Posts from 2nd October 1999

2
Oct 99

63. SPACEMEN THREE – “Big City”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

If you could have bought some kind of critical shares in krautrock back in 1990 you’d be a rich pop kid by now, but despite motorik’s meteorise rise there’s no new Neu! now threatening this as the decade’s best attempt to update and come to terms with the stuff. Where Stereolab seem as stylish and as sterile as a Soviet poster, “Big City” fills the gaps in the beat with pure ache. Sonic Boom whispers “Everybody I know can be found here” over and over like it’s all that’s keeping him going, as the song just shudders on around him. Spacemen 3’s alleged engagement with acid house is some of the least kinetic music ever, the rattling drum sound so enervated that the effect is to almost paralyse the track – the only way you could move your body to “Big City” is by shivering. No wonder Sonic hated house so badly. But with all that there’s a warmth here, a shy playfulness from a musician who’s always otherwise tended to grand, take-it-or-leave-it textural statements.

It’s been dismissed by even Spacemen fans as a failure and a mess, but this spindly cul-de-sac sounds fresh and unexplored – you can hear echoes of it in Smog’s urban-sensitive trance rockers, or in the dessicated drumforms of later Porter Ricks, but that’s about all. And you can also hear the same thing you hear in Neu! or Musik Von Harmonia, the paradoxical possibilities for comfort a person can find in repetition, blanking out, losing themselves. By stripping himself down to a beatbox, a whisper and a few fragile melodies, Sonic Boom sounds more alive than he’s ever done since. A hypnotic, wonderful one-off.