Album Review- This is Thirsty Merc

Ok, this month’s music album review is a little different, as I’m instead reviewing a Spotify channel/band- Sydney’s very own Thirsty Merc! Woohoo, yeah! Woohoo, yeah!

Thirsty Merc is a pop-rock band, which in my own opinion has not received and/or reached the dizzying heights of popularity which I personally believe that they deserve. When you listen to their Spotify channel, you have to conclude that they simply play really really good stuff! But where as Aussie bands like ‘Five Seconds of Summer’ are global phenomenon’s, and elder statesmen bands like ‘The Living End’ are known as legends of the Australian grunge scene – oddly Thirsty Merc had only achieved the highest peak of No. 4 on the ARIA Album charts (after 15 years of performing and producing studio albums), and presently they’re only performing at suburban pubs and RSL clubs? Like, what the?

The band’s front man/lead singer is amazing! Rai Thistlethwayte not only has a voice which can rival the best rockers Australia has ever produced, but he also looks the part with his fro! The rest of the Thirsty Merc band is made up of a pair of guitars, bass guitar and drums (Rai’s talents contribute to one of those guitars, and he also plays the keys). I’d describe their music as being Groovy, which gets your body movin’; and if there is any knock against their music, is that their music is a bit too commercial for a rock band and most themes of their songs are about love and break-ups- which I guess young dudes aren’t exactly moshing to. And oddly at their peak, female fans weren’t flocking to them either – unlike other boy-bands who also sung of love i.e. the Beatles. In the end the boys who make up the Thirsty Merc band are just country-boyz who are just trying to make it in the big smoke!

Thirsty Merc’s best known hits have been from their first studio album, self-titled  ‘Thirsty Merc’ (2004)- ‘Emancipate Myself’, ‘Someday, Someday’, and ‘In the Summer Time’; their second studio album ‘Slideshow’ (2007) was their most successful with hit single ’20 Good Reasons’ reaching no. 4 on the 2007 ARIA charts, and other notable tracks from that album were ‘Those Eyes’ and ‘The Hard Way’; and their third studio album ‘Mousetrap Heart’ (2010) was best known for the title track ‘Mousetrap Heart’. The latest album release ‘Shifting Gears’ (2015) was slipped into the public sphere with little fanfare, but in my opinion it’s just as good as their three previous albums!          

So if you’re ever lost for something to listen to, just ask your smart speaker to play ‘Thirsty Merc’ on Spotify! And be ready to be entertained for hours on end! I’ve honestly only been playing their channel all week long! And my all-time favourite song of theirs since it was first released is ’20 Good Reasons’! And a moment in life which has stuck with me for years and years, was seeing them perform live as a supporting act at the Opera House forecourt; it was raining and I was getting drenched but I didn’t care as Rai’s performance of ‘Emancipate Myself’ had me mesmerised! Go do it! Treat your ears! Check-out Thirsty Merc! You won’t regret it!

Album Reviews- Golden/Three Letters From Sarajevo

Ok, this month’s music album review pairing completely makes no sense, unless I take some time out to explain.

So here goes….. Each month I trawl the web looking for artists who will be performing live in Sydney (content for my monthly Gig guide post), gigs which pique my interest and hopefully might also interest you? And through those research findings, I’m often introduced to albums or artists whom I was previously unaware of to my own chagrin. But to ensure that the album/artists are worthy of recommendation, I listen to their respective albums cover to cover and end up being a little obsessed with them! The two most recent albums which I’ve been obsessing over has been Kylie Minogue’s ‘Golden’ album, and Goran Bregovic’s ‘Three Letters from Sarajevo’.

Golden – Kylie Minogue

I can still remember it, weird how some memories stick with you. I must have been in year 1 or year 2 in 1988 (only 5-6 years old), and there was a new kid at our school. I still remember his name (Conrad) and he and his family had newly immigrated from Poland. And although he didn’t have much English, I still remember him singing during class “I should be so lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky” (and I imagine they were lucky, finding themselves in Australia compared to 1980 Communist Poland); and exactly 30 years after Kylie’s first artistry successes, Kylie released her 14th studio album – Golden – in 2018! I challenge you to suggest another artist who still sounds as good as Kylie does 30 years on! As she has definitely not lost any of her vocal abilities at age 50 (although I thought she would be older than that – as she’s been around forever!)

The first time I heard the country-sounding ‘Golden’ album, it had already been out there for more than 10 months, and I can’t say that I’ve heard any of the tracks played on mainstream radio before. So when I first listened to her made-in-Nashville album from start to finish, I was amazed by how good it was and I was left wondering why it hadn’t been played more in mainstream radio? The opening track ‘Dancing’ is a  perfect example of how Kylie has blended her usual pop style with country- ‘Dancin’ has a dancy beat to it, while the prominence of the stringed instrument (sounds a bit like a banjo) gives it the country-music vibe, while Kylie’s actual vocals reminds me a bit of the Queen of Country, Ms Dolly Parton. This new style really suits Kylie, fitting her like a golden pair of hot-pants – and my Stetson is off to her for being able to re-invent herself for the second time! Bravo Kylie! Bravo! Most of the notable tracks are in the first half of the album, like ‘Stop me from falling’; the title track ‘Golden’; and ‘Shelby 68’…… In the end the tracks are a good blend of pop and country-pop, and ideal album to have in the background when you’re doing your chores.

If you’d like to check Kylie’s 14th studio album out, just ask your smart speaker to “Play Kylie Minogue, Golden, on Spotify”.

 Three Letters from Sarajevo, Goran Bregovic

Whilst I’ve been aware of Kylie for most of my life, I’ve only known of Goran Bregovic for the past 2 weeks (although Goran has been a professional musician for over 4 decades!). For those who don’t know him, Goran Bregovic is a Bosnian artist who performs internationally with his 40 piece band called the ‘Wedding & Funeral Orchestra’ (it was actually his band’s name which first caught my attention when browsing for gigs). His style of music-isms is described as “Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Romani, Romanian, Serbian, Albanian, and Italian and Turkish themed. And is a fusion of popular music with traditional polyphonic music from the Balkans, tango, and brass bands.” Ok, that was a direct copy&paste from Wikipedia.

It’s hard to describe his music in my own words, but let me give it a go. His music is completely foreign to me, I don’t understand a single word being sung but I’m still very much enjoying the album though; as they say, music is truly an international language! The songs are heavy with instrumentals by his Wedding &Funeral band, fronting several of the tracks are guest vocalists (usually female), and from my understanding three of the tracks are letters from the 3 major faiths in Sarajevo (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism). So if these faiths can’t find harmony in person, at least they can find a point of harmony through the power of music!

So if you want a change-up from the usual music you’re enjoying at the moment, give Three Letters from Sarajevo a listen! It’s up-tempo and body-movin’. Just ask your smart speaker to “play Three Letters from Sarajevo on Spotify” Or if you want to access Goran Bregovic’s vast back-log of songs, just ask your Smart speaker to “Play Goran on Spotify”, just asking for his first name is enough (or otherwise Google goes searching for Erin Brockovich to play). Enjoy!

Album review- Baby Driver Movie Soundtrack

Is this the grooviest and the most eclectic music album ever compiled for public consumption!? It’s like a teenager’s mix-tape from the 80s! By a show of hands, who has seen the 2017 film ‘Baby Driver’? Yeah, the title is deceiving – images of animated, over-sized, pink-skinned babies in diapers driving cars do come to mind – but the Edgar Wright film is one serious film!

The uniqueness of Wright’s creation is largely due to the fact that the music drove the scenes of the film, rather than music chosen in post-production to fit a scene. In some cases, Wright had songs in mind for scenes 20 years before actually shooting the film! That’s madness! The sheer amount of time and thought which has been invested into this soundtrack is staggering, and that’s why it’s so good, baby!

Thus with a soundtrack which played a starring role in the film, I’m only going to review the album, but not the film.

The first thing I’m thinking you’ll say, after listening to the album cover-to-cover (all 29 tracks- over 1 hour and 40 mins), is “Wow! That was an eclectic (perhaps random) collection of songs!”, as there isn’t one genre of music that is featured more heavily than others, but simply a mish-mash of songs that was fast then slow, up-tempo and then mellow, old and then new etc. But I’d call it a well thought-out mish-mash, or a planned chaos. Haaha. Perhaps at first listen, I was a little perplexed and it did take me several goes to actually listen to it cover-to-cover, as we all have short attention spans and it’s hard to devote more than 90 minutes to anything these days……. But over the months it grew on me and it’s just such a great funky album to have on around the home. And when the music is paired up with the on-screen cinematics – freakin’ brilliant! It wasn’t just a film, but it was art, a masterpiece!

For someone who was born after most of the songs original releases, it was amazing to be introduced to so many tracks which I’d never heard before! It introduced me to a whole new  world of music, sending me down multi-lane freeways and virtual alleyways of Spotify recommendations, pursuing different artists and genres to widen my own appreciation of all the music on-the-run out there!

Tracks which I’ve really warmed to have been: Bell Bottoms (John Spencer Blues Explosion) – This song alone quite aptly captures the entire album, as this song alone was so eclectic!

I liked the funky instrumental heavy tracks like Harlem Shuffle (Bob & Earl); Smokey Joe’s La La (Googie Rene); Kashmere (Kashmere Stage Band); Unsquare Dance (Dave Brubeck); The Edge (David McCallun) i.e. the intro to Dr Dre’s Next Episode; and Intermission (Blur).    

I couldn’t help swaying to Soul classics like B A B Y (Karla Thomas); Nowhere to Run (Martha and the Vandellas); and When Somethings Wrong with My Baby (Sam & Dave).

I couldn’t help but crank up the Google Home to 70% when Wild punk rock tracks come on like Neat Neat Neat (The Damned); or when the incredible song Hocus Pocus (Focus) drops! 

But you’re able to take a breath and wipe the sweat from your brow when Woodstock ‘with flowers in your hair’-like tracks play, like: Debora (T .Rex); and Baby Driver (Simon & Garfunkel). 

There is one old school rap track, Know How (Young MC) – I’m sure it’s flows like this which inspired the kids of the 70’s and 80’s to practice spitting lyrics in their bathrooms.

And the soundtrack isn’t just old songs, or stuff which you can find elsewhere, but there are two original tracks penned for the film: Was He Slow? (Kid Coala); and Chase Me (Danger Mous).  

And leaving the best till last, my personal favourite! I can’t tell you how many times I had this song on repeat! Bongolia (The Incredible Bongo Band), I’ve subsequently spent many hours listening to the IBB artist station, and it has reminded me why I used to love ‘Grand Master Flash’!! That’s it! I’m immigrating to Bongolia! Bongolian Lamb anyone?

And the wild thing about the album, is that it only contains 29 of the total 36 tracks which were used in the film! And there is also a movie score! You can almost categorise ‘Baby Driver’ as a Musical! (You can place that CD on the same shelf as ‘The Greatest Showman’ and Les Mis’ at a physical CD store).  

OK, we’ve come to the ‘so what’ part of this post – so if you haven’t seen a film about a music-obsessed getaway driver; with an all-star cast; with absolutely mesmerising cinematics; with an award winning soundtrack; and the chance to see Kevin Spacey get his just desserts! *Rubs hands in expectation*. You must must see Baby Driver! Beg, Borrow or Steal (no, no, don’t steal) a DVD, or better, a Blu-ray version of ‘Baby Driver’! Imagine watching it with a home surround-sound set up! Here is a testimonial to how good it is; Christmas 2017 I actually spent money and purchased the DVD for a colleague’s ‘Secret Santa’ gift (because on his interest list it stated that he liked movies and music), that’s pretty telling as who actually buys DVDs these days!?

And if you’ve already seen and heard the album before, you can enjoy the film and the soundtrack at a whole other level, after listening to the insightful sit-down interview between Edgar Wright and Edith Bowman on the Audioboom podcast. Check out this insightful chat with the creative behind both the film and the soundtrack, visit:

And to listen to the album for the first time, or the 101st time, just ask your SMART speaker to “Play Baby Driver Movie Sountrack on Spotify”. Enjoy! B A B Y!

Crazy Rich Asians- Movie soundtrack review

If you’ve read my previous post, you’re well aware that I’ve recently finished listening to the audiobook version of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ by Kevin Kwan; so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise for you to learn that I’ve now pivoted over to listening to the Crazy Rich Asians Original Movie Soundtrack. But did I like it?

Back in the day before streaming services became the norm, people actually went to music stores like HMV or Sanity after watching a film in cinema, as they were so mesmerised by the pairing of the music to the visuals that they wanted to own the movie soundtrack to re-live an aspect of the film (until the eventual release of the film in VHS). But fast-forward 15 years with music streaming apps on most people’s phones, the day after a movie is released in the States, over here in Australia we can already listen to the entire movie soundtrack and experience a part of the film even before it’s out in Australian cinemas. Pretty crazy hey? And this is what I’d done when the movie was first released, I asked my Smart assistant to play “Crazy Rich Asians Movie Soundtrack on Spotify”, and at first listen I wasn’t much into the album. My initial thoughts were, “All the songs are in Chinese! And they sounded like songs from the yester-year, stuff that my parents or perhaps my grandparents might listen to.” Not exactly what I had expected from a modern film which was to show a different side of Asia to the rest of the world?

But as I got further into the book and allowed the album to play more and more times around our home, it started to grow on me and I now really appreciate it for its uniqueness.

In the majority of movie soundtracks (if the movie isn’t a musical) the music which accompanies the film is often the straight re-use of copyrighted music. The most difficult task for the Director/Producers was to obtain the permission from the original Artists/copyright holder, then write out a few loyalty checks and they have the movie soundtrack all locked up! However this isn’t the case for the music used in Crazy Rich Asians, the entire album was newly recorded for the film! Director of the film Jon M Chu and Music Supervisor Gabe Hilfer, actually sat down and compiled a list of eclectic songs that they thought would go well with the film. And using resources like Youtube or footage from reality singing competitions like the Voice, they were able to identify and then recruit a bunch of relatively unknown Asian artists to perform these songs for the album.

The songs range from old Chinese classics from the 50s and 60s, to more contemporary Western songs which were re-recorded in Mandarin or Cantonese. The notable western songs which were given the Asian make-over were: Motown hit Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K- sung in Mandarin); Madonna’s Material Girl (Sally Yeah- sung in Cantonese); Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love (Kina Grannis- sung in English); and Coldplay’s Yellow (Katherine Ho- sung in Mandarin). And to bring the album to a crescendo, Money (That’s All I Want) is sung for a second time, this time in English with Awkwafina (Peik Lin) doing her thang. 

If you haven’t heard or taken a close listen to the Crazy Rich Asians movie soundtrack yet, check it out! It’s a fun and unique listen, you won’t regret the 45 mins it takes the virtual record needle to traverse its way from the start to the final groove in the album. Just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Crazy Rich Asians, Movie Soundtrack, on Spotify”.

………Oh hey sorry! I’m back now. I had the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack playing in the background as I was writing this post, and I couldn’t help but drop-tools and crank the Google Home up to 60% and just devote myself to listening to the music. It’s a really superb album! It has this ability to transport you to another time and place, I can almost imagine opening my eyes and seeing my parents as teenagers in the 1960s!

And it got me thinking……. Can you enjoy music that is sung in a language which you’re unfamiliar with? Ethnically I’m from a Chinese Cantonese background, but growing up in the West, my Cantonese is  rudimentary at best. If I’m being optimistic, I’d say perhaps I can understand 50% of the lyrics to a Cantonese song? If Mandarin, I’m probably down to 20% comprehension. But what if you, reader don’t understand either of these dialects/languages? Would you still enjoy these songs as much as I did? Hit us up in the comments section below, let me know if you enjoyed the songs if you’re previously unfamiliar with Chinese tones. And yeah, I’m an eclectic listener of music so please feel free to recommend some artists who sing other languages than English or Chinese. I’m keen to wrap my ears around music which is completely foreign to me!

P.S.

If you liked your first foray into Asian music, give these artists a go (they’re some of my all-time-favourite Chinese artists):

>Aaron Kwok (I’d best describe him as Asia’s Michael Jackson! He was absolutely huge in the 90s! King of Asian Pop!) Just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Aaron Kwok on Spotify”).

>Edison Chen (He’s the bad-boy of Asia, I’d describe him as Hong Kong’s response to Eminem. He’s an Asian who kinda raps, and has an Asian rap crew. Just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Edison Chen on Spotify”).

>Daniel Chan (I’m going to describe him as Asia’s Justin Timberlake! Because he sings and he acts, and is a bit of a heartthrob with the gals! Just ask your Smart assistant to “Shuffle play Daniel Chan on Spotify”).

>Nicholas Tse (Justin Bieber’s brother-from-another-mother! They were both young when they entered the entertainment scene and Nick is even more of a bad-boy than the Beebs! Yeah, they both love their fast cars, but Nicholas has spent time in jail with his escapades with his Ferrari. Haaha. That’s one for Asia, 0 for the United States. Um, if his bad-boy reputation doesn’t put you off, just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Nicholas T S E on Spotify” (spell out his surname as Google has difficulty in understanding his surname).

>Jay Chou (Probably the most talented from this bunch of guys, I’d describe him as Asia’s Ed Sheeran! As he writes and performs most of his own music! Just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Jay Chou on Spotify”).

P.P.S.

And my go-to band when I want some non-English music like what you’d expect on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), is Pink Martini! A mini-orchestra who covers cultural songs from Europe, Japan and the Middle East! Again just ask your Smart assistant to “Play Pink Martini on Spotify”.

Now, that should leave you with at least 6 hours worth of body-groovin’ tracks. Hehehe.  

Album Review- The Greatest Showman: Reimagined

Sorry if the post title is going to be misleading, as there is a larger theme I’d like to explore here, which goes beyond the Reimagined album. What I’d like to explore is this, did we know that Michelle Williams could sing like this?? Did we also know that Bradley Cooper could also belt out a few country music tunes? And I guess it’s been enough time since the Les Misérables movie, that we have all come to acceptance that Anne Hathaway has a pretty good set of pipes on her. But Damn! (Said in a very good way), who knew that M & B had this level of talent within them!?

With a shift in the world going on, e.g. conventional industries being challenged by disruptive start-ups; the seasons feeling like their shifting back by a month; I also think the movie industry and actors are also going through a period of shift. Recently it’s been pretty easy to make an epic blockbuster looking film with CGI (that amazing visuals no longer wow us like they used to); the ease of which post-production can make actors look hotter than ever, or make them look less and less like themselves. So with this shift in movie making, are actors taking on new challenges to push their craft further? So they can stand-out among their peers? And is this latest boundary they’re trying to push themselves through, is the cordon where there are Musicians and there are Actors but can a singer act? And can an actor sing?

I remember the early attempt of this by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 90s, I think we can all agree that that was a bit of a bomb in Duets. Just thinking about it now, sends shivers down my spine and when re-confirming that I had all the details correct, Google returned an MP3 recording of ‘Cruisin’. I honestly couldn’t click on it, as I was certain that if I heard it again it would most certainly traumatize me for another decade. So the attempt to achieve cross-over stardom isn’t a new thing, but it has taken until the mid-2010s to achieve success! **Okay, I take that back, as Moulin Rouge was pretty successful? Or is that sentiment only held by Aussies because the film was filmed in Sydney?

But regardless of that, was it as successful as this? According to the Aria Album Charts on the first day of 2019, A Star Is Born is still the No. 1 Album in the land, already spending 12 weeks in the charts. And I can attest that it’s a solid album (I have to admit the first time I heard it, I didn’t realise that it was a movie soundtrack and I was telling my wife that the album was unusual as it was like telling a story. Then she paused and asked ‘Um, you do know it’s a movie? Right?’ And I felt a little foolish then. Haaha). BTW I also thought Bradley Cooper was just another singer who happened to have the same name as the actor, as I had just assumed it was just a collaboration album by Lady Gaga with some other dude. But I was blown away to learn that it was *that* Bradley Cooper, like that guy from the Hangover? He completely nailed the singing parts and he sounded like a guy 20 years his senior (and not to mention, a couple of thousand packs of ciggies later). And big ups have to be served out to Lady Gaga, in the track when she’s singing in French, it doesn’t sound like her at all! As I’ve associated over-the-top pop-songs with Gaga, but she demonstrates a real vocal diversity in this album. So I’ve played ‘A Star Is Born’ quite a few times on our Google Home recently.

And it’s time now to make an embarrassing confession…… I’ve been listening to the original (and the BEST) Greatest Showman movie soundtrack throughout 2018; and when we flew to the US in October and I noticed that ‘The Greatest Showman’ was available as an inflight movie, I almost hyperventilated in excitement! As to this point after only listening to the album for almost 10 months, I still hadn’t watched the film (like who has a working DVD player anymore?), and in my opinion the film was just as good as the soundtrack. And now at the time of writing this post, on paper it has been 2 years since the film was first released (2017-2019) and I’m blown away to learn that after 53 weeks on the ARIA charts, the original album is still the No. 4 Album in the land! This has to be some sort of record? Yes/No? Every track on this album is good, from the opening track ‘The Greatest Show’ to the fading voices of ‘From Now On’. The album starts and finishes with Hugh, but in the middle it is filled with talent galore! Honestly every member of the cast can sing, like really really well. And Michelle Williams has to be highlighted here, who knew! Like was this public knowledge that Mish could sing, or was everyone else blown away just like me to find out that the once teenage blonde (was she actually a teenager then) from Dawson’s Creek, that she had this hidden talent? And in my opinion when ‘Tight Rope’ or ‘A Million Dreams’ is played back-to-back (Michelle’s version Vs Sara Bareilles or Pink), hands down Williams’ has the better renditions. I think it’s the vulnerability in her voice (like Anne Hathaway’s) which draws in and connects with listeners. But before I ramble on, and praise the talents of each and every member of the cast, I’d better end it here.

But in closing can I say, that my favourite track from a host of favourites is ‘Other Side’, a duet between Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron which forwards the storyline of the film nicely in a succinct 3.34 mins; and I should also give a shout-out to the bearded lady….. Um, just go out and watch the film! It’ll make sense then.

So it isn’t any surprise that ‘The Greatest Showman’ has been the most played album on my Spotify account for 2018. And there is no surprise that I’ve resorted to listening to it in secret……. My wife pretty much has had enough of hearing it. Each time she walks in and she hears it’s one of ‘those songs’, I can feel her head shake and eyes roll. And only the other day when we were  cooking  together, I asked her what she wanted to listen to, and her response was “Anything, just as long as it’s not The Greatest Showman”…. Ouch! I’m sure this conjures up bad memories for her of 2013 and my Les Misérables album obsession. Back in those days when albums still meant CDs, I used to listen to my Les Mis album (2 disc deluxe version of course) pretty pretty often. That was until one evening when my wife came home and informed me, “Do you know that everyone can hear you whistling to Les Mis from outside our apartment?” I was mortified, and that did curb my 2013 obsession with Hugh and the crew. So I guess you can say I must have a thing for movies where dialogue is replaced by song! Why speak it, when you can sing it, I say!

And finally I’ll circle back to the title of this post, what about Reimagined? Well, my opinion is that if you get a bunch of musicians together to re-release an album, there must be a bit of arrogance in that act? It’s like “Look, the songs were good, well written, the lyrics are tight, so are the arrangements….. But this is how you do it!”…is a bit too soon? Considering the film is only a year old, and the album you’re trying to cover is still in the charts. But I think in the end, the people have spoken. The original movie soundtrack is still ahead in the ARIA charts (No 4 Vs No. 6). And the best thing of all is that if you ask Google/Spotify to play Reimagined, after it has played the entirety of the album, it will automatically play the original soundtrack from start to finish! So you can have 90 minutes of pleasure, instead of just 45. Oh! I’m quivering I’m so excited. Haaha.  Okay, my wife is still asleep (big NYE), perhaps I can still fit in another playing of The Greatest Showman before she wakes-up, just as long as I keep the volume down. **In a whisper** “Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men”……Sorry, wrong Jackman film!

If you haven’t heard any of these albums yet, Google/Youtube/Spotify a Star is Born- Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper; The Greatest Showman- Original movie soundtrack; The Greatest Showman: Reimagined- Various artists; or be old-school and listen to the Les Misérables original movie soundtrack. Enjoy! Be ready to be horribly horribly addicted!