30
Oct 07

RIP Stylus

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Stylus Magazine is closing – I never read it as much as I ought but there was some good stuff in it, especially William B Swygart’s Singles Jukebox blog. This started off as WBS’ rantings about the week’s UK Top 40 – a strangely heart-warming tightrope walk between despair and enthusiasm – and then morphed into a team blog, Focus Group style. I contributed myself – a lot of the time writing brief singles blurbs was a method of shaking myself out of writer’s block and frankly looking back most of my contributions read that way. But some of them were decent, and in a shockingly egotistical tribute here are six reviews I submitted that I’m still pretty pleased with (ta to Cis for the idea!). The link’s still on the sidebar – search the archives for better stuff by other people, and a big thankyou to William for running it and giving us all the opportunity.

KATE BUSH AND PETER GABRIEL – “Don’t Give Up”*
Somebody is going to write a profoundly moving review of this and make me look like a callous chump, but I think this is a mis-step. “You’ve got friends” and “Somewhere there’s a place where we belong” simply aren’t replies – or not adequate ones – to what Peter Gabriel is singing. They might be the only replies that Bush’s voice can give but for this listener they draw the anger from Gabriel’s verses, turning him from a voice speaking as a victim of planned economic catastrophe into one that’s half of a human story – and can be silenced by its resolution. “There’s a place where we belong” – the problem is, it used to be here.

MCFLY – “Transylvania”
If McFly were a jobbing bunch of speccy thirtysomethings – from Canada, let’s say, or New Zealand – their finely studied punkpop-meets-powerpop formula would get loving poll placings and not many sales. In this alternate universe people would point to their singles and use them as examples of the sort of thing that ought to be big hits and high in the charts. In the real universe, they are big hits and McFly are generally ignored by critics. Which thought experiment goes to show that people are hypocritical idiots and don’t know what they actually like. Or maybe it goes to show that I’m paranoid and chippy, but so what: <i>I</i> ignore McFly on the reasonable grounds that I hate bloody powerpop. BUT “Transylvania” is the most charming thing they’ve ever done by miles – a catchy rococo piecework in the grand ELO or 10cc or Queen style. It suits McFly terribly well – they always sing everything with such eager sincerity and that works so much better when you can’t remotely work out what they’re being sincere about. A genuinely unexpected triumph.

JACK PENATE – “Spit At Stars”**
Christ save us from cock-eyed optimists. “We’re all the same…we all got our dreams…we all spit at stars” – I dunno, Jack, some of us are puking into gutters hearing this. These pearls of Penate wisdom are delivered in a chirpy scruff-a-billy style, establishing Jack as a good geezer strugglin’ through life with a smile on his face. It’s wretched, like a Housemartins tribute band formed by charity muggers. At least the Housemartins had some generosity of spirit, mind you – scratch Penate’s surface and there’s a pitiless tone to his permanent grin: “You don’t get what you don’t deserve”. Gawd bless us, every one!

DJ ENVY AND RED CAFÉ – “Things You Do”
Wafts past in a gauze of smoothness except every so often Red Café comes out with a line like “legs done got a divorce, they split apart” or “got my workout plan to make your backyard bigger”, and throws me out of the song. He’s a bit too keen to snap at the gag line, in a song which is going for seductively inconscpicuous: somewhere under that silken divan might be a whoopee cushion.

GWEN STEFANI – “Early Winter”
Mumpop masterwork written by the bloke from Keane, whose repressed metronome pop proves a perfect setting for Gwen to stretch out, drop the hurry from her voice and allow herself to falter a little. Actually she almost falters too much, with a series of stagey conversational half-stops – I, I always, I always was – slowing the verses. That doesn’t spoil “Early Winter”‘s wan grandeur, but the best moment is when Gwen suddenly breaks the song completely to ask “Why do you act so stupid? You know that I’m always right”. It’s a sudden lunge of indelicacy, disrupting the carefully-staged atmosphere of frost and weak light and letting the human poke through.

BAND OF HORSES – “Is There A Ghost?”
“I could sleep I could sleep when I lived alone is there a ghost in my house?” These are the only lyrics in this song and believe me you get quite a few chances to think about them. So for instance I wonder – if you could sleep when you lived alone, maybe it is the other person and not a ghost who is keeping you awake? And hey, hold on, maybe that is the DEEP POINT cos the ghost is, like, his conscience or his ex or something. (Or it’s the other person in a big white sheet). Or perhaps they’re just words and I should focus on the amazing surging music and not worry about them. But that’s quite difficult because the amazing surging music is in fact standard wrist-waggling shoegaze and also Mr Of Horses keeps keening over it about all the sleeping and ghosts stuff. I’ll tell you what IS in his house and that’s an Arcade Fire record.

*This was part of Stylus’ “Kate Bush Special” rather than a re-release or something.

**The only one of my reviews to get any flames in the comments, from Penate fans who didn’t know what cock-eyed meant and all wrote “but he’s not cocky!” He is quite cocky too, though.

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