SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 30)

As I said in the previous entry in this series, some songs make for the very saddest of short stories. Particularly when they are true.

Between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary there was Mary
Between the Deep Blue Sea and the Devil that was me

If ever anyone could help me with my obsession with
The young Suzannah York
It was Mary

In my pink pajamas she asked me for something
I gave her the short answer

She read our stars out loud
And I knew then that we should have gone sailing

But we stayed home instead
Fighting on the water bed
Like the honeymoon couple on drugs

Me and Mary

What happened in the past
Remained a mystery of natural history

She should have been the last
But she was just the latest

If she wanted to be a farmer’s wife
I would endure that muddy life
I would dig for victory

And the sound of happy couples
Coupling happily in the dark
While you and I sat down to tea
I remember you said to me
That no amount of poetry
Would mend this broken heart
But you can put the Hoover round
If you want to make a start

All my friends from school
Introduce me to their spouses
While I’m left standing here
With my hands down the front of my trousies

I just don’t know what’s to be done
I wonder sometimes how did Dad meet Mum
And how did they conceive of me

Tell me Mary

The boys who came to the shop
Always made her laugh much more than I did

When I told her this must stop
She didn’t bat an eyelid

She said you know honey it’s such a shame
You’ll never be any good at this game
You bruise too easily

So said Mary

Her two brothers took me out
Of circulation for the duration

So we went our separate ways but does she still love me
She still has my door key

Like a bully boy in a Benetton shop
You’re never happy with what you’ve got
Till what you’ve got has gone

Sorry Mary

mp3 : Billy Bragg – The Short Answer (Peel Session)

The opening line is just genius. The remainder are incredibly moving, with just the right mix of nostalgia, regret and an understanding that some things, in the long run, are for the best. We’ve all been there, haven’t we????

JC

BRASSNECK

It was turning into a dull and routine Friday at work in mid-November, counting down the hours till the freedom of the weekend arrived, when this text from Aldo flashed up on the phone:-

“You going to the Weddoes tonight? Only just noticed they were playing.”

I too, hadn’t picked up they were in town, despite the fact it had been included within a couple of previous e-mails sent out to everybody of the TWP/Cinerama mailing lists. Luckily, there were a small number of tickets still available and six hours later, along with Mrs Villain, the three of us made our way inside The Classic Grand, a former porn cinema long ago converted into a music venue.

The band were on tour for the 30th anniversary of Bizarro and the promise was that the songs from that album would be aired alongside some other old favourities and a few new songs. The venue was mobbed….Aldo at the age of 39 was within the 3% minority of those aged under 45. I caught up with a few old friends who I had an inkling would be there, including Robert and Carlo from the Simply Thrilled Team, and Drew from Across the Kitchen Table fame, who was there with his other half, L.

You only need to take a glance at the set-list to see the sort of night we were treated to:-

California
Brassneck
Crushed
No
Don’t Give Up Without a Fight
Thanks
Kennedy
Montreal
Click Click
Don’t Touch That Dial
Deer Caught in the Headlights
A Song From Under the Floorboards
What Have I Said Now?
Telemark
Granadaland
Bewitched
Be Honest
Take Me!

California was a lovely way to open the night, but the place truly erupted with the opening notes of the song which opens Bizarro:-

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Brassneck

It is still hard to believe that the band weren’t entirely happy with the way the song had turned out after their initial stint in the studio, but then again, as I’ve only recently discovered from reading published and on-line material, the band were, certainly in the early days, just about consistently critical of the recorded versions of their songs, taking the view that they lacked a certain energy or excitement in comparison to how they were played live.

Kennedy had been the only single lifted from the album and while it had taken the band into the Top 40, its peak of #33 had been a bit disappointing to RCA, the major label to which the band had recently signed. There was always a wish to have a second single but the band persuaded all concerned that everyone’s interests would be better served if they could go back into the studio and have another go at Brassneck, this time with the irrepressible Steve Albini in the producer’s chair (albeit his preference is to be referred to as the audio engineer).

He trimmed down the track by about thirty seconds while beefing up, (to put it mildly), the arrangement with a few of his specialities including what many have referred to as the sound of a distressed beached whale during an instrumental break (something he would make huge use of later on when he worked with the band on Seamonsters (1991).

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Brassneck (single version)

This one went Top 30…..an improvement on last time out but still a bit too low for the liking of the bosses. The continued failure of the band to really make a dent in the charts led to the situation in 1992 when the band released a single on the first Monday of each month, only to have it deleted within a matter of days, meaning there would be enough sales to propel the 45 into the charts for one week only – it was something of a mixed success but it did lead to Come Play With Me giving them their one and only Top 10 success in May 1992.

The relative success of Brassneck did, however, provide the band their first ever appearance on Top of The Pops. It wasn’t the most memorable of performances, explained in later years by David Gedge:-

“I wasn’t pissed off and I was just following an old tradition established by some of my heroes… those punk bands who didn’t take Top Of The Pops seriously and who took the mickey out of the whole ‘miming’ thing. I started doing it during the TV rehearsals, fully expecting a producer or director to tell me to stop messing about but no one did. So with each run-through it became a little more… extreme. The Brassneck video was the inspiration for the Top Of The Pops performance, actually, with the band looking bored and oblivious to the frantic, theatrical performance art going on around us. The two things aren’t that dissimilar…”

The re-recorded single was released on 7”, 12”, cassette and CD, with another three tracks on offer, all recorded with Albini on engineering duties:-

mp3 : The Wedding Present – Don’t Talk Just Kiss
mp3 : The Wedding Present – Gone
mp3 : The Wedding Present – Box Elder

The first two are Gedge originals, while the last of them is a cover of an early Pavement song, with all of them featuring heavily over the years in any lists of favourite songs drawn up by TWP fans.

Brassneck itself is one of the best and most enduring numbers the band ever recorded, as epitomised by its reception that evening in Glasgow  – only the cheers after Kennedy and Take Me! were louder, and the latter was mostly to do with it signifying the end of the show as TWP, for those who don’t know, never do encores…..

It’s a song that shouldn’t really be mucked about with, but fair play to Mr Gedge in that he selected it as one that should be given the this treatment for a one-off live set he performed in 2009 with the BBC Big Band. Click here if you dare…..

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #234 : POP WILL EAT ITSELF

A GUEST CONTRIBUTION by ACIDTED

Sixteen Different Flavours of PWEI – ICA

I’ve admired all the ICAs over the years and read the majority. I was going to do one on Weatherall but Swiss Adam beat me to it (and, frankly, did a better job than I would have done). But it’s rankled that the spread of artists has left out one of the most successful acts from that fertile period of the late 80s through to the mid-90s. I talk of the mighty Pop Will Eat Itself (hereinafter PWEI). This ICA has been two years in the making, hoping that someone else would remember their glittering brilliance. I can wait no longer. If no-one else it going to do it properly then I’m going to have a half-arsed go at it.

PWEI seem unfairly airbrushed out of UK pop history. They were never cool. But they were better than many (Hello, The Fall). They had 11 Top 40 UK hits in the period 1989-1994. Fundamentally, they were fun and raucous but capable of striking an unexpectedly political note. This ICA is a double album. 16 tracks (14 on the regular LP and an extra two on the remix 12″) in honour of their Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell track, which was also the name of their 1993 compilation album.

PWEI, originally Wild And Wandering, started in the mid-80s and their members included Clint Mansell, Graham Crabb, Adam Mole and Richard Marsh. They were famously named after a phrase in a David Quantick review in NME of Jamie Wednesday (who would go on to become Carter (The Unstoppable Sex Machine)). On with the music…

Side One

1. Def Con One 7″ Mix (from Feasting Frenzy)

A kinda chronological set of hits on this side. But starting with their final single before breaking into the Top 40. The Poppies’ early work had been indie racket, Grebo and a bit of a mess. The less said about Beaver Patrol the better. But then they clearly had a bit of an epiphany with The Beasties Boys and gleefully grabbed onto the hip hop sampling with guitars that defines their best work. Starting with scratching and a sample this blasts us into orbit with their party vibes and adoption of popular culture icons, with the chanting of “gimme Big Mac and fries to go.” I should admit that for many. many years I misheard it as “Big Mac and the price of gold.”

2. Can U Dig It? (from This Is The Hour… This Is The Day… This is This)

More party vibes here. Lots of rocky guitar and lyrics that are a list of all good things. These include AC/DC, Twilight Zone, Optimus Prime, Run DMC, Terminator, Hit The North and “Alan Moore knows the score.” In the wrong hands this could be a drunken closing time singalong. But it’s way more fun than that and the selection shows a balance between low brow and high brow.

3. Wise Up! Sucker (taken from This is The Hour… This is the Day… This is This!)

Although this follows the guitars and samples of Can U Dig It? it’s a sort of love song to lost love. The chorus of “She Loves Me. She Loves Me Not” It’s also where the Sixteen Different Flavours of Hell lyric comes from. But the angry title is also a warning. All very blokish, yes. But great nonetheless.

4. Touched By The Hand of Cicciolina – The Incredi-Bull Mix

Ahead of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, they released this cracking track that showed a different style. There’s still hip hop here. The title steals from New Order and references Italian pornstar Ilona Staller. But it also takes in dub and in this version dispenses with shouty lyrics altogether in favour of something that should have been used as the theme music for the ITV World Cup goals show reel. Sadly, that was not to be. The Bull in the title is a reference to their West Midlands roots, support for Wolves legend Steve Bull.

5. Dance of the Mad Bastards (taken from Cure For Sanity)

The shoutiness returns on this track but there are funky drummer breaks, funk bass and a greater sense of space and self-confidence. I’ve always assumed the “get Up And Get On It” is Lemmy from Motorhead. But I don’t really know. This track also marks their move from hip hop into the fringes of house. They would get closer still but never quite gave up their fondness for industrial and axe attacks.

6. X, Y and Zee (taken from Cure For Sanity)

This track from 1991 and the successor 92° mark the closest they got to house music. But it’s also a more obviously political track. Hidden among the pop culture references to George Jetson is an environmental and unity theme.

7. 92° (The Third Degree) – Boilerhouse “The Birth Mix”

This starts off with that optimistic house staple the choppy house piano that sets a lighter than usual musical tone. There’s talk of a “hardcore dance floor.” And in a UK that was getting more house obsessed by 1991 this got to #23 in the Charts. Proper wave your hands in the air stuff.

8. Karmadrome (taken from The Looks or The Lifestyle?)

This 1992 track ends side 1. It also marks a step back from house music and back towards hip hop and industrial guitars. But it also has the most wonderful choir chorus of the title, starting at 0:50. As they say, “The Power Exists in Everyone.”

Side 2

9. PWEIzation (taken from Very Metal Noise Pollution EP)

Side 2 is more of a delve across the PWEI archives. And it seemed fitting to start with this tune that seemed almost like a theme track. This offers a rallying cry, to keep watching the skies. A signal to cure isolation. Sirens wail, guitars tumble and beats clatter around in wild abandon.

10. Not Now James. We’re Busy (taken from This is The Hour… This is the Day… This is This!)

A paean to James Brown. But with the Poppies usual undercutting humour he isn’t allowed a look in. Whenever JB wants to “get up and do my thang” he’s told “Not now James, we’re busy.” In actuality the track is based around James Brown’s arrest and jailing in 1988 following a car chase that started in Georgia, went through South Carolina before returning to Georgia, where he was arrested.

11. Ich Bin Ein Auslander (taken from Dos Degos Mis Amidos)

A turn for the straightforwardly political. A track that asks us to face attitudes in England towards immigration and identifies with the other. It talks of the “rise of the right” and shows that today’s Stormzy controversy is nothing new. The track takes Eastern instruments and a load of Led Zep samples to produce probably their most powerful track. Musically works today, politically still sadly works today.

12. Bulletproof! (taken from The Looks or the Lifestyle?)

After that, something lighter. Is Everybody Happy? The young and invincible sounds of Bulletproof! More singalong choruses than you could shake a stick at and even plenty of “yeah, a-ha” for the terminally stupefied.

13. Eat Me Drink Me Dub Me Kill Me

Although the title As the album starts to wind down a bit of Lewis Carrol referencing in the title to this track. Alice is absent but what you do get is a dubbed out version of this track from 1992. The beats do sound a bit dated in places but the Ofra Haza sample and thundering bass drum dub save it. It’s a bit of contemplation of mortality with its references to Belushi and private hell.

14. Reclaim The Game – Funk FIFA

Although PWEI disbanded in 1995 (despite a brief reformation in 2005) there is a Pop Will Eat Itself going today. They are clear that they’re a different band, despite having a couple of original members. But they’re not out of ideas. This funky Brazilian influenced attack on FIFA’s management of the beautiful game stands up alongside anything from their heyday.

Remix 12″

Side A.

Get The Girl, Kill The Baddies! – Part Man Part Machine

Graham Crabb had a career as Golden Claw Music producing serious ambient sounds after PWEI folded. This wandering 14 minute ambient remix of PWEI’s only top 10 hit shows that this was some time in the gestation. It’s an industrial ambient track full of alien menace and waves on the shore.

Side B.

Cape Connection – Transglobal Underground Cossack In UFO Encounter Confusion (taken from Two Fingers My Friends!)

Before they disbanded PWEI released a double album of remixes from which this track is taken. It ranks among their finest. And this is the standout track. PWEI’s guitars are set far back. World Music Beats and tablas are brought to the forefront, with the most enormous bass drum. All topped off with a Russian choir. What more could you ask for? Play loud. Very loud.

PWEI were pop stalwarts that never got the credit they deserved. Their more serious moments didn’t get fully acknowledged. But for a singalong party they can’t be bettered.

https://shop.popwilleatitself.net/

PWEI ICA, a playlist by acidtedblog on Spotify : A playlist featuring Pop Will Eat Itself

acidted

JC adds……

This dropped in to me over the Festive period.  It put a huge smile on my face as acidted has been my longest-serving guest contributor – it was the fact that so many of his efforts were wiped out by Google when they took the old blog that got me particularly angry.

He was also the first non-Glasgow blogger I ever met face-to-face – way back in October 2009 when I was down in London to watch the Tampa Bay Buccanners get thrashed by the New England Patriots – and to my eternal shame we haven’t managed to get together in person since that Sunday morning. But we have stayed in touch by e-mail over the years – and I will always be in his debt for the times he stepped in to keep TVV up and running when personal circumstances meant I had to take a couple of extended breaks in 2010 and 2011.

PWEI were on my list of ‘must-do’ ICAs.  I’ve written preciously about some of the songs in this amazing compilation and there’s a number of others that I would have included in a future effort; however, I wouldn’t have been able to bring you Reclaim The Game or Cape Connection as I wasn’t aware of them until now.

Thanks mate.   Hugely appreciated.

Oh, and there’s a few more equally wonderful guest ICAs coming up over the next few weeks, all of which I’ve been sitting on for months.  Cheers to the contributors for their patience and understanding.

THIS SEARING LIGHT, THE SUN AND EVERYTHING ELSE

I’m the proud owner of a substantial number of books which, as a result of my sad inability to throw anything away, are taking up an increasing amount of space in Villain Towers to the disgust of Rachel whose efforts to modernise and improve its interiors are constantly thwarted by my storage requirements.

The vast majority of the books are music and sports related, consisting in the main of biographies in some shape or form. Among these are something in the region of 20 books related to Factory Records/Joy Division/New Order/The Hacienda, with the latest two additions coming via Christmas presents, one of which was the wonderfully entertaining first volume of autobiography by Stephen Morris, whose often self-deprecating effort far surpasses those of his bandmates Hooky and Barney, as much for the fact that he doesn’t use the book to rant about old grievances – but given that Record Play Pause only goes up to the formation of New Order, it may well be that a further and much anticipated volume will go down that path.

The other new book was This Searing Light, The Sun and Everything Else: Joy Division – The Oral History , whose author is Jon Savage.

The book was published in April 2019 and received great reviews, but I refrained from buying it at the time as I thought it would be more or less a cut’n’paste effort consisting of a re-hash of the tales told elsewhere in books by so other authors over the years. It was only when I pulled out the author’s Unknown Pleasures review from 1979 as part of the Festive Period series (click here) did I realise that here was someone who really did get to the heart and soul of the band and was probably the most qualified to do justice to the task, and so it was put on Santa’s list.

The book duly arrived on 25 December and I began to read it that evening, on the basis that it would be an easy enough book to dip in and out of while also turning my attention to some of the other books that had ended up under the tree. I spent hours engrossed in its contents and ended up not going to bed until some ungodly hour which set the tone for a stupid sleep pattern right through until my return to work on 6 January. As soon as I woke up, my nose was back in between its wonderful looking hardback cover and plans to watch or do other things were put on hold as what I was devouring and enjoying immensely was the definitive story of Joy Division that hasn’t been bettered.

For the most part, there was very little I didn’t already know – but the new snippets of information were invaluable and, in one particular case, a real game-changer in terms of how I’ve always thought about things over the past almost 40 years since Ian Curtis took his life. The author lets others do the talking, and offers a mixture of new interviews with those still living as well as dipping into archives to enable the voices of people such as Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett and Rob Gretton to be heard. It’s very clear that the questions Jon Savage has posed to everyone while carrying out the work involved to piece the book together were far from run-of-the-mill, and there’s a sense that everyone responding has been able to be wholly open and transparent about things, secure that what they say will be written down and then put in print, even if it those words are at odds with one of the other contributors or indeed are different from what has been said by them before.

One of the most fascinating things about this book is that it gives much more space to Peter Saville and Annik Honore than any previous publications, enabling them to fill in some gaps and to also offer up a sense of what really went on when so many others, over the years, have mythologised many of the events and happenings.

There’s also some incredibly reflective words throughout from the late Tony Wilson, many of which feel as if they were provided in what must have been one of the last of the detailed interviews he gave before his death. It is entirely fitting that the book is dedicated to Wilson, a lifelong hero of mine and my memory of the one time we met and spoke briefly for all of 45 seconds will never leave me; worth mentioning also that the book’s semingly strange title is taken directly from one of the quotes he provided to the author.

This Searing Light also benefits from being exactly what it says on the cover. There’s just a few reflections into the early lives and upbringings of everyone in the band and it comes to a halt just after Ian Curtis’s funeral, with no mention of what was still to come for Factory or the emergence of New Order. It is the story of a band whose fans at the time could never ever have imagined the impact they would make or the legacy they would provide, so much so that more than 40 years on, there is still much to be fascinated by.

One thing it did remind me of was just how young and largely inexperienced the other band members were at the time. The infamous Stiff/Chiswick challenge took place on 14 April 1978….all four members were 20-22 years old. They had yet to have Gretton, Wilson or Hannett come into their lives to help shape things. Just two years and one month later, it was all over.

So much transpired between April 78 and May 80 that even now it feels overwhelming, so it must have been nigh on impossible to deal with first-hand.

The book also provides a stark reminder that Joy Division, being on a largely unheralded and small label in Manchester, didn’t ever really find too much fame, until they were no more, beyond the pages of the music papers. The biggest shows they ever played was as the support act on a UK tour by Buzzcocks and nobody was getting rich from any of it, with life seeming to be not far off a hand-to-mouth existence for the most part. There was little glamour and a lot of hard slogging.

The onset of the singer’s epilepsy does seem to have been beyond the belief and understanding of all concerned – including the university-educated Wilson – and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the treatment on offer from the medical professions seems to have been haphazard and involved a lot of guesswork – it certainly got me re-assessing my own long-held views that if the others around him had been more understanding or proactive back in the day, then the suicide could have been prevented.

mp3 : Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

18 May 2020 will mark the 40th anniversary of the suicide, and will be a time when you’ll be sure to read many tributes, words and reflections across all forms of media. I’m willing to bet that none of them will better what Jon Savage has delivered across these 326 pages.

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (22/22)

Album : Power, Corruption & Lies – New Order
Review : Rolling Stone, 18 August 1983
Author : Steve Pond

Few rock bands have had as daunting a past to live up to, and overcome, as New Order. But Power Corruption & Lies is a remarkable declaration of independence; for the first time since lead singer Ian Curtis hanged himself three years ago, the survivors of Joy Division have shrugged off the legacy of that band’s grim, deathly majesty and produced an album that owes as much to the currents of 1983 as to the ghosts of 1980. This record is a quantum leap over Movement, the band’s first album, and over most of the music coming out of Britain lately.

Leap is the appropriate word, because on the surface, this is largely a stirring, jumpy dance record. Forget about New Order’s reputation as gloom mongers or avatars of postpunk iciness; forget about the artiness and mystique that envelop them. Just put this stuff on the radio, in clubs or on American Bandstand: you can dance to it, it deserves a ninety-eight, and a song like “Age of Consent” merits heavy rotation, not reverence.

That’s not to say New Order have turned into A Flock of Vultures or anything. But there’s a newfound boldness on Power that was sorely missing from Movement. On that LP, New Order were tentatively trying to break free of Joy Division’s style, if not their tone; too often, the result was turgid and solemn and sprinkled with the kind of whistles, whooshes and beeps that suggest novices halfheartedly tinkering with dance-oriented rock.

Working on subsequent singles toward a surer control of the studio and a more ambiguous emotional stance, the band hit its stride with the epiphanic “Temptation.” A tenacious, gripping, rock-hard dance tune, it was also the first New Order song to suggest that maybe love doesn’t always tear us apart – that, in fact, it just might bind us together, though at great risk. (That song and four others make up the highly recommended EP New Order: 1981-1982.)

Though not as forceful as “Temptation,” the songs on Power glow with confidence – musical confidence, mostly. While Steve Morris‘ drums weave patterns around the unrelenting kick of an electronic drum machine, the band masterfully interlaces layer after layer of sound: Bernard Albrecht‘s alternately slashing and alluring guitar lines, Peter Hook‘s melodic bass playing, broad washes of keyboard color from Gillian Gilbert and such percussive effects as chimes. It’s a bracing, exhilarating sound, equally suited to feverish dance workouts like “Age of Consent” and “586” as to such murkier, more impressionistic outings as “Your Silent Face.”

Lyrically, New Order still rely too readily on emotional vagueness and stock portentous images. Having partially abandoned the frigid, nocturnal chill that permeated Curtis’ work, the band’s current viewpoint is closer to simple pessimism than outright despair. Still, the group likes to draw the drapes and usher in a little darkness at the end of its songs. Power has some of the most foreboding lines in rock: “I’ve lost you.” “Their love died three years ago/Spoken words that cannot show.” “For these last few days/Leave me alone.” And then there’s the jarring conclusion of “Your Silent Face,” a glorious, understated reverie that rails against passivity (and, perhaps, against Curtis) with lines like, “A thought that never changes/Remains a stupid lie.” As the tune closes, Albrecht turns contemptuously dismissive: “You caught me at a bad time/So why don’t you piss off.”

With spiritual anguish and failed redemption no longer an obsessive theme, it’s now easier to focus on New Order simply as a rock band as strong as any in British pop. And as has been pointed out before, once you get past the romantically murky stance, New Order are (just as Joy Division were) a terrific singles band–not a consistent one, but one whose best singles, “Ceremony” and “Temptation,” have been transcendent.

“Blue Monday” isn’t in that class, but in its own way, it’s a breakthrough, getting the band heard on radio stations and in dance clubs. Neither New Order’s boldest song nor their most telling, it is instead their best sounding. The drum machine pounds away with an appropriately inhuman thunk, the band pumps hard to keep up, and after seven searing minutes, it soars to a close with layers of lush keyboards.

That song is included on the cassette version of Power Corruption & Lies; by itself on the twelve-inch single, though, it’s backed by “The Beach,” its dub remake and a tougher, better version of the tune. The point of “Blue Monday” is sound, after all, and the second version takes more sonic chances and shows just what sure-handed producers and assured musicians New Order have become. For the members of a band once known for one man’s sensibility, that’s the last thing many of us expected and, in a way, the best thing they could have become.

mp3 : New Order – Age of Consent
mp3 : New Order – Your Silent Face
mp3 : New Order – Leave Me Alone

JC adds : Possibly the most important record that I’ve ever purchased.  It certainly contains, in the album opener, my favourite song of time.  It felt like the right way to close off this series.  Things return to normal from tomorrow.

 

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (21/22)

Album : Coals to Newcastle – Orange Juice
Review : Drowned in Sound, 9 November 2010
Author : Aaron Lavery

Over the last decade Orange Juice have been cited as a key influence by all manner of acts. Unfortunately the casual punter has for some time had difficulty in discovering what the big deal is. The Glasgow band’s key components – their spindly, DIY take on soul, Edwyn Collins’ unusual croon, their joy with an absurb lyric – were clear to see as an influence on everything from their Eighties contemporaries right up to modern indie adventurers such as Wild Beasts, but there was never any sense of completeness for anyone really wanting to get their teeth in. To see the sleeve of 1982’s You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever proudly displayed on the sleeve of a Belle & Sebastian DVD but not be able to go out and listen was perhaps the indiest cock-tease available.

For anyone wishing to fully delve into the strange of world of Orange Juice, the drip-drip availability of compilations and reissues was both alluring and frustrating. However, the itch can now be comprehensively scratched with Coals To Newcastle, a seven disc box set that gathers together Orange Juice’s complete discography, including radio sessions, B-sides and a collection of videos and live performances that couldn’t be more of their time if they came on VHS.

Like a lot of box sets, this sudden torrent of material can initially be overwhelming. Although Orange Juice come from an era when the B-side could be just as impressive as the main event, it can still be a struggle to maintain enthusiasm when listening in massive stretches. But then again, it’s probably not designed to be devoured that way – Orange Juice were such a strange beast, changing their line-up and musical leaning so quickly, that the only real mainstay was Collins’ absurd, cocky but vulnerable voice at the heart of it all. Instead, Coals To Newcastle works as a series of Postcards (arf!) showing how Orange Juice morphed from a gangly, awkward bunch of boys who should know better into a more widescreen but ultimately frustrated group.

The first disc on Coals To Newcastle is actually a bit of a misstep, as it’s already been released as 2005’s The Glasgow School. Appearing here with some changes to the track listing and a couple of interesting additions, it essentially serves up an initial taster of Orange Juice #1. This is the Orange Juice that felt they had the world at the feet, that had the London music scene scrabbling up past Hadrian’s Wall to find ‘the sound of young Scotland’, only to find it dressed like “a member of the aristocracy down on its luck”.

This era of Orange Juice, the one that has probably caused the most ripples in indie circles since, is encapsulated by discs one and two, the latter of which contains You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever plus myriad extra tracks. Together, they encapsulate what made the band so exciting at the time, and what has intrigued certain sensitive types ever since.

To suggest that the band’s ability never quite matched up to their ambition here might sound cruel, but it’s meant as a compliment. The likes of ‘Falling And Laughing’ and ‘Simply Thrilled Honey’ are solid gold classics, a rush of adolescent feeling wrapped in furiously strummed guitars. Elsewhere, the band’s almost punkish belief that they can do anything – write grandiose reflections on catching your reflection in a mirror, or imaginings of retribution to local bully boys – is rendered more human by the slight missteps the band make, words packed in like an overstuffed suitcase and rhythms discarded mid-song before being picked up again later on. The giddy sense of abandon can still be heard today, and is still infectious for the listener.

The benefit of the box set is captured in the first track of Coals To Newcastle’s third CD, ‘Rip It Up’, easily the most recognisable Orange Juice song and their only real hit. It’s a shock here as it marks such a change from the earlier discs, with the first incarnation of the group dissolved and Orange Juice reconstituted as a pop-funk curiosity, and most significantly joined by Zimbabwean drummer Zeke Manyika. To hear the Rip It Up LP, full of sax solos, squelching keyboards, and Manyika’s multi-layered rhythms is quite jarring, but the juxtaposition underlines the similarities with the earlier Juice.

Collins’ unmistakable voice is still there, and so is his grand ambition. Opening the album with their perfect pop single, the band follow it with ‘A Million Pleading Faces’, an afro-beat inspired shake-up of proceedings, and then follow that with ‘Mud In Your Eye’, a slice of blue-eyed soul that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Style Council LP. Elsewhere, Collins resurrects an old b-side that opens with him proclaiming “breakfast time! Breakfast time!!” over a slouching reggae rhythm.

Rip It Up is full of enough strange stuff to keep us intrigued today, and plenty of genuine pop moments – the Motown homage ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ for instance – that should have fired it to big success. That it didn’t perhaps explains Orange Juice’s next move.

Discs four and five are based around the band’s next official releases, mini-album Texas Fever and their swansong, The Orange Juice, both released in 1984. The contrast between the two is intriguing as it shows a side of the band that hasn’t really been captured in the Orange Juice compilations released so far. It’s clearly still from the same minds that concocted the jittery, excitable early act and the smoother, shades-wearing Orange Juice that appeared on Top Of The Pops, but it’s somehow a bit harder, musically speaking.

This is where Coals To Newcastle really earns its spurs. To hear Texas Fever is to find a band stripped of the musical excess of ‘Rip It Up’, replacing it with a Sixties-inspired world of close harmonies and even – shock horror corduroy fans – guitar solos. It still finds time for Collins to fit in a ridiculous ‘scary’ voice on ‘Craziest Feeling’, but it wouldn’t be Edwyn if it didn’t slide towards the ludicrous on occasion.

Listening to The Orange Juice, made when the band was officially just Collins and Manyika, again underlines the benefit of the box set. Overshadowed by the more popular and more influential parts of the back catalogue, here it can be judged on its own merits. Thankfully, it stands up well. Its mood is captured on ‘A Little Too Sensitive’, on which Collins turns his trademark cynicism inward, and seems to analyse just why he’s been left standing (almost) alone whilst the music he helped to create has gone on to soundtrack the early part of the decade.

It’s a reflective end to the band’s discography, albeit enlivened by the track ‘What Presence?!’, an early indicator of the guilty pleasure silliness Collins would bottle on ‘A Girl Like You’, and ‘Salmon Fishing In NY’, a heavier number that ends the record in a blizzard of guitar feedback. Accompanied here by numerous b-sides, live tracks and, believe it or not, dub mixes, plus that extra disc of radio sessions, it means Coals To Newcastle lacks a real finale, but that’s a problem of box sets in general, not just this one.

So what to make of the whole thing? Well, as an introduction to the band, it won’t work, simply because of its size. For that, you can get The Glasgow School and hear the influence of that early Orange Juice. For those that want to delve deeper however, this is pretty much darned essential. It confirms Orange Juice as more than an influential indie band – it shows up their ridiculousness, their ambition, their open-mindedness, their limitations, their self-reliance. It leaves you converted to their cause, whatever it is and however foolish it may be. It’s also something you can see yourself returning to, rather than keeping on a shelf for posterity. You can’t really ask for more than that, can you?

mp3 : Orange Juice – Falling and Laughing (Peel Session, 1980)
mp3 : Orange Juice – Mud In Your Eye
mp3 : Orange Juice – Craziest Feeling
mp3 : Orange Juice – What Presence?! (Kid Jensen session, 1984)

JC adds : You really should delve.  It’s bloody marvellous.  And I still can’t quite get my head round the fact that I got a thank you in the credits within the accompanying booklet.

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS (20/22)

Album : Green – R.E.M.
Review : Rolling Stone, 12 January 1989
Author : Michael Azerrad

On Green, R.E.M. dares to think positive. Songs like “Stand,” “Get Up,” “World Leader Pretend” and “The Wrong Child” are a continuation of the upbeat call to arms sounded on Document‘s “Finest Worksong.” It was no coincidence that such a hopeful record was released on an election day whose outcome was a foregone conclusion. Now is not the time for despair, R.E.M. seems to be saying, but for a redoubling of efforts.

Having made the leap from a small label, I.R.S., to a monolithic major one, Warner Bros., R.E.M. hasn’t sold out; rather, the band has taken the opportunity to crack open the shell it’s been pecking at since it recorded its first album. On Green, R.E.M. acknowledges the outside world with a slew of musical references and some relatively pointed lyrics.

As Michael Stipe’s vocals get more distinct, so does his message – instead of meaning almost anything you want them to, his noticeably improved lyrics seem to be about at most two or three different things. Stipe even makes an effort to enunciate. And perhaps more remarkable, this is the first R.E.M. album with printed lyrics – actually, it provides the lyrics to just one song, “World Leader Pretend,” but with this band you take what you can get.

Green reveals a much wider range than previous efforts, including a playfulness that wasn’t there before. Some songs have a downright bubble-gummy feel: on “Stand,” Peter Buck lets fly with a ridiculously wanky wah-wah guitar solo. Still others reveal more emotion than the band has shown in the past; “You Are the Everything” and the untitled track that closes the album are frank love songs with few strings attached.

Except for those tender ballads, R.E.M. has completely lost its folk inflections. A heavy guitar sound has replaced the old Byrdsy jangle (which scores of college bands continue to ply). The trademark asymmetrical song structures are gone, too; now, verses are repeated for maximum catchiness.

The band’s last two albums – Life’s Rich Pageant and Document – seemed very much of a piece, but Green is a distinctive record with a new feel, at once slightly synthetic and deeply felt, with Stipe conveying strong conviction without shouting and subtle emotion without disappearing into the woodwork. (Green was coproduced by Scott Litt, who also coproduced Document, the band’s commercial breakthrough.)

“Turn You Inside-Out” includes percussion by former Sugar Hill Records house drummer Keith LeBlanc, but it’s no rap jam – rather, it’s the heaviest rock these guys have yet recorded. R.E.M. won its reputation as a great rock & roll band as much with its live shows as with its earnest, evocative records, and this album begins to approach the concert experience – not necessarily in its visceral impact, but in its stunning contrasts: the song that follows “Turn You Inside-Out,” the mandolin-laden “Hairshirt,” is the most delicate and affecting thing the band has ever done. “I am not the type of dog who could keep you waiting for no good reason,” Stipe fairly croons.

Musically, Green quotes a lot of sources. Listen closely and you can hear references to the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Sly Stone and others. If R.E.M. were any more calculating, one might suspect this is the band’s sneaky way of squeezing into tightly formatted AOR radio, with its emphasis on classic rock bands.

Just as it’s fascinating to watch elder statesmen like Keith Richards reconcile rock & roll with middle age, it’s fascinating to see how R.E.M. handles fame and commercial success. On paper, this looks to be the band’s biggest album ever – strong singles material (“Get Up,” “Stand” and “Orange Crush”), a major label, a more accessible sound. So it’s not for nothing that the album is titled Green, although environmental concerns, naivete and the generally positive attitude of the record must also have something to do with it.

R.E.M. may be dangerously close to becoming a conventional rock & roll band, but Green proves it’s a damn good one.

mp3 : R.E.M. – World Leader Pretend
mp3 : R.E.M. – Turn You Inside Out
mp3 : R.E.M. – Orange Crush

JC adds : Given that nobody had any idea just how massive R.E.M. would become, not quite with Green but the following two albums – Out of Time and Automatic for the People – then this review is very clairvoyant.