Stu Brewer - Studio Brewdio

Home of Stu Brewer and his explorations in guitar playing, teaching, creating and gear

Filtering by Category: Record Of The Week

Record Of The Week #5 - "Broken" by Nine Inch Nails


I think this short but sweet EP had more of an impact on my younger self than anything else and I still remember first hearing it. When I was around 11 or 12 my main source of music (in the pre-internet era) that wasn't my parents choices was either MTV (when they actually showed music videos) and loaning cassettes from the local library.

I used to devour any cassette that I had vaguely heard of or seen in the pages of Kerrang!.

I started off with the big bands of the time, Guns 'n' Roses, Def Leppard and Metallica and then moved on to groups such as Black Crowes, Megadeth and Faith No More. From this onto the grunge behemoths of Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. One of my favourite things to do was to listen to those albums on a beaten up walkman while doing my paper round and by and large I knew what to expect from each one I listened to.

Then on my weekly excursion to the library I spied the burning lower case "n" on the cover of "Broken" and it looked unlike any other album cover of the time. I had heard of the band but had no idea what they sounded like, other than the fact they were a rock group so must be cool.


I duly handed over my library card for the cassette to be checked out into my possession for a week and popped it into my walkman to be listened to on the way home.

What I was presented with was an aural assault on my eardrums unlike anything else young and impressionable me had ever heard. The guitar tones sounded raw and processed, nothing like the classic Marshall stack rock sound I had become accustomed to. The vocals were full of genuine angst but still melodic and structured and the other instrumentation introduced me to synths in an industrial setting.

Opening with the fading in "Pinion", that on first listen I thought was too quite. Silly me turned up the volume only to be knocked out with the sheer ferocity of "Wish" and the wall of noise guitar riff that introduces "Last".

I had managed to catch my breath by the time "Help Me I Am In Hell" had finished, a nice instrumental breather before the tour de force in stereo separation that is "Happiness In Slavery" continued the onslaught. One thing that got me was between all the rage was a musical intuition that elevated the music beyond angry noise rants. A case in point would be the way the drums pan between left and right speakers in the drum breakdown during this song. Not since the Beatles had I been so aware of separation between stereo parts.


The EP ends (if you discount the secret tracks) with the punk stylings of "Gave Up" and from that moment on I was a full on member of the NIN fan club.

Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails have released many a great albums since "Broken", "The Downward Spiral" and "The Fragile" being two timeless examples. Yet I always seem to come back to "Broken" as being my favourite release, it still sounds just as aggressive as when I first heard it and in digging deeper into the recording process I've learnt more and more to ignore conventional recording techniques and to experiment with everything. Mellotron through a ton of distortion? Why not!

If you want to find out more I recommend have a read of the liner notes to the recent rerelease on vinyl and also have a read of these articles: and


Record Of The Week #3 - "The War Of The Worlds" by Jeff Wayne

"No one would've believed in the last years of the nineteenth century..."

Like many people, this album was a major milestone for me growing up. We used to have it on in the car on long journeys, had the LP at home and along with the Star Wars soundtrack it opened my mind to both the wider scifi world (and therefore geekdom as a whole) and the power of a soundtrack to conjure images in my mind the same way a good book or film would.

First kudos must go to the hiring of Richard Burton as the narrator. His booming opening monologue is etched into my mind and his is the perfect voice to portray Jeff Wayne's vision of HG Wells story.

Then it hits you, that massive opening string riff to "The Eve Of The War", bigger than anything by Beethoven that just send shivers down your spine and that even on repeated listens has the same emotional impact. 

Something that has always amazed me about Jeff Wayne's version is his use of the instruments of the day (bare in mind this was recorded in the late 70's so no computers or sequencers) to portray both the past, victorian era London, and the future possibility of aliens. The whole album just drips musicality from the Black Smoke band employed to play on it. Ok the drum sound and use of wah is straight out of the 70's but somehow it still holds up. Herbie Flowers bass playing is immense, listen to "Horsell Common and the Heat Ray" as proof. From the same track you get the first appearance of that huge fuzz slide guitar riff from Chris Spedding and the main riff played on Tar, a stringed instrument from Iran that first got me into weird and wonderful instruments from other countries.

Also from the same track is a prime example of Jeff Wayne's genius use of sound design. Listen to the opening section when the aliens cylinder lid opens. The sound effect used to accompany Burton's narration is perfect to conjure a picture of a menacing space craft opening up to the outside world. In reality the sound was created by rubbing two saucepan lids together, inspired idea! Go try it next time you're doing the cooking.

I'm sure if you've heard the album one of the most memorable noises is the sound of the alien octave shifts (listen to the start of "Horsell Common..." for an example). Those sounds along with all the other synths were created by Ken Freeman. Nicknamed "Prof" due to his skill in building and modifying electronic instruments to create unheard of sounds that are a staple of the whole album.

One sound that wasn't a "Prof" Freeman creation was the "Ulla" alien scream, created by a guitar, talk box and a ton of fuzz and was again a brilliant mix of sound design and musicality.

At the other end of the musical spectrum is "Forever Autumn", with it's haunting opening guitar arpeggios and Justin Hayward's reminiscent vocals. In fact all the vocal talent on the album do a stellar job, from Phil Lynott's rock stylings on "The Spirit of Man", Chris Thompson on "Thunder Child" and David Essex on "Brave New World".

To end proceedings is the NASA epilogue, giving us the thought that maybe this could happen today! Of course it couldn't but to a young impressionable Stu it was the equivalent of a Marvel movie post credit scene and scared the hell out of me but in a good way!

One final mention must go to the amazing album artwork. I used to spend hours pouring over the images on the inner record sleeve and like an Iron Maiden album cover they expanded on the listening experience to the point they became one in my mind.

If you've never had the experience of listen to "War Of The Worlds" on a good set of headphones in a darkened room go do it now!


Record Of The Week #2 - "Grace" by Jeff Buckley

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For the first of this weeks records I've chosen an album so good I even own it on minidisc (remember those!).

When I first heard "Grace" I was heavily into the grunge scene at the time. My world either revolved around flash guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani or alternative bands such as Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. It was while reading an interview by Chris Cornell, Soundgarden's lead singer, that I first came across the name Jeff Buckley and as an avid devourer of music I set about finding out who this person was. His name was cropping up all over the place, in magazines, being name checked by a wide variety of artists and all over the early internet music pages (yes I really am old enough to recall the awful dial up tone when trying to connect to the internet).

So off I trotted to my local HMV to buy a copy and as I listened to it on the bus as I travelled home it totally blew my mind, so much so I remember missing my stop I was so engrossed.

From the opening bars of "Mojo Pin" with its lush reverb, guitar harmonics and Buckley's amazing voice to the beautiful closer "Dream Brother", this album showed me more than any other that was a world outside my guitar centric bubble full of songwriting, masterful lyrics and subtlety unlike anything else being released at the time.

You can tell through listening to the album that Jeff was a disciple of the past, bringing lost melodic writing skills and adding jazz and folk influences kicking and screaming into the angst ridden 90's but with a heartfelt honesty that can only be genuine. Having had to live with the legacy of his estranged father, singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, always seemed like burden to Jeff, having read their joint biography "Dream Brother" which I also recommend and you can tell he's poured those feelings into this album.

One thing that often gets overlooked is the other musicians and influences on the album. I absolutely love Mick Grondahl's bass playing, especially on the track "Eternal Life" (listen to that gnarly bass tone!) and Matt Johnson's drumming is just sublime throughout. A special mention also goes to Gary Lucas, who co-wrote the first 2 tracks and added "magical guitarness" according to the liner notes.

It was the co-written Buckley/Lucas title track, "Grace", that is the real stand out for me. Hated by recent GCSE music students as being one of the exam questions for a couple of years, it perfectly surmises his use of clever arrangements (check out the way the string lines emphasise the vocal line in the second version), emotional lyrics and clever guitar parts such as Lucas's arpeggiated intro riff.

From a guitar tone point of view its simple yet otherworldly, using just a telecaster, a clean amp and clever use of reverb. Listening to the emptiness in "Hallelujah" or the 12 string slide guitar at the start of "Last Goodbye" as an example. Also its worth checking out this Guitar Player article that dissects the guitar playing on the album:

Jeff sadly died before releasing another full studio album and while other live and demo releases are out there I always wonder what his next release would've been like. I believe he would've gone on to be a timeless musical icon that is so rare in modern times but one thing I am happy for is that we will always have "Grace".

Record Of The Week 18/12/16 - "Man-Child" by Herbie Hancock

For my first record of the week I've decided to go for Herbie Hancock's "Man-child".

This album was first brought to my attention while I was at ACM by the late great Eric Roche. Aside from being an awesome acoustic guitarists he was my sight reading and theory lecturer before his untimely death in 2005. This album is one of my enduring memories of him and was my first real introduction to non guitar based jazz. Although to call it a jazz album does it a disservice as it has a huge funk influence and you can hear its footprints on later albums by groups such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

He used the first track on the album, "Hang Up Your Hang Ups" as a sight reading exercise and an example of how a song can speed up to create momentum and still be awesome musically.  It starts off at a pedestrian 108bpm and gradually rises to almost 130bpm! We threw away our metronomes and learnt how to actually play with other musicians instead of sticking to a regimented tempo and that lesson has always stuck with me.

Beside the first track there's great tunes throughout the album. The squelchy synth bass in "Steppin' In It" (which to me sounds like an Arp Odyssey), the bpm shifting jam-like "The Traitor", the chilled out vibe of "Bubbles" and the Fender Rhodes stylings on "Sun Touch".

There's also some great guitar playing throughout by Wah Wah Watson (of Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye fame), Blackbird McKnight (who later went on to become the guitarist for Parliament and Funkadelic) and David T. Walker (again a guitar player for the Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye).

If you haven't heard this album before and are a fan of the funkier side of rock go check it out now.