Posts from 9th September 1999

9
Sep 99

79. PIXIES – “Planet Of Sound”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

No good indie kid ever forgets their first insult. It was the late 80s, I was at school, and Nick Smith (local, well-bred, gangly, wanker) accused me of listening to “stupid weird noise shit”. A pretty good summary: reader, I nearly burst with secret pride. What was I listening to: “Debaser”, by The Pixies, the best single of the 1980s.

Except it wasn’t a single until 1997, which I suppose makes it eligible for this list. But something wouldn’t feel right about that, not to someone like me who loves the quaint old notion of the single as a perfect consumer package, a time capsule and time bomb both at once. Anyway, “Debaser” had it all but missed its true place in the sun. “Debaser” was enormous, more cool and glossy and modernist than anything that came out of American alt-rock in the decade it secretly gave birth to. And “Debaser” was also the giddiest, stupidest pop record I’d ever heard – the spanky bass opening, Joey Santiago’s guitar fills reeling all over the place, Black Francis’ hyperbolic geek-yelp, and the glorious noo wave “Dee-bay-sah!” harmonies behind. The whole package was a righteous rocket ride that managed to both rewrite my pop rulebook and frankly spoil me for loud guitar pop for the rest of my days.

Obviously though, the band didn’t stop with “Debaser”: a lot of people think they should have and a lot of people are wrong. “Planet Of Sound” is a stupid knockabout throwaway, Black Francis getting pie-eyed and growly about being a reluctant passenger on some sort of space taxi with the rest of the band doing their best impression of badass rock’n’roll greasers, all teenage caveman riffs and fuzzed-over slugbass. But the impression isn’t exactly convincing – it’s still the Pixies, still the same bizarro version of pop music despite all the punker posturing. They were never a band to inspire arm-slicing devotion and matt black lower-case websites, they never kept any kind of faith, they never did much you could call meaningful except make sci-fi/surf/Spanish/stooges music which burst with life and never closed its mind to anything. I wish they’d been more successful because they’d have worn it well, but I suppose their ‘place in history’ is assured. They were a band I loved like no other and I will not see their like again.

78. URBAN TAKEOVER – “Bad Ass”/”Drop Top Caddy”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

One tiny peevelet of mine about pop criticism is the gawping that results when a mainstream band dares to use an ‘unusual’ word in a song. The classic example being Oasis’ “Acquiesce”, mentions of which dwelt gushingly on the title as if Noel Gallagher had just started a self-funded teen literacy program. (Though to tell the truth Noel seemed just as pleased with himself.) Anyway, given the fuss resulting from a working class Northerner using a three-syllabler it’s odd that nobody noticed the delightful way “preponderance” creeps into “Drop Top Caddy”. Probably because when this sublime double A-sider, the finest jungle 12″ I’ve heard since 1995, sidled out everybody was concentrating on Be Here Now anyway, no doubt watching out for further verbal gymnastics from the people’s poet.

Hold on – finest jungle 12″ since 1995? Are you sure? Well, yes: jump-up (which is the micro-genre of drum’n’bass Urban Takeover busy themselves with) was the best thing to happen to jungle since its unsurpassable early peak. It bypassed the acqueous sump which ‘intelligent’ drum and bass had fallen into, and cocked a streetwise snook at the skunk-raddled dystopianism of tech-step. In its place came a remorselessly efficient dancefloor music which harked back to and tarted up all the stuff which made jungle so cool initially – movie samples, joint-twisting acceleration beats, and massive souped-up basslines. If the stuff being put out by Aphrodite (who is half of Urban Takeover) lacked anything, it was the bubbling primeval invention-glop which made early jungle as unpredictable as a million bees. “Bad Ass”, despite its merciless rump-empowerment, is laid-back, something which early 90s hardcore never was. That insouciance also makes jump-up tunes to an extent interchangeable, though “Bad Ass” and “Drop Top Caddy” nose it for, respectively, the magnificent build-ups and the seismic waveform bass. As a last superbad hurrah for drum’n’bass, it’ll more than do.