THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 40)

Reveal hadn’t gone down too well with fans or critics and Warner Brothers were getting edgy about the multi-million dollar/multi-album deal they had signed with the band in the mid 90s. It was time to recoup some cash and so, in October 1993, a Greatest Hits package was put into the shops, perfectly timed for the Xmas market.

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988 -2003 pulled together 18 songs, with a running length almost precisely what could be fitted onto a single CD. Fifteen singles, one song previously only available on the soundtrack to the film Vanilla Sky and two new songs made up the package. There was a limited two-disc edition which offered up some b-sides and rarities, while there was also a DVD featuring all the promos. I believe there was also a limited edition double-album vinyl version.

It all added up to a huge success in that In Time went to #1 and indeed in just two months sold enough copies in the UK to be the tenth best selling CD of 2007.

I’m assuming all, or at least most of you, visit the blog for more than this long-running but hopefully informative look back the R.E.M. singles. If so, you will know that I’ve been pulling out old reviews from bygone days, composed by professionally paid writers and looking to see if their opinions/views/thoughts have stood up well in later years. I’m going to perform the same service today, with a fairly scathing review by Stephen Dalton in the NME; I’ve edited it down a bit as it was a considerable length, but the last line is intact and is one I remember distinctly as I wished, when reading it, that I’d come up with it:-

“The borderline between evergreen alt-rock elder statesmen and deathless careerist dinosaurs is often very hazy. R.E.M. were certainly a vital cultural force when they first signed to a major label 15 years ago….

When the mainstream US media was awash with mullet-haired metal clowns, Stipe and co offered a genuine antidote to Reagan-Thatcher macho triumphalism that was intelligent, bookish, sexually ambivalent and steeped in a quasi-literary Americana.

When grunge raged and howled, R.E.M. went eloquently quiet, applauding the punk spirit while retreating even deeper into rootsy Americana. Two landmark stadium-folk albums in the early 1990s became multi-million-sellers and clarion calls for incoming president Clinton’s vision of a caring, sharing superpower.

Stipe was iconic, intriguing, untouchable.

But then came – what? Overexposure? Flimsy rebel credentials tamed by success? Retreat into wealth-cushioned playboy-liberal bohemianism? Just as the prosaic realpolitik of Clinton diluted R.E.M.’s mildly left-leaning edge, so the death of Kurt Cobain pulled the alt-rock rug from under them.

A massive $80 million contract renewal in 1996 and drummer Bill Berry’s departure in 1997 further strained R.E.M’s image as the Last Indie Noblemen. And their output was becoming pleasantly inessential tunes, from the opiated lullaby ‘All The Way To Reno’ to the swooning waltz of ‘Daysleeper’, but they were now firmly entrenched as official poster boys for Nick Hornby-reading, Middle Youth suburbanites. Even people with the most conservative musical and political tastes bought R.E.M. by the bucketload.

‘In Time’ is inevitably a selective history,annoyingly so at times. There’s no ‘Near Wild Heaven’, no ‘Radio Song’, and only those who snap up early copies with the patchy limited-edition bonus disc of B-sides and rarities will get an acoustic ‘Pop Song ‘89’ and a live version of ’Drive’ . Most perverse of all is the glaring absence of ‘Shiny Happy People’. The band dislike it, but hey – Radiohead hate ‘Creep’, Underworld are ambivalent about ‘Born Slippy’. Big deal. Get over it. Don’t treat your listeners with indie-snob contempt.

Even the two new tunes are minor, déjà vu affairs.

Peter Buck’s farcical outburst of mid-air yoghurt rage in 2001 shattered any remaining alt-rock godfather cred that R.E.M. once possessed. Respect is due for helping to reshape the mainstream, but Stipe’s journey from America’s Morrissey to Kurt’s Big Brother to Thom Yorke’s Oddball Mate has been mostly taken in downward steps. Since 1988, pop has progressed in mighty leaps while R.E.M. have hardly moved.

‘In Time’ is a two-thirds decent compilation, but also a revealing overview of a once-vital supergroup in mid-life stagnation. They should have called it ‘Losing My Direction’. “

The same week that In Time was released saw one of its new tracks, Bad Day was issued as a single as part of the promotional efforts. It entered the charts at #8 before dropping down rather quickly and out of the Top 40 just three weeks later.

The irony of it being the lead single, and something not picked up by Dalton, or as far as I know by any other reviewers a the time, was Bad Day wasn’t exactly a brand new song, as can be seen from the fact it was credited to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, despite Bill Berry having long been away from the band.

The roots of Bad Day can be traced back to 1985, and the pre-Warner days when the band were signed to IRS. New material was being tested out on the road and in the studio for possible inclusion on what would become Lifes Rich Pageant, the album released in mid-1986. A song called PSA, seemingly an abbreviation of Public Service Announcement, aired occasionally on stage and recorded in demo form didn’t make the cut….but nearly 20 years later, it was picked up from the floor, given some new/additional lyrics and, ta-da, released as a single:-

mp3: R.E.M – Bad Day

Dalton’s review describes it as ‘a pleasingly vigorous country-punk torrent of allegedly politicised spite, but it’s characteristically vague and strongly reminiscent of the ancient standard ‘It’s The End of The World As We Know It’.

Which is fair enough and perhaps explains why I’ve long been fond of Bad Day, considering it a return to somewhat past glories with the hope that Reveal would be the absolute nadir of their career and the next studio album would be a worthy effort. Without giving too much away…..it wasn’t….but we’ll get to those moments in history in a couple of weeks time as there was a second single lifted from In Time, one which The Robster will cast his critical eye over next week.

As I said, Bad Day reached #8 in the UK charts. Not quite the last big chart hit, but near enough.

It was released on two different CD formats as well as a 7” single. CD 1 and the 7” contained a cover of a song that had been on the self-titled debut album by fellow-Georgians Magnapop:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Favorite Writer

CD1 also came with the promo for Bad Day, which was a spoof of the Morning news programmes you can find on ABC/CBS/Fox/NBC in all towns and cities in the USA. It features bad acting…….

CD2 didn’t offer the video, but instead there was a cover of a song from 1970 by American band Three Dog Night along with a new instrumental number

mp3: R.E.M. – Out In The Country
mp3: R.E.M. – Adagio

As cover versions go……Favorite Writer is a lot better than most of Up or Reveal without being totally spectacular, but in an era when truly great songs recorded by R.E.M. were hard to come by, this made for an enjoyable listen. Again, it felt like a throwback to the sort of thing they used to do in the IRS days.

As cover versions go……Out In The Country has Mike Mills on lead vocal and while I don’t know the original, it feels as if it’s a fairly faithful interpretation. It’s not one I’m terribly fond of.

As unreleased instrumental go…….Adagio is an attempt at what the title says….a slow, almost classical piece of music. Very unlike anything R.E.M. had attempted before, or indeed since. I don’t mind it as it is a one-off, and let’s face it, other than the fact it is attributed to Buck/Mills/Stipe, you would never have had any inclination who was actually behind it.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that Bad Day had its roots in the mid 80s. As The Robster pointed out to me the other day, the original demo version was eventually made available on the 25th anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant back in 2011

mp3: R.E.M – Bad Day (Athens Demo)

It really does show demonstrate how prolific they were back in the indie-era, and while it is a tad rough’n’ready, there’s certainly a huge amount of potential in its three-and-a-half minutes. It was a good call to to resurrect Bad Day for the Greatest Hits package….

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #254: THE PRATS


The hard drive contains just the one song by The Prats, courtesy of it being included as part of the oft-mentioned Big Gold Dream 5 x CD boxset issued back in early 2019 by Cherry Red Records, with the sub-heading of ‘A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989’. Here’s what the accompanying booklet had to say about the band:-

The Prats’ barely pubescent original quartet of Paul McGlaughlin, brothers Dave and Greg Maguire and Tom Robinson used a cardboard drum kit and sang songs about disco popes. Having sent a demo to Fast Product, three Prats tracks, Inverness, Bored and Prats 2, appeared on Earcom 1.

The German-only release of Die Todten Reyten Schnell was co-produced by original Bay City Rollers vocalist Nobby Clarke. In 2004, fan Jonathan Demme put Prats track General Davis on the soundtrack of his big-screen reboot of The Manchurian Candidate. This in turn inspired the compilation, Now That’s What I Call Prats, while a documentary, Poxy Pop Groups – The Story of The Prats, is ongoing.

All of which got me intrigued and digging a bit further.

Now That’s What I Call The Prats was released on CD in 2007.  As it turns out, the year after the BGD boxset was released,  One Little Independent Records (the renamed and rebranded label formerly known for decades as One Little Indian) issued Way Up High, a vinyl 20-track compilation by The Prats, consisting of all ten songs that were ever released commercially in their short time together, two demos and eight tracks recorded for a couple of Peel Sessions, only one of which has actually been aired back in 1979.

I was also able to learn that the original line-up went through a couple of changes. First of all, Jeff Maguire came in on bass for Tom Robinson (and if you look at the back of the sleeve for Die Todten Reyten Schnell you will see he played on that release) while later on Elspeth McLeod was added to the ranks as an additional guitarist.

The frightening thing about it all is that The Prats were incredibly young when they were making this music.  Earcom 1 dates from 1979 and the band members were still all at school in Edinburgh.  Their final release, General Davis on Rough Trade Records, dates from 1981, the same year that the band called it a day as they were leaving school that summer.

I was also someone who left school in June 1981.  At the time in Scotland, most folk left four years of secondary education at the age of 16, or you could stay on for a 5th or 6th year to the ages of 17/18 and take exams geared to getting you into college or university. The realisation now that a group of folk my age and with a similar background and upbringing to myself would have been attending lessons and taking exams while writing, recording, playing gigs and releasing singles, not forgetting the Peel Sessions in 1979,  just beggars belief.

mp3: The Prats – Die Todten Reyten Schnell

There is a sad postscript to the story in that Jeff Maguire passed away from cancer in July 2020 just prior to the release of Way Up High.

If anyone out there remembers The Prats from back in the day, or indeed has followed their story in recent years, I’d be very happy if you fancied pulling together a more detailed piece for a future guest posting.

JC

AN ABSOLUTE GEM OF AN INDIE-SINGLE

A word of praise for Optic Nerve Recordings, a reissue label based in Preston in north-west England (about 34 miles west of Manchester if overseas readers are trying to place the town on a map in their head).

The label very much specialises in offering up vinyl copies of long-lost or difficult to find releases, mostly singles, of an indie-bent from the 80s and 90s.  In an ideal world, I’m sure we would all to get out there and track down the original 45s but affordability and value for money can be an issue and as such, they are providing a decent service.

It’s been very tempting, but I actually haven’t bought too many of the reissues, thinking that having the track digitally or on some sort of compilation CD is often good enough, but I did make an exception for a release brought out by the label in March 2020:-

mp3: The Loft – Up The Hill and Down The Slope

The Loft disintegrated in mid-1985 after just two singles for Creation Records, albeit The Weather Prophets would emerge from the debris.  Up The Hill and Down The Slope was the second of the 45s and, as you’ll have gathered from the heading of this post, I reckon it’s a superb piece of music.

It encapsulates all that seemed to be happening in the jingly-jangly world at the time; ok, there’s nothing hugely original about it but the fact it does sounds exactly like just about every other indie single being released that particular year, makes it indispensable.

Aside from being pressed on coloured vinyl, the Optic Nerve reissue differed greatly in one respect from the Creation original in that the b-side wasn’t the one to be found on the original 7″ back in 1985, but it had been one of the tracks on the 12″:-

mp3: The Loft – Your Door Shines Like Gold

One of the lines from the A-side – My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For The Prize – was, as many of you will know, taken as the title for what proved to be an excellent book by the late David Cavanagh which tells the story of Creation Records in a far better and more entertaining way than the recent film Creation Stories, which to be quite frank, is a total dud, full of factual inaccuracies and dodgy Scottish accents.

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #283 : MUDHONEY

A GUEST POSTING by MR. ED

An opening apology from JC

I have a rule of thumb that ICAs should be restricted to one per week given that they trend to be slightly longer pieces than usual, added to the fact that there will be upwards of ten songs to take in.

I’ve already explained that the Pylon ICA posted just 48 hours prior to this should have featured months ago.  I really should have kept this latest one back for a few more days, but as it’s from a new contributor, certainly in this little corner of t’internet, my preference was to share it sooner rather than later in the hope that Mr. Ed, and maybe also one of the other members of his old clan, will want to contribute further.

Enough of my ramblings……here’s ICA 283.

Mr. Ed writes…..

I’ll start by introducing myself, I’m Ed, a forty something teacher from Kent. A few years ago I answered an advert posted on the now sadly defunct The Sound of Being OK Blog. They were looking for a replacement for the heavily pregnant KT. For a short period of time I filled those dainty but reassuringly expensive boots with tales of teaching English and my failed attempts to woo a fellow teacher. She turned out to have a husband, lets just leave it at that.

Then understandably TSOBO ceased to be.

I never met Tim Badger but I spoke to him twice on the phone. He was great, he had this deep Yorkshire accent that had a twang of Devonian on certain words (like ‘Newton Abbot’). Our second phone call lasted nearly two hours and well over an hour of that was a chat about how much we both hated Arsenal. We also revelled in the joy that we both shared a love for badly dubbed Kung Fu films from Hong Kong and the writing of Ian Rankin. He’s greatly missed but I think we all know that.

TSOBO was great fun, for three months nearly every day my inbox would ping with ideas for the blog or with emails that SWC and Badger had received from readers. They also sent me music, once a week on a Friday evening a link would appear and you’d click on it and a couple of hundred tracks would appear most formed stupid lists like “Top 30 songs that mention chocolate bars” or “Top 50 Bands who have a member called Steve” – they genuinely did this. I think Pavement were number one on both those lists.

I keep in contact with SWC, I mean I live quite close to his dad – we have a vague plan to meet up when the lockdown is over. We talk all the time and the other day he persuaded me to write an ICA for JC (I want to get back into writing…). In true TSOBO style I set the ipod (or in this case – phone) going and decided to write about the 11th band that came on…although I cheated and made it the twelfth band that came on because the 11th was INXS and no one needs to be reminded of ‘Suicide Blonde’ during these difficult times, so Mudhoney it is. Sorry to all you Hutchence fans.

Mudhoney, for those who have been sleeping underground for the last 30 years or so, are on one of the most influential US rock bands of all time. They were huge influences on the likes of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and even Sonic Youth who begged the band to tour with them in days of ‘Daydream Nation’. More recently the likes of Foals and Jack White (by the way I have yet to write a piece about music where I haven’t mentioned Jack White, I should have perhaps in hindsight written an ICA on Jack White) have both claimed that the band influenced them.

I think it’s fair to say that Mudhoney have inspired the dirty punk rock sound that would become grunge more than most other bands. I also think that the bands debut record ‘Superfuzz Bigmuff’ is not only the greatest name for an album ever, but its one of those albums that apparently only 500 people bought when it first came out, but all of those who did, formed a band. I think that for a while it was Mudhoney that was keeping SubPop records afloat.

I had ‘Superfuzz…’ on vinyl and even when it was brand new it sounded like the needle was shagged. I formed a band after hearing it. I say band, it consisted of me on guitar and vocals and my brother who is nine years younger than me so he was 6 (!) when this came out, he played the plastic box. But Mudhoney aren’t just about dirty punk rock, you can hear a lot of blues rock in their later records and I own at least one Mudhoney track that contains a marimba which hints possibly at a Captain Beefheart influence.

Let’s have some music.

Side One

In n Out of Grace (Taken from Superfuzz Bigmuff 1988, Subpop)

Superfuzz Bigmuff was originally released as a six track EP, and this track closed the second side. They should have opened with it, but then again, it’s the closest the band ever got to being ‘epic’.

You will of course recognise the sample – it’s the same Peter Fonda one that Primal Scream used for ‘Loaded’ but Mudhoney stretch the sample out for a bit longer and then a load of drums kick in and guitars crash in and Mark Arm starts literally screeching away. It’s not often I say this but there is also a pretty incredible drum solo in this about halfway through and the guitar break that follows it is just ridiculously cool. The way Arm yells “Oh God, I just love to hate” near the end is one of grunge’s finest moments.

Touch Me I’m Sick (Single 1988, Subpop)

Probably the bands more recognisable song. It was released back in August 1988, making this song nearly 35 years old. ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ immediately highlighted that Mudhoney had a sense of humour. It also highlighted that SubPop were a label to be adored as they thought it was perfectly acceptable for a band to release a song about violent sex and disease as a first single. Its brilliant obviously, heavily distorted and frankly houses guitars that are all over the place, vocals that don’t just snarl they growl and drumming that is more frantic than Liam Neeson in the film ‘Taken’.

Revolution (B Side, 1990 – this version taken from ‘March to Fuzz’)

Back in 1990 someone decided that it would be a good idea if Mudhoney and Spacemen 3 released a split single. Spacemen 3 would take on a Mudhoney song and vice versa. Only Mudhoney didn’t really stick to the rules. They decided to cover ‘Revolution’. A fist in the air anthem about change. The took an angry polemic call to arm and inserted a line about methadone suppositories in the middle of it. Pete Kember took umbrage (Jason Pierce’s reaction is not recorded) and pulled the plug on the release. Kember should have lightened up a bit because Mudhoney’s version is incredible, granted it takes away some of the intent of the original but still, it absolutely rocks. The Mudhoney version eventually was released a B Side a few years later.

When Tomorrow Hits (From ‘Mudhoney’, 1989 Sub Pop)

And here’s the track that Spacemen 3 covered and famously as SWC will tell you it’s the only song on ‘Recurring’ that features both Kember and Pierce – which means it’s a hell of a record right…?

Well sort of, its basically a rewrite of a Stooges song but it’s still pretty amazing and it is still a regular part of Spectrums set when they play live, so Kember must like it. Compared to ‘Touch Me..’ and some other tracks the band did, its pretty mellow. Personally, its far better than the Spacemen 3 version. Which you can listen to as well and agree with me later.

(When Tomorrow Hits – Spacemen 3, 1991, from ‘Recurring’)

You Stupid Asshole (split single 1992, Empty Records)

Another day, another split single, they were all the rage in the early nineties apparently. ‘You Stupid Asshole’ was originally written by the Angry Samoans who were a punk band that were around in the late seventies from the US. I include this not because its particularly amazing – I mean its an Ok song. I include it because I saw this on the indie chart segment of Saturday lunch time staple The Chart Show and loved the fact that the producers forgot to censor the word ‘Asshole’. I like to think that a million parents choked on their sandwiches. I mean they probably didn’t but please don’t spoil it for me.

Side Two

Here Come Sickness (1989, Taken from ‘Mudhoney LP, Sub Pop)

The first full Mudhoney album was released in November 1989 and it contained a bit less of the raucous racket that the earlier EP’s had. Yet it still showed a band full of energy (as shown by the video to this which you can see on You Tube). I also think that in this song you can hear that guitar distortion sound that has become something of a trademark and also that yelp near the start is just incredible. A yelp that helps to pinpoint the exact moment when Kurt Cobain decided that ‘singing wasn’t that important’.

You Got It (1989, Taken from ‘Mudhoney’, Sub Pop)

Or to give it, its proper title ‘You Got It (Keep It Out of My Face)’. Everything about this is excellent and I think with the possible exception of ‘Touch Me..’ this might be my favourite Mudhoney track. Everything from the military drumming, the rumbling bass, the guitar, the scream at the start is sheer bloody perfection.

Just for the record, its about Courtney Love, and about how she was ‘rather popular’ in Seattle before she settled with the bloke from Nirvana. You could say based on the lyrics that Mark Arm wasn’t particularly enamoured with Ms Love (“Fuck You, Keep it out of my face”).

Pump It Up (1994, Single, Reprise Records)

Yup, that ‘Pump It Up’. JC and a bunch of others will hate this but personally I think this is a very faithful, and splendid version of Elvis Costello’s classic. The band list it as one of their favourite records of all time and recorded simply because they could, which one supposes is a good enough reason.

Let It Slide (1991, Taken from ‘Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, Sub Pop)

Incredibly this was the bands first UK Chart hit. It reached the giddy heights of Number 60 back in 1991. Presumably the public were interested in them based on the sudden success of Nirvana and some of the other bands that were all the rage back then. I don’t quite know why Mudhoney never really had the massive success that some of their contemporaries did because their music is just as good.

Suck You Dry (1992, single from ‘Piece of Cake, Reprise Records)

Actually the reason why Mudhoney probably never really cracked the mainstream is because they were too readily seen a band who were taking the piss. In 1992, literally anyone from Seattle could have released a grunge record and charted in the UK with it, at the very least there would have been radio play. Apart from Mudhoney that was, who instead of just toning down the sarcasm, turned it up slightly.

Thanks for reading

Mr. Ed

IF YOU’RE SEEKING OUT VALUE FOR MONEY….(3)

I’ve recently drawn your attention to Creeping Bent Records on Patreon and the indie-label Last Night From Glasgow with the suggestion that your financial support would provide great value for money.

Technically, I’m on the soapbox again, but this time you don’t have to dig deep into your pockets to enjoy some music, although the option is there if you wish to do so.

I never imagined that I would have gone down the road of supporting so much music that was given a digital rather than a physical release. I do still prefer to have something on vinyl or CD if things are available in such a format, but so many singers and bands are using bandcamp that I’d be a Luddite if I didn’t avail myself of what’s on offer there.

As of this morning, I have 155 items in my bandcamp collection, a small number of which I also have in CD or vinyl, but for the likes of The Affectionate Punch, everything is of the digital nature – 15 singles/EPs in total.

The collective usually make their music freely available, with the most recent efforts being the four-track Just A Phase EP which was recorded in December 2020/January 2021.  As ever, you never quite know what wonderful sounds are going to emerge from these DIY, but far from lo-fi, recordings given the range of influences from which the collective draw inspiration.

This time round, those of you who like your early 80s Cure crossed with Zoo Records from the same era are in for a bit of a treat with the lead song from the latest EP:-

mp3: The Affectionate Punch – Insubstantial

It turns out that your humble author provided the inspiration for the title of one of the other tracks on the EP.  Click here for more info.

I’ve been in dialogue with TAP in recent days, and I’m delighted to say that further new material is imminent, with every chance that it’ll get a very early airing on this blog.  From the early demo that I’ve heard of the music, it is going to down a different, darker and road than much of the other material….stay tuned!

JC

 

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #282 : PYLON

A GUEST POSTING by THE ROBSTER

An opening apology from JC

This ICA landed in Villain Towers months ago. For some reason or other, I had thought The Robster had simply sent me over a bunch of songs to play and listen to. The fact he had composed the following excellent paragraphs and come up with the above specially designed album cover, is a now a source of eternal shame. He has graciously accepted my apology…….and here he now is to take you through things.

The Robster writes…..

Like many, I suppose, my introduction to Pylon was via R.E.M.’s cover version of Crazy, and subsequently through the ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ documentary. I can’t be sure what it is I like about them other than their sound, and even then I find it difficult to explain why. There are various elements in there not too dissimilar to bands like Talking Heads and The B-52s (who, of course, hail from the same town and were around at the same time). Unchanged: Like many, I suppose, my introduction to Pylon was via R.E.M.’s cover version of Crazy, and subsequently through the ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ documentary. I can’t be sure what it is I like about them other than their sound, and even then I find it difficult to explain why. There are various elements in there not too dissimilar to bands like Talking Heads and The B-52s (who, of course, hail from the same town and were around at the same time).

This is not going to be a very insightful article; I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves. I’ve put it together owing to JC’s recent comment about not being taken by R.E.M.’s version of Crazy and, therefore, not taking any time to investigate Pylon’s work. He’s wrong, of course (yes, I know, I can barely believe it myself), but I’m hoping to win him over with this selection of 10 songs. Unchanged: This is not going to be a very insightful article; I’m going to let the songs speak for themselves. I’ve put it together owing to JC’s recent comment about not being taken by R.E.M.’s version of Crazy and, therefore, not taking any time to investigate Pylon’s work. He’s wrong, of course (yes, I know, I can barely believe it myself), but I’m hoping to win him over with this selection of 10 songs.

I should at this point also give a shout-out to Brian of Linear Tracking Lives. I originally approached him to see if he fancied going halves on this one, a side each so to speak, given he is a fan. He politely declined, reckoning I am the leading authority on the Athens, GA. scene so more qualified than he is to talk about it. He’s wrong, too, but he did make a couple of suggestions which I’ve duly included. And yes, by a chance quirk of design, it actually is 34 minutes long (excluding bonus tracks).

For newcomers, some background info: Pylon consisted of Randy Bewley on guitar, Michael Lachowski on bass, Curtis Crowe on drums, and the inimitable voice of Vanessa Ellison (nee Briscoe). Formed in 1978, the band released two albums before breaking up in 1983. Vanessa divorced and remarried within the next few years, becoming Vanessa Briscoe Hay. Pylon reformed in 1989 and released a third album in 1990 before calling it a day again. They reformed a final time in 2004 after Bewley contacted the other band members “just for fun”. No new material was recorded, but they played shows on and off until 2009 when Bewley sadly passed away in a road accident having suffered a heart attack at the wheel.

In December 1987, R.E.M. featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine under the headline ‘America’s best rock & roll band.’ Bill Berry dismissed this and declared: “That’s Pylon.”

SIDE ONE

1. Cool (1979, single)

The debut single and a song that, if I were in a band, I’d want to cover. Released in 1979 on DB Records, it did not appear on the debut album ‘Gyrate’ the following year, but was included on the reissue ‘Gyrate Plus’ in 2007.

2. Beep (1983, from ‘Chomp’)

The follow-up album took a little while, but it was worth the wait. ‘Chomp’ is a record I’ve played quite a lot and it has a smashing picture of a dinosaur on the front. Not a real one alas, but still smashing. Beep is a standout. I love Vanessa’s growly “four minutes” chorus.

3. Crazy [original single version] (1981, single)

This is the one R.E.M. covered. You can say what you like about the merits of cover versions against the originals, but I love Stipe & Co’s version. Doesn’t stop me loving Pylon’s original, BUT… while this single version is brilliant, the re-recorded version that appeared on ‘Chomp’ a couple years later had a better vocal take from Vanessa in my opinion. I’d love to hear that vocal on this instrumental.

4. Sugarpop (1990, from ‘Chain’)

I’m not as big a fan of the comeback record ‘Chain’ as I am of the first two albums, but it still has its moments. Sugarpop was the single released from it and I suppose it is a sugary pop song compared to the band’s previous work.

5. Read A Book (1980, from ‘Gyrate’)

Another highlight from the debut album.

SIDE TWO

6. Stop It (1983, from ‘Chomp’)

This was one of Brian’s suggestions, and to be fair he’s spot on. One of Pylon’s best tracks featured in the brilliant documentary ‘Athens, GA. Inside/Out’ from 1986. It’s on the soundtrack album and ‘Chomp’. What you may not know though, is that Michael Stipe claims he wrote Drive as a homage to this track. True story, even if I can’t actually hear it myself.

7. Yo-Yo (1983, from ‘Chomp’)

The strain was beginning to show by the time ‘Chomp’ hit the racks. Pylon supported U2 in 1983 and were not warmly received by audiences. That doesn’t surprise me. Your average U2 fan isn’t going to appreciate a band like Pylon. At least, none of the U2 fans I’ve ever met. They broke up shortly after. A shame, as I think Yo-Yo displays an interesting direction they could have explored further. One of the most original-sounding tracks the band made.

8. There It Is (1990, from ‘Chain’)

Reforming in 1989 and opening for R.E.M. on the final leg of the Green Tour, Pylon went back into the studio and recorded a set of new songs. ‘Chain’, their third album was released in 1990. It wasn’t – and still isn’t – regarded as one of Pylon’s top 2 albums, but it still contained some gems. Every review I’ve read points to There It Is as a major highlight and I’m certainly not going to disagree.

9. Gravity [live] (2016, from ‘Pylon Live’)

Gravity was a fan favourite from the debut album. This live version was released as a single in 2016 to coincide with a live album recorded in 1983 just before the band split for the first time. It was mastered by Analog Loyalist, the guy behind the blog The Power Of Independent Trucking, a place I know a few of us have visited and grabbed some wonderful things from over the years. That is a blog I really miss. http://thepowerofindependenttrucking.blogspot.com/2016/05/pylon-live-band-rem-all-say-was-better.html

10. Danger (1980, from ‘Gyrate’)

Another fan favourite to finish things off with. A rather ominous-sounding closer, for sure, but I kind of like it that way. A dub remix featured on the ‘!!’ EP in late 1980, a move that seemed to be more akin to what was happening in the UK at the time. It sounded like something the Slits or PiL might have put out. I flitted back and forth debating over which version to include here, but went for the album version in the end as it just sounded right as a closing track.

LIMITED EDITION BONUS 7”

A. Yo-Yo [remix by Calvinist – ft. Alexis Krauss] (2011, from ‘Cover + Remix’ 7”)

In 2011, Pylon featured on a split 7” for Record Store Day. On one side, Deerhunter covered Pylon’s Cool, while on the other, Calvinist reworked Yo-Yo. It doesn’t sound much like Pylon to be honest, and the vocals are actually re-sung by Sleigh Bells vocalist Alexis Krauss. I’ve included it purely for curiosity value.

B. Messenger (by Pylon Re-enactment Society) (2018, single)

This final one is another suggestion from Brian. Pylon Re-enactment Society is a kind of Pylon tribute band. I say “kind of” because they are actually fronted by none other than one Vanessa Briscoe Hay! She formed the band in 2014 with other local musicians from Athens because “I really don’t want people to forget Pylon.” In 2018, two brand new songs were released as a 7”, one of which was Messenger, the first new “Pylon” track in 28 years. Except, of course, it wasn’t, but it’s the nearest we’ll ever get to it.

The Robster

LANDFILL INDIE? – A FRESH SERIES FOR MONDAYS (Issue 7)

Razorlight are probably the first of the landfill indie contenders who had the press turn quite viciously against them.  It came on the back of them eventually having a high degree of chart success – their sixth, seventh and eighth singles all went Top 3 in the UK, one of which actually reached #1 in October 2006 – so they were among the first to really cross over into the mainstream.

I’ve a copy of the debut album, Up All Night, which was released in June 2004.  I gave it a listen the other day for the first time in possibly 15 years and I have to admit that I found myself enjoying a few of the tunes, which got me thinking I would spare them from being sent to the increasingly large landfill indie site.  And then I remembered that their lead singer was a complete bellend…and I’ll call on my great friend SWC to provide some info, taken from a post he provided back in May 2014:-

The music industry is a fickle old business. Both within the industry itself and through the fans who support it by purchasing the music. For instance, one day you will hyped to be the next big thing after a favourable review in a cool paper, or you get some exposure on the radio or something. It all goes a bit bananas and everyone loves you. Then you get to release some records and they live up to the hype and riding on that success you suddenly are the Next Big Thing. Then you have to go away and produce something new, and everyone forgets who you are.

Take Razorlight for instance. Back in 2002 when lead singer Johnny Borrell formed the band, he was already kind of well known having supported and been part of the scene that clustered around The Libertines. Razorlight’s first gig ever, was supporting much under rated American rock band The Von Bondies.

Razorlight in 2003 were subject of one of the biggest signing wars of recent times, every label wanted them because they were a sure-fire success waiting to happen. Their demos were already being played on XFM (indie station in London only at the time). Their records didn’t disappoint, the debut album ‘Up All Night’ released in 2004 went to number 3 in the charts. 

After that Razorlight got bigger still when they release the single ‘America’ from their second album ‘Razorlight (JC adds ….this is the track that reached #1).

With the success Borrell’s mouth got bigger, he got the movie star girlfriend (Kirsten Dunst), then the press and the public fell out of love with them. For me it was the moment when Borrell was in some magazine with his top off, not strictly a bad thing, it’s not like he was the singer in Ultrasound or anything, but he was wearing WHITE JEANS, that rock n roll imagery he tried so hard to conjured up, just slipped away, no one in their right mind wears white jeans, let alone be photographed wearing them.

They released a third album ‘Slipway Fires’ in 2008 it says here that it got to number 5 in the charts, yet I don’t know a single person who owns a copy or will admit to buying it (it was critically panned). Borrell released a solo album last year which sold less than 1000 copies, so in around 6 years he has gone from being one of the country’s biggest rock stars to selling less records that Darius Danesh; Christ, I reckon I could record an album and sell more than 1000 copies of it.

Razorlight are still on the go today, but there was an extended spell of when nothing was being recorded and no tours were being undertaken, all while Johnny Borrell tried to launch a solo career.  It’s worth noting that Borell is the only member of the original line-up still involved in Razorlight and that over the past almost 20 years, there has been an almost Fall-esque coming and going of musicians with ten folk having come and gone, almost all of whom have been less than complimentary about the lead singer, and there are a number of accusations of him being a selfish control freak, particularly from original drummer Andy Burrows who claims he was never given any credit for his part in wriring the music, with Borrell preferring the world to think it was really all down to him.

But, as I said, I had a listen again to the first album and, just like the Four Tops and Orange Juice, I can’t help myself.  It has some very fine songs on it and there’s an especially decent run from tracks six to nine

mp3: Razorlight – Rip It Up
mp3: Razorlight – Dalston
mp3: Razorlight – Golden Touch
mp3: Razorlight – Stumble and Fall

The first sign of a backlash, especially from the NME, came with the release of the first new material after the debut album. The single Somewhere Else was ridiculed for its lyrics. It’s follow-up, In The Morning, got a mixed reception with the reviewer from Drowned In Sound leading the case for the prosecution with the comment “We are not about to allow Razorlight to shower their already overly praised frames in further commendations and recommendations, when the material they produce is not simply poor, as such, but depressingly, irredeemably average”

Ouch.

The next single was the #1 hit…and in case you’ve never heard it or forgotten it:-

mp3: Razorlight – America

I didn’t like it at the time. Still don’t. Couldn’t really put my finger on it as I did my best to switch stations if it ever came on the radio or the video appeared on the TV screen, but the PopMatters critic nails it:-

“soft rock hell…..checklists every cliché of that criteria that makes it come off as similar to Foreigner and Boston than U2 of The Joshua Tree”

Double ouch.

So, as much as I want to give Razorlight the benefit of the doubt, it pains me to say that a very good debut album doesn’t come close enough to compensating what has come since. Off to the landfill you go…

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 39)

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And so on to the third and final single from the tragedy that was/is Reveal, the absolute nadir of R.E.M.’s career at that point. To be fair, there wasn’t a great deal to choose from, and whatever was picked wasn’t exactly going to reignite interest in the album among fans old or new. So on 19th November 2001, the six-minute I’ll Take The Rain was released in the UK.

I know some R.E.M. fans who adore this song. I also know others who hate it intensely. The haters point to what they deem to be a somewhat lackadaisical sound, like the band were weary and couldn’t even be arsed to try. They may also argue it sounds like the type of power ballad R.E.M. resolutely avoided throughout their career, and of the lyrics being banal and trite. The lovers, on the other hand, accuse the haters of missing the point, of not understanding the raw emotion of the song, its understated approach coming from the vulnerability of the protagonist being asked to make a choice between the lesser of two evils.

Of course, being me, I’m neither a lover nor a hater. When I first heard Reveal, this was one of only two songs that really stood out as being likeable (the other, if you were wondering, was I’ve Been High, which remains one of the band’s very best post-Berry moments IMO). It’s certainly a better single than the other two and infinitely superior to the songs that bookend it on the album – the dreadful Beachball and Chorus And the Ring (two of the very worst moments of R.E.M.’s entire career).

It’s a nice enough song, if you’re willing to forgive the use of the word ‘nice’ – not a word I ever use to describe music in a positive manner – but it is. I’m willing to accept it’s too long though, which is why I’m offering up the rare radio edit for you today – never commercially issued.

mp3: R.E.M. – I’ll Take The Rain [radio edit]

No real surprise here that the single only reached #44 in the UK charts, but it certainly wasn’t helped by the choice of formats available. The only real draw for hardcore collectors (and at this point I still bought the singles) was the promise of an unreleased track on one of the two CD singles issued. Except that with a title like 32 Chord Song it sounded like it would be yet another throwaway instrumental studio jam that was never considered worthy of finishing.

Wrong.

Worse than that, it’s merely a demo of the track that would appear on Reveal as Summer Turns To High. So not a new or unreleased track at all, just an early version of an average album track (from a below average album) with its working title.

mp3: R.E.M. –  32 Chord Song (aka Summer Turns To High [demo])

Two live tracks graced the other CD, both songs from Reveal. One of them was the aforementioned I’ve Been High. The album version is a beautiful, keyboard led ballad with a sweet, lilting melody that Stipe really puts his heart into. It’s a very un-R.E.M. song which, at this point in their career, was probably not a bad thing at all. This live version recorded in Sydney, Australia for music TV station Channel V, is, well, OK. It’s basically Stipe singing over Buck’s acoustic guitar. The unique loveliness of the album version is absent, but it’s still passable.

mp3: R.E.M. – I’ve Been High [live]

Finally, recorded live at the Museum of Television and Radio, NYC, She Just Wants To Be.

This was, along with The Lifting, one of two Reveal tracks played regularly during the Up tour two years earlier. On the album the verses are stripped back to voice, acoustic guitar, bass and drums with the chorus throwing all that other muck that Reveal suffered from into the mix, which totally ruins what could have been a half-decent mid-tempo song. Live, thankfully, it’s kept much simpler, and this version isn’t very different to what we heard on the previous tour.

mp3: R.E.M. – She Just Wants To Be [live]

So there we have it, a rather understated way to soundtrack the formal ending of my love affair with R.E.M., at least in the passionate, loyal sense that it used to be. I’ll Take The Rain was a song about making a very difficult choice, neither option of which the protagonist could take with any real optimism. I didn’t have that problem. Both R.E.M. and The White Stripes made it very easy for me. As I settled into a new life in Wales, Jack and Meg moved in with me to soundtrack my early years as an Englishman in Newport. I’d left R.E.M. behind. Or so I thought. There was still a bit of flirting from my old flames in the years to come…

The Robster

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #253: POSITIVE NOISE

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Sometimes there’s only so much can be said about a singer or band due up in this series that it’s easier to go back and repeat what was said on the one occasion they’ve featured previously on the blog.  From 17 May 2014, which itself relied on wiki:-

Positive Noise were a new wave and synthpop band from Scotland who had a number of indie hits in the 1980s. They released three albums and several singles and were together for over five years.

The band was formed in 1979 by Ross Middleton (vocals), his brothers Graham Middleton (keyboards, vocals) and Fraser Middleton (bass guitar, vocals), Russell Blackstock (guitar, vocals), and Les Gaff (drums).

Their first released material was two tracks (“Refugees” and “The Long March”) on the Statik label compilation album Second City Statik in 1980, and they followed this with two singles on Statik in 1981, both of which were top-ten hits on the UK Independent Chart.

Début album Heart of Darkness was released in May 1981, after which Ross left to form the short-lived Leisure Process, with Blackstock taking over on lead vocals. Heart of Darkness peaked at number four on the independent chart, and the band’s second album, Change of Heart (1982), also charted, reaching number 21. They released a third and final album, Distant Fires, in 1985, now with John Telford on drums and John Coletta on guitar, but their earlier success was not repeated and they split up shortly afterwards.

Ross Middleton had earlier worked as a music journalist, writing for Sounds under the pen name Maxwell Park.

I’ve one single on vinyl – Give Me Passion, released in 1981 on Statik but not included on the debut album.  I’ve picked up a digital copy of the 12″ version of  a follow-up single, also from 1981 and which would appear on the album, Change of Heart, the following year.

mp3: Positive Noise – Positive Negative (12″ version)
mp3: Positive Noise – Energy

It’s not the worst example of early 80s synth-pop that you’ll ever come across but there’s not really enough to have made it stand out in what was an increasingly crowded market back then. It’s also got that early 80s thing of where perhaps too much of the kitchen sink has been thrown at the extended version.

Worth also mentioning that the previous time the band appeared on the blog, a few folk left comments indicating they had seen them as the support act for one or more of the chart acts with Toyah, Hazel O’Connor and Ultravox all getting a mention.  It would seem that they were a decent enough live band.  It’s a strange one for me in that I do remember a lot of positive (pardon the pun) coverage in the Glasgow papers and airplay on Radio Clyde, the local commercial station, but I never ever took to them.

JC

MY NAME IS YUL BRYNNER AND I AM A FAMOUS MOVIE STAR

The second solo single released by Stephen Malkmus after the break-up of Pavement is brilliantly bonkers.

It opens up with spoken dialogue from Yul Brynner, which I assume has been lifted from a media interview, over a slow piano.  After 35 seconds it explodes into the sort of song you’d have expected to hear from his old band.  Indie pop/rock at its finest with the catchy non-chorus of ‘ayeeeeey-yee’ (or something similar) while the versus veer all over the place.

Then, just as the tune really gets motoring along, threatening to become absolutely tailor-made for radio, it completely changes tempo and rhythm at the two-and-a-half minute mark, not only putting off any previously interested daytime producers, but making it night on impossible to dance to at the indie-disco without making a dick out of yourself….before reverting again to the ‘ayeeeeey-yee’ before ending with some barely audible half-spoken surreal lines from Malkmus:-

Bob Dylan sang in
“Its alright mama I’m only bleeding”,
Everything from toy guns that spark to flesh colored Christs
that glow in the dark
Its easy to see we got in too far and not much is really sacred.

mp3: Stephen Malkmus – Jo Jo’s Jacket

I’ve no idea where Yul Brynner fits in, nor why the song was given the title of Jo Jo’s Jacket

Here’s yer lo-fi b-side:-

mp3: Stephen Malkmus – Open and Shut Cases

The single sold enough copies to enter the charts at #88 in December 2001.

JC

IGNORE THE DATE….THIS ISN’T A JOKE POSTING

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I try my very best to make this ever-increasing in size small corner of t’internet a reasonably easy place to navigate, which is why there are sections where you can click on each ICA, where postings are bunched up in calendar months and where every singer/band appears in an index.

The Badgers have two entries in said index.  The first dates from 9 November 2015 in which SWC relates the tale of said band supporting Pop Will Eat Itself in Leeds back in 1994.  The song used to illustrate the piece was called Glen Hoddle’s Ghost.

Click here to be reminded of the fun that was had that day at the expense of our great and much missed friend, Tim Badger.

The second posting dates from 5 May 2019. It’s one of our saddest occasions as SWC finds the strength and the words to tell us the news that Tim had succumbed to a sudden heart attack some three months earlier.

A few months after the Nov 15 posting, a comment was left behind leading to a post on a different blog about a band called The Badgers.  A real-life band as opposed to the line-up that emerged from the brilliant mind of SWC.  I had actually forgotten all about the real band until I recently stumbled across a 12″ EP of theirs on Discogs….

A bit of on-line research indicates that The Badgers were signed to the Norwich-based Wilde Club Records. The label was a spin-off from The Wilde Club, which started in January 1989 as a way to bring indie singers and bands to the town, with many of the nights taking place at the Norwich Arts Centre, a converted church that had originally been built in 1349.

The list of band to have played at The Wilde Club is ridiculously impressive and includes Inspiral Carpets, Bob, Ride,  Colorblind James Experience, Boo Radleys, Moose, Slowdive, Catherine Wheel, My Bloody Valentine, Mudhoney, the Shamen, Nirvana, Curve, Cud, Mega City 4, Ash, Sleeper, Cornershop,  Johnathan FireEater, China Drum, 60Ft Dolls, Heavenly, Snuff, Dawn Of The Replicants, Half Man Half Biscuit, Tiger, BabyBird, Muse, Oasis, Doves, Snow Patrol, Delgados, Urusei Yatsura, Prolapse, Coldplay,  and Lemonheads.

Yup… Nirvana back in the days when they were touring hard in an effort to be noticed.  It was on 30 October 1989, and they were support to fellow grungers, Tad.

Returning to The Badgers. The 12″ arrived, to my astonishment and delight (in equal measures)  with three enclosed cuttings;  one was a Wilde Club Records press release dated 27 May 1992, one was a copy of a half-page feature of the band in the NME on 20 June 1992, while the last of them contained cuttings of five other passing mentions in the music weeklies.

The press release advises that the band came to the attention of the label as far back as 1990 when a tape, under the name of The Railway Badgers, was sent in with the hope of securing some gigs at the Wilde Club.  A later demo in 1991, by which time there had been a couple of personnel changes and the dropping of the Railway prefix, led to a deal being offered.

One of their songs, Cycleface, was included on I Might Walk Home Alone, a Wilde Club Records compilation and indeed was played and praised by Mark Goodier during one his evening shows on BBC Radio 1.  Another fan, according to the press release was Jon Fat Beast of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine fame (or infamy to be more accurate!).

The press release concluded with the info that the band consisted of Robin Jeynes (guitar), Darren Long (bass), Mike Jeynes (drums) and Emma Hewitt (vocals), along with details of two June dates for gigs in London and a teaser that the band has been interviewed for an upcoming feature in Melody Maker.

The NME feature is reasonably informative, in that the band talk of them coming from a rural area outside of Norwich and mentions that they are largely self-taught rather than coming through from playing Bowie or Velvet Underground covers, before stating:-

“…they make a sound which The Sundays might have grasped had they mended chainsaws for a hobby instead of pressing flowers.  Well, not quite.  According to their debut Picnic EP, The Badgers are purveyors of sparkling guitar scapes which are full of strange twists and surges of power; it’s more an unpleasant alley than pleasant Valley, where the odd likes of ‘Cyberface’ demand repeated plays.”

Here’s the four songs on the EP:-

mp3: The Badgers – Picnic
mp3: The Badgers – Cycleface
mp3: The Badgers – Ragged Jack
mp3: The Badgers – Rejuve

A review of the EP said it was the best record Wilde Club had released in a while where a Clare Grogan-meets-Cocteaus concoction blends the helter-skelter of Picnic with the jazzy feel of Cycleface.

The fact, however, that there was no release beyond this EP, nor was any Melody Maker cutting included, makes me think The Badgers called it a day in mid-1992. They would have been young enough to start something fresh – lead singer Emma was just 18 years old at the time – but a quick, though far from thorough, on-line search throws up nothing.

Hearing the songs for the first ever time, almost 30 years on, I’ve come to the view that as these things go, it’s a fairly decent collection of songs, albeit somewhat much indie-by-numbers.  And if it turns out you don’t like them, the fact the entire EP takes just under 12 minutes to listen to means you haven’t had too much time stolen that you can’t ever get back.

It’s certainly worthy of a posting on its own, but to avoid any confusion with the later ‘band’ of the same name, they are now in the index as Badgers (2) and given there’s nothing else of theirs out there, it will be a one-off appearance on this ever-increasing in size small corner of t’internet.

JC