Monthly Archives: May 2017

Write Here, Write Now: 5.31 – Uptown

Primal Scream – Uptown. Girl pop, but not Billy Joel.

One of my favourite bands, they have given me more musical pleasure than almost any other group. And if you take Jesus and Mary Chain into account, Bobby Gillespie has been at least in part responsible for a lot of my most cherished songs.

Each PS album seems to be inspired by a different listening experience, the band immersing themselves, Method-style in the whole ambience that surrounded the music they are inspired by when recording. Screamadelica, Vanishing Point, Xtrmntr – all with different style, but all noticeably from Bobby and the band.

I didn’t really know Beautiful Future until today when I played the album. Uptown immediately stood out as a highlight that I wanted to play again. Starting off with a cymbal rhythm and closely followed on the beat by Mani’s great bass, the sung out repetitions of the title, then the semi whispers of the first verse suggest a typical rock break out in the chorus – a break out that doesn’t happen as expected. Instead there is a marimba lead into a strings-laden bit that wouldn’t be out of place on a breezy 60’s pop song, like Petula Clark’s Downtown. And those marimbas – it could fit right in with Under My Thumb. As notorious Stones’ copyists, that seems rather appropriate.

Now I get the measure of this song – it’s one that doesn’t rock, it swings. No aggression, but smooth crooning instead. It’s a song of love for Flowered Up’s Weekender. A simple thing of joy, of absolute musical pleasure – I ‘m so happy to have discovered it. It just shows that there is always more unknown good music out there to listen to. It may be instantly familiar, derivative even. But that doesn’t matter if it stirs the emotions, sways the hips and puts a smile on your lips.

 

Advertisements

Write Here, Write Now: 5.30 – What You’re Proposing

Status Quo – What You’re Proposing. Unbreakable rhythm.

There was a time when I would have been mortified to be seen or heard near a Status Quo song. Back in my early to mid teens, they were the epitome of naff and I was very self-conscious about what what had, in my pre-adolescent years, been my favourite band. A neighbour from when I was growing up in rural Worcestershire, had many rock/metal albums, initially from his older sisters, and 12 Gold Bars was the one I really liked most, even more than Wheels of Steel, British Steel, Ace of Spades, In Rock, Paranoid, Killers, Highway to Hell, etc. This early intrigue was doubled when I saw concert posters of the band, all clad in blue denim on the walls of the bedroom of the older brother of another friend. But, at a new school, in another part of the country, such music was to be laughed at and scorned.

I sold off my cassettes of On the Level, Blue For You, etc and for years never listened to the band again. I remember one of the last times I was enamoured of the Quo – being allowed to stay up late to watch a late night concert live from the NEC with Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan. Things like Margherita Time, In The Army Now and Anniversary Waltz, as well as the loss of the original bass player and drummer made it easier to walk away.

What got me back into listening to the band again, albeit sporadically, was Quo Live – showing them off in their best light, as a rugged, fan-friendly rock act – often with Alan Lancaster up front, bellowing out. But of the non-live tracks, What You’re Proposing was another fondly remembered highlight.

It’s difficult to put into words what I like about a song like this. It’s all visceral – how it makes me feel to listen to it. The rhythm above all else – how all the instruments lock into step with the drums, bouncing up and down – there’s something very reassuring about the constant flow of music, repeating intensely the same thing over and over again.  I think it helps that it is a Rossi track. His vocals have a rich tone, a timbre, where what is being sung really doesn’t matter, but the way it is sung adds to the feel.

Even listening to it multiple times now, I can’t really disentangle the different instruments. The drums, sure – very clear in the mix, the vocals likewise. The bass, normally an instrument I love to hear in a song, seems to be buried very deep and to have hardly any prominence. As for Rossi and Parfitt’s guitars – no idea. I think Parfitt nominally played rhythm, Rossi lead, but apart from a  short middle 8 moment about 2 1/2 minutes in, there doesn’t seem to be any lead guitar. Looking at the video, there seems to have been a role for keyboards, but my lowly ears don’t pick up on anything from Andy Bown.

But never mind. As I said, it’s the glorious feel of throwing my head around to the noise it all makes. I remember, when music was in short supply, being at a dry ski slope in practice for a school trip to Italy, where, after an afternoon on the nylon brushes, we found a jukebox in the public bar. Having enough money to play this song was as much a pleasure as the previous hours of snowploughing down the slope had been. Such sweet sounds.

I think I can attribute my love of such outwardly different bands as Can, Swans, Spacemen 3 to the feel for constant rhythm that I got from Status Quo.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 5.29 – Evelyn

Pop Will Eat Itself – Evelyn. Out of time waltz

There aren’t many waltzes that I know of in pop music. Rebel Waltz by the Clash is the other one I can think of, which is quite different from this exercise in what sounds like steam organ-driven fairground music.

The first I heard of PWEI was the song Beaver Patrol, possibly deliberately produced to stimulate controversy and generate publicity, which portrayed the band as crotch-grabbing sexists, but comes over more as a Ricky Gervais-style self-parody than anything in the Roy “Chubby” Brown mode. The album Box Frenzy is a ideas-rich revelation with a lot of creative sampling, varied styles and song writing. What was depicted as another Grebo band produced something impressive, entertaining and diverse. Looking back, it doesn’t seem so surprising that Clint Mansell went on to become a successful film soundtrack composer.

Evelyn sounds like something form another age, not to say another band. Maybe it’s something about using an organ, but the closest comparison I can make is to Golden Brown – another laid back, considered song about chemical indulgence. The interaction between lead and backing singers is part of its Camberwick Green appeal – a song almost mechanical in its clockwork rhythm, which winds itself up at the start with the drum beats and fades sedately to a close with the spring losing its tension, having delivered a neat little musical arrangement.

Pop really did eat itself with this band and album, both pop music and pop culture. What we’ve had since has often seemed pre-digested and processed – either formulaic or deliberately ignoring that the barriers between cultural niches just don’t exist any more – creative and imaginative art seems to need to be produced by magpies able to spot treasures all over the landscape. For me, PWEI were great exponents of this and deserve their place in the pantheon.

I will always hold a special place in my heart for this frenzied little musical box of a song.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 5.28 – No Sleep Till Brooklyn

The Beastie Boys – No Sleep Till Brooklyn. Big dumb fun.

Outside our house there is a permanent cabinet with shelves behind glass doors where anybody can leave books for others to take. There’s quite a high turnover and sometimes there are CDs. Today there was a copy of Licensed to Ill, which is why I’m taking the opportunity to play this song.

Fight For Your Right To Party was the song I remember off the album. Though I do remember the way the album as a whole made heavy metal music acceptable again after years of it being not very cool. Quoting a Motörhead album title, using the guitarist from Slayer, this song is very comfortable with the music of my pre-adolescence.

There’s not much to analyse about it really. It’s a song to jump around to and make rap hand gestures to – and play air guitar, as well, of course. I like the way it starts off like an AC/DC song, blasts of guitar start-stopping with hard beats getting the headbanging started. The raps really fly as well – punchy nonsense. I don’t go for the guitar shredding in the middle, but I suppose it lets what is a simple idea without much longevity stretch out to 4 minutes without overplaying its limited lyrical strengths. Maybe there’s a better track on the album. I’ll have to listen to it all.  Sometime, I guess.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 5.27 – Love is a bourgeois construct

Pet Shop Boys – Love is a bourgeois construct.  Arch construction

I’ve been meaning to choose a Pet Shop Boys song recently and this one came up as one of my highly rated songs, so I thought I’d give it a play. Rating songs doesn’t mean that much, except it’s a handy way of marking a song as one that stood out from others – useful when there are so many songs to listen to.

Why I felt the need to explain this relates quite well to my unease about assessing the Pet Shop Boys. Maybe it’s intellectual insecurity, but I have the sense that Neil and Chris have a very well-developed sense of human understanding, an artistic bent  and a clever way with words as well as a devilish way of constructing great pop. Trying to interpret one of their songs, I suspect is a fool’s errand for one who’s quite unobservant, socially inept and not very percipient. Lay out my low ranking cards at the start, as it were.

So here goes.

The first thing I notice about the song is that it rips off the Michael Nyman soundtrack from A Draughtsman’s Contract. Unlikely to be a coincidence, it suggests with bullhorn clarity that the associations of Greenaway’s film – subterfuge, clues, red herrings, intrigue, and a Wicker Man style ending – could be markers for this song. Don’t take anything at face value.

And what is face value? A first person perspective – a bold statement of intent, a declaration of independence from convention.  Of course, as a story of an indolent, self-congratulatory, opinionated nostalgic autodidact, it’s clearly a cautionary tale in the style of a rake’s progress, or maybe Hilaire Belloc. An anti hero, not a hero.

But even that is reading the text too straightforwardly. Maybe there’s an element of indulgence, of sympathetic celebration of this louche approach to life? Or maybe there is real anger at the waste of such a chosen path – the failure of ambition, the apathy, letting others triumph, while socialist tea drinkers pontificated.

Aside from the Nyman quotation, one thing I notice is the high pitched notes scattered across the song – like a distant morning alarm breaking through the hypnotic pumping synth of the music. No accident? A deliberate reference to real life being ignored, but urgently calling for focus – to break the dream-like spell?

All this chimes uncomfortably with me, a late developer, someone without much drive or ambition, someone who is waking up to a life lived without clear plans and focus. Doing the best I can in the day to day, but with short time horizons, shrinking expectations, and low self-belief.

Good song, though.

Write Here, Write Now: 5.26 – The Bottom Line

Big Audio Dynamite – The Bottom Line. Another 5 star song  – the politics of dancing

I remember this album coming out back in 1985. A fan of the Clash, and particularly the later albums, with varied music styles and experimentation, I was keen to hear this one, with all the sampling from movies, cultural references and continued political references. I loved the spaghetti western references, the song all about Nic Roeg films (Insignificance came out in the same year, with all its own oblique commentary on Monroe, Einstein, Macarthy and di Maggio) – it seemed like the world of music had just got enormously bigger and open to all kinds of association and possibility. The anti-apartheid march and concert in Clapham Common the following year had them playing and it was a fantastic experience – my first concert, I think – I was so eager to hear the album live.

Of all the songs on the album, the Bottom Line has the most joi de vivre – its rhythm just makes me want to get up and bounce around to it. And while there isn’t much to the lyrics, they have a general message of Thatcher’s Britain sucks, but that shouldn’t hold us back. And Mick Jones has a great way with a guitar – a real gun slinger, the way the track opens with lazily but perfectly rhythmic strummed chords, pausing at odd moments to pack in unexpected punches, cowbell drumming and let samples and singing slot into place.  It’s a glorious, rousing singalong – big dumb fun. Plus it was the first single to be released, so a good introduction to the album.

 

Write Here, Write Now: 5.25 – Wrecking Ball

Amelia Curran -Wrecking Ball. This is  what I seem to have been listening to tonight

Sometimes, it isn’t possible to be in complete control of what one does, of what one spends one’s time doing. Forces prevail, and one wakes at 3 in the morning, listening to a song on repeat that one had no memory of starting to listen to. We are not yet subservient automatons.

I can love you best of all. I am a wrecking ball” . Sometimes that is a credo I can believe in.