Sunday, December 28, 2014

bands from nowhere, or, "faceless rockno bollocks"

Rather enjoy the way the radio (here at least - LA) throws up these groups that seem to come from nowhere  - you've never read about them, they don't appear to tour or play gigs -  they go from obscurity to ubiquity just like that (but you could be standing in line next to them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's and never know it).

Often it's rock with an electronic tinge, or at least a studio-airlessness - suggesting that the music, while it might have electric guitar or bass guitar in it, has been assembled in the studio rather than developed through playing the song at gigs - basically not much adherence to the performance model of the rock band going on here.

examples



what actually made me think of the genre-not-genre is this lot (or person - who knows, who cares?). "Dangerous" sounds to me a bit like DFA if they weren't playing to the hipoisie gallery - DFA if they were more concerned with serious bread than serious cred - DFA coated with some Phoenix-y melodic flair.

(Phoenix -  although I had read about them, know they are rated by Pitchforks and Spins and so forth - feel like an archetype for this kind of "faceless rockno bollocks"  - electronic but not EDM - tuneful as hell -- but as much as I love "Listomania" when it come on the radio never felt much of an urge to find out anything about them, listen to their albums - which makes me like most radio punters I should imagine)

Another archetypal band-from-nowhere with a song I always turn up is Foster the People "Pumped Up Kicks" - this instantly struck me as a cleaned-up take on Ariel Pink  - the vocal, the weak but insistent drums (could almost be mouth-generated), the hazy elegaic production, the wistful melody, even the Dark Lyrics about, what, a school shooter, a Columbine-style misfit?




One hallmark of these bands is they usually have really wack names.

The other big hallmark of these bands that you don't really care if you ever hear anything else by them. Even if the track  is wonderful, there's zero investment of expectation for a follow-up.

I suppose F.U.N. would count here

(But I suspect they also have fans, an actual following... )

A key ancestor for all this is  "Young Folks" -  although this I also heard first through the usual hip channels, where it seemed vaguely in the zone of Sally Shapiro and stuff like that. But certainly "Young Folks" crops up on modern rock stations in LA as a "recent oldie" as if they were just a Big Data / Foster the P type one-off



What a great beat...

Scandinavians do seem good at this kind of thing, or maybe it's more the case that American radio consigns them to this position - ensuring they'll always be the One Radio Hit band, never achieve that sort of Foo Fighters / Tom Petty / Steve Miller dependable-perennial status on rock radio

One of the first examples that caught my ear



I mean, what is that? How would you genre-assign it?   It's not dance music, it's not rock music, it's not what most people think of when they think of pop (Rihanna, Britney, Ariana, et al), it's not indie....  The video has a bit with a drummer bashing away in it but the groove doesn't sound like a real drummer.

All these tunes sound much louder and forceful on the radio, through compression and whatnot, but outside that context, it's wispy stuff. Denatured to the point of insubstance.

But rather that than the vintage-artisanal rock of Black Keys or Jack White's sundry strands of raspage

stop press: another one i meant to include, reminded of its existence by Ricardo in the comments

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

bonus Head / "The Musical Era in Which The U.K. Ceased to Matter"





i think the idea was that they were meant to be a sort of modern Mott ("modern" meaning Eighties) or perhaps more nearly The Faces (George Best as icon)

kind of New Lad avant la lettre  -  lovably incorrigible reprobates, boys who should know better

congruent perhaps with ironic cock-rock (Zodiac Mindwarp) and Grebo (how's about that for Bad Music Era,  although that would be more 84-85-86-87)

the "raunch" with "Sin Bin" is entirely gestural, not backed up musically

it sounds like Simply Red (or Simple Minds even) trying to do Free, maybe

but in terms of trajectory the (dis)continuum from



through



to

(

is remarkable and tells you something about the wonky path from postpunk to postpostpunk to the directionless heat-death nadirscape of the UK scene in the mid-to-late Eighties

There was a desire to revert to, or resurrect, rock....  but the knowledge-base (immersion in blues, R&B, seasoned through gigging in small club environments and functional orientation towards making crowds dance) atrophied by punk's indoctrination of the attitude + concept = all you need delusion.  The deskilling of a generation.

But I'm merely parroting Carducci at this point.

(When Lydon made a similar dialectical about-face - back to capital 'r' Rock, only half-a-decade after declaring wishfully that Rock Is Dead -- he at least had the nous to hire Ginger Baker, Tony Williams, Steve Vai, Bill Laswell - i.e. technically adept musicians, dating from a pre-punk era or posssessing a pre-punk mindset)

Thing is, Sager knew what  "cooking" was - he'd ridden one of the great rhythm sections of its era in P. Group... and as much as I find RR&P annoying as hell, there is a heat there - the engine was turned on

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Graham Sanford from Our God Is Speed drops by to offer his other-side-of-the-pond perspective on the Bad Music Era, describing it as "The Musical Era in Which The U.K. Ceased to Matter"
as far as nearly all Americans were concerned: 

"I was in high school when MTV went national, so my hs years were filled with Duran Duran, Culture Club, and all the other acts that were being called The Second British Invasion. (Me? I mostly was scrounging around trying to get my hands on records from a couple/few years earlier -- mainly the post-punk stuff that preceded the "New Pop" explosion.)

"But at some point around 1985-6, it was like no one care about what was coming out of the UK, anymore; even though record companies were trying to push the acts really, really hard (via Spin magazine, MTV's "120 Minutes," etc.), relaying all the promo hype. Not many takers, it seemed, for the likes of That Petrol Emotion, SSS, It's Immaterial, Spelt Like This, New Model Army, Gaye Bikers on Acid, et al.. (I think Red Lorry Yellow Lorry might've sold a few stateside discs; but in the end no one seemed to think they were any great shakes.)

"But of course ultimately it was about how most of the music just wasn't much good, if not just plain awful.

"With one of your old Bad Music Era posts, I found myself trying to pinpoint when the tipping point might've been. I think the marketing of Frankie Goes To Hollywood might've been what exhausted the last of American interest -- the frenzy of promotion and sensationalism, but when the album finally came out no one thought it anything special. And then by my calculations, I think the Blow Monkeys was the act at which American audiences said "enough," and pretty much wrote the UK music scene off entirely."

That is how it felt like on our side of the pond too - for some of us, anyway. I was a devout Americanophile, worshipping Husker Du, The Replacements, later Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jnr, et al. And ashamed, with a few exceptions, of the output of the U.K, which seemed spent.  The Bad Music Era lingered on well into the period I was writing on MM, throwing up (appropriate word) the likes of Age of Chance and the aforementioned Grebo gunk. 

 (Of course American had heaping platefuls of indigenous shite. Hold tight for a forthcoming post on College Rock). 

Another one to add to Graham's list of British ignominions would be Love and Rockets, who actually had some chart success in the USA (not in UK though).

And actually all right in their flimsy glammish pop way, but certainly a decline from Bauhaus, who while Gothshit vocally + lyrically, nonetheless had quite an exciting postpunk-related sound and put out some cracking singles.

Also to be filed under f(l)ailed aspiring Resurrection of Rock would be The Cult, although at the time I quite enjoyed their Electric move and even wrote a Sontag-style appreciation of them as camp in a live review, which I might just dig up. (What on earth is a "Love Removal Machine" though? )

The reason I keep returning to the Bad Music Era like a scab is two-fold I think: because it's objective proof to me that there can be periods of cultural decline, it goes against the poptimist article of faith that every year is a a good year; but also because I've reached that point where bad music is more interesting to think about than good music. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

the Bad Music Era (84-85-86) [slight return]

The strange shit my country comes up with...









Confession: I did like the Blow Monkeys for a moment... even interviewed Dr Robert....



now a little self-mystified I confess

pretty man, though, Robert

as was




ooh gosh, always forget about these guys -- front cover of Melody Maker shortly before I started writing for it



Could go on endlessly (not touched Goth or psychobilly or wide-brim hat indie or Kitchenware or ...) but I'll leave it with this one (who i actually reviewed live, early on, severely paying my dues - and eviscerated, naturally)




And then this one - by a groop that had its supporters at MM at the time - not my gang obviously, we loathed them - but which I curiously find compulsively watchable now, as a sort of aesthetic car-crash - the sight 'n 'sound of  British Post Post-Punk Rock Culture Going Down the Plug Hole (which it really felt like it was, pre-MBV etc)



Oh and finally-finally -  this also-oddly-compulsively-watchable, almost inexplicable piece of music / visuals, which - hard though it may be to believe - actually involves a former member of The Pop Group and later of Rip Rig and Panic (who I'd also lump in the Bad Music Era folder if I was feeling mean)




strange strange shit my country came up with - and still comes up with

Sunday, December 14, 2014

“Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment” (1986)

Sigue Sigue Sputnik - not the first but certainly exemplary and refulgent in that long line of UK groops who thought that if you got the attitude right, the concept right, the image right, the interview chat right...  that the music could be an afterthought... that make-do would be sufficient to carry it all off

They swallowed the McLaren line (the music doesn't matter, the schmutter and patter is what counts) hook and sinker

Oh I bought it, for the duration of the first single -- literally, paid my own money *



The sound is Tony James imitating Alan Vega imitating Billy Idol and his producers

But the flimsy became apparent with this




Then you learned that they couldn't sell ads to fill the spaces on the album Flaunt It

That the million dollar advance was only 30 thou





When you've come over like you're the Gordon Geckos of cyber-rock, promised world conquest and the ultimate ruthless rush...

And haven't delivered

probably you should have the decency to crawl away and curl up in a ball of embarrassment

But they always cling on

(And don't forget SSS was go-round #2 for James, after the non-follow-through of Generation X)

They keep trying, as if injecting adrenalin into a knackered death's-door horse could make it spring up sprightly and win the Derby

I love the fact that the single titled "Success" got to Number 31



This peaked at Number 75



Their last "hit"





* This was when I was at Melody Maker so probably could have blagged it, but thought why not buy it at Our Price.....

 MM of course was rabidly pro SSS - or at least those in charge were, i think they thought it was a wedge issue against NME, who would have to be anti on account of their soulcialist bent or indie-ism, but then the inevitable MONSTER success of the band would leave them looking out of touch cf MM. Possibly one or two of those in charge at MM actually liked the monetarist realpolitik espoused by the band, as counter to bleeding-heart Red Wedgism  

At some point that year (86) I was dispatched by my higher-ups to attend, with a view to writing up, a business conference-styled presentation / press conference, given by Tony James, a  primitive version of power points + video as I recall it, in which he unfurled the SSS ideology to an audience of... I'm not really sure.....   potential investors?   Came bac and wrote up a long thinkpiece about how it was just a mirror to the thinking of the financial powers-that-be, there was nothing even fresh or different let alone subversive about it at all ....  said piece was quietly shelved, never appeared.

An interesting case study of how rock's smash-it-up-til-the-day-I-die rebellion posturing and the disruptor discourse of neoliberal financier class actually fit together rather well

Steve Jobs loved the Beatles, after all...

Further Reading: Blissing Out: The Politics of Reaganite Entertainment” (1986) by Andrew Britton. No really, such an essay exists and is worth reading if you can find it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

cool Joolz

as Driscoll she was the It Girl for a year or two in the second half of the Sixties





best at covers, JD & BA




the high-octane raspy organ drive thing of Auger's gets a bit wearing





then she reinvented herself as a far-out jazz-ish chanteuse with  partner Keith Tippett(s)

a female British Tim Buckley

(often a bit too Lorca and not  enough Starsailor)

cool lady though





Wednesday, December 3, 2014

alternative rock history #1

One blogpost I never got around to writing up: trying to imagine a world in which Godley & Crème’s 1977 album Consequences was as massive as the record company thought it was going to be.

Consequences was this concept album the duo did immediately after leaving 10c.c. at the zenith of that group's success ("I'm Not In Love" etc). 

A triple LP, in a deluxe box (like a classical box for a Wagner opera or something), with a 20 page booklet and four full-colour illustrations outlining the Concept.

It was made using the Gizmo, or Gizmotron to give it its full name: this sort of reinvented guitar they’d developed to simulate orchestral textures.



Consequences was a huge production, blurring the lines between pop, radio play, and comedy (Peter Cook was involved).



Now this is what interested me: the record company, Mercury, actually priced it even higher than a triple LP needed to be. They thought it would sell as this quality, high-cultural thing, a prestige purchase. They were thinking, I guess in the wake of Mike Oldfield and so forth, that this was the direction music was going.



But it took so long to make--18 months--that by the time it came out in the autumn of 1977, punk was all the rage. The album was a total bust.



That got me thinking about what circumstances would have had to prevail for Consequences to be a Tubular Bells level smash. I concluded that punk would either have had to not happen at all, or happen earlier, in a smaller way, such that it was all over by 1977.  It was just bad timing for Godley and Crème, their record came out at the worst possible moment.  The Wall was massive a few years later, as was Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds (similar in many ways –  double elpee, lavish booklet, use of actors and spoken word, beautifully detailed and spacious production with lots of stereophony and alien electronic sounds  – a movie on wax, basically, with a cast of dozens).



My thinking was that there was a structural necessity in the music scene (and record industry) for something like punk to happen - the erosion of that whole level of small-club music that created intimacy and community between fans and audience;  the need for something that reflected teenage lives and frustrations, working-class real life; the gap for an aggressive hard rock with hooks and easy-entry levels of musicianship etc etc.  But what if all that came about earlier?  Say, in 1974, and had happened with less fall-out in terms of  political resonances and repercussions.

A premature punk, lacking the ideological content that span off into the massive renewals of postpunk, DIY, anarchopunk,  etc.  Such that it had all blown over by '77.



One scenario I came up with: what if  The New York Dolls had happened, had lived up to the hype, established a huge popular audience rather than the cult following that largely consisted of rock critics and people like Morrissey and the brothers Sylvian and Jansen? What if "real kids" rallied to them?

How could that have happened? The only way I could see was  if one of the original members whose role was, shall we say, "decorative" went missing early on in the band's existence, through misadventure of some kind. And the replacement turned out to be their Glen Matlock figure, a proper tunesmith and anthem-builder. Like say a future Ramone, maybe.

If McLaren found this Ramone-enhanced Dolls a little sooner, and perhaps even had the bright idea of steering them into the hands of a Chapman / Chinn...

Leading to a wave of Dolls-copyists across the UK, managing to vent pent-up aggression / frustration effectively but non-consequentially (in comparison with punk), and taking a lot of the actors and prime movers of 76/77 out of the equation early.... Causing Mick Jones to form a Dolls/Mott type band, something as poppy and insignificant as Generation X, and Strummer to molder on in the Grove squatland, becoming a Tymon Dogg-like figure, a raspy busker.



But the innate self-destructiveness of the Dolls would probably have won through anyway... meaning that the moment would pass quickly...

Going back to Consequences (and another problem with my counterfactual is the, er, limitations of the material itself in terms of its mass appeal), I love this story about some of studio shenagians G&C and their engineer got up:

"Three days were spent producing a saxophone sound from an electric guitar; each note of a guitar solo was recorded separately and faded in on the track, which was then sent through a speaker and out of a rubber hose with perforated cigarette paper at the end. Enough pressure was displaced by forcing the sound through the holes of the cigarette paper to give the rasp of a saxophone."

Wouldn't have been much easier, and cheaper, simply to hire a saxophone player?

Of course there is a further level of the alternative rock history scenario which I never got around to thinking about - what would be the consequences of Consequences being consequential - actually selling and being popular? Would the Gizmo actually become part of the standard arsenal of rock and pop groups going forward? One of the accusations leveled at the record at the time was that it was little more than a demonstration record for the new instrument, an advertisement....  G&C imagined they would be selling them by the thousand.

frankly confused

Came across this odd quote from Legs McNeil, in an interview, can't remember where...

"So when you got to New York you spent a lot of time CBGBs, what was it like back in the 70’s?

It was the most beautiful place I’d ever been in my life. Girls and beer. Cars, girls, surfing, beer, nothing else matters here. I live for cars and girls… woohoo…hot cars and girls."

Beer, girls - these are things that can be found most everywhere in America. 

Surfing - you wouldn't necessarily think of New York as a surfer's paradise, I don't think. 

And then, perhaps most mystifyingly, cars. One thing about New York, it's not a great place to drive. Or to own a car. The few friends in NYC we knew who had one were always having to get up early to move their car to the other side of the street, on account of alternate-day parking rules, to do with street sweepers I think.  It's a pedestrian city, a public transport city.

I think he must have intended to move to LA and gone astray.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014

W. Ash




Always dug this album cover - and the name of the group -- since first seeing it in a book about billboards that someone gave me and my brothers when were kids. It looked really cool as a billboard -  an enigma astride the freeway (probably here in LA actually).

Here's the whole gatefold spread of it, which now I think of it, was used in full on the billboard - logically, enough, given that billboards are oblong not square.




Wish Wishbone Ash's music were teensy bit more exciting... the twin lead guitar thing is pleasing and moderately dynamic (although not  as driving and low-slung as Thin Lizzy's).   The archetypal second-on-the-bill Brits-in-America stadium act, said someone (Carducci?).  They've got a sound that's just distinctive enough. Argus is considered the (minor) classic.

Packaging-wise these gatefolds are also nice.







But this next one is yer classic mid-to-late 70s mainstream rock album cover, where the Hygnosis-type visual joke / saucy pun (see also UFO's Force It) is going off the boil, Most likely matching the contents of the record too.







Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

moth music



Janez Matičič - Slovenian composer

"This non-progressive piece is composed of several sequences, each introducing an additional element and ending with a twist. A quiet swaying from one framework to the next constantly defines the sound quality of the piece, just like blurry visions tantalize the dreamer one after another" - Recollection GRM blurb for this 1975 piece on Traces Three.

i want the rest of "Trois Visions"


Monday, November 10, 2014

when uncommercial was commercial



i go through quite long periods of time where i just forget about Captain Beefheart - that he ever existed

a variant of the Drops Away theory is that as time goes by what makes  an artist seem weird and exceptional and out-there recedes somewhat as you come to hear how s/he is embedded in a broader musical  landscape, a sonic episteme

in Beefheart's case the landscape back into which he Drops is blues-based rock  

listen nowadays and you can hear more clearly the affinity, the proximity, with other music being made  at that time -  Groundhogs, ZZ Top, Family -- even Free and James Gang

(and with the earliest stuff you hear the proximity to garage punkadelia of that time -- all the Them-etc spurred stuff in America, or groups like Thirteenth Floor Elevators and The Hombres)

(you also hear the proximity-verging-on-identical-ness to Howlin' Wolf)

however, it still sounds pretty out-there, pretty sui generis

with Clear Spot, some of the dropping-back-into-background already takes place,  is done for you - with the attempted commercialism / accessibility (failing of course, although I must confess it's my favourite album of his)

but hey, talking about commercial crossover, did you know that Trout Mask Replica was a Top 30 hit in the UK? It got to #21.

And Lick My Decals Off, Baby did even better -- it got to Number 20.

So Beefheart's his biggest success was when he was most untrammeled, most artistically-free

there was an audience, a market, for that then - 1969 and 1970 was the zenith of the Underground

"uncommercial" was commercial



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Disappointing Albums

The topic today is albums that follow a masterpiece that, you discover, turns out to have been the career peak - as good as they'd ever get. 

Or, in a few cases, a temporary falling-off that is soon corrected. For a while.

Exhibit One

 The Beat – Wha’ppen



Did actually buy the first or was it second single off this - ‘Drowning’ . Seem to recall the concept was they were going psychedelic. But it just sounds really enervated, all the delicious twitchy tension in I Just Can't Stop It era Beat went slack.

Some speak highly of Special Beat Service - never listened to it. 

B52s, Mesopotamia



After the first two, so so disappointing. and I think there was even a really lame remix version of the album. Produced by David Byrne, here proving to have the anti-Midas touch

Talking of which.....

Talking Heads, Speaking In Tongues




In a 1983 take-down Barney Hoskyns identified a syndrome at work:


"For important groups, the fatal turning point is always the same: when there's no way to stretch further, only the past to rediscover. Groups will always look over their shoulders, gaze fondly back at the innocence of the first tunes, written when commercial success seemed not only improbable but irrelevant....  In Talking Heads' case, it's only amazing it hasn't happened before. To push rock beyond Fear Of Music, to open it into 'Listening Wind' and 'Once In A Lifetime', was extraordinary. What would you do if you'd made the supreme disco version of WASP paranoia — perfectly justifying David Byrne's contention that black dance production was more radical than punk rock — then expanded disco into an oceanic, subliminal trancefest? The pub-rock revival starts there, right?

Gang of Four – Solid Gold 


Tried so very hard to get into this, having coughed up my month’s album buying money, hard earned at the egg stall in Berkhamsted's Saturday market.  Recall being very nervous about buying it on account of hearing bits on the radio and also the uninspired, leaden 1980 single "Outside the Trains Don't Run On Time". Approaching the counter in a sort of red-hazy mist of anxiety. Which turned out to be justified.

Didn't even bother with Go4 after this, Songs of the Free and "To Hell With Poverty" etc. And let's not even talk about Hard, influenced as it was by Lexicon of Love. Bringing us neatly to... 

ABC – Beauty Stab 



And even worse was How to Be A Zillionaire.

Heaven 17 – the Luxury Gap



Following on the supremely up to the minute, ahead of the game, very entertaining and clever Penthouse and Pavement, and the pretty exciting between-albums single "Let Me Go", this was....  most unsatisfying. 

Didn't bother with How Men Are at all


Grace Jones, Living My Life



S'alriiiiiight..  But no Nightclubbing


Elvis Costello and the Attractions  – Goodbye Cruel World


Goodbye Cool Career more like. After seven great albums in a row (discounting Almost Blue as an aberration, a detour) (eight, though if we count Ten Hail Marys / Taking Liberties) and coming immediately after the upful high of Punch The Clock... what went wrong? 

For the 1995 reissue of Goodbye Cruel World, EC penned an in-depth inventory / diagnosis/ mea culpa as regards its defects.  The opening lines are:
"Congratulations! You've just purchased our worst album. At least that is the impression I've given over the years and I am sure that you could find many people who would agree with me. "
The whole sorry business got hashed over again, with a tad more hindsight-wise serenity, in the 2004 reissue liner notes .

Good Lord, if ever an album didn't deserve to get reissued once, let alone twice, it would be Goodbye Cruel World.

So bereft is it, it earns the privilege of two videos in this run-down of let-down. The making of the below horror also gets described in those GCW reish linernotes. 




The Smiths - Strangeways, Here We Come


Mystifyingly rated by Moz and Marr as their best album.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seed – the Firstborn is Dead


After the incredible From Her To Eternity... this just seemed hokey, clunky, and tune-deficient. Funny Folkways style pseudo-ethnological sleevenotes, sure. However it turned out to be a brief mis-step, with Cave rising again with the covers album Kicking Against the Pricks, Your Funeral... My Trial, and "The Mercy Seat"

Siouxsie and the Banshees, Hyena


After the sublime self-reinvention of Kiss in the Dreamhouse, and the pausing-for-breath, career-summation live album Nocturne, this is where it all sputters out. But at least it's ungainly, struggles to renew,  whereas Tinderbox (which I reviewed for Melody Maker, damningly) was just tepid and pro forma. 


Cocteau Twins, Treasure


Some love this record, I just find it unbearably frou-frou and precious. Then followed some odd, hard-to-get into EPs but eventual reflorescence with the Budd collaboration, "Love's Easy Tears" and Bluebell Knoll.

Just looked over their discography  and suddenly realised that I don't recall ever having listened to Victorialand, which is listed as an album. 


Prince -  Parade

Now I was going to  nominate Parade but the truth is the whole rhythm of releases during his alleged Creative Prime goes GENIUS Dud Dud GENIUS Dud Dud GENIUS

When I say Dud, I mean that while the single(s) might be great and probably one other good track on the album, overall it's a pretty poor record.

So GENIUS would be Dirty Mind, Purple Rain, Sign of the Times

Dud would be Controversy, 1999, Around the World In A Day, Parade

That’s regardless of the genius of ‘Controversy’ the single, ‘1999’, ‘Pop Life’, ‘Kiss’ etc


Okay, now for the piss de resistance, the absolute Golden Manky Turkey, the glistening black turd of Disappointing Albums....









Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Laughter



Following the half-great Do It Yourself,  the terrific big-big-hit "Reasons To Be Cheerful , Part 3" and that monster Blockheads tour of the entire length and breadth of the UK, the band's melodist and musical director Chas Jankel quit, exhausted by proximity to Dury's overpowering personality. 

His replacement Wilko Johnson has many virtues but he's not a tunesmith. The first fruits of the new line-up, the single  "I Wanna Be Straight" just about made it through chutzpah and greasy funk. But then this lumbering hookless single "Sueperman's Big Sister" came out, herald of the album Laughter -  and there was a sicky feeling in the stomach. 

Just about the only interesting thing about "Sueperman's Big Sister"is that at least one reviewer thought it  was about Dury's recent "encounter" with Vanessa Redgrave. I don't know whether that's a euphemism or not, but the idea of those two converging in space-time is quite a thing to contemplate. 

Laughter's reviews were positive, though (clearly in retrospect looking desperately for reasons to be cheerful). So I shelved my apprehensions, ponied up the cash. What a waste, what a waste.... and I ruddy well did mind. A LOT.  

Only one half-way amusing tune ("Over The Points" - sung from the point of view of a train - "Sometimes we track this line with decapitated schoolboy's heads still wearing their caps/ Upon me at any given moment ten or twelve people might be taking craps"...).  Otherwise it's pub-funk rowdiness all the way, with titles like "(Take Your Elbow Out of the Soup) You're Sitting On the Chicken", and "Uncoolohol", "Oh Mr Peanut"  and "Dance of the Crackpots".  A cover of "Manic Depression" apparently fitting the mood-swingin' mental state of both Dury (not coping well with fame - see the LP's "Delusions of Grandeur" - and addicted to booze and Mogadon)  and guitarist John Turnbull, who'd suffered a head injury.  

Apparently Dury called it Laughter to cheer himself up, because the experience of making the album - and the end product - was so miserable.



And that was it for Ian Dury really, sadly.... the reunion with Jankel for Lord Upminster ignited few sparks, even with Sly & Robbie in the engine room. 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

But of course with all of the above you can get into thinking that you might be up for reevaluating some of these duffers, things you once dismissed or got rid of – in those days I was always selling off things to raise funds to get other stuff, being a cash-poor sixth former or student or dole-claimer... 

Like maybe just maybe there’s something salvageable to be found on them...

All these examples are postpunk or first half of the Eighties, which probably reflects the fact that I felt the disappointment more harshly when I was paying my own money, whether it was hard-earned from the egg stall or gardening or odd-jobbing (and one summer packing insecticide at the Wellcome factory) or it was cutting into my limited stipend from the state -  student grant, then later supplementary benefit....

By 1986, though, I would be getting records for free as a journalist, so when a duffer came through I'd be scathing if reviewing it, but it wouldn't sting in quite the same way. Or it might sting, if one had invested a lot of critical capital in supporting and hailing the artist. But you moved on quickly, for there was always a new thing to hype and have high hopes about. You'd take the offending article down the M&VE and convert it into something good or intriguing, usually from the past. 

But yeah disappointing albums after the mid-80s...  I would have to say the two records the Pixies did after Doolittle are just nothing. 

And Goo, following Daydream Nation -- tres disappointing.

Hunkpapa by Throwing Muses, after an incredible run, was merely solid.... and which I gave a "they can do better" ticking-off type review, which upset the band.  They did do better, soon, and got more praisefulreviews from me. 

The electronic era is another kettle - examples of let-down would include Ultramarine United Kingdoms, Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do (save for "Alberto Balsam"), and Foul Play with "Total Control" b/w "The Stepper" (and if I'm honest, the album Suspected)...


^^^^^^^^^^^^^

There is a separate category for Disappointing Debut Albums, coming after a lot of press-generated expectations, some cool singles.... One obvious example being A Certain Ratio's To Each..... (although it's a moot point whether the Graveyard and the Ballroom cassette counts as a debut LP - I would say not). But that's a topic that will have to wait for now...  


Stop Press: Loads of good suggestions in comments and also on Facebook, the one that struck me as a big omission in terms of personal disappointments would be:

The Associates, Perhaps



Really badly missing the magic of Alan Rankine....   Sort of camp without delight.  Solemn camp. 

Admittedly this song / vocal performance is great, and nice beetling bass work



This one's a stiff, though







Ariel's got to be into Todd








beauty lies in the eye



Sonic Youth Music Video for "Beauty Lies in the Eye" off the album Sister. Directed by Kevin Kerslake

Never knew this existed!

Came to it through a description of the video and the song in an old Steven Shaviro essay titled "Beauty Lies In the Eye": 


52 Postmodern beauty would be the event in which the free play of the 
faculties turns inside out to affirm singularity and multiplicity. The faculties 
are not harmonized, but each is pushed to its limits. In the beautiful this inter- 
rogation of the limit, turned into an affirmation, takes place entirely immanently, 
without the negativity and the hints of transcendence that are still present 
even in Lyotard's postmodern sublime. Beauty will be singular and immanent, 
or not at all. 

53 All this points to an aestheticism somewhat similar to that of the late 
Barthes and the late Foucault. Such aestheticism is often criticized as being 
apolitical. But it stands as a reproach to the endeavours of William Bennett 
and others on the Right to reduce culture and beauty to matters of virtue and 
morality. 

54 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' is a song from Sonic Youth's 1987 album Sister. 
The sound is dissonant and thickly layered. There is no melody to speak of. 
The tempo is moderately slow. Steve Shelley's drums keep up a steady beat. 
Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's guitars twang in unison. The guitars 
have been treated to produce a muddy, reverberating sound. They drone 
through a series of unresolved minor chords. Everything seems fuzzy, slightly 
out of focus. 

55 This music doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't build to a climax. It ends as 
uncertainly as it began. It just drifts, for two minutes and fifteen seconds. Yet it 
is not laid back. It is too nervous and edgy. It exudes an air of restlessness, with 
a hint of violence. Something could explode at any moment. Something has 
just happened, or is about to happen. The music is heavy with premonitions. 
Overtones ring out. The drums speed up to double time. A single note insis- 
tently repeats. An extra guitar line snakes through the wall of sound. These 
variations unfold at the very edge of hearing. They appear briefly. Then they 
fade back into the mix. They seem to portend a greater change in the offing. 
But the future they look forward to does not arrive. The song remains distant 
and impassive. It inhabits an empty time, a time that never passes. This music 
lies suspended between memory and anticipation. 

56 The video for 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' confounds things even further. It 
is a dazzling blur of strobe effects, overlaid images, and vivid colours. Dropped 
frames make for ripples of jerky motion. The camera tilts to extreme angles. It 
zooms in on the smallest details. Thurston Moore's fingers pick out chords on 
the guitar. Kim Gordon's lips caress the microphone. Waves churn in the 
ocean. Two, three, or more images appear at once on the screen. They pass 
through each other, like ghosts. They bleed into each other, leaving tracks of 
light in their wakes. They melt into smears of highly saturated colour. 
Everything wavers and flows. Everything dissolves into a synesthetic haze. 


57 Kim Gordon's voice alone emerges intact. Her words come through 
clearly, with an almost palpable presence. She speaks the lyrics, more than she 
sings them. She recites them slowly, nearly without expression. Her intonation 
is flat and matter-of-fact. The blankness of her voice seems at odds with what 
she is saying. For the lyrics themselves are laden with emotion. They are all 
about loss, regret, and yearning. Kim is taken by surprise. An old, forgotten 
love comes back to haunt her. 'Something in the air there . . . brings you back 
to me. It's been so long'. The past returns, unbidden and unwanted. 'It's 
coming coming down over me'. It sweeps through her, in an overwhelming 
rush. It seizes her, beyond all hope of forgetting. She is troubled by feelings 
long dead and gone. She is seduced by a lover who is no longer there. She 
searches out the eyes of someone who cannot return her gaze. 

58 That is why Kim Gordon's voice is blank. The passion is real enough. 
But she cannot claim it as her own. This love does not unfold in the time and 
space of the present. It happens in an empty time, a time that is not now. It 
takes place in a space removed, a space that is not here. It draws Kim outside 
of herself. It lures her into its own alien depths. She cannot contain the 
'explosions in [her] eye'. She cannot possess the vision that drives her mad. 
She can neither recover the past, nor free herself from its spell. The memories 
that haunt her belong to somebody else. 'Beauty lies in the eyes of another's 
dreams. Beauty lies lost in another's dream'. 

59 No song has the power to recover such a dream. No song can compen- 
sate for loss. No song can bridge the gap between one person and another. 
'Beauty Lies in the Eye' does not even try. Its words, like its sounds, are forever 
incomplete. Beauty is not a recompense for anything that has been lost. 
Beauty is rather the pang of loss itself, its truest expression. It cannot be 
shared, and it cannot be preserved. It vanishes in the very act by which I 
apprehend it. I can only cry out, a witness to its passing. At the end of the 
song, there's a subtle shift in tone. Kim Gordon's voice is no longer entirely 
blank. It becomes imploring, almost wistful. She calls to someone who is not 
there and who will never answer: 'Hey baby . . . Hey sweetheart . . . Hey fox 
come here ... Hey beautiful ... Come here, sugar'. 

61 Any theory of beauty is always inadequate to its examples. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tuesday, October 14, 2014



This version, more than the original, = The Smiths

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Something oddly compelling about second-division, or outright poor punk / new wave



Seems a million years ago, don't it?

Also listening to the UK second-division punk, or the second-wave of it a few years on, you do often really feel that thing Carducci wrote about: the way that ideological sympathy / solidarity on the part of the audience supplies what is absent in the group's performance, responding to their intention rather than what is actually achieved




So nothing



Me and my brothers Tim and Jez found about 15 copies of the empty sleeve of this album in Oxford Street, brought them home and stared at them in fascination. But only just heard the music for the first time now!



Chelsea! Now there's a group that'll never be reappraised


I'm not sure if I ever even heard them at the time

Nor Peter and the Test Tube Babies






There's a great piece, very funny, about the Lurkers by Paul Morley,would you believe....


Weird to finally - after seeing their image countless times back in the day, their logo on the back of leather jackets worn by Berko  punx -  to finally hear The Adicts for very the first time




And they're still treading the boards!

Elvis Costello said The Anti Nowhere League had the best name, and the best slogan -- "We're the Anti Nowhere League - and you're not!"



The after birth of punk seemed to hang on much much longer than the afterbirth of psychedelia....




The second-wave blethered on well into the mid-Eighties




But going back to the second-div of the first wave - I remembered this as being half-alright but by jiminy it's a puny pummel




This one i remember loving at the time - the single "Teenage Warning", never heard the full album - and was annoyed they spoiled their Big Chance by playing it live and sloppy on TOTP




Another mystery: the boringness of major label Stiff Little Fingers cf their ferocious start




Still, when it was good -- Ruts, X Ray Spex, Rezillos, Undertones, even (whisper it) Sham 69 (in moments) - it was great.

Truth is I liked all this stuff in tandem with the postpunk for quite a while.

And then there's anarcho-punk, my younger brothers's passion.... later for that though


It didn't take Squeeze long to stop pretending to be New Wave

The middle bit of "Cool", quite tasty, is them pretending to be The Blockheads too.

But very soon they are basically Ace, blue-eyed Brit rock ' n ' soul



This is a sort of answer record to "Cool for Cats", or maybe just a rip-off.



Talking of Brit blue-eyed soul 'n' rock

Here's how a famous chart-topping exponent made his first foray into the TOTP studios






Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Tonto say he don't mind



Genuine oddity, at once ahead of its time and behind of its time. Do like what the rhythm section is doing.

"Originally released as a single in 1976, the BBC banned it due to the drug and homosexual references. However, thanks to Kenny Everett, the song received a lot of airplay on his TV & radio shows, and was re-released in 1979."

Rupert Hine has had an extensive and unusual career as musician and producer.

Which I have not investigated, I confess, although I have bought two used but suspiciously mint looking Quantum Jump albums in the last couple of years. Very strange things they were trying to do, Quantum Jump -- the missing link between 10cc and Steely Dan, perhaps, although equally at times like the missing link between Level 42 and Lizzy Mercier Descloux.









A Hine solo album



Another one



Later he was in a group with Julian Clary, and produced The Joan Collins Fan Club.

Actually Thinkman was a virtual group, all done by Hine, but with actors - including Clary - hired to play the parts of the group members for promo video and TV appearances



Clary played Leo Hurll, the keyboardist.

Musically seems to be coming from the same sort of place as Freur and Max Q





Monday, September 29, 2014

"barely left a singe mark" - late Seventies pomp pop

Massive for a moment, but barely left a singe mark on Rock-Pop history

1.



The Motors - formed by former members of Ducks Deluxe  and Bram Tchaikovsky - got to #4 with "Airport" in 1978

They were sort of considered New Wave (two John Peel sessions) but they weren't really - more like pub rock, bloating slightly into pomp pop, like a less studio-savvy, less witty 10 c.c.


2.

City Boy -  " moderately successful English rock band in the late 1970s, characterised by complex vocal arrangements and heavy guitars", often accused of leaning too heavily on Queen and 10 c.c. for inspiration

This was their big hit.





This was their small hit.



3. 

Sniff 'n' the Tears - okay, not really Massive, but Radio One deejays supported this one quite heavily. And it was a hit in other territories, including the US where it got to #15. 



Sniff 'n' the Tears specialised in sexist and sometimes creepily disturbing record covers.  

It's coming from the same place  - late 1970s adult pop, cleverly arranged, cleanly produced, keyboard-hooky -- as things like Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" and Manfred Mann Earth Band's "Blinded By The Light", both of which are genuinely splendid, whereas you feel a bit wet for half-liking "Driver's Seat"

4. 

Sad Cafe - this lot are just cloying 




5. 
Sad Cafe made me think of Cafe Society, who weren't massive, but whose Tom Robinson went on to be a bit massive as TRB



On the Kinks's ill-fated label Konk

Here Tom drops the New Wave for a moment and reverts to pre-76 self, with a song co-written with Elton John




""The song appeared on Elton's 1980 album "21 at 33", but this is actually the original version! Sung and released as a single by Tom Robinson (famous for "Glad to be Gay") already in 1979. Robinson's version is openly gay, using only male pronouns, while Elton's version surprisingly disguises the orientation by using "she".



6/ Bethnal - not massive at all but they got a lot of press at the time, signed to a major label - considered New Wave but really more like The Who - the Seventies Who, mind, not the Who that inspired Jam and mod revival



I mean, just look at their album artwork - the whiff of Old Wave fair comes off it. Looks like it might have been done by someone on work experience at Hypgnosis

And they had a violinist in the band for Christ's sake



That barrel-chested Daltrey-esque vocal...



The clincher - a cover of "Baby O' Reilly"




7/ Fischer-Z

Their one hit, "The Worker" -  in the genre of  "Mr Jones", gently-mocking-the-office-drone-suburban-conformist type songs. Perhaps related to "What A Waste" by Ian Dury, "The British Way of Life" by The Chords, and, tenuously, "The Diary of Horace Wimp" by ELO and "Making Plans for Nigel" by XTC.



Not pomp pop, but clever-clever.




8/ And finally... the biggest of all the late Seventies pomp pop bands who have left barely a singe mark on history - THE BOOMTOWN RATS

Springsteen-retooled-as-New-Wave, keyboard-dominated.... they had two number ones, a whole bunch of other big hits....  yet few groups are less remembered, spawned smaller. 

Barefaced attempt to follow up "I Don't Like Mondays" with another song based on a real-life story of nihilistic youth tragedy 


Where they copping UB40 at this point? Minds blown by "King" and Signing Off? Or perhaps "Dreadlock Holiday"....