Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

“The Green Man” is crude, heady stuff – a paranoiac hoover-noise vortex breaks into a primitive hardcore stomp with jittery shrieks and silvery stacatto jabs of synth, and then suddenly the stomp just stops and in comes a pretty chamber music riff. And then it happens a few more times. That’s pretty much all the description I can give you and anyone claiming more is telling fibs. So to explain – in my roundabout way – why “The Green Man” is so addictive I’m going to delve back to the very first edition of Freaky Trigger for a piece on the little-vaunted jungle-classical crossover, which Shut Up And Dance’s anthem kind of started…

The really sad thing about Goldie’s sixty-minute symphonic monsterpiece ‘Mother’ was that dance music could not prove immune to the notion – which has plagued pop since the sixties – that somehow canonical classical music represents the zenith of ‘development’ of a music form, and that to be counted an ‘artist’ you should aspire to it. Again and again – from Procul Harum, through Deep Purple’s Concerto For Group and Orchestra, the fretboard aerobics of an Yngwie Malmsteen (who makes his debt to Bach remorselessly plain in interviews), William Orbit moving from Bass-o-matic to his turgid ambient-classical projects (‘Water On A Vine Leaf’), and finally to Goldie – pop acts have desperately doffed their creative caps and tugged forelock to the classical tradition. And that’s not even counting people like Orbital, who point up the tendency for critics to use ‘classical’ as a superlative every time they run up against something with a veneer of shiny complexity.

The reason it doesn’t work is twofold.

1) If I want to listen to complex, baroque classical music, I will listen to, um, classical music. Just like a garage remix of a Lighthouse Family single isn’t going to be as satisfying as a proper garage tune (or as a Lighthouse Family single, if you insist on liking that sort of thing), so Goldie ‘doing’ a symphony isn’t going to be as good as “Terminator” or an actual Arvo Part symphony. The 1990s’ fetish for eclecticism has radically opened up the sound-bag for cannier operators, but many others have ended up bogged down in an insecure need to prove themselves polymaths and genre splicers. We should demand eclecticism of listeners, not of artists.

2) Classical music is devalued coin. It sounds like film and advert music, frankly, unless you actually sit down and force yourself to ignore its current context, which is a difficult and really artificial way of approaching music. Of course this doesnt apply to most 20th century classical music, but then that’s too much of a disputed ground, artistically, for rockers to get the instant cachet they seek by chewing on the hem of Tchaikovsky’s dressing gown.

The most successful pop/classical crossovers, like Shut Up And Dance’s, are generally those which brutally subsume the classical tradition as more raw materials for the pop process, rather than emasculating the most vital musics of our time as a sacrifice to an imagined posterity. Tracks like “Night On Disco Mountain”, “A Fifth Of Beethoven”, “Straussmania”, Deodato’s reading of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, fuck it, even “Hooked On Classics”, I suppose, have more energy, originality and beauty than the whole of ‘Mother’. In the face of “The Green Man”, the urge to slow, to ponder, to unburden oneself ‘artistically’ suddenly seems a paltry one: its acceleration and physicality are surely art enough.