Posts from March 2004
The production on ‘Living Doll’ is pretty special – impeccably polite but amazingly intimate, Cliff sings like his lips are almost brushing your ear but Cliff being Cliff he wouldn’t so much as ruffle your hair without a chaperone’s permission. In fact the remarkable thing about ‘Living Doll’ is how fully-formed Cliff’s Cliff-ness is on his fifth ever single. It’s hackneyed because it’s true: cuts don’t come much cleaner than Cliff, the thoughtful delivery and spick-and-span production the perfected essence of ‘good English boy’. The persona is so solid it’s survived almost fifty years – the occasional changes of style barely impact, though the moralising has gradually become more overt. Cliff Richard has made much better and much worse records than ‘Living Doll’ but this is his Rosetta Stone.
For all that I can’t say it works well today. It sounds marvellous but Lionel Bart’s queasy lyric has aged badly ‘ Cliff smirking over his doll, showing her off before locking her away; it’s not offensive so much as just tiresome. It reminds me of some religious couples I’ve met ‘ terribly well-turned-out, him telling everyone how marvellous she is and her never so much as speaking.
Please somebody stop me eating these delicious crisps thx.
Peas In Non Bling-Bling Shockah: Juley on Eastenders last night: I don’t want vegetables on my face, bro!! The scriptwriters on last night’s ‘Stenders obv had been on a nightbus with some “street children”* recently, as the phrase “frontin’ on” was used approx. 9 zillion times, when they weren’t demonstrating the dangers of a materialistic society and it’s effect on “urban youth”. Clunnnnnk!
That Sharon needs to touch her roots up**, innit?
*or Jamie Cullum, haha
**I said ROOTS, you filth merchants
May I point you to this lovely story about a man finding a packet of 82 year old Smith’s crisps? The packet apparently reads:
“Eat Smith’s Crisps with your morning bacon, chops and steak, fish, poultry or game, cocktails etc.”
And I didn’t even have a cup of TEA this morning! Things WERE better in the old days, weren’t they now?
On the right, down below the weblog links you may now see a box called “Listening to”. This is an agglomeration of FT writers’ listen-to data so you can keep tabs on the yawning chasm between our trendy claimed tastes and the shite we are actually playing. At the moment only me, Alan, and Dave B are playing – if you’re an FT bod and you have a listen-to bug that can be included please let us know! Even if you’re not then you should join the ILE group Alan has set up.
Pitchfork on Bonnie Prince Billy: I think the new Bonnie Prince Billy album is quite – no, very – good. It’s re-recordings of his older Palace tracks in a warm, country-rockish style, faintly reminiscent of early-70s Dylan. Having mostly forgotten the old tracks I was able to enjoy the new versions unreservedly. I can quite understand fans not liking the new record, though some of the descriptions I’ve read makes it sound like he’d got Mutt Lange in to produce and Shania on backing vocals – in fact Greatest Palace Music is no more ‘overproduced’ or glossy than that Gene Clark reissue from last year which a lot of people seemed to like. Come to think of it it’s hardly more produced than Oldham’s own previous BPB records.
This reviewer thinks the new record is very bad indeed: fair enough. But the tortuous way he wrestles with this dislike is very odd. The whole piece seems like a good example of simply worrying too much about what artists are thinking. The first paragraph is classic self-denying doublethink: reviewer buys record, loves it, discovers it’s a re-recording of old classics and suddenly realises his error.* The last paragraph offers the frankly bizarre argument that the listener’s “struggle” with the Bonnie Prince Billy record and the realisation that Will Oldham must surely hate his audience is where “this record finds its wisdom and radiance”. I don’t buy it. If it’s an awful record, it’s an awful record** – no need to don the hairshirt and claim that sitting through it is some kind of transcendence!
*I do this sort of thing myself of course, cf. the Pay TV write-up below. I wish I didn’t though. You can’t break free from the things you find out about artists and records but it’s always good to stay as faithful as you can to your gut reactions.
**Luckily it’s not an awful record and is in fact pretty easy to sit through and enjoy. What I’d be really interested in is the reaction of somebody who’d never heard any other Palace records, though.
SASHA – “Hanky Panky” (aka PopNose5): Sasha is part of a post-Sean-Paul pop-dancehall trend, literally in her case since her big break was on Paul’s “I’m So In Love With You” single. Now, I’m no expert on the economic effects of previous smash-and-grab raids by First World pop corps on Jamaican music but my hope is that this is a Good Thing for all concerned as it means i) more cash knocking about; ii) loads of great pop dancehall on the radio over here; iii) inevitable backlash producing ever newer and more surprising sounds over there. But who knows? It might mean everybody getting ripped off and loads of awful records. This track is good though – as a couple of the comments box people mentioned it’s a bit coyer than a lot of dancehall. Probably this is because Sasha is being groomed for proper pop stardom, but I think it’s kind of charming and it works with the subject matter: if spanking ever was a thrillingly decadent practise it surely isn’t any more, the catchy, cutesy and just slightly naughty “Hanky Panky” is a pop song for a post-Secretary world of furry handcuffs and Cosmo Girl S & M.
Ahem. Sasha’s solo stuff was brought to my notice by ILM stalwart Sterling Clover who started a whole thread on the topic. You can get this track on Riddim Driven – Project X and, who knows, maybe on Sasha’s own album one day soon.
Andrew Vachss – Safe House
One of the things I like about Richard Stark’s Parker novels is the sense of a man taking care, an expert in his craft; also the sense of a world more or less coexisting with the one I know of which I am completely unaware – the criminal underground. Vachss’s Burke (two characters, one name each, both surnames of other crime writers!) makes Parker look fancy-free and slapdash, and his world is as far beneath, as largely invisible to, Parker’s as his is to me.
It’s also a very appealing mix of the real and the fantastic. The grounding in this novel is what’s still termed ‘domestic violence’, and he shows a deep understanding of this – his usual territory, abused children, is not dissimilar, so this doesn’t surprise me. His targets are always child abusers, rapists, Nazis, never ordinary killers let alone routine criminals – since Burke is a professional criminal himself. Vachss is a lawyer, in his other life, specialising in the area of child abuse, and he plainly knows and feels very deeply about it.
On the other hand, Burke’s ‘family of choice’, i.e. the people he gives a damn about, are about as extravagant a cast as Batman’s foes (sadly I’ve not got around to reading any of Vachss’s Batman stories – he might do him superbly), and the climaxes of these stories tend to be very explosive. This would put some off, but for an old comic fan who also likes serious fiction, I find the combination of colourful characters and tough action with deep understanding of psychology, and the engagement with a kind of evil that I understand (unlike that of most fictional murderers and serial killers, say) and that most crime writers don’t touch, completely irresistible.
He writes with sparse and controlled prose, getting into his memorable characters (though his women do follow a bit of a template and convince less than the men) and their thoughts in a compelling way. But the heart is Burke himself: a paranoid with good cause surviving in New York City, as invisible and protected as possible, guarding his identity almost like a Batman. There is a pattern to his novels, and when I read three or four quickly after first reading him, they lost some force, but read less frequently they are a major thrill.
Tom’s post below made me think that mayeb an issue here the vanity of the writer; after a time, being a top-class gag crafter just isn’t enough. They wish to be seen as dramatists, commentating on the human-condition through the eyes of noble members of the working class who populate their scripts. The more they push forward this, the more they forget gags and push character emotional plotlines, not situations (it being a sit-com, after all) where the character of the character is a crucial part of the set-up of the gag.
Take Frasier (no, missus, please!) where they don’t indulge the melancholy of the Cranes. They want us to feel sympathetic to the Cranes, so they let us know it’s there. It ultimately a classic farce with the humour on the gentle and affectionate spectrum, not abrasive and scabrous. But they are pompous and that’s where the gags come from; most arise from the failure of the Cranes to do something really, really simple, such as say ‘excuse me’ to someone and the humour moves forwward until it arrives at the end point of a farcial new timeline than started off at a tangent from reality when Crane pomposity made sure something really simple didn’t happen. The melancholy is a crucial comedic device, not a conceit for the writers.
All of which make me think here that there’s something here about collegial writing as common with US shows and the single-writer model favoured here. A writer on their own is more likely to feel the need to get ‘arty’ and less likely to have someone remind them that ultimately, it’s about the gags, stupid.
PAY TV – “Trendy Discoteque” (aka PopNose4): An object lesson in how context can change my reactions to a song. I was recommended this song on a Europop ILM thread by Edward O. I like a bit of Europop, and also it turned out that this track was one of the rejects for this year’s Swedish Eurovision entry. Cool! There is a shady subculture on P2P servers of people trading Eurovision files – I myself have all the winners from 56 onwards, acquired from an ex-editor of The Wire. But there are deeper levels – people sharing every entry and one lunatic/saint who has painstakingly aquired not only the entrants but the songs that didn’t make it through their countries’ preliminary rounds, including UK wannabes back to 1980! Some of these songs no way got a proper release so will have made the arduous journey from TV recordings to MP3s for a select few to admire and wonder what might have been.
When I heard Pay TV in this context I couldn’t help but smile: bubblegum electroclash on Eurovision! It would totally work! Well, it wouldn’t win neccessarily but it would add hugely to the gaiety of the occasion, like the ranting Austrian last year and the people who sang in an imaginary language a la Magma (musically the similarities were fewer). Unfortunately the Swedes thought better of it and Pay TV (great name!) crashed out in the semis. The bit of the record I liked most wasn’t the faux-jadedness – done much better by Komatrohn on “Mirrors And Chrome” and by a thousand others no doubt – but the “ooh! woo!” bits on the chorus which gave me the charming impression that these people were having Real Fun despite all attempts to the contrary.
Then, digging around for this write-up, I made a terrible discovery – Pay TV is in fact none other than house bod Hakan Lidbo and one Ulrike Lidbo. Now, granted, if I was “one of the world’s most prolific tech-house producers” I’d be tempted to throw it over and write a Europop song too, but there’s a strong suspicion that the people recoiling in the comments box from “Trendy Discoteque”‘s smirky irony are right, damn them. Of course maybe the song’s Lidbo-ness will make people like it more – who knows!
(You can buy “Trendy Discoteque” here.)