No.371- Love in Arms, Gabriel Bruce, 2013

Purchased at Sister Ray, Berwick Street, May 2013

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Maybe it’s just for want of not listening hard enough, but I’ve heard very little pop music worth getting excited about this year. Everything the hype machine has thrown at me seems tired, passé- music released as an excuse for a PR campaign. Granted, only a churl could deny the teasing of the marketing peepshow that preceded the new Daft Punk record (which, due to a chronic inability to get my funds in order, I am still yet to acquire), but Savages?!? Honestly, Warpaint were doing that sort of thing years ago; it’s derivative as hell, which isn’t in itself a problem, but the songs just aren’t interesting enough to warrant debate (so I’ll stop here and pretend I never wrote any of that- you ain’t seen me, roight?).

Oddly, the only albums of 2013 I have thus far actively enjoyed have fitted into what might be my least favourite musical sub-sub-genre, a portmanteau label with so many alarm bells attached you could mistake it for a maximum security prison constructed entirely from the jewel cases of abandoned David Gray CDs; yes, folks, I have not only purchased but genuinely come to love three separate records by- (can I bring myself to write it?)- Depressed-White-Male-Singer-Songwriters.

First it was John Grant’s extraordinarily candid and glacially hilarious Pale Green Ghosts, an album which has been praised more for its “honesty” than its actual songs- but what songs! Have you heard Vietnam? For my money, it’s the best break-up anthem since Spiritualized’s Broken Heart, five-and-a-half minutes of masterfully articulated pain and self-pity that gives me the shakes every time I revisit it. Then there’s Steve Mason’s woefully titled Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time, a cult classic in the making which pairs snippets of spoken-word with anthemic meditations on depressive stasis, UK Hip-Hop with Portuguese racing commentary, and, most intriguingly of all, political anger with artistic success. As a rule, I don’t like protest songs- but cuts like Fight Them Back and Fire! are most definitely protest songs. And I like them- a lot.

But that’s by the by. I might get round to writing those records properly at some point, but don’t hold your breath. The other DWMSS (it’s not going to catch on, is it?) who’s bent my ear in 2013 is the lugubrious young crooner Gabriel Bruce. Whereas we might take Grant and Mason’s world-weariness for granted (they’re getting on, these DWMSSes), Bruce’s ennui comes as a bit of a shock; a line like ‘I got this feelin’ I were dead and there’s nothing more’ from his début single, Sleep Paralysismight seem a bit affected coming from a 23-year-old, but it is delivered with such ennui that only the most heartless listener could doubt its sincerity.

At the best of times, I count myself up there in that category- but somehow Bruce’s songs cut through my cynicism like a Martini on a muggy afternoon. Some reviewers have rather ungallantly suggested that Love in Arms is little more than an enjoyably ersatz Cohen/Cave pastiche; this is nonsense. Where Laughing Len and Nick the Stripper are audible now and again here, repeated listening reveals depths as low as Bruce’s cavernous baritone, the songs transcending their influences further and further with every play. And as to accusations of barfly cliché-  all I can add is that Bruce walks it like he talks it; he’s the real deal (did somebody say “cliché”?).

The demos for Love in Arms have been knocking around for a couple of years now, and the pleasure I’ve taken in watching their development is testament to Bruce’s skill as a writer; Honey Honey has gone from casiotone knockabout to full-on, open-shirted rocker; Car’s not Leaving now sounds titanic, a song so catchy it’s unhinged. While I initially suspected a degree of irony on his part, I now see that the remarkable thing about this record is its coupling of almost rod-straight sincerity with a maniacal lack of restraint and a production quality that is just about cheap enough to keep it fun. Forget Cave and Cohen- if Gabriel Bruce’s force of personality and gleeful fearlessness of delivery reminds me of anyone, it’s Iggy Pop circa Avenue B;  which, given my thoughts on that record, would be high praise indeed if anybody ever read this fucking blog.

Whatever. All I can give you is my word and a couple of links to YouTube, but this record is terrific.

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No.370- Spice, The Spice Girls, 1996

On loan from the collection of CWR Hancock

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When I first heard  The Spice Girls back in the mid-1990s, I didn’t like them; their singles sounded too shouty, too deeply entwined with an image I couldn’t swallow, too… I dunno. I’m doing a lot of post-rationalising here (I was six at the time), but the real problem was that they were just too popular. Call me contrary, but I really couldn’t stand them. Even a decade later, when my generation got old enough to savour its first taste of nostalgia, I was still unimpressed, but this time I had amateur critical judgement to tell me why. The songs sounded cheap and dated, relics of the rancid recent past; they were tinny and unsubtle, smothered in naff production tropes still too close to the funny bone to court charm.

Out of sheer boredom yesterday, I listened to Spice the whole way through and couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. The CD finished and I hit play again just to confirm I wasn’t aurally hallucinating; no! It was true- this charity shop staple, this waste product of the millenial culture machine had somehow become a properly fantastic pop record. How was this possible? I didn’t know, so I played it again. And again. And again. Then I had to have a drink to stop my head exploding.

There’s a not a weak point here (although Mama still sounds a bit embarrassing); the singles have shed the toxic skin of ubiquity and become genuine pop classics; how long has it been since you last heard Say You’ll be There? The gimmicks it became associated with have long-since faded, revealing a Prince-ish gem of polished funk. 2 Become 1 is another obvious highlight- the music performs a kind of alchemy on the lyrics, allowing them to transcend their banality and become- wait for it- deeply, affectingly touching.

The  lesser-known songs are equally enjoyable and, unusually given the sonic landfill that so often pads out albums by “manufactured” acts, more adventurous- like testing grounds for the commercial viability of (slightly) left-of-the-dial ideas. While it would be a stretch to attach the word “experimental” to Spice‘s weltenschauung, songs like Love Thing and Something Kinda Funny make tentative incursions Hip-Hop, Jungle and House, genres that remained largely beyond big-money British pop’s frame of reference until the turn of the Century.

We need distance before we can begin to judge any phenomenon as popular as The Spice Girls with any degree of detachment; we’re caught between revolt and reaction with the music of our childhood, tastes are dumped by the mainstream and salvaged by an unwittingly obscurantist avant-garde. It’s a cliché to say that pop culture is nothing more than the commodification of novelty, but I’m lazy and anyway, as somebody (Alan Bennett, I think) once wrote, clichés can be quite fun- particularly ones that legitimise writing pseudo-intellectual drivel about music as fun as Wannabe and If U Can’t Dance. Bah. To quote the gloriously meaningless, quasi-Situationist block-capitol sloganeering of the CD booklet:

WONDERWOMAN-THIS VIBE IS CONTAGIOUS-FEEL IT CATCH IT-IT’S A GIRLS’ WORLD-SHE WHO DARES WINS-IT’S A GIRL THANG-COME ON BABY-THE SPICE SQUAD ARE HERE-WHAT YOU LOOKIN AT BOY-CAN YOU HANDLE A SPICE GIRL-SILENCE IS GOLDEN BUT SHOUTING IS FUN-FREEDOM FIGHTERS- FUTURE IS FEMALE- SPICE REVOLUTION

Yeah? Yeah!

No.369- America Give Up, Howler, 2012

Purchased at the Record & Tape Exchange, Notting Hill Gate, November 2012

IMG_0493Listening to Indie Rawk is a funny business; just when you’re thinking you’ll never need to hear the same basic four-chord melodic thrash played by yet another identikit set of photogenic, denim-swathed yooves, a record appears that is so likeable that you find yourself dropping your prejudices and headbanging the days away at your (off-white, IKEA) kitchen table. You start to believe that, yes, this is the one that you’ve been waiting for, the perfect blend of narcissistic, dumbass posturing, feedback and supersonic choruses. Mission accomplished. But then you go on holiday to Exeter (don’t ask) and hear your favourite track playing over the PA in the shoe section of TopShop (I repeat, DON’T ASK). The illusion is shattered. You return to London dejected and slap on the obscure French post-punk record you were pretending to like before and continue as if nothing had ever happened.

Yes, the story is old but it goes on; Sir Philip Green and his minions have a lot to answer for. Call me over-sensitive, but it’s going to take a long time for me to hear America Give Up without getting the sort of panic attack that only a crowded provincial shopping mall can provoke. Still, while no-one could ever accuse Howler of having done anything new, their CD does stand out a suburban mile from other recent “alternative” releases. It’s so gauchely, artlessly retrogressive and so formidably catchy that it feels at least a decade out of step. Hell, even The Strokes put a bit more contrivance into their early albums; this is a record of straight-up, gormless rock’n’roll dreaming, and it’s extremely endearing. By way of comparison, think The Velvet Overground (sans Nico), think Definitely Definitely; it’s an irony-free zone, and more power (chords) to it. Look up the lyrics- they cover a delightfully récherché gamut of topics that runs from girls and cigarettes to, uh, girls and cigarettes. Oh, and (gulp) global politics. Why go to the trouble of being cool and clever when you can sound this utterly moronic and yet come across so charming?

The answer is depressingly simple; you become a staple of chain-store radio. When The Clash whined about ‘turning rebellion into money’ way back when, did they really have any idea how far their brand of “outlaw” style would be co-opted? Not that I care particularly- these kids can “sell out” all they want. All that bothers me is the nauseously vivid memory of that branch of fucking TopShop on a Saturday afternoon. ‘Scuse me, I feel a flashback coming on…

 

No.368- Greatest Hits, Alice Cooper, 1974

Purchased at HMV Fulham Broadway, March 2013

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I had a fairly uneventful day. My girlfriend’s in Italy and my few friends are either working or planning on going to some do in Brixton which I feel slightly too tired to commit myself to. After a bath and 30 pages of my book, I decided that tonight was definitely not the one to go-a-raving. I resolved to take a walk around the environs of my flat and maybe buy some stuff I didn’t really need, before having a couple of glasses of the remarkable Argentinian Malbec I came across the other day and cooking some middling vegetarian food; terribly bourgeois, I know, but I never claimed to be anything else, did I?

So I got dressed and went for a walk. It was nice- I acquired some crap in a charity shop and then realised it was nearing 6PM and I might as well go home and give up on Society.

On the return leg of my leisurely stroll, I passed the Fulham Broadway shopping complex, a tube station-cum-arcade that has grown heroically less impressive since its opening a decade ago. When architectural and sociological scholars cite examples of the shopping culture of the late ’90s and early ’00s, this is precisely the sort of place that might be referred to as a “typically Blairite retail space”, its franchises decaying exactly twice as fast as the reputation of the said former Prime Minister.

Anyway, when passing on this occasion, I noticed a whole new batch of ‘Closing Down!’ signs adorning the HMV concession that had, since January, been boarded up; desperate as I was to get my Argentine wine, curiosity overcame. Perhaps I’d be able to snap up a Spiral box-set, or maybe even the new Scott Walker CD (which, forgive my stingeiness, I can’t quite be arsed to buy full price) for peanuts. ‘This could be the sale of century!’ Thought I.

Of course, it wasn’t- though it did sort of resemble the end of civilisation as we know it.

Everywhere, distracted geeks, singletons and hoarders swiped around violently for anything even resembling a third cousin of a worthwhile purchase, and- naturally, perhaps- I couldn’t help but resist taking on the competition. Within thirty seconds of entering the scrum, I had picked out this Alice Cooper CD (which, I’m embarrassed to admit, I’d had my eye on since the summer of 2010) and was holding onto it for dear life, watching bald men, spotty boys and bored-looking women -curators all- contemplate adding The Lesbian Vampire Killers or Dido’s No Angel to their permanent collections.

I quickly realised that I’d joined the party too late- that nothing but the rump of the last ten years’ worth of unsold stock remained. Yet still the obsessive in me- the one who has been trawling the second hand aisles for your delectation since January 2012- demanded I continue.

I spent two and a half hours there.

I emerged with the Alice Cooper CD- and nothing else (though I did contemplate buying Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for People who can’t be Bothered to do it- future biographers take reference).

It was pandemonium, and it was very sad. Why? I’m not sure, but I suspect I was just feeling sorry for myself; although I have much sentimental attachment to HMV, I can’t help but feel slightly unsurprised by its demise. After all, it was- and let’s not dwell on sentiment here- a really fucking rubbish shop, wasn’t it? Of course, the closures are a tragedy for its employees, but as one cheerfully admitted to me when I enquired as to why a batch of Madness reissues that I had so recently seen at the same outlet priced competitively at £18.99 had suddenly jumped to £27.99: ‘They’re pushing up the prices, innit? Y’know, make the punter feel they’re getting more, uh, bang for their buck’.

I rest my case. HMV ran their pricing on a cynical and deluded principle that denied the consumer the dignity of stealing a couple of quid from its independent rivals. If you genuinely wanted to find a new CD in a shop- in London, at least- you’d make the trip to Sister Ray or Rough Trade for it, or at least wait ’til it hit OxFam rather than phlegm up £17.99 at this most unimaginative of music purveyors. Shoot me down in flames, but if there was one British “institution” that deserved to go down the shithole, it was this one.

As for Alice… well, it’s unbeatable, innit? This is as good as pantomimic novelty Rock gets; as predictable and flashy as Heat! Magazine’s contents page, as solidly enjoyable as a room-temperature Snickers bar. It starts with Eighteena frustrated coming-of-age anthem equalled only by The Troggs’ I Can’t Control Myself, goes through the Lou Reed-ish cool of Desperadothe moronic brilliance of School’s Out (And if you’re thinking this might be a bit sort of, DUH, consider this none-more-marvellously-dumb pun: ‘We got no class/And we got no principles‘. Genius), the genuinely rousing idiot manifesto of Elected and ends with the slightly underwhelming, unintentional body horror saga Muscle of Love; honestly, could you ask for a better slab of ’70s Rock’n’Roll that wasn’t directly connected to Bowie or Bolan? I think not.

No.367- Waltz Darling, Malcolm McLaren & The Bootzilla Orchestra, 1989

Purchased at the Music & Video Exchange, Notting Hill Gate, yesterday

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Thought you’d seen the last of me, eh? Hahaha- I’m not finished, at least not quite yet…

The life of the obsessive second-hand CD buyer is a lonely, neurotic and rather boring one. Occasionally, though, you find a record going for a couple of quid which looks, if not essential, then at least worth a spin. You buy it, shove it into your ragged coat pocket, and forget about til you’ve walked home because you’ve spent all your money on shit CDs and can’t afford the bus. You remember it several days later after having been crushingly disappointed by your other purchases. You really want to listen to Daft Punk or Joey Bada$$ or something, but sometimes even repetition gets too repetitive for you; you slip it onto your crap hi-fi, and expect 45 minutes of mild tedium punctuated by the odd good idea… But then! You realise you are listening to an album so great it should not only be classed as a “Classic” but forcibly blasted into the ears of young children before they acquire anything so tedious as the power of speech. You’ve struck gold, old chum, you’ve struck gold…

Perhaps it’s just the local anaesthetic talking (I’ve been in hospital for most of this weekend, poor me), but this is one of them, a genuine forgotten masterpiece of ignored ideas, grand vision and, err, slap bass. Malcolm McLaren is mostly remembered these days as a quasi-situationist provocateur, as the man who mis-managed The Sex Pistols and corrupted Bow Wow Wow, a man with more gob than actual gift; if one were to cite any of his own records, it would probably be the bizarre Buffalo Gals, and they’d probably only do that ‘cos Eminem sampled it on Without Me★.

This is a shame; Fans, his Disco-reworking of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly is fun enough, but Waltz Darling, nominally an attempt to link Strauss’s waltzes with the emergent Voguing non-craze coming out of New York, is his definitive low-high-brow masterpiece. Beginning with a distorted sample of its iconic namesake, House of the Blue Danube is suddenly kicked screaming into life with Bootsy Collins’s jackhammer electric bass and squirls of wonderfully tasteless Jeff Beck guitar solo. It’s as superbly grandiose as ’80s dance-pop comes, and like all the best records, is so phenomenally rubbish that it sort of- no, wait- completely makes sense. Don’t you agree, or are you one of those worthy bastards who thought Leonard Cohen sold his soul when he discovered the joy of cheesy synthesisers? Or perhaps you just don’t like pseudo-intellectual doublespeak. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Just look at the fashionable-for-five-minutes (in 1986) typography on the Leighton painting that adorns the cover, and tell me you didn’t know what you were getting into with this album…

As for the rest, Something’s Jumping in my Shirt is perfect period mid-tempo syncopated r’n’b, Algernon’s Simply Awfully Good at Algebra is, as Robert Christgau observed in his review, ‘as good as its title’, while the two singles- the how-the-hell-is-this-not-iconic House number Deep in Vogue and the anthemic, dadaist title track- offer as much difficult fun as a pop record feasibly can. The record draws to a close with the overwrought but ultimately rather sexy swoon of I Like You in Velvet; it’s an odd conclusion to a very, very odd collection, which is precisely as it should be. Waltz Darling is a novelty concept album that smacks of a certain situation in a certain place at a certain time- that is, of an over-the-hill attention-seeker in London wishing to emulate the sound of clubs in the New York of 1989. And, believe you me, it doesn’t suffer a bit from it.

For the record, I’d also make a case for Bootsy Collins as the ultimate disposable Pop collaborator- it’s the bass on Waltz Darling that really elevates it from Classical-Fusion novelty to genuine minor masterpiece, and- unusually for a McLaren production- he has a co-credit to show for it. The following year, he also contributed to Dee-Lite’s immortal Groove is in the Heart, which is enough on its own to merit a place in my personal Pantheon.

★His second-best single, FYI.

No.366- Endtroducing…, DJ Shadow, 1996

Purchased at HMV, Newcastle, January 2003

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What arsehole came up with the idea of the Top 10 list? It is the bane of magazine journalism, a drain on mental energy and time that helps no-one and sparks pointless debates about hierarchies that needn’t ever have existed. Who cares whether Citizen Kane is less good than- what was it?- oh yes, Vertigo? It’s pathetic and it means nothing, yet we swallow up these sad excuses for critical expertise and squabble over their content, allowing ourselves to be duped into ever-more inane, pointless, space filling conceits; from the “100 Greatest Albums of All Time” to the “50 Most Annoying Adverts of the ‘80s”; WHY?

Because they’re quite fun- sometimes. Having spent at least a third of the last ten years thinking about my own personal Top 10 lists, I’m as guilty as anyone. I’m just a bit bitter that I didn’t spend all that time learning Mandarin or helping starving children or something. Or maybe not, I dunno, though perhaps that’s my point… lists are for the listless. Deep, maaan.

So, you maybe thinking, he’s going to give us a list; have no fear- even if I wanted to, I’ve never been able to decide on the right order of any of my personal rundowns. I have, however, come to the conclusion that if I was forced to choose- if I really, really had to- I could prrrob-ub-lyyyy pick my Desert Island Discs.

Having thought very hard about it, I- and I am no authority (although I am right)- have concluded that DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing is the greatest record ever made by anyone. It’s a fleur du mal, an exercise in recycling that changed the way pop was made and irreversibly changed our perception of recorded music, even if we still aren’t entirely conscious of it. It’s a post-modern masterpiece, a bricolage of such stunning ambition and scope that it makes all music before 1996 look pathetically simplistic, childish, one-dimensional.

But all this is by the by. What’s important- to me, at least- is how it sounds- which, for the record, is fucking marvelous.

I only recently got what people see in Jazz; over the last two years, I’ve been trying to get to grips with it, and sort of started to get the point. Endtroducing is my point of reference- it is to me- and to a lot of people my age- exactly what Kind of Blue or Birdland were to the pseuds of the ‘60s. It’s labeled as a Hip-Hop or Dance album, but this doesn’t explain the half of it; no-one calls Endtroducing a Jazz record, but I think this is the best way of looking at it, at least inasmuch as any generic tag can begin to describe it. In terms of sound, it’s closer to Miles’s On the Corner than to Paul Van Dyk or NWA, but again that’s not really saying anything. The point is, I suppose, that its extraordinary complexity and implausible richness have the same… I don’t know, adventurousness– no, wait, that’s crap- sorry, I’m stumped. What I suppose I’m trying to say is that there’s a certain quality to Endtroducing that it shares with only a very few other sets of recorded music. You can dance to (bits of) it, but it’s primarily an intellectual exercise. Or at least I think so.

Listen to Changeling, or Midnight in a Perfect World or- even better- What Does Your Soul Look Like Part 1 and you can’t help but marvel at how such redundant, trashy sources- radio ads, novelty records, vanity releases- can be turned into pieces of music of such extraordinary beauty that wonder why anyone bothers putting any effort into learning how to play a guitar or a piano. Even at its most frenetic- on The Number Song, or Organ Donor– the record plies to a course of fragile elegance. Shadow had a lightness of touch that no-one working in electronic music before or since ever quite managed to emulate. I don’t think there’s a record in the world to touch the brilliance of Endtroducing, and being a stubborn bugger, I probably won’t ever admit such a thing exists even if I hear it.

That’s 366 posts and one year down, which I reckon is just about enough for now. It’s (occasionally) been a pleasure writing this blog every day, but I can’t really bear the thought of continuing it indefinitely. It’s not over yet- not by a long shot- but the Daily part of The Daily Record henceforth no longer holds true. There are still a lot of records I want to write about, and a lot of half-arsed hangover posts I need to update, but I’m going to take my time over it. For the moment, though, happy New Year and thanks enormously for reading.

Cheerio,

Digby x

No.365- Introspective, The Pet Shop Boys, 1988

Purchased at WH Smith, Petersfield, January 2004

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There are six songs on this album, and each one of them has a lesser album’s worth of ideas packed into it. This may sound like faint praise, but when I write ‘lesser album’, I’m still talking about something pretty fucking special: Bowie’s Low, for example…

If we’re to take the conventional middle-aged narrative, Progressive Rock and Psychedelia took the three minute pop song and inflated it to obesity; Punk stuck a pin into it and watched it blow out its hot air; with Introspective, The Pet Shop Boys took everything exciting about Pop Music, Rock Music and- and this was a novelty- Dance Music and made it last longer without losing a scintilla of its lustre. They also proved that high camp, literary pathos, intellectual snobbery and Disco were not mutually exclusive concerns. The best demonstration of this is the extraordinary Left to My Own Devices:

‘I was faced with a choice at a difficult age/Would I write a book- or should I take to the stage?/But in the back of my head I heard a distant feat/Ché Guevara and Debussy to a Disco beat’

And there, in a single verse, The Pet Shop Boys’ manifesto is defined and immortalised to what might be the most marvelously grandiose musical accompaniment of the 1980s. An opera singer wails, a House piano stabs and a full orchestra crashes around an almost deadpan drum pattern- it’s that rarest of things, a song that demands you to stroke your chin AND do a pogo, if possible dressed in vintage Katherine Hamnett.

Introspective continues with the downbeat I Want a Dog; it’s quite a leap from the impossibly self-assured brio of Left to My Own Devices, but in its own rather morose way manages to be rather affecting: ‘I want a dog- a Chihuahua,’ Neil Tennant sings, without a hint of irony. ‘Don’t want a cat/Scratching its claws all over my habitat’, he continues, ‘Oh it can get lonely- and a cat’s no help with that’– from domestic banality to literary alienation. How very Introspective.

Almost everything here- barring I Want a Dog and the symphonically paranoid I’m Not Scared- were hits in different forms. Great though the singles were, the album versions are infinitely superior; Tennant and Lowe took a fistful of lilies and gilded them into fabergé eggs; not one of the originals suffers from having an extra four to six minutes of orchestral pomp and operatic techno welded onto it- in truth, the originals sound barren without it.

Take their Christmas hit, a cover of Elvis’s Always on my Mind- from being a relatively enjoyable ‘80s novelty single, it becomes an epic, a House-bound wannabe Guns’N’Roses Rock anthem. Shades of Kraftwerk save the first half from over-archness, and the syncopated, always anticipatory beat keeps everything anchored to a sense of pure excitement. Then the real House section comes in- it sounded dated ten years ago, but now it seems entirely prescient… and then… cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha- BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That  was a bad phoenetic transcription of the best whoa-dude guitar solo this side of Guns’N’Roses November Rain- it is improbably exciting.

I’m tired and drunk, but I shall write one more thing before retiring; I really think I’m Not Scared is the great lost classic of the 1980s. Originally written for and recorded by Patsy Kensit’s fucking awful band Eighth Wonder, the Pet Shop Boys topped the original with an almost embarrassing ease; while Patsy’s crew sound like a bunch of art students auditioning for Culture Club, PSB manage to make the song sound like a standard that they just happen to have bombed with a the London Philharmonic, a bank of state-of-the-art drum machines and a bunch of drunken Russian soldiers. It’s Pop at its most deliriously silly and gratuitous- but also an extremely bitter tirade against a lover who may or may not have done the protagonist wrong. As breakup headphone fodder, it can’t be beat.

That’s enough from me, at least ‘til tomorrow. But wot’s the date? Oh yeah… tomorrow, thank the lord, is the date of my last daily post here… don’t get too excited.

 

No.364- 13, Blur, 1999

Purchased at HMV, Newcastle, Summer 2004

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If you get a moment today, listen to Trimm Trabb. It sounds like wot my head feels like.

 

Euuuuuughhhhhh…. Happy New Year.

 

No.363 – Histoire de Melody Nelson, Serge Gainsbourg, 1971

Borrowed indefinitely from my Mother, January 2004

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« Ah ! Mélodie !/Tu m’en auras fait faire/Des conneries »

So goes the opening line of Ah ! Melodie ! How right it was, too; I have done some extremely stupid things in the name of this record. With its elastically loose bass, celestial orchestaration and pervy, hoarsely-narrated storyline concerning a millionaire who falls passionately- and ultimately tragically- in love with a teenage cyclist from Sunderland, it is the cult classicist’s cult classic. Here, in reverse cronological order, are the three most moronic:

1)    I was at a party in a smart bit of the countryside a while ago. We had been drinking Champagne (I had some rather grand friends at the time,) and when that ran out, we switched to Crémant de Bourgogne. By 8PM, I was drunk, and we – collected family, friends and hangers-on like me – were sitting in a circle confessing our three Desert Island Discs. I was exactly halfway across the arc, perched in front of an enormous fireplace, and as the absolute faves of all time rolled off the tongues of those before me, I began to panic; what were the top 3 to be? The turn of the boy before me came ; he was (and presumably still is) a curly-haired musician who lives in Peckham somewhere and knows the Goldsmiths coolies:

‘It’s tough’ he said, waving his spindly, nonchalant hand in erratic circles, ‘but I’d say Physical Graffitti, (gap, because I was too drunk to remember), and Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love’

And you, Digby?’ I hesitated; I could conceivably have compiled a top ten in the seven minutes accorded me, but a top three ? Impossible.

‘Errrrrm… I’m Your Man by Leonard Cohen…’ I hesitated: just choose any two other albums you listen to all the time, no-one’s going to accuse you of lying: ‘His’N’Hers by Pulp… and, ummm…’ Think, man, think! ‘… Uuuuh, Histoire de Melody Nelson by Serge Gainsbourg’. The curly-haired musician interjected immediately :

‘I appreciate your… eclecticness, man, but honestly, anyone who says they like that Serge Thingamajig album is just trying to be witty and pretentious’

‘But I am witty and pretentious!’ I protested, ‘and do you understand French? Have you even listened to it more than once? If not, take your Bruce Springsteen and fuck off.’ This was meant as a joke. It was – perhaps unsurprisingly – not taken as such. The evening proceeded rather solemnly, to say the least. I did not get invited back.

2)    In August 2008, I began dating a Parisian girl, who was studying in London but lived in an appartment on rue de l’Université, just a couple of blocks away from Serge’s hôtel particulier on rue de Verneuil. The first time she came to my flat, I thought it would be terribly impressive to shove Histoire de Melody Nelson onto my barely-functional CD player. Alas, while Serge remains a resolutely marginal concern in Britain, I had no idea that this was not the case anywhere else. Like, uh, France. Her reaction to my choice of background music was almost instantaneous:

‘Are you trying to seduce me?’

That learned me, alreet.

3)    When we were doing our GCSEs, my friend Rufus and I thought this was the coolest record on Earth. The fact that we were probably right aside, we did look a bit stupid extolling the virtues of a twenty-minute long album narrated by a notoriously lecherous drunk pretending to be a pederast – particularly when we could only sing along by trying to memorise the songs phoenetically. We made a big show of listening to it over any of the hits that summer, and at a party in South London halfway through the exams, we switched off Embrace’s Gravity and whacked on Ballade de Melody Nelson. The kids weren’t ‘aving it:

‘Seriously, mate, if you fucking touch the music again, I will stick this fucking bottle down your throat’, as one of my more charming classmates informed me. Since then, I no longer volunteer myself as a party DJ.

This was also the record that put my life on its current course. Before I chose my course at University, I could’ve been a contender, a banker, a fucking rocket scientist! But no- I studied French. Pah. Serge, je t’aime autant que je te hais.

No.362- Maxinquaye, Tricky, 1995

Purchased at The Record Store, Petersfield, Summer 2003

IMG_0277It must have been quite funny watching my reaction to Maxinquaye the first time I heard it; why, I wondered, was a record by a man– and a heavily tatooed, thickly accented man from the West Country, at that- mostly sung by a woman? And why did she sound so impassive, so dead behind the eyes? What’s more, the relentless paranoia going on here made Massive Attack and Cypress Hill sound like B★Witched; I was mildly disturbed by it all, but nonetheless fascinated. Maxinquaye was the most alien music I’d ever heard- whether or not it was any good, I couldn’t quite make my mind up.

A decade on, I can tell you with confidence that, yes, it is good- very, very, very good indeed. While other Bristol Trip-Hop totems have aged rather disgracefully (try listening to the length of Portishead’s Dummy or Mezzanine by Massive Attack- it’s not easy), Maxinquaye has lost none of its menacing fascination, nor any of its vaguely anarchic thrills. Have a listen to Black Steel; it’s an idea which really shouldn’t work- over an otherwise unremarkable Indie-Rock backing, Martina Topley Bird delivers a laconic and unsuitably elegant version of Chuck D’s rap on Public Enemy’s Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Even as the music gets louder and faster, Topley-Bird sticks to her pace and tone, never really surpassing “half-arsed” on the passion-o-metre. It’s chaotic, bizarre and confusing, but somehow extremely exciting; guess where MIA nicked all her best moves from.

Similarly, the other fast tracks on the record shouldn’t really make sense; imagine records by Soul II Soul, The Slits and Robert Wyatt being played simultaneously at randomly fluctuating volumes and you basically get Ponderosa. It’s magnificent, not least for the stoned seediness of Topley Bird’s vocal (‘Underneath the weeping willow/Lies a weeping wino’ indeed). More coherent but no less beguiling is the string-led loucheness of Hell is ‘Round the Corner, Pumpkin and Suffocated Love. All three are built on the foundations of the most inoffensive of ’70s Easy Listening, yet manage to make themselves as threatening as a gang of skinheads with bike chains.

With Feed Me, Maxinquaye ends with one of the most anxious songs of the 1990s; it is effectively three records going on at once, with Tricky’s chaotic rap obscured by Martina’s most beautiful vocal on the album, which is in turn muted by an arhythmic xylophone. How it remains so utterly compelling for the entirety of its four-minute duration is beyond me; mind you, you could say the same for anything here, and indeed for Maxinquaye as a whole. It is a record that still shocks, still fascinates- and crucially, still sounds more than a million miles ahead of its imitators.