Lost Treasures – Viv Albertine’s “The Vermillion Border” (Revisited)

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Viv Albertine – “The Vermillion Border”

Cadiz Music (2012)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

Viv Albertine should be anointed patron saint of the domestically dispossessed. After leaving her band The Slits and the music business some three decades ago, she reestablished dominion over her own life after a lengthy submission to the mundane identity of Hastings housewife and mother. When Albertine finally decided to cast off the invisible shackles of marriage, Albertine had no golden parachute of prior chart hits to help zip line her escape from a financially responsible but existentially impoverished husband; a man who possessed no appreciation for the musical visionary he lived with for 17 years.

After releasing an excellent 4 song EP “Flesh” in 2010, Albertine’s formal declaration of independence took the form of her 2012 debut solo album “The Vermillion Border” and it’s a revelation. Albertine is present and in charge throughout the 11 tracks that comprise the album. Each song features her feathery, labyrinthine guitar style and her honey-sweet monotone vocals. And, of further interest is the guest line-up, that features a different bass player on each track – those include; Jack Bruce, Tina Weymouth, Glen Matlock, Danny Thompson and a host of others. If suffering is the compost of good art, “The Vermillion Border” is an art piece 25 years in the making. Stylistically, the album is clearly informed by the artist’s eclectic and inclusive listening habits as well as her life experiences with sexism, cancer, marriage, motherhood and divorce. You would not expect such a catholic variance in style, tone and color from an ex-punker. However, when you factor in that her favorite guitar player is Progressive Guitar icon, Steve Howe from Yes, it all starts to make sense. As a guitarist she conjures an impressive range of sounds and rhythms using muted strings, drone strings, note clusters, capos and chord embellishments.

Naked Guitar HI Res

“The Vermillion Border” is a rich banquet of mood and tone. As a songwriter, Viv keeps it simple and sticks to verse/chorus song structure with the odd bridge or transition.  Her voice is an unpretentious instrument of persuasion that – when layered and doubled – can add up to significantly more than its component parts.

What follows is a track by track overview of “The Vermillion Border”

1. “I Want More” If any song serves as a manifesto to Albertine’s third act heroics it’s this track. It’s snarly, provocative and cacophonic in equal and proper measure. Lyrically, it works on many levels; as an existential plea to the cosmic referee to put up a few more minutes on the clock, or as an ultimatum to an underachieving partner to raise their game a notch. “I Want More” charges out of the gate hard.

2.“Confessions of a MILF” – The catchiest track on the album is probably the deepest. The artist has alluded to that fact that nursery rhymes are probably the closest thing young girls have to a collective folk music tradition. The song starts off dead simple with a hooky little Telecaster riff as the bedrock to Albertine’s screed against domestic mundanity. As the music builds and gets angrier, so do the lyrics. The volume and dissonance increases unabated as Albertine chants her repetitive mantras of domestic servitude. It all builds to a raucous crescendo with Albertine howling, “SHOES OFF!” before she crumples to the floor breathless while still gasping her desperate incantations through to the end of the track. A fascinating record by any measure. However, the involvement of Albertine’s ex-paramour Mick Jones (The Clash) turns “..Milf” into an epic.

3. “In Vitro” – Here, Albertine alludes to the travails of In Vitro fertilization, in addition to her regime of chemotherapy; the woman has suffered. The In Vitro regime included daily self-administered stomach injections. But, one wonders if the needles she coos so benignly about could also belong to absent friends who ultimately succumbed to the ravages of Heroin. Arguably the most sophisticated and detailed composition on the album.

4. When it was Nice – One imagines this song was written during that transitional period where  rose tinted denial gradually gives way to the realization that that you’ve grown to dislike the person you’re in love with.

5. Hook-up Girl – On this tune Albertine mixes a sappy girl-pop verse with a bouncy malt-shop refrain: all describing the dark melancholy that accompanies a dour, loveless relationship based only on sexual convenience. Clearly, the narrator is not happy with the proffered arrangement, which she describes as… “Blowjobs no kisses”.

6. The False Heart – A druggy mood piece that shuffles sleepily into the twilight zone of despondency. On this piece more than any other, Albertine’s guitar work conveys more than words. Albertine’s voice sounds fragile and emotionally spent, beyond caring. The refrain is a faint schoolyard taunt, wearily repeating the word….liar, liar, liar…

7. Don’t Believe – In her book, Albertine professed her admiration and obsession with John Lennon and his art. “Don’t Believe” is the female riposte to Lennon’s neo-nihilist purge “God”. His influence (lyrically) is clearly present on this track. Written the day her father died, “Don’t Believe” stands as one of the greatest atheist anthems in the Rock pantheon, a slow boil screed where Albertine sneeringly declares belief only in things that she can see, touch and feel. The harmonic structure is a deceptively nuanced, circular guitar riff that brings to mind early XTC.

8. Becalmed (I Should Have Known) – Gorgeous, atmospheric track. Imagine a sober, transgendered Syd Barrett baring his soul after jumping into the existential void without a safety line. Indeed, Albertine’s slithery slide work sounds like it could have been sampled directly from Pink Floyd’s “Relics”.

9. Little Girl In A Box – Having read Albertine’s amazing book “Boys.., Clothes.., Music..”, the lyrics on “The Vermillion Border” scan like a ‘cliff notes’ version of that work. Albertine whispers the lyrics in the manner of a mother reading her daughter to sleep. However, instead of a benign fairy tale, this is a cautionary one for a girl taking her first tentative steps into womanhood. Probably meant for the ears of Albertine’s own daughter. However, the standard mommy speech is clearly extrapolated from personal experience and (possibly) from similar advice given by Albertine’s own mother.

10. Madness of Clouds – Floating, meandering mood piece. The only track on “The Vermillion Border” that courts dispensability.

11. Still England –Clearly, Albertine’s work is informed by that particular love/hate relationship with Britain that other British artists (Kinks, XTC, The Beatles) have mined to great artistic effect. On this tune she gives us a laundry list of the most British of British institutions and celebrities. She somehow combines cultural pride with a healthy distain for bullshit iconography. The song marches along – ticking off such disparate people and entities as The Royal Mail, Kate Bush, David Bowie, Tea, The Roxy, etc…. The final word uttered is ‘cunt’; the most inflammatory, gender specific epithet in the English language. The word is both bracing and startling, while at the same time, it’s uttered casually and unapologetically. Albertine (a stealthy anti-hero in the feminist movement) somehow denudes the word’s power to hurt or shock. “Still England” is the perfect end to a near perfect album.

This writer stubbornly maintains that Rock and Roll as a living, breathing art is dead. However, once in a while a maverick bolt of lightning strikes the corpse and animates the monster to life (however briefly) and thus, forces us to question our pronouncement. “The Vermillion Border” is just such an album.

 

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Peter Banks Original Yes Guitarist (Remembered)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65. sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001 Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history. In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey lbanks 5 A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. banks300 The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. tumblr_lzwwffstdU1r68xguo1_500 The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. banksflash The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better. peter-banks

Hall Of Shame (Spotlight) – YES

Author: Dale Nickey

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame carries a stink. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is also co-founder of the R&R Hall. And it is common knowledge that his personal musical taste dictates the nomination list. The list fails to include some of the more accomplished British Bands or any artist he ‘don’t cotton to’.  He seems to have a particular distaste for British artists in the progressive wing of rock music.

So here then are just a few of the artists who are inexplicably excluded from the Hall of Fame, but occupy our record collections, and rule our airwaves none the less.

YES:  

50 million albums sold

I guess it’s not enough that they are the preeminent and most popular progressive rock band in the history of …well….progressive rock. Not to mention the 50 million albums they have sold worldwide. Their back story is compelling. They reigned supreme in the early to mid seventies. “Roundabout” and “Your Move/Seen All Good People” are classic rock staples right along with “Stairway To Heaven” and “Pinball Wizard”. They perfected the bloated, self-indulgent concept album with “Tales From Topographic Oceans”. An Album cited by many journalists as their greatest folly (despite the fact it shot to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic upon release). They fell on hard times during the punk revolution only to re-invent themselves and conquer the world yet again in 1982 with a # 1 album “90125” and # 1 single “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.  However, Genesis gets the Hall instead because Phil Collins is cuddlier.

Founding YES guitarist Peter Banks (Obituary)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65.

sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001

Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history.

In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career.

Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey

lbanks 5

A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news.

Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack.

The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs.

banks300

The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book.

The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims.

yesbanks

The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway.

However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”.

banksflash

The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it.

The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending.

“Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better.

peter-banks