Posts from 4th June 2000

4
Jun 00

JETHRO TULL – “Hunting Girl”, “Jack in the Green”, “One Brown Mouse” and others

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JETHRO TULL – “Hunting Girl”, “Jack in the Green”, “One Brown Mouse” and others (MP3s)
Jethro Tull. Simply writing the words here feels like entering some kind of permanently culturally forbidden territory, a hidden world that we are told permanently not to enter. It was punk that did it, of course. The conscious “Englishness” of this band and others like them fell from favour literally overnight, and they were consigned to years of lower-profile existence interrupted only by a typically clueless Grammy Award for the best *hard rock* album at some point in the 80s. They still record, but I doubt whether even Mojo magazine takes much notice these days, and from 1972 onwards they gradually became more successful in the US and Europe than the UK, which shouldn’t really have surprised anyone. As anyone from Johnny and the Hurricanes to And Also The Trees can tell you, a conscious appropriation of your national cultural past generally gives you a greater appreciation *outside* your home country. Pop audiences worldwide tend to turn to their music as an escape from their own national “roots”, while audiences in other countries will often find a certain escapism and exoticism in those images.

Listening to this music now is like going through an old album of dusty black-and-white family photos, a cultural diversion only *just* beginning to be re-evaluated. Much of it is deeply unmemorable – Tull were, on this evidence, a fucking atrocious band much of the time, with far too many extended rock workouts (the general rule is that the closest they get to heavy rock, the worse they are) and bear in mind that these are live recordings from 1978, the time and place where all the worst aspects of 70s rock were the most overplayed. Nothing matches the utter genius of “The Maypole Song” and other soundtrack music from The Wicker Man, which was written at roughly the same time. *But* … the best songs here (“Hunting Girl”, “Jack in the Green”, “One Brown Mouse” and the wonderful reflection on mortality and permanance “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day”) are affecting, inspirational, evocative of a personal journey, and highly suggestive of Britain at a particularly fascinating stage of reconciling its past and future, trapped beautifully between the obsessive futurism of the Telstar era and the shameless immunisation-from-now of Poundbury et al. They’re also infinitely better than any more “purist” take on the same style I’ve ever heard.

In many ways, the whole rock-as-Englishness phase of 1968-76 was a repeat of the early 20th Century craze for collecting and archiving the past, which gave rise to cultural products as diverse as Thomas Hardy’s novels (chronicling a way of life already disappearing into the past) and the “hey-nonny-no” light operettas of Edward German. It’s not too difficult to see this music as the offshoot of a similar feeling, feeling pushed by the still relatively new influence of television to look back into its past, and to reconcile that history with the forces seen as its inevitable destroyers. While its utter domination in the early-mid 70s over the urban English dystopia of punk was a narrowing and restricting influence, its complete removal from most pop consciousnesses for the last 23 years is every bit as constricting.

I’m writing this the weekend BBC Radio 2, long Britain’s most reliably MOR network, airs a punk documentary – maybe Momus is right that this stuff, at its best (and you have to fight long and hard through the dross to find the good stuff, mind) is now more subversive than what seemed to utterly confine it to history. The fact that it relies upon the same English imagery that I’ve always tried desperately not to be defined by just makes it all the more intriguing.

The Weekend Stops Here

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The Weekend Stops Here: a radio show run by a nice person who HumanClicked me after reaching Freaky Trigger via a search for the Magnetic Fields. Hooray for the Magnetic Fields! So I promised him a link and here it is. If you’re in the Cambridge area you might even find it useful.

TOPLOADER

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TOPLOADER

God, I hate them. I really fucking hate them. For the benefit of those outside the UK, there’s a mainstream media stereotype here that people living on the Southern English coastline (where I grew up) are your stereotypical dim surf boys and girls, there to provide a pleasant background for the visitors to talk down to and be patted on the back without ever dreaming of talking back, dress in a 20-year timewarp, long hair, no brains. Eastbourne’s Toploader live up to all this shit, and I’m one of those misconceived further as a result.

That in itself would be reason itself to despise this band, but hearing seemingly the entire staff attempting to fucking holler during the nauseating “everyone sing along” workout that is “Dancing in the Moonlight” in a certain major London music emporium last week was among the most nauseating experiences of my life. That song itself is enough to turn anyone against them – an aged record exec’s idea of what “soul music” is (having spent the last 23 years locked in with four Atlantic and Stax LPs), pushed into the hands of a bunch of lazy know-nothings. But the worst thing is that it doesn’t actually seem to have worked that way, you genuinely suspect that they actually think what they are doing is “soul”, that this was the finest musical expression they could think of. And they’ve further increased the perception of several of my mates (by extension and assumption rather than first-hand knowledge, obviously) as grinning, beach-blonde Newquay-esque surfing morons. Fuck you, Toploader. Just fuck you.

NEGATIVLAND

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NEGATIVLAND

With the current furore about students with no money and less taste playing swap shop with stolen music (i.e. Napster), Negativland’s stock has rarely been higher. This is a good thing, surely, since Negativland are a cutting-edge political band who have made a career of revolutionising the ways people think about music and sound, right? Well…

Like rural gun nuts and Orange Order marchers, Negativland are ‘political’ inasmuch as they will campaign like crazy whenever their hobbies are threatened. In Negativland’s case this means those funny little cut-up records they make in which celebrities like Casey Kasem say the craaay-aaay-aaaziest things. Sometimes they can’t get tapes of actual celebrities saying these crazy things, but that’s OK: they get a friend of theirs with a silly voice to read stuff out instead. In fact they have a whole host of silly voices – sorry, ‘recurring characters’ – to draw fans into the wild world of Negativland. The band even release CDs from their Over The Edge radio show, where these zany characters (The Weatherman, and that fake priest person whose name unsurprisingly escapes me) get to strut their solo stuff. Since the band have the comic timing of a stick insect, these discs are deeply unfunny, and all the monologues are insanely long to boot, ironically for a group whose one claim to our musical attention is that they’re dab hands at tape editing.

Negativland’s satirical humour is in the tradition of the 60s Situationists, who would ‘detourne’ cartoon strips, magazine advertising and billboards in an attempt to wake the ignorant masses up to their reified existence, leading to a revolutionary situation where boredom would be banished (One suspects Guy Debord would doubt Negativland’s ability to achieve this aim if he heard Over The Edge). This is well and good, but unfortunately both Negativland and the Situationists are part of a deeper tradition, that of annoying kids in the school playground who would run around singing “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin flew away”. The fact that the other children, exposed to these savagely satirical acts of cultural reversal, did not revolt against the banality of their ordered lives goes some what to explaining why neither our Parisian friends nor Negativland have brought the culture industry down just yet.

Negativland, though, are leading the fight against copyright (or CopyWRONG, ho ho). This is true, but frankly it would mean considerably more coming from a band whose records people might want to buy. As it is Negativland appeal to a worldwide but thankfully tiny audience of clever-clever slackers looking for intellectual justification of their tight-arsedness. They’re infinitely worse than fellow West Coast politicos Rage Against The Machine, who may be naive and hypocritical (crying ‘hypocrite’ being the first resort of the apathetic intellectual) but at least state a problem straightforwardly and don’t spend all their time attacking straw men targets like Bono and their one-time record companies.

Sure, Rage’s political content is blindingly obvious, but so’s Negativland’s: advertising is manipulative, stop the fucking presses. If you listen to Dispepsi, once past the pretentious “Ooh, we’re going to get sued” packaging (they didn’t, because Pepsi didn’t get where it is today by giving a shit about sad media whores), you’ll find tracks which amount to simply lists of brand names, read out in a silly voice, natch. The band’s audience are so self-satisfied in their cosy countercultural opinions that just saying the words “Mountain Dew” in a ‘satirical’ context gets a snigger, just like ‘alternative’ comedians in the 1980s used to build whole lazy careers by dropping the names “Reagan” and “Thatcher” into their routines.

The final insult is that Negativland aren’t even very good at noise manipulation. They’re still stuck in the 1980s, back when their ideas seemed to mean something, and back when taking one fucking sample and just repeating it again and again was radical sound art. The worst thing about 90s Negativland isn’t their self-serving ideas or their political irrelevance, it’s the sheer embarrassment you feel listening to their clumsy cut-ups and tail-chasing tape loops. Like the man said, “GIVE UP NOW!”.

You are Invited

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You are Invited: I was indeed invited to link to this Dismemberment Plan site. An e-mail to NYLPM pretty much guarantees a link at some point, even if that point is the point in the far, far future when I clear my inbox out. I won’t add much in the way of commentary because I’m not very interested in the Dismemberment Plan (apparently I’ve not heard their really good stuff, but even so I hate the guy’s voice). That might change if I see them on Thursday.