Posts from 7th October 1999

Oct 99

It’s A Kid’s World

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Position Normal – Stop Your Nonsense 

Pay attention: you should buy this record.

It’s best to get the message up front, right, because the click-happy, frames’n’flash graphics-or-bust internet audience is now thoroughly post-attention and pro-absorbtion. Tony Blair (a local political leader, O netizens) has backed proposals to test three-year-olds’ comprehension by checking whether or not they can concentrate on a single task for twenty minutes. Twenty minutes? My dears, can you even imagine? By those stringent standards we’re all regressed infants of sorts, incessantly craving and easily bored, multi-tentacled cultural octopi glooping through a Sargasso Sea of ambient data. Concentration is death, Tony – do try and keep up! For one thing, concentration would imply we were taking something seriously, which is hardly the kind of example we should be setting our kids.

13 of the 15 tracks on the Position Normal album are under three minutes long. Good.

Stop Your Nonsense” is a childish record, you see. Actually, the moments I remember best from early childhood are ones of fierce concentration where my flimsy grasp of the ‘rules’ shifted, moments of doing something new or having done something wrong. But I can easily believe the rest of it was filled like this album with cheek, repetition and an innocent wonder at the shape and texture of everything. Most of the second half of Position Normal’s excellent record is a big dreamy suite of children’s voices babbling away between half-remembered TV themes and carefree sonic gurgles. All the infant voices have that strange, emphatic quality that you only get in kids and politicians, where the act of saying is mattering quite as much as what’s being said. It makes for disarming listening.

You might think this kind of kinder-dada could slip into stale cod-surrealism, but the kind of painfully zany juxtapositions that have gummed up English comedy since Python are mercifully absent. If you want to put Position Normal into any pigeonhole, try the loving eccentricities and understated observational obsessions of Ivor Cutler or Viv Stanshall or Steven Stapleton. “Stop Your Nonsense” sounds nothing like them, of course, but it’s a mood that matches: just listen to the mildewed crooner of “Jimmy Had Jane” or the sinister doctor on “Bedside Manners” to see what I mean.

What does it sound like? The Position Normal method, I’d guess, is to upend your focus, to take a bit of background noise and move it up front, spend a track exploring it. More often than not this sound is human speech: the great joy of “Whoppeas”, for example, is in the way the track treats its market-trader’s bark as sound-in-itself as well as narrative. For lovers of the voice in all its overlooked everyday glory, this LP is a real treat.

Position Normal have tried the most difficult pop trick of all – making an album that sounds like nobody else but obeys an immediate internal logic – and have pulled it off immaculately. “Stop Your Nonsense” should be throwaway whimsy, but for all its surface stoner goofiness it’s a record produced with a glorious attention to detail. The echoey instrumentation and placidly catchy undersea melodies soon seem like a signature sound, a stamp of Position Normal’s winning uniqueness. Certainly the most lovable album of the year, “Stop Your Nonsense” is also probably the most original.

To reiterate: buy this record.

59. TRICKY – “Divine Comedy”

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Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It’s amazing how Tricky – more often than not a shambolic paranoid, the world’s worst advert for weed – raises his game when he’s got an enemy in his sights, rather than just whispering in his head. The backstory to “Divine Comedy”: some witless Polygram fat-cat made some racist remark at an industry bash, to the effect that if record companies were to exclude employees with criminal records, there’d be no blacks in the industry. Most of the people there probably just thought he was being excitingly non-PC (you know, like the Prodigy or someone). Not so Tricky, whose record label had been bought up by Polygram, and who headed for the studio to crank out this festering, raging white label screed of loathing – for the executive, his company, the whole situation, the whole record industry, and not least himself for ending up mixed up in it all.

Vitriolic doesn’t describe it, words barely touch it – this is a record whose only ‘hooks’ are a sampled voice hooting “Polygram!” and Tricky repeating, again and again and again, “Fuck you niggers”. The music is boiling, itchy, corrupted loop-funk, much like Miles Davis was producing on the peerlessly fucked-up On The Corner. After this, Angels With Dirty Faces was completely redundant – he’d said everything about the state of his mind and music in “Divine Comedy”, when he mutters “Every black man in the industry has a conviction / How can you say that with conviction?” and he doesn’t even sound angry anymore, just absolutely exhausted. Sometimes you listen to “Divine Comedy” and it’s just a rage and a mess, and you care just as little as Tricky thinks you do. But however flailing and confused it seems, there’s a hard kernel of negation in the middle which no amount of industry polishing could ever ironise away.