RIPPING BADGERS CDs (Part 7): LATE OF THE PIER

Ripping Badger CDs – #7 – ‘Fantasy Black Channel’ by Late of The Pier (Parlophone Records, 2008)

As a special treat, here is KT. Don’t get use to it, this is very much a one off. Probably.

KT writes………

My daughter is currently obsessed with trains, one of her favourite trips is to be pushed in her buggy to the local park, where she will demand to be let out and then she will run to the wooden train thing in the park. There she will sit and pretend to drive the train to places such as “Catland” and “Dog Park”. I will then pretend to be a passenger on the train and revel in the delights of the journey. I will “ooh” with pleasure as I pretend that I am not looking at some badly worded graffiti by the next Oscar Wilde about a girl named Tia Spinks and her ‘tiny titties’, but some marvellous scenery that she is pointing out to me.

Then after that we will wander over to the nearby train station and if we are lucky, we will see the 12.25 from Axminster trundle into the station where one of two things generally happens. If the train is driven by Driver A, my daughter will get a toot of the train horn and a huge cheery wave from a huge walrus moustached fella, she will wave back enthusiastically and happily climb into her buggy, and fall asleep deliriously happy, no doubt dreaming about trains for the duration of the journey home.

If it is Driver B my daughter will not get a toot of the horn nor a cheery wave. Instead, she and I will get a frown because Driver B appears to be miserable child hating bastard who has a heart made of rock. I have realised that Driver B is destined to be single for the rest of his days, and as I gently cuddle my crying daughter, devastated by the lack of a ‘toot toot’, I like to picture Driver B sadly sitting in a knackered armchair with his microwaved lasagne for one as the wallpaper slowly peels itself off the walls because even inanimate objects like wallpaper can’t stand to be in the same room as him.

Luckily for you guys it is Driver A today because this means that my daughter is exhausted with delirious happiness at the length of the toot and the cheeriness of the wave. It also means I can sit down and write this little article about a band I have, until about twenty minutes ago, never heard of and certainly never heard. A band called Late of the Pier.

Late of the Pier, Wikipedia tells me, before I have listened to the six or seven tracks sent to me by SWC, are a dance punk foursome from Castle Donington.

I have no idea what dance punk is but I do know where Castle Donington is, having refused to go to ‘Monsters of Rock’ with my ex-husband and his mate ‘Nuggz’ about fifteen years ago. Wikipedia also tells me that ‘the nicest man in rock, Dave Grohl’ rates Late of the Pier as ‘amazing’. None of this fills me with huge swathes of anticipation. I message Dom and ask him if he has heard of them – he sends me back a GIF of Alan Partridge shrugging and holding a cheese on a fork. Helpful chap my husband.

So I press play – or rather I double-click on the first track a song called ‘Space and the Woods’. I’m not sure what to expect, because I have no idea what dance punk is supposed to sound like, but I’m fairly sure this isn’t it. This sounds more like the sort of noise your dad and uncle would come up with if they had six pints before lunch and decided to busk in the high street in order to get the cab fare home. Strangely compelling but really not that great.

mp3: Late of The Pier – Space and The Woods

Let’s try another track….

The second track is ‘The Bears are Coming’ which is a complete mishmash of noises. It bleeps, it bounces, it squelches, it screeches the singer yelps and yowls. I think it works but really folks I am probably way too uncool to understand what is going on here. It sounds like a one-man band has thrown himself down the stairs and landed inside a video game. Which, might actually be what they intended, in which case, bravo.

mp3: Late of The Pier – The Bears Are Coming

It does get better. These two tracks for instance:-

mp3: Late of The Pier – Focker
mp3: Late of The Pier – Bathroom Gurgle

‘Focker’ is better not because it has a brilliant title but because it is an actual pop song. A pop song that could have been written about forty years ago and could have featured in any film involving American High School shenanigans. It’s great.

‘Bathroom Gurgle’ is even better than ‘Focker’ because it is a glam rock disco stomp belter of a tune. Kind of like what you would get if Muse recorded ‘The Timewarp’ only without the obvious Queen rip-offs halfway through – actually Muse doing ‘The Timewarp’ would be better than this. I can’t think of another band that it sounds like though – when I email this SWC, I’ll let him think of one….

(SWC writes – Ok – ‘Bathroom Gurgle’ sounds like The Rapture torturing the life out of Disco Stu from the Simpsons. This is a good thing, its easiest the finest moment by Late of the Pier.)

So what have we learnt today.

Well firstly, we should all try and be more like Driver A.

Secondly, I still have no idea what dance punk is, and thirdly you can’t really trust anything that Dave Grohl says.

Thanks for reading.

KT

 

THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part Fourteen : LET’S MAKE SOME PLANS

I was recently on a Zoom call with Jonny The Friendly Lawyer – it’s my hope that, if the COVID situation improves and travel restrictions begin to get lifted, then a trip to visit him in LA, postponed from last year, will go ahead in a few months time.

The call, as it inevitably does, got onto the subject of music and I made mention of Close Lobsters and how they were one of the most underrated of all the Scottish bands to emerge in the 80s. Jonny expressed a bit of surprise that the band were from around these parts – he knew they were British but hadn’t quite paid attention to exactly where from.  In turn, he surprised me by mentioning that Close Lobsters had enjoyed a fair amount of college radio exposure in the US back in the day – I had always assumed they hadn’t done much, initially, beyond these shores.

The band formed in 1985 in Paisley, a sizable town in Scottish terms, located immediately to the south-west of Glasgow, first coming to prominence the following year via a song being included on the C86 compilation put together by the NME.  They lasted around four years, releasing two albums and a handful of singles on Fire Records, the London-based indie label.  As Jonny informed me, they got a fair bit of attention in the States, helped by a review of the debut album in Rolling Stone Magazine which described it as:-

“first-rate guitar pop from a top-shelf band. Close Lobsters could have been just another jangle group, but they have a lot more going for them than just chiming Rickenbackers.

The band reformed in 2012, and I was lucky enough to get to see one of the comeback gigs at a small and very sticky basement venue in Glasgow where they put on an outstanding show.  A few singles and EPs were then released sporadically and finally, in 2020, there was a new album, released by the excellent team behind the Last Night in Glasgow label.  All being well, there’s a live show or two planned for later in the year, including at a small Glasgow venue quite close to Villain Towers, for which tickets have been bought.

The band have released a lot of great songs over the years, but if you want my opinion, they never bettered their third single, which got to #17 in the UK indie charts in 1987:-

mp3: Close Lobsters – Let’s Make Some Plans

I picked up a second hand copy on 12″ vinyl a good while back, and have just again, using the new(ish) turntable, made a fresh rip at 320kpbs, well above the normal quality on offer at the blog.  And here’s your b-sides:-

mp3: Close Lobsters – In Spite Of These Times
mp3: Close Lobsters – Get What They Deserve

Two tracks that many of their contemporaries would love to have written and released as singles….there really was a plethora of riches from Close Lobsters back in the day.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 46)

As has been duly noted over the past month or so, R.E.M.’s career was experiencing something it hadn’t done in the first 20 years of their existence. Following the abominable Reveal and Around The Sun albums, long-term, devoted fans like myself were beginning to walk away. It seemed R.E.M. had, against all the odds, become a middle-aged, middle of the road band who were just going through the motions. The energy, the drive and the emotion that once upon a time made them the greatest and most exciting band in the world was seemingly gone, something the band themselves would later acknowledge.

“[Around The Sun] just wasn’t really listenable, because it sounds like what it is, a bunch of people that are so bored with the material that they can’t stand it anymore.” (Peter Buck, 2008)

By 2008, four years after Around The Sun was inflicted upon us, I was at a musical crossroads. The White Stripes had broken up and there didn’t seem to be much that was terribly exciting going on in the pop universe. At least, nothing I could hang my hat on. I saw that R.E.M. were about to release a new album, so when the lead single Supernatural Superserious was released, I downloaded it mainly out of curiosity. What I heard was unexpected.

Some history first. In 2007, R.E.M. took up residency at the Olympia in Dublin. The plan was to rehearse new material in readiness for a new album. They decided to sell tickets so the fans could give their reactions, although as Michael Stipe insisted during each performance: “This is not a show!” (They preferred the term ‘working rehearsals’.)

Among the new songs was one entitled Disguised. It wasn’t finished, but it had promise. Before going into the studio, a new chorus was written, the old chorus became the bridge and the title was changed (on the advice of a certain Chris Martin). On 11th February, 2008, it became the first single released from R.E.M.’s 14th album Accelerate.

mp3: R.E.M. – Supernatural Superserious

Could it be? R.E.M. sounding like they still had something left to give? I mean, it wasn’t their best song by a long chalk, but it was way better than anything their previous two albums had yielded, and (Animal aside) was their best song of the decade so far. Supernatural Serious had that energy, that drive, that verve. It also had an infectious tune that hung around in my head for hours after hearing it. This was the sound of a band who actually sounded like they were enjoying themselves again.

But was it to be a false dawn? I approached Accelerate with caution, downloading it (for *ahem* free) rather than rushing out to buy it. But as it turned out, this really was a return to form. For starters, all the electronic mush that plagued their previous two albums was gone – it was a stripped-down, back-to-basics rock & roll record with few embellishments. It was also recorded faster than any album the band had worked on since Green. Most of the songs retained the single’s energy, all aggressive guitars and swagger – the antithesis of Around The Sun. At a mere 34 minutes, it was R.E.M.’s shortest album since Lifes Rich Pageant, their loudest and rockiest since New Adventures in Hi Fi, and their best post-Bill Berry album by a country mile.

As for the single, well the charts in the UK were becoming increasingly irrelevant to proper bands. Albums were now the more important format for serious artists and physical singles were no longer regarded as anything of real importance. Supernatural Superserious charted at #54 in the UK singles charts in its first week on downloads alone. CD singles were released the following week but that didn’t improve the chart position. It was their last significant chart entry in the UK.

Both CDs included a surfy-instrumental track (yes, even 27 years after White Tornado appeared on the band’s first demo tape, they were still churning these silly little pieces out). Airliner is most notable for its writing credits, being the first of only two R.E.M. songs to credit Scott McCaughey as co-writer alongside Buck, Mills and Stipe. The other one? We’ll get to that in a couple weeks…

mp3: R.E.M – Airliner

CD 2 added a cover version of Beat Happening’s Red Head Walking, the closing track from their 1991 album Dreamy. I’m not a fan of the original, so it’s great to hear R.E.M. transform it into a swampy, bluesy, psyche-fused beast of a song. Kind of like how The Cramps would have done it. I love Michael’s scream at the end and his subsequent regret…

mp3: R.E.M. – Red Head Walking

It had been a long time since anyone had put the words ‘R.E.M.’ and ‘fun’ together in a sentence, but this was a sign that maybe, just maybe, they could still pull it off and regain some of the credibility they’d lost in recent years.

By the way, those ‘working rehearsals’ in Dublin were recorded and the highlights released as a 39-track album in 2009 as Live At The Olympia. Nine of the songs that ended up on Accelerate were included along with another two new songs that were never released in any other form. As a bonus for you, here’s the version of Supernatural Superserious that was played, still in its unfinished form with its original title.

mp3: R.E.M. – Disguised [live at the Olympia, Dublin, 2007]

The Robster

JC adds…..I agree 100% with all that The Robster has written for today.  I still give Accelerate a listen every now and again, especially when I was out doing the lockdown walks.  At just 34 minutes in length, and with not really a duff track on it, it very much helped to pass the time in fine fashion.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #258: THE PRIMARY 5

I’ve one song by The Primary 5 on the hard drive, courtesy of its inclusion on the CD compilation Ave Marina – 10 Years of Marina Records, released in 2004 by the Hamburg-based label which has always had a very strong and varied Scottish presence.

I didn’t know that first thing about the band and this was pleasantly surprised to discover that the mainstay is Paul Quinn….no, not the one I’m always banging on about on this blog…..but the musician of the same name best known for his spells as drummer with Soup Dragons and Teenage Fanclub.

The Primary 5 formed in 2003, with the name referring to it being the fifth band that Paul Quinn had played in. Debut album North Pole was released in 2004 with one of its tracks also finding its way onto the aforementioned Marina compilation:-

mp3: The Primary 5 – Mailman

The group would stay together for the remainder of the decade, releasing two more studio albums, Go! (2006) and High Five (2008)

JC

WHO CARES WHAT SHE’S SINGING?

This might well be the most extraordinary piece of music to have ever come out of Scotland and become a hit single:-

mp3: Cocteau Twins – Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops

It reached #29 in May 1984, spending four weeks in the Top 40. Sadly, the producers at Top of The Pops didn’t see fit to invite the band to the studios for a performance.  It truly would have been incredible television to see Liz, Robin and Simon miming away as the balloons were bounced around among the surely bewildered pop fans who were there to catch sight of Duran Duran, Nik Kershaw or The Thompson Twins, all of whom were riding high in the charts that week.

To be fair, the first week of June 1984 had a decent looking Top 30 –  OMD, Blancmange, New Order, Human League, Depeche Mode, The Special AKA, Scritti Politti, The Cure, Sandie Shaw/The Smiths, and Echo & The Bunnymen could be found alongside Cocteau Twins.

There was always something ethereal or even abstract about the music the trio made, but the fact they enjoyed some degree of commercial success would indicate there was much more love for them out there in the mid 80s than perhaps they ever anticipated or indeed were prepared for.

Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops is not a lyric that would ever qualify for the great short stories series – indeed, it is nigh on impossible to know what precisely is being sung with different sites offering up different interpretations.  But it really doesn’t matter when the voice is as wonderfully expressive as this – at times it sounds as if Liz is undergoing some sort of exorcism – with a musical accompaniment which is singularly unique but somehow offers reminders of a number of the other above-named bands who were also in the Top 30 that week, as well as the guitar work of John McGeogh.

The b-side wasn’t too shabby either:-

mp3: Cocteau Twins – Pepper-Tree

One of the strangest things about the release of this single was that the 12″ version not only featured an extended version, but that it was stuck on the b-side, with a completely different lead track as the a-side:-

mp3: Cocteau Twins – The Spangle Maker

Here’s the thing……The Spangle Maker has even more of a ‘wow’ factor. For the full sonic experience, turn it up loud and put on a decent set of headphones.

JC

DANGER IN THE PAST

It was sometime last year that I picked up the vinyl re-issues of the first two solo albums recorded and released by Robert Forster.  They are each things of beauty, coming finely packaged, complete with a bonus 7″ single and Robert’s newly supplied liner notes to help put things into context.

The debut album was Danger In The Past, recorded over just 14 days in June/July 1990, some six months after the Go-Betweens had broken up.  By this time, Robert was living with his new wife, Karin Baumler, in a Bavarian farmhouse which is where most of its nine songs were written.  A combination of good luck and knowing the right people enabled the album to be recorded in the famous Hansa Studios in Berlin.  His old friend, Mick Harvey, had taken on the task of producing the record, and in doing so had persuded Thomas Wydler and Hugo Race to join him in the studio.  In effect, it was Robert Forster and the Bad Seeds who convened for those two weeks with the end result being very much to everyone’s satisfaction.  Robert has since said it was one of his most treasured recording experiences, finally getting into the type of  studio hadn’t ever really had the resources to book, armed with songs which saw him move in different directions from before.  He has described the title songs as being….‘ like a folk song, and none of my songs on any Go-Betweens record were like that or had six verses. It had a classic folk chord sequence that Neil Young could’ve written, that Gordon Lightfoot could’ve written’

mp3: Robert Forster – Danger in The Past

I should also mention that Karin Baumler supplied vocals to the title track, he first of what would be many contributions to Robert’s wongs and live shows ever since.

I don’t want to go overboard with the music from the album, given the fact it contains just the nine tracks.  The album came out on Beggars Banquet, the label which the Go-Betweens had been signed to for the final few years, and while there wasn’t a single officially lifted from it, a promotional 45 featuring the jaunty, magnificent and poppy album opener, Baby Stones, (with its piano lines eerily similar to Don’t Go Back To Rockville) had been pressed up and sent to radio stations. A promo video was also shot:-

It’s b-side wasn’t on the album and when Needle Mythology issued the 2020 re-pressing they made it available on the bonus 7″:-

mp3: Robert Forster – The Land That Time Forgot

I’ll get round soon enough to posting something from Calling From a Country Phone, the follow-up album originally released in 1993.

JC

IN WHICH THROWING THE KITCHEN SINK AT THE SONG WORKED A TREAT

The Divine Comedy had been on the go for about seven years before the first whiff of success.  It came via a fabulous single and the opening track from their fourth album, Casanova, which was released in 1996

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Something For The Weekend

It’s got the sort of plot that would make for a great short story.  The reason I’ve not included it within that particular series is that too many of the lyrics get repeated throughout the song, but this is actually one of its strengths as it really is quite a simple premise.

Man tries to woo an attractive woman but isn’t quite sure how to really go about it.  Woman convinces man that she is very interested in him but before it goes any further she needs him to go to an outbuilding in the garden as she’s convinced there’s something strange afoot.  Man goes into the outbuilding whereupon he gets beaten up and robbed, discovering when he comes back into a state of consciousness that his wallet and car keys are gone….as is the teasing and alluring woman.

There’s a superb arrangement on the track, with violins, violas, cellos, flutes, a clarinet, an oboe, a bassoon, a saxophone, a trumpet, a flugelhorn and a trombone all in the mix, alongside the guitars, bass, drums, piano and Hammond organ.

You can actually thank, indirectly, Edwyn Collins for it all.  The unexpected world-wide success of A Girl Like You had brought immense riches to Setanta Records, which meant that all other singers and bands on the label could enjoy bigger budgets for recording their next singles and albums.  The sounds that had been going around inside Neil Hannon‘s head over the previous years could now be fully realised.

Something For The Weekend reached #14 in the UK singles chart, the first of what would prove to be twelve Top 40 singles for The Divine Comedy over the next eight years.

Here’s the three tracks which accompanied the CD single:-

mp3: The Divine Comedy – Birds of Paradise Farm
mp3: The Divine Comedy – Love Is Lighter Than Air
mp3: The Divine Comedy – Songs Of Love (Theme from ‘Father Ted’)

The second of the above songs is a cover of a Magnetic Fields song, from the previous year’s album Get Lost. The third of the above songs will, I’m sure, put a smile on many faces, recalling one of the funniest and most original TV sitcoms with 25 peerless episodes all told. Any overseas readers not familiar with Father Ted should click here.

JC

IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (55)

March 1998.

The third release on Italy Records, a relatively new indie-label based in Detroit is by a relatively new indie/garage punk calling themselves The White Stripes.  The duo, consisting of Jack White (vocals/guitar) and Meg White (drums/vocals), are siblings – well that’s their story at this point in time, and they’re sticking to it.

The single has come about as Dave Buick, the founder/owner of Italy Records, sees a great deal of potential in The White Stripes based on watching them perform in various bars in Detroit.  Jack White had been reluctant to do so on the basis of not being able to meet the costs involved, but relented when it became clear that the label would pick up the tab.

The decision is taken to go with an energetic number, a little over two minutes in length:-

mp3 : The White Stripes – Let’s Shake Hands

A cover version was chosen for the b-side:-

mp3: The White Stripes – Look Me Over Closely

This song had originally been recorded by Marlene Dietrich in 1953.  The composer was Terry Gilkyson, who would later end up at Disney Studios where a number of his subsequent songs would become hugely famous from their use in cartoon films, including the Oscar-nominated Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book in 1968.

Only 1,000 copies of Let’s Shake Hands/Look Over Me Closely were pressed, on 7″ red vinyl.  As you can imagine, it’s incredibly difficult to get a hold of, with copies fetching several hundred pounds on the second-hand market.  There was a second pressing in 2002, just after The White Stripes had become internationally famous, which is more readily available and affordable, despite again having a limited run of just 1,000 copies, followed by a third pressing in 2008, again with a limited number. (And no, I don’t have a copy of any of the pressings….the mp3s were villaniously acquired…..)

The White Stripes would record a second single, Lafayette Blues, for Italy Records thatwhich was released in October 1998 before they moved to the long-established Sympathy for the Record Industry label, based in California. Over a three-year period, there would be three albums and a number of singles, and enjoying the commercial breakthrough in White Blood Cells in 2001.

I think it’s fair to say that The White Stripes debut single demonstrates clearly the sort of sounds that would propel them to superstardom and widespread acclaim.

JC

THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part Thirteen : COME HOME

Those of you who remember the previous long-running looking at the singles by James will hopefully recall the story of this single, released in November 1989.  ‘Madchester’ was in full swing and James had just recorded an album for intended release on Rough Trade, with the hope that after some six years of near-misses that this would be the one to provide the commercial breakthrough, especially as the latest single had made the all-important BBC Radio 1 daytime playlist.

mp3: James – Come Home (Rough Trade version)

James, however, was a band for whom everything had seemingly gone wrong ever since their formation.  In this instance, Rough Trade messed up spectacularly, failing to get enough copies of Come Home into the shops.  The 45, on which so many hopes were pinned, crawled into the charts at a shockingly low #85.  The band were, understandably, angry with the label and the subsequent row led to them demanding to be released from their contract and to be allowed to buy the rights to the recorded album which they would then take to other labels.

There were a number of options on the table, and the choice became Fontana Records where, as the cliché goes, the rest is history.  How Was It For You?, their first release for the new label, cracked the singles charts.  The band played a blistering set at Glastonbury in June 1990 following which Fontana decided to re-release a remixed version of Come Home as the follow-up.

It was the era of multi-formatting, and in this instance there was a 7″, two 12″, a CD and cassette version.  There were four versions of Come Home spread over the releases – the single remix, the extended single mix, a live radio session from April 1990 and a fairly radical re-working by Andrew Weatherall, which extends out beyond eight minutes:-

mp3: James – Come Home (Weatherall Remix)

This was placed on the b-side of the 12″ with the Green sleeve.  The a-side had the radio version of Come Home along with a terrific remix of the title track from the new album:-

mp3: James – Goldmother (Warp Remix)

Despite all this, the single stalled at #32.  It would be another year, and the remix and new version of Sit Down, an earlier Rough Trade single, before James went truly mega.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Parts 44 & 45)

Very long post alert………………………..

It wasn’t supposed to be me this week…..in fact, the original plan had been for The Robster to take you through to the end of the journey, mainly as I don’t have any of the very late-period R.E.M. singles in the collection, and so would be unable to offer up any thoughts or view on the b-sides.  I was still buying the studio albums, if not the compilations, but this was more out of a sense of duty than anything else as I was getting bored with things and feeling let down constantly by one or more hacks excitedly writing that the new record was a return to form when it was anything but.

So, why the change of mind?  It was all down to me feeling that my partner-in-rhyme had already suffered enough for our art with his review last week of the first two singles from Around The Sun, and it was only right that I should share the pain.  The Robster was able to fire over some mps3 in a file and allow me to make myself familiar with the material.

Let’s cut to the chase.  Around The Sun is an appalling album.  A collection of songs that would have been laughed out of the house a decade or so earlier.  As for the 80s, I don’t think any of the band would have risked the ridicule of taking any of the demos near a studio.

Despite this, it didn’t stop me buying tickets to go see the band in a huge tent in a park in the centre of Glasgow in June 2005, some nine months after the release of a record I had listened to once.  I remember, after an energetic opening, albeit one in which the sound was never quite spot on thanks to the acoustics involved in playing under a canvas, that I got quite bored by the show, thinking that Buck, Mills and Stipe, were going through the motions and fulfilling the contractual obligations.

Looking back at the set-list, it’s now obvious the mid-show sag was a combination of them playing the songs from Around The Sun, interspersed with some of the big hits which, in the setting, simply became crowd sing-alongs drowing out the sounds from the speakers. Even my beloved Electrolite got the lighters-in-the air treatment and the out-of tune singing with closed eyes from a group of pissed friends of both sexes right behind us.

Oh, and that’s the other memory.  Loads of drunk folk, out for an occasion rather than a gig, many of whom were constantly heading off, barging their way through the crowd for a comfort break, and returning with handfuls of more booze, the contents of which were quickly consumed leading to the vicious circle…….

OK. This isn’t meant to be a gig review, but 14 June 2005 at Glasgow Green was when I knew I wouldn’t ever see the band play live again.  It had become unbearable.

Single #3 from Around The Sun got played that night.  Single #4 did not. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies (as I’ll come to in due course).

Electron Blue is the song which Michael Stipe has said is his favourite track from the album, and indeed was the inspiration for his stage appearance during the promotional tours of 2004 and 2005 with a blue band pained across his eyes.

It starts off with some bent-notes played on a synth for about ten seconds before becoming, to my ears, something akin to an out-take by the Electric Light Orchestra….maybe I’m getting confused by the common one word in the song titles, but the music just before Stipe comes into start singing reminds me of the dreadful Mr Blue Sky.  It turns out that Electron Blue then slows right down but only to turn itself into a keyboard-driven dirge. It’s just dull and dreary beyond words (and for the Glasgow Green gig, it was slipped into the set after Everybody Hurts and right before Electrolite – let’s just say it’s been one of very very very few occasions when I’ve been grateful that the audience were speaking over the top of the performance.

mp3: R.E.M. – Electron Blue

It was released in March 2005.  There was a 7″ single on blue vinyl, and two CDs.  And, as had been the case with the previous two singles from the album, they were packed with live tracks as b-sides.  This one was common to the vinyl and CD1:-

mp3: R.E.M. – What’s The Frequency Kenneth (live)

A track that had previously been released as a live version on the Tongue single back in 1996.  Almost a decade on and R.E.M. prove they are capable of sucking the life totally out of some of their most exciting rock songs.  This is from the October 2004 show in Atlanta, on the first leg of the Around The Sun Tour. The sound is muddied with the vocals way out in front of everything else.  It’s just plain ugly.

The live track on CD2 was recorded in Cincinnati a few days after the Atlanta show.

mp3: R.E.M. – Sweetness Follows (live)

While it was good that one of the lesser known tracks from Automatic For The People was being played live, it proved to be an infrequent happening.  Being the sad statto, I looked things up and found that across the 114 shows on the various legs of the tour between October 2004 and July 2005, Sweetness Follows was aired just 17 times.  But, given how much of a struggle it is for Michael Stipe to deliver the notes in the way he should, maybe that’s a blessing.

CD2 also had a video clip, of Leaving New York as recorded at the gig in Helsinki on 29 January 2005. This would have been in the depths of a hard Finnish winter, and so you’ll be relieved to learn the gig was an indoor one, at the 12,000 capacity Hartwall Arena.  Sadly, we haven’t been able to track down an audio clip of the performance.

Electron Blue came in at #26.  The following week it fell all the way down to #61 before disappearing from view.  Proof that the average shelf-life of an R.E.M. single wasn’t much more than a carton of fresh-milk.

The Around The Sun tour ended with a massive show at Hyde Park, London on 16 July 2005.  It was actually a week later than scheduled as London has been shut down the previous weekend after 56 people had lost their lives during a series of bombs that had targetted the public transport network.  84,000 people made their way to the park and by most accounts, the band played a crowd-pleasing barn-stormer of a set, one which helped the capital heal itself.

A fourth single was lifted from the album and released two days after Hyde Park.  It came in at #27 in the first chart afterwards before dropping to #55 and then out of sight.  Quite clearly, it was only the most loyal of fans who were spending their cash on the singles.

mp3: R.E.M. – Wanderlust

I’m not sure what The Robster’s take on Wanderlust is*, but I’m quite prepared to go on the public record and state that Wanderlust is, easily, the worst 45 of REM’s career…..with the irony being that it was their 45th single in the UK.

*Actually, I shared the proposed contents of this post in advance with The Robster, and he kindly offered me his take on the single:-

Now, picture the scene. Around The Sun is finished, the band and associates are in the studio to hear the final mix. At some point, someone from the label pipes up: “God, this record is boring. Don’t you have anything more upbeat?” After some awkward shuffling and mumbling, one of the band sheepishly mutters: “Well, there’s a song called ‘Wanderlust’…”

“Oh dear god no, that’s embarrassing,” someone else retorts.

“Well, let’s hear it,” says label guy.

The mixing desk guy plays it. Everyone cringes at how awful it is. Everyone that is, except record label guy.

“Guys, that’s this record’s ‘Sidewinder’, it’s got goofy single written all over it,”he exclaims. “Put this on and we’ll get the album out.”

“It’s only a rough take though, it’s not finished…” explains band member #2.

“And we don’t have time to finish it,” says band member #3.

“It’s good enough as it is guys,” insists the label imbecile. “I mean it’s crap, but it hasn’t sent me to sleep…”

A resigned sigh emanates around the studio…

 And that, my friends, is the story of how Wanderlust came to be on Around The Sun. Well, that’s the story in my head, anyhow. I may have made some (all) of it up, but I don’t have any other logical explanation as to how an album of such awfulness is made even worse by this horrific, unwelcome specimen barging its way into it halfway through.

I know that Jonny has said he’s enjoyed hearing some of these later singles as he’s not been familiar with them at all, and if nothing else, has offered the opinion that the distinct vocal delivery of Michael Stipe is capable of lifting things to a bearable level.  I wonder, however, if my learned legal friend can mount a defendable case for this piece of crap?

Again, there was a 7″ single, this time on red vinyl, and two CDs.   The 7″ had a track lifted from the album as its b-side:-

mp3: R.E.M. – The Outsiders

Unbelievably, it’s a song which makes Wanderlust almost passable.  And then, just as it fades out to what sounds like its natural end at the 2:48 mark, a snare drum kicks in and a spoken/semi-sung contribution from the rapper Q-Tip, from A Tribe Called Quest, takes us through  the next minute or so before the tune meanders to its close just after four minutes.  It bored me then, and it bores me still…..a total waste of what, on paper, should have been an interesting and fruitful collaboration.

A different version of The Outsiders was included on CD2. It’s one of those that didn’t sound all that different on the initial listen, but maybe that’s just me as I wasn’t ever giving the original take all that much attention.  But then….just as I was expecting to hear Q-Tip, it is instead Michael Stipe who takes the song through to its conclusion:-

mp3: R.E.M. – The Outsiders (alternate version)

Sadly, it doesn’t do anything to change my mind that this is the sort of tune and lyrics that Phil Collins would have churned out in his late 80s pomp.

As for CD1.

mp3: R.E.M. – Low (alternate version)

I’m guessing this was dug out of the vaults as Scott Litt, who hadn’t worked with the band since New Adventures in Hi-Fi, is given production, engineering and mixing credits.  It does sound as if it was a rejected, possibly earlier take, from the Out of Time sessions back in 1991.  It may have been rejected back then, but as you’ll hear, it is way superior to anything that the band were coming out with in 2004/2005.  It’s a powerful, haunting reminder of why the band had grabbed the attention of so many music afficianados at the outset.

The Robster also helpfully pointed out that Wanderlust received a digital release, with a live version made available.  We are nothing, if not completists:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Wanderlust (live)

R.E.M would disappear for the best part of three years after Around The Sun.  The tour had been gruelling and being in their mid-to late 40s meant it took a huge amount out of them physically and emotionally. I think many of us expected an announcement that they had broken up, but they mounted a comeback, of sorts, and The Robster will be here next week to take you thorough the singles of the late 00’s.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #257: PRIMAL SCREAM

This week, I’ll let you, dear readers, fill in the gaps.

“Glasgow. Early 80s. Bobby Gillespie. Jim Beattie. Robert ‘Throb’ Young. Creation Records. C86. Andrew Innes. Elevation Records, Sonic Power Groove. Flop. Creation Records. Flop.  Martin Duffy. Late 80s. Acid House. Andrew Weatherall. Remixing, Sampling. Denise Johnson. Loaded. Screamadelica. Mercury Music Prize. Blues Rock. Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Mani from the Roses. Vanishing Point.  XTRMNTR. Collaborations. Festival Favourites. Turn of the Century.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  Bobby’s got a book coming out soon……”

mp3: Primal Scream – Velocity Girl

A tune that has to be fitted into the above narrative just before or after ‘C86’

Nobody has yet penned an ICA for Primal Scream.  Just sayin’…..

JC