Mew and Passion Pit

Last time I saw Mew live, they came on stage and immediately started playing the most cacophonous sound you’ve ever heard. Disjointed, loud, messed-up, it didn’t bode well. But suddenly, you could start to hear a melody coming through all the noise and it all made sense; this gorgeous music just erupted, with Jonas Bjerre’s angelic falsetto over the top. Most bands can go from tune to noise, no-one can go the other way like Mew. I’ve even done a little equation:

N -> T > T -> N

where N = Noise and T = Tune

And so it goes with this new track, just released a day or so ago. Called “Introducing Palace Players” (these crazy Danes) from their new album “No more stories…” (I’m not going into that one now), it does that whole noise to tune thang rather superbly. Plus, it’s a kind of New-Order-Timbaland-Prince-MGMT-Girls-Aloud type song. I really don’t know how to describe it.

(MP3 thanks to Data Sapiens)

What In God's Name Is That???

What In God's Name Is That???

And on another note, I feel I’m too old to like Passion Pit, but who cares when they make tunes like this?

MP3: Introducing Palace Players by Mew (a repost as the tags were messed up before)

MP3: Make Light by Passion Pit

Buy Mew’s “And the Glass Handed Kites” (CD)

Buy Passion Pit’s “Manners” (MP3)

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Review – Ascenseur Ouvert! by The Kingsbury Manx

Some bands are special to you. They can be huge megastars that you discovered early, and you’ve seen them grow to stardom, from tiny little clubs to huge arenas. There are the small bands who only release an album or two before disappearing. There are the indie favourites who never quite break into the mainstream, but are influential and critically acclaimed. Then there are the bands who give a small bunch of fans a nice warm feeling inside, and pretty much carry on their day jobs, raise families, and still release the occasional record.

And it’s this last set of bands for whom the Internet could well be the saviour. To release a record in the good old days, you had to turn up to a studio, for weeks at a time, do promotional tours, play venues that you could only make money on if you sold out 1. Getting a CD into the store was an expensive business. Now, you can record much of your record in a cheap home setup, proper recording studio rates have plummeted, and who needs to go on a huge, expensive promo tour when you’ve got a bunch of fans on the Internet happy to sell the record for you?

Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t make a living like this, but as a pro-am hobby it takes some beating. But what it does do is let bands like this continue, in proper, real form, releasing records, and making people happy. Which leads me onto the Kingsbury Manx. They are one of those special bands that not many people have heard of, and probably haven’t influenced many people, and critics by and large ignore them (though Pitchfork gave them a very nice review recently). And as you might realise by now, they are very special to me.

Manx on a sofa

Manx on a sofa

“Ascenseur Ouvert!” is Kingsbury Manx’s fifth album. Over the last nine years, they’ve been making music that seems simple to the ear, but has hidden depths that reward the curious listener. With opaque, softly sung lyrics, their songs are a pleasure to listen to – not quite easy listening (with the blandness that entails), but their warm, unfussy sound rests easy on the ear, and draws you in. Often, each instrument – the guitar, bass, keyboard – plays a simple tune, but when mixed together with Clarque Blomqvist’s restless drumming, becomes a complex, interwoven tapestry of sound.

See? Not easy to describe, you know. It’s a great trick, being as deft as this, which surprisingly few bands manage as well as the Manx do. And they’ve managed it with four great albums so far. Does this one live up to its predecessors2?

Opening with “Walk On Water”, you know straight away that the band haven’t decided to take a disco-funk-punk direction. The usual Manx themes are there; the lovely warm sound, the opaque lyrics (“A dirty hand wipes dusty cobwebs from my eye”), mixing together to form a gentle lead-in to the more lively “Over The Ouevre”. That features a keyboard sound so cheesy that you suspect it escaped from a mid-80’s made-for-TV movie about a toy duck that goes on a magical adventure. But somehow, they manage to make it sound good.

From then on, there’s nothing dramatically different; songs pass by very pleasurably, with some catching your attention quicker than others. “These Three Things” stands out, with what sounds like a breakdown in a relationship, harking back to their second album “Let You Down”. Again, beautifully opaque lyrics (“3 is the number I pillage and plunder\A 40-day slumber that you won’t stop talking about”) gently sung over a deceptively simple backing draw you in, delving deeper into the sound of a band who know exactly what they are doing. Get that rhyme of “plunder” and “slumber”; it’s a great rhyme but because it’s made at an unexpected time, it simultaneously welcomes you in and makes you feel slighly uncomfortable. Plus, the sudden breakthrough of a fuzzed-out guitar shocks you into paying more attention than you might have been.

Later on there’s “Galloping Ghosts” which, as you should expect by now, drifts past you the first few times until suddenly part of your brain goes “Hey, hold on, this is brilliant!” and it takes up earworm residence. And what a lovely video:

As ever, some songs tend to drift by, but that’s not a bad thing. Because, as ever, The Kingsbury Manx play beautifully, and it’s a pleasure to listen to this without any song yelling for your attention. As it slowly unravels, you find more and more to hear. In this day of sudden cheap thrills, you begin to realise that not only might this modern world of Interwebs and and Spotify help a band like this find a fresh audience, it also helps remind you that there’s more to music than just listening to a track here or there, and that some bands really are special. I’ve no idea whether the Internet really will help Kingsbury Manx make more records, but I really hope it does.

Order the album direct from Odessa Records, who will also ship internationally for a few dollars more (as they did for me, very efficiently. It’s just taken me ages to write this). An MP3 download is available here, but then you don’t get the lovely artwork.

Oh, and watch the video for “Well, Whatever” here. No embedding, sadly.

Go and buy the album, already.

MP3: These Three Things by The Kingsbury Manx

MP3: Galloping Ghosts by The Kingsbury Manx

Buy “Aztec Discipline” here (CD)

1 All the mid-sized venues in London are like this; if your favourite band hasn’t sold out the Shepherds Bush Empire then they will be in trouble with their label.

2 Frankly, I really hope so, after being bummed out by stalwarts such as M Ward and Bonnie “Prince” Billy so far this year.

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The Pitchfork 500 Shambles – Orange Juice To The Clean

This post is all about the jangly, amateur sounds of shambolic Indie-Pop. It’s a sound that would go on to heavily influence everyone from REM and The Smiths, the C86 movement, Pavement to Brit Pop and beyond. Not that they realised it at the time of course. This lot were just wanting to make a sound their own on often rather limited funds. $60 in one case.

Orange Juice – Blue Boy
The Television Personalities – This Angry Silence
The Fall – The Classical
The Clean – Tally Ho!

Orange Juice, led by the talented Edwyn Collins, can be considered a prim, Scottish version of hardcore’s Straight Edge movement. Fey middle-class kids like shaven headed, angry punks, I hear you say? Hear me out. These Scots popsters weren’t so keen on the macho drinking culture of Glasgow and wanted to go a clean route, eschewing the drink and drugs prevalent in the local music scene, and replacing them with, well, orange juice. And some amphetamines. And Alan McGee’s organ.

As for “Blue Boy”, it’s got the feel of a band who hadn’t really learned to play (yet) but were trying to copy Television’s chops. Get that guitar solo! For a band that influenced a number of musicians I’m a big fan of (step forward, The Go-Betweens), I’m amazed this period of Orange Juice’s history slipped me by. I’ve already been onto Amazon to buy the compilation released a few years ago, The Glasgow School. What a great song. Sometimes, I’m really glad I’m doing the Pitchfork 500 when I find songs like this on it.

Can’t really say the same for Television Personalities though. Whilst “This Angry Silence” has got that post-Jam, earnest young working-clarse Home Counties boy ranting about his unfair life feel to it, it’s not a patch on the real Jammy thing. Another token entry for the Pitchfork crew.

The Fall’s “The Classical” marks their transition from noisy, shambolic rockabilly post-punkers to something far more interesting. The Fall of the mid-1980’s was one of the shining stars of British music; continually evolving, always sounding different yet intrinsically The Fall, caustic, excoriating, mystical lyrics from their leader Mark E Smith barked over shifting, restless, inventive backing.

“The Classical” is a torrid, yelping affair, with Smith at his angry best. Even better, there’s actually a proper tune and some semblance of songwriting skill rather than the “play one riff and keep it going” methodology of “Live At The Witch Trials” and the like.

It’s also the tune that allegedly scuppered a deal with Motown, with the label’s managers none to happy with the line “Where are the obligatory niggers?”. Mark E Smith, never one to back down from a fight, ended up getting punched in the face in a hotel bar in the US. Sadly I can’t remember who. And what were Motown doing signing The Fall anyway? All sounds a bit odd to me.

Personally, whilst it’s a great song, it’s still not a patch on the work from their true golden age – from Perverted by Language to Bend Sinister – during which there are about 20 tracks that are superior to this. So I’m not sure quite why Pitchfork have chosen this one; the write-up in the book pretty much says the same. So, for you unfamiliar with The Fall, have a listen to this then go and buy some of their classic albums1. Or go on Spotify or Whatever. Just make sure you listen to them.

Lastly, and not leastly, is The Clean. Now this lot really passed me by. Whilst I might have heard Orange Juice’s more famous songs (ok, “Rip It Up”), The Clean made no impact whatsoever in the UK – a point recently (and serendipitously) made in this article in The Guardian just last week 2. “Tally Ho!” reminds me of early Go-Betweens – there obviously being something in the Antipodean water to make pasty white boys play awkward, gangly pop music – and also Pavement, who admit to being heavily influenced by these chaps.

Recorded for, yes, $60, it’s got that pure shambolic feel of a band bursting with tunes and energy but without the financial means to go into a nice, big posh studio. Back in 1981, there was no Garageband, no cheap knockoff copies of Cubase or ProTools, so you had to get a decent reel-to-reel recorder worth thousands to get your song released. Unless you borrowed a mate’s cheapo recorder and just did it all yourself with some friends. The organ riff has been playing in my head fairly constantly for the past few days, which is pretty much a good sign.

So, other than the Television Personalities tune, what a great selection of music. Shambolic, yes, but full of energy, tunes and sheer bravado. Off to the States for the last four songs of this part of the Pitchfork 500.

You can find the full list here.

1 Though quite why the CD reissues have been fiddled with, putting singles and B-sides slap bang in the middle of the album, is beyond me. Ok, in this day and age it’s not too hard to edit, but still, one shouldn’t have to do this. Next time they are reissued, please sort out the track listing. Thank you.

2 And weirdly enough, I was listening to The Clean whilst reading the article in the paper, not knowing the article was in there, and not knowing I’d be listening to The Clean that morning on the way to work. How odd is that?

MP3: Blue Boy by Orange Juice

MP3: Tally Ho! By The Clean

Buy Orange Juice’s “The Glasgow School” (CD)

By “Part Time Punks: The Very Best of Television Personalities” (CD/MP3)

Buy The Fall’s “Hex Enduction Hour”

Buy The Clean’s “Anthology” (CD)

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News – Mew(s), Apostle of Hustle

Sometimes, I buy a CD that I’ve never heard a track off of, usually thanks to a recommendation or a good review. Sometimes, it’s bloody awful. Sometimes, however, it’s like Mew’s “Frengers”, their 2003 album, which was, quite frankly, amazing. It starts off with the classic “Am I Wry? No”:

Now if you’ve not heard it before, you can’t help but be thrilled with Jonas Bjerre’s stunning falsetto (up there with Jeff Buckley’s), and those clean power chords, making you do embarrassing air guitar and singing that sounds like a dog that’s had its tail stepped on. The rest of the album wasn’t half bad either.

So I’m really rather excited to hear that they’ve a new album out in August, which they promise to be happier than their last one (which wasn’t exactly Joy Division-esque maudlin drone-rock).

But the best is the title.

It’s a poem.

Yes, a poem.

No more stories
Are told today
I’m sorry
They washed away

No more stories
The world is grey
I’m tired
Let’s wash away

Ah, these crazy Danes!

And the cover, following on from “….And The Glass Handed Kites” quite repulsive effort, is this:

What In God's Name Is That???

What In God's Name Is That???

A tour of Europe with Nine Inch Nails is already sorted, and hopefully some headline shows soon. This is a band you must see live, as they are truly magnificent.

On another note, I’ve been listening to the new Apostle of Hustle CD, “Eats Darkness”. Pretty decent so far, and the track “Xerses” is getting rather a lot of plays. It’s a fine tune and no mistake. I do love that Broken Social Scene groove.

MP3: Am I Wry? No by Mew

MP3: Xerses by Apostle of Hustle

Buy “Frengers” by Mew (CD)

Buy “Eats Darkness” by Apostle of Hustle (MP3)

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New Music – Sunny Days Sets Fire

I’m a big fan of Word magazine. Trying to separate itself both from the middle-aged rock-tastic Q and Uncut, and the “THIS BAND ARE THE BEST EVER BAND EVER!!!” ludicrous hyping of NME, it’s by and large well written and features lots of different music. The free CD has some pretty decent music on it, though, frankly, I always end up listening to it about three months after it comes out.

Sunny Days Sets Fire

Sunny Days Sets Fire

So, last week I finally managed to listen to April’s edition, and alongside some great songs by Loney, Dear and Howling Bells was a little gem by Sunny Days Sets Fire. Hailing from London (via Italy, Hong Kong and Canada), they do that lovely shimmery pop from the bosom of My Bloody Valentine via Lush and Stars. Here’s “Strangers”, featuring some great “Whoo-ooh’s” over tumbling drums. Can’t beat a bit of that on a sunny Sunday morning.

MP3: Stranger by Sunny Days Sets Fire

Buy “Summer Palace” By Sunny Days Sets Fire (CD)

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Music – Tortoise

All work and no blog makes Loft and Lost a dull boy.
All work and no blog makes Loft and Lost a dull boy.
All work and no blog makes Loft and Lost a dull boy.
All work and no blog makes Loft and Lost a dull boy.

So, in order to try and get back on track, I’m going to try and post more stuff, make it shorter and snappier, rather than the 1000 word Pitchfork spectaculars. Fun though those are. For me, at least.

Tortoise are a band that just defy classification. Post-rock? Avant-jazz? Krautrock-metal? Me, I reckon it sounds like aliens with ADD. I’ve not had the joy of seeing them live (yet) but I imagine they are all 10-foot tall super-humans with 12 arms and tentacles and the like. Just listen to them! Madness.

And they’ve got a new album out soon, Beacons of Ancestorship (nope, me neither). If it’s anything like the lead track off the album, we’re in for a treat. Uneasy listening if I ever heard it. No-one, but no-one, does stuff like this.

MP3: Prepare Your Coffin by Tortoise

Buy Tortoise “Standards” (And You Really Should) (CD)

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The Pitchfork 500 Goes METAL! – Flipper to Iron Maiden

METAL! Skulls. Cider. Screaming. Donington. Long hair. Longer guitar solos. Ludicrous lyrics. Bottles of piss. Dungeons and Dragons. Right, that’s the clichés out of the way.

Flipper – Sex Bomb
Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills

First off, it’s Flipper with “Sex Bomb”. Who, I hear you ask? I dunno, I reply. After listening to this a few times, reading the book, doing a bit of background work, I still have no idea. One of those bizarre, random entries that really don’t make any sense. It’s not like it was massively influential, or even that good. Listen for yourself:

Hmm. Any ideas? Anyone? Well, I suppose it’s got a certain chaotic charm to it, rather like James Chance playing something from the “Nuggets” compilation, but that’s no reason to put it on the list. Goes without saying that Kurt Cobain was a huge fan. Oh, and I hasten to say, it’s not metal, I’ve just lumped it in here for convenience.

Back to some normality with Motörhead’s“Ace Of Spades”. I remember watching this on The Young Ones and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. And it was. Still is. This song rocks. It rocks with a studded belt, a dirty t-shirt, oil-stained jeans, long manky hair, and an array of facial hair, metal adornments, and tattoos, possibly about your mother. Just look at them:

None More Rock

None More Rock

They rock. Lemmy rocks even when selling pensions, and manages to be even more rock by being rather more erudite and intelligent than most indie-schmindie kids (although the Nazi memorabilia thing is somewhat disturbing). Drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor looks like he’s spent his entire life mainlining meths and puts speed on his cornflakes, which, in fairness, he probably has. This is the man who continued to play after breaking his neck, and in a separate incident, gaffer-taped a drumstick to his hand after breaking it in a fight. See, Metallica? THAT is rock, not your pussy-assed whining about your therapist.

If an alien came up to you and said “So, Earthling, what’s this heavy metal all about then?” you’d just play them this. And they would agree, and spread the word of rock to the galaxy. This is rock. Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll, death, gambling, umlauts, what more can a man ask for?

Have I said it rocks yet?

Iron Maiden’s “Run To The Hills” rocks too, only not quite so much, and in a much more ludicrous way. Whilst “Ace Of Spades” is out drinking cider and shagging your girlfriend, “Run To The Hills” is throwing an 18-sided dice and wondering when it will finally get to feel a lady’s front bumps. Featuring more drums and guitars than you should shake a Staff of Nightbane (+10HP, +3 INT, -1 AGL) at, it also features Bruce Dickinson’s patented “Sing Like You’ve Caught Your Bollocks In A Door” singing style. Mind you, when you’re singing about the destruction of Native American civilisation and the murders of thousands, nothing less will do, I suppose.

Goes without saying that, just like “Ace Of Spades”, the drumming and guitar is phenomenal. This song defines that certain brand of Heavy Metal (NWOBHM)1 so beloved of spotty teenage herberts, much maligned and patronised, but also has a certain ludicrous beauty to it. I’d much rather listen to this than bloody Hall and Oates any day.

Next up, more Heavy Metal with Orange Juice.

1 New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, since you’re asking

MP3: Ace Of Spades by Motorhead

MP3: Run To The Hills by Iron Maiden

The whole list is here.

Buy “Generic Flipper”

Buy Motorhead’s “The Best Of” (CD)

Buy Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere Back In Time: The Best Of: 1980-1989” (CD/MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Mosh Pit – Bad Brains to Wipers

These songs remind me of dark, hot sweaty underground clubs, filled with teenage men, hot sweaty and lithe, writhing against each other, limbs flailing, reaching a state of ecstasy. Ah, the mosh pit. What the hell did you think I was talking about?

Bad Brains – Pay to Cum
Minor Threat – Minor Threat
Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia
Black Flag – Rise Above
Wipers – Youth of America

Bad Brains started off as a jazz fusion act, until deciding to become a hardcore punk band. And that’s not a sentence I think I’ll ever write again. Wonder what prompted their change of heart? “Hey, Darryl, I’m tired of all these diminished 3rds and 7/8 time signatures, let’s just be punk, dammit!” So, anyway, there sure knew how to play, as “Pay To Cum” demonstrates – fast as hell, but beautifully timed with some serious chops on show.

Being so good at what they did kind of spoil the field for everyone who followed them – after all, part of the fun of punk was that it wasn’t full of excellent musicians, so up-and-coming acts had to work rather hard to follow Bad Brains – but they then decided they’d had enough of hardcore and morphed into a reggae band.

As you do. Anyway, great song.

Minor Threat defined the hardcore punk movement “Straight Edge”. Teenagers love to rebel. It’s what they do. It’s their raison d’etre. So what do you do when your parents don’t mind you drinking, smoking, doing drugs, and sleeping around? In fact, they actually promote it? You don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex. That’ll teach ‘em! Seriously though, it’s a funny thing to do as a teenager. As anyone approaching middle-age will be happy to tell you, one’s later years are spent not being able to do all those things, partly due to work and family commitments, and partly because you’re just too tired. Have one big night out and you’re still paying for it three days later. So not doing this as a teenager seems a bit off to me. Youth of today – eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you’ll have kids and a mortgage and a strange desire to watch “Railway Walks” (I speak from personal experience).

The song? Oh yes, it’s not half bad, you know. But really, kids, don’t listen to them – drinking is fun. Oh yes.

Out of all these bands, I’ve actually regularly listened to, and owned records by, only this one band – Dead Kennedys. I had “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” as an innocent 15-year-old and once delighted my friends by trying to play “Kill The Poor” on the guitar, alongside my redoubtable repertoire of “1969”, “No Fun” and a couple of Velvet Underground songs. Formed in late 1978 in San Francisco, singer Jello Biafra (not his real name) wrote lyrics of fearsome intensity and intelligence, backed with deranged, frightening guitar:

Mind you, my personal favourite has always been “California Uber Alles”:

But I can see why the Pitchfork writers went for “Holiday In Cambodia”. Both still make your hairs stand on end and fill you with righteous anger. They just don’t make ’em like this any more. Interestingly enough, both songs featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty in 1980, and were the only entries by non-British or Irish acts (they both appeared in the following year’s chart, joined by Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman”).

(This leads me onto a brief digression. As I mentioned, I had Dead Kennedys records, but the rest of these bands stayed pretty obscure in the UK at the time. I guess it was largely due to the fact that, since punk hit in 1976, people were rather tired of this sort of thing by the early 80’s. And there was rather alot going on, so music seen as just harping back to what had happened five years before kind of got ignored. After all, we had New Order and Echo and the Bunnymen, who needed angry young men shouting at you?)

Black Flag had been doing the rounds for a couple of years, with a fairly rapid turnover of members thanks to leader Greg Ginn’s insistence on a hardcore (boom tish) work ethic of daily practice sessions and constant touring. Henry Rollins, the band’s fourth (!) vocalist, described him as “Patton on steroids”. Fun guy. Also forming SST, the influential record label, Black Flag spread their word to the suburban kids by getting in a van, playing wherever they could, and selling records as they went. They were the evangelical preachers of hardcore, telling the kids they could rise above the expectations of their suburban parents:

Terrible sound quality, sure, but just look at those teenage Philadelpians yelling along to a topless Rollins (just started on his road to muscle-bound fury). Ah, the mosh pit. I’m getting nostalgic again.

Lastly, it’s Wipers “Youth Of America”. Don’t remember hearing this tune before, though I do remember hearing a very long hardcore punk song in a club I used to visit in Frankfurt (The Cave). So maybe that was it. Certainly more ambitious than your run of the mill hardcore tune, singer Greg Sage rails against both the left and the right beating down teenagers, saying wisely “They’ll try to put you 6 feet under the ground”. And at ten minutes long – shocking enough for a hardcore tune – he certainly has the time to drill the message home. Big influence on Nirvana, apparently (though let’s face it, so was every band you’ve never heard of).

Goes on a bit though.

Anyway, that’s it with this hardcore lark. Enough sweaty bodies and shouting. Next time it’s Motorhead (yay!) and Iron Maiden (boo!).

MP3: Pay to Cum by Bad Brains

MP3: Holiday in Cambodia by Dead Kennedys

The whole list is here.

Buy “Banned in DC: Bad Brains’ Greatest Riffs” (CD)

Buy Minor Threat “Complete Discography” (CD)

Buy “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” (CD)

Buy Black Flag’s “Damaged” (CD)

Buy “Best Of The Wipers And Greg Sage” (MP3)

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The Pitchfork 500 Drivetime – Abba to Journey

These five songs on the Pitchfork 500 are the kind of thing you’d expect to hear on drivetime radio anywhere from California to Krakow. Mixing both European and American bands, all of these bands (aside one) were enormous in the 1970’s, making their fortunes in the great commercial explosion of popular music. Fascinating people too, from Abba’s intertwined romances, through Roxy Music’s son-of-a-coal-miner glamour, Queen’s flamboyant Zanzibari singer, to Bruce Springsteen’s Noo Joisey working class boy made good from hard, hard work.

Oh, and Journey. You just had to go and spoil it, didn’t you, Pitchfork?

ABBA – The Day Before You Came
Roxy Music – More Than This
Queen (With David Bowie) – Under Pressure
Bruce Springsteen – Atlantic City
Journey – Don’t Stop Believing

Abba had reached the end of their stunning musical career in 1982. They’d had hits all over the globe, sold an eye-watering 370 million records, were feted as musical geniuses, and with their deft mix of modern pop with traditional folk and a serious ear for a tune, had brought untold happiness to millions. As their magical chemistry faded away to rancour and bitterness, they released their last single, “The Day Before You Came”. The song, a tale of the mundanity of a young woman’s life before she met her lover, has all the faded glamour and chill of Stockholm in mid-December1. The last song they ever recorded, with Agnetha recording her vocals in the dark, “The Day Before You Came” is lovely, hopeful, and sad, in equal measure. A truly unique band.

I would have picked “Does Your Mother Know” though.

Roxy Music, formed by a bunch of art students from Newcastle Upon Tyne, brought futuristic glamour to mid-’70’s England. But after losing Brian Eno to a battle of egos with singer Brian Ferry, the arty edge that had made their music so fascinating was replaced by a smoothness and opulence, mirroring their now rich lifestyles (not bad for a band led by a man whose father made his living down a coal mine).

The song itself tells the tale of ships that pass in the night, one night stands, and being carefree. Nice to know that sleeping with all those models didn’t go to Brian Ferry’s head, eh? But you can hear the loneliness in Ferry’s voice, that he’s pining for more but can’t quite express what it is.

As for interesting backgrounds, how about a man from a small island off the coast of East Africa sporting a mustache that marked him out as very, very gay (this being back in the days when this sort of thing simply didn’t exist)2, with an opera-singer voice and a sense of drama unparalleled in modern music; mixed with a guitarist who’d built his guitar out of the wood from his fireplace and a dull but worthy rhythm section. Already massive stars, they recorded this in 1982 with David Bowie, who added his usual panache and dexterity to an often overwrought band. But all you hear when you play this record is some stupid dumbass rapping over the top of it.

Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby on MUZU.

Ok, it’s a great song, forever ruined by Vanilla Effin’ Ice. Git. Bowie and Mercury dance round each other, complementing rather than competing, and make the sort of record you’d be happy to listen to whilst sitting in a traffic jam on the M42.

It was not cool to like Bruce Springsteen in the ’80’s in Britain. He epitomised everything that was uncool about America, with his check shirts, plain Telecaster, and big muscles, grunting away about the working man and how great America was. Hey, we had synthesisers you know! What we’d missed was how he was a genuine successor to Dylan (not that he was liked much either), and was championing the common man rather than being a patriotic Reaganite – anything but, in fact.

“Atlantic City”, lead single from his gloomy album “Nebraska”, wasn’t exactly a hit. Many people were turned off by Bruce’s refusal to churn out hits like “Born To Run” and “Hungry Heart”, but now, nearly thirty years on, you can appreciate how he was trying to dig out songs from the depths of his soul, rather than just repeating himself.

Coming to Brucey late, I must admit I didn’t quite warm to this (I’d still have chosen “Hungry Heart”), but it does show off his superb skills, both as a musician, lyricist and a singer. How about “Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact\But maybe everything that dies some day comes back” for starters? And you just know it’s all going to go horribly wrong for the subject of the song. Don’t meet the man! It’ll end in tears!

My golly, is Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” bad. It’s Ace Of Base bad. It’s so bad I had to listen to it twice to make sure. Holy sweet Jebus, mother of Mary, but it’s awful. It’s the song that will be playing over the PA system at the gates of Hell. Really, those hipsters at Pitchfork must be chortling over this one. “So, let’s not put “Been Caught Stealing” in the list, even though it’s a modern classic with a superb video to boot, no, let’s replace it with a bit of godawful MOR that right this very minute, is playing on a Clear Channel radio station somewhere in this great country of ours”.

Bastards. Of course, being the hipster douchebags they are3, the book states that people who don’t like this record don’t exist. Wanna bet? Ok, so it’s got a certain earworm quality to it, but the awful instrumentation and clammy feel to it just turns me off. I’d rather listen to a selection of contemporary Christian Country music than this. Or maybe Jonas Brothers.

Ok, maybe not. Still, at least the next set of songs will soothe my furrowed brow.



1 Trust me, I’ve been there, I know what I’m talking about. The sun comes up at about 11am, then pootles around on the horizon before buggering off again some time after 1pm. No wonder they drink like crazy. Nice place, though.

2 Amazingly, there were people who didn’t realise that Freddie Mercury was actually gay, just that he was a touch flamboyant. I mean, Rock Hudson, yeah, that was a bit of a surprise, but Mercury? The tache? The leather? The calling your band “Queen”? What planet are you on? And don’t even get me started on George Michael.

3 I don’t really think that Pitchfork writers are hipster douchebags – they have introduced me to some fantastic music over the years and for that they earn my undying respect.

MP3: The Day Before You Came by ABBA

MP3: Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen

Buy “Abba Gold Greatest Hits” (MP3)

Buy “The Best Of Roxy Music” (MP3)

Buy Queen’s “Greatest Hits” (CD)

Buy Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” (MP3)

Buy “Don’t Stop Believin'” (MP3)

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Music – Cocteau Twins and Grizzly Bear

A very good Bank Holiday to you.

First off, a little birdie tells me that Grizzly Bear will be appearing on BBC2’s Later on Tuesday night, with the full programme on Friday night. When I say, a little birdie, I do mean my TV’s EPG. Not a birdie. Anyway, I suspect I’ll be missing it as I’ll be busy watching Arsenal beat Man U 3-1 in the Champion’s League Semi-Final at Ashburton Grove. I tell you now, Arsenal will be leading 2-0 until the 87th minute, when Ryan Giggs will annoyingly score, with Walcott scoring a heroic goal after running the length of the pitch in the 94th minute. You heard it here first.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Grizzly Bear. On TV. Playing stuff from Veckitawoowoo. Tuesday night. Don’t miss it (like me).

Edit: Just reading an interesting article in the New Yorker about our Grizzly friends.

After listening to the next installment of the Pitchfork 500, I needed to cleanse my head of a particularly egregious example of hideous MOR, and what better than the lovely Cocteau Twins? Here’s Donimo. No, I don’t know either; I suspect it’s their famous sense of humour again.

And what a lovely song it is too – it’s got that quiet-loud dynamic of their classic period, with the slight Hispanic inflections later explored more fully on “Echoes In A Shallow Bay”. Funnily enough, whilst listening to this, I opened up a Sunday Times Culture section from a few weeks ago, and there was a photo of Liz Fraser, in an article about how Shoegazing Is Back!. Not a bad read for a Sunday afternoon.

So here’s Donimo, and what a fine, fine song it is too.

MP3: Donimo by Cocteau Twins

Buy Cocteau Twins “Treasure” (CD/MP3)

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