Aug 01


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0179 – 0188: Ten Years

The peril of doing something like this is that you get facts wrong. Thanks to a kind reader for reminding me that the Alastair Gray book referenced yesterday is not in fact Lanark but rather 1982 Janine. ‘Pologies.

Whistling, deep brass, scratch guitars and an unflinching punk-pop bassline….it must be Liliput! “Die Matrosen” is sometimes enough for me but for the times when it alone won’t suffice a compilation (or something) is probably needed. Oh, imagine a lecture about the undying excellence of turn-of-the-80s postpunk filling the rest of this para, too.

In a happier (or possibly hippier) world, “Freak Scene” would have had the impact “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did. Subculturally, of course, it did: it was the first American indie song I remember knowing, and knowing that everyone else knew, for a start, and what it lacks in an iconic guitar hook it makes up for in iconic romantifuck-up lyrics. (And he swears! Ooh! But the really cool bit is the thrown-off “What a mess”, and then like every other rockboy he takes it out on his trusty guitar.)

There’s something about this new breed of NME-sanctioned alternative album that I can’t quite put my finger in….Death In Vegas, the current PRML SCRM stuff, Coldplay maybe, Badly Drawn Boy probably – there’s a sort of ersatz feel about them which prevents any real connection being made even when the songs are pretty slick. Now it might be that I’m just too old for it all, and that me suggesting that “Die Matrosen” is more exciting than “Kill All Hippies” is just me being a bore. And fair enough except the journalists who are promoting it are all my age and presumably know something about music? So what’s it all about?

Morrissey‘s best solo track: “Disappointed”. Why? Because it has a (reasonable) joke in? Yes, but also because of the drumbeat and guitar waddle, and because it comes off like a patchwork of all the killer lines Moz fans would have liked other mediocre tracks for by themselves, but all stitched into one tune. Like an advent calendar of self-indulgent woe, you can relate to a different bit each day.

What have I got a band called the Anti-Pop Consortium on my hard drive for? Because The Wire said their album was the best of the year. It’s OK, a few years ago I’d have thought it was really Interesting, it tries very very hard to live up to its title (“Disorientation”) but the lyrics and flow are so dry and this whole gnosticism about hip-hop is such a turn-off for the casual listener, who is exactly the type of listener they don’t want to attract, so everybody’s happy. I can ‘appreciate’ it, bleh.

The Divine Comedy sparks a minor reverie about how much my life has changed in five years – in terms of what I do, who I’m friends with, where my happiness comes from – which I won’t burden you with the details of. I suspect ‘poignant’ isn’t the reaction Neil Hannon was quite going for when he wrote “Something For The Weekend” but, you know, fuck him.

And the Pet Shop Boys‘ “DJ Culture” is almost ten years old. In fact this year it’ll be ten years since I left school, and then ten years since I started working mornings in Tesco’s and made Mum play “DJ Culture” every morning going in while it was still dark, and then ten years since….this is not a good train of thought. Great single, mind you. “And I my Lord, may I say nothing?”

This track claims to be called “DMX”. It is undoubtedly by DMX, that said the name seems unlikely given that it’s the only thing I’ve heard by him which does not pivot on his being called that. It could be like Frank Beard out of ZZ Top I suppose. Very short, too.

0189 – 0229: No More Lovers Left Alive

“Dog On Wheels” was one of the first Belle And Sebastian songs I heard, and with a career perspective on them (all of, ooh, six months later) I’m not sure what to make of it – there is stuff I now know to be idiosyncratic (the Spanish touches, mostly) and if it felt slight back then it feels more so now. I wonder how knowing the arc of a band’s work changes your perception of individual songs: I wonder if there is a way around that. I suspect probably not.

(The cover of “Dog On Wheels” seemed to confirm all my worst fears about the group, too. But you can’t see covers on a hard drive. Thank the Lord.)

“Dominator” sounds embarassingly puny on this hard drive. Maybe it is puny, now: the problem with the ‘extreme’ in music is that of all musical qualities it’s the hardest to make last – talking from a listener’s perspective here rather than as an artist’s. Most music which I have been initially attracted to because of it’s fucking-hell-what-is-THAT qualities I now listen to for….what? Some musical quality possibly, maybe just the fading memory of the initial shock, which ironically makes the records some of the cosiest things I know. There is a sense in which I cling to stuff like Human Resource because it reminds me of a time when I felt pioneering and radical and in some way still surprisable by music – of course at the time I was actually more of a latecomer tastewise than I am even now. Meanwhile the record has finished and I must find something else to write about.

“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is one of the most matter-of-fact and adult doo-wop tunes I know. The Four Tunes – really it’s only the one tune doing the work – sings wearily about the rueful blankness of singledom: there’s no pain, just a sad realisation that things haven’t worked out and that the rest of life, at least the foreseeable rest, is just going to be a long dull is: “Aw’fly different without you”.

Few records sound as grand to me now as the ones I heard on John Peel’s radio show, the first two years I tuned in to the Festive 50. Galaxie 500 were with hindsight probably the coolest (in subcultural capital terms, not a value judgement) thing I got into, not that I was ever ‘into’ them, I thought the album I bought was secretly a bore, but I still nodded the knowing nod of the indie boy when “Don’t Let Our Youth Go To Waste” turned up in Peel’s rundown. A cover of – I think – a Jonathan Richman song (which makes it the only Richman I like as well as the only G500!), I didn’t even realise it was an attempt to pull, so immense and strong did it sound. I thought it was a huge generational plea, which was nice of me, since as an attempt to pull it’s a bit over the top. As a generational plea it’s lonesome and vague, rather a good tack for such pleas to take I think.

I know that somewhere on this drive is the full sixteen minute version of Donna Summer‘s “Love To Love You Baby”. I check: this isn’t it, it’s the (brilliant but low-utility-value) pop 3’24 version. Phew.

Another one I don’t know anything about – The Cascades’ “She Lets Her Hair Down” or “Down (Early In The Morning)”, which is hippy-dippy sunshine pop with a Beach Boys influence verging on the legal and a lot of Lovin’ Spoonful laidbackery too. It doesn’t go anywhere after its first verse and chorus, just does everything again a bit higher, and it has one of those eye-bulgingly unsubtle sixties key changes which would be laughed out of town if an N-Sync songwriter brought it in. But we’ll forgive it, because the Wilsonesque harmonies are so pretty.

I really must drag up my rant about Suicide and their overratedness sometime (with special focus on ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’ or whatever it’s called, why are ‘confrontational’ live records always so shit?), but not now because “Dream Baby Dream” is quite OK. Musically it gladdens this Magnetic Fields fan’s heart, actually, it’s just the method acting on top I’m not feeling.

“Dream Police” is where Cheap Trick start to go badly wrong: it shifts tempo too much – always the sign of a hook-based band running out of ideas – and more importantly it makes fuck-all sense and doesn’t cohere. Or rather it only makes sense if you take it literally, in which case it’s an awful lyric. (Not as bad as “Karma Police”, mind you).

Opening Couplets That Will Endure The Length Of The Ages: “When I met you in a restaurant / You could tell I was no debutante” by Blondie, by an accident of history not their last single. Imagine if they’d come back last year with this rather than the lazy, sad “Maria”. And then, just as suddenly, vanished, of course.

“Dreaming Of The Queen” has despite itself become one of those songs history packs too much into, post-Diana and all: you could imagine Greil Marcus writing about it, which you can’t say of many other English pop songs. (We lost our fascination for the resonances of modern history a long time ago, preferring comfortable tapestries of event to the sudden glints and catches of history as reflected in pop culture.). It’s followed by another track about love and death, “Dress Sexy At My Funeral”, which is the best idea for a song for years, and as done by Smog is at moments absolutely moving. (Or maybe it’s the chord change). “Also tell them about how I gave to charity and tried to love my fellow man as best I could. But most of all don’t forget about the time on the beach with the fireworks above us.”

What Smog have in mind is nothing less than a reclamation of sex as a song subject. Alternative acts write a lot about love and loss, and quite a lot about bad or violent or dangerous or wild sex, or at least they hint at it in that annoying coy swaggering rock metaphor way of theirs. What Smog is singing about is sex, often good, but sex as a fact – as the fact which expresses everything else – in a relationship, the one irreducible unique memorious thing about that relationship. Nobody else is daring to do that, and certainly not so plainly.

History came up with a nasty spin on REM‘s “Drive”, too: and nowadays the spectral storm warnings of the first half ring a lot truer than the guitar-strewn flailings of the second.

DJ Assault (him again!) claims direct kinship with the Beastie Boys – the early, good, Beastie Boys – by sampling them on “Drop Dem Panties”. Song ends too quickly for you to work out what this says about either artist.

The fact that you could come up with a similarly stinging distaff list doesn’t stop Le Tigre‘s “Dude Yr So Crazy” being one of rock’s most comprehensive character assassinations since Mark E Smith was in his heyday. An American Nathan Barley type is subjected to deadpan itemisation – uncomfortable and hilarious. The opening 30 seconds I thought was The Cure, though.

Dusty Springfield – “I’ve Been Wrong Before”: a Winter night, so cold it hurts your lungs to breathe.

Gang Starr – “DWYCK”. The perils of freestyling illustrated: “Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is”. Whatever build-up of respect I had for the skills of Guru and the boys is dissipated every bloody time that line comes up….here it comes….here it comes…..GAH!

There are two tracks claiming to be “Earth Angel” on the list. But only one is! The other is “In The Still Of The Night” by….uh….by…..anyway it’s a doo-wop classic, of course, which is presumably why a baffled PC has mislabelled it as the Penguins‘ masterpiece. A showcase for vocal suavity nonetheless. But it can’t match “Earth Angel”‘s offhanded dreaminess or its mother-me vulnerability or its coy, slight campiness.

The Lucksmiths – “Frisbee”: our more manly readers may need to sit down before they read on. OK? Right. This sounds like a Belle And Sebastian song being written by Carter USM in the style of the Housemartins – sadboy vignette with no pun unturned and buskalong guitars. Horrible, eh? Actually, um, no. But it’s too new to me for me to work out why I like it. The Australian accents may sugar the pill a bit.

Nobody sings “Oh yeah” like Stephin Merritt.

Wow, what’s this? Big, powerful, FX-laden indie pop! Yeah! Or….no! Cause it sounds years out of date and it’s got a wobbly look-I’ve-written-a-chorus chorus and it just generally tries a bit hard and it’s bad for my teeth. And, oh horror, it’s by Ian Crause.

Always good to see people coming to FT from www.hereistheporn.com. Since there’s not a link there of course it has to be a semi-regular, heh heh. We’re watching. And oh how appropriate, it’s Eminem, with South Park take-off “The Kids”, one of the more obscure of his straight-up comedy tracks. It kind of works on the same principle as the Prodigy’s “Narcotic Suite”, i.e. three drugs in a song, except it’s a third as long and three times as funny. It’s also from what I know more accurate too. The Cartman imitations get old mayfly-fast; the slowdowns in the flow and the twisty internal rhymes don’t.

“Radio won’t even play my jam”? Oh, come off it, Marshall! The frightening/effective thing about “The Way I Am” is the way Em can slip from his pedantic list of the fingers he’s not raising to Columbine social comment to fuck-it exhaustion to spitting pop rage to don’t-push-me mook irritation, and it’s all in the same ding-dong unvarying snarling rhythm.
How far are we into the Eighties revival now? And how come nobody has managed to do an Eighties revival track with the same panache as Laptop‘s “End Credits”? My pet theory is that the emotional terrain of “End Credits” – basically indierock relationship bummerland – was unknown or anathema to the New Romantic blueprints being followed here, so there’s a flush of originality about the song which it maybe doesn’t quite earn. Still, a cracking tune to crash around your room and hate people to.

Mercury Rev‘s Deserters’ Songs seems so long ago now..

0230 – 0263: Lost On The Westway

Unthanked in their own country, The Beat hit the bigtime in the States (bigtime = relative, but this was the early eighties and everything was bigger time back then) with “Save It For Later”, the delicious, meaningless sound of a band applying everything it had learned about how to keep things tight and exciting to the shinest of new pop sounds. Probably back home people muttered about selling out – Britain can be a surprisingly puritanical environment sometimes – but theirs was the loss. Mine too, since I only heard this track in 2000.

The man chosen to represent the rights of millions of Londoners is the same man who sang on “Ernold Same” by Blur. You can’t help but think that if Blair was as pop-culturally clued as he claims to be, he’d have made greater play of that last May. Even Blur realise how risibly self-parodic the song is and kill it dead after two minutes.

I think I have Al to thank for an MP3 of “Everlasting Love” on my PC. So, yeah, thanks Al. I love how time-serving the verses are in tracks like this, like the flat bits on a fairground ride.

There are times – and ten to midnight accounts for most of them – when I think “Everything Happens To Me” is Julie London‘s best song. Mostly for the lyrics, which do the casebook Stephin Merritt trick of loading the song with sadly witty couplets and then delivering the poignancy in the last verse – “I fell in love just once and then it had to be with you”. Of course it was a trick way before Stephin used it, but props to him for introducing me to it, eh?

[Enormous hiatus while I write other stuff and get bothered on HumanClick by drunken fools, a karmic vengeance for my past antics I rather feel. A slew of comments is lost to posterity, but most of the bands concerned I’ve got plenty of other tracks by, so don’t worry, eh?]

The shimmying Reichian intro to Faze Action‘s “Moving Cities” snaps me out of it a bit. I love this track: it combines unashamed melodic prettiness with the kind of loping bar-funk rhythm that generally needs a dose of precisely that to make it work. The feel is very similar to Nu Yorican Soul, Masters At Work’s sophistico-house ’97 platter which used to get maximum winding-down play back in my bookshop days.

I have cracked open a beer in honour of Queens Of The Stone Age but “Feelgood Hit…” still sounds silly (and not good-silly) as soon as he opens his mouth. There are no illegal drugs to hand (what do you take me for?) but I take a zinc tablet and see if that improves matters. It doesn’t.

Little Willie John‘s version of “Fever” isn’t as good as Peggy Lee’s: Dave Marsh says otherwise but this is simply because LWJ has a hoarser voice and so must be realer. Right?

Squint at them right and Pere Ubu invent everything. Alienation had certainly never sounded as, well, alien as on “Final Solution” with its belligerent, choppy angst (“Seems I’m a victim of NATURAL SELEK-SHUN!”) fronting all sorts of mechanical howls, clockwork chirrupings, radioactive guitar blurts and disembodied shadow harmonies. Just awesome.

Heartening how the US semi-mainstream seems able to turn out at least one classic dumb, spitting piece of new wave sentiment and bluster every year, cf. Harvey Danger‘s “Flagpole Sitta”, which did the radio-alternative is not dead thing in, when was it, 1997. Being a limey I didn’t hear it until this year, just in time for me to like the idea of it too. Liking the idea of things being rather a key part of my critical model, much to the horror of all you romantic responsive types out there.

Another Blur track – but this is “For Tomorrow”, which should go down to posterity as their best try at the Classic British Pop Anthem thing. And a try it is – you almost don’t want to like it because it’s straining so hard to be a cool pop song and a summing-up of London, but the masterstroke is the – well, one can’t really call it a ‘rap’, but the semi-spoken character bits towards the end, where Damon actually does manage to channel some kind of so-what spirit of the city. Certainly they do it for me every time, and so every time I hear about Jim and Susan I want to be back living in that city again.

It’s a mistake to rely too much on liking the idea of things, mind you, as Birth prove: sure conceptually speaking a Hall And Oates revival is a cool retro move but at the end of the day the people responsible still have to put out records.

0264 – 0288: Songs About Fucking

My favourite shirt stinks of smoke, my back is aching and I’m less than well. Am I approaching that philosophical milestone in the aging process where the wish to drink a lot in a pub is superseded by the wish to involve some kind of meal too? At least I didn’t buy anything stupid from Tower Records this time (the secret purpose of 1,000 being to STOP ME BUYING NEW CDs). Anyway the result of all this is that of all the thousand songs the one I least want to hear in the world this morning is QFX‘s happy handbag bouncer “Freedom”

Lil Louis – “French Kiss”. OK, explicitly ‘erotic’ music, then: you always start off finding it funny, then occasionally you find it effective i.e. it gets you thinking about sex, probably not actually wanting to do it but at least thinking about it. But from my experience listening to songs like this with someone you are in the habit of having sex with is just rather embarassing. Lil’ Louis is doing nothing for me right now, see above for reasons, and anyway his backing is a bit naff, from that turn of the 90s era of house when the initial creative rush had died away somewhat and it was all about the gimmicks.

Talking to Josh a couple of weeks ago, he remarked that I seemed to like anything with a chugging, repetetive guitar grind going on (a Velvetsy thing, in other words, though perversely the Velvets have never done much for me). And this is true – sorting out washing in my room, listening through the door, I couldn’t make out the words or singing at all on Aisler’s Set‘s “Friends Of The Heroes”, but the beat got me from the off. Repetition repetition repetition.

Ooh, it’s “Hot Topic”! Oh, no, wait, it’s the one which sounds a bit like “Hot Topic”. I have the whole Le Tigre album on my hard drive, by the way, which is why they keep popping up. “Friendship Station” is much jerkier than “Hot Topic”, anyway, which means I ought to like it more, but the vocals are much less compelling, too offhand. I like this band more when they ambush me in the midst of other tracks, actually.

NWA were just the scariest-sounding band when I was a kid. Even though I loved Public Enemy, I just wouldn’t have known where to start buying this stuff. Also they disrespected women, which was bad. So on the one hand I’ve become much more open-minded about buying different kinds of music without needing critical sanction first, but on the other hand I’ve become much less concerned – much less concerned – about the political stances that music takes. Which occasionally seems a little worrying, though mostly I’m happy with it: mostly, that is, I’m confident enough in my own political beliefs and choices to not think it matters what the music I listen to says. This is just lily-livered liberal passivity in the face of the deluge of filth and hate poisoning our culture, o’course.

“Gale Force Wind”: Maybe this also explains why I don’t listen to very much explicitly ‘political’ music. Microdisney‘s marriage of AOR and splentic, satirical comment is only occasionally successful, I think: it’s also the first ‘message’ song I can remember coming across (and noticing). “Gale Force Wind” is one of the successful occasions, though, a snapshot of London at the high tide of Thatcherism, sadly noting that credo’s potential to corrupt as well as just bemoaning its divisiveness. Good chorus and all.

And back to NWA – “Gangsta Gangsta”, their funniest song both in terms of all the boasting (it’s noticeable in the song, though, how often they fail to get women and how often they get kicked of clubs, etc. – there’s more realism in that than in a ton of street grit) and in terms of the cool production touches that light up every other line. The whole song reaches a peak with Easy E’s verse: totally absurd, nakedly aspirational, thirty seconds which sums up exactly why this particular mutation of hip-hop would go on to overrun everything.

“Genie In A Bottle” now just sounds like a practise run for Dream’s far superior “He Loves U Not”. Pop is cruel.

What we need most from the file-sharing era – what we might just get, too – is an environment where great bands do not feel the need to make long records, an environment such as happened during say 77-83 in Britain, letting acts like Girls At Our Best create singles which could stand absolutely alone. The idea of the perfect single needs to make a comeback, in other words.

It survived in hip-hop, though again albums were where the money’s at. Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More” starts with the singer hitting his head and follows him, musically speaking, through the ensuing dream (those strings!).

Girlfrendo are Swedish and it’s a fair bet they don’t like Abba much given their – quite touching in a sense – defense of indie pop against, you know, the snarling enemies of indie pop such as THE MAN on this track “Happy Days”. “Do you remember when girl power was something to be proud of? When the new sound made you all excited? And all you wanted to do was taking part?” Yeah, actually: November 1996; all of 2000; all of 2000, respectively. No sympathy from me: and also this faux-naif music is a far cry from the ace Dexy’s-ripoff stuff Maura played on the radio.

The Pet Shop Boys take Blur’s “Girls And Boys” and turn it (live) into a disco-booted monster, kicking all Damon’s distance and Graham’s guitar neurosis into touch and producing instead a pure celebration of the costa del shag hedonism the original shudders slightly at. Neil Tennant’s voice doesn’t quite fit this purpose, otherwise it’d actually beat Blur’s version.

Actually, no, Blur‘s version is much, much tighter. And I always forget how nasty and lovely Graham’s guitar neurosis actually is, too.

MC Nas-D‘s “Girls Wit All Da Booty” has the most fantastically cruchsome back-and-forth chorus guitar sample (similar to “Push It” rhythmically but more kinetic) which sounds like its been snipped from some heavily feedbacked track – can’t offhand think off too many other examples of feedback and guitar distortion being used in hip-hop (as samples rather than as Outkast-style Clintonism).

“Is he a good dancer?” “Whaddaya mean is he a good dancer?”

0289 – 0315: We Might As Well Be Brief

Full disclosure forces me to admit I’ve got a Hefner song on my disk. I feel like a businessman who has been caught with a prostitute’s head in his lap: “I’m sorry officer, you know how it is, I couldn’t get proper whining and self-pity from my music at home, and the voices there were just too accomplished. Sob.”

The Spice Girls‘ “Goodbye” on the other hand is repulsively decadent and listening to it is like suffocating in mallow, but I can’t help but like it a little. I think the chorus melody is pretty, or something. “Look for the rainbow in every star” – I think you’ll be out for some time, o junior astronomer.

Only addlepates would deny the primacy of Elton John‘s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”: how can your secret AOR soul fail to shiver when he croons “This boy’s too young to be singing the blooo-ooo-oooooooes”? And the bitchiness of the whole thing is simply splendid – but of course it does not excuse him the rest of his long, long career. And the “hornyback toad” bits are a Taupin mis-step.

ODB‘s “Got Your Money”: a Kricfalusi cartoon comes to horny life. Closer to the deranged spirit of old skool party hip-hop than a thousand Rawkus tools.

Secret of comedy films: good character actors. Secret of comedy records: good character actors. My favourite voice on Green Velvet‘s evergreen “Answering Machine” is Bob the psychic friend – “Your life. Is O-VAH.”

“Groove Is In The Heart” has aged a hundred times better than ever I expected: even then I could tell it had “token-dance-track-I-like” written all over it in squirly dayglo glitter stars, but so the hell what – it’s still a party in a toybox. (And then my MP3 turned out to be corrupt.)

Now speaking of token-dance-tracks, fucking “Groovejet”. The best argument for snobbery I’ve heard this decade, and I don’t mean calling Sophie Ellis-Bextor “the real Posh Spice” either.

True Momus fans do not rate “Hairstyle Of The Devil” as his best song, and nor do they appreciate references to him sounding like the Pet Shop Boys. Sadly, i) it is his best song. ii) it sounds like the Pet Shop Boys. It also has witty lyrics and knowing explorations of human sexuality (well not so much of the latter), which is what you’re meant to like Momus for, surely? Better yet it well predates his self-reinvention as a conceptual artist, a fine thing to be but not neccessarily to hear.

Chris Farlowe‘s “Handbags And Gladrags” fits with the ‘FT ethic’ not at all – sixties, bluesy belting, class-struggle rhetoric lyrics. But it’s fantastic – Farlowe’s phrasing is so dead-on that the bellowy aspects of the delivery get superseded by the theatrical aspects. The orchestral backing and the kitchen-sink incongruity of the piano-strings-mouth organ combination helps this, too. And as for the lyrics – when you’re giving someone the kiss-off you use every weapon to hand.

The godlike genius of Abba, again: “Happy New Year” has uber-dread lyrics (“Man is a fool who thinks he’ll be okay, dragging on, feet of clay…seems to me all our dreams are dead nothing more like confetti on the floor”), lovely melodic flourishes at chorus’ end, and the usual shivery. shimmery Nordic production values. It is in other words extremely beautiful. When people call them ‘kitsch’ it’s hard to know whether to pity or punch them.

Isabel used to fancy McGarrett off “Hawaii Five-O”, so dating from when we had a flat together here’s the theme tune. Now in my own flat I can click my fingers to it secure that nobody will ever see.

About half the titles on the shortlist of titles for my book are Stephin Merritt references. I am a sad groupie. None of them will end up being the title, at least I hope not. She Didn’t might end up being a section header, though.

Fuck the fucking eighties revival, say I, and I say it because I love the 1980s, or some of the records therefrom. Making records that sound like the records made in the 1980s – and I mean in this case (Ladytron B-Side) exactly fucking like, as in using the synth line from “The Model” – is as bad as Toploader making records that sound like fat hippies humping the corpse of ’74, and it’s a worse thing to be as bad as Toploader if you set out to be as good as Soft Cell than if you just wanted to be boring in the first place. Which it seems to me these days that most people do.

Irony may be hateful sometimes but the people who dippily or slipperily claim to oppose it are hateful too: I find myself wrestling with a familiar 90s/00s paralysis – how is one to act honestly, which is to say, how is one to act honestly and not mind being misinterpreted, which is also to say, how is one to know what ‘honest’ is? (A crap gangster film starring the All Saints – you see, pop culture does for me every time). “I don’t see anything that I want / I don’t see anything that I want” – thank you, Pere Ubu. Some records make you type faster, trying to match your thoughts with theirs: “Heart Of Darkness” is one of them.

Disco Blondie superior to punky Blondie – not I’m sure that this judgement comes as much of a surprise to you, o reader.

The Hot Boys – “Help” is cruel and voluptuous: cruel because of the brittle disdain the rampaging hot boys have for their victim-the-city. Voluptuous because of the way the cries of “Help” sound like sighs, swoons almost. The result is intoxicating, a gangsta bodice-ripper: with those courtly harpsichord synth lines all over the track, do the producers know this I wonder?

0316 – 0341: This Mess We’re In

Pavement‘s “Here” says everything it needs to say in fifty seconds. If our pop groups today had guts they’d end songs like that – fully developed beautiful songs which elongation can only ruin – in under a minute (see: Wire’s “Field Day For The Sundays”, The Beach Boys’ “Meant For You”). But they never do. There’s a lot to be said for formalism.

(Though in Pavement’s case you wonder if they realised how lovely and tragic the first verse-chorus of “Here” is and in their knee-jerk obscurantism decided to flaw it anyway. Never trust a slacker.)

Pigmeat Markham‘s “Here Come The Judge” is a 60s “Answering Machine” – see previous comments about character actors, though here you only need Markham. Where did I hear this sampled, really recently? In the middle of the gags and judicial ribbing, Markham slips in a verse about drinking tea with Ho Chi Minh and ending the Vietnam war, and then he sings that “you vote your way and I vote mine” in the elections, but “the case it’s a tie and the money gets spent” and Pigmeat gets to be President anyway. Cause everybody know that he is the judge.

“Hey Ladies” finds Destiny’s Child unusually stricken – “I don’t know” howls Beyonce, trying to work out whether to kick out her cheating man. “It’s killing me” – she sounds abject; the strings sweep viciously around her and the muffled thud of the drums pushes her – decide, decide. When she does, the song breaks, leaving just the rattle and thump of the beat. Her moment of decision – of crisis – throws me back to Dionne Warwick’s desperate breathless pleas for security in “Are You There (With Another Girl)?”. Possibly maybe my favourite Destiny’s Child song, and one of the first things I’d reach for to beat back the scoffers who say we’re not living in the platinum age of pop.

Hey Mercedes‘s “Bells” I grabbed at the kind recommendation of Nick Mirov – it’s one of the last songs I got before this experiment kicked off so I hardly know it. It seems grand and disjointed, and the guitars swirl and stutter in all the right places – I can’t (yet) get any emotional use-value out of it, it beats its collective chest a bit too hard for me, but then I’ve only heard it twice.

The Imaginations’ “Hey You” – one of those crazily high doo-wop voices which would get tagged ‘angelic’ if it rolled along now, and no doubt some nu-soul doomster producer would add funk and grit and studio dark to the backup, and it would sell well and get mentioned in all the right rock mags. But somehow I prefer the sound of a horn like a drunken duck to the thought of all that.

The kinds of random genre-splices we’re getting on this list are how I like to listen to music anyway. What’s educational is the kinds of music that are benefitting most. I’m enjoying all those Slabco tracks I downloaded in the spring more now than I have in months.

I still think the boredom aesthetic in Dead Prez‘ “Hip-Hop” is the most radical and interesting move they’ve pulled, and the arsequake production still sounds terrific too (also catch the sound FX – you can achieve as much with restrained one-shot laserbursts and blips as with full-on Neptunes style OD). “All your records sound the same” could be levelled at the underground just as much as the mainstream, but the tossed-off contempt in the voice is no less thrilling for that.

Suddenly and wonderfully it’s like I’m hearing “Holes” for the first time. So I stop typing and listen. Somewhere at the back of my head something is counting of stylistic tics and indie neo-cliches and saying tut tut, and the rest of me is trying not to care. Sometimes I really hate knowing about music. Other than that it’s bliss.

Sometimes I really hate not knowing about music. If I was a clever educated listener like the rest of you lot I’d never have downloaded “Holler” in the first place.

Does “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre get played at indie discos? It would have been a shoo-in for playlists back in my day, maybe to get all the ‘male feminist’ boys to stay on the floor for more than just the Yeastie Girls’ “You Suck” (Response: “Yeah. And so does this.”). Also maybe because it’s got a slinkier beat than anything else that came out of the sector last year.

“How Does It Feel?” – wrongly credited to Acen – is a hardcore version of “Blue Monday”. If you feel potentially tempted, don’t be: it doesn’t work, the New Order bassline is too fast for the d’n’b drums, the additional elements are straight from a My First Samples CD, and worst of all the whole thing is drawn out to seven ghastly minutes.

Saint Etienne‘s “How We Used To Live” got a rough deal from me back when it came out: now I’ve come rather to like it. All their records these days sound like a band who’ve stopped trying, but when trying meant the strained sixties sound of “Good Humor” that’s a mercy. I also think my tolerance for fussily polite Deutscher Funk has shot up since leaving London. And even if the slow first section and the fast second section aren’t so much cop on their own, the acceleration from the one to the other is gorgeous.

The ukelele on the Magnetic Fields‘ cover of Gary Numan’s “I Die: You Die” makes it sound like the Smash Martians covering Dead Can Dance. This has been brought to you by Unhelpful Rock Critic Metaphors dot com.

More Magnetic Fields fun with Stephin’s ode to the dubious joys of low self-esteem, “I Don’t Believe You”. “You seemed to be in love with me which isn’t very realistic.”. Oh, don’t start. It’s not for nothing that I think of this as his most ‘indie’ record – mostly I think it’s that I own it on 7″, but the hangdog romantic stuff fits, too.

0342 – 0383: Sea Of Ego

Thousand is back. Where did it go? It went into hibernation while I got on with the important business of loading up on new CDs and playing them. We rejoin the experiment with Aaliyah making a good fist of a cyber-ballad on “I Don’t Wanna”. The pop-and-click method of R&B has shown itself to be marvellous on the mid-tempo songs and the fast numbers but the ballad is a frontier as yet unconquered. Instrumentally this is all chrome chimes and metallic caresses, tunewise though it’s glop and the sentiments don’t carry through. Score draw.

Tiny Tim can be sublime – honestly he can – but his duet on “I Got You Babe” is excruciating. It’s a bad song anyroad, made worse by his kitsch outsider-art trillings. On the other hand it does point up how loath I am to delete MP3s I know I might not be easily able to find again.

Lush are a band held in suspicious reverence by a lot of 90s ex-indie-kids: I never liked them at all, and “I Have The Moon” shows why. It’s a melancholy Merritt tune about vampires which is glazed by Lush’s sugary production and prettified almost to death. I have no problem with ‘slick’ production generally but this kind of post-shoegaze Violet Elizabeth Bott stuff turns my stomach slightly, like words prefixed ‘kinder-‘ do, you know?

Listening to Joe Meek for pleasure rather than scholarship is not something I can readily imagine.

Whereas I’m sure the Paris Sisters are remembered as a footnote if at all: but I find their lullaby voices on “I Love How You Love Me” deliciously narcotic.

Some songs you wear out, at least temporarily. Bonnie Prince Billy‘s scouring “I See A Darkness” can lay me utterly low in the right frame of mind, but now I brush the horror and pity of it off. Feel impatient, even.

The mocking evil imp that controls my fate of course decrees that the next track is….”I See A Darkness” by Johnny Cash. It is superb, so grand, hopeful in the dark way a stark choice can be. It’s not really what I need right now, too.

Songs which start with ‘I’, at least the ones I like, seem to strive for some kind of transcendence or redemption or sanctification or at least something big and cosmic, cf. the above, and Jessica’s “I Think I’m In Love With You” (which probably is being sung to God, curses, but sounds transported anyhow), and Scott Walker doing Bob Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away” and sounding like the Ancient Mariner, and finally the Backstreets’ teeny metaphysics in “I Want It That Way”, which I still don’t understand, except from the point of view of understanding the hook. Which is easy.

(It might simply be that the lyrics to “I Want It That Way” make no sense.)

The Supersuckers “I Want The Drugs” breaks the philosophical chain a little. I used to like this track a lot. Before I bought a Gluecifer record. Still about a million times a) funnier and b) harder rocking than Queens of the Stone Age.

Foreigner‘s “I Want To Know What Love Is” is the “I Want It That Way” of the eighties. But I’ve said enough about that song.

So what is it about the first person that leads to these kind of existential ramblings? Possibly the rock mode is so egotistical anyway – or rather so much about the projection of self rather than the contemplation of it – that when the spotlight is turned inwards self-doubt tends to inevitably follow.

Or it could be that rockers just get off on the pomp and sensitivity of it all.

I know I do.

“I Want You To Want Me” (overrated live version) swaps self-immolation for a cynical puppydog selfpity. It works: no wonder they got so many girls. (Actually, the real test would be how many girls Bun E. Carlos got).

The Five Budds sound, gloriously, like they’ve consumed several Buds (take this how you will) on “I Was Such A Fool” – then they start singing about drinking sparkling wine. The wonderful woozing stoical sappy sots!

Just when I expected to like no more Divine Comedy songs ever, along comes “I’m All You Need” and it’s campily, smugly, vastly, guiltily marvellous. You can tell he was sitting thinking, right, I’m going to write a showstopper of a love song, something which bleeds cliches, something so dumb and over-the-top and stupid that you’d have to be in love to want to hear it, or maybe that you’d have to want to be in love to hear it properly.

I downloaded “I’m Always In Love” by Wilco on the title alone – it’s a sticky piece of overchewed bubblegum with enough hooky potential and sob-story indie vocalising to keep it around, just. Actually I liked it enough initially to go and buy the damned CD, but the initial bloom has worn well off and the slow ones are better anyhow, like dances.

Dead Prez blow it when they say “halfway between NWA and PE” on “I’m An African”. That kind of self-knowledge is the critics’ job.

“You change your number and my phone book’s such a mess”: I wonder if I’d like the Wedding Present if I ever actually had been this much of a stalker. The great thing about David Gedge which his critics never understood is that no matter how sad you were, you could always find an example of Gedge being sadder.

Stop reading. Go to Napster. Download Paul Bearer And The Hearsemen‘s “I Been Thinking”. What does it sound like? Oh for goodness’ sake, you know what it sounds like. They’re called Paul Bearer And The Hearsemen! It sounds like it’s being played by a herd of mastodon!

Melanie’s reading of “I’ve Got New York” really is ace. So drunk and venomous, and the toy piano works like a charm. Listening to it you can glimpse what the Sixths album could have been if the other songs hadn’t been so flattened out by Stephin M’s taste for affectless singers.

David Ruffin‘s “I’ve Lost Everything That I’ve Ever Loved” is a fine example of the Motown style’s absurdity and glory. It starts off with his parents dying when he was only four, the chorus goes “….and now I’m losing you”, it is in other words a monstrously bleak song, and yet Ruffin takes it as a rave-up. I mean I guess being orphaned and dumped is fairly small fry compared to some of the crashing metaphysical catastrophes Motown heroes find themselves in but even so it’s a hard song to get behind because it’s such a ludicrous mismatch of text and context. Mind you this makes it a very easy song to like.

SHERYL CROW SHERYL CROW SHERYL CROW – you try listening to “If It Makes You Happy” just after bloody “Idioteque” and see if you don’t like it. The guitar plod is pure Norman Blake, the singing is PJ Harvey if she’d never heard a Patti Smith record, the lyrics are Shania Twain on a weekend bender (a compliment). Great stuff.

Is there sensitive introspective boypop before The Beach Boys‘s “In My Room”? Has it ever advanced much beyond that?

It’s remarkable how much Faust‘s “In The Spirit” sounds like the Beach Boys, too – like one of the lazy experimental early 70s knock-off tracks, or a Surf’s Up outtake maybe, but the Beach Boys nonetheless.

Kirsty MacColl‘s splendid “In These Shoes?” (which in a just world would have been No.1 following her death for quite as long as “Just Like Starting Over” was following Lennon’s) is a rare animal – a pop song which is witty, and warm, and doesn’t sound much like anything else, and is still very much a pop song. When I first hear it it struck me how campy it was, but now I’m used to it I don’t notice that at all.

“Incident at 66.6 FM” – the best interstitial hip-hop track (sorry to be pompous but it doesn’t seem right to call it a ‘skit’) ever?

0384 – 0414: Love And All That Stuff

At one point I was going to do a Top 100 couplets (at some point or another I have wanted to do a top 100 everything) and near the top I would have put “Only when I’m dancing can I feel this free / At night I lock the doors so no one else can see”, which still sounds like poetry to me.

Kool Keith – “Intro”: to be a thorn in the side, there can be little better pop ambition.

By “Is It Really So Strange?” The Smiths weren’t trying at all. Which makes it likeable – the difference between ‘likeable’ and ‘loveable’ rapidly becoming a theme of this. The latter gets the props but sometimes the former gets you through the day without going mad.

I should really write about the two world music songs I’ve just had on so that you, my adoring readers, think I’m quite eclectic and open-minded. But instead I was writing something else. Which reminds me – if any of you were thinking of sending me an e-mail about this one thing I would like to know is what you were most surprised by when you saw it mentioned here…

More songs pass unnoticed – “It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl” comes on and its cavebeat insistence forces comment. What is it about Faust that makes this kind of primitivism so compelling? And what is it about these people who constantly go oh yeah, prog rock and its cousing Krautrock. Prog rock was about technical proficiency: listen to this stuff and point to precisely where the ‘proficiency’ comes in!

The woozy gradual tempo shifts on this track are lots more effective (more disorientating, more unpredictable, greater physical impact) than the show-off tempo changes you get in modern alt.rock.

I wonder why Isabel hates “Jesus Built My Hotrod” quite as much as she does: I’ve listened to much that’s noisier and much that’s worse. It doesn’t sound quite as consequential as it used to but there’s enough spunk here to keep things running. A direct and delightful line then gets drawn back to “Journey To The Centre Of The Mind” by the Amboy Dukes. Too much guitar pish from Nugent, though, and the tune is too frothy.

I still love “Send In The Clowns” as much as the first time I heard it, last Summer. If you were to rank songs by the number of times you’d reeled home drunk to them, letting your life fill up the song while it filled up your head, this would be close to the top. “Losing my timing this late in my career” – all the reserve and heartbreak of a Cale track and a ton more.

That comparison seems really crap, or it might do if you hadn’t heard “I Keep A Close Watch”.

When Julie London sings “In other words, I love you” in “Fly Me To The Moon” she doesn’t seem to give the words any weight at all, there’s no emotional break with the cocky rest of the song, and sometimes you hear it and that sounds off. And something you hear it and it sounds exactly right – the moment you can take your love for granted like that is the moment it really means something.

Similarly, the Dominique Aubry version of “Like A Movie Star”, which I used to hate because it lacked the grief and hopelessness of Stephin Merritt’s version, sounds lovely to me tonight because the endless repeated chorus-coda feels so secure and comforting. Maybe he’s just comforting himself, maybe he’s living in a dream, but for now it makes me happy.

With the result that, much though I enjoy the itch of “Justify My Love” I have nothing to tell you about it.

0415 – 0443: Che Guevara And Debussy

Thought experiment: would Kid 606‘s “Straight Outta Compton” remake be as effective without my knowing the original? Result: yes and no. Think of tightrope walking – it’s impressively vertiginous whatever but also part of the thrill is the distance between the wire and the ground. There are bits of the Kid 606 version which are uncannily beautiful, where the sounds go into complete freefall – there are also bits which draw their power from the same place NWA did. This is still a remix, in other words, not an act of destruction.

The instrumentation on The Sixths‘ “Kissing Things” is uncharacteristically clumsy – normally Stephin Merritt knows exactly what sounds go with which song but the skritch-skritch sound on the rhythm track here adds nothing and drives me to distraction.

A Certain Ratio‘s white bad dream-funk on “Knife Slits Water” – again, no current parallels. All these sounds and styles, where have they gone? Why have they been lost?

Treasurable things about “Kylie Said To Jason”: the title. The chorus. Bill Drummond’s dream narrative. Bill Drummond’s soft Scots voice. Bill Drummond. Less treasurable thing: the trumpet solo.

I used to really enjoy the fuzzy aesthetics of spacerock and now…I just don’t seem to see anything in it. It’s so vague and easy somehow: not unpleasant at all, not in any way objectionable but I get the same feeling I did with ambient music just before I lost interest – how would one tell a good track from a bad one?

(Although towards the end of this FSA track the group seem to rediscover the notion of tension and things become just claustrophobic enough to intrigue. Then it fades.)

Pulp‘s “Sunrise” in common with their other new material relies heavily on instrumental attack, long passages where the band decide – in Pulpish but still palpable fashion – to rock out. “Sunrise” is a post-rave bedsit take on the Velvet’s “Ocean” and for a reason I can’t quite pin down I find it quite moving. Possibly it’s the lyrics, which abstracted seem to be about admitting to oneself the possibility of happiness; more likely it’s the buoyant and effective instrumental work – there’s nothing quite as endearing as the sound of a band obviously enjoying what they do.

In its long form, “Left To My Own Devices” is probably the best Pet Shop Boys song. Shortened, it’s still an ambitious and intelligent single but it loses the jumbled-up conclusion that provides such a powerful sense of resolution in the album version. This was a song that meant a great deal to me: at times when I felt bad, or dissatisfied, or underachieving, it provided a sense of reassurance – not comfort exactly but an idea that some way off in the future equilibrium could be achieved. When you’re a sufferin’ adolescent, Mr. Tennant’s attitude of amused detachment is distinctly enviable.

The exhortations at the end of “Legal Man” suddenly start to make them sound like a Christian youth outreach group.

At some point the first group appeared that sounded like the Darling Buds (it wasn’t the Darling Buds, since the style was already pretty old when they turned up). Since then there have always, always been groups doing this perky-femvox-Velvets-popchug thing: why do they start? why do they keep going? where do they all go?

The fast-turnover model of teenpop and R&B (accentuated by big gaps between albums for the ‘name’ performers) keeps things fresh and hungry but it also means that few are the pop singles which feel like Events. Madonna indeed is the only performer making anything close to pop whose singles work on this level, and even then the likes of “Music” are drab fare when placed next to “Like A Prayer”, whose ambition – visually, musically, conceptually, in marketing terms – was nothing less than to make the Ultimate Single, or at least the Ultimate Madonna Single. It’s her “Born To Run”, if you like – I think every artist who bothers making singles should try making one monstrous ur-single like this.

“Lines”, from one of the Walker Brothers’ 70s comeback albums, is an instrumentally overwrought coke ballad, a fatty epic redeemed entirely by Scott’s gorgeous singing, halfway between the plummy profundity of his late 60s material and his more recent paranoid operatic mode, and with residues of a weatherbeaten half-decade spent singing country music. It’s one of his best ever performances – a buried gem.

Swoon is a brilliant thing to call your first album: why Prefab Sprout left “Lions In My Own Garden (Exit Someone)” off is a bit of a mystery – it would have fit right in with the twitchily literate off-kilter craftsmanship of the rest of the record, and it has a much better tune than anything else, to boot.

Regular readers of Thousand (all thirty of you) may be missing the booty bass content. Have no fear! Here we have Mentally Disturbed with “Lollipop”, which is bloody fast. What does he want you do to with his lollipop? Oh I wonder. The weirdly orientalised woodblocky music behind the beat and the weird P-Funk/helium rave crossover on the bridge vocals provide the thrills.

People always said the New York Dolls couldn’t play, but it certainly sounds like they’re having fun to me.


  1. 1
    Admin on 2 Aug 2006 #

    Lookee what the web archive re-found (note some files still missing: 571, 638, 678, 737)

  2. 2
    Doctor Mod on 4 Aug 2006 #

    Dusty Springfield – “I’ve Been Wrong Before”: a Winter night, so cold it hurts your lungs to breathe.

    I have never seen such an evocative description of this song. Not necessarily how I’d put it, but I understand what you mean.

    I must have been about fourteen when I first heard this song. It was actually Cilla Black singing it on one of the US pop shows. (And, by the way, Cilla’s version isn’t half bad, if nonetheless tepid next to Dusty’s.) I remember my friends and I at school, discussing the next day what we felt was a really strange song. I think it somewhat scared me, but I couldn’t quite say why.

    It wasn’t long after that I heard Dusty’s version. Chilling, even icy, strike me as the right adjectives to use. The distant-sounding piano–Beethoven? Chopin? Debussy? Satie?–creates a Gothic ambience. (Gothic in the sense of the literary genre, not kids with black nail polish.) The woman in the gloomy house lit by candles only hints at a long ago romantic tragedy–but she reveals only the most basic details of the story of love gone. The piano’s melody moves relentlessly through various key changes but still returns to the same place and begins again, just as, one might imagine, the woman’s story will as well.

    In the end, there is no resolution, and the sorrow in Dusty’s voice suggests abnegation in the face of a new potential love, so great is the pain of the former.

    I’ve never imagined this song being sung by light of day, but I hadn’t considered the season. But as you say, it’s cold outside. And inside as well.

  3. 3
    Marcello Carlin on 5 Aug 2006 #

    Written, lest we forget, by young Randy Newman in his “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” mood.

  4. 4
    research on 30 Jan 2007 #

    Logging into this website should be a requirement for anyone knowledgeable on earth these days…

  5. 5
    Admin on 30 Jan 2007 #

    One of the more common species of comment spam we (well all blogsonline journals) get is the “wow this site is great [LINK TO MEDZ/ETC]” – but of the 1000s of such spam, the wording of this one tickled me enough to let through. it didn’t even have a link in it to edit out.

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