Music

Kimbra: The Golden Echo

With the help of Gotye, you can't help but feel like Kimbra's follow up to her magnificent debut squanders her undeniable talent.


Kimbra

The Golden Echo

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2014-08-19
UK Release Date: 2014-08-18
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There is a catch 22 that happens when your main claim to fame in the music industry is as a guest vocalist in a duet. Yes, you get quite a lot of exposure and mainstream music listeners directed to your solo music had you not been that featured artist. On the other hand, the success you possess is usually predicated on the talents of someone else. It’s pretty safe to say that Kimbra stole the show on the magnificent “Somebody That I Used to Know” and had her presence not been on that track, it would have crumbled as a typical whiny love song of heartbreak and longing. However, that brilliance and clever dynamic structure sung in duet form, was the brainchild of Gotye. It was he who ultimately propelled Kimbra into a spotlight. From there, it was anyone’s guess as to what she would do with it.

The first thing she did was re-release her pretty awesome debut album Vows in a newly restructured format. And where that album showcased a budding young talent chalk full of some interesting and intriguing ideas, her follow-up The Golden Echo, while an admirable effort, is far too bloated and overproduced to truly warm up to. The album, plagued with meandering melodic moments that feel forced into position, begins with the fairly boring “Teen Heat”, which is reminiscent of everything but the budding narcissism and angst you would associate with being a teen. It’s immediately swept up by the more appropriate but equally bizarre “90s Music”, the first single off the album.

While intriguing for the song's unusualness (there really isn’t anything else going on in popular music like it), “90s Music” is bogged down by needless name dropping of '90s inaccuracies and weird pairings. Who would ever think to include Nirvana and Aaliyah next to each other, and calling out Left Eye and TLC is redundant as Left Eye is the "L" in TLC. It’s a perplexing track that parallels a trivial “missing you” love song next to the sheer mentioning of '90s music. More perplexing is that it sounds nothing like anything that came out of the '90s. It’s a gimmicky track meant to pull in listeners through the mentioning of better artists and the praise of one of the most nostalgic eras in music.

Following these two bizarre, yet oddly absorbing tracks, is the album's golden moment and best song,“Carolina”, with its catchy cooings and overemphasis on its rhymes: "On a ride TA / Caroli-NA / Drive for miles TA / See the lights-A." It is that groove along moment you were waiting for, it just took three songs to get there. The rest of the album tends to meander along with little purpose or catchy tunes to hook you in. Kimbra prefers to "OOOO" and "AH-OUUH" her way through songs in an attempt to add value to tracks that underneath it all are really just filler until you get to that next track you can groove with. There are a few tracks where this happens, however many of them are mired in older throwback styles ("Miracle", "Madhouse", "Rescue Him") that make you long to hear proper '70s disco and '90s R&B rather than these well-intended but ultimately unsatisfying interpretations.

When "Love in High Places" finally plays, the only track that lives up to the promise of "Carolina", you've forgotten why you're really listening. And therein lies the main problem with Kimbra's The Golden Echo. As well intentioned as it is, with occasional mesmerizing production that flutters back and forth, everything leaves you feeling like there should have been more at the root of this project. Kimbra's thrust into the limelight was for good reason, as she's quite an inventive and stylized talent who can command your presence, so she need not hide behind all the fluff and the flutter to captivate you. She can do that with a simple and haunting melody.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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