama only catapulted him into further prominence.
And let us not forget the woefully-amateurish, half-assed performances from two legends of folk and country music, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash – whose ‘Dylan-Cash’ sessions in 1969 proved to be very unfruitful, save for a cover of ‘Girl From The North Country’, which ended up on Bob Dylan's pastoral country album Nashville Skyline.
Well where does Detox fit into in any of these? Well I see it as neither. The album was a hyped-up honest failure - something which Dr Dre addressed on his radio show when he said:
“This is something you're not gonna hear many artists say: the reason Detox didn't come out was because I didn't like it. It wasn't good.”
For our next segment, we have a new release from folk-punk troubadour, Frank Turner. This week, we saw Frank drop his sixth album, titled Positive Songs For Negative People. Now the man's always been known as a shameless liberal optimist, but on his last album, 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, he began to look inward and it was an album of heartbreak and intimate self-examination, thanks to recent break-up. So this collection of songs is clearly the rebuild-and-get-over-it album, and Frank has confirmed this in an interview with NME, where he described the album as “emerging from a storm shelter and picking up the pieces of your life”.
To convey this process, he and his backing band The Sleeping Souls chose to work with veteran producer Butch Walker at a studio in Nashville. Now looking at Walker's track record, it's clear to see that he is somewhat of a pop-punk specialist, working on albums for Weezer, Dashboard Confessional, Panic At The Disco, Fall Out Boy, and surprisingly, Taylor Swift's Red album. So he’s also got some pop sensibilities as well.
Frank chose to work with him because Butch agreed to the idea of having a less-layered album – one that had a live feel. This is because Frank's music had become increasingly difficult to play live, and he wanted a back-to-basics approach; to sound like a band recording their debut album. This meant practicing parts over and over to get them right together, and as a result, they sound more like a band than a backing band for a solo artist.
Now based on this information, I was expecting something a little more stripped-down and maybe rough-sounding. But the music has surprisingly lurched forward from the rowdy pub-gig feel to full-on arena rock sound. This is quite a transformation for Frank, but looking back at his career, you could see that it's actually coming almost full circle
You see, he used to be a straight-up punk, and was a member of a post-hardcore outfit called Million Dead, which ended in 2005. Starting with 2007’s Sleep Is For The Week, Frank's solo career followed in the footsteps of storytellers such as Billy Bragg and Joe Strummer of The Clash. He infused a punk spirit into simple folk songs, and with each album got progressively more electric and fleshed-out with his sound. 2009’s Poetry Of The Deed saw him wake up The Sleeping Souls, and the songs became less like conversations between friends, and more like sermons intended for the masses.
So with this boisterous and propulsive album, has Frank and The Sleeping Souls gone one further now? I think so, although this isn't immediately apparent on the first song, ‘The Angel Islington' - one of the two solo acoustic numbers that bookend the album. It's an unremarkable and sparse beginning, but eventually the album kicks off, and you get song after song of invigorating, carpe diem battle cries from a man staring down the barrel of his fourth decade, and refusing to give in.
Even if the sentiments seem a little cheesy on paper, Frank has this dorky, divine quality about himself that really makes it work when he puts it into a song. How else could one get away with songs like ‘Mittens’ and ‘Love Forty Down’ - the former, which sees him pining to fit together like gloves, and not those other things that keep your hands warm, and the latter, which uses tennis metaphors to describe overcoming adversity. Now on previous albums, this would probably have come across a lot more cringe-worthy when looked at alongside songs about “me and my friends having a good time, having a few drinks, ra ra ra”.
But Frank is maturing into an emotionally-honest songwriter who’s finding poignancy in less-brash moments. For example, the song ‘Silent Key’ even finds it source material in the 1986 Challenger Shuttle disaster. Turner takes the supposed last words of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe of “I’m alive!” as a solemn rallying cry for those that feel as if the world is closing in on them. The album closes with ‘Song For Josh’, and Turner has never sounded so naked and raw on record, as it was recorded live at Washington’s 9:30 Club in honour of a man who worked there that committed suicide. It’s a sad, down-tempo ending, but over the course of the album, Frank has shown that he can write songs for the cynics, the strugglers, and the stragglers, and give them that much-needed dose of positivity.
For our final segment this week, we’re having a retrospective look at an album by Jimi Hendrix. But first: can you name Jimi Hendrix’s studio albums? If you answered “Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland”, then you’d be only be partially correct.
This is because after his untimely death in 1970, his studio archive containing dozens of unreleased and unfinished songs has been mined as much as possible to release a series of posthumous albums. In 1971, two supposedly ‘definitive’ albums were rush-released by his original band mates and recording engineers. The first compilation, called The Cry Of Love, showed off his abilities as a songwriter, and the second one, Rainbow Bridge, focused more on his guitar playing. But there was still that need to showcase the true album that Jimi was working on at the time of his death.
It had been an almost two-year process since the breakup of the original Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jimi had started to experiment with different styles and form different groups of musicians in that time. But it took up until 1995 - 25 years after Jimi's death - for the Hendrix estate to be able to attempt to piece together this original vision. This is because of Alan Douglas, a man hired after the death of Hendrix’s manager in 1973 to oversee the scrapping of the bottom of the barrel of unused and unusable tracks from Jim’s archives.
The resultant string of albums from the mid-Seventies caused a lot of controversy when it was later found out that he had replaced some of the original drum and bass parts, added guitar overdubs by other studio musicians, and even claimed co-composer credit on songs he had altered considerably from what Jimi had originally done.
So it was a purist’s victory in 1997, when the labour-of-love First Rays Of The New Rising Sun was finally really released. The Hendrix estate stayed faithful, and brought in Eddie Kramer - who was the original recording engineer who worked with Jimi - and Eddie made sure to use the original master recordings to piece together something as close as possible to what would have been Jimi Hendrix’s fourth album.
They took the album name and possible track listing from handwritten notes Jimi had made - some of which were on the back of a discarded tape box. On there, Side A and B of the vinyl record had been sorted, with Sides C and D still a mystery, as he had crossed out and re-written many songs to be included. Regardless of these unknowns, the album is a huge, pleasant surprise for fans like myself who had only been aware up until recently of the three albums that he had released in his lifetime. So I'm going to assume the same for you listening right now.
The main thing that you will notice when basking in the first rays for the first time is the dynamic shift in sound towards more R&B and funk elements. This is not to say that we've lost the rampant psychedelic blues that Jimi Hendrix was known for. It's just a transitionary move that he was making, and a lot of it was down to playing with new people on record. Jimi’s long-time friend and bandmate, Billy Cox, completely revitalises the bass component of the music. It makes you wonder what The Jimi Hendrix Experience would've been like if it had had his nimble and dextrous basslines.
Cox had also been part of the short-lived trio Band of Gypsys, along with Jimi on guitar and drummer Buddy Miles. The time together had yielded a more structural approach to song writing, but still allowed Jimi to infuse his psychedelia and guitar wizardry into the music. We also see Jimi’s voice emerge as a powerful and melodic instrument, along with the radically pulsating percussion parts; Jimi’s music has never seemed so danceable.
One of the best showcases of this awe-inspiring new style is seen on the opening track on the album ‘Freedom’, which is a soaring, soulful expression of emancipation – delivered through lean, mean grooves and a whirlwind of guitars. One of my favourites, ‘Night Bird Flying’, has a bouncy, almost country feel to it. According to that video series that I mentioned to our producer friends earlier in the episode, Jimi’s mind was capable interweaving at least four guitar parts into the song, and by the end of listening to it, one is usually left in some sort of ‘guitar coma’.
But if you're feeling a little to funked-up, ‘Angel’ - which is his prettiest ballad - is there to comfort. The slow jam was inspired by a dream that he had of his mother, and the feel is very similar to another ballad by Jimi called ‘May This Be Love’ off his debut Are You Experienced, which is my favourite Jimi song……until they uncover another one that's better.
Jimi also moves into some pretty interesting lyrical territory, and ‘Room Full Of Mirrors’ is full of surreal, self-reflecting imagery and metaphors, with squalling guitars and lively rhythms. My favourite lines from it are:
“I used to live in a room full of mirrors/All I could see was me/Well I take my spirit and crash my mirrors/Now the whole world is here for me to see”.
First Rays Of The New Rising Sun is Jimi’s most personal and complex album, and I really believe it could have changed the perception of him if it was released during his lifetime. Imagine collaborations in the 1970’s with George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic - it seemed to be the direction that he was moving in. But I'm just glad that unlike some of the other lost albums that we spoke about earlier in this episode, this one was saved, and we are now able to see a more funkier side of the legendary Jim Hendrix.
Well that's about all that we've got for you this episode. I want to thank you for tuning in and please subscribe and share our podcast as much as you can; we would really appreciate it. I am The Eagle, and you have been listening to Musicology With The Eagle. See ya next time.