LANDFILL INDIE? – A FRESH SERIES FOR MONDAYS (Issue 3)

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment/respond/react to the first two issues in this latest series.  As I anticipated, while some of the TVV community have been happy to see a particular track sent to landfill, others have offered a fairly stout defence.  I hope that this proves to be the case as it goes on….or will we ever see a week when the song gets a unanimous thumbs-down.

Issue 3 sees us heading back to June 2006

mp3: The Automatic – Monster

As with so many acts of the era, I didn’t really pay too much attention to things… I was in my early 40s for goodness’ sake and felt it was a tad undignified to tray and keep up religiously with all the bands who were keeping the teens and students happy.  As such, what follows is from t’internet.

“Electro-punk quartet The Automatic formed in Cardiff, Wales, in the fall of 2003. The founding line-up comprised singer/bassist Robin Hawkins, guitarist James Frost, keyboardist Alex Pennie, and drummer Iwan Griffiths. and they band cut a demo that earned the attention of Probation Management, a subsidiary of Cardiff label FF Vinyl.

Probation in turn mailed the demo to the London-based B-Unique label, which immediately signed the band to a reputed £500,000 publishing deal. By year’s end the Automatic was a major favourite of the famously excitable British press, with the single Raoul penetrating the U.K. Top 40 in the spring of 2006.

The follow-up, Monster, not only cracked the Top Five weeks later, but entered the chart solely on the strength of pre-retail downloads. The debut LP, Not Accepted Anywhere, reached number three following its June 2006 release. The album was re-released the following year in the U.S., under the name The Automatic Automatic.

The band released their second album This Is A Fix accompanied by only one single, Steve McQueen in 2008, which due to a dispute between the band’s labels – B-Unique and Polydor – was plagued with distributional and promotional problems. The dispute led to the band withdrawing from their 5-album deal with the labels and instead formed their own label, Armoured Records, distributed through EMI.

After independently releasing their third album Tear the Signs Down in 2010 and three singles – Interstate, Run & Hide and Cannot Be Saved, the band took what was described as a temporary break, but it seems to have become permanent.

The band were quick to point out that many of the lyrics used in Monster are metaphors for drug and drink intoxication; “brain fried tonight through misuse” and “without these pills you’re let loose”, with the chorus ‘monster’ lyric being a metaphor for the ogre that comes out when people are intoxicated.

The single received fairly mixed reviews:-

“daft, irresponsible and unforgettably irritating”
“Monster is an electrifying 3 minutes and 44 seconds of pop music at its finest”
“it’s the catchiest indie hit of the summer, boasting a hook that could disembowel a whale”
“The Automatic’s releases are getting progressively worse each time. Are they running out of good songs?

I genuinely don’t know where I stand with this one. I’ve an admiration for the fact that The Automatic produced something as catchy as this while still maintaining, initially at least, a degree of credibility with the critical cognoscenti. And then, after I’ve heard it a couple of times in quick succession, I find it annoying to the point that I would gladly throw it into an impregnable cell and toss away the key….

I would imagine that nowadays, those who were aged under 10 at the time of its release will still recall it with much fondness as part of their growing up. Those who jumped around to it at gigs or at indie discos are probably a bit more sheepish about it. Love it or loath it, there’s no denying its catchiness.

But, bringing in additional evidence of the another single, which was released on two separate occasions (March 2006 and January 2007), I’m coming off the fence to say that The Automatic are another whose efforts should be part of the landfill indie mass.  Especially when you take into account the cover version they put on the flip side of the January 2007 release:-

mp3: The Automatic – Raoul
mp3: The Automatic – Gold Digger

No wonder Kanye West got angry with the world in recent years…..

And I better say a huge ‘SORRY’ to Mini SWC, who is, as I’m sure you’ll recall, a huge fan of Monster…..

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 35)

With Up yielding not just one, but TWO top 10 hits, and a sold-out World tour in full swing, Warners decided to capitalise with the release of a fourth single from Up. They really shouldn’t have bothered – to say it backfired is an understatement.

While Up may not be described as the most ‘user-friendly’ record in R.E.M.’s discography, it nonetheless had some wonderful songs on it. For a fourth single, how about the uplifting Walk Unafraid, without a doubt one of the Up Tour’s live highlights? (here, here!!! – JC)

Or The Apologist with its “I’m sorry” refrain referencing the early classic So. Central Rain? Or even, as a real curveball, Up’s best moment in my opinion, the Krautrock-inspired Leonard Cohen pastiche Hope? (agreed….the best song on the album, but so unlike R.E.M. -JC)

But Warners thought “No, what we need is an utterly forgettable 5½-minute dirge that no one will play on radio and no fans will feel the need to buy again.”

And that’s exactly what transpired. Released on 28th June 1999, Suspicion became the first R.E.M. single in more than a decade not to chart in the UK. That is perhaps the only significant thing I can say about it. Both formats (for there were only two) contained the full-length album version of Suspicion

mp3: R.E.M. – Suspicion

Not even the b-sides can save this one. More live tracks I’m afraid. In this case, more from that Jools Holland special from the previous Autumn. The main CD release included these:

mp3: R.E.M. – Electrolite [live on Later… With Jools Holland]
mp3: R.E.M. – Man On The Moon [live on Later… With Jools Holland]

The collectible 3” CD contained a live in the studio take of Suspicion (though not the same one that appeared on the Lotus single), plus an early fave taken from that Jools show.

mp3: R.E.M. – Suspicion [live at Ealing Studios]
mp3: R.E.M. – Perfect Circle [live on Later… With Jools Holland]

Not the most inspiring way to sign off the Up era, but perhaps in some way fitting considering what was to come over the next few years…

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #249: POP WALLPAPER

From lastfm…

Pop Wallpaper were formed in around 1981 in Stirling, Scotland, with the original line-up of Evan Henderson (guitar/vocals), David Evans (guitar), Stephen Hunter (bass) and Les Cook (drums). The band gigged locally to much critical acclaim and moved their base to Edinburgh in 1982 with a final line-up of Audrey Redpath (vocals), Evan Henderson (guitar), David Evans (guitar), Myles Raymond (bass), Les Cook (drums, keyboards) and John McVay (sax, keyboards).

During the course of their life, the band played throughout Scotland, supporting the likes of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and, bizarrely, Afrikka Bambaatta & The Soulsonic Force, building up a solid fan-base.

The first EP was released in 1984 and was a 3-track single headed up by “Over Your Shoulder”. This single had extensive radio play on BBC Radio 1 on the John Peel and Janice Long shows, leading to a Janice Long session recorded at the BBC in London.

This was followed by a second single in 1986, a double-A side featuring a cover of the Shuggie Otis song “Strawberry Letter 23” and “Nothing Can Call Me Back”. Again these received a fair amount of airplay, but unfortunately little commercial success outwith their core base in Edinburgh.

JC adds……

I’ve had a copy of the 12″ of the second single for a while now, holding it back until such a time as their turn came up in this long-running series.  It’s not one I picked up back in 1984, although I had heard it played a couple of times at the alternative nights held each Thursday in the Students Union at Strathclyde Uni, but I did see a second-hand copy in a shop around three years ago.

mp3: Pop Wallpaper – Strawberry Letter 23
mp3: Pop Wallpaper – Nothing Can Call Me Back

I wasn’t aware until more recently that the band only ever released the two singles, and, as it turns out, the previous effort was included in the Big Gold Dreams boxset compilation from a couple of years back:-

mp3: Pop Wallpaper – Over Your Shoulder

The booklet which comes with BGD provides the information that Evan Henderson would later become the manager of Paul Haig – and indeed is someone who, a few years ago, became a huge friend of the blog.

Returning to Pop Wallpaper, I think its fair to say they are very much of their time, but there’s something that little bit different about the noise they make to make them a tad more interesting than most. Audrey’s vocals are quite unique, and there’s a sense of Associates/Haig/Win about the music in many places.

JC

 

HERE’S THE SOPHOMORE SINGLE

It was back in June 2017 when I previously gave a mention to Girls At Our Best!, recalling that I learned of them thanks to Getting Nowhere Fast, being covered by The Wedding Present.

As I mentioned in passing, Getting Nowhere Fast was a self-financed single, released in April 1980 on the band’s own Record Records following which Rough Trade put out a second single entitled Politics in November 1980.

I’ve now tracked down a copy of the sophomore effort:-

mp3 : Girls At Our Best! – Politics

My info, supplied by my big reference book of indie music, was that this came out solely on Rough Trade but it turns out with was a joint release with the band’s own label.

At first listen, I didn’t think it came close to matching the majesty of the debut 45, but it’s proven to be one of those songs that manages to grow with successive listens.  I thought it was a song that could firmly be put in the big bundle of twee songs, but in fact there’s a fair bit of an anti-establishment punch being thrown at the antics of those who are out on the stump canvassing votes, with the sinister line of ‘Love to see you smiling when you’re kissing little girls’ delivered with seeming innocence.  And if you’re wondering what is being chanted in the background while the chorus rings out, I’m happy to clarify that name checks are given to the USA, CIA, KGB, EEC, FBI, and ICI.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 44)

This came up via the i-player while I was away in world of my own last Sunday, out stretching my legs in an effort to avoid boredom.  I made a mental note to check on my return and, true enough, I hadn’t previously included it in this series, albeit a couple of other Arab Strap songs have been earlier chapters

So that was the first big weekend of the summer… Starts Thursday as usual with a canteen quiz and again no-one wins the big cash prize. Later I do my sound bloke routine by approaching Gina’s new boyfriend to say that he shouldn’t feel that there’s any animosity between us and then I even go and make peace with her. I shouldn’t have bothered. Then on Friday night we went through to the Arches…

There was only one car going, so some of us had to get the train. We got through quite late. Then we went to a pub to take the gear. There was no problems getting in – we saw some others waiting down the front of the queue so we skipped in. It was a good night, everyone was nutted and I ended up dancing with some blonde girl. I thought she had been quite pretty until last night when Matthew informed me that she had, in fact, been a pig. When the club finished we wandered the streets for a while until we got to this 24-hour cafe but I didn’t like the look of it so we left and got a taxi back to Morag’s flat. I couldn’t sleep, so I sat about drinking someone else’s strawberry tonic wine and tried to keep everyone else up.

Then at ten o’clock in the morning we went downstairs to buy some drink. We had intended to watch the football in the afternoon but we’d passed out by then and slept right through it, awaking to find that England had won two-nil. Then we went to get the train home and had a few in the Station Bar. We had some stuff left from the previous night’s supplies so when we got home we decided to go down to John’s indie disco. Same story as Friday – lots of hugging, lots of dancing etc. etc. I couldn’t sleep again so went up the park to look at the tomb, taking a detour through the playpark. To get in we had to climb over a ten foot steel fence, which resulted in severe bruising of our hands, legs and groins, but we had a good laugh on the stuff, especially the tube-slide, which probably doubles up as a urinal for drunk teens. Then we walked through the woods to have a look at the tomb. It was a big disappointment, but the mist on the lake was cool.

Sunday afternoon we go up to John’s with a lot of beer in time to watch the Simpsons. It was a really good episode about love always ending in tragedy except, of course, for Marge and Homer. It was quite moving at the end and to tell you the truth my eyes were a bit damp. Then we watched these young girls in swimsuits have a water fight in the street.

(“Taping this, aye?”)

We went up to the pub about ten. It was busy for a Sunday night, lots of people we know, including my first ever girlfriend who I still find very attractive, quite frankly, but I didn’t really speak to her. She’s probably still a bitch, anyway. Her friend Gillian was there, I had a chat with her, she was still quite pleasant. At the same time I watched Malcolm make some terrible attempt to try and chat up a girl we know called Jo. He made some remark about her skirt that was barely there the previous night or something. I couldn’t sleep again that night, thanks to some seriously disturbing nightmares…Matthew says I should cut down on the cheese.

“Went out for the weekend, it lasted for ever, high with our friends it’s officially summer.”

I got some sleep eventually on Monday afternoon. It was a beautiful day, and later that evening Malcolm introduced me to the power of Merrydown – £1.79 a litre, 8.2% – mmmm….. Judith and Laura came round later and we sat in my back garden and drank. Then Matthew came round and we went up the town. It’s officially summer.

mp3: Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend

The First Big Weekend took place on Friday 14 – Sunday 16 June 1996.  Aidan Moffat would have been 23 years old at the time, while Malcolm Middleton would have been 22.  I’m guessing the crowd of friends who travelled the 23.5 miles from their home town of Falkirk to Glasgow, scene of the Friday night/Saturday morning frivolities, would have been around the same age.

Your humble scribe was just a few days short of his 33rd birthday, and my big weekend was spent in St Andrews, with a crowd of 16 mates all staying two nights in a bed and breakfast and playing games of golf on each of the Friday, Saturday and Sunday under blazing hot skies – it was in the mid 80s the entire time.  We did, somehow, manage to stay out till about 1am on the Friday, get up to play golf at 7am on the Saturday, have some food and then watch the important football match in which England beat Scotland 2-0 in the European Championships.  Saturday night was a bit quieter and the golf on the Sunday was survival of the fittest…..

Here’s another couple of versions of the song.

The first is from Arab Strap’s first ever live gig at King Tut’s in Glasgow in October 1996…..you’ll spot that the lyrics are a tad different, but you’ll also perhaps spot that the friends referred to in the song are in the audience……it was the band’s ninth and final song of the set.  I’d love to say I was there, but I’d be lying…

mp3: Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend (live, October 1996)

The second version  was released as a digital single to mark the 20th Anniversary of the song.  It was remixed by Miaoux Miaoux, one of the other wonderful acts who have been part of the Chemikal Underground story.

mp3: Arab Strap – The First Big Weekend of 2016

The remix is, how do you say it, a banging tune………

JC

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : 2001

Album: 2001 : Dr.Dre
Review: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 19 September 2019
Author: Sose Fuamoli

Dr. Dre’s 2001 — a hip hop classic that could not be made today

A classic record with some questionable content

When we think of Dr. Dre, we think of an era of hip hop rooted in decadence, delivered by artists who had lived the experiences that formed the basis of their material.

These were the stories of hustlers, young men who had come up from the struggle. Legends in the making who were thriving in a genre that provided an avenue out of the violence and impoverishment of their upbringing. A future that would be paved with money and fame in excess, and egos to match.

The release of Dre’s debut LP The Chronic in 1992 firmly established him as a hip hop game changer.

From the shadows of his group N.W.A’s mammoth success emerged a double threat. Dre’s production technique and ear for g-funk and gangsta rap progressions, coupled with his staunch flow, turned heads and provided a huge breakthrough for the Death Row Records label Dre founded with Suge Knight and The D.O.C..

Seven years later, in anticipation of the new millennium, Dr. Dre delivered his second album, 2001.

A record laden with expectation and anticipation, the album followed 1996’s Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath – a compilation album that sold well, but failed to capture the same attention and respect as The Chronic.

Where 2001 differs is in its compositional weight, the calibre of guests representing the thriving culture of the time, and the reflection of Dre’s evolution as a rapper and the West Coast sound in general.

“I just basically do hardcore hip hop and try to add a touch of dark comedy here and there,” Dr. Dre told the Irish Times in 2000.

“A lot of the times the media just takes this and tries to make it into something else when it’s all entertainment first.”

It makes sense. 2001 was originally constructed as if it were a film.

Purely cinematic in its presentation, an album like 2001 set a precedent for this type of hip hop record that an artist like Kendrick Lamar would follow in producing seminal works of their own (Good Kid, m.A.A.d City).

The skits linking the 17 album tracks continue the narrative, centred on West Coast hip hop’s thematic triumvirate: weed, sex and violence.

Comedian Eddie Griffin is a noted voice on ‘Ed-Ucation’, possibly the album’s lowest point: a one-and-a-half-minute rant about side-chicks who become pregnant on purpose.

Two tracks later, we hear orgasms and the voice of male porn star Jake Steed on ‘Pause for a Porno’, before the interlude breaks into ‘Housewife’.

The cringe factor brought on Dre’s more graphic lyrics are relegated to the lesser known songs on the album. Intentional or not, the kind of subject matter acclaimed rappers would never be able to get away with today, is ultimately shadowed by the singles: banger after banger that would drop during the album’s cycle of release.

What comes out on top is a strong and confident attitude that permeates through the entire piece.

The record is less concerned with hyping up a lifestyle and serves more as a massive ‘fuck you’ to anyone who questioned how Dr. Dre would stand solo, sans-N.W.A and without Death Row and Suge Knight behind him.

Establishing himself as one of the strongest players in the culture, Dr. Dre demonstrated his reach in employing an all-star list of ghostwriters (The D.O.C., Royce da 5’9”, Jay-Z), musicians (Mike Elizondo, Scott Storch, Jason Hann) and vocalists to pull his vision together.

We’re talking Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Kurupt and Snoop Dogg. Mary J. Blige, MC Ren, Hittman. Eminem, fresh off the back of the Dr. Dre-produced debut, The Slim Shady LP.  The young Marshall Mathers has one of the best verses and highlight moments on the record, spitting psychopathic greatness on ‘Forgot About Dre’.

A cultural moment as well as an album touchstone, ‘Forgot About Dre’ showed Dre at his bitter best, while Eminem’s vibe is a perfect snapshot of America’s Most Disturbed at his most venomous.

The album has spawned some of the most popular tracks of the decade, namely ‘Still D.R.E’ and ‘The Next Episode’, the latter of which has become almost a rite of passage to rap along to for anyone beginning the partying chapter of their young adulthood.

‘Still D.R.E’, the first single from 2001, is assertive and quick to light a fire beneath those who assumed Dre was down and out of the game following the release of …The Aftermath.

‘I stay close to the heat,’ he raps. ‘And even when I was close to defeat, I rose to my feet’.

In the same vein, ‘The Next Episode’ is possibly the pinnacle of West Coast rap, delivered in its most pure form.

The track wouldn’t be what it is without Snoop Dogg’s silky-smooth cadence, Dre’s braggadocious entry and statement of intent as a King of Cali (‘Compton, Long Beach, Inglewoood’) and of course, Nate Dogg’s marijuana-loving outro.

Elsewhere on 2001, a listener can find some underrated cuts that still stand strong on their own now, 20 years later.

‘Bang Bang’ is an example of Dr. Dre’s intelligence and knack for clever lyrics, ‘Let’s Get High’ sees Ms. Roq shine, while ‘The Message’ changes the album’s speed entirely.

Closing the album, the Mary J. Blige and Rell collaboration ‘The Message’ is an ode to Dr. Dre’s late brother Tyree and a song that deserved much more attention than it received.

At 22 tracks total, 2001 was perhaps embraced gluttonously when it was first unleashed. Nobody could have predicted Dr. Dre’s entrepreneurial hustles becoming such a main (and lucrative) focus over the next decade. He released another studio record (Compton) in 2015, yet the fumes of hope surrounding the almost mythical Detox album remain.

As we look to the beginning of another decade, a deep dive on an album like 2001 poses the question:

Could this sort of record be made and revered today?

Ask most hip-hop fans and they’d probably tell you no.

While the culture does still have pockets of music rooted in the same old tropes (read: strippers, liquor, misogyny), hip hop today has never been so multi-faceted. Yet, in a lot of ways, the influence of Dr. Dre has been there throughout.

As the West Coast hip hop sound became more defined – and popular – through the latter half of the 1990s, largely thanks to the emergence of Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg, the Dr. Dre sound remained present and continued to develop.

An innovator and sonic perfectionist, the Compton original would go on to pave the way for a whole new generation of hip hop artists valuing a fine-tuned ear for production and composition as much as they do their rhymes.

JC adds…….

I stumbled across this piece of writing when I was looking for a bit of background on The Next Episode, as I was intending to do a posting on that 12″ single.  But I changed my mind and decided instead to go with this review of the album as Ms. Fuamoli, who is a very well established music journalist, content producer and publicist from Melbourne, has captured perfectly what I feel about 2001.

It’s something that I can’t listen to all the way through. Indeed, I reckon I’ve only managed to do so on two occasions, the first being the initial playback and the second about 18 months ago when I tried it out with some new headphones (not Beats Headphones I should add!!!) as I really love much of the production, and I used the occasion to check, and be reminded of, the fact that the skits are awful and that a fair number of the lyrics are questionable/objectionable.

It acted as a useful reminder that this is a record which shouldn’t be owned on vinyl.  CD is ideal as the remote control needs to be handily placed ready for the FF button to be utilised.  And yet, despite my unease about a lot of things, there are enough songs, all of which have been highlighted in the above review that were instant classics and still, all these years later, retain the right to be described as such :-

mp3: Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg) – Still D.R.E.
mp3: Dr. Dre (feat. Eminem) – Forgot About Dre
mp3: Dr. Dre (feat. Snoop Dogg, Kurupt and Nate Dogg) – The Next Episode
mp3: Dr. Dre (feat. Mary J Bilge and Rell) – The Message

This post might not actually last too long…..I’ve a sneaky feeling I might get a take-down notice.

JC

BURNING BADGERS VINYL (Part 16): SPECTRUM

Burning Badgers Vinyl – The Lost LPs #4

Soul Kiss(Glide Divine) – Spectrum (1992, Silvertone Records)

SWC writes……..

The second time I ever met Badger was outside a farm near the rain drenched Dartmoor market town called Okehampton (or, as the locals call it in honour of its rain drenched status, Soakhampton). It was at the height of the foot and mouth crisis and I can remember for a good three months the air on Dartmoor was thick with the smell of burning cows. It was a horrible time. I’d turned up there in a hire car, a brand new Honda Civic, which had 17 miles on the clock when I got in it and was so clean you could have fried your breakfast on it. By the time I’d got to the farm it was covered in mud. Badger was sitting cross legged on a massive tree stump drinking tea out of a mug that had “Farmers like it dirty” emblazoned on its side. He also, as usual, had a bacon sandwich in his left hand.

(Incidentally the official colour of the Honda Civic was something called ‘Nighthawk’. I also once drove a new Vauxhall Insignia that was apparently coloured ‘Bedouin’, something that inspired Badger and I to once compile a rundown of the best songs ever to contain a colour in the title, ‘Blue Monday’ came out on top unsurprisingly narrowly beating ‘Ruby Tuesday’ to the crown).

The previous time I’d met him had been about six weeks earlier at a Christmas Party where a very drunk Badger had explained to a semi interested crowd the mechanics of the bands The Libertines and Babyshambles with the aid of condiments such as brown sauce, small sachets of vinegar and a salt mill. He sort of pulled it off. I got the bus back to the wilds of South Devon with Badger that night and we spent the entire hour journey talking about our favourite bands. Although I almost moved seats when he said that one of the best records he owned was ‘Appetite For Destruction’.

Anyway, back to the farm, I can’t go into to why Badger was there, but I had to deliver something to him and it had to be hand delivered. The hand delivered thing was very sensitive and I was supposed to be a little bit careful with it. I don’t think I was supposed to advertise my arrival to the middle of nowhere by destroying the peace and quiet of the countryside by taking full advantage of the brand new and previously unused car stereo in the Honda Civic. But that’s’ what I did. I literally rocked up at this farm with ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine roaring away.

mp3: My Bloody Valentine – Sometimes

Badger told me he heard me coming through the village a full five minutes before I arrived. The word ‘full’ emphasised with a grin. He said it was the first time he had ever seen cows willingly engaging in shoegazing. On the other hand he said pointing to the field of crops to his left,

“My Bloody Valentine appear to be a very effective form of scaring off crows from fields. You should market that to the National Farmers Union, you want a cuppa?

Stupid question. Of course, I want a cuppa. Badger looks at me and asks “You ever seen MBV live?”. Nope I say…

In late 1991, a much younger and less grizzled Tim Badger caught a train from Leeds with his mates Aaron and Max and travelled down to London to see My Bloody Valentine. He wasn’t really a fan of the band, he thought that they were too bloody loud but they were also going to a football match so he tagged along. The gig was at the Town and Country Club (now the Forum), a legendary venue in Kentish Town. He told me all about that gig.

Christ, it was loud” he said, “from the first second they came on there was just smoke everywhere, and then constant feedback, and this wall of sound that made you teeth rattle and it was impossible to drink anything because of the throbbing noise your jaw was making, you couldn’t see anything, everyone was coughing and everyones ears hurt. I mean it was amazing but at least twenty people lost their hearing that night before the support had even finished”

Who was the support act I asked him. He looked at me and grinned, “It was Sonic Boom’s Spectrum and…” he said his voice dropping to a whisper…”they were way better than MBV, MBV were out of tune, half asleep and spoke in whispers to a crowd who had had their ear drums blasted by two hours of feedback. They could have been calling our mothers whores and we wouldn’t have had a clue” (the gig was 14th December 1991).

All of which gently rocking cows staring at their hooves (why has no one invented hoofgaze yet?), brings us to the fourth LP casually lifted from Badger’s Big Box of Records. It is, for those of you who haven’t read the top of the page, the debut album ‘Soul Kiss (Glide Divine)’, by the slightly less genius side of Spacemen 3, – Pete Kember, aka Sonic Boom and his band Spectrum.

As you will all know, I’m a sucker for anything Spacemen 3 related – I mean I even bought the album by The Darkside and I went to Lupine Howl’s first ever gig, but for some reason apart from the first track below I never explored Spectrum’s oeuvre, largely I think because the word ‘Spectrum’ always reminds me of a rubbish leisure centre in Guildford, where a 50 year old woman made a pass at a 20 year old me at a bus stop (it’s a story for another time).
Anyway, let’s start here, with the one track we should know about already.

mp3: Spectrum – How You Satisfy Me

Because that folks, is stone cold indie rock excellence from the opening swirls of that organ at the start, through the way it just kind of nicks a large part of a Troggs song (I forget which one) and tries to pretend it hasn’t. After that Kember just kinds of floats his lyrics about over and over again majestically. Essentially ‘How You Satisfy Me’ is one long chorus and one long riff but somehow, somehow, its garage rock perfection and if Kember stuck to that instead of making music that you sounded as you were sitting on a cloud, things might have been very different.

The rest of the album is a lot calmer and much more aligned with Sonic Boom’s later E.A.R. (Experimental Audio Research) work, more experimental and firmly embedded in the drone rock genre.

I’ll give you ‘Neon Sigh’ as an example of this. It kind of slowly uses drone effect and has this cool swirly sounds drifting in and out that kind of suggest something might happen, albeit it will be minimalistic when it does eventually happen.

Musically it would appear at least, that Sonic Boom’s Spectrum could argue that they were floating in space long before Jason Pierce stumbled upon the idea.

mp3: Spectrum – Neon Sigh

It’s not all experimental space drifting though, there are a bunch of actual songs, which are very pleasant. ‘Waves Wash Over Me’ stands out, if only for the vocals, which are ‘breezy’ shall we say.

mp3: Spectrum – Waves Wash Over Me

My favourite part of the album, apart from ‘How You Satisfy Me’ that is, is a track called “Sweet Running Water”. Which is in keeping with the watery theme running through the album, a slow and gentle waterfall of feedback and even softer rhythms. Outstanding.

mp3: Spectrum – Sweet Running Water

SWC

JC adds

All new to me…..and while it’s not something I would have tracked down at the time the fact that 1992 was a year in which very few copies of album were pressed onto vinyl means SWC is now the proud owner of a record which fetches the best part of £200 on the second-hand market.  As such, I type this PS with a tinge of jealousy…..

LANDFILL INDIE? – A FRESH SERIES FOR MONDAYS (Issue 2)

I’m typing this up before seeing any reaction to Issue 1, so I’m not sure if this will be the second and final part of the series or if in fact there is a wish from readers to see it continue, hopefully with a few guest contributions.

I own a vinyl copy of this week’s song:-

mp3: The Maccabees – About Your Dress

I’m not actually sure as to why I bought it back in 2007 other than the fact that I had maybe six months or so previously acquired my first USB turntable with the intention of converting loads of old vinyl into mp3s, and in the process, started up The Vinyl Villain in September 2006.  Thinking back, and looking at the overall vinyl collection, it was a period when I would pick up 7″ singles on spec when browsing in any of the independent shops, partly as I was wondering if I happened to pick something up by a then unknown or minor band who went on to be massive, then I might have something that would later become ‘valuable’ in my hands – as an aside, this has actually happened with the likes of the early Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad singles, (not that these were bought on spec!!).

About Your Dress is, sadly, indie-pop by numbers. It was a relatively minor hit, reaching #33, but this would actually prove to be The Maccabees biggest selling 45 in a career which spanned 2005-2015, during which all four of their albums went at least silver, (with a gold disc for 2012’s Given To The Wind).

I should mention that the single is on yellow vinyl – it was also available on blue vinyl with a slightly different sleeve and a different b-side recorded in the studio   Mine’s has this live version of their previous single

mp3: The Maccabees – First Love (live at University of London Union, 5 December 2006)

Oh, and by the way, I knew nothing of this lot before putting this piece together.  Turns out, they have the poshest collection of names I have ever seen in one group:-

Orlando Weeks – vocals, guitar, keyboards
Hugo White – guitars, backing vocals
Felix White – guitars, piano, backing vocals
Rupert Shepherd – bass
Robert Dylan Thomas – drums

Finally, I paid £3 for the single. A mint copy of it goes for £6 these days on Discogs.  Not bad for something that I’d say is very much landfill indie……..

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 34)

R.E.M.’s songs have provoked a lot of discussions over the years as to their meaning and inspirations. At My Most Beautiful has been interpreted in various ways, but for perhaps the only time in the band’s entire catalogue, there is nothing at all to interpret here – it’s just so blindingly obvious.

mp3: R.E.M. – At My Most Beautiful [radio remix]

At My Most Beautiful is a love song, pure and simple. Lyrically, for the first time, Stipe wrote from the point of view of being head over heels in love with someone who is also in love with him. It all started when the line “I’ve found a way to make you smile” popped into his head. “I just thought that’s the most beautiful thing in the world”. It took him a year to finish the lyrics while he tried to figure out what those ways to “make you smile” were. After a conversation with Patti Smith one morning, he eventually completed the lyrics in 45 minutes. He had grown tired of writing what he termed “ironic love songs” and set out to pen “the most romantic song I’d ever written”. And he did, the resulting lyric being playful and – dare I say it – “cute” (ugh! Pass the sick bucket), but devoid of the usual horrid clichés such songs usually resort to.

The word ‘smile’ wasn’t lost on Stipe either. All I knew was The Beach Boys had a record called Smile so I was like, ‘Well, this will be my gift to Peter, Mike and Bill’ [who were all Beach Boys fans].” Mike Mills wrote the basic piano track and immediately thought it sounded like something Brian Wilson might have written. When Peter Buck heard it, he thought the same. So they deliberately set about creating a Beach Boys homage. And that’s a point worth making: there are no pretensions here; if you think it sounds derivative, it’s really meant to be. And it’s not just the piano and vocals that are referenced. Buck plays drums on At My Most Beautiful, using legendary session drummer (and BB collaborator) Hal Blaine as direct inspiration.

For me, despite all those Beach Boys allusions (and maybe, in some ways, because of them), this is one of R.E.M.’s very best songs. It’s so straight-forward and honest, and beautifully arranged, it’s almost impossible to find fault with. Those vocal harmonies are absolutely divine. It would always make an R.E.M. mixtape/playlist where many other singles would not. I knew this from the first time I heard it and that’s not changed in 25 years.

For the single a remix of sorts was devised. However, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the differences. I think (to my ears, anyway) that as the intention was for the song to gain radio play, it was mixed so all the sounds were consolidated to be heard across both channels simultaneously. For instance, if you listen on a good pair of headphones, you may be able to notice that on the album version, the bass guitar is mainly on the left, while in the right ear you can hear bells. That distinction isn’t quite so clear on the so-called ‘radio remix’. But now I’m beginning to sound rather nerdy…

Released on 8th March 1999, At My Most Beautiful became the second top 10 hit off Up (the band’s 7th overall in the UK) when it landed squarely at #10 the following week. The usual three formats were on offer but the well was dry in terms of unreleased songs, so the live archives were plundered. Around the time of Up’s release, R.E.M. were the subject of a special episode of Later… With Jools Holland on the BBC in which they were the only band appearing. They played a set of 13 songs featuring 6 from Up, another half dozen from their back catalogue plus a cover version. For the b-sides of the final singles from Up, this show was sourced. So the cassette and standard CD included that cover, the second Iggy Pop song the band had issued in recent years:

mp3: R.E.M. – The Passenger [live on Later… With Jools Holland]

The CD also included a version of my all-time favourite R.E.M. song. I don’t actually care how often Country Feedback has been put out, you can never have too many versions of it!

mp3: R.E.M. – Country Feedback [live on Later… With Jools Holland]

The collector’s 3” CD eschewed the single version of the title track in favour of a version recorded just two days prior to the Jools show as part of a BBC radio session for none other than John Peel. It also included a classic oldie from the Jools Holland performance.

mp3: R.E.M. – At My Most Beautiful [live Peel Session, BBC Radio One]
mp3: R.E.M. – So. Central Rain [live on Later… With Jools Holland]

In spite of the commercial success of At My Most Beautiful, and the fact it was such a good song, sales of Up continued to falter, becoming the band’s least successful record since Document. The signs were that R.E.M. had not just reached their peak, but that they had begun their descent…

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #248: THE POEMS

So…..I knew that The Poems were a Scottish act, as they were one of those included on 3 x home-made CDs posted to me a few years back by long-time reader, Phil Hogarth.

It was a cover version and I quite liked it.  But I never seemed to come across any of their material in any shops and The Poems went out of my mind, until the other day when I realised it was about to be their turn in this long-running series, albeit I could only offer up the one song of theirs on the hard drive.

Here’s the very brief bio from all music:-

Influenced by literature as much as the best in Scottish pop, Glasgow’s the Poems feature former members of classic Scottish bands. Robert Hodgens (the Bluebells), Adrian Barry (the High Fidelity), and Bobby Paterson (Love and Money) were joined by vocalists Kerry Polwart and Amy Ogletree. The quintet signed on with Minty Fresh in the U.S. and released Young America in September 2006. The record includes contributions from members of Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Del Amitri, and the Proclaimers.

WTF????!!!!!!!!!

How did I miss that?????

Turns out that the album, while released in the US in September 2006, didn’t get a release in the UK until the summer of 2008, and yet I can’t recall ever reading anything about it at the time.  Nor is there much available on-line, which makes me think it was all a bit low-key….but then again, it might just be one of those times when I’ve missed out through ignorance.

And here’s the other thing, the track Phil included on the CDs isn’t to be found on the album, which I think might be all that The Poems ever officially released.

mp3: The Poems – 10.15 Saturday Night

Oh, and as I couldn’t find any promotional images of the band anywhere on t’internet, I’ve illustrated the post with the logo of the Chicago-based label.

There’s no sign of the UK release of Young America on Discogs, and there are no copies up for sale from any UK dealers, which means it would have to be an expensive purchase of a CD in the post-Brexit era…..anyone out there able to offer any assistance?

JC

 

NOT FROM NEWPORT……

I’m willing to be corrected, as I know there’s a few of you out there who know far more about the band than I ever will, but here’s my stab at a bio for The Darling Buds, drawn and compiled from a few sources.

They formed in South Wales in 1986 – in Caerleon to be precise, a fact I’m well aware of as I was previously advised by a Welsh friend that Caerleon is most certainly distinct from Newport.   Consisting of the 19-year-old Andrea Lewis, billed simply as “Andrea”, guitarist Geraint Farr, billed as “Harley”, and a bassist known simply as Simon, the drumming was originally performed by a machine, which may indeed have been manufactured by Eko, but I can’t say for certain.

The group’s debut single, “If I Said”, was self-released in February 1987 and was well-received. The group moved to Native Records, during which time the line-up was re-organised, with Andrea and Harley being joined by new bassist Chris McDonagh and drummer Richard Gray (billed as “Bloss”) and two singles were released.

Signing with Epic Records (part of the Sony Group) in 1988, they cracked the charts with Burst (#50) and Hit The Ground (#27) in advance of a Top 30 debut LP, Pop Said in January 1989.  Two further singles from the album – Let’s Go Round There (#49) and You’ve Got To Choose (#45) were minor hits, much to the disappointment of the label who really had high hopes, probably much of them pinned on the looks of the young, blonde singer.

In advance of the follow-up album, drummer Bloss left the band and was replaced by Jimmy Hughes from Black. Released in September 1990, Crawdaddy, proved to be a flop, as did the singles lifted from it.  Undaunted, and still with Epic, the band released a third album, Erotica, in September 1992,  just a matter of weeks before Madonna‘s album of the same name.

One of the tracks from the album, Long Day in the Universe, which was featured on the soundtrack for the Mike Myers film, So I Married an Axe Murderer which helped give some additional exposure in the USA in particular.  The band toured the States in support of the album but, like many others, grew increasingly frustrated by their lack of commercial success and disbanded before the year was out.

Fast-forward to July 2010. The band came together for a one-off tribute concert in their native Newport in memory of John Sicolo, the owner of the music venue TJ’s who died earlier in the year; only Andrea of the original members was part of the reunion. Four years later, reacting to calls from fans, a London show was arranged after which there were appearances at various festivals, including Indietracks in 2015, an occasion when my good mate and sidekick Aldo would likely have seen them. This would later lead to the recording of an EP, Evergreen, issued by Oddbox Records in April 2017, and the first new material by The Darling Buds in 25 years.

The band is still on the go, with an active Facebook page, which advises that, if restrictions are lifted, they are scheduled to play a show in Newport on 15 May 2021.

Here’s a handful of tracks, all from the earliest days, from a greatly underrated band:-

mp3: The Darling Buds – If I Said
mp3: The Darling Buds – Burst
mp3: The Darling Buds – Shame On You

And from a compilation album featuring the bands that appeared at Indietracks 2015:-

mp3: The Darling Buds – Sure Thing

This was originally released on Erotica back in 1995.

JC

MESSAGE FOR JOJO

As far as I can work out, it was as far back as 1995 that Bernard Butler and Edwyn Collins started collaborating, with the initial fruits being the co-writing of some songs which would find their way onto Edwyn’s singles as extra tracks, together with Bernard taking on production duties. This would be just a year or so after he had left Suede and immediately after work had been completed on promoting the McAlmont & Butler early singles and debut album.

I recall seeing the two of them appearing on The White Room, a music programme on Channel 4 which was hosted by Mark Radcliffe in which they covered a Python Lee Jackson number, one which had been recorded in the late 60s but only became a hit in 1972 thanks to the fact that the unknown session singer they had used, Rod Stewart, was riding very high both as a solo star and the frontman of The Faces

Edwyn would put his version of In A Broken Dream on CD1 of If You Could Love Me, his follow-up single to A Girl Like You.

Fast-forward to 2001. And the release of this single on Setanta Records, the label which to which Edwyn had been signed since the early 90s:-

mp3: Bernard & Edwyn – Message For Jojo

It didn’t get anywhere near the charts….I’m not sure how many folk in addition to myself bought it (the sticker on the front of the CD case tells me I paid £2.99 from Tower Records). It’s a pleasant enough single without being ground-breaking…..the lead vocal is taken by Bernard when it undoubtedly would have been better handled by Edwyn. But believe me, it is a song that gets better with repeated listens…..and the chorus does become quite infectious after a while.

There were two other tracks on the CD single:-

mp3 : Bernard & Edwyn – Can’t Do That (The Hoover)
mp3 : Bernard & Edwyn – Clean

The former is a very bizarre but immensely likeable five and a bit minutes. There’s a hint of the sort of dance music played by Air about it. I reckon if it was played to you for the first time with no hint who was involved, you would have got long odds on guessing it was a collaboration between the former guitarist in Suede and the former frontman of Orange Juice.

The latter is a bit disappointing after what has gone before. It’s a bit of a nondescript ballad if truth be told…..but you may have a different viewpoint. Again, I feel it might have benefited from Edwyn taking lead vocal…….

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : PORCUPINE

Album: Porcupine – Echo & The Bunnymen
Review: NME, 22 January 1983
Author: Barney Hoskyns

Perhaps it was inevitable, even decreed in some heaven up “there”. Maybe it’s just the third time unlucky. But if Porcupine isn’t good it isn’t because it lets you down. It fails, aggressively and bitterly it fails.

Porcupine is the distressing occasion of an important and exciting rock group becoming ensnared by its own strongest points, a dynamic force striving fruitlessly to escape the brilliant track that trails behind it.

Out of confusion or compulsion, the Bunnymen in Porcupine are turning on their own greatest “hits” and savaging them. In the name of what – pain? doubt? – Heaven Up Here said Yes We Have No Dark Things; now every former whisper of sickness returns in full volume. What one hears is a group which cannot flee its own echo. Porcupine is obviously deficient in vital unquantifiables but it’s just as obviously obsessive in its refusal of them. One feels it is the painful struggle to begin anew – and not from ashes either – that has determined the profound stasis, the agonising frustration of this record.

From the very beginning, the single ‘The Cutter’, Porcupine uses all the group’s key hooks, all the inimitable beats and bridges of ‘Crocodiles’ and ‘Heaven’, but ruthlessly strips them of the fervour that has so often bristled this reviewer’s quills. For starters, commercially ‘The Cutter’ isn’t so much as lined up for the TOTP race. Apart from an exaggeratedly Bowiesque bridge passage – a pastiche of ‘Heroes’ – the song (which may or may not be concerned with death’s scythe) is hopelessly lacking in the poppy intensity of ‘The Back Of Love’. And aside from the sitar introduction (which like the Bowie interlude crops up again in ‘Heads Will Roll’) the sound is striking only in its ordinariness.

Most people would have taken the chords of ‘The Back Of Love’ at half the speed the Bunnymen do. I thought it one of 1982’s best crude blowouts but it has little to do with Porcupine and sticks out almost obtrusively as an isolated moment of affirmation. From thereon-in, the album is non-stop anxiety. The remaining eight songs are really one long staggered obsequy to Heaven Up Here.

To begin with, Ian McCulloch’s poetry has grown oppressively more vague and difficult, although (again) you wonder whether simpler musical frameworks might not have inspired simpler, more direct lyrics. I’d like to think ‘My White Devil’ was a song of obsession and cruelty, but its opening lines rather dampen one’s enthusiasm: “John Webster was one of the best there was/He was the author of two major tragedies…” Very succinctly put, but what the intention behind this bald statement is I haven’t the faintest clue. One great moment rears up out of the “mist of error” when the song’s sense of panic rises to a claustrophobic climax of overlapping voices only to fall back into the lifeless refrain it escaped, but this is not enough to salvage the song in one’s memory. If I could make out more of what McCulloch was singing I’d probably unearth a few extra burial metaphors from ‘The Duchess Of Malfior’ (sic).

‘Clay’ continues in the same vein, with another torture-chamber opening and a discordant clash between Mac’s diffident vocal and Sargeant’s guitar twisting below like a knife in the stomach. But as we hit lines like “When I fell apart, I wasn’t made of sand/When you came apart, clay crumbled in my hand”, or “oh isn’t it nice, when your heart is made out of ice?”, the Jacobean psychedelia gets a little heavy-handed.

It’s as though the group had denied itself the luxury of simplicity, of what they perhaps take to be some too transparent “power” of rock. The firmly grounded structures of ‘Show Of Strength’ and ‘With A Hip’ are subverted, undermined by melodies that, like Webster’s “ship in a black storm”, know not whither they go. This Echo is less upfront, shorn of its poise and confidence. Ian Broudie’s production introduces more background activity – more keyboard, more percussive embellishment; in place of synthesisers, warped, sliding strings recall The White Album or Their Satanic Majesties Request; grating, ghostly effects hearken back to Walter Carlos’s ‘Clockwork Orange’; guitars backfire as though in a fit. Yet while all these random contingencies are part of the same drive to transcend, they succeed only in calling attention to that drive’s failure: the songs themselves remain fundamentally dead.

Only on ‘Porcupine’ itself do the various strains of despair coalesce. A kind of ‘All My Colours’ on a bad trip, its final exhausted throes are as draining (and as moving) as the bleakest moments of ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ but devoid of The Fall’s humour: just a voice crying against nothing, a beat banging on into the void. As the sound fades into darkness, a slight voice claims to have “seen the light”.

“Missing the point of our mission” , sings McCulloch dolefully, “will we become misshapen?” – the somewhat forced alliteration aside, that is probably the most candidly revealing line on the record. But if the song ‘Porcupine’ is the most shockingly dispirited thing Echo And The Bunnymen have ever done, Side Two horrifies the more for its uniform lack of inspiration, for the fact that every number cops direct from earlier songs without preserving anything of their energy or invention. Traits such as Mac’s trick of singing a line in one octave and then repeating it in a higher one have become stale and predictable trademarks.

Webster’s worms may wriggle in the intestines of these songs but to the ear it is music which sounds destitute of first-hand feeling. ‘Heads Will Roll’ commences like a Mamas And Papas drug song before plunging like ‘The Cutter’ into an enervated echo of Bowie. “If we ever met in a private place” , sings Mac, referring perhaps to Andrew Marvell’s “fine and private place” (i.e. the grave), “I would stare you into the ground/That’s how I articulate…” So now you know. Another very probable lit. ref. lies in ‘Ripeness’ (Porcupine’s bloodletting of ‘A Promise’), this time to Keats and King Lear, as in the bursting of Joy’s grape, men enduring their going hence as their coming hither, etc. “How will we recall the ripeness when it’s over?” Is McCulloch’s plaintive phrasing of the theme, but since this song has already burst its skin one might almost read it as a lament for the loss of the group’s own ripeness.

‘Higher Hell’, ‘Gods Will Be Gods’, and ‘In Bluer Skies’ drift yet further into a subliminal state of suspension whose every measure has already been worn to the bone (“bones will be bones” , goes ‘Gods’). “Just like my lower heaven, you know so well my higher hell” . Here it’s all but confessed that what was once their heaven has turned into a hellish mire of their own making, the damnation of a style from which they cannot break free. They can only struggle from side to side, wearing away what was once a perfectly fit abode for their sound.

Porcupine takes the Bunnymen as far as beyond the Doors-meet-Television happy death pop of ‘Crocodiles’ as is either conceivable or desirable. It makes ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Villiers Terrace’ look like nursery rhymes. I wonder if they’ll ever again write such a formidable youth song as ‘Pride’: that marvellous probing of the rock quartet’s limits, that rich, vigorous economy, all that may have gone for good.

Did they perhaps always mistake their hell for a heaven, or is this album, originally titled “Higher Hell”, the conscious obverse of Heaven Up Here? Are their deaths too high or did they aim too low?

Porcupine groans behind bars, an animal trapped by its own defences. Where the Banshees, always in danger of the same stagnation, can still amaze with a ‘Cocoon’ or a ‘Slowdive’, Echo And The Bunnymen are stuck in their grooves, polarised between ‘Pornography’ and ‘Movement’. They must haul themselves out. Instead of panicking at the approach of doubt they must celebrate it. To Mac must I say, as was said to the Duchess herself, “End your groan and come away.”

JC adds…….

It’s fair enough to argue that Porcupine is a lesser album than Crocodiles or Heaven Up Here, but this is a ridiculous hatchet job from the then 23-year-old Barney Hoskyns whose career as a music writer was beginning to take off. Would you be surprised to hear that he entered the profession on the back of a first-class honours degree in English from Oxford University?   He certainly uses enough big words and the confidence in his views and opinions ooze from each barbed paragraph.

It’s another example of the music press turning on a former darling(s) for having the cheek to seek out mainstream success by penning hit singles and bringing in a new producer to add a bit of pop sprinkle to the sound.  The band did have the last laugh, with Porcupine hitting #2 in the charts (still their best success in that regard), and spawning two top 20 hit singles, as well as laying the foundations for the release of Never Stop, a non-album single which also went Top 20.  Oh, and the NME in its critics poll at the end of the year had it the album at #32….I’m assuming Mr Hoskyns had his dissent recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

My own reaction back in 1983 was that Porcupine was a bit of a strange beast.  The Cutter and The Back of Love remain two of the most definitive songs from the whole decade by any singer or band, but other than Heads Will Roll (and perhaps Clay to a lesser extent) none of the other eight tracks on the album are really anything like them.  That’s not to say that they felt truly disappointing or second-rate, but the difficulty is that the quality of the songs on the first two albums had been so high that, even with a two-year gap since Heaven Up Here, it was going to be very tough to keep such high standards.

I could go on, dissecting the review on a line-by-line basis, but I’ll leave it there, taking comfort in the knowledge that the ‘build ’em up, knock ’em down culture’ on show here has always been part of the cultural landscape in the UK and often is a knee-jerk reaction from snobs who hate commercial success.

I picked up a second-hand copy of Porcupine a few months ago – it was an album that a flatmate had bought on the day of its release and I never got round to buying my own copy, although it would become an early CD purchase in later years.  These are from the vinyl:-

mp3: Echo & The Bunnymen – Clay
mp3: Echo & The Bunnymen – Gods Will Be Gods
mp3: Echo & The Bunnymen – Heads Will Roll
mp3: Echo & The Bunnymen – In Bluer Skies

The thing is, having got the vinyl and given it a spin, I found myself actually enjoying the album much more than I did back in 1983…..but then again, that was a year when The Smiths, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, Altered Images, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Style Council, The Go-Betweens, New Order, The Cure Billy Bragg, PiL, The The, Cocteau Twins, The Fall and Paul Haig, to name but a few, released immense singles and/or albums, so it was a crowded market with very few records on repeated play…especially in a shared flat!

JC

THE DEBUT SINGLE FOR THE MINOR MAJOR LABEL….

Everything But The Girl have featured here on quite a few occasions before, and there have been very welcome words, thoughts and opinions from a number of contributors, but I think this is the first time there has been a look specifically at Each and Every One, a significant single for a number of reasons.

The duo had previously released their debut 45, a cover of the Cole Porter classic Night and Day, on Cherry Red Records in the summer of 1982, following which the label released solo albums by both Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt.

While this was all happening, Geoff Travis of Rough Trade and Mike Alway of Cherry Red were busy talking to WEA Records in which they presented an idea of how an indie-label could be set-up, managed and most importantly of all, financed by a major label without the singers/bands being accused of selling-out. Here’s an extract from an interview given by Travis back in 1996:-

Q: How did you create the Blanco Y Negro label with Warner Brothers?

A: A friend of mine, Mike Alway, was the head of the Cherry Red label. He was fed up with his bosses- he thought they weren’t backing his judgment. I said “why don’t you start your own label?” I couldn’t really integrate him into Rough Trade. What I was thinking was we’d start an indepedent label but what he was thinking of was starting a label but doing it with a major (record label). I wanted to work with Mike so I said OK. We went to the head of Warner Brothers with the idea. We got Tracey Thorn and about thirteen other acts. That taught me about how the corporates work and what it meant to be on the inside. What it really meant was we could really sign the bands we wanted to. Some bands wanted to work with us but we didn’t have the resources for them before that.

Q: When making the deal with Warner Brothers, did you have any misgivings about working with a major label?

A: I didn’t really. People always said that we discovered hundreds of bands but we never kept them. We felt terrible about that because we knew what we were doing. One of the things that made me take this seriously was when Scritti Politti left us and signed to Virgin. Aztec Camera left us and signed to Warners. They said, in so many ways, that if they had known what we were going to do (with Blanco Y Negro), they would have stayed with us. It would have been nice to keep them but financial restraints made it impossible for them to stay. There has to be a balance- people have to make a living. That’s very important. I think that you can have your cake and eat it in the sense that you can do what you want to do without compromising.

I have the philosophy that it’s interesting to see what happens on the other side of the fence. The Jesus and Mary Chain had been on Creation and they didn’t enjoy that. They wanted to sign to a major. Have we been tainted and corrupted by our association with Warners? I don’t know. You’d have to ask the people we work with.

Everything But The Girl had the honour of being the first to issue anything on the new label, in April 1984, with the 7″ having the catalogue number NEG1.

The 12″, from which these have been ripped, has NEG1-T stamped on the inner label:-

mp3: Everything But The Girl – Each and Everyone
mp3: Everything But The Girl – Laugh You Out The House
mp3: Everything But The Girl – Never Could Have Been Worse

Apologies for the fact that the recordings are a bit hissy and sub-standard in places…blame it on the poor pressing and the age of the vinyl.

All three songs are well worth your time, but I’ve a really soft spot for the last of them as it is so reminiscent of The Smiths who, at this point in time, had not long released their debut album with the next 45 Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, about to take them to new heights.

Each and Everyone got as high as #28 in the UK singles charts, but to almost everyone’s disbelief did not provide the springboard for future hits with none of the next nine singles making the Top 40 – indeed only one made the Top 50 – and it wasn’t until the summer of 1988, and their cover of I Don’t Want To Talk About It, before they became more familiar faces to the record buying public.

JC

LANDFILL INDIE? – A FRESH SERIES FOR MONDAYS (Issue 1)

It occurred to me, as I was typing up a few words for the PS to Jonny’s ICA on Clearlake, that the first few years after the millennium coincided with a revival of guitar-led ‘indie-pop’ style music in the UK.  It was probably more closely aligned to the Britpop era than to any part of the 80s, although it was evident that many of the singers and musicians were happy to declare their influences from both decades when talking to the media, be that print or digital.

There’s a school of thought that the immense success and popularity of the likes of The Strokes, The Libertines and Bloc Party had record company execs scrambling around for the next big thing, leading to far too many ordinary bands being signed up, only to be dropped after one or two albums, with the CDs ending up primarily in charity shops or being thrown out in the rubbish. These groups and bands went on to attract, from some, the derogatory term ‘landfill indie.’  It seems that the phrase was coined by Andrew Harrison in an article of his that was published in The Word, a monthly music magazine, back in 2008.

There was a wee bit of an on-line debate last year in which some folk ridiculed all the bands from the era, on the grounds that none of what emerged was original nor has it proven to have had any longevity or sustainability.  Others, taking less of a highfalutin view, were quick to point out that quite a few of the bands, and their songs, were more than decent.

So, the idea of this new series  – and again I’m happy to have guest contributions come in for inclusion – is to pick out a song from the era and to pose the question, should it be cast into the landfill site, or does it have enough merit to warrant saving?’

Feel free to join in or ignore as you see fit.

First up is a band from Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

Hot Hot Heat are one of those who are more akin to the 80s, and indeed earlier, less likely from their geography to be influenced by Britpop. They were a hard working, touring band back in the day, a situation that led to Sub Pop Records signing them in 2001.

Debut album Make Up the Breakdown came out the following year, scoring high among the critics on the increasingly-influential blogs and websites, helped in no short measure by the fact they were on a label still thought to be hip a full decade after Nirvana had helped bring it to wider attention. It was given a 4-star review by the music critic of the Guardian newspaper over here:-

While most Canadian bands look south of the 49th parallel for inspiration, the Victoria, British Columbia quartet have more anglophile tastes, from XTC and Elvis Costello to the Clash and the Cure.

Every song appears to conform to some post-punk code of practice: cities are always scary, girls are always confusing and there’s always room for a spot of reggae skanking.

Crucially, Hot Hot Heat have also learned the art of the three-minute pop song. Make Up the Breakdown zips by in a giddy blur of taut punk-funk grooves and insanely catchy choruses.

Highlights such as Bandages and Get In or Get Out sound like lost classics buried in 1982 and only recently disinterred.

Dorian Lynskey, 28 March 2003

The lead single from the album, is one, I would argue is worth retaining and not being added to the landfill.

mp3: Hot Hot Heat – Bandages

It entered the charts at #25 in the first week of April 2003. But then it was removed from radio in the UK, from the playlist at BBC Radio 1, in the light of the war in the Middle East. Within two weeks, it was out of the Top 100….understandable since there was nowhere to actually hear it unless you had bought it!

The success of the debut album, which also spawned one further Top 40 hit in the UK – No Not Now (#38, August 2003) led to the band being offered and signing a contract with Warner Brothers. It took until 2005 until the next album was released, by which time the original guitarist, Dante de Carlo, had left albeit he appeared on the album but choosing to vacate things in advance of the promotional tour.

Hot Hot Heat kind of disappeared off the radar in the UK after 2005, but there were another three albums between 2007 and 2016 (one on Warners, one on a Californian-indie and the last being self-financed), before they called it a day.

Any thoughts?

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 33)

Up is an album unlike anything R.E.M. ever made before or would ever make again. It was certainly their most experimental with all kinds of things going on. You won’t find a more diverse mix of styles on any of their records like you get in the first six songs on Up. Some of those styles were never revisited (in the case of Hope, that’s such a shame) while others became the R.E.M. sound of the early noughties.

It’s certainly an odd one, and whereas the album’s first single gave us something we might have expected from R.E.M. a few years earlier, the next track was a one-off. Lotus appears as track two on Up, immediately following the ethereal, ambient electronica of Airportman, surely one of the most un-R.E.M. songs they ever made. But then, Lotus is also rather off-kilter. Built around a funky groove led by Mike Mills’ organ, Lotus is somewhat restrained in its arrangement while at the same time flaunting its glitzy, glammy sexiness for all to see. It screams: “I’m a hit single! Release me, release me!”

That is until you get to grips with Michael Stipe’s lyrics. The song’s protagonist is a troubled soul, struggling with depression, longing for a more peaceful state of mind. The second verse illustrates this best of all:

Storefront window, I reflect
Just last week I was merely heck
Tip the scale, I was hell
It picked me up, then I fell
Who’s this stranger?
Crowbar spine
Dot, dot, dot, and I feel fine
Let it rain, rain, rain
Bring my happy back again

The Lotus of the title may therefore be a reference to the lotus flower, believed to produce calming, psychoactive properties when ingested. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus inadvertently lands on an island where the primary food is the fruit and flower of the lotus plant. It caused the inhabitants to sleep peacefully and forget everything. Stipe’s lotus eater may be trying to reach that state in order to relieve his torment. The lotus here, therefore, may be anti-depressant medication, or illegal narcotics like heroin or meth. I’m not hopeful for the poor wretch, either way.

There’s all sorts of things going on in Lotus that you don’t necessarily pick up on straightaway. Buck’s guitars are laced with swirling psychedelic effects, Stipe’s vocals are delivered rhythmically as opposed to melodically, and there are lots of little bleeps and buzzes on the backing tracks that perhaps fill the sound out more than you think they would. Grab your headphones and turn the volume up for this one. And of course, you’ll have noticed the reference to an old classic in those lyrics too…

mp3: R.E.M. – Lotus

Lotus opened more or less every show on the subsequent Up tour. It was released as a single on 7th December 1998 and reached a disappointing #26 in the UK charts. As much as it screamed and screamed, it clearly wasn’t as big or important as it thought it was. There were three formats; the cassette and standard CD included a throwaway instrumental like those they always insisted on including on such releases.

mp3: R.E.M. – Surfing The Ganges

The CD also gave us a remix of the title track. I’m not quite sure what anyone hoped to achieve here, but this remix doesn’t really offer a great deal more than the original does. Sure, it sounds quite different in places, but it’s ultimately the same song with some bits turned up, some bits turned down, a couple of extra effects thrown in here and there… Am I being unkind here, or could Lotus have yielded something so much better from a remix?

mp3: R.E.M. – Lotus [weird mix]

The collectible 3” CD contained the title track and a live, in the studio take, of another song from Up, Suspicion, the track which follows Lotus on the album. As you’ll find out in a couple of weeks, this is not my favourite R.E.M. moment.

mp3: R.E.M. – Suspicion [live in the studio]

From a purely personal point of view, I’ve always liked Lotus. In fact, the first time I heard it I grinned from ear to ear. While it’s not the novelty some previous singles have shown themselves to be, I can’t say it has aged terribly well – it’s very late-90s. It also wasn’t the best track from Up. In fact, the next single would prove to be one of the finest of R.E.M.’s entire career…

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #248: POCKET KNIFE

From the website of Olive Grove Records

Pocket Knife are an electrifying synth-pop duo, based in Glasgow

When Louise Connor first moved to Glasgow from her native France, she got that bug that many folk first visiting the city get. She decided that she wanted to start a band. After sticking up posters around the city emblazoned with “Got Skills? That’s okay, we don’t either. Wanna start a band anyway?”. Only two people replied, one of whom was bassist Michael Nimmo and from there, Pocket Knife was born. For completeness, the other person to reply to the posters was Stuart Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian fame, who in the end decided not to join the band, but did end up coming round to Louise’s for a cup of tea and a flapjack. That’s a story for another day.

With a whole host of super catchy pop tunes that ooze joy and rattle with a fizzing energy, their live shows (often featuring dancing sub-aquatic life) have become the thing of local legend in Glasgow. Citing influences as diverse as The Shangri-Las to Shonen Knife, the duo describe their music as “synth-pop to dance limply to”.

Their new Archipelago Volume 3 EP, is the follow-up to their debut single, ‘Fish Song’ which caused quite a stir on its release in late 2018, seeing the band going on to play a number of festivals in the summer of 2019.

The combination of Connor’s witty, deadpan vocals with Nimmo ‘s slinky fuzz bass makes listening to Pocket Knife like receiving a jugular shot of joviality, akin to a hug from a stranger. Swaying between dreamy and bouncy, irreverent and stern, lead track ‘No Benefits’, lets you into Connor’s world of disappointment with an ex-boyfriend and her hope that ”I’ll always make your new girlfriends uncomfortable”, whilst Custard Cream is an upbeat rumination on a libido unchecked.  Manger Constructeur, on which Connor sings in her native language, roughly translates to ‘Eating Builder’, is a reflection on an eccentric cook from Marseille. This is an EP that slips tenderness and rage into an envelope of insouciance, nestling musically somewhere between dance-punk and french yéyé. Pocket Knife’s catchy synth-pop rhythms, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, demonstrate why they are a band that you need in your life right now.

mp3: Pocket Knife – No Benefits

JC adds…..

Pocket Knife are one of twelve acts who have contributed to Get Into The Grove, an album released late last year to mark the 10th Anniversary of Olive Grove Records, one of the finest labels to emerge out of Scotland in recent times.

The label is run by Lloyd Meredith, someone I’m proud to call a friend, and who I got to know in many years back when he was also a music blogger. He had the vision and courage to take things to a different level, and 2021 will hopefully see the label continue to thrive despite the challenges and difficulties it has faced from the COVID crisis, not least that there have been no live gigs for almost a full year.

Please click here to be taken to the bandcamp page for the label.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve shelled out for copies of the album, on vinyl, to offer for free to three lucky TVV readers.  All you have to do, no later than Sunday 28 February, is email

thevinylvillain@hotmail.co.uk

with the answer to the following question (the answer to which can be found at said bandcamp page):-

“What was the precise date for the release of Get Into The Grove?”

All correct entries will be put into a hat, with three names drawn out at the end of the month.  The idea is to give each winner a vinyl copy of the record, but if you’d prefer a digital copy, please indicate this in your e-mail entry.

Good luck!!

JC

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY S.C.

I don’t do this every year, but I’m giving a birthday shout out to S.C. ,pictured above a few seconds after he’s read a posting by SWC (only kiddin’…… he’s a huge fan!)

My young brother turns 55 today, which is fast approaching the era of the bus pass, although I’m not sure if there is such a thing called public transport in the neighbourhood of Oviedo, Florida where he has resided for a few years now.

I think he’ll approve of these tunes.

mp3: U2 – Gloria
mp3: The Bluebells – Young At Heart
mp3: Simple Minds – Waterfront
mp3: Spear of Destiny – Liberator
mp3: Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Lost Weekend

Have a great day bro. Hopefully, I’ll see you at some point soon after all this COVID stuff blows over.

JC

SUNLIGHT BATHED THE GOLDEN GLOW

The opening notes of Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow, a cult single by Felt do, it surely has to be admitted, carry more than a passing resemblance to Just Like Heaven, a huge hit single by The Cure:-

mp3: Felt – Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow

The thing is, the Felt single pre-dates that from The Cure by three years…..did Mr Smith indulge in a little touch of plagiarism or is it mere coincidence?

Sunlight…was the fifth of the ten singles released by Felt between 1981 and 1988.  The band also released ten albums in the time they were together and yes, the symmetry was deliberate.  It dates from 1984, a tremendous year for sophisticated jingly-jangly indie pop songs, with The Smiths, Go-Betweens, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole and The Commotions and Prefab Sprout (just to mention a few!!) all at the top of their game.

Lawrence is joined on vocals by Rose McDowall of Strawberry Switchblade, to the extent that she overpowers him in many places – it doesn’t quite work as well for me as the collaboration with Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins on the band’s sixth single, Primitive Painters, which came out in 1985.

My preference is for the re-recorded version which appeared later on the album The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories, released towards the end of 1984. But then again, that’s probably because it is closer in sound to the other bands who were around that year.

mp3: Felt – Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow (album version)

The words ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow’ had actually been used as part of the opening couplet to a 1983 single, one which I have featured previously on the blog, but this gives me the perfect excuse to share it again.

mp3: Felt – Penelope Tree

Oh, and if any of you perhaps wish to cast doubt on the fact that Robert Smith ripped off Lawrence, then have a listen to the instrumental track on the b-side of Sunlight…

mp3: Felt – Sunlight Strings

The case for the prosecution rests m’lord.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #279 : CLEARLAKE

A GUEST POSTING by JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

Almost 20 years ago I was at The El Rey Theatre here in LA.

GTFP and I were there to see Ben Folds 5, who were about as popular as they were ever going to get. While waiting for the band to come on the house DJ played a song I didn’t recognize that really grabbed my attention. The booth is in the middle of the floor so I rolled up and asked what it was. “‘Almost the Same’ by Clearlake.” Who? “Clearlake.” Where are they from? “I don’t know.” What album is it on? “I don’t know.” Do they have any other records? “I don’t know.”

Alrighty then. I soon found the album ‘Cedars’ from which the song came, and also bought the first album, ‘Lido.’ Both were released on Domino Records. I learned the band was from Brighton. A couple of years later Clearlake’s third album, ‘Amber’, was released, also on Domino. I have now disclosed everything I know about Clearlake.

So, three albums: Lido (2001), Cedars (2003), and Amber (2006). No official releases after those. No idea what became of the band. Wiki says they recorded a fourth LP that was never released. Apparently, they put out a couple of online-only singles, but I never heard them. The band website is offline. They do not have a social media presence. Not one of my friends has ever heard of them. I included a Clearlake song on an ICA a few months back (Sunday Evening, from Lido); it might have been the only time the band featured on TVV.

I wish I knew more about Clearlake because I really love the songs. They’re clever, in an English way, and they’re well-constructed, recorded and produced. The lyrics can be really funny. The playing is tight and tasteful, whether it’s a slow tune or a rocking number. But, I got nothing. So, here’s an ICA. Since I have no context or memories attached to the band it’s just 10 of my favorite Clearlake songs in alphabetical order, starting with the one I heard at the El Rey.

Anyone heard them? Anyone seen them? If somebody in the TVV crowd knows anything about Clearlake please say so. I feel like I should get their photo printed on milk cartons…

JONNY

JC adds…..Jonny is correct in saying that Clearlake haven’t featured, in their own right, on the blog before.  But, from my perspective, that’s because I operate on the basis that if you can’t say anything good or positive about a singer or a band, then you should say nothing at all (which is why I take great delight when guest contributors fill in gaps through ICAs and/or other thoughts, views and opinions.).

I have copies of Lido and Cedars on CD.  I picked them up as one of the record shops was doing a special deal with releases on Domino Records and Clearlake was a band who had been talked up a fair bit in the monthly music magazines, along with the occasional broadsheet newspaper article.  I maybe listened to the CDs two or three times before deciding they weren’t my cup of tea (which these days, if anyone is interested, is made with these, no milk and no sugar).

Domino Records website describes Clearlake’s output as ‘poignant and atmospheric’.  Being signed to an indie rather than a major label meant that Clearlake were given a bit more time to eke out their sound and weren’t under pressure to have hit singles, but it always felt to me that Domino hoped they would prove to make the sort of breakthrough that Doves and Elbow both managed, with the critics staying on board while the CDs flew off the shelves.  I don’t think the songs were strong enough, nor distinct enough, to allow that to happen.

But, as mentioned earlier, I love that Jonny has pulled this together – I’m sure there’s a few folk out there who have some fond memories of Clearlake.