Tuesday, July 31, 2012

my favourite movie

and one of my favourite movie soundtracks

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Frank Chickens next?
another category: New Wave collapsing back into prog, or a sort of prog

The Cardiacs, the true children of Punishment of Luxury

I actually saw the Cardiacs early on in the career, quite by accident, and only realised much later, when they started to get some attention in the music papers, that it had been them.
Living on post-graduation in Oxford, on the dole, in Jericho in the north of the city, we often would go for a night time wander across Port Meadow. Because it was idyllic but also a little spooky -- water bird sounds carrying eerily across the pitch black dark. One summer night we set out only to find ourselves in the midst of a free festival. We had little idea such things even existed, I don't think.  This is 1984, 85, so pre-Battle of the Beanfield. I remember a hippie girl, tripping out of her head and tripping on the guy-ropes of all the tents, as she ran in a panic through the camp ground.

If it had been your typical free festival fare -- Hawkwind/Here and Now type music, Magic Mushroom Band et al - we might have stuck around longer, enjoyed the trippy spacey-ness of it. But no, strangely, it was the Cardiacs, herky-jerky to the power of 10000. To say I was appalled -- grimly mesmerized, too, but mostly appalled -- would be an understatement. It was so not - so the antithesis - of what I was about at that point, which was Husker Du type blur, or The Smiths. We left pretty quick, which I kinda regret. The Cardiacs drove me away from an alternate destiny, of becoming a crusty-traveler. (Unlikely scenario)

I guess below (from a 1984 videotape) is what they would have sounded like when we saw them.

Almost Eastern European...  coming from not dissimilar places as that Soviet band Zvuki Mu, maybe.

Are the Cardiacs also a little bit like what pre-New Wave, late-prog Split Enz sounded like?

Sad to hear about the health torments of singer/mainman Tim Smith.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

veering away from the New Wave to that postpostpunk moment i've sometimes dubbed the Bad Music Era,  Cathy Unsworth's trawl at Quietus through the circa 84 records that influenced her new novel reminded me that I'm not sure if I ever actually heard New Model Army

straining my memory-muscles, no aural image of their sound came to mind beyond a vague sense of a sort of stocky stalwart stompiness or do i mean stumpiness....

and so i turn to the memory-machine

Ah! I recognise that first tune. And the general sense was pretty on the ball. Sort of vaguely folky but without any actual direct reference to the traditional musics of the British Isles.

The look of the band, more than the sound, reminds me of one of my earliest assignments as a cub reporter at Melody Maker, going to review Balaam and the Angel.

An odd period of music in the U.K. -- after postpunk and New Pop, a shift back to rockiness but without fully mastering the basic skill set that underpinned British hard rock / heavy rock in the first half of the Seventies

particularly evident (here I ventriloquise  Carducci) in the rhythm sections

at best they would be merely solid, pounding away insistently...   at worst a dirge-trudge ... or mock-tribal tom tom scuttling motion

compare Budgie

to The Cult

the former smokes and swings...  the latter has this irritating giddy-up cantering motion... like a nine stone weakling version of Iron Maiden (and yeah, they had a song about Red Indians too...)

Cult got slightly more convincing by the time of the Rick Rubin album, when they were explicitly referencing the early 70s Brit (and Commonwealth) greats like Free and AC/DC, but it was still ersatz... and the drummer is just a steady plod, might as well as be a drum machine

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

bonus: live versions

alternate version of the prince charming video

now isn't one of the gallery of icons and heroes that Adam imitates in that video Alice Cooper? why not Rolf H, since it's his song he's ripping off?

Monday, July 23, 2012

veering away from new wave back to postpunk, a group i always remembered (from Peel) as interesting, but could never find while digging in the crates for Rip It Up

remember Out on Blue Six as weirder though, less frantic Delta 5/Maximum Joy-y, and more "Opec-Immac" lunar / cratered....

funny thing, memory

at Our God Is Speed, Greyhoos chips in with his own thoughts 'n' memories of New Wave

from his selections, this:

fuck me, is that a find or what?!?

The opening riff is pure Franz Ferdinand.

Funnily enough I was just yesterday perusing Chuck Eddy's second edition of Stairway to Hell, his eccentric guide to heavy metal, and in the afterword he lists a whole bunch of records that he's subsequently to the first ed's publication fallen in love with and shoulda included, and one of them is Alice Cooper's  Flush the Fashion.  But i hadn't realised that this was AC's noo-wave-move!

Who else in America, out of the Old Wave, made a Noo Wave move?

Billy Joel, I guess, with much of his Eighties material. Although this track is not sonically a new wave move but more a kind of New Wave acknowledging yet also recuperating / deflating manifesto of catholicity ("music-is-music/there's-only-two-kinds-of-music-good-music-and-bad-music") -- which has in fact becoming the programming policy and raison d'etre of post-Ipod middle-aged geezer targeting radio stations like Jack FM ("playin' ... what we like" said in a voice that sounds like Huey Lewis).

Another one: this album El Loco by ZZ Top was their New Wave move (although hints of it were on the one before, Deguello)

And then they really went for it with Eliminator and the album after that, by which time they often had a sequencer pulse chugging along alongside the drumming (which was already getting straightened out into something pretty metronomic and Billy Idol/Keith Forsey like).

One of my LA radio revelations since moving here was hearing the Cars and realising that not only could they play but that most likely before punk, they were probably playing similar kind of blues-based rock to ZZ Top or Foghat or James Gang... it may even have been a direct segue on Jack FM  from "La Grange" to "Just What I Needed It" that brought it home to me...

Well in terms of Old Wave to New Wave, they weren't Well Known before punk, but Huey Lewis & the News is old old style music given a New Wave-ish production finish and tautness

Didn't the musicians in the News play with Elvis Costello very early on (Clover?)

And then H & the News went back to the roots and did a bluesy album that totally tanked.

Here's another good example -  shameless Rod Stewart

i suppose those aren't really Noo Wave as in skinny tie / Devo-jitters though, more like just trying to do a commercial post-Moroder / synthpop era club-friendly radio-ready please-help-me-keep-up-me-mortgage-payments-on-me-mansion type job (cf the Stones records in the early-mid Eighties)

More troo Noo is Robert Palmer, another bluesy-rock Brit rasper who remodelled his sound, several times...

right up to the point of doing a Gary Numan cover

and then went electrofunk/postdisco

And of course the J.Geils Band, the same Old-to-Noo syndrome...

Oh and classic old-into-Noo is the production job (dry and sparse) on this imperishable tune by all-American heartland rocker Johnny Cougar

i'm sure there's scores more examples...

postscript: how could I forget, Neil Young (Devo fan supreme) and Trans!

Neil's movie that he got Devo to do a scene for

postpostscript: and  I forgot (that i'd remembered, a week or two ago) all about Bill Wyman's Je Suis Un Rockstar, which is Old Wave goes New Wave par excellence, and maybe the most successful, on all levels (middling hit; sounds reet nifty and not embarrassing like yer dad trying to dance to disco) out of all these Old-into-Noo mooves)

what i found out after posting it the first time the other week: he wrote it as a demo for Ian Dury's consideration. But nobody in the Stiff camp would actually present it to Dury! Were they afraid of incurring his wrath? I love this little fact because I once averred that the Blockheads were the best British groove group since the Stones. Ian should have done it, he'd might have arrested his decline as UK hitmaker!

of course there's a most unfortunate resonance to one of the lyrics here -- "they'll think I'm your dad/and you're my daughter" -- given Bill's love life later in the decade

Sunday, July 22, 2012

i thought knew nearly all of  Zep but when i heard this on the radio today couldn't place it -- so i assumed it must be, i dunno, this, supposedly the saving grace of Presence, which i never bothered with checking out on account of its dry, very dry, reputation

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Tale of Two Dees

some old notes that could be a starting point for my Future Study of New Wave

It’s tricky to convey the difference between New Wave and postpunk. Partly that’s because the meaning of New Wave fluctuated throughout this period. (To add to the confusion, in America “New Wave” is often used to describe everything from The Pretenders and Joe Jackson to what Brits would call New Pop--i.e. the MTV British Invasion bands like Duran). 

Initially New Wave as a term was kind of cool: indeed some embraced it as an alternative to punk, seeing it as more open-ended and less lumpen on account of its evocations of the French avant-garde. 

But soon New Wave became a negative term, referring to the middlebrow soft option: bands who weren’t confrontational or aggressive like punk, but who were also too steeped in trad pop values (usually of Sixties provenance) to be regarded as experimental or modern a la postpunk. 

At its narrowest and most pejorative, New Wave came to connote
something quite particular: skinny-tie bands with choppy rhythm guitars and often a keyboard (played Sixties organ style as opposed to like a synth). This specificity further cemented the defining paradox of New Wave: musically, it wasn’t really that new. All that said, the energy, pop concision, and stripped-down sound of New Wave contributed to the era’s excitement, the sense of “all change!”. If they generally failed to push the musical envelope, New Wave bands were often innovative or unusual on the level of persona, performance, and lyrical content. And it was New Wave acts who penetrated the pop charts, far more than the postpunk groups did, and who therefore made the late Seventies a golden age for the 7 inch single, for radio and Top of the Pops.

Probably the best way to define New Wave is through listing some classic instances of it. The jumpy energy and angular choruses of The Vapors’ “Turning Japanese” is archetypal Noo Wave. So is the chugging rhythm guitar feel (chords chopped against damped strings) of groups like The Cars. Then there’s The Boomtown Rats, who took Springsteen-style romping keyboards and busy arrangements and added just enough of a punk edge to seem contemporary. There’s the oddball female contingent, with shrill operatic voices and sing-song melodies: Lene Lovich, Nina Hagen. And the oddball male contingent, often ex-proggers of a theatrical bent, originally fans of Hammill/Crimson/Gabriel-era Genesis but who’d been turned around by Ubu/Devo/XTC, and embraced the mannered, high-pitched vocals and stop-starty structures: Punishment of Luxury, Human Sexual Response (on prog label Passport, a dead giveaway).

What about borderline cases?

XTC: In the beginning they’d get placed alongside Talking Heads. Musically, they had the same twitchy rhythms and shrieky-geeky vocals, while content-wise, XTC, like Byrne,  avoided love songs in favour of unusual topics (“Roads Girdle The Globe”) or satirical social comment like “Generals and  Majors” and the great “Making Plans For Nigel”. The early XTC of 3D EP, White Music and Go 2 felt radical to many listeners, on account of the frenziedly fractured structures. Things like the bonus mini-LP of dub versions that came with Go 2, or the record’s demystification sleeve covered in text (“this is the album cover”) and accompanying adverts, all seemed pretty much in line with the postpunk programme. But after Drums and Wires, XTC got steadily more English and whimsical, harking back to The Kinks and Beatles and the lighter side of psychedelia.

Elvis Costello: Like Paul Weller, Elvis seemed too beholden to trad rock virtues; in his case, too readily placed in a lineage of  Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, etc. That said, like The Jam, Costello overlapped with many of postpunk’s  stylistic phases and shared many of its obsessions when it came to content. Punky-reggae, with “Watching The Detectives”. Personal politics, with Armed Forces (original title: Emotional Fascism). Language as a force of oppression and spiritual corruption: throughout the oeuvre, but especially pronounced on Trust (“Pretty Words” and “Lovers Walk” parallel “The ‘Sweetest Girl’” and Lexicon of Love) and the logorrhea-ic Imperial Bedroom ("Pigeon English" etc). When 2-Tone took off, Costello was an early supporter: he produced the Specials’ debut and, between labels, very nearly released his single “Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down” via 2-Tone. The accompanying album Get Happy! intersected with the mod revival’s rediscovery of Sixties soul. Modelled on Booker T & the MGs, the sound was dominated by Steve Nieve’s organ; Costello’s guitar stayed small and Steve Cropper-like. The whole vibe was redolent of a smoky Carnaby Street cellar in 1963, mods grooving to Georgie Fame. Like a Motown best-of, 10 tracks were crammed onto each side. A few years later, circa Dexy’s and New Pop, Costello went soul again, with the horn-blasting Punch The Clock.

The Police. Such a monstrously huge band it’s easy to forget how they partook of the punky-reggae vibe of the period, or how their sound (guitar-as-texture, drums as third instrumental voice not mere backbeat, bass as melody) conformed to postpunk precepts. Later Sting discovered Arthur Koestler and the Police went prog, but let’s not forget “Message In A Bottle,” the subtle radicalism of the sublime “Walking on the Moon”, or the baleful ambient fog of Northern Ireland-protesting #1 “Invisible Sun”.

Blondie. Another group so ubiquitous they ascend beyond categories into sheer Superpop. But “Heart of Glass” is Moroderized discopunk and the video for “Rapture” (which features the first white rapping in the chart ever, albeit really dire) takes a snapshot of Mutant Disco Manhattan, with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Fab 5 Freddy doing graf in the background.

Other groups on the cusp. The Psychedelic Furs quickly revealed themselves to be reactionary rockists but for a moment early on songs like “Sister Europe” and “We Love You” were Peel faves on account of their haunting, hypnotic, sax-soured atmospherics plus the perfectly-poised-midway-tween-Rotten-and-Bowie sneer of Butler Rep (as he then called himself, ludicrously). Romeo Void: like Pylon, audibly Gang of Four influenced in their reduction of funk to tense, unyielding bass-riffs. The Passions: the glassy guitars of “I’m In Love With a German Film Star”, almost worthy of Vini Reilly. The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms is a great album, but to me they’re the bridge between that Modern Lovers/Velvets fast-strum sound and the totally white-out sound of post-REM college rock.

One last subcategory: prog-rockers who tried to go
Postpunk/New Wave:

----Be Bop Deluxe’s Bill Nelson reinvented himself as Red Noise with 1979’s “Furniture Music” and Sound-On-Sound.

---Robert Fripp, after a period of withdrawal from the rock biz, returned in 1979 with short hair, a suit, and, yes, a skinny tie. He also came bearing a solo album Exposure--first installment in what he called the “Drive to 1981”. His next album Under Heavy Manners/God Save the Queen showcased his new tape-delay systems, Frippertronics and Discotronics; David Byrne guested on one vocal. Later he formed the League of Gentlemen with ex-XTC/future-Shriekback keyboardist Barry Andrews.

---Peter Gabriel. For his third self-titled album in 1980, Gabriel hired producer Steve Lillywhite; banned the use of hi-hat and cymbals at the sessions to achieve that stark Joy Div/Comsat Angels sound; sang songs of tension, paranoia, and unease.

---Tom Robinson: strictly speaking, not prog, but certainly a poignant example of attempted career auto-salvage via postpunktification. Stung by the brutal backlash against the second TRB album, he reinvented himself with Sector 27: lyrics that were still political but less literal, plus a self-consciously “modern” sound. In interviews, Robinson earnestly enthused about being inspired by Gang of Four, Scritti, Joy Divison. The makeover didn’t  convince anybody though. 

[these are from the Postpunk Discography: Esoteric that for a while was up on the Faber website  -- originally written in 2004 for Rip It Up and Start Again, left out because too long to add to an already oversized book, put up at the  site, then withdrawn because of the notion that they might be the kernel of a future book, a proper discographical survey... who knows maybe i'll return to that some day, although it would be a sanity-jeopardising endeavour, especially all the sterling archaeology done by blogs like Mutant Sounds and DIY or Die and many others... not forgetting the inexhaustible well of industrial cassetteage and the retroactive invention of Minimal Synth - which didn't even exist as a category afaik when i was writing Rip It Up] 

further reading: other people's thoughts on the subject

It's Her Factory on New Wave and No Wave instalment 1 and 2

Theo Cateforis, author of Are We Not New Wave? 
interviewed about the book