A million reasons why Lady Gaga is my hero

So what did you think of Lady Gaga’s half-time show at Superbowl LI? Personally, I thought it was magnificent.

Predictably I got some smart-arse comments on the post, a couple of laughs, but that’s OK. After all, we all have different tastes, and one of the many things Gaga encourages us to celebrate is our diversity. So laugh it up. I couldn’t care less.

Here’s what I posted.

“Anyone that thinks Lady Gaga’s half-time show wasn’t political has either got their head stuck up their arse, or simply doesn’t understand her genius.”

I wasn’t looking for likes or laughs, to be honest. My sentiment was largely in response to a tweet a old colleague of mine had shared on Twitter — presumably in its support — which suggested Gaga had no message in 2017, and that Beyonce’s less subtle effort of 2016 was braver and more meaningful.

I took issue with this. To me, Gaga’s performance packed with political rhetoric, and was flawless in its execution. Here’s why.

The opening
Atop the NRG Stadium, and backed by 300 drones that lit up and hovered miraculously to create the United States’ flag, Gaga sang excerpts from two of America’s most patriotic songs, starting with God Bless America before rolling seamlessly into This Land Is Your Land. She then quoted from the The Pledge Of Allegiance before theatrically diving into the packed arena. What’s so cool about that? Well, it’s no secret that America is more divided than ever right now. What brings Americans together more than anything? Usually patriotic tunes and the star-spangled banner, and a reminder that despite what some people might say, there is a lot to celebrate about the country. It just needs to be focused on a little more.

The first songs
After belting out a small segment of Poker Face — pausing after the first-line reference to Texas as a nod of respect to the Houston location — Gaga moved into her anthem for those on the peripheral, Born This Way. If that wasn’t a middle finger to all the bigots, racists, homophobes and so on that have crawled out of their holes to celebrate the more extreme messages being bandied about by Donald Trump and others, I don’t know what is.

“No matter gay, straight, or bi / Lesbian, transgendered life / I’m on the right track baby/ I was born to survive,” she roared.

“No matter black, white or beige / Chola or orient made / I’m on the right track baby / I was born to be brave.”


From middle to end
After Telephone, which didn’t feature an appearance from Beyonce as some had predicted, Gaga went into positivity mode with Just Dance. “We’re here to make you feel good,” she said after that one. “You wanna feel good with us?”

Looks like the pundits who said she’d been warned off politics were also brilliantly mis-informed.

Million Reasons was the penultimate number, a song all about searching out the best in everything and of course featuring the line “If you say something that you might even mean, it’s hard to even fathom which parts I should believe.” Fake news, anyone? Just superb.

Now I can’t be sure that Gaga’s chosen closer, Bad Romance, was in any way a reference to Trump and his wife Melania’s relationship — I like to think it maybe was — but by this point she was decked out in gridiron shoulder-pads, ready to do battle with any shit the world can throw at her, or any of her little monsters — the term she uses lovingly for her millions of fans.

I’m lucky enough to have seen Lady Gaga live, and I maintain it was one of the best shows I’ve ever witnessed. If you were to look at my musical tastes generally, she is not someone you’d expect me to pay money to see, but it’s her ability to bring social issues to the forefront without aggression or animosity that I admire most.

I remember that night in Sydney, before playing Gypsy, she delivered an impassioned speech to the many LGBTQ members of the audience, showering them with love and the belief that they matter. It was as touching a moment as I’ve ever seen at a musical performance, and trust me, grown adults were crying by the time she finished, and I wasn’t far off it myself. She then massively uplifted us all with the joy of the song Gypsy, which celebrates a world in union. That was the one big track I felt she could have also thrown in at the Superbowl.

But I’m being picky now. My love for Gaga has only grown more as a result of her half-time heroics, and I’m more than happy to put my paws up and scream it from the rooftop of any stadium you want to place me on. Gaga rules, end of story.

Freddie Mercury’s isolated vocals are mind-blowing

We all know the late Freddie Mercury was an exceptional singer. He made Queen one of the most incredible bands to ever record music in any era. But you realise just how amazing his talent was when you hear his vocals isolated with no music around them. Here’s an example of that from We Are The Champions, which Queen recored in 1977, and also released in October of the same year.

How much do we miss Freddie? Enormously.

Eminem gets covered by two guys on one guitar

A great cover of The Real Slim Shady popped up on YouTube this week. Apart from the impressive MC and beat-boxing skills here, two guys playing one guitar is pretty good too! Laurier Lachance has a habit of producing innovative covers on his channel, and this is up there with the best of them. Enjoy!

I’m back, and so is Ásgeir in Icelandic

Finally, I’m back from a big trip away. Sorry for the lack of posts, but hey, some of the places I went didn’t even have Internet. But more about that another time. Tonight I’m happy because magnificent Ásgeir has take it upon himself to upload the songs from his debut album, In The Silence, in the Icelandic language they were written. One of my favourites, Torrent, is here for your pleasure and, the best part, it’s a lyric video, so you can sing along.

I’m delighted that I can now say “raindrops flowing all around” in Icelandic. I’m sure it will come in handy next time I get over there. Oh, I can also say “torrent”, of course. “Nýfallið regn!!”


Light+Shade’s 2013 in review

Another year is behind us. Yikes, how old are we all again? Who cares? It’s time to look back on the past 12 months and reminisce about the things in music that enriched my year. So, in no particular order, here we go.

Album Of The Year: Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
There were a lot of good records released in 2013, but only one truly shone out for me. Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories hit us on 17 May, bizarrely in the sleepy town of Wee Waa in country New South Wales, Australia. After much hype and leaks of the first single, Get Lucky, we all ultimately got lucky when the full record was revealed. It is arguably the French duo’s finest compendium. A collection of superb collaborators, from Nile Rodgers to Pharrell Williams and then some, ensured the musicianship on the record was second to none and as record production goes, you’ll do well to find something better. I reviewed the record after several listens here. I’m still as passionate about it today as I was then, and with every listen it just get better.

Daft Punk: Radom Access Memories

Daft Punk: Radom Access Memories.

There were some other close contenders for this prize. David Bowie‘s The Next Day was an awesome surprise, The Naked And Famous released its second album, In Rolling Waves, which marked the Kiwis up as a truly fine act, and The Joy Formidable also let loose an absolute belter in Wolf’s Law. New discoveries were made, London Grammar among the best of them for me with the release of its debut If You Wait. HAIM also woke up the world after a year on the road. The Californian sisters released Days Are Gone, and Lorde – aka Ella Yelich-O’Connor – also enchanted us with Pure Heroine. Justin Vernon’s side project Volcano Choir also had something really special in its first release Repave, and Arcade Fire, certainly didn’t disappoint with Reflektor, its first release since The Suburbs. Yet again, Sigur Rós produced some musical magic with its latest, Kveikur. Pearl Jam‘s Lightning Bolt struck a home run, too.

For all the great releases, and sadly I haven’t heard them all, there were some howlers that assaulted my ears, perhaps most notably The Weight Of Your Love, from Editors, which was a gargantuan disappointment. Trent Reznor got Nine Inch Nails back on the rails and came up with Hesitation Marks, which probably never should have left the departure lounge. Perhaps most strange was that it was released in a year when he and his wife, Mariqueen Maandig, produced a great debut album in Welcome Oblivion for their side project How To Destroy Angels. At least the year wasn’t a complete steaming dump for him, I suppose. Who knows what horrors were released to the commercial radio stations around the world? This is not a place for the Smileys and Bliebers of this world.. I also didn’t feel the need to rate Kanye West‘s new album highly either, unlike pretty much every music journo on the planet.

Despite these and many more duds, Daft Punk saved us all. Merci to them.

Top 5 Songs Of The Year
1. Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes – This Life
A song of unrivalled beauty and sadness. It’s tough lyrically, as honest as anything you’ll ever hear not just this year but in any year. It’s absolutely magnificent in every way, but don’t listen to it if you’re feeling suicidal.

2. Ásgeir – Lupin Intrigue
The artist formerly known as Ásgeir Trausti has dropped the surname, but maintained his unbridled talent to both write songs and also deliver them with complete purity. A true genius, who is unlikely to make waves worldwide because Iceland is so tragically isolated. He is easily the best male singer-songwriter I’ve heard in decades, and any of his songs could have made this list. And the crazy thing – he’s still only 21 years old.

3. The Naked And Famous – I Kill Giants
Another song of sadness, but so often the best ones are. Singer Alisa Xayalith felt compelled to write about losing her mother to breast cancer, and her terrible loss has most certainly been our gain with this track.

4. NONONO – Pumpin Blood
Pop comes in many forms, and in this case it was a form you couldn’t put down. Damn right, the “whole wide world is whistling”.

5. LORDE – Royals
Like Ásgeir, for someone so young, Ella Yelich-O’Connor has a serious sense of feel in her teenage voice. Royals took the world by storm, and with good reason: it’s a cracking, catchy track we could all empathise with, and delivered by a cracking young lady.

Music video of the year: FIDLAR – Cocaine
Watch Nick Offerman in one of his best performances, doing what we’d all do if we got fired via a text message on an iPhone 3. Yeh, get smashed, and piss all over the world. I don’t think it’s his dick in the video, by the way, but you certainly get the idea.

Honourable mentions in this category must go to David Bowie The Stars (Are Out Tonight), for its androgynous class and for featuring the wonderful Tilda Swinton, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Mosquito, for its grotesque realism, Ciara’s Body Party just for its sheer sexiness and allowing us watch her cavort around in lingerie and heels for a few minutes, and FKA Twigs Water Me, for bringing a whole new perspective to bobble-heads. Click the links, or look them up later if you’re interested to watch these too. Sorry, no wrecking balls or motorcycle fornication here.

Gig Of The Year: Of Monsters And Men, Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Arguably Iceland’s greatest export of the past 18 months, Of Monsters And Men both warmed and stole every heart at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on a chilly July evening. Delivering songs from their outstanding 2012 album My Head Is An Animal, it was impossible not to smile throughout this show, not least when the snow machines started blowing white flakes across a beer-soaked dance floor. A night of wonder and joy.

Honourable mentions on the live scene in 2013, which was a relatively quiet one for me, should also go to Norah Jones‘s breathtaking State Theatre tilt, YACHT‘s energy-packed show at Oxford Art Factory and Saskwatch‘s sensationally soulful and sexy gig at the same venue. Oh, and alt-J, which was faultless at The Metro Theatre, too.

And Finally …
A really Happy New Year to you all, especially those of you that have regularly read my ramblings throughout 2013. It’s been a fun year, and you’ve all humbled me by tuning in when you’ve found time. I’m going to get busier here in 2014, so look out for an explosion of music and more at Light+Shade in 2014.

Freddie and Bowie boss the vocals

David Bowie and Freddie Mercury

David Bowie (left) and Freddie Mercury.

There is little doubt that one of my greatest regrets in life is never having seen Queen live. Freddie Mercury, for me, remains one of the greatest vocalists of all time. As a performer and frontman, he is arguably without peer, even in death. David Bowie, who thankfully is still with us, is up there. When the two of them combined for the 1981 track Under Pressure, a song of the most magnificent quality was produced.

There are a number of things that are brilliant about this track, not least John Deacon‘s bassline, which Vanilla Ice loved to much he sampled it for his biggest hit, Ice Ice Baby. But vocally, the track is as close to perfect as you can get in the studio, I’d say. And we’re talking long before the days of digital production, ProTools and auto-tune. Just listen to this isolated vocal track from the record, and tell me you don’t feel anything.

The lyrics of a song can be meaningful, deep, thought-provoking, emotional, and any number of other things. But without an adequate delivery, they are often barely even noticed. That delivery in part is the responsibility of the whole band, the pressure, if you’ll pardon the pun, on vocalists to deliver the message is immense. For Mercury, though, it was never an issue. The man was simply born to sing. He died too soon, a result of his carefree lifestyle, but for those of us who were lucky enough to be alive when he was making records and strutting the boards of stages around the world, we must remain eternally grateful.

I remember has a youngster watching Queen’s seminal live Wembley concert of 1986 over and over again. It was an obsession. I marvelled mostly at Roger Taylor’s work on the drums, but also Freddie’s apparent ease to captivate an audience of about 100,000 people, whom he held in the palm of his hand for every second of that show. It’s probably his most famous performance, but almost certainly not the only one he delivered.

I wonder if young artists today ever look back at this. Given some of the truly woeful music we hear on the radio, it’s doubtful. There is still so much to be learned from Mercury, Bowie and the many other classic musicians of the time.

As my good friend and composer Fil Eisler said in a link that pointed me to this vocal track, “Best example ever of how auto-tune is killing music by lowering the bar and allowing people become accustomed to the bland.

“Here’s what a REAL vocal sounds like,” he continues. “If this doesn’t make the hairs on your neck stand, you’re either deaf, dead or don’t have a neck.”

Fil’s observation of auto-tune allowing people to become “accustomed to the bland” is spot on. Many of today’s mega acts are fantastic performers, but can they actually sing in the way Freddie did, and Bowie still does? Do they feel every word pouring from their mouths? When Miley Cyrus screams about being hit by a wrecking ball, does she actually believe it? I’m not so sure.

I’ve been driven to tears by some of the things I’ve heard Freddie do. Is This The World We Created? from the Wembley show mentioned above is a perfect example. Just watch it.

It still makes me weep, as does the loss of Freddie himself. May he rest in peace, while we continue to fill the air on Earth with the very special sound of his voice.

Kate Miller-Heidke is no fly by night act

I’ve been listening a lot to Kate Miller-Heidke‘s new record of late, as I’ll be seeing her live in a few weeks’ time. It’s called Nightflight and you get an insight into its recording by watching this clip.

It’s been about five years since I last saw Kate play live, and about that time since I’ve really taken some time to listen to her music. I saw her at The Gov in Adelaide, and she was terrific, if a little quirky. I get the sense she’s matured a lot since then, both in years and also in her song-writing. The title track on the new record, released a few months back in mid-April, is proof of that if ever it was required, perfectly encapsulating the frustration and elation of the constant travel she’s no doubt endured in the forging her path to musical recognition.

For me, it’s the best song on the album, by far. There are other great tracks, like Beautiful Darling, In The Dark and Fire And Iron, where she harks back a little to those quirkier time with this charming opening verse.

Sunday morning and the lawns all mown
We walked through the Japanese gardens home
You tried to impress me by rolling a smoke
But your hands were shaking and the paper broke
I played cool and I took a drag
Coughed like the kid on the Panadol ad
You just smiled and kicked the dirt
Said “We’re not as cool as we thought we were”

But it’s Nightflight that truly soars from this collection of tunes. It builds superbly to an epic crescendo, before falling back to the serenity with which it started. The clip below has the lyrics embedded within, so you can interpret as you see fit. Enjoy.

Falling – a self-therapy song

I’ve just finished re-recording and mixing a track I wrote sometime back in 2009. I wrote it during a pretty dark time in my life in an attempt to cheer myself up and administer a bit of self-therapy. I love music for that. It’s got me out of a lot of shitty times over the years.

The song is basically about being lost and searching for something – whether it be a special person or something else – to give me direction. I called it Falling because I felt like I kept doing that. I’d feel good about things, then somehow manage to stuff it up through my own failings. I wrote it with hope in my head, so it’s not meant to be a sad or depressing number.

Thankfully the darkness has been replaced by bright light these days. I realised through last year I have a lot of special people in my life that at various times or another have helped me get up and feel on top of the world again, so thanks if one of them is you. A word of advice, too. If you’re in a similar spot yourself, don’t push people away if they genuinely want to help you. Everybody needs that at some time in their life. You’ll just have to trust me on that one.

This mix is not perfect by any means, and I’d rather use live instruments than what Logic provides, but I hope you dig it anyway. I’ve posted the lyrics below as well. All feedback gratefully accepted – I think – *gulp*.

Falling (2nd mix) by foraggio

Falling – Toby Forage
See a break in my mind
Take a breath and follow it
Didn’t think to decide
If it was a good idea
Nothing there to define
What I want to be
Lost again in a fire
Burning me I’m black and beaten

Yet again
I’ve been tempted
Once again
Can’t believe it

Everything that I know
Everything that I want for me
Isn’t here as I know
It’s beyond these walls around me
I can’t see any more
As the shadows cross the sun
No more light in my world
But I’ve heard there is a secret

To escape
I can catch you up again
I can be there

But I’m falling down
At the edge of what I want
I keep falling down
In the end
And I’ll climb back up
Try again to stay afloat
I keep falling down
In the end

How can I stop this?
It’s just an avalanche of fear
I can run but I can’t run forever
Maybe you can pull me clear
Pull me clear

Clear, oh oh oh oh
Clear, oh oh oh oh
Pull me clear, oh oh oh oh
Pull me clear, oh oh oh oh

Empathy in lyrics #27

A great acoustic version of the song off Eels’ Tomorrow Morning record. It’s spectacular, all right.

Eels – Spectacular Girl
She’s got her life living in her heart
She’s got these eyes well where do I start?
Like looking at the deep night sky
So many worlds inside her eyes

She’s a spectacular girl

Part of the job of being her man
Is knowing when to let go of her hand
A kind of power it can’t be reined in
To hold her back would be a sin

She’s a spectacular girl

She sees the beauty in things we all miss
All good things are to find by the kiss
If you feeling like you can’t believe
Well then how do you explain the miracle I see

She’s a spectacular girl
Spectacular girl

Not a desire and not a need
Some things just happen because they have to be
I’m gonna get there, I’m telling you sir
I’m a man on a mission and I’m all about her
She’s a spectacular girl
Spectacular girl

Oh yeah
My love