Posts from 7th June 2000

7
Jun 00

MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE

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MAKES IT ALL WORTHWHILE

One down, hundreds to go: bye bye, Tubby!

Thank you very much those of you who’ve e-mailed me. I’ve not been replying yet but I have been reading, and your suggestions are very, very welcome. You’ll be delighted to know that the people at Freaky Trigger have decided to make me a regular feature, and no surprise given that I bring in more hits than the rest of it combined. So this’ll go on until I get bored. Or until music stops forever.

One reader writes: “i hate: silly jumped nobodys who think that what they think matters. what i think doesnt matter. what the bloke next to me thinks doesnt matter. neither do posh spice, vladimir putin or julie burchill’s opinions, or anyones, ever, matter. thus, neither does yours. so why bother? being a smartarse = funny for a bit, but one day you will grow up”. Well said, Sir! Though I would humbly suggest that Vladimir Putin’s opinions do matter a little bit, seeing as he’s in control of the world’s second largest nuclear arsenal.

He could start by targetting Pavement with his missiles of death. I’ve been gratified to find so many people suggesting that Pavement get their share of verbals, since they are a band I particularly loathe. It’s late and I need my gin, so a full dissection will have to wait, but let me just allow myself one initial comment: if you are a grown man, and I have it on good authority Pavement are, you shouldn’t call yourself Spiral Stairs. It only makes you look like a wanker. Mind you, if you’re making a living playing songs like “Carrot Rope” that’s a bit of a moot point.

The same, incidentally, goes for Grasshopper. With knobs on.

MR LEN – Straight Up

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MR LEN – Straight Up (MP3)
I was originally going to say that if you think turntablism is essentially modern fretwankery (Tom?) then you won’t like this, but I now realise that this is a simplistic argument – more than half of the track is taken up by the emceeing anyway (though it repeats itself needlessly towards the end) and though it does consciously avoid an instant hook, it’s the best kind of undie production values, not the earnest-jazzy variety, but the kind that imbues musique concrete with the funk. Company Flow have been the masters of this, of course (there are moments in “Funcrusher Plus”, their 1997 debut which seems more stimulating and influential the further you get from it, where you literally can’t believe what you’ve heard) and this doesn’t equal their best stuff, but the involvement of The Arsonists (at their best on last year’s stunning Tex Avery-sampling “Pyromaniax”, for me a kind of undie “My Name Is…”, but never dull) makes it consistently thrilling.

JAMES LUCAS – Christine

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JAMES LUCAS – Christine (MP3)
The English psychedelic tradition I love isn’t the overdone bastardisation of the 70s, it’s the more simple, clear and expressive sound of the late 60s. Not really Nick Drake (something less deeply personal than his work), and certainly not Simon and Garfunkel (whose sound has been, essentially, the source for Belle & Sebastian), it’s been overlooked in recent years. But this could very easily be Syd Barrett – it has exactly the right echo and guitar sound, but it isn’t pastiche or revivalism, it sounds fresh, questing, forward-looking, Lucas woken up and dreaming of his idol, wanting her, driven to a kind of restrained insanity by her unapprochability. More to the point, James sounds positively in awe of the subject of the song, who is personified as the classic unreachable woman, somehow too perfect to grasp, but there’s no exaggeration or overt embellishment. Lucas’s vocal style is the combination of removed idolisation and desire for closeness that defines all the finest Romantic pop. One of his best moments yet.

Click click click click click

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Click click click click click: Momus talks photos, videos, visuals. Nothing to do with music, by the way.

THE LA’S

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THE LA’S

Give the music press a Liverpudlian inch and they’ll take a bloody liberty. The installation of Lee Mavers as some kind of lost pop genius based on one song speaks volumes for Brit-crit’s sentimentality. Our manufacturing industry’s fucked, the Continent says we’re mad and America thinks we’re a joke, but hey, at least we had the Beatles! And so whenever another rough boy comes out of the North-West talking powdery gibberish the press go ape. Mavers was the one, they told us, he had ‘real soul’. “Real” meant “cheaply recorded” and “soul” meant “hoarse voice”, as they usually do in these cases. “There She Goes” was a minor hit, which turned out to be quite enough for a bit of bogus mythmaking. It made grown men cry, it was the greatest single ever recorded, it was certainly not an idle bit of ’65 beat pastiche which was only two minutes long but still managed to get boring after one.

Like the Flying Dutchwoman, I have wandered the Earth since the mid-80s trying to find somebody who can tell me why “There She Goes” is any good, without resorting to the phrase “perfect pop”. When indie bands get called ‘perfect pop’, it means two things: they’re not doing anything new, and nobody’s buying it anyway. “There She Goes” was re-released in 1990 with much ado and got to No. 15 or something, then dropped out a week or two later – the public obviously felt Vanilla Ice’s brand of pop was a bit more ‘perfect’ than Lee Mavers’, and maybe they were right. Of course sales don’t equal quality, but let’s not forget how many number ones were racked up by the Beatles, whose asses Mavers and everyone influenced by him kissed daily. “There She Goes” was ‘classic’, alright, but only if ‘classic’ means style not quality. It’s a Franklin Mint souvenir plate reproduction of Merseybeat, not some glorious rebirth.

It’s considerably easier to find people who think the La’s sole 1990 album is dreadful, though. Lee Mavers, for one. He notoriously decided the producer has messed up his ‘pure’ sound and distanced himself from the record as soon as it came out. This may have been canny: had he stood up and said “‘Doledrums’ is a brilliant song, not at all trite, and ‘Looking Glass’ well deserves to be that long, and ‘Feelings’ is truly timeless, not a bad nursery rhyme, and the one about the pirate ship is – well, it’s just great, OK? Anyone who says it’s a knuckle-bitingly annoying knock off is just soulless.” well, then his legend might not be quite so strong.

Since then, nothing. The odd filler piece in the NME, and of course the bassist went off to form Cast (who were the same, but worse). A year or so ago some American Christian Pop band DARED to touch Mavers’ sacred hem and cover “There She Goes”, and of course the purists were foaming: such blasphemy! It sounded precisely the same, as drab and repetitive as it always had done, just with a mealy-mouthed girl singing instead. Sainted for one single by a press desperate to avoid a changing musical world, Lee Mavers is the most overrated artist in pop history: somewhere in his riddled brain, he knows that he can’t ever make another record for just that reason. The country has too many buskers as it is.

How to write a Cure song

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HOW TO WRITE A CURE SONG

1) Buy a 12-string guitar. Record yourself playing open fifths in various keys for 25 minutes. This is the foundation of your song.

2) Call up the bloke who married your sister. Get him to come over to your studio and put a bass guitar in his hands. Splice together any notes he manages to play and put a lot of echo on them. (Notes completely unrelated to the fifths your recorded earlier are a plus.) This is your bassline.

3) Stalk a Royal Academy-trained pianist. Secretly record his private jam sessions. These will become your keyboard lines as well as the basis for your melodies (more on this later).

4) Record the noises made by your roadie as he tunes your guitars on tour. This is your guitar solo.

5) Hire a young drummer looking for a break, then drown him out with a drum machine.

6) Decide the mood for your song: if it’s “happy”, double the speed; if it’s “sad”, halve the speed.

7) Write your lyrics. They must contain at least five of the following words: “cat”, “knees”, “again”, “love”, “grey”, “spinning”, “trust”, “die”, “hate”, “miserable”, “happy”, “scream”, “cold”, “I”, “me”, “face”, “fall”, “fear”, “walk”, “kiss”, “catch”. Imaginary words are a bonus.

8) Shriek your lyrics in the highest, most tenuous portion of your vocal range. If you happen to land on a note that is in the chord, go up a whole step. Shrillness is a must. Make sure that the song ends abruptly on a chord only tangentially related to the chord it started on.

9) Take the most-repeated phrase in your song and make that the song title. For example, if your lyrics say, “Drown me in your eyes/With a kiss and a smile/Catch me in the sky/With a cloud of love/With a cloud of love/With a cloud of love”, your song would be called “With A Cloud Of Love”. Alternately, you could call the song “Treasure” and hope that no one notices.

10) Slap a closeup of your pasty, bloated face on the cover and watch the aging angst-mongers moan on and on about how you’ve repeated yourself so many times that they can only bring themselves to buy four copies of the latest release.

Don’t worry if all of your songs start to sound the same; your hardcore fans will hate anything that sounds different and your casual fans won’t exist.

The song you are listening to on the radio right now…

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THE SONG YOU ARE LISTENING TO ON THE RADIO RIGHT NOW

Now, truth be told, I have no psychic powers. I do not strictly know what song you are listening to on the radio right now, or if indeed you are listening to the radio at all. But if you are, I think we can all agree that not only is it derivative, banal and soporific, but it has been surrounded by tracks equally as free of merit. This is not any old music, this is music which has been graded, judged and playlisted by some faceleess entity – spewed into your day to day schedules by computers who know nothing about art and do not have the hardware to care. These machines use more processing power than was needed to send a man to the moon to determine exactly which track would suit the generic listener at this time of the day. Is it peppy enough for breakfast, is it wind-down enough for drivetime? Is it shit enough for the radio.

I don’t know what you are listening to – but for christ sake – turn it off. And if you are listening to your own music which you have purchased, or downloaded or whatever pitiful life wasting time you devote to so-called aural architecture – that’s just ten times worse. Why pay for torture when you can get it for free?

R.E.M. vs THE DIVINE COMEDY

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R.E.M. vs THE DIVINE COMEDY
(inspired by Duel!)

Of course the Divine Comedy is worse than REM. And let’s be clear about it, I loathe REM from the depths of my innermost being. And not just for the exceptions (“Shiny Happy People”, “Everybody Hurts”); tracks in which Stipe’s Messiah complex and fatuousity are matched cliche for cliche and truism for banality by his backing band’s tedious rock stylings. But throughout an oeuvre in which the mind-numbingly plain has been wrapped in the trappings of ‘alternative’.

I mean who buys these guys’ records? Fuckwit college-kids who want to impress the chicks but know that their Green Day LP won’t cut the mustard? Accountants who want some soul to fill their meaningless and vapid number-crunching? Ex-punks beginning to feel the onset of middle-aged spread and whose salary is not living up to the expectations they had when they arranged the mortgage on the semi, and who can only afford tried and tested, safety in numbers, jangle-bleating pap? For fuck’s sake, Simon Mayo is an REM fan. They’re a Travelling Wilberries for the Nineties.

But, oh, the Divine Comedy… What idiot decided it would be a good idea to give this nonce enough cash to make the chirpy orchestral pop theatrics he wanted to? And let’s face it, he never fucking delivered the goods on those anyway. Think back to Promenade — what the fuck? Irony and Noel Coward should be left to, well to Noel Coward and Frederic Schlegel. But the recent records, which seem specifically designed for college radio stations to play between Travis and the Stereophonics as a bit of cultural light relief; for closet homophobes to pout and preen to; for schoolkids who want to navigate between the Scylla of the plastic Britney clones and the Charybdis of those nasty Oasis boys… words cannot describe how bad they are. Think about “National Express”, the thematic counterpart to the entire Divine Comedy project, a rhetorical setpiece of slumming it on the coach to Leeds with the old ladies and the backpackers and the people who can’t afford the train. Which is the only reason any fucker takes the bastard coach. Doesn’t this repulsive attitude suggest that the whole of the Divine Comedy is musical slumming; the know-it-all Bishop’s son pretending to lower himself into the common world of popular music by making records whose pomp and circumstance (not to mention the revolting cod-classical / music-hall accompaniments) always wants to imply that they don’t really belong here, that they’re a little bit smarter, a little bit above ‘this.’

And he’s got big ears and a stupid haircut.

69 DUFF SONGS

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69 DUFF SONGS

A 3-disc gimmick record which its vain creator admits was designed to attract music writers? It sounds simply ghastly, my dears. Mind you, credit where it’s due: the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs has certainly done its job: all the pop poseurs at Freaky Trigger were falling over themselves to review it, praise it, even just mention it (quite a leap from Britney to a THREE HOUR CONCEPT ALBUM, eh boys?). And in the wider world of real zines that people read, the gushing was even more extreme. (If I see the phrase “Spin magazine’s coveted 10/10 rating” one more time, I will stab the writer with a four-inch heel: coveted by who? Korn?)

Anyway, aesthetically, it’s a dud. Gimmicky concept, gimmicky lyrics, gimmicky instrumentation. Look, I’m no fan of meat-and-potatoes band lineups, but when you’re confronted with sounds as weedy and reedy as the Fields’, you can’t help but which they’d ditch the fucking banjo and do something with a bit of oomph. If you buy the box set, you get a booklet in which Stephin Merritt and some intellectual pal of his spend seventy pages discussing how clever each individual track is: someone should stage it as a play and cause a riot. And the conceit that this set somehow encompasses all of 20th century song is farcical (Has Stephin Merritt ever even heard a punk record?). It’s like saying They Might Be Giants or Weird Al encompass all of 20th century music because they can knock out piss-weak pastiches of some of it on their ukeleles.

But the worst thing about 69 Love Songs is the way it even debases its chosen topic. There’s not one track here which sounds heartfelt, nothing that could give you any comfort in a break up, nothing which could express love’s naivety or bliss: as love songs, these are literally useless. Mechanistic and solipsistic, they sound like sixty-nine math exercises, long sneers at love from a cold man sitting in a bar pretending he’s Cole Porter. Which is precisely what they are.

THE IBIZA SOUND

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THE IBIZA SOUND

I may be encouraged to give a fuller disection of THE most appalling, derivative genre of dance music at a later time. Meanwhile – give it a rest fellas, and while you’re at it you can put vendors of foul coloured fluoro-beach-wear New Look and Mark One out of business. Enjoy your holiday, sucker.