Inherently Sexy Barley Fields – Quotes By Sting

I’ve been covering Sting on this website this week: I generally find that his solo career is under-rated – while The Police have great singles, their albums usually have a lot of filler, and the terrific 1992 Greatest Hits is all I need from them. But Sting has a couple of albums that I enjoy right through – 1987’s …Nothing Like The Sun and 1991’s The Soul Cages.

One possible reason that Sting is under-rated is that he often comes across as a little pompous; I think he has issues with self-filtering. Here are some examples:

I asked my dog what he thought the best in man
He said, “The love you dispense to me twice daily from a can.”
Lyrics from ‘Conversation With A Dog’

Success always necessitates a degree of ruthlessness. Given the choice of friendship or success, I’d probably choose success.
– Sting

“I don’t give a fuck about rock & roll,” Sting declared unequivocally in 1987. There was, he complained, “no new fuel in rock music.” Instead, he said, musicians should be looking outside of rock to African, jazz and even classical music: “Anything! Anything will do.”

The outcome was predictable
Our banditos were despicable
Of blood we lost a dozen litres
A small price to pay for los senoritas
Lyrics from ‘Love Is Stronger Than Justice’

In England, our house is surrounded by barley fields, and in the summer it’s fascinating to watch the wind moving over the shimmering surface, like waves on an ocean of gold. There’s something inherently sexy about the sight, something primal, as if the wind were making love to the barley.
– Sting

The title comes from Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”), which Sting used in the song “Sister Moon”. He added that his inspiration for this was a close encounter with a drunk, in which Sting quoted the sonnet in response to the drunk’s importunate query, “How beautiful is the moon?”
– Wikipedia

It’s no use, he sees her
He starts to shake and cough
Just like the old man in
That book by Nabokov
Lyrics from ‘Don’t Stand So Close To Me

Do you have any favourite clunky Sting lyrics? Can you stomach his solo career?

Three Great Albums – Marquee Moon, Spilt Milk, and Southeastern

I’ve had a lot of time for writing recently; some leave and then a work trip with long haul flights and time in airport lounges. Lately, I’ve made several pages for acts with only a handful of albums to their name. These three acts have commonalities; they’re all white, male American acts, although they’re operating in different genres and different eras. The most striking similarity is they all have small discographies, and each has one album with a clear consensus as their best. While I don’t always agree with canon, in each of these cases, I concur with the consensus, even though all three have other enjoyable albums.

Television – Marquee Moon (1977)
television-marquee-moonThe CBGBs Club in New York spawned a diverse collection of great bands that helped to define the punk and new wave genres. Television’s distinctive feature is the guitar interplay of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, exemplified on songs like the epic title track. If you can tolerate Verlaine’s strangled vocals, Marquee Moon is a masterpiece.

Jellyfish – Spilt Milk (1993)
jellyfish-spilt-milk1990’s Bellybutton was a perfectly serviceable record, but in hindsight it sounds like a practice run for the ornate Spilt Milk. The stacked harmonies and heavy guitars of Spilt Milk are like a power pop take on Queen, with great songs like ‘New Mistake’ and ‘Glutton of Sympathy’.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern (2013)
southeasternIt’s somewhat cheating to include Isbell in this list, as he’s released five albums since leaving the Drive-By Truckers, and has another due soon. But his first three albums were released with The 400 Unit, and featured a sub-optimal Isbell. Before Southeastern, Isbell became sober, and personal songs like ‘Elephant’ are devastating, although my favourite is the rock of ‘Flying Over Water’.

Are you a fan of any of these albums?

New Zealand Music Month

Each May is New Zealand Music Month. It’s a promotion that has outstayed its welcome, especially as New Zealand has outgrown the cultural cringe for homegrown music that was evident in the 1960s and 1970s. But, perhaps not coincidentally, I’ve been covering three of New Zealand’s most prominent mainstream musical acts recently, and between them they actually do a good job of showcasing New Zealand’s diversity and musical history from 1972 to the present day.

Split Enz: 1972-1984
Split Enz started as an arty band, like a New Zealand answer to early Genesis, but found their biggest success with new wave hits like ‘I Got You’. Here’s a song from their early career with Phi Judd fronting:

Supergroove: late 1980s-1997
Supergroove were a party band, but they were a smart party band, taking the funk/rock/hip hop hybrid that was popular in the early 1990s, and producing anthems that were huge in New Zealand but didn’t enter the mainstream elsewhere. Maybe they were a year or two too late, and the music landscape had darkened with Nirvana by the time of 1994’s Traction, but songs like ‘Scorpio Girls’ could have been huge hits.

Bic Runga: 1997-present
I dismissed Bic Runga at the time of her first album; the monotonous arrangements of Drive didn’t do her any favours. But with 2002’s Beautiful Collision, her poppy sensibilities were at the forefront, and she’s the reigning queen of New Zealand pop. ‘Winning Arrow’ features Split Enz’s Neil Finn on piano, and Anika Moa, Anna Coddington, and Shayne Carter (Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer) on backing vocals.

These three acts are ubiquitous in New Zealand; for example when our modem at work was playing up last week, when I went downstairs to check it, Supergroove was playing, and when I called our ISP, Split Enz was the hold music. But as much as I don’t like to admit it, New Zealand has under-achieved at popular music – these three acts all have their foibles, with Split Enz’s discography inconsistent, Supergroove short lived, and Bic Runga not very prolific. But they’re three of our better acts to infiltrate the mainstream, and I’m curious if people have heard of them?

A Duck in a Microwave – and other music jokes


I’ve just added three albums by 1970’s soul legend Bill Withers to Aphoristic Album Reviews. As well as his timeless music, Withers is also the subject of one of my favourite music jokes.

How do you turn a duck into a soul singer?
Put it in the microwave until its bill withers.

Here are some other favourites:

Rick Astley will let you borrow any movie from his collection of Pixar films except one. He’s never going to give you Up.

Q: Why were the Byrds great?
A: They set Bob Dylan songs to music.

Q: What’s brown and rhymes with snoop?
A: Dr. Dre

Q: How come U2 still haven’t found what they’re looking for?
A: Because the streets have no names.

Do you have any favourite music jokes to add?

Van Morrison Ranked – Five Favourite Albums

Van Morrison’s voice is an expressive instrument which synthesises his Irish roots with the R&B and jazz that he grew up hearing in Belfast. His exploration of Celtic Soul has effectively fuelled his entire career, as he veered between commercial pop and more uncompromising efforts. Even if his solo career can sometimes feel obstinate and inconsistent, his body of work is uniquely his own, and he should be remembered as a giant of his era; U2 are perhaps his only competition as Ireland’s greatest musical export.

I’ve been working through Van Morrison’s discography this week – while I’ve left many gaps at this stage, I’m confident at this stage on what my five favourite Van Morrison albums are. So (drumroll please) presenting my five favourite Van Morrison studio albums:

Honourable Mention:
Beautiful Vision (1982):
van-morrison-beautiful-visionBeautiful Vision is one of Van Morrison’s most settled, comfortable albums, like a calmer take on the Into The Music sound, and it’s relatively insular with its low key explorations of spirituality and Irish heritage. Even if he’s sometimes treading water musically, there are plenty of great songs here, and it’s one of his more consistent, most substantial records, even if it’s less adventurous and less universal than his earlier work.

#5 Veedon Fleece (1974)
van-morrison-veedon-fleeceVeedon Fleece was the last album from Van Morrison’s initial run of solo records; subsequently he went into semi-retirement for three years, only emerging to appear in The Band’s The Last Waltz. In some respects, it’s almost the completion of the circle begun with Astral Weeks; returning to Ireland at the end of his marriage, Veedon Fleece is more steeped in acoustic mysticism than any of his releases since Astral Weeks, and it’s similarly loose in feel. It’s also more noticeably more Irish than anything he’d released previously; there’s little R&B here, using more folk-oriented, acoustic instrumentation, and the lyrics reference William Blake and figures from Irish mythology.

#4 Astral Weeks (1968)
van-morrison-astral-weeksAstral Weeks is a fascinating record; it sounds different from anyone Van Morrison or anyone else has created, and for adventurous music listeners it’s worth picking up for that reason alone. Although Morrison arguably balanced jazzy exploration with more accessible work on subsequent albums like St. Dominic’s Preview and Veedon Fleece, Astral Weeks is his most extreme statement which alone makes it essential as a unique effort in the canon of popular music.

#3 Moondance (1970)
van-morrison-moondanceAstral Weeks showcased the stream-of-consciousness, improvisational side of Van Morrison’s music, Moondance is based around punchy R&B and concise pop songs. Side one is packed with five outstanding compositions; the title track, where Van plays Sinatra, is the most well known, but ‘Crazy Love’ is pretty, ‘Caravan’ is jaunty, ‘Into The Mystic’ is lovely and esoteric, while ‘And It Stoned Me’ is all of the above.

#2 Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972)
van-morrison-saint-dominics-previewMorrison’s failing marriage informs his music on Saint Dominic’s Preview. The love songs of the “domestic trilogy” are replaced with more eclectic and ambitious material. Saint Dominic’s Preview is perhaps the quintessential album of Van Morrison’s early career, covering both punchy R&B pop craft like the opening ‘Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile)’ and artier impulses like the ten minute semi-improvisations that close each side of the original LP.

#1 Into The Music (1979)
van-morrison-into-the-musicInto The Music is a blue-print of the adult contemporary direction than Van Morrison would pursue during the 1980s, but the song writing is so sharp that it’s his best album. It’s slickly produced and loaded with backing vocalists, strings, saxophones, and other adult contemporary paraphernalia, but for these joyous songs the sensory overload approach works beautifully, like being swept away by a wave of intertwined sexual and spiritual power.

While these five albums tend to be among his most well recognised, putting the acclaimed Astral Weeks at #4 is probably unconventional. Hardcore Van Morrison fans tend to gravitate to his more insular albums like 1980’s Common One and 1986’s No Guru, No Method, No Teacher.

My favourite Van Morrison song isn’t drawn from any of those albums – it’s the title track from 1971’s Tupelo Honey:

More coverage of Van Morrison here:

Do you have a favourite Van Morrison album? Or a favourite song? Should I be checking out his post 1991 career?