Posts from October 1999

Oct 99

49. SAINT ETIENNE – “I Was Born On Christmas Day”

FTPost a comment • 1,315 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

The clocks go back and the nights start to pull in around you. It’s dark when you get to work and dark when you leave, so you start to feel that wintry melancholia nipping at your edges, and you start looking out for friends and lights and fires. Winter gets a raw deal in pop, because pop (in its more saleable forms) is a music that tends to hibernate, a fabulous gaudy thing whose style is cramped by thick coats and wooly hats. But I like Winter, for me it’s often been the friendliest season, despite its hinted sadnesses: a good time of year for sitting, drinking, talking and planning. When I feel Winter on the air for the first time every year, I’m hit by a swell of nostalgia – because from school onwards it’s the time when big things start and when your life gets taken on odd turns, but also because you can feel, far off, the approach of Christmas. And as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a sucker for long countdowns.

Christmas is the only time when pop rises from its Winter bed. And, in general, it promptly disgraces itself. The gurning, hoofing dreadfulness of Christmas songs could be wearyingly elaborated on: Slade forged the unmatchable template and every rocker since has tried, understandably, for a similar pension-fund-on-45 classic. Most have ended up mawkish (Lennon, McCartney, Cliff Richard) or unfunny (Greg Lake, Fountains Of Wayne(!)) and the recent trend has been for the current pop rulers to simply save up their most stickily sentimental tunes till December and play the public like a one-armed bandit. The best Christmas songs, Slade aside, tend to be the ones which draw aside the tinsel and poke around the season’s emotional territory. So you have Shane and Kirsty’s rich, sloppy melodrama; you have Cindy Dall measuring her man by the size of his gift; you have Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” , which recasts the season of goodwill as a blasted loveless hell. And you have Saint Etienne.

“I Was Born On Christmas Day” was a minor single, even by St Et’s minor standards. In the savage Christmas market it was swallowed whole, a jumped-up fan club record which had the temerity to sneak into the proper shops, and which paid a brutal commercial price. But I love it, because even if it’s one of Saint Etienne’s less showy numbers it manages to say everything to me about what Christmas is actually like. The song is all breathless gossip and meeting old friends, idle pub chatter and a warming sense of comfort and possibility. “Did you know they pulled the town hall down?/I don’t think you’d recognise this town” – it’s a song about the things that change and the feelings that don’t. The tune is dismissable but charming and honest: Tim Burgess sings on it, and I doubt he often pauses to think that he never gave his voice to anything else so true. Xmas 93 recognises Christmas for what it should be: a time of stocktaking and hope, and I hope I never get cynical enough to think otherwise.

Oct 99

50. BLUR – “Girls And Boys”

FT1 comment • 2,550 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It was one of those stardust radio moments, the kind the thing was invented for: in my kitchen, 1994, and the room filling up with the most dynamic pop I’d ever heard, the hammering music finely balanced between suavity and thuggery, the voice a cocktail of croon and gurgle. Roxy Music – “Virginia Plain“, 22 years old by then, and I remember thinking: why couldn’t I hear something new with that vibrancy, invention and callous cleverness? And then twenty minutes later, I did.

Blur were a band I spent the decade hating, because when they were bad, they were horrid, their faults so glaring I could never see through to the handful of world-class songs they’d recorded. The problem was never that they sounded like other bands, you just got the impression that they thought that being like the Kinks (or XTC or Madness or Pavement) would lead automatically to them meaning as much as those bands had. It says something unpleasant about the 90s that they were probably right. Damon Albarn’s much-pilloried character songs, snarky pen-portraits of unfortunate individuals not as well-off or handsome or sensitive or clued-up as him, were of a piece with the musical magpie-ism: Blur, and the decade that begat them, are about curatorship, the considered deployment of styles, characters, attitudes. The people in Blur songs are specimens, the moods tried on for size. Damon’s good at his job: they mostly fit.

But sometimes his beady sociologist’s eye works a charm. You’d have to be quite the ideologue to claim the holiday hedonism of “Girls And Boys” was condescending and not just plain accurate. And even if Damon’s being patronising, the band aren’t. “Girls And Boys” rampages from speaker to speaker – it’s ugly, thumping, blaring, thrilling disco-pop with every instrument put to the service of the beat, the beat, the beat. Short of actually covering “Celebrate” or “Agadoo“, it’s hard to see how Blur could have got any more aggressively, synthetically stupid or made any more sense. Even Damon’s art-urchin bleat fits into the song’s glassy, fun-at-any-cost clangour. The last great New Wave hit: the best thing they ever did.

Oct 99

MESSTHETICS: The Beta Band – The Beta Band

FTPost a comment • 1,830 views

Why? The Beta Band is the most troublesome record of 1999 – its makers disown it, its few disciples adore it, a whole lot of people hate it, and a whole lot more like me just don’t know what to make of it, but keep playing it anyway. While there are certainly good bits and bad bits on The Beta Band, it’s not always possible to work out which is which, let alone pull them apart. And the funny thing is that after a few months you stop caring and just take the whole damn lot as it comes.

What did the Beta Band do? Their releases haven’t followed an upward curve so much as an outward one. “Champion Versions” was relaxed, wide-open and catchy and rendered Gomez irrelevant in a couple of bars, but it was still pretty much place-able. “The Patty Patty Sound” was just that, a set of stoned percussive meanderings which showed quite how loose the band were willing to get. But even so, if you knew your stuff it wasn’t exactly unprecedented. And “Los Amigos Del Beta Bandidos” sounded like a compilation of the best B-Sides ever and suggested the group could do ‘focused’ if they wanted.

What have the Beta Band done? And now this – The Beta Band takes what the group had achieved so far and gleefully smashes it up, draws a big fat moustache on it, plays it backwards and sniggers over the top. It’s one of the goofiest records I’ve ever heard, but it’s also quite dark and there’s a mania to the giggliness which stops it being just insufferable. It’s no wonder the band aren’t happy with it – I’d be frightened if I’d made The Beta Band, because it’s the sound of a group looking for an edge and suddenly finding out that there isn’t one. The reason it sounds unfinished is that there’s no possible way it could be.

Why aren’t the Beta Band rubbish? Charm, the key to any terrific band. And the Beta Band are terrific – they’re not yet a Great Band, and I hope they never become one, but they have impish forgiveability in spades. Most tracks here careen out of control, fall head over heels, and right themselves grinning. A couple go off the rails totally – only a confirmed miseryguts could love “Number 15”s dour thump (and even here the grumbling is leavened by jackal cackles and kitchen-utensil gamelan) – but the inevitable pressing of ‘skip’ is accompanied by no heaviness of heart.

What do the Beta Band know? Groove: they know how to roll it out and keep it up. “Smiling” and “Broken Up A Ding Dong” are the centerpieces of the album Julian Cope’s been trying to make all decade, ramshackle campfire clapalong jams with a powerful communal momentum that taps into the free-spirited dervish vibe of Amon Duul I, the playful tactility of mid-70s Can, and the cheap rhythms and party atmosphere of late-80s Brit house.

What are the Beta Band capable of? The Beta Band write songs, then hold them up to funhouse mirrors which stretch them or shrink them or pull them sideways. It’s very rare for them to lose a structure entirely (even the stoner bobbins of “Dance O’Er The Border” pulls itself together for a glorious 90 seconds at the end), and the best tracks here often sound like strange nocturnal improvisations around half-familiar themes – the Black Hole sample on “It’s Not Too Beautiful”, or the notorious use of Jim Steinman’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. They’re also a lot sharper than you might think – “Round The Bend” is the best thing they’ve ever done, marrying a rollicking tune to lyrics which are a finer and more humane pen-portrait of mid-twenties depression than anything else I know. And you get a bit of useful advice about the Beach Boys, to boot.

Who doesn’t like the Beta Band? There is no band in operation who could get away with “The Beta Band Rap”, let alone open their debut album with it. A winning kamikaze combination of audacity and idiocy, it segues singalong chanting into karaoke hip-hop, turning the band’s unremarkable backstory into infectious doggerel. I’ll let you into a secret: I rarely get past two minutes in, but I’m very glad it’s there, because in it’s own way it’s as neat a fuck-you as any monochord punk holler or breakbeat splatter. The people with most to fear from the Beta Band are traditionalists of any stripe, obviously, but also people who think bands should play music and not play with it (or just play), and people who like their experimentalism and variety meted out to them in nice marketable chunks, who’d prefer a smoothly organic progression in pop music to the every-which-way splurge of the Betas. They know who they are and I hope they choke on their godawful power pop records.

Why do the Beta Band matter? The Beta Band matter because they’re originals, and we’re living through times which have been all too keen to write that off. At the end of last year I wrote this about them – “their whimsical, garden-shed experimentalism would be even more charming if they were just one part of a whole new explosion of unpredictability that had swamped British indie in ’98. As it is, let’s hope their influence is viral” – and sure enough this year has seen a gallop of British records owing little to anything except themselves. Uncaring of commercial success, contemptuous of indie rock cool, concerned only with the noble task of creating their own words of sonic or songwriting logic. Some of these albums have been made by older bands hitting form (XTC, The Auteurs), some have come from out of nowhere (Position Normal), some have been curate’s eggs or noble failures (All Seeing I, Campag Velocet), some have set themselves about revitalising neglected styles (Basement Jaxx, Spearmint), some I’ve not yet heard (Piano Magic). None of them have anything in common with one another, except that they’re all intelligent, mostly playfully inauthentic, and they all contribute to my personal optimism about British music right now. It’s been ten years since the Stone Roses, and we need another Roses, and then another decade of increasingly plodding indie populism, like we need a second arse. What we’ve got – this ungraspable variety – is more interesting, more affirming, more personal and more filled with potential than any ‘scene’ I can remember, and the Beta Band are right in the thick of it. What on Earth are they going to do next?

51. THE SUNDAYS – “Goodbye”

FTPost a comment • 1,098 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

A synthesis, but what a synthesis: the plummy ballerina swoop of Kate Bush, the exotic drift of Liz Fraser, and – the real genius touch – the sensible suburban pleasantness of a hundred Sarah Records sad-eyed shufflers. One foot in the stars and the other in, I don’t know, Croydon, Harriet Wheeler is a uniquely likeable singer, bringing breathstealing grace into the service of the everyday, taking pop out of the hands of the poets and letting it sing the kitchen sink. One of her girl-next-door songs of defiance or desire is worth a thousand Tori Amos conundrums, easy.

Like, for example, “Goodbye”. Often Wheeler sounds tongue-tied as much as tongue-talking, but here she plays it faiely straight, breaking into flight in the lovely middle eight, but otherwise giving a typically understated performance. What gives her the edge over almost every other indie-pop singer is her phrasing. Even at her most gorgeous and baroque, Wheeler somehow still sounds conversational, like she’s sitting at a kitchen table, hands comfortably clasped around a hot cup of tea, and suddenly this impossibly pretty sound flows out where there should be chatter and gossip. So she sings “Those stories were a good read / But they were dumb as well” with a commonsense forthrightness even as she’s turning “These stories” into a rich, heady lunge and “dumb as well” into filigree.

David Gavurin, excellent songwriter though he is, is considerably simpler to pin down: Johnny Marr, only somewhat feyer. Unassumingly melodic, his careful, intricate guitar pop is an ideal backdrop for his partner’s cartwheeling. “Goodbye” is a top piece of craftsmanship and all credit to him. But it’s the voice that makes it. The Sundays’ lack of output, and their essential gentility, have made Harriet Wheeler probably the most underrated singer of the 90s. “Goodbye” is a pearl, and she is a marvel.

Oct 99


FTPost a comment • 892 views

8 October 1999, London

No pop in this record collection: 1977 is billed as a trip through 22 years of “music and anarchy”, part club, part gig, part showcase for organisers Satellite Records. Sounds like a good night out – sounds like an opportunity to check up on what’s crawling out near the margins of British music-making. Let’s see.

The venue’s appropriate, a paintball arena full of faux-factory atmosphere, all exposed steel and big staircases and grey paint and wire mesh. Moving round it feels like being in a cross between a school disco and Quake, everyone’s fantasy vicarious combat zone, apt given that 1977 never quite manages to move from being the fantasy of an event to an actual happening.

You can tell ‘77 is a hyperreal event because Momus is there, flanked by Japanese girls and chic fans. He’s not performing, probably just taking notes: if headliners Add N To X – who we end up not seeing – aren’t ‘analogue baroque’ I don’t know what is. But his presence is as reassuring and predictable as the flickery loops of black-and-white boxing footage projected on the wall, and the backdrop stills of surly, skinny black kids with their hands resting on primitive turntables. Three years ago this crowd would have been at a place like the Scratch Club, with cropped hair and thick Spud glasses, nodding along as bands like Boymerang phutted their way through their pointless, deracinated music. Back then being ‘intelligent’ was the key, nowadays being ‘experimental’ and ‘underground’ is – same thing maybe, different emphases.

It’s an improvement, mostly. The first band we see are the best, a bunch of shitfaced, shambling teenagers called They Come From The Stars who are just about together enough to talk to the audience and to batter some fabulous noise out of their instruments. They sound like cavemen trying to play an Add N record, their drums are incredibly loud and hugely primitive, and they’re the only group this evening who don’t have a straitjacketing sense of their own capabilities. They ask us whether we want to hear “Block Rock” or “Astro National Anthem”, and we all enthusiastically yell for the latter, but we’re at the back and “Block Rock” it is. “This is a very complicated one to set up” slurs the 70s-urchin singer, an astonishing claim since the thrillingly stupid “Block Rock” consists of the drummer bashing something noisy about once every couple of seconds and everything else just being left to freak out. It’s also a duet of sorts, as every time the singer yells “Block rock” the girl on his left yells “Tick tock” back. In all honesty it sounded ace, especially because the conviction of the band that they were creating a black-hole psychedelic sonic meltdown was so total, they were almost right. Christ knows what “Astro National Anthem” would have been like, but I intend to find out one day.

Upstairs are Sand, a much bigger draw and a much bigger bore. I’d read something on them by Kevin Martin (one-time compiler of brilliant Isolationism compilation, gradually turning into a finger-in-every-pie 21st century Laswell) which had roused my suspicions, and sure enough Sand are ‘difficult’ in the most guessable way possible, i.e. they sound abrasive and focus-free. They do that dreary Mogwai quiet-loud thing, and then a guy whose face portends impeccable seriousness and attitude steps up to the mic with a trombone. The audience are well into this shattering of musical boundaries, and we catch a few black looks for laughing so much, but the truth is he looks just like Bill Pullman in the ridiculous ‘jazz club’ bit of Lost Highway, but portlier. Their second track is identical, only backed up with tinny beats that would have shamed a B-Side by Jefferson Airhead, and we leave in glee, our lily-livered liberal ears defeated once again by the bold onward march of experimental rock.

Downstairs the next act is setting up so we get some drinks and dance a bit. The music policy is somewhat confused, with obscurities and good-taste choices sitting next to the bleedin’ obvious (“White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)”) and the faintly inappropriate (“Once In A Lifetime”). Adding to the befuddlement, the DJs keep leaving big gaps between the records, a practise I’d read about in the paper but had assumed was Jacques Peretti making things up again. Hey, DIY spirit! It’s great! Really! The reggae being played between acts on the top floor is much more coherent, being reggae, and reminds me once again to track down a copy of “Under Mi Sleng Teng“. But all good things come to an end, and over projected footage of men in the trenches a scary bald guy (one of Add N to X, we thought) with a spooky ventriloquist’s doll plays a brutal militaristic drum tattoo. The beats crash around me, and on the screen I see doomed yet beautiful young men suffer and die, and find myself transported back to an earlier, more heroic time: the mid-80s to be exact, when this kind of pseudo-industrial blather probably seemed a whole lot fresher. We lose our nerve by the time he starts a spoken word bit.

Upstairs. More reggae. Downstairs – o-ho, what’s this? We’d noticed a small but prominent Goth contingent at 1977, and here they all are, as loud, sleazy, floury-faced metal hits the speakers and a mysterious masked woman hits the stage. The crowd went wild, for it is a stripper. But no ordinary stripper, oh no, this is a Goth stripper with a huge papier mache snake and some apples, and her dance is to be a symbolic representation of the fall of Eve. Heavy allegorical stuff, the nuances of which we miss as the room becomes curiously fuller than usual. It’s good to know that the audience for radical art remains strong even at 1 am on a Saturday morning.

And there we are, knackered. We dance to “Rebel Without A Pause” and get our coats. On the way we pass Bell, who are playing upstairs, fusing pulse-tone minimalist techno with New Beat aggression in a way which might have sounded pretty marvellous to our selves of four hours earlier. And then we’re out of 1977 and back into 1999.

So what do we think? 1977 was pretty entertaining but it wasn’t exciting. Even with a past as exciting and glorious as this, looking back is still looking back, and spinning the old records just points up how knowing all the new bands seem to be, how aware everyone is of the mix-and-match games they’re playing, and of what’s ‘dangerous’ and what’s ‘different’, with the result that nothing ever is. Of course if you say that you’re experimental and different enough times there’s a real chance it’ll end up coming true, but only the naive desperation of They Come From The Stars had any kind of spark for me. I suppose the lesson is that if we really want a new 1977, we’ve got to have the guts to kill off the old one first.

Oct 99

52. TRICKY – “Tricky Kid”

FTPost a comment • 378 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Paranoid android: Tricky’s voice here is a mechanical, throaty burr, counterpointed by capering, maddened howls and shrieks. The beat, choppy and tense, whips him along, goading him into telling his cracked, confused story just as well as he can. Tricky looks out on a capital where everything anyone might hold dear – creativity, loyalty, roots, peace of mind – is either up for sale or ripe for culling, is being sucked into a swirling, powder-fuelled sinkhole of greed and madness. He’s not talking as an outsider or someone who’s risen above it – he’s talking as a man who’s already traded himself in, been pulled into the vortex and now has simply nothing left to lose. He hates himself and he doubts himself, his story may be unreliable but it was also true, you could read about it in the Sunday papers, except there they called it a cultural explosion. Welcome to Cool Britannia, please don’t rock the boat when you disembark.

It was a vile time to be a Londoner. The city had turned holographic: flickering, knowing and unreal. It was as if some genome project of style had reached completion, and the metropolis had become a testing ground for the new chromosomes of cool. Everyone knew exactly what to do and what not to do, and everybody calmly went about doing it. We were all individuals now: to believe in anything would be to surrender that. This is what I heard in “Tricky Kid”: that cool was once an itch under the skin, a defiant stance you used to mask the fact that you couldn’t fit if you wanted to. It was not, in other words, an option, not something you learned. And now that time was over – the people who couldn’t fit just ended up forgotten and murderous, and everybody else who mattered, well, they were doing all right. Tricky’s output may be repetitive sometimes, may be addled and surly and messy, but he knows how to pick his targets, and “Tricky Kid”‘s burst of emnity (focussed, even danceable by his standards) cuts to the heart of the matter as surely and with as much relevance as anything he’ll ever put to disc. In one light it’s over the top, but it made sense at a time when not much music did, and that’s something I’ll long be thankful for.

Oct 99


FTPost a comment • 330 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

It was raining, and I’d just been dumped – good time to get into the Palace Brothers, I reckoned. “Come In”, An Arrow’s lead track, did the business: a minor miracle of economy and despair. A mess of low graveyard strings, lachrymose and ghostly steel guitar, regretful brushed drumming and Will Oldham’s measured, mannered voice, somehow pulling itself together into a song. Oldham takes it mostly numb and blackhearted, faltering only sometimes and breaking never: it’s one of his best and gloomiest vocals, the relatively structured music stopping him just wandering off down some archaic verbal cul-de-sac.

Oldham breaks through the authenticity barrier which prevents full-on enjoyment of most by playing the deliberate weirdo: an over-educated innovator with a hillbilly voice and a penchant for language so fastidious and elemental it’s almost Biblical. Even when his records are just irritating workings-out of this schtick, his intelligence demands respect. “Come In” was the start of a winning streak for him, some increasingly excellent records culminating in his scarifying backwoods drum-machine masterpiece Arise, Therefore. It’s maybe my favourite Oldham song, in fact, and mostly for the music and the memories. The way its deep swell of gloom finally breaks into a brief piano melody, dignified but hopeless; the way it gave me a workable map of heartbreak at a time when direction was a scarce commodity. You needn’t agree, but then again, you might.

Oct 99

54. THE VERVE – “History”

FTPost a comment • 1,076 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

‘Hero Rock’ someone called it, and the name stuck for a while – a big, brainwashing chorus in front of a lumbering unrock rhythm section and gussied up by liberal use of the hired orchestra. Still practised by Williams, R., it’s a kind of musical Toryism, stirring songs that common sense tells you are more emotional and meaningful than that ‘pop crap’ or that ‘weird shit’. This is what good music is meant to sound like, so it must be good music, right? But common sense and pop go together like bread and gravel.

So you can file “History” as a ‘guilty pleasure’ if you like. The Verve were always the most mystical of the Hero Rock crowd, evidence A here being the William Blake half-quote that kicks off the song. Blake was wracked, radical and romantic, so Richard Ashcroft’s picking his role model well, no matter how pretentious it seems (considerably less so than, say, the Divine Comedy putting a Wordsworth poem to music). It’s proof the Verve are playing for epic stakes, then, and nothing on “History” is done by halves. The strings which bring us in are immense, dizzying spans of sound whose sheer, clear scale makes plain that this is a single of extreme gravitas. Couple that opening with the Blake stuff and it’s tempting to think that I like “History” because it’s such a grotesque folly. But that’s not quite it.

The Verve started off as spacerock truthseekers with a Roses-style messiah complex, and though by the time A Northern Soul came out they’d cut back on their sonic drift, traces of that ambition remained. In “History” you can hear it in the phrasing, the way Ashcroft lets his words wander around in the song, sometimes stumbling or messing up the metre, or running out of music or even breath. This halting delivery makes him sound overwhelmed by the sound, dwarfed by his own song, drunk on music and besotted with himself. He only gets it together to tell you what he’ll not quite get around to actually doing: “I want to tell you a tale,” he declaims, “Of how I loved and how I failed.”. And he doesn’t, because it’s the ambition, the scope, that matters more than the execution: very Hero Rock.

But it’s that rambling, searching quality that makes “History” bearable, and more, remarkable: all the undeniably visceral power of the most self-assured music in Britain’s pop history, but all the same such a diffracted song. All the other big Britpop anthems – “Live Forever”, “A Design For Life”, even “Bitter Sweet Symphony” – defeat themselves because they answer all their own questions: they’re so massive and autocratic that the listener becomes the object, not the subject of the song. With “History”, Richard Ashcroft gets lost in his song, and opens up a way for you to get in too.

Oct 99

55. BLACKSTREET – “No Diggity”

FTPost a comment • 1,753 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Your ears are a commodity, Teddy Riley just bought them up. “No Diggity” is first of all capitalism in its slinkiest form, in every sense classy. A hymn to money, sex, upward mobility, “No Diggity” triumphs over every other swingbeat anthem because it walks it so much like it talks it. Blackstreet don’t tell you how rich they are, they make every sweet note drip with opulence, and most important of all, they’re never vulgar about it: their song may be ‘urban’ but it never refers back to the street.

The piano lick that gives the song its propulsion sounds old but timeless, like a perfectly positioned antique in a wealthy man’s house. The elegant, airtight atmosphere of “No Diggity” sounds like riding in the back of a long black limousine, with smoked glass cutting you off from the world, giving you a chance to think about….what, exactly? “I can’t get her out of my mind / I think about the girl all the time” The usual, then. “No Diggity” is one of the sexiest songs of the decade, a smooth glide through the head of a man lost in love, sometimes enraptured and sometimes abject. The rolling, wordless, gospel-tinted chant at the song’s peak says everything you need to know about both states: we’ve all been there, just never so luxuriously.

Oct 99

56. KIRK LAKE/JACK – “Five Finger Discount”

FTPost a comment • 486 views

Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

You find your pleasures unexpectedly. I listened to this single because I was working with Kirk Lake in a bookshop at the time and thought the title was kind of cheeky, all things considered. Wasn’t expecting much, not down to Kirk who I was somewhat in awe of, but because I associated Jack with the saggy, overwrought and precious maunderings I’d heard on their Pioneer Soundtracks album. More fool me: the music they make on “Five Finger Discount” is intimate and beautiful. By chance or design, the track’s been recorded low and foggy, so I always hunch up and lean in to listen to it, which seems to suit.

The song, riding in on a ruefully jaunty piano line, finds the singer wandering through a sharply observed city – probably London – late at night, in the world but not quite with it: his mind’s on other things. “Five Finger Discount” is a love song, like all the best singles – a quiet, unpretentious, bittersweet love song with wonderful late-night music and a disarmingly gentle tune. “When you’re dead I’ll be free” is the punchline, and the “free” is echoed and loops until it and the music collapse into each other, a chilly ending to a charming single.