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Sep 04

9 Songs To Go…!

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9 Songs To Go…!

Until the 1000th No.1. From the record industry’s point of view it would be neat if the 1000th No.1 also coincides with this year’s Xmas No.1. Will the public be so accomodating? With another week at the top for Eric Prydz likely the margin of error is small – it seems far more likely that the ‘historic’ 1000th chart-topper will fall in the ‘Babylon Zoo slot’, sometime in January. In other bands, no-marks and has-beens of the world unite: this is your chance for a place of honour in the Guinness Book, next to Nicole, whose “A Little Peace” was the 500th notch on the ultimate pop bedpost.

(Personally I’m hoping that the merger of download and sales charts happens after the 1000th no.1, as I think that might be a neat cut-off point for Popular. But since it’ll be 2010 before I get to 2004 anyway this is somewhat moot.)

Anyway, if Santa DOES smile on the record industry, who is likely to get the big one this Christmas. Current odds are, apparently:

X Factor Winner 5 – 1
Cat Stevens and Ronan Keating 6 – 1
Mick Jagger & Joss Stone 8 – 1
U2 8 – 1
Westlife 10 – 1
Girls Aloud 10 – 1
Madonna 14 – 1
Donny Osmond 14 – 1
Michelle McManus 16 – 1
Robbie Williams 16 – 1

Ye Gods. Merry Christmas!

(Uncoincidentally, it’s CLUB POPULAR tonight, at the Chapel Bar, Islington, near Angel tube, flyer with map available on the front page of FT, free entry, #1 hits all night, etc etc.)

Sep 04

THE SQUARE TABLE 18 / Alcazar – “This Is The World We Live In”

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My second favourite record of the year – ten out of ten! Ten squared! Can I justify that? Maybe. There are a lot of things I can use music for – catharsis, communication, comfort, profundity, scratching a technophile itch, a hundred others. In my life music has done some of these things well, some poorly. But what are the things that only music can do to me? One is make me dance – not that I do enough of that, these days. The other is to give me what this gives me, a joyful moment of self-erasing, transporting intensity. Almost nothing else – and certainly no other artform – can provide that wide-eyed feeling, which comes without effort, cost or consequence.

The feeling isn’t always ‘happy’ but it’s always linked with excitement, like something’s heating up my spirit. The feeling isn’t often transferable and you can’t talk someone into it: I might get it from a stitch-up of Diana Ross and Genesis, you might be repelled. It can come and go, which is why I don’t often stand by lists. I can enjoy and admire and discuss music that doesn’t give me the feeling, in fact for the sake of conversation I prefer to leave it implied (pretend you never read this post). Sometimes everything on the radio can give me it a little; sometimes nothing can, and the songs which sent me to heaven yesterday can leave me vaguely satisfied tomorrow. But that clean hit on the pleasure centres is the irreplacable and highest truth of music for me: almost everything else is justification. 10 Joker (Tom)

I’m not entirely sure that my puny words can do this monster of a track Justice. The warped imagination of the someone who thought “i know what Upside Down needs, THE CHORUS TO LAND OF CONFUSION!” is *exactly* the sort of person we Need in the world we call pop. “And then i shall get four beautiful android kids to front it and TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!” The verses are delicious euro-nonsense, but hey, it doesn’t matter who you are, when you’re moving up with Alcazar. 10 Joker (Carsmile Steve)

I love songs which are song with lyrics which are sung in a deeply meaningful, heartfelt way – where said songs also have completely ridiculous words. I am not talking about the “Cos we’re moving up with Alcazar” bits, rather the Genesis original ones. Pompous, over-blown and a perfect fit to this pumping pop Porsche of a song.

Yes it is the soundtrack to ridiculous drinking at Glastonbury and as such cannot even be touched objectively, but if dancing round and through fire whilst off ones nut on calamacho makes me unable to judge this beauty properly then so be it. 10 Joker (Pete)

Disco double-handclaps! 10 Joker (cis)

The exact polar opposite of Gary Jules and yet more proof that production and arrangement are more important than the songs themselves. This takes the chorus from a frankly rubbish Phil Collins record and makes it brilliant purely by whacking on a hook nicked from Diana Ross’s ‘Upside Down’, a big chunky disco beat and the sort of unselfconscious sugar rush that British pop has largely abandoned since the sad demise of the original S Club. I first heard this at 1am at Glastonbury, dancing drunkenly round a tape recorder and grinning from ear to ear at the end of what is up there as one of the most out-and-out FUN days of my life. And every single time I’ve heard it since, that same ear-to-ear grin has been impossible to suppress. 10 (Matt D’Cruz)

In the beginning was the word, and the word was POP! Alcazar turn the book of Genesis upside down, and welcome you to the world God forgot to create. This is discotopia: entry free, dress smart casual (no indie-scruff here, please), soundtrack Abba, Janet Jackson, George Michael and Metallica (Tess’s favourite band). Impeccable pop classicists Alcazar have filled the Steps-shaped hole in my heart, and they can do the same for you, you and all of you. 10 (alext)

First heard this blaring out of Ricky T’s portable stereo at about 1am at Glastonbury. Instant Svensk-pop thrills from that magical land with such a terrific knack for this stuff. It feels like a BIG tune even before you reach the Genesis-pilfering chorus – that being the extra fruity segments atop this scintillating cheesecake. Problem with cheesecake is too much of it makes you feel sick very quickly, but with Alcazar the judgement and measures seem as balanced as can be, a strained but earnest degree of soul in the vocals and the slickness of production suggesting they genuinely love and believe in what they do. That’ll be having colossal amounts of fun then. I’m unsure of its durability but when they’re this focused on ‘right here, right now’ maybe I should be as well. And the thought of a hundred or so outrageous campers exploding with glee as this song is played at ‘that sort’ of club just makes me smile. 9 (Steve M)

They pillage, they plunder, they triumph. It really doesn’t matter who Alcazar’s latest sampling casualties are as long as they keep making bouncy and chirpy Europop as enjoyably brain-dead as this. Phil Collins come back, you never sounded so good. The lyrics may seem to be a sequel to Jacko’s “Heal The World,” but perhaps there are deeper things at hand.

To me, the way that Genesis and Diana Ross are rudely appropriated for Alcazar’s personal gain is akin to the way an average person brazenly manipulates another for their own advancement. When Alcazar sing “This is the world we live in / Let’s make it a place worth living,” the implicit context is all skillful exploitation of Genesis’ melody, while the explicit context is all about people bonding together for the well-being of the world. Contradiction city! Both contexts are pitted against each other as the song plays, and in the end, I have to say goodbye to the betterment of the world – because I’d rather be moving on up with Alcazar! 8.5 (Michael F Gill)

Alcazar haven’t done anything for ages – perhaps biding their time, waiting to pick the finest blend of pop tunes in the time honoured manner of the Man From Del Monte. Upside Down and Land Of Confusion are both fantastic tunes, and work together wonderfully- the tough Diana Ross boogie tune mind-expanded by an 80s concept pop lyric. And if you miss the Diana Ross vocal, that compact, sassy shuffle, well the melody is quoted by the guitars anyway. This is easily the sum of its quality ingredients, and more besides. 8 (Derek Walmsley)

Oh. Oh my. Well. Yes. Of course. 8 (Forksclovetofu)

Both of the voices and most of the upbeat and rather vacuous lyrics (fires Keeping circles turning?) remind me of happy hardcore, but the rest is much more europop, with a big slice of Francophile filter-disco – it made better sense after Listening to Daft Punk on my walkman during a fag break from the office. I think the only thing I don’t like is the strained ‘uh-ohh-oh’ backing vocal. I know nothing of these people (I think I may be the most out of touch person doing these Square Table reviews), but I like this – a strong tune, and lively music. 8 (Martin Skidmore)

Aha. The force is strong with disco retro revivalists. They always work precisely because the original hook still sounds as great as ever. But I suppose the true test is if they stand up on their own. Alcazar bump through this as if they are the only survivors of the disco era and take great delight in trying to get everyone else “moving up with Alcazar”, like some sort of dance troupe, handclapping all over the place, skiffling and sliding, or something.

I can’t fault this. It should be ripping up the clubs up and down the country but I suspect it won’t, ever. My jiving will probably have to happen with me still firmly planted to my chair. 8 (MW_Jimmy)

I must’ve dreamed a thousand dreams. But one slipped into reality. Alcazar is a sound devoid of blemishes – every sound is hyperfiltered, all fuzziness erased– so you’re left with… nothing tangible. But that’s what (Swedish) Pop is: a parallel world full of peroxide bouffant hairdos, ultra-pink handbags and winking lads. It’s a one way ticket, baby, your fake nail stuck between the stereo buttons. “This Is The World We Live In” doesn’t give a tiny Jordan’s bum about problems, it’s about Prozac induced madness. You’re stuck with a screaming grin but, strangely, there’s no way you can dance to it. Hmm. It could be merely the Diana Ross sample, it could be the cheeky way they sampled Land Of Confusion or it could merely be the Swedes re-enlisting Army of Lovers for world control. Whatever. Let’s Pop. 8 (Stevie Nixed)

I thought I might hate this, but I don’t. It’s cheesy and meta, and that’s Okay with me. I guess it’s ‘social’ music – for dancing about to, and that’s pretty alien to me, but when the video comes on, I don’t turn over to one of the shopping channels. It could do with being a bit more Eurovision, i.e the vocals ain’t so great. 6.5 (Jel)

More filter disco, this time Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” (the groove of which pretty much works in any context, though I’d be staggeringly impressed had they chosen the Jesus & Mary Chain song). But “Land Of Confusion” by Genesis is not welcome in ANY context. Not even the wonderful world of Irony would welcome this duffer. The end result is a mental Battle Royale of imagery. Hey! I’m on the dance floor! Wha?! Genesis puppets?! The dance floor! Puppets! Buzzkill, Genesis is thy name. 6 (Henry Scollard)

As much as I should love this, the band seems committed to making it a difficult relationship. Winning me over would seem easy; people accuse me of delighting in plastic, “manufactured” pop music, and I take that characterization . But as much as I love the transcendant sample, the band fails to do it justice. Naivety and insincerity swamp the chorus, and the last minute or so are unbearable. But a great first thirty seconds or so mean a 5. (Atnevon)

Hey! A Swedish pop group where the guys are cuter than the girls! Now that’s what I call music! If they could sample “Land of Confusion”, slap on the “Upside Down” chorus, and make THAT bounce in their disco castle, then I’d really be impressed. On the other (good? bad?) hand, I think I sense a bit of anti-war dissidence in the lyrics (yeah, you BET someone’s filled with hate over here in Terror Inc.), but that’s because I have “Toy Soldiers” on the brain when I should be chewing on “Super Troop-oop-er”. But, yeah, Alcazar + Miss Ross + Philbo Baggins = a move up not so much; more like a push sideways. 5 (David Raposa)

More nights out.

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More nights out. My friend Ant was always a pretty good DJ, but has never really put his head down and gone for it as an more than a diversionary sideline and/or excuse to buy lots of records (hmm, heard that one before). Anyway, post his metal days he got into plenty of interesting dance music, which i always tried to tag along on but always flailed a bit. Well now he’s back and is DJ-ing on Friday night just south of Blackfriars Bridge in a pub called Paper Moon (on Blackfriars Road). The evening is called Sismian Heights and I’ll be going.

Don’t blame Ant for the website though. Is that kind of thing still what dance websites have to look like?

The King’s Aquarium

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The King’s Aquarium. I haven’t bought Smile yet, by the way.

Sep 04

Full Circle

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Full Circle: some of you may remember my top 100 singles of the 90s*, which I put together to stave off the onset of a depressive episode back in Summer 1999 and give myself some self-discipline. It worked, and also got this website up and running, pretty much. Anyway, now ILM is doing its own 90s poll, and I thought I’d post the Top 30 tracks I sent in.

Caveats: you can only pick from what’s been nominated by ILM users, and I left off a couple of old favourites – including my 1999 #1! – because I was sure they’d do well enough without me and I’m a little bit bored of them. I was listening to Anniemal when (rapidly) compiling my list from the longlist of tracks, which might also explain some of the placings. But basically this is a good summary of where my head’s at now w.r.t. “the 90s”.

1 The KLF – “Last Train to Trancentral”
2 The Orb – Little Fluffy Clouds
3 Warren G feat. Nate Dogg – “Regulate”
4 Saint Etienne – “He’s on the Phone”
5 The Future Sound of London – “Papua New Guinea”
6 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre – “California Love”
7 Happy Mondays – “Kinky Afro”
8 My Bloody Valentine – “Soon”
9 New Order – “Regret”
10 Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares 2 U”
11 Utah Saints – “Something Good”
12 De’Lacy – “Hideaway (Deep Dish mix)”
13 Pet Shop Boys – “Can You Forgive Her?”
14 ACEN – “Trip II the Moon (Part III)”
15 New Radicals – “You Get What You Give”
16 Britney Spears – “Baby One More Time”
17 Betty Boo – “Where Are You Baby?”
18 Jay-Z – “Big Pimpin'”
19 SWV – Right Here
20 2 Bad Mice – “Bombscare”
21 Paris Angels – “All On You (Perfume)”
22 Pet Shop Boys – Being Boring
23 The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – “It’s Grim Up North (Pt 1)”
24 Belvedere Kane – “Never Felt As Good”
25 Aphex Twin – Girl/Boy Song
26 Disco Inferno – “The Last Dance”
27 Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”
28 Omni Trio – “Renegade Snares (Foul Play VIP Mix)”
29 Massive Attack – “Unfinished Sympathy”
30 Quad City DJs – “C’Mon Ride It (The Train)”

*(the 90s list is not currently on the site, but as soon as we put in place the new method of doing longer articles I’ll make it available again.)

And speaking of lists, Marcello’s Years In Music: 1974 can now be found at his own blog, which he’s started up again.

Coming to Club Popular on Thursday?

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Coming to Club Popular on Thursday? Well, now you can sing along!


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ANTHEMS (Part 3 of 4)

Continued from Do You See?

“Royal Infirmary”

“A Life (1895-1915)”

“Artists’ Rifles”

The extent of World War I’s impact in the British popular mind is not something I could spell out completely — I haven’t grown up potentially surrounded by it as living or preserved history — but in reading Tommy, I found myself wanting to listen to Piano Magic’s Artists’ Rifles, something I hadn’t actually listened to in a long while. I vaguely remember people feeling disappointed by it — I had only heard it the once — but the cover art, at least, had always remained powerful with me, stone carvings from a WWI monument worn by pollution and time. The only song that was actually addressing the war as such was the title track, but that in turn made me think of two other songs that either directly or indirectly touched on the same general subject, from Mark Hollis’s one (and presumably final, if all indications stay the same) solo album and from what appears to be the great ‘lost’ Durutti album Circuses and Bread, which for some reason was never rereleased in the mid-nineties with all the other albums (anyone know why? please post in comments, thanks).

Admittedly the Durutti song is the most tenuous of the bunch in terms of a specific connection to WWI. “Royal Infirmary,” like so many other Durutti compositions, is strictly an instrumental. Notably, though, it’s one of Vini Reilly’s non-guitar compositions, as well as being one of his most minimal efforts, consisting only of piano, brief saxophone parts and sound effects. Namely guns, not handguns but cannon and artillery, irregularly firing off in the background behind the piano, not overwhelming the melody but hardly muted either. The effect is one of suggestion and it could just as easily be, say, something from the Crimean War (or the Napoleonic?) on the one hand or from WWII on the other, but the sense rather is one of a basic but unresolved tension between beauty and ugliness looming almost just over the horizon, something semi-permanent, a base hospital not too far away from the front lines, never moving and never really having to move. Holmes speaks of the hospitals and their staff members in Tommy as part of his overall portrait of life on the lines, and how, quite understandably, so many British soldiers wounded and recovering saw them as heaven on earth. But also they were the places where many went to die, saved from battle but too deeply wounded, and “Royal Infirmary” captures that mood well by resisting being pinned down. Elegiac and relaxing and unsettling, the piano slightly echoed and almost sounding like an old upright player piano, like it was a lost tape from past decades somehow preserved, not slow and dreary but not celebratory either, an anchor, something to hold on to as the guns rage and rage and rage, and bodies are buried, and limbs are removed, and lives are ended in the ripping open of stomachs and the stripping of flesh from the face.

Hollis’ aim at something equally elegaic, more overtly so — the war is not directly mentioned but the span of years and the opening word — “Uniform” — pins things down more clearly. Hollis’s intense Christian mysticism is well-suited for such a subject, as there is a sense of sacrifice that is key to the fragmentary words, forming what is essentially a short poem if anything, ending with the sole actual sentence “And here I lay.” It somehow suggests Jesus’s cry to God on the cross about being forsaken, though not quite of course, more a kind of mute…not even an accusation, an observation, a sense of ending that the title specifically indicates and that therefore does not have to be spelled out further. Whoever the life belonged to is unclear and intentionally not clear, it is Hollis’s war poem as such not for one life but many. Woodwinds and low brass herald the start of the album, slightly discordant perhaps but certainly formal nonetheless — the flowing abstractions of late Talk Talk turned even more flowing with O.rang where Hollis took the specific detail further in his direction. There are near silences, the softest of arrangements…where Reilly aimed to portray something near the frontline, Hollis calls to mind something long after the battle has passed. Maybe a body laying on a ruined battleground, smoke drifting across vomited earth, maybe a grave in years after, clean and well-maintained, one of many. The three note piano melody that forms just enough of a core during the midsection of the song is perhaps almost celebratory, a sense of rising up and away…something that would suit the author of “Ascension Day.”

Piano Magic have perhaps the least successful of the three songs I focused in on, or maybe in fact it’s the least comfortable. By drawing a direct parallel between those then and those now — “Young men, as us” (just as easily suggesting a personalized connection to Ian Curtis, actually, though the invocation of the dates of the war force a more straightforward reading) — as the narrator looks through the remnants and remains of a long-dead life (or lives) — letters, souvenirs, “memories” — the sense is less of direct comparison between situations, maybe, as it is simply flat-out acknowledgment that a connection could be made between two different groups at two different historical moments, the more recent facing a hopefully different fate. The Cocteaued acoustic guitar line and Glen Johnson’s breathy, reverbed singing is, though, all right without tugging at the heartstrings so much — the martial drums that kick in after the first verse perhaps simply too obvious a touch. It’s a love song to a lost generation of sorts, the dream of a dead army of young poets, of indeed artists. A charming conceit but obviously not the reality of the situation, but can the conceit hold for the song? Frankly it’s almost halfway to some sort of hyperdramatic emo rather than anything else, I could seen Mr. Oberst cooking up something similar should he so desire, if he hasn’t already. It all gets somewhat richer as heads towards the conclusion of the song, after all the singing is done, works well enough the more it goes on, a blend of textures and tones and clarinet. It’s…something, but it lacks Reilly’s gift of on-point simplicity or Hollis’s aspirational touch.

But it’s still something, it’s a response to what happened through years and years of filters and cliches and approaches and ways to view and review something. And what might happen in future years from now?

(Part four will conclude back on The Brown Wedge)

Sep 04

Indie Is Back!

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Just a quick note to say that (pending arrival of cheques) the latest Indie Amnesty netted the Grecian Earn another £20, the bulk of which came from a frankly astounding eleven earth pounds paid for the first Soup Dragons album, a new Amnesty record. And without even Junior Reid involved – wow!

After the relative aesthetic success

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After the relative aesthetic success of “ABBA in Hindi” I was delighted when someone on Slsk was sharing something called ABBA Metal. Readers prone to stereotyping will be delighted to discover that this CD comes from Germany, spiritual home of the superannuated metal warrior. I dl’ed a couple of tasters, “Eagle” and “Super Trouper”. “Eagle” as one might expect adapts rather well to the demands of the trad-metal form, its stomp already sufficiently grandiose and brutal that the step up to full bombast causes no problems. “Super Trouper” is another matter – the original is a delicate thing and the metal remake is a bludgeon too far, with a truly horrible singer. Lovers of the genuinely dreadful should investigate forthwith – the band responsible (and here I start to doubt their True Metal credentials) are called Custard.

Sep 04


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(ps idea stolen from this guy)

ok so i only just got to watch it, and i kinda knew the deal already – except for the music involved – bcz it first aired in the US two years ago (and ppl talked abt it a lot), but the programme wz THE WEST WING (cf here for why i like this prog), specifically the pipe bomb ep (20 hrs in america), and the bit that floored me wz when it started to play “i don’t like mondays”

ok, so why this song, this part of this ep?
i. the structure is open-heartedly manipulative – CJ comes back to the podium to read out breaking news of the bombing as it comes into her earphone; leo sees her still on tv and wonders why and turns the sound up; leo josh and the v.blonde woman whose name i forgot (sorry v.blonde woman i am old and my memory is poor) are in a hotel lobby somewhere and FIRST the music starts playing, THEN leo goes to look at something (and we know what it is but we don’t quite KNOW we know), and what it is reveals as the others join him…
ii. and all the while yr listening and thinking, who is this singing this version of this song? (that’s to say, i think the strength of the affect is a bit related to my not knowing it wz tori amos which i only found by googling a bit later) (not cz i have opinions either way abt tori amos btw but instead bcz i kinda have NO opinion abt tori amos)
iii. i have just spent [xx] months writing a book abt a film in which a buncha kids end up shooting up their own school, a storyline which can’t help jarring up against (at one extreme) brenda ann spencer, whose “just for fun” massacre inspired the original boomtown rats song, and – since it unfolded while my mum was deperately ill in hospital, AND while i wz scrabbling to get the final corrections in and done – Beslan
iv. i think the “why” goes like this maybe: knowing exactly what’s happening and what’s about to happen and what’s being done to you PLUS the way the ideal-on-offer in the fiction gets to grate (you get to let it grate) against the awful wide-openness of the unfolding (actual real) event as you remember it, which of course doesn’t happen with the actual real event (where you don’t know what’s going to happen till too late, plus you rarely have an ideal art-perfect script handy to run it against at the time)

anyway i quite unexpectedly burst into tears