Music

Carina Round: Slow Motion Addict

The UK singer-songwriter continues to find her own voice on the follow-up to the impressive The Disconnection.


Carina Round

Slow Motion Addict

Label: Interscope
US Release Date: 2006-08-22
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Comparisons to Carina Round's 2004 album The Disconnection seemed to lead inexorably to the music of one Polly Jean Harvey. Although the Wolverhampton native drew from a wide musical palette, from the confrontational intensity of Patti Smith, to the nocturnal brooding of Nick Cave, to the borderline trip hop of the brilliant "Sit Tight", to the cabaret of "Lacuna", when you have a young dark-haired female singer-songwriter letting loose such feral, primitive blues-based rock music that hearkens back to PJ's Albini days, the temptation to lump the album with a classic like Dry is always there. Plus, when you couple that with the fact that The Disconnection was a better album than Uh Huh Her, allowing longtime PJ fans to get their PJ fix from a younger, saucier, and slightly watered-down model, the timing just seemed too perfect. It was a fitting example of how we sometimes tend to prefer the freshness of a new artist over the sound of a seasoned performer aging gracefully; Carina might have been spewing lyrics that were better suited to the private journal of a pretentious coffeehouse denizen, but the raw passion she conveyed, be it angry or subdued, made it impossible not to fall for it all.

After seducing us two years ago, where to go from there? In Ms. Round's case, the strategy appears to try to shed the PJ comparisons, and make a serious bid for mainstream success. Producer Glen Ballard (you know, the guy behind a certain Alanis Morissette album) has been recruited to add a nice corporate rock sheen to the music, Round's compositions tread carefully between taut post punk and anthemic crowd-pleasers, and there seems to be less a sense of daring, and one of complacency, a willingness to go for the short, snappy singles, as opposed to the six-minute, genre-straddling album tracks. The overall effect of Slow Motion Addict is not unlike Tegan and Sara's modest breakthrough album So jealous: catchy and enjoyable, and delivered with something that resembles conviction, true... but where's the edginess?

The album gets off to an upbeat start, its first 24 minutes locked in a politely insistent groove, with several songs dominated by coy, girlish vocal melodies by Round. Double-tracked vocals add an effective mirror-image feel to the splendid "Stolen Car", as Ballard lacquers on choppy guitars that bring to mind Interpol, Bloc Party, and Metric, but the post punk shtick starts to wear thin by the time we get to "Ready to Confess", "Want More", and Take the Money", a trio of songs that, while certainly slick enough, go through the motions, milking a trend that appears to have gone past its expiration date. Thankfully, we get glimpses of Round in fine form on the snarky, sneering "How Many Times" (just listen to her razzing us during that chorus), while "Gravity Lies" roars with a Jawbox-like jaggedness, melding beautifully with her charismatic singing.

The understated, sultry, strange "Downslow" marks the album's sudden shift from light to dark, as if storm clouds are settling in, and it's here where Round really starts to gain some musical momentum. The title track is unsettling, layered vocals commingling with thrumming bass, cresting waves of guitar, and subtle electronic effects, and is followed by the murky "January Heart", which bears an eerie resemblance to '80s art pop, not to mention a chorus so deceptively simple, it might as well have come from Carole King. "The City" is just plain pretty, a shamelessly maudlin slice of bombastic overproduction that, despite such ludicrous lines as, "The city / A heartbeat / It moves on / Despite me," is sold by a schizophrenic performance by Round, who switches from Bjork-like coquettishness to husky world-weariness from verse to chorus. It's on "Come to You" that the combination of Round's listener-friendly eccentricity and Ballard's lacquer of a mix works surprisingly well, as a seemingly formless opening verse suddenly bursts into the kind of soaring chorus that Doves has perfected in the last five years.

Ballard certainly knows what he's doing, as the album's better tracks sound perfectly suited for commercial modern rock, but the CD almost derailed by songs that stress style over anything resembling substance. Carina Round continues to slowly come into her own on Slow Motion Addict, but as much as she'd like to shed the "young PJ Harvey" tag, she might want to look at the great Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea to see how a truly great artist records a commercial-sounding record while completely retaining her artistic integrity in the process.

6

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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