ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (12/15) : PAUL’S BOUTIQUE

Album: Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys
Review: Rolling Stone, 25 July 1989
Author: David Handelman

Like this summer’s block-buster movie sequels, the Beastie Boys’ second album was anticipated with some hope tempered by much dread. On their bratty 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, the Beasties — Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Adam “MCA” Yauch and Michael “Mike D” Diamond — established themselves as the Sultans of Swagger. Thanks to the heavy-metallic single “Fight for Your Right (to Party),” the album went multiplatinum and helped bring rap to a wider (whiter) audience.

But Ill was often credited solely to scratch-meister producer Rick Rubin — and seemed destined for the one-shot-wonder bin. When the Boys weren’t being called Monkees for not playing instruments, they were being called Blues Brothers for plundering a black music form and making more louie off it. Compounding the usual pressure of a follow-up, the Beasties split from Rubin and his label, Def Jam, over a royalty dispute and set up shop in L.A., far from the urban blight of New York that fueled the pillage-and-anarchy lyrics of their debut.

Yet with the dense, crafty Paul’s Boutique (produced by the Dust Brothers, including Tone-Loc helmsman Matt Dike), the Beasties reinvent the turntable and prove they’re here to stay. Gone is Rubin’s wailing guitar (and with it, probably, the chance of a crossover hit single), but in its place is a nearly seamless set of provocative samples and rhymes — a rap opera, if you will, complete with an Abbey Road-like multisnippet medley called “B-boy Bouillabaisse.” If the misogyny, hedonism and violence of the first album bothered you, the sequel shows little remorse — merely replacing beer with cheeba — but it’s a much more intricate, less bludgeoning effort.

Paul’s Boutique — named after a Brooklyn store whose radio ad is tossed in the mix and whose picture graces the cover — surprises from the get-go. Instead of opening, as Ill did, with wall-to-wall drum wallops, it creeps up on you like an alley cat: A quiet organ and snare fade up as a mellow DJ voice dedicates the ensuing set to (who else?) the girls of the world. Then, of course, drums rat-a-tat, and we’re back in naughty-boy land. “I rock a house party at the drop of a hat/I beat a biter down with an aluminum bat,” snarls Horovitz on the opener, “Shake Your Rump.” But even in the midst of this obligatory strutting, the Boys slyly acknowledge their tarnished public image: I’m Mike D, and I’m back from the dead,” brags Diamond.

“A puppet on a string, I’m paid to sing or rhyme,” adds Yauch.

That out of the way, they’re back on the streets, dissing and snickering. The next song, “Johnny Ryall,” set against a blues-riff loop and dissonant guitar solo, spray-paints a wry, detailed portrait of a bum living on Mike D’s block. This runs into “Egg Man,” a nightmarish cartoon of shell-cracking hooliganism that starts with the slinky bass line from “Superfly,” features echoey shrieks on the choruses and closes with a slice of the theme from Psycho, which jarringly snaps off like a TV set. (In the midst of the vigilantism, the Boys do sneak in this tip: “You made the mistake you judge a man by his race/You go through life with egg on your face.”)

Each track brims with ideas and references too numerous to catalog, veering in new directions at every verse: “The Sounds of Science” builds from a casual, smartass schoolboy singsong to a breakneck chant against repeated guitar strums from “The End,” by the Beatles. Here and throughout, the songs are buoyed by the deft interplay of the three voices and a poetic tornado of imagery.

In terms of lyrics, the posturing that dominated Licensed to Ill is still in evidence — witness “High Plains Drifter” and “Car Thief” — but it’s been leavened by an approach that’s almost, well, literary. Sure, Paul’s Boutique is littered with bullshit tough-guy bravado, but it’s clever and hilarious bullshit: Who can be put off by claims like “I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh” and “I got more suits than Jacoby and Meyers”? In the catchy, Sly Stone-based “Shadrach,” this would-be terrible trio compares itself to biblical heroes Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

And while the Boys’ rap references range from Magilla Gorilla to Dickens, their musical samples are equally far-flung, including Johnny Cash, Hendrix and Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff.” (Acrostic-minded listeners should know that Jerry Garcia, Sweet and George Carlin are also allegedly in here somewhere.) Though the group seems most proud of the twelve-inch-vinyl version — the cover of the first pressing is an impressive eight-fold wraparound photo — Paul’s Boutique seems mixed especially for a Walkman. The voices shimmer around the listener’s head in an artful dance, and the musical “steals” effected by the Boys and Dust Brothers Matt Dike, John King and Mike Simpson are much more complicated than the first album’s, changing speeds, inverting or abstracting themes until they’re virtually new. If you can recognize them, fine, but they stand on their own; it’s no more thievery than Led Zep’s borrowing from Muddy Waters.

In the works for a year and meticulously constructed, Paul’s Boutique retains a loose, fun feel. The infectious “What Comes Around” (in which they taunt skinheads, rapping, “You’re all mixed up, like pasta primavera/Why’d you throw that chair at Geraldo Rivera?”) winds up with a wild Beastie version of scat humming. The Boys kick off side two by hollering at one another over a hillbilly hoedown called “5-Piece Chicken Dinner.” There are abundant inside jokes — a line delivered by a blow-hard New York TV weatherman, references to close friends and local events like Brooklyn’s Atlantic Antic — but they are never made in an off-putting way. The Boys are just being themselves, thrashing about in a reality ignored by too many mainstream white-rock acts.

In “Three Minute Rule,” Yauch says, “A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain/I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan.” May they stay forever def.

JC adds…….

And here was me always believing that Paul’s Boutique had been badly received and/or totally misunderstood back in 1989, only becoming acknowledged as a true classic by the passage of time.

mp3: Beastie Boys – Shake Your Rump
mp3: Beastie Boys – What Comes Around
mp3: Beastie Boys – 3-Minute Rule
mp3: Beastie Boys – Shadrach

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (11/15) : BUMMED

Album: Bummed – Happy Mondays
Review: Guardian, 14 December 2007
Author: Alex Petrides

Earlier this year, what’s left of Happy Mondays dutifully went on the road in support of a new album that limped to No 73 in the charts. Shaun Ryder sang the hits slumped on the drum riser, a man doomed to spend the rest of his days on the touring treadmill by the kind of business deals that people on too many drugs tend to make, his glory years a distant memory.

Listening to this expanded reissue of their breakthrough album, it seems remarkable that Happy Mondays had any glory years to start with, at least commercially. Almost 20 years on, Bummed sounds extraordinary, but wildly abstruse. If you were making a list of Happy Mondays’ inspirations, you would start with the clattering, syncopated drums and wayward vocals of Tago Mago-era Can, and the phantasmagorical, chemically altered view of northern working-class life found in the Fall‘s lyrics – to which Ryder added his own distinctive spin, not least an unerring ability to make sexual intercourse sound like the most repellent activity known to man. “Come on in, grease up yer skin, bring a friend,” he leers at one juncture.

Elsewhere, you can hear the damaged sprawl of early 70s Funkadelic, Captain Beefheart‘s angular riffs and jarring slide guitars and, buried deep in the mix, the gauche synthesised stabs of early house music. It’s a bizarre stew of influences that would normally have confined a band to a netherworld of Peel Sessions and tiny gigs. Happy Mondays ended up playing stadiums and Top of the Pops.

That they did may have been testament not merely to the quality of their songs, but to the anything-goes musical climate ushered in by ecstasy use: the album was recorded with the E-fuelled “second summer of love” in full swing. But if Bummed benefited from the summer of love’s open-mindedness, it certainly didn’t share its flower-power idealism.

The album is haunted by Nic Roeg‘s Performance, a film that caught the hippy dream curdling into a crepuscular world of violence and insanity. It’s not even Mick Jagger‘s faded rock star character Turner that the album identifies with, but the psychopathic gangsters who invade his home and murder him: Mad Cyril is named after one of them and samples their boss Harry Flowers, while the track Performance seems to be written through the eyes of Chas, the enforcer played by James Fox, whose psychedelic dabbling doesn’t stem his propensity for violence.

For a band usually depicted as troglodytes rendered mentally subnormal by their drug intake – perhaps a consequence of having a keyboard player called Knobhead – this seems a remarkably sharp and cynical take on the prevalent mood of saucer-eyed euphoria. Perhaps, having made his living dealing ecstasy, Ryder had a rather clearer idea of precisely what lurked further up the chain of supply than, say, the beatific denizens of London acid house club Shoom, who ended their evenings with an unironic singalong to Give Peace a Chance.

The album’s sound perfectly complements the mood. Befitting a man with a reputation as the Phil Spector of Manchester, producer Martin Hannett saturated Bummed in reverb and echo; as with Spector’s wall-of-sound productions, it’s almost impossible to make individual instruments out amid the dense swirl. The sound and the sessions that produced it were the result of the copious intake of ecstasy: Ryder later claimed that supplying the alcoholic producer with the drug was the simplest way to stop him drinking. What it captures, however, is not the hug-a-stranger euphoria of the perfect E experience, but the queasy, disorientating claustrophobia of overindulgence. Coupled with the ever-present sense of menace in the lyrics, it makes for an uneasy, but utterly gripping listen.

Among the extra tracks lurks the baffling Lazyitis (One Armed Boxer) a reworking of Bummed’s closing track featuring yodelling cabaret artist Karl Denver. The combination of his vibrato-heavy club-singer voice and Ryder’s hoarse bark makes for what you might politely call a deeply challenging listen. Those looking for evidence of Factory Records‘ celebrated maverick spirit might note that someone at the label thought this would make a good single.

Then again, the single that finally took Happy Mondays on to Top of the Pops is scarcely more radio-friendly, offering two and a half minutes of thundering Can-inspired drums and squealing guitars, a lead vocal that borders on a hoarse, desperate scream, and a variety of thumpingly unsubtle references to heroin in the lyrics. It’s a miracle that the BBC allowed Hallelujah, and the band who made it, past reception.

What happened when Happy Mondays reached the top was impossibly depressing: hard drugs, homophobia, inexorable decline. But, as Bummed proves in all its dark, weirdly prescient glory, the way they got there was unique and strangely magnificent.

JC adds…….

Alexis Petridis has long been a reviewer I’ve admired, not just for his fine taste in music but for the way he writes things up.  Bummed wasn’t ecstatically received at the time of its initial release, with far too many in the UK music press keen to sneer at the Happy Mondays and indeed the direction in which Factory Records was heading back in 1988.  It wouldn’t take that much longer, however, before everyone was proclaiming Madchester as being the greatest thing since the last musical ‘movement’ to get folk awfully excited.

mp3: Happy Mondays – Mad Cyril
mp3: Happy Mondays – Performance
mp3: Happy Mondays – Wrote For Luck
mp3: Happy Mondays – Lazy Itis

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (10/15) : MONDAY AT THE HUG AND PINT

Album: Monday at the Hug & Pint – Arab Strap
Review: Pitchfork – 8 May 2003
Author: Chris Ott

Only The Pogues invite more and lazier booze analogies than Arab Strap, so I won’t insult your intelligence by forestalling mine: if their career is the musical equivalent of an alcoholic life – and in all likelihood it is – Monday at the Hug & Pint is Arab Strap’s moment of clarity. It’s an album dominated by regret, frustrated reflection and a desire to move forward, the least bullshitting, most accomplished and first consistently great release from Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton.

Arab Strap enjoyed undue praise for their intrinsic gait, their hollow tunes profiting from the same sheepish Anglophilia that made Irvine Welsh and Belle & Sebastian household names in America, where they can barely tell Scots from Cockney. The signature browbeating and bleating dirges still abound, but there’s an increased focus on songwriting rather than the moping first-person exposition that typified their first few records. Monday at the Hug & Pint doesn’t sound shockingly different from the rest of their catalog, but it’s a crystallization of identity and intent; where they once sprawled – hungover and depressed – Arab Strap have built on last year’s promising, alternately post- and pub-rock The Red Thread, proving they’re capable of taking themselves dead seriously.

Listening to their insecure and uneven beginnings – and ignoring The Red Thread as a bridge – Monday is an auspicious improvement. Though it’s nominally awkward, Depeche Mode‘s unpredictably great last gasp “Dream On” is an instant comparison with “The Shy Retirer”, a string-backed electro-acoustic dance tune with a newly positive nostalgia for the weekend’s pints. Genius lyrics abound – “You know I’m always moanin’/ But you jumpstart my serotonin,” and the somewhat infamous existential metaphor “this cunted circus never ends”– but just as the Matt Johnson (approaching Bono) croon of “Meanwhile at the Bar a Drunkard Muses” forecasts another barely conscious record of surly, sad-sack balladry (and skirts covering Ryan Adams“Come Pick Me Up”), “Fucking Little Bastards” smashes the accepted idea of Arab Strap to bits.

Sounding at first like the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ rendition of “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “Fucking Little Bastards” cuts quickly into an overloaded post-rock, post-shoegaze dirge, its cinematic angst underscoring not only that Aidan and Malcolm have been spending a lot of time with Mogwai, but also that violinists Stacey Sievwright and Jenny Reeve have doubled the import of Arab Strap’s maudlin work. The duo’s “fuck it” experimentalism remains intact, tacked on in a closing minute-plus of collapsing loops and telephoned vocals that could have gone on forever as far as I’m concerned.

Returning to the acoustic dance sound that’s earned the group its audience, “Flirt” fails to make the same impression as the record’s opener, mostly because the vocals never dig any hooks in, syncopating with a beat too slow to warrant such interplay. After another typically Strap ballad – “Who Named the Days”– my hopes faded. In the age of compact discs, it’s very difficult to give a record the feel of having two sides, let alone convince a listener there’s hope for something better around the bend. Sigur Rós recently managed it, and Arab Strap one-up them with the dividing “Loch Leven”, a tune that’s structurally typical of the band, but rises above the shirking, impatient post-rock folk of old in its more deliberate craft and inspired performance.

It’s done one better by “Act of War”, where the strings (and horns!) lift into a hitherto unimaginable aggression– “The fact is you’ve always been clumsy!”– possibly due to the involvement of Bright EyesConor Oberst and Mike Mogis, who worked with Moffat and Middleton on much of the record (as did Mogwai’s Barry Burns).

“Serenade” introduces liberal studio layering, overloading reverb, organ and strings and invoking everyone from The Smiths (“Rubber Ring”) to Sparks (“I only go for girls I’ve got no chance with”). Pinpoint samples of bottle rockets whizzing around add space, inferring that the night’s gone on perhaps too long and spilled out onto the lawn. The album ends with a somewhat repetitive appendix (“Pica Luna”), missing the perfect parting shot, a rousing piano sing-along named after their first record.

Though it’s just forty-five minutes long, Arab Strap make Monday at the Hug & Pint feel like an eternity – just like everything else in their catalog. While that was an unbearable aspect of their less considered youth, these days Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton are taking pints slowly, thinking before they speak. The girls go for a sharp wit when it’s doled out in good measure and offset by sensitivity; with any luck, these two won’t be reaching for the Arab Strap this weekend.

JC adds…….

Monday at The Hug & Pint is a very fine record, but I’ve not got it in my Top 3 of Arab Strap albums, having fallen for their ‘insecure and uneven beginnings’.  I was intrigued by this review, not least as it was from an American and I never imagined that the music of Arab Strap would survive any sort of Atlantic Crossing as it is, in many ways, as parochial as you’ll ever find, with the colloquialisms and Scottish humour struggling to be understood or appreciated.

And while I fail to see any resemblance to Depeche Mode, Sparks or a deft b-side to a single by The Smiths, I really like how the reviewer makes allowances for the mid-album dip (one that I’m in full agreement with) and talks up the Loch Leven/Act of War one-two (although they are separated by Glue in the running order) as they are among the duo’s most unexpected moments up to that particular point in time, but with hindsight can be seen as pointing the way for much of Aidan Moffat’s solo career and indeed the other collaborations he would go on to enjoy.

mp3: Arab Strap – The Shy Retirer
mp3: Arab Strap – Fucking Little Bastards
mp3: Arab Strap – Loch Leven
mp3: Arab Strap – The Week Never Starts Round Here

The last of the above features a very rare lead vocal from Malcolm Middleton.

Oh, and while I’m here, the new Arab Strap album and gigs this coming year will go someway to making up for how crap 2020 turned out.

THE FESTIVE SINGLES OF R.E.M (Part 2 of 2)

The posting from last Sunday should have given you all the backstory you need, but I should add that the singles usually came with a few other things in a special package.  For instance, the 1996 Fan Club Package included a 7″ single, a greetings card in an envelope, a 1997 Fan Club calendar, a New Adventures In Hi-Fi sticker & beer mat, all in a specially designed cardboard envelope.

1993 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000

A: Silver Bells
a song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by Bing Crosby‘s duet with Carol Richards (1950)

B: Christmas Time Is Here
an instrumental version of a song from the TV show A Charlie Brown Christmas, first aired in 1965

1994 (black vinyl) : pressing unknown, but it did come in three different-coloured sleeves

A: Sex Bomb
a cover of a song by San Francisco-based hardcore punk band Flipper from their album, Generic (1982)

B: Christmas In Tunisia
a track written by R.E.M., described as a Middle-Eastern influenced instrumental

1995 (black vinyl): pressing unknown, but it did come in two different-coloured sleeves

NB: The first of the giveaways NOT to have a Christmas-themed song on at least one side of the vinyl and thus, setting the theme for the next few years

A: Wicked Game
cover of the 1990 hit single by Chris Isaak

B: Java
cover of a 1963 hit instrumental single for Floyd Cramer, originally written by New Orleans writer and producer Allen Toussaint

1996 (black vinyl): pressing unknown

A: Only In America
originally recorded by Jay & The Americans in 1963; written by legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Barry Mann, and Cynthia Weil.

B: I Will Survive
Yup.  The very song as made famous by Gloria Gaynor (and which was covered by your humble scribe, live at the Glasgow Pavilion in 1990 – as recalled here)

1997 (black vinyl): pressing unknown

A: Live For Today
previously unreleased original R.E.M. song

B: Happy When I’m Crying
previously unreleased original song written and performed by Pearl Jam

Yup.  A further move away from tradition, with just one side of the vinyl coming from R.E.M. and the other from Eddie Vedder and co. in what, I’m sure is their first-ever appearance on the blog

It’s back to normal next Sunday with Part 27 of the R.E.M. singles series as released here in the UK.  We’re still in the era of Monster……

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (9/15) : PSYCHOCANDY

Album: Psychocandy – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Review: Rolling Stone, 27 May 1986
Author: Tim Holmes

The Jesus and Mary Chain is a riddle, a conundrum, a source of confusion and anxiety, a love-’em-or-hate-’em proposition. Obviously schooled in the aesthetics of noise and punk and simpleminded pop, the Jesus and Mary Chain is a perfect recombinant of every Edge City outlaw ethic ever espoused in rock.

With the willful and deliberate abandon of postpunk ghouls, they rape and pillage everything you’ve ever loved: the Phil Spector “Be My Baby” drum tat-too, the sweet abrasion of the Velvet Underground, the velocity and mangled pop of the Ramones, the black-leather sloganeering of Suicide, the lovable incompetence of Sixties garage bands, the shrill, screaming, grinding industrial pandemonium of SPK and Throbbing Gristle. The big question arises: Is the Jesus and Mary Chain the real thing, or is it a shrewd package job for critics and would-be iconoclasts?

The album title Psychocandy sums it up with alarming accuracy. This is the opposite of sugarcoating the pill; it’s like wrapping sandpaper around a Tootsie Pop. The veneer is gritty and inedible, the next layer is hard and crunchy, the core is soft and chewy. These are kids after all, which just might be their saving grace. If indeed they are a superficial and diluted version of the most hard-core and dangerous elements in the rock lexicon, maybe they are too young to care.

For all its chain-saw screech and übermetallic badness, the Jesus and Mary Chain is a pop band with doo-doo-doos and la-la-las, simple melodies and full echoing production around Jim Reid‘s laconic Lou Reed-like monotone. William Reid‘s guitar parts blast shards of maniacal feedback across the underpinnings of Douglas Hart‘s bass lines. And in true Mo Tucker stand-up fashion, Bobby Gillespie keeps the beat uncomplicated and direct.

It’s obvious to the point of inanity that the Velvet Underground is the pure and adult model for the self-consciously evil xerography of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Perhaps these are the days of whining neuroses and the function of the Jesus and Mary Chain is to make ruthless, gut-bending noise safe for the airwaves. But, then again, if they can actually get their holocaustic guitar squall on the radio, maybe they’re doing us all some kind of public service.

JC adds…….

As mentioned in the pre-amble to the first offering in this seasonal mini-series, there are very few reviews from the UK music papers from the 80s available on-line which is why I’m leaning heavily towards what was published in America.  My big surprise here is that someone from Rolling Stone got it right about JAMC, far quicker than many of his UK counterparts, many of whom dismissed them as a gimmick with no shelf-life.

mp3: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Just Like Honey
mp3: The Jesus and Mary Chain – In A Hole
mp3: The Jesus and Mary Chain – Inside Me
mp3: The Jesus and Mary Chain – You Trip Me Up

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (8/15) : STEVE McQUEEN

Album: Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout
Review: Uncut – 20 April 2007
Author: Andrew Mueller

The original 1985 release of this, Prefab Sprout’s second album, confirmed what the previous year’s debut, “Swoon”, had hinted: that the firmament had been graced by a star of singular twinkle.

More than two decades on, the material wrought by Paddy McAloon for “Steve McQueen” still has the feel of a masterclass delivered by some amiably eccentric, terrifyingly brilliant Professor of Song. He would go on to wreak further, if infuriatingly intermittent, miracles – “Jordan: The Comeback” and “Andromeda Heights” – but “Steve McQueen” remains as rich and complete a single songbook as has ever been authored.

Though often self-consciously arch, occasionally verging on too-clever-by-half, McAloon never allowed his intelligence to dominate his passions: for all the playful wittiness poured into the music and lyrics, “Steve McQueen” remains a piercingly sincere evocation of heartbreak. The best songs here – and the quality really varies only between a million miles better than average and certifiable thundering genius – are as eloquent as anything by Leonard Cohen, as angry as Elvis Costello at his most spiteful, and accompanied by the melodic grace of Brian Wilson.

“Appetite”, “Goodbye Lucille” and especially “Bonny” are supremely pretty songs, freighting some pretty ugly truths. The career-spanning characterisations of McAloon as some flouncing, floppy-fringed Fotherington-Thomas were only ever the work of people who weren’t listening.

The rawness of the emotions underpinning Thomas Dolby’s deceptively polished production is emphasised on the acoustic recordings of eight of the tracks, which appear as a bonus disc. McAloon’s new versions of “Faron Young” and “When Love Breaks Down”, addressing the romantic folly of his youth with the weary wisdom of his middle-aged voice, are especially baleful and glorious in their desperation and desolation. That key line of “Goodbye Lucille”“Life’s not complete/Till your heart’s missed a beat” – now sounds much more like a promise than a threat.

JC adds…….

The review is spot on in that this re-release, with the additional acoustic versions, somehow managed to improve something that I’d long considered perfect.  Just over five years ago, I pulled together an ICA for Prefab Sprout, and, for the first and only time, I had one side of said ICA as identical to one side of a studio album – Side A of Steve McQueen.

So, it makes sense to start off 2021 with something just a bit different in this series; it’s a special treat for those of you who don’t know them – all eight tracks from the bonus disc of 2007.

mp3: Prefab Sprout – Appetite
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Bonny
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Desire As
mp3: Prefab Sprout – When Love Breaks Down
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Goodbye Lucille #1
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Moving The River
mp3: Prefab Sprout – Faron Young
mp3: Prefab Sprout – When The Angels

 

 

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (7/15) : THE CORRECT USE OF SOAP

Album: The Correct Use of Soap – Magazine
Review: Louder Than War, 13 June 2013
Author: Amy Britton

After my reappraisal of what I felt was the “forgotten” Siouxsie and the Banshees album “Hyeana,” I thought it was perhaps time to turn my eye to another oft-overlooked album, Magazine’s third outing “The Correct Use of Soap.” A lot more attention is generally paid to their first two albums “Real Life” and “Secondhand Daylight” – demanding in parts, but all the more rewarding for it. This fact has got some kind of critical appeal – fulfillment of the story of Howard Devoto leaving Buzzcocks to focus on something more complex. But by the time they had reached 1980, the band were starting to embrace a more accessible sound – but were none the weaker for it.

Postpunk as a genre is often distinguished by a kind of nervous tension; almost paranoia, and this isn’t something lost on “The Correct Use of Soap.” It was, after all, not the most comfortable of eras, as Thatcherism established itself and the late 70’s sense of restlessness fuelled by nuclear threat and the winter of discontent still hung in the air. For me, if there is one single line which captures the essence of both the era and the genre, its on the track “Philadelphia”“maybe its right to be nervous now…”

“Politics,” if we use the word in its driest, most conventional form, was never really Magazine’s thing. Their classic debut single “Shot By Both Sides” (which warrants an essay in itself) was boldly Derridean in its deconstruction of straightforward party politics; and that it a theme that very much continues throughout “The Correct Use of Soap.”

Devoto has claimed that at the time, given the series of catastrophic events dominating the world, he “was on talking terms with an apocalyptic view of the world…I don’t really call that political.” He was not necessarily alone in this (his contemporary, the Pop Group frontman Mark Stuart, has admitted to walking around in full army clothing because he was convinced World War III was about to happen, whilst the Protect and Survive campaign instructing what to do in case of nuclear attack was more terrifying than reassuring); fear was the order of the day.

The opening track of “The Correct Use of Soap,” is even called “Because You’re Frightened,” but it quickly becomes evident that this is personal, not political – its chorus of “look what fears done to my body,” accompanies verses which imply settling with somebody sexually for the sake of it. The politics of fear have met the politics of sexuality, dealt with throughout in refreshingly physical terms.

Of course, the demystification of sexuality was a running theme in postpunk – the Au Pairs, Gang of Four, Wire’s 1.2xU – but rarely has it been delivered with such wry humour and confessional emotion as on “The Correct Use of Soap.” The psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva talks about the abject and the horror in the body – how we want to separate ourselves from what the body really is. The body produces sexuality, but it also produces sickness, and there is a sense of ill health permeating “The Correct Use of Soap.”

Its closer “A Song From Under the Floorboards,” (one of my favourite closing tracks ever) opens with the brilliant line “I am angry, I am ill, and I am ugly as sin,” before launching into a lyric oblique yet distinctly Kafkaesque (its hard not to think of the insect imagery in “Metamorphosis”) over a clever, timeless guitar line from the hugely underrated John McGeoch. (Magazines talent as musicians as a whole is undeniable, but there is a sense that “The Correct Use of Soap,” is its producer Martin Hannett’s album as much as anybody actually within the bands.)

The album’s title also implies maintaining the cleanliness of the body. Our bodies let us down and relationships are, viewed with Devoto’s cynical eye, difficult, with lyrics about loving out of weakness and seeing your former partners new lover wearing “some things I left at your place,” – after all, we are more than just bodies, emotions must be attached as well. However, in their influential work “Anti-Oedipus,” Deleuze and Guattari did term humans “desiring machines,” and perhaps to a point they are right. Its certainly not a concept lost on this album – witness “Model Worker,” in which factory workers become psychologically sublimated with their machinery in order to become to perfect worker (although the maintenance of the human body never leaves, evident in the line “I have been indulging in ostentatious display/ doing little more than eating three square meals a day”.)

This is not an experimental album like its predecessors, but it is restless in its influence, hopping from Roxy Music-esque glam (“I’m A Party”), soul (“I Want To Burn Again”) and funk (“Stuck”), all with equal ease and skill. But don’t just rediscover “The Correct Use of Soap,” for its brilliant songs. Rediscover it for capturing a wider mood in history and magnifying it down to something personal, physical, and a whole new kind of political.

JC adds…….

It’s like the halcyon days of the NME never went away, making direct references to, for most of us, obscure philosophers and psychoanalysts just to remind the reader that the author of the piece is well-read and incredibly clever.

I’ve never claimed to be a ‘good’ writer, but I am passionate about the things I like, albeit I often can’t get beyond using words like brilliant, fantastic or amazing to describe how much a particular record means to me.  I would bet reasonable money that the author wasn’t alive when The Correct Use of Soap was released and has made a lot of assumptions about the era, from reading books and maybe talking to folk who were around at the time (May 1980) that just don’t ring true.

The Correct Use of Soap will always be high up on the list of my favourite albums, but not because I’m able to make all sorts of smart and obscure references from the lyrics.  It’s an album in which all members of the group are at the very top of their games, and yes, it enjoys a production input from Hannet that is unusually crisp and clear without too much gimmickry.  It is a record that deliberately veers all over the place, with punk, funk, pop all to the fore – it even has a soppy ballad, complete with female backing vocals which tug at the heartstrings.  But I’ll just keep coming back to the fact that McGeogh and Adamson, in particular, have never sounded better.

There’s not a duff song on ‘Soap’….it would, on its own make for a perfect ICA.  A position that Devoto & co. seemingly acknowledged by the fact that in 2009, shortly after their brief reformation, they undertook a tour in which they played the album in order from start to finish, before taking a short break and coming back for a second set of songs from the other albums.

mp3: Magazine – Because You’re Frightened
mp3: Magazine – You Never Knew Me
mp3: Magazine – Sweetheart Contract
mp3: Magazine – A Song From Under The Floorboards

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (6/15) : VIOLENT FEMMES

Album: Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes
Review: Rolling Stone, 23 June 1983
Author: J.D. Considine

Violent Femmes is the unnervingly precocious debut of a Milwaukee trio that not only acts like it just reinvented rock & roll but somehow manages to sound like it as well. It isn’t just the band’s unlikely instrumentation – electric guitar, acoustic bass and a solitary snare drum–that flies in the face of rock tradition; everything from Gordon Gano‘s adenoidal lead vocals to the group’s flamboyantly absurd name (the Femmes are all male) indicates that this outfit ought to be both pretentious and utterly ineffectual. Yet there’s a genuine dynamism to this music, a raw, gutsy power that is as enlivening as the best garage rock.

To a large extent, it’s the directness of Gano’s lyrics–he’s given to sharp, simple images and blunt, euphonious rhymes–that keeps his songs from getting above themselves. In “Add It Up,” for example, he doesn’t mince words in describing his lack of romantic success: “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” he deadpans. “I guess it’s got something to do with luck.” As straightforward as his couplets are, however, Gano is clever enough to keep adding to his imagery until he’s pushed his songs to delightfully unexpected conclusions.

Still, it’s the music that makes Violent Femmes worthwhile. Brian Ritchie spins out bright, frisky bass patterns that mesh with Gano’s semi conversational vocal delivery. That interplay, combined with Gano’s spare rhythm-guitar lines and Victor DeLorenzo‘s unobtrusive drumming, gives the Femmes a full sound one usually doesn’t associate with a mostly acoustic format. Consequently, the Femmes can rock with conviction, turning out music that’s more than just a convenient display for lyrics

JC adds…….

This was an album that I fell head over heels for way back in 1983 when a flatmate came in and said the rest of us had to listen to something he’d picked up after hearing it played while he was in a Glasgow record shop.  It turned out to be something I’d never heard the likes of in my life before, and as a young man who was kind of getting fed up with ever failing adventures in terms of love und romance, it really hit the spot.  Still an album I often listen to it all the way through almost 40 years on.

mp3: Violent Femmes – Add It Up
mp3: Violent Femmes – Prove My Love
mp3: Violent Femmes – Gone Daddy Gone
mp3: Violent Femmes – Blister In The Sun

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (5/15) : THE FACTS OF LIFE

Album: The Facts of Life – Black Box Recorder
Review: NME, 27 April 2000
Author: Jim Alexander

Those facts seem to be as follows – relationships fail, dreams are usually shattered, sex is frequently bad and, if the cover is anything to go by, we are all slabs of meat liable to a few sharp cuts from Black Box Recorder‘s lyrical butcher’s knife. Strangely then, two years after Haines, Nixey and Moore released the scabrous ‘England Made Me’, this has been vaunted as their upbeat album.

It is in part. Because if that debut was defined by the subjects Luke Haines chose to turn his withering eye on, then ‘The Facts Of Life’ is no different. And while Sarah Nixey might still sound as if the daily Stepford wife dose of gin and Valium holds little relief, the shocking news is that Black Box Recorder seem to have cheered up a little.

‘Sex Life’ revels in salacious squelches, ‘Straight Life’ seemingly celebrates happily-married, DIY-enthusiast normality, and even redemption appears on offer as ‘French Rock’n’Roll’ sees a suicidal woman saved from the high-rise belly flop by the power of music. In suitably impenetrable style, however, you can never be totally sure they haven’t got a sneer playing on the corner of their lips.

Especially as elsewhere that clipped, dispassionate vocal is turned upon more familiar terrain. Like the road network as perfect metaphor for disintegrating relationships (‘The English Motorway System’), the drowning of two young Victorians (‘The Deverell Twins’), the innocence of a first kiss dissolving in imagined blood (‘May Queen’), or the closing ‘Goodnight Kiss’ which tours the English fringes and another cancerous relationship and asks –“will the last one to leave turn out the lights” -. It sounds not so much like the end of an affair as an elegy for an entire nation.

If the lyrics have moved on in shades – dark ones naturally – then the music has made several leaps since the spectral atmospherics of their debut. Much has already been made of the title track’s resemblance to All Saints‘Never Ever’ and Billie’s ‘Honey To The Bee’, but that’s just the start of it. Sugaring the pill to make the lyrical bad medicine slip down all the easier, this is rigged with soulful flourishes, the tinkle of glockenspiel, gently-looped R&B; beats, and the sound of Air hanging out with Pulp to make satin-smooth subliminal pop. Catchy, intelligent and frequently heartbreakingly poignant, it proves saccharine is no bar to excellence.

With ambition matched by achievement, Black Box Recorder’s outlook might be superficially sunnier, but the clouds of their bile still linger on the horizon. Setting about infiltrating the mainstream, Luke Haines and John Moore don’t just want the converted to acknowledge their evil genius, this time they want to inflict it on everyone.

JC adds…….

All too often, the reviewers in the NME disappear up their own backsides as they attempt to be way too smart and knowing when they offer up views and opinions on singles and albums.  Not in this instance – this more or less captures what the group was all about – the summary of Air/Pulp and smooth subliminal pop is so accurate.

mp3: Black Box Recorder – The English Motorway System
mp3: Black Box Recorder – Sex Life
mp3: Black Box Recorder – French Rock’n’Roll
mp3: Black Box Recorder – Goodnight Kiss

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (4/15) : KITE

Album: Kite – Kirsty MacColl
Review: Rolling Stone, 31 May 1990
Author: Steve Mochman

Kirsty MacColl does not suffer fools gladly: “It’s a bozo’s world and you’re a bozo’s child” is just one of a quiverful of arrows she slings at both men who are self-centered manipulators and women who put up with them. “I’m no victim to pity and cry for/And you’re not someone I’d lay down and die for” is another. The effect, at least lyrically, is a sort of distaff Elvis Costello: sharp-tongued, literate and – in its own distinctive way – charming.

The charm is derived in no small part from MacColl’s songwriting skill. (Remember Tracey Ullman‘s 1984 hit “They Don’t Know”? MacColl wrote it.) She is, after all, the daughter of the late Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl, whose “Dirty Old Town” was recorded by the Pogues and many other artists. She’s also the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite, and with help from him and the likes of guitarist Johnny Marr, MacColl has created a sparkling, modern folk-rock sound that at turns bounces, forces and eases her scoldings on, with her plain but attractive voice layered throughout.

“Free World” slams home a warning of women’s frustration in the world with U2-like frenzy; “Fifteen Minutes” is a tart kiss-off to a fair-weather lover; “What Do Pretty Girls Do?” makes a case that it’s the plain Janes that learn the best lessons from life; and rounding out the package are two lovely, bittersweet tracks: an eye-watering version of the Kinks“Days” and the closer, “You and Me Baby.” The real bittersweet fact about Kite, though, is that it’s only MacColl’s second recording and her first in almost ten years. It’s unfair for someone with this much to say and this much skill at saying it to be so stingy.

JC adds…….

A couple of things to mention.

By the time this review was published, Kite had been out for more than a year in the UK, where it had sold enough copies to qualify for a silver disc from the British Phonographic Industry.  Four singles had been taken from it, but only Days had been a hit.  I’ve had a look on-line, but as far as I can make out, Kite was released in the USA at the same time as elsewhere in the UK and Europe.  It may well just have been the case that the journalist, who was clearly a fan of the album, took a punt by submitting a speculative review which was picked up by the editorial team – it was probably the reference to U2 that clinched it ….

The good thing for Steve Mochman, and indeed all of us who were fans of Kirsty back in the later 80s/early 90s was that she was already hard at work on her third album, and Electric Landlady would be released in June 1991. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t been able to track down a Rolling Story review of that particular LP.

mp3: Kirsty MacColl – Free World
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – What Do Pretty Girls Do?
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – Days
mp3: Kirsty MacColl – You and Me Baby

 

THE FESTIVE SINGLES OF R.E.M (Part 1 of 2)

It was back in 1988 that R.E.M. hit upon the idea of doing what The Beatles had done back in the 60s and giving out something a bit special for free to members of the official fan club. In what would become a great tradition, a gift, most often a 7″ single, was sent out every Christmas some of which have become among the most sought-after pieces of vinyl in the back catalogue.

The gifts went out for 24 years in a row. The first ten releases, from 1988 – 1997, were 7″ singles. The 1998 gift was a VHS video featuring two joint performances with Radiohead, while the following year it was a CD with two joint performances with Neil Young. The vinyl made a one-off comeback in 2000 before the final eleven gifts between 2001 and 2011 were CDs or DVDs.

It was a fabulous gesture, but please don’t go thinking that the songs on offer, certainly in the early years, were among their very best or had been afforded top-level production values. Indeed, what they did, for the most part, was offer a unique take on a song/carol/piece of music closely associated with Christmas and on the flip side offered a cover from the punk/new wave era.

Over the next two Sundays, I’m going to bring you all the songs released up to, and including 1997. I don’t actually have any of the singles, but I have picked up at some point a CD bootleg with all of them….(and please note, I’ve taken the numbers of pressings from Discogs and hav no idea how accurate the figures actually are!)

1988 (green vinyl): pressing of 3,000

A: Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers
a song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by bandleaders Paul Whiteman (1923) and Larry Clinton (1939)

B: See No Evil
cover of a song from New York-based new wave band Television‘s 1977 debut, Marquee Moon

1989 (black vinyl) : pressing of 4,500

A: Good King Wenceslas
traditional holiday song about St. Stephen’s Day (December 26)

B: Academy Fight Song
cover of a song by Boston band Mission of Burma

1990 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000

A: Ghost Reindeer In The Sky
adaptation of Ghost Riders In The Sky, made famous at various times by the likes of Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Burl Ives and Gene Autry.

B: Summertime
cover of the George & Ira Gershwin song from the opera Porgy & Bess

1991 (black vinyl): pressing of 4,000

A: Baby Baby
cover of a song by UK punk band The Vibrators from their album, Pure Mania (1977)

B: Christmas Griping
a track written by R.E.M., but it’s hardly a stab at making something that would air among the festive perennials….

1992 (black vinyl): pressing of 6,000

A: Where’s Captain Kirk?
cover of 1979 single by UK new wave band Spizzenergi.

B: Toyland
another song associated with Christmas, popularised in the United States by Doris Day (1964).

I’ll be back next week with the next 5 years worth of Christmas ‘Crackers’.

JC

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (3/15) : INTROSPECTIVE

Album: Introspective – Pet Shop Boys
Review: Los Angeles Times, 13 November 1988
Author: Dennis Hunt

Dancing and Thinking

Britain’s Pet Shop Boys specialize in dark, brooding dance music – thinking man’s dance music, if you will. They give you strong rhythms but scuttle the usual fun-fun-fun frothiness in favor of moody, cynical lyrics. None of that “dance with me, baby” nonsense for these guys.

“Introspective” is the duo’s best work yet and quite possibly the dance music album of the year. As usual, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe manage to stretch the limits of dance music without tampering with its essential funkiness.

The Pet Shop Boys have a very British approach to dance music, merging European techno-pop with American soul rhythms. This high-tech sound is personalized with Tenant’s echo-chamberized vocals that come across as a dispassionate drone, a ghostly monotone that sometimes sounds like a voice from the dead that contrasts the sunny rhythms.

The six cuts on “Introspective” are just the way the dance-music crowd likes them: long (the shortest is 6:15 minutes) and souped up with clever symphonic touches, underscoring a passion for remixing. The most remarkable song in this collection is “I Want a Dog” – an eerie ode to canine companionship. Only this dynamic duo could turn such a mundane subject into a dynamite dance tune.

JC adds…….

Last year, I included a very spiteful review from Rolling Stone that was less than complimentary about UK synth-bands.  It’s refreshing to read something from just a few years later which more than redresses things.

I bought a copy of a remastered version of Introspective not too long after I got the new turntable earlier this year. It very much added to my happiness.  There’s an awful lot of music that reminds me of a similar-era New Order…..it’s little wonder that Bernard and Johnny were so keen for Neil to help out with Electronic.

mp3: Pet Shop Boys – Left To My Own Devices (remastered)
mp3: Pet Shop Boys – I Want A Dog (remastered)

Both made available for you at 320 kpbs.

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (2/15) : IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD

Album: If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Review: Rolling Stone, 25 February 1988
Author: Kurt Loder

The Pogues‘ basic stance – wild Irish boozehounds with a passion for traditional Celtic reels and squeals revved up to punk velocity – would be enough to arrest anyone’s attention on the current sappy pop scene. That there’s more to the group than simple stylistic gimmickry – a lot more – is the happy news delivered with its long-delayed third album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God.

The Pogues were never quite what their image suggested, of course: their electrifying ensemble cohesion betrays a musical rigor beyond the reach of the merely besotted, and their leader, Shane MacGowan, is too artful and emotionally complex a songwriter to quite fit the role of head souse. With this – their first LP since 1985’s Rum, Sodomy and the Lash – the group stands revealed as the most inspiring trad-fusion band since Fairport Convention.

All of the Pogues’ considerable art is apparent here in tracks like the lilting “Fairytale of New York” and the corrosive “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six.” The former sketches the transience of romantic love against the evergreen joys of yuletide. Duetting with singer Kirsty MacColl (the wife of producer Steve Lillywhite – who has imbued his LP with sonic kicks galore – and the daughter of the celebrated songwriter Ewan MacColl), MacGowan tells the tale of an expatriate love affair, which began in delight one long-ago Christmas Eve, when “the boys of the NYPD choir were singin’ ‘Galway Bay,'” but which has since hit the skids (“You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap, lousy faggot,” MacColl sings, “Happy Christmas, your ass/I pray God it’s our last”). The combination of seasonal buoyancy (conveyed by the arrangement’s Gaelic pipes and lush strings) and personal disillusionment is unlike anything else in recent pop – as is MacGowan’s voice, which, as always, sounds as if it had been marinated since birth in a mixture of gin and nicotine.

The two-part “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six,” on the other hand, is the Pogues’ most overtly political statement to date, a cry of outrage over the allegedly unjust incarceration of six Irishmen for an English bombing. The track starts out as a wistful, muted ballad, then explodes into a raging assault, with MacGowan decrying the fate of the six men “picked up and tortured and framed by the law … for bein’ Irish at the wrong place and at the wrong time.” The anger here seems very real, and the music puts it across like a punch in the face.

The rest of the album takes Celtic trad (fifes, accordions, bodhráns and all) into similarly uncharted stylistic waters, from the crazy cornball Orientalia of “Turkish Song of the Damned” and the effervescent pop of “The Broad Majestic Shannon” to the almost-out-of-control “Fiesta” (a sort of Spanish beer-hall raveup) and the bittersweet going-to-America anthem “Thousands Are Sailing.” There are also straight trad snippets (most memorably the woozy “Worms”), a tumultuous big-band excursion (“Metropolis”) and even a sod’s lullaby (the gorgeous “Lullaby of London”). Obviously, the Pogues can do it all. And it sounds as if they’ve only just begun.

JC adds…….

Merry Christmas one and all.

mp3: The Pogues – Fairytale of New York (feat. Kirsty MacColl)
mp3: The Pogues – Streets of Sorrow/ The Birmingham Six
mp3: The Pogues – Turkish Song of The Damned
mp3: The Pogues – Thousands Are Sailing

 

ALL OUR YESTERDAYS : (1/15) : PARALLEL LINES

It’s the same concept as last year.  Hating the idea of the blog completely closing down, but at the same time recognising that the number of visitors drops off substantially at the end of December and through into early January, it really is best to hold back fully on any original stuff.

So, it’s about digging out past reviews of some of my favourite albums, with a follow-up few sentences from myself. There’s a few things to mention from the outset:-

(a) very few of the historical UK reviews are readily available on-line and so many of the postings will rely on American publications, and in particular, Rolling Stone

(b) where I’ve been unable to track down an original review from the 70s or 80s, I’ve relied on something written up when the album was re-issued for some reason or another….as in this case which seems as good a place as any to start.

Album: Parallel Lines – Blondie
Review: Pitchfork – 1 August 2008
Author: Scott Plagenhoef

“Blondie is a band,” read the group’s initial press releases. The intent of this tagline was clear, as was the need for it: “This is an accomplished bunch of musicians, a tight, compact group versed in everything from surf to punk to girl group music to erstwhile new wave,” it seemed to say, “but, oh – I’m sure you couldn’t help but focus on blonde frontwoman Debbie Harry.” In America, however, people didn’t notice the group quite so quickly. Their first two records – a switchblade of a self-titled debut and its relatively weak follow-up Plastic Letters – birthed a pair of top 10 hits in the UK but had been, at best, minor successes in the U.S.; the debut didn’t chart, while Plastic scraped the top 75. Despite savvy marketing– the group filmed videos for each of its singles, that now-iconic duochromatic cover photo– the group’s third and easily best album, Parallel Lines, didn’t take off until the group released “Heart of Glass”, a single that abandoned their CBGB roots for a turn in the Studio 54 spotlight. Though its subtle charms included a bubbling rhythm, lush motorik synths, and Harry’s remarkably controlled and assured vocal, “Heart of Glass” started as a goof, a take-off on the upscale nightlife favored outside of Blondie’s LES home turf.

The swift move from the fringes to the top of the charts tagged Blondie as a singles group– no shame, and they did have one of the best runs of singles in pop history – but it’s helped Parallel Lines weirdly qualify as an undiscovered gem, a sparkling record half-full of recognized classics that, nevertheless, is hiding in plain sight. Landing a few years before MTV and the second British Invasion codified and popularized the look and sound of 1980s new wave, Parallel Lines’ ringing guitar pop has entered our collective consciousness through compilations (built around “Heart” plus later #1s “Call Me”, “Rapture”, and “The Tide Is High”), ads, film trailers, and TV shows rather than the album’s ubiquity. Time has been kind, however, to the record’s top tier – along with “Heart of Glass”, Parallel boasts “Sunday Girl” and the incredible opening four-track run of “Picture This”, “Hanging on the Telephone”, “One Way or Another”, and “Fade Away and Radiate”. The songs that fill out the record (“11:59”, “Will Anything Happen?”, “I’m Gonna Love You Too”, “Just Go Away”, “Pretty Baby”) are weak only by comparison and could have been singles for many of Blondie’s contemporaries, making this one of the most accomplished pop albums of its time.

In a sense, that time has long passed: Blondie – like contemporaries such as the Cars and the UK’s earliest New Pop artists – specialized in whipsmart chart music created by and for adults, a trick that has all but vanished from the pop landscape. Parallel Lines, however, is practically a blueprint for the stuff: “Picture This” and “One Way or Another” are exuberant new wave, far looser than the stiff, herky-jerky tracks that would go on to characterize that sound in the 80s; “Will Anything Happen?” and the band’s cover of the Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone” are headstrong rock; “11:59” does run-for-the-horizon drama, while “Sunday Girl” conveys a sense of elegance. The record’s closest thing to a ballad, the noirish “Fade Away and Radiate”, owes a heavy debt to the art-pop of Roxy Music.

Harry herself was a mannered and complex frontwoman, possessed of a range of vocal tricks and affectations. She was as at home roaming around in the open spaces of “Radiate” or “Heart of Glass” as she was pouting and winking through “Picture This” and “Sunday Girl” or working out front of the group’s more hard-charging tracks. That versatility and charm extended to her sexuality as well – she had the sort of gamine, sophisticated look of a French new wave actress but always seemed supremely grounded and approachable, almost tomboyish. (That approachability was wisely played up in the band’s choice of key covers throughout its career– “Hanging on the Telephone”, “Denis”, and “The Tide Is High” each position Harry as a romantic pursuer with a depth and range of emotions rather than simply as an unattainable fantasy.)

Already into her thirties– ancient by pop music standards– when Blondie released its debut album, Harry (and many of her bandmates) had years of industry experience and music fandom; at the turn of the next decade, they would combine pop and art impulses like few bands before or since. The lush, shiny sound of Blondie still greatly informs European pop – which pulls less from hip-hop and R&B than its American counterpart– as evidenced by the Continent’s best recent pop architects and artists (producers Richard X and Xenomania, plus Robyn, Girls Aloud, and Annie); in America, however, the group is oddly seems tied to the past, a product of its era. Even the release of this record is built on the tentative need to celebrate its 30th anniversary. (An opportunity not fully explored: This latest reissue of the record includes a new album cover, as well as a DVD with four videos of television performances and a quartet of mostly unneeded extras – the 7″ edit of “Heart of Glass”, a French version of “Sunday Girl”, and a pair of remixes.) In that sense, this isn’t a record that needs to be re-purchased – if you own it already, skip this. Sadly, I get the feeling not many people under a certain age do own the record, however, which justifies the reason for trying to re-introduce it to a new audience – it’s still as sparkling and three-dimensional as ever.

JC adds…….

1978.  I’ve long had it in my mind it was 1979, but that’s really down to it being the year I saw them play live – and that was, of course, the Eat To The Beat tour.

42 years on and Parallel Lines still sounds ridiculously fresh in so many ways.  It’s the moment in history where those of us who liked disco almost as much as new wave could dance away till our wee hearts were fit to burst.  It remains a fantastic, ground-breaking album, wonderfully summarised (at length) in the above review, with the advantage of looking back at it many years after it first hit the shops.

mp3: Blondie – Hanging On The Telephone
mp3: Blondie – One Way or Another
mp3: Blondie – Sunday Girl
mp3: Blondie – Fade Away and Radiate

JC

 

 

BONUS POSTING : SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 41)

We interrupt this program with a special bulletin:
America is now under martial law
All constitutional rights have been suspended
Stay in your homes
Do not attempt to contact loved ones, insurance agents or attorneys
Shut up
Do not attempt to think or depression may occur
Stay in your homes
Curfew is at 7 PM sharp after work
Anyone caught outside the gates of their subdivision sectors after curfew
Will be shot
Remain calm, do not panic
Your neighborhood watch officer will be by to collect urine samples in the morning
Anyone caught interfering with the collection of urine samples
Will be shot
Stay in your homes, remain calm
The number one enemy of progress is question
National security is more important than individual will
All sports broadcasts will proceed as normal
No more than two people may gather anywhere without permission
Use only the drugs prescribed by your boss or supervisor
Shut up, be happy
Obey all orders without question
The comfort you demanded is now mandatory
Be happy
At last, everything is done for you

mp3: Ice T – Shut Up, Be Happy (featuring Jello Biafra)

In which the rapper took a lengthy sample from a 1987 spoken word album and added it to another sample from a 1970 track by Black Sabbath.  In doing so, he created a menacing and haunting opener for his third solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say!, released in October 1989, a second-hand copy of which I picked up quite recently as I wanted to get myself, on vinyl, a piece of music which has proven to be so relevant to the nightmarish 2020 we’ve just endured.

And with that, the blog is going into something of a hibernation for a short spell.  Normal service will resume on Sunday 10 January with the next proper look at the R.E.M singles while the follwoing day will see another guest ICA of Opening Tracks.   Tomorrow is the start of my festive retro series and there will continue to be a daily posting, including a little twist on the R.E.M. singles series over the next two upcoming Sundays.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas/holiday season, and here’s hoping 2021 proves to be a bit more sociable than 2020.

JC

BURNING BADGERS VINYL (Part 12): THE FAMILY CAT

Burning Badgers Vinyl – The Seven Inches #3

Jesus Christ – The Family Cat (1991, Clawfist Records)

SWC writes……..

Ah Christmas. Don’t you just love it. The chocolate, the cake, the presents, the copious amount of alcohol, the creepy uncle who smells of haddock, the Queen’s speech at 3pm, your granny snoring on the sofa after three small sweet sherries, Cliff Richard, Michael McIntyre, an hour long Mrs Brown’s Boys special, The Sound of Music, The Great Escape, The Italian Job only blowing the bloody doors off, new toys broken by Boxing Day and novelty records.

mp3: Jesus Christ – The Family Cat

In 1991 The Family Cat decided to have a go at being Christmas Number One. They recorded a crackly old version of Big Star’s ‘Jesus Christ’ complete with added sleigh bells and Christmassy sounding effects.

They failed miserably.

This was supposed to be a Christmas ICA written whilst ripped to the tits on brandy and stuffed to the gills with Stollen. I should have been surrounded by snow, log fires, and have Bing Crosby and David Bowie ‘Pa Rum Pum Pumming’ away in the background in frankly shocking jumpers.

I failed miserably.

Consistency people, consistency.

Merry Christmas Y’all.

SWC

GIVING THE PEOPLE EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANT: JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

A GUEST POSTING by JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

Beyond Belief – An ICA of Opening Tracks

I loved Jimdoes’ ICA Begin the Begin Part 1: A set of lead-off album tracks that weren’t released as singles. A great concept and a daunting prospect since most LPs tend to lead off with the single hits. Part 2–opening tunes that were also single releases–seemed just too much to take on. Man, the choices are endless.

But I like a challenge. And I also like Elvis Costello. So when JC wrote “I’d rather the TVV community got on board” with our own picks, I narrowed down a top 10 list of Elvis Costello album openers, arranged in sequence like a complete LP. To make it more difficult I added additional criteria: no singles, no cover versions, no co-written songs, and no songs taken from collaborative, compilation or soundtrack albums. Came out like this:

Side A

No Action (This Year’s Model – 1978).
Pony St. (Brutal Youth – 1994).
Uncomplicated (Blood & Chocolate – 1986).
Down Among The Wines And Spirits (Secret, Profane And Sugarcane – 2009).
Brilliant Mistake (King of America – 1986).

Side B

Welcome To The Working Week (My Aim Is True – 1978).
Love For Tender (Get Happy!! – 1980).
Button My Lip (The Delivery Man – 2004).
National Ransom (National Ransom – 2010).
Beyond Belief (Imperial Bedroom – 1982).

JTFL

And here are both sides of the ICA as stand-alone listens.  (JC)

Beyond Belief: A Costello ICA: Side A (15:38)
Beyond Belief: A Costello ICA: Side B (14:46)

 

 

BONUS (RE) POST: DREAMS CAN COME TRUE

After the thrill of this morning’s exclusive interview with a Grammy award-winning video producer, I can’t but help myself and re-post a video on which my dulcet tones can be heard.

As I said, back on 2 March (just before COVID imposed its grip on all of us), this blogging thing has led to so many amazing things or events in my life, and just when I think it really can’t get any better, something else comes along and tops it.

There have been many occasions, and I’m going back decades to well before all this started, that I wished I could somehow end up in a recording studio doing something like contributing handclaps in the background, just so that I could say I had been part of something truly creative. I’m now almost 57 years old and I really thought that dream would never come true.

Until that day when The Affectionate Punch got in touch and asked if I would consider doing a spoken vocal version of a new song that the collective had just written. It was an immediate ‘yes’ from me but on the proviso that if my effort wasn’t good enough to the ears of the professionals, then I wouldn’t be offended if it ended up not being used.

Here is TAP to offer more in the way of background:-

The idea of a Scars e.p. came about following 2 individual comments that suggested the possibility of differing vocal interpretations of The Affectionate Punch songs. This was mulled over with interest resulting in a resounding yes.

The e.p. consists of 6 vocal interpretations of Scars in addition to 1 instrumental track. Each track has its own cover art.

Scars I has Holocaust Nancy on vocals
Scars II features the talents of Paul McKeever and Amanda Sanderson
Scars III is spoken by The Vinyl Villain with The Additions on vocals
Scars IV has Amanda Sanderson on vocals
Scars V is the instrumental version by The Affectionate Punch
Scars VI is the spoken word version by The Vinyl Villain
Scars VII is a remix by The Pocket Calculator Club

mp3: The Affectionate Punch – Scars III (featuring The Vinyl Villain with The Additions)

It’s a huge understatement to say that I’m incredibly thrilled by all of this. It’s very much a one-off on my part and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity.

TAP has been quite busy in recent times, and has made a couple more downloads freely available:-

Golly Gee Whizz – a 4-track EP of DIY recordings made between April and September 2020.  Click Here

Please Don’t Make Me Kill You/Honeysuckle Kiss – a digital double-sided single. Both songs were recorded on a laptop some 10 years ago and given a limited release with another project. These versions were remastered in December 2020 when TAP stumbled upon the files.  Click here

You can’t say fairer than having six free songs as a wee Christmas gift, can you?

(But it would be especially nice, if you haven’t done so previously, to make a few purchases of the other excellent TAP material, including the Scars EP, to be found on bandcamp).

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 26) : THE COMPANION PIECE

A GUEST POSTING FROM TWO COOL DUDES IN SANTA MONICA

Jonny the Friendly Lawyer writes: – As part of the popular REM singles series I asked JC if it would be okay for TVV-supporter and Hollywood good guy Vincent Landay to offer some thoughts about the video for ‘Crush With Eyeliner’, which Vincent worked on with his friend Spike Jonze.

JC responded, “You have asked a very daft question.” I took that to mean yes, so here’s what Vincent had to say about it over a beer in my backyard (garden).

JTFL: What was the general idea for the video?

Vincent: Spike had the idea that there’d be a teenage band performing a song. It’s supposed to be set in Asia and it’s supposed to be their song. They were to perform the song as if it was their own, not REM’s.

J: Where was it shot?

V: The interiors were mostly shot in the Japanese restaurant Yamato in the Century City Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Then other scenes were shot in downtown LA, little Tokyo, and the subway, which was pretty new at the time and didn’t have many passengers yet. We had no permits so the cop who shows up in the video was actually on the job; he came up to say we’re not allowed to film in the subway. There are also several scenes of the kids driving at night in the Second Street tunnel, which just feels like a modern Asian city.

J: Where did those kids come from?

V: They were individually cast. They weren’t an actual band. I don’t know if any of them knew each other before the shoot. They’re local LA kids, and almost all were about 17 at the time.

J: How long was the shoot?

V: One full day in the restaurant and another night with the kids running around town.

J: How involved were REM?

V: They were super supportive of the idea. They loved it and the fact that they only had cameo appearances. They liked playing the roles of people at a club watching another band. It’s probably one of the most understated appearances by a band in their own video—other than the Oasis video we shot in London but never quite finished. (Ed.: It is featured on the Spike Jonze Director’s Label DVD compilation as “The Oasis Video That Never Happened”).

J: What did the band have to say about the video after it was finished?

V: They loved it or they wouldn’t have let it out. They bought into the idea, and that’s what makes them so cool. Other bands need to be front and center all over the place, and instead they were cool with the idea of totally unknown teenagers starring in a video of their song, as if it was the kids’ song. They looked at their brief appearances like Alfred Hitchcock showing up in his own films. This was back in 1994 – the cameos were like “Easter Eggs” before there was such a thing.

Afterwards Michael Stipe got really interested in filmmaking and formed a production company. His producing partner, Sandy Stern, would frequently send scripts to Spike but none that Spike was especially into. After he had turned down a number of scripts, Sandy told Spike that Michael really wanted to do a film with him; was there anything he was actually interested in? In fact, Spike liked a Charlie Kaufman script for “Being John Malkovich.” It was a spec script, meaning that it was simply intended to show that Kaufman could write a screenplay as he had only written for television up to that point. Charlie didn’t think anyone would ever make it. But Michael and Sandy found out that it hadn’t been optioned yet and obtained the rights. The rest is history, as the saying goes.

J: Anything crazy or surprising about the shoot?

V: It was low budget and guerilla, like it was the kids themselves making the movie. It was shot on super 8, which is a risky format to use because we were shipping Kodachrome film to somewhere in Dallas to be processed. That’s not what you do when you make a video for a major artist. We had no idea how the footage would look until it was developed. And that’s the feel we were going for, that it was coming from the kids.

J: Super 8 handheld cameras?

V: They were actually like my parents’ cameras, the ones they used to make home movies. I remember sitting in our living room at home watching our family movies projected on the wall. I wondered, is that what we’re going to get back?

J: Who else was on the shoot?

V: Lance Acord was the cinematographer and he put together a great lighting team. Lance went on to become a director and his team are now all really successful cinematographers, working on major American shows: Jim Frohna on Transparent, Kris Kachikis on The Unicorn and Shane Hurlbut on big features like Terminator Salvation.

J: Terminator Salvation? Is Shane Hurlbut that guy who Christian Bale infamously threw a tantrum at on set?

V: Same guy. Nothing like that happened on our shoot.

J: Lastly, one of the esteemed contributors to this venerable blog wrote about REM that “Mills is an okay bassist and a crap singer. Berry is at best a passable drummer.” Would you agree?

V: No. Whoever wrote that is an idiot.

JC adds.…..It was so good of Jonny to come up with the idea of asking Vincent if he wanted to come on board, and I’m really thrilled that he did so.  It offers a great and unique insight into R.E.M. when they were at the height of their fame.

I do recall that here in the UK, the video wasn’t aired on Top of the Pops in February 1995.  Instead, we were treated to the band, ‘live’ from Tokyo (the latest location on the world tour) in which everyone paid homage to the video and the image that adorned the sleeve of Monster:-

The folk inside the dancing bears costumes were none other than the members of Grant Lee Buffalo, the support act for the initial part of the world tour. And, as I always like to have a least one song per day on the blog, here’s a very fine track from the album Mighty Joe Moon, released in 1994:-

mp3: Grant Lee Buffalo – Mockingbirds

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 26)

I’m with The Robster on the things he’s written about Monster these past two weeks. It’s worth remembering that it was released at a time when R.E.M. were the biggest contemporary musical act on the planet and its contents were greeted by some with a sense of disbelief.  Some music critics were scathing of what had been written, recorded and put out into the shops:-

Monster is so much of a reaction to its predecessors that it can’t help but come across as something of an academic exercise in having fun.  It’s this that distinguishes Monster from recent REM opuses. That, and the steak of disingenuity, make it a hard album to love unreservedly.

The words of Keith Cameron, reviewing the album for NME in September 1994. (It’s worth noting that the same writer had given Automatic for The People a 10/10 review in Vox magazine a few years earlier).

The thing is, from the perspective of the label, it really didn’t matter what the critics thought as the tickets for the world tour shows during 1995 sold out within minutes of being made available – old and new fans alike couldn’t wait to see the band again after such a long hiatus and Monster went straight in at #1 on the back of the mania.

Thinking back to its release, my first listen did bemuse me greatly.  I had assumed the lead-off single to be something of a curveball, a comeback single to throw folk off-guard, and that the album would offer a blend of this was the occasional nod to the recent back catalogue.  Not one bit of it, as it proved to be an all-out attack on the senses.  Even when the tempo slowed to ballad time, the results left the listener feeling a tad unclean and uneasy (but I’ll come to that in Part 28 of this series in the new year!!).

As ever, with any new record, initial listens are accompanied by reading the sleeve notes, although in the era of CDs, the joy was diminished somewhat by the way things were now printed up.  Indeed, so little info was contained with Monster that it could be consumed in the time it took to listen to the opening track which just happened to be the lead-off single, What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? but what caught my attention was this under the heading of additional players

Thurston Moore (Crush W.Eyeliner)

The appearance of the joint-leader of Sonic Youth was genuinely one to look forward to. Just two years earlier, they had come up from the underground in the UK thanks to the album Dirty which had gone Top 10 and had been much played during my daily commute between Glasgow and Edinburgh (one which came to an end a few weeks after the release of Monster as I landed a new job in my home city).  And while Sonic Youth’s own 1994 album, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, hadn’t quite provided the same sort of impact, I was thrilled that the second track on Monster was sure to pay a nod to loud guitars

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner

I was quite blown away by it, to the extent that I was waiting for the rest of the songs to live up to it, all of which meant I was left bemused as it felt the album had opened with two great songs that the rest hadn’t quite matched. But, as with so many genuinely great albums, the reward comes from repeated listens, and while it might have taken maybe six months or so (the change of job and circumstances meant that I wasn’t quite listening to music as much as I would have liked as the new job also meant that myself and Rachel could now go house-hunting!), by the summer of 95 I was smitten……but not enough to overcome my adversity to outdoor gigs and go see the band at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh when the tour eventually reached Scotland for a sole date.

The thing is, I never thought of Crush With Eyeliner as being an obvious single. Indeed, I didn’t see there being too many singles on the album, but the fact that they were proving to be such big hits only goes to show what little I know….or perhaps fans really just wanted to get their hands on yet more live tracks from the Greenpeace benefit show, as well as the instrumental version of the single made available on 7″ orange-coloured vinyl:-

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (instrumental)
mp3: R.E.M. – Fall On Me (live)
mp3: R.E.M. – Me In Honey (live. Greenpeace)
mp3: R.E.M. – Finest Worksong (live, Greenpeace)

At least with Me In Honey, something a bit different was made available as a b-side and to be fair, the band does sound in very good form on all three tracks.

And finally to the 2019 remix.

I’m not a fan when bands do this sort of thing and I avoided going out and purchasing the 25th-anniversary reissue of Monster until I saw a vinyl copy on sale a few months ago, not long after I got myself the new turntable, amp and speakers. I was very pleasantly surprised by everything, to the extent that it actually felt like a whole new, perhaps previously ‘lost’, REM album had emerged blinking in the sunlight from the vaults.

The mix of Crush is one of those which is quite different…..the harsh edge has been removed and the lyric is much easier to pick up. Indeed, it is quite radio-friendly and kind of loses something as a result.

mp3: R.E.M. – Crush With Eyeliner (remix)

It was actually one of the few disappointments on the remix album, but it’s a disappointment of a very mild kind.

Please tune in tomorrow for a special companion piece to this one.  That’s all I’m prepared to say for now, but I reckon you’ll all like it….

JC