Monthly Archives: October 2016

‘Costello Music’ Turns 10

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In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were on the verge of something great. With a team built around two of the NHL’s most talented young stars – Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane – the Blackhawks were seeking to end a 49 year long championship drought. The organization also needed to bring back those fans who may have become disenfranchised over countless years of futility and poor management. They wanted to hit refresh and change the team’s aesthetic, starting with the celebratory goal song.

When looking for a new goal song for his team Tom O’Grady, the Blackhawks’ Executive Producer, didn’t take the task lightly. “We aggressively searched for a memorable goal song,” he said, until they heard a song called “Chelsea Dagger” by a band who called themselves The Fratellis. O’Grady heard it while watching a [Scottish Football Club] Celtic FC match and was “immediately struck by the song’s quirky and contagious chant.” Since then, every time the puck wrinkled the back of the net in Chicago, “Chelsea Dagger” blared over the cheers, becoming the team’s unofficial anthem (and the soundtrack to every opponent’s nightmares). Oh yeah, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that year (and two more times since). Call that “The Fratellis Effect.”

“Quirky” and “contagious” are perfect words to describe The Fratellis and their debut album Costello Music, which turns 10 this weekend (October 30). Hailing from the persistently damp streets of Glasgow, Scotland, lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Fratelli (born John Lawler), bass guitarist Barry Fratelli (born Barry Wallace), and drummer and backing vocalist Mince Fratelli (born Gordon McRory) introduced the world to their raucous take on Britpop normally found within the beer-soaked local pubs in the northern UK.

Every music nut has that special album in their lives that awakened previously unused musical tastebuds. For me, it was Costello Music, and it hit me out of nowhere. This wasn’t a Beatles record I borrowed from my dad, nor something I had heard on the radio. For the first time in my  life, I had found something new  and completely unheard of on my own as a high school anglophile with access to iTunes (yeah, I know, I’m SUCH a millennial). The Fratellis were MY band, and I wanted to tell the world about them.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I saw those three voluptuous women on the album cover of Costello Music, but when I heard the first few moments of “Henrietta,” the playfulness of the guitars and brass hooked me instantly. The rest of the album didn’t disappoint. This music was fun! At the time, I wasn’t sure people even made music like this. I had grown out of the “angry white boy music” phase of my life (thank God), and I was over the heavily compressed guitars and post-grunge on rock radio. So, The Fratellis found me at the right time.

The music on Costello Music was loud, fast, infectious, and unapologetically glam. Every song was one big drunken sing-a-long, with one arm around your neighbor’s shoulders and the other with a fat mug of beer raised high as you sing the chorus to “Baby Fratelli” at the top of your lungs. Jon Fratelli sang stories in a thick Scottish accent about fictional characters named Henrietta, Chelsea, Vince the lovable stoner, Little (pronounced “Lih-ull”) Steven and Joanna – all of whom made the people from “Piano Man” look like designated drivers. The Fratellis knew how to party, and the whole album sounds like one big celebration.

But why should you care about Costello Music? After all, I was an impressionable high-schooler with… let’s say… an underdeveloped musical taste. That’s hardly a vote of confidence, I know. Yet, when I revisit Costello Music today, it sounds just as fun as it did 10 years ago. I think a lot of that has to do with the production, as the band recorded the album at Sunset Studios due the vintage equipment there and  Jon’s desire to create an old-fashioned, analogue sound.  More importantly, the songwriting is strong. “Whistle for the Choir” and “Ole Black and Blue Eyes” remain two of the most endearing ballads I’ve ever heard, and “For the Girl” is another rambunctious album highlight that belies the aching love song inside. This album is full of drunken anthems, but it never staggers. It’s one of the most fun albums I’ve ever listened to, and it continues to be this day.

So, go! Go grab a pint, grab a friend, grab another pint, and come live amongst the has-beens and the addicts with the Fratellis and their memorably zany debut album, Costello Music. 

A Deeper Side of Phil Collins

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Phil Collins, 2016, in need of a shave

Do you like Phil Collins? If you’re anything like me (or Patrick Bateman), you answered that question with a rabid “HELL YEAH I DO!” before realizing that you’re the only person in the room with foam coming out of your mouth.

Believe it or not, Phil Collins isn’t exactly the most popular person on the planet today (I know, I’m surprised too). Peter Gabriel would rather go on a nostalgia tour with Sting than team up with Collins and the Genesis gang again. Even Adele isn’t answering his calls, and as we all know, she LOVES talking on the phone.

Why has Phil Collins been seemingly shunned by the rest of society? Well, it’s probably because there was a point in time when you couldn’t get enough of Phil Collins. For most of the 80s and 90s, the man was EVERYWHERE: your car radio, MTV, both locations of Live Aid (Philadelphia and London), and Miami Vice. He couldn’t even take a shower without having to entertain somebody somewhere. Not only was Phil Collins’ solo career taking flight, that other band he was in, Genesis, was reaching the peak of their commercial success at the same damn time.

But one can only be under the spotlight for so long before burning up, and Phil Collins was in it longer than usual. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? Well, Phil kind of did both.

Other than his Academy Award-winning single for the Disney movie Tarzan, “You’ll Be In My Heart,” (which spent 19 weeks at Number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart), the critics were relentless towards Phil’s music, as was the case throughout most of his career in front of the drums in Genesis. Collins’ last original studio album, 2002’s Testify, was the worst-reviewed album at the time of its release.

Physical health was beginning to become a concern as well. At first, he was having issues with his hearing. After his reunion tour with Genesis in 2007, it was revealed that Collins could no longer play the drums after dislocating vertebrae in his upper neck, affecting his ability to hold a drumstick. All these years of constant performing (not to mention the constant dissent from critics) had physically and mentally worn Collins down. His self-esteem, once his defining trait on and off the stage, had hit an all-time low. In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Collins was painted as a lonely old man who was more interested in collecting artifacts from the Alamo (of all things) than playing music again. He even alluded to feelings of depression, claiming that he had contemplated committing suicide, but resisting for the sake of his children. So, for the first time in his career, Phil Collins stayed quiet.

For decades, Phil was always there – always ready to provide a drum fill or score a Disney movie. So, we in turn took him for granted, and you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, right? For Phil Collins, the recent years of solitude have done wonders for his reputation. During Phil’s time off the face of the Earth, Genesis has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and festering Genesis reunion pleas from fans have only grown stronger. More telling is the fact that many of today’s top musicians have found an appreciation for his music. For instance, members of Arcade Fire, The Strokes, and Bon Iver covered “In the Air Tonight” a few years ago in Montreal. Electro-pop duo Phantogram recently released a cover of “Take Me Home” (so did JoJo, who apparently still does things). Even rappers like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Nas, Cam’ron, and Action Bronson have all sampled Collins’ music (because, you know, when I think of rap, I immediately think of Phil Collins). As the kids would say, it’s lit! Now, notable indie music blogs like Stereogum and Pitchfork are even covering Phil Collins news (including his recent performance at the US Open tennis tournament in New York in September) in between their daily Kanye West features.

It seems the time is right for Phil Collins to stage a comeback of sorts. After rereleasing his solo albums earlier this year with his now age-worn, wrinkly face spread on the covers, Collins is now set to publish his new memoir Not Dead Yet on October 25. We’ve all seen his face on those album covers, and now we’ll finally get a glimpse inside his head.

The book promises to be an honest look at the iconic pop singer’s life and career, one which many people think they know when in reality, only the surface has been scratched. Phil’s rise to stardom is already a fascinating story, because there was a chance it never was going to happen in the first place. The drum kit was Phil’s sanctuary – a fort of cymbals and toms to hide behind while the theatrical and charismatic Peter Gabriel ran the show in Genesis. When Gabriel quit the band, Collins was shoved into the spotlight on a whim, and in turn, he managed to overtop Gabriel at his own game, without the help of any mask. It’s sure to be an entertaining and enlightening read.

So, since the world is about to get a deeper view into the life of Phil Collins with Not Dead Yet, I figured why not take a moment and listen to some of the deeper cuts from Phil Collins’ storied musical career (“Gabriel-only” Genesis fans need not apply).

Genesis – “Please Don’t Ask”

One of Phil’s first tracks he wrote for Genesis, “Please Don’t Ask” is a brutally honest song about a man going through going through the motions of being newly-divorced and learning to deal with his new life. It’s Phil at his most vulnerable, which you can hear clearly in his voice, and it’s perhaps his most endearing performance.

Genesis – “More Fool Me” (live 1973)

This early live rendition of “More Fool Me” (from the Genesis Archives box set) features a young and uncharacteristically timid Phil Collins at the mic for the first time as a member of Genesis, and only Phil could deliver a song so touching. Collins practically coos into the microphone, with his voice soft to the touch. His singing would become more powerful and confident in the years to come.

Genesis – “You Might Recall”

I don’t understand why Genesis decided to leave this song off Abacab and put the goofy “Whodunnit?” in its place. It would’ve made for a perfect centerpiece to an admittedly disjointed album. But hey,   Abacab has since become certified double Platinum – selling 2 million copies worldwide – so what the hell do I know?

Genesis – “Los Endos”

Hard core Genesis fans know this gem from A Trick of the Tail, as it has been a staple in their show for years, but casual fans may have missed this frantic instrumental. On the band’s first record without Peter Gabriel, Genesis sounds rejuvenated with Phil at the helm, and “Los Endos” sees them firing on all cylinders. Although Phil doesn’t sing on this one, his finger prints are all over this. This was his baby.

Genesis – “Fading Lights”

We Can’t Dance might not have been a fan favorite, but you have to admit, THIS is how you close out an album. On “Fading Lights,” Genesis not only ended the album in style but they also put an emphatic punctuation mark to close this chapter of the band’s history. (By the way, can we all pretend that We Can’t Dance was the last Genesis album? Yes? Great! So it’s settled: there were no Genesis albums recorded after We Can’t Dance… none whatsoever… certainly none with a different singer and drummer, because that would be ridiculous. In fact, that wouldn’t be a Genesis album at all.)

Brand X – “And So To F”

Oh yeah, Phil Collins had another band: Brand X. Collins played drums for this British jazz fusion outfit on and off in his spare time for about 5 years before finally leaving to focus on Genesis and his solo career full time. This track, off the band’s 1979 album Product, is a great example of Phil’s unique drum styling and timing.

John Martyn – “Can’t Turn Back the Years” feat. Phil Collins

British singer-songwriter John Martyn collaborated with Phil Collins a few times over the years, with Collins playing drums and singing backup vocals on Martyn’s albums Grace and Danger and Glorious Fool (which was also produced by Collins). Before Martyn’s death in 2009, he and Collins recorded this track (originally on Collins’ Both Sides) for an album that was later released posthumously in 2011 titled Heaven and Earth. Martyn’s weary vocal delivery here adds new meaning and depth to Collins’ words. While Martyn made the song great, it’s still nothing without Phil Collins’ knack for a catchy ballad.

Phil Collins – “Colours”

Say what you want about Phil Collins, but there’s no denying the man has a knack for writing epic songs that provide the most bang for your buck. Sometimes they’re in short, compact tunes like “Against All Odds,” but other times, Phil can’t help but write a longer song that could’ve fit on a latter-day Genesis record like this one from …But Seriously.

Phil Collins – “It’s In Your Eyes”

Ok, I realize this isn’t THAT much of a deep cut since it has an official music video, but any chance to see Phil Collins play a guitar is pretty rare. Since this song is from an album that was released WAY later in his solo career (1996’s Dance Into The Light), it’s been unfairly neglected. It’s a delightful little pop song in the vein of George Harrison. Speaking of whom, did you know Phil Collins played the congas on “Art of Dying” from Harrison’s All Things Must Pass? I guess being an audience member in the film for A Hard Days Night wasn’t Phil’s only Beatles-related claim to fame. The more you know!

Phil Collins – “Thunder and Lightning”

Funky Phil Collins is the best. And… wait… this song has a music video too?! I thought I was being so clever with these “deep cuts.” What the hell, man? You’re making me look bad! I think Phil just loves being filmed while walking around casually as he lip-syncs his songs. He’s probably making a music video right now while he brushes his teeth. I bet he’s wearing suspenders too.

Phil Collins – “We Said Hello, Goodbye (Don’t Look Back)”

As a B-side to “Take Me Home,” this song tends to get overlooked, which is a shame because it’s one of his best ballads. No way would this song have fit on No Jacket Required, one of the most essential albums of the 80’s, but it’s a clinic in tasteful pop songwriting. That echo-y piano plunk, the build-up, the climax… it’s Phil Collins pretending to be Elton John, but without the glam.