Posts from 20th May 2000

20
May 00

THE HAPPY MONDAYS

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THE HAPPY MONDAYS

Being a Mancunian and living the majority of my teen years during the height of “Madchester”, it would have been so easy to have actually liked The Happy Mondays. With Mark Goodier spinning a healthy diet of Madchester bands whilst he hosted the “Evening Session” and Indie Discos being a parallel universe of sorts to his show, you could hardly escape the scene. And, unfortunately for me, The Happy Mondays were at the forefront of this scene.

It was really “Step On” that did all this – that plodding intro, and some crap about twisting his melon, man. My face was not a pretty sight when it came on, and that had nothing to do with the pubescent acne that came with those tender years. That was it, they were officially big. The 4 by 3 band logo appeared on desks in etched biro scrapings – my schoolmates going to great lengths to ignore the likes of “Big Jim”, “Stumpy”, “Mad Gav” and others who were trying their best to teach them in order to leave a permanent mark of Madchester on the desks of Hulme Grammar School.

Seemingly being the only one to be going against this trend, I had to fightback. Each time I spotted the 4 by 3, I’d let my feelings be known by changing the “H” in the top left to a cunning “CR”. I’d open the NME each week with bated breath to see if Shaun Ryder had gone one fix too far. I’d turn the radio off in silent protest when anything of theirs came on. And the denouement and nadir of 1990 came when the recent bastion of pro-American psychedelia announced that “Pills’n’Thrills And Bellyaches” was album of the year. The knives came out, and a letter brimful of schoolboy vitriol was quickly on its way to Kings Reach Tower in complaint – alas, never to be published.

It was a hatred born out of sheer dislike of the music, and to a lesser extent, Shaun Ryder’s plug ugliness. Don’t even get me started on fucking Black Grape……….

TRICKY –

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TRICKY – Maxinquaye

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to champion eyeshadow wearing Original Gangsta’s from the suburbs of the Stapleton region of Bristol, especially when they are lauded for doing pretty much what Massive Attack do without the rubbish Horace Andy tracks and moody instumentals. And I loved the singles “Ponderosa” and “Aftermath” to death. But this album is genuinely unlistenable. Not only does it take one of P.E.’s most stirring polemics and turn it into a young girl being a wee bit pissed off about not getting her giro on time, it also has a second half that takes the dirge out of dirigible and then deflates it. The cocking of a pistol may be a nice percussive sound (I believe one of the monkeys finds this out in Disney’s Tarzan) but a backing track it makes not. Most of the 90s album lists put this down as the only true triumph of British rap (he mumbles, is Tom Waits a rapper?), and a piece of genius from the darkest points of the imagination. Actually its a Bristol lad who was slightly gender confused and loved his nan too much.

THE BEATLES – “Abbey Road”

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What can you say about an album where George Fucking Harrison is the highlight? Sure, John Lennon is here, offering two plodding white blooz jams in a complete surrender to The Rock — an unwise move considering how the terminally limp Let It Be sessions already proved that at this stage in his career, Lennon was too bored shitless to rock on out. But as every critic will tell you, this is “Paul’s Album”, and yes, it certainly is – everybody else (excepting the perpetual sap Michael Jackson) would have enough sense not to take credit for it. Where the mid-sixties stuff saw them “using the studio as an instrument,” Abbey Road shows them using the studio as an aural airbrush, making appalling material seem better than it really was. The much-lauded “segued’ second side isn’t a triumph of form, it’s the work of motherfuckers too stoned to write complete songs and too arrogant to believe that they didn’t shit gold. If it’s any good, it’s thanks to George Martin, creating musical dynamics where none existed, thanks to the blabbering nebulousness of the material. Example? The Beatles leave the sixties with some guff about the love you take being equal to the love you make, a line which sounds exactly like what a embittered, greedy hippie would come up with if asked to re-write the Girl Scout maxim “always leave a place cleaner than how you found it”.

FOSCA – “Nervous, London EP”

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NOTE: The Fosca review below is not by me as the author-tag suggests, it’s by Jack Neale, the human dynamo who edits The Horse, to which you must now go. He writes thoughtful album reviews and high-quality film ones too, but he’s not a full-time member of the NYLPM team (mind you, he should be), so hence the credit clash below.

FOSCA – “Nervous, London” EP (EP, available here)
Dickon Edwards always had, to stoop to a rather hackneyed comparison, rather more in common with Richey Manic than being his exact namesake – he barely strummed a note for Orlando, leaving the music to Tim Chipping and those other two blokes who looked like removal men but played like angels. One always imagined the technical demands of proficient guitar-playing, record production and especially lead vocals to not really be his style. It’s a suspicion confirmed by Nervous, London which, while not without several glimmers of his unique style, is pretty near to a bad record.

“File Under Forsaken” is first, and already it’s clear what’s been on Dickon’s stereo – although, unlike Tom, he hasn’t felt the need to battle his love for Belle & Sebastian. Taking the slow-building concentric circles of “…Modern Rock Song” and grafting on a tune that’s half “I Know Where The Summer Goes” and half the theme from “The Likely Lads”, it’s nine minutes plus and a would-be wall of sound epic. Trouble is, the singing’s weedy and bang out of tune (to put it mildly – there’s some fairly desperate multi-tracking that doesn’t nearly save the day), the guitar is halting and amateurish, and the production is unbearably tinny. The last two minutes, which aims for a “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” massed voice finale, sounds like 400 deaf people moaning into rolled-up magazines.

Oh well. On to “He’s No Help” – and things look up. Tight, cheeky guitars and a winking, shimmying tune, and a lyric about someone who, “in my opinion”, wants phasing out. Gloriously contrary, with some typically showy wordplay (“He’s no fun/But that’s clearly the lure/Living dull but secure/Is as good as a cure/For the demure”). Unfortunately it’s all sung by a woman called Val Jones, who has a deeply unattractive foghorn voice that tramples all over the tune and everything else.

“The Followers” is track three, a forgettable folky throwaway with Val Jones again on bellowing duty, and sub-par lyrics (“Optimism should be a fashion accessory/If necessary” – huh?).

So that’s it, then? Well, no. I’ll be hunting down Fosca’s forthcoming EP with undiminished verve. Firstly, because this time Dickon would appear to have both a producer and a “musical director”, praise the lord. Secondly, because as anyone who reads his diary knows, he’s a true original, someone who I sincerely hope and believe may still produce more life-changingly good work. Thirdly because there’s just enough here to go on – he’s still writing autobiography as strangely glamorous as “Like some hapless child actor/Whose life hit zenith pre-twenties/You’re doomed to muttering in cafes/Caked in, slept in foundation”. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Nervous, London is that since branching out on his own, he’s let himself off the leash, becoming even more immersed in himself.

Long may he run. Let’s put this one behind us.

The War Against Silence 277

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The War Against Silence 277: “Plot differences notwithstanding, this is the book that after reading Bitch, I wished Prozac Nation had been” – Glenn MacDonald reviewing Geri Halliwell’s If Only, a really excellent piece of writing and analysis. The rest of it you should read if you have more tolerance for eels’ “Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues” than I do. Which is to say, any.

And that’s your lot for the English Tape

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And that’s your lot for the English Tape. Next up is the Bad Music issue, which I’ve gone on about plenty already (I should really shut up and get to work on marking all the stuff up). NYLPM’s contribution to this festival of badness will be – surely not – the Bad Music Tape. But in this case, bad is going to mean, well, bad-ass. As an English person I feel a frisson of impropriety even typing the word ‘bad-ass’, so as you can guess I’m perhaps not the ideal curator. I need, in other words, your ideas for the meanest, lowest, toughest and most downright evil tracks around. If you actually want to review them, why, that’s even better!

NB: In order to be bad-ass, you must also be cool. So no KoRn or Slipknot or anything like that, thankyou.

THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 12

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THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 12
SABRES OF PARADISE – “Wilmot” (12″ Single)
Sabres Of Paradise called a whole album Haunted Dancehall, but really they just meant this song, the grotesque truncation of which on that album marked the exact point where Andy Weatherall twigged that uncool people liked him too and he’d better head back underground pronto. “Wilmot” tracks a fat trumpet across a dusty, dubby, dancefloor, folding time in on itself so that Windrush generation blues partygoers shake hands and bodies with their clubbed-out 90s inheritors. The atmosphere is smoky, friendly, and strong: if you listen to “Wilmot” hard enough you can hear more of the real history of British pop music, and the forces and crossovers that shaped it, than any book would let on.

I’d never clicked on a

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I’d never clicked on a Kick Bright link before, for the bizarre reason that I thought he was a really dodgy indie label, whereas in fact he is a MUSIC WEBLOG, and one that’s been going for approximately ever. He reviews things, he links to things, he talks about his cat.

Almost none of the things he reviews I’ve heard of (this is a good thing). Which makes me think: why are most of these other cool music sites I’m linking to so indie in outlook? There’s a real split between people like kempa.com, western homes, kickbright, etc., and people like, uh, me, who reviews loads of pop and old stuff and very little that could remotely be termed obscure. I’d guess the reason is that I’m humble enough to believe nobody is going to buy a record on my say so, and simultaneously arrogant enough to believe that what I have to say about a big mainstream release is as or more interesting than what, say, Q Online has to say about them.

I was led to Kickbright by Splendid, which is an e-zine and covers – wait for it – indie rock. With all the people writing about indie rock you’d think a few more records would get sold, wouldn’t you? Is Splendid splendid? Well, they wrote to me and asked for a link, and there it is. They do actually look pretty good, but I’m too tired for music articles tonight, and so I dug straight through to the links page, where Freaky Trigger is not, but then again they do slag loads of their links off so I should probably count my blessings.

THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 11

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THE ENGLISH TAPE, SIDE 2 TRACK 11
SHAFT – “Roobarb And Custard” (7″ Single)
Roobarb And Custard was a British cartoon about a greenish dog and a pinkish cat and some cackling birds. Equal parts Ivor Cutler, Tom And Jerry, and Krazy Kat, the five-minute shorts took place, like most classic cartoons do, in a self-contained world which obeyed some insane internal logic: the viewer was left to puzzle it all out (if they could be bothered). Plots were outlandish and the voiceovers deliciously hammy, but what really attracted kids’ attention was the wobbling. Everything in Roobarb and Custard vibrated constantly – the characters, the trees, the houses, everything in a constant riot of motion. When the children left sitting in front of this hyperkinetic show grew up (a bit), what kind of music do you think they made?

Toytown techno, one of the most maligned forms of dance music ever, wound itself from three strands. First of all, the desire to make a quick buck from the singles-oriented rave audience (Shaft were the blokes from Global Communication, essentially ‘slumming it’). Secondly, a desire to tap into the ever-growing nostalgia market. And thirdly, a real desire to marry the bizarre energy of old television with the fast-evolving narcotic energy of rave.

It’s easy to overplay the nostalgia aspect – a lot of the people dancing to “Roobarb And Custard”, with its cannily-placed samples and monstrous nagging tune, would have been too young to even remember the show, and the kitschville student repackage-market had in ’91 neither reached fruition or made its peace with dance music. The main reason for using the kiddy stuff was that it made people laugh, and it was a good source of hooks to bring on the E rush. It’s instructive to compare the jollity of toytown techno to something like recent No.1 “Bound 4 Da Reload (Casualty)”, which samples from a current, adult TV programme and so entirely loses the sense of wonder and play which characterised toytown rave, even at its most musically basic. The contrast between the dancefloor as a secret garden of recovered innocence, and the dancefloor as just a continuation of an evening’s processed entertainment, is pretty damn stark.