Sunday, August 20, 2006

I feel that I’m in an undeclared price war with Geeta over at the Original Soundtrack re spending as little on records as possible and proudly trumpet some of my recent finds….

Quidd UP!

Scott 4: Recorded In State LP.

Really pretty good as far as I can tell after a couple of listens. Obviously calling your band “ Scott 4” is like dropping your drawers and asking to be hit with the hubris stick and this bears little resemblance to the LP of the same name, but is an odd, quirky amalgam of synth/ drum machine, splintered, trebly-guitar riffs, Country-picking, Fall/Happy Mondays’ drawl-funk and tricky studio jiggery-pokery, years ahead of its time, but only in the sense that it came out in 1994 not 1982. I’d definitely be up for more of this stuff and if they remind me of anyone it’s the (cliché alert!) criminally neglected “ “The Nectarine No 9” (who, I suppose, are on hold now that “The Fire Engines” have reformed, but whose “I Love Total Destruction” Lp is, against all the odds (especially with that title) one of the most upliftingly glorious pop LPs of the past couple of years).


I guess it’s just called “Playgroup.” I made a point of avoiding this when it first came out as it looked like exactly the sort of clever-clever, irony-heavy, Shoreditch electro-clash cack that I was errr…… not really very into a few years ago. However..well.. Edwyn bleedin’ Collins is on it…(have I been stupidly ignoring this man’s output for years?) and frankly it’s pretty great…. maybe up there with Big Chief’s “Mack Avenue Skull Game” and Pigeonhed’s “ The full Sentence”as an example of how a pastiche/tribute ( in the latter two instances, of Blaxplotation flix and Prince) if it's done with authentic regard can transcend itself…. although “Make it Happen” the track that put me off in the first place still irritates with its overly-contrived faux Euro-dominatrix vibe.

Akron/family and Angels of Light

Well, for every Devendra Barnhart there is, thankfully, an Akron/family in the Young God’s roster. (Quite how Michael Gira got from “Raping a Slave” to endorsing him is one of life’s great mysteries.) The Family are great, a heavy Beatles influence in this one I guess, especially in the vocal harmonies, a kind of “Abbey Road” Beatles meets Beefheart with a bit of Buckley (Tim) and early Sonic Youth thrown in.

Two Quidd!!

God bless promo CDs! Now at last I have “ Flow motion” “ Saw Delight” and “Rite time.” (you mean you haven’t had them for years, shame!). I’d always avoided the later Can assuming it was a bit shit, this seems to be the critical consensus anyway, but actually it's great, much more fragmented and much more like the solo stuff that got collected on the “Cannibalism” comps, but really there’s a handful of amazing tracks on each one, (especially “ Laugh till you cry, live till you die.”) I suspect my favourite of all their albums is destined to remain “ Future Days” however. I was also lucky enough to get “ Gospel Soul” out on Soul Jazz which, despite all its strengths etc, does contain two absolutely killer tracks, an ultra-groovy version of “Eleanor Rigby” by Kim Weston, the most foot-fuddlingly funky thing I’ve heard since Anne Peeble’s insanely sassy “ You’ve got the papers (I’ve got the man)” had me up and mincing round the living room when it was reissued on the Rza compiled “ Kings Of Funk” last year–ish, and another by the Sons of Truth called “ I Dont Know Where We’re Headed,” a frenetic, full throated, jazz-funk barnstormer.

Really pushing the boat out now…Three Quidd!

John Martyn: “ One world”

I already had “Another world” ( which contains a really brilliant bonus disc of instrumental versions) so not sure how essential this was but there you go…err..the track listing’s different! How high does John Martyn score on the Kool-ometer? Pretty low I'd guess. (If you ask me, Tricky has spent plenty of time ripping him off, especially Martyn’s version of “ I’d rather be the devil.”) Still, “One world” is frankly amazing and the influence of his extended hiatus doing double-strong bong hits with Lee Perry was not put to waste.

Interestingly (to me at least) I also picked up a copy of a Saint Etienne singles compilation, thinking perhaps that time may have mellowed my attitude toward them and that I may be on the cusp of another revelation of the “King Creole” variety. Well, I tried, but after about thirty seconds of the pointedly twee “ Only love can break your heart” and then skipping through a couple of tracks the urge to go out and commit acts of public indecency grasped me so strongly that I had to eject the CD, burn it and have the ground that it had lain upon sown with salt. We may indeed have found one of my own personal Wyatting-points here. Maybe Hell would be a bright plastic room filled with toys, hairclips and badges in which Saint Etienne played endlessly and there was nothing to do but stare for ever at Sarah Cracknell’s bright-eyed, Blue Peter-presenter goony-ness and listen to the two geezers in smug, anti-fashion sweaters congratulating each other on how un-rock they are.

Actually I’d go slightly further (stop me if I go too far). I’d say that I find Saint Etienne repulsive. Now, many people whom I have admired have loved Saint Etienne, but here’s the point where my sympathy, my desire to see it from someone else’s perspective, to try and figure out why it’s appealing runs up against an absolute impasse. I find them evil and anti-life. I guess that Saint Etienne represent in some ways the zenith of a certain type of politically-correct pop, all trace of nasty, sexist, phallocratic rock purged, a vigorous policing of the sound so that no breath of anything like passion or even wit or anger or yearning or loss can seep through. A thoroughgoing niceness prevails, “ Join our club” , “let’s kiss and make up.” It’s a Hallmark greeting card, Forever Friends, “ I wuv you!” It’s Nick Hornby, it’s Richard Curtis, it’s that sequence in “"Notting Hill” in which the thirty-eight year old Julia Roberts says to the forty-year old Hugh Grant “ I’m also just a girl, talking to a boy….” (ahh, diddums! No you’re not.. you’re a middle aged woman!!!!) A world in which, inside, we’re all just a bunch of big-kids who want to hold hands and dance to tepid House-pop. Being anodyne as an ethic.

It’s interesting the way that the political correctness of the mid-eighties through early nineties dovetailed so well into a certain stream of Indie (the shamblers) and then on to Saint Etienne. This is certainly politically-correct music and you can feel its pallid self- righteousness everywhere. It attempts to make a virtue of its own restraint, its own pinched, sour, sententious avoidance of all “Nastiness” (yuk!), here meaning sweat, funk, emoting, physicality but especially lust. In Saint Etienne’s Poptimist universe we can all be friends as long as we all agree to some kind of imposed democracy of normalcy, if we all wear the same, nice, normal clothes, and if we avoid letting icky thinks like emotions or drives or will get in our way, then we can all be a big, fun club (super!).

It’s a fantasy of a banal and reductive kind, no less simple-minded than being a metalhead perhaps, but at least metalheads are prepared to/can let themselves go, whereas Saint Ettiene are always in control, politely staring at you with the glassy-eyed smile and fierce desperation of a recently converted Krishna. Who are you trying to convince here, me or yourself? Why do I detect underneath all that ferocious ordinariness that there’s a grim, hard and malevolent streak? Is it because there’s the underlying assumption that this is “ethical” music, that this is music which has avoided making the “mistakes” that other forms have, that ethics is prior to aesthetics, we all sit a round and decide what the best kind of music would be then someone goes out and makes it and we all feel happy about what clever and decent people we are, tap our feet along, hum, maybe even dance in a slightly bashful way, eyes raised to the ceiling, holding our skirt timidly and feeling all brave and self-conscious like we did when we were at schoolmate’s birthday parties? Music by fiat? It sounds nice and democratic, anti-Aristocratic even, but judging by the limited interactions I had with this (the Indy Pop-kid) crew, mostly when I was at university, it was noticeable just how strident they were, how insular and how critical, regarding themselves as a kind of elite of the enlightened, believing I suppose, that they had reached a state of such unimpeachable ideological perfection that the job was now to go about excising any Kulcha which still seemed hidebound by those nasty “isms.” Re-educating those who were getting it “wrong.”

In a lot of ways this Pop-self looks like an adolescent, pre-sexual self, one that doesn’t look with lust, one that doesn’t have to compete, one that isn’t struggling to articulate a coherent persona or set of response in the face of life, fundamentally one that isn’t deeply conflicted, (the libido hasn’t kicked in yet) but, the main complexities of adult life expunged, can stay at home, nice and cosy with mum and dad and have its clever friends round to listen to super(ego) music in the bedroom, to talk about what they’ll all do when they grow up. However, as the title “ Join our club” so rightly puts it, there are other less democratic, more domineering forces at work within it, it is a club, a club overflowing with admonitions, suffocatingly English and middle-class, presided over by the liberal parents who greet their child’s overflowing enthusiasms and giddiness with the remonstration, “That’s a bit silly, isn’t it darling?” and most importantly of all, the demand “ Play NICELY!”


Samuel said...

Full response here...

Tom said...

I feel SE capture some of the lonliness of snobbery and elective isolation. Their sad characters (you're in a bad way) are really just themselves, imprisoned in their own sound world. The seamless banality has a satirical effect, maybe. It's been ages since I listened to them, but then I liked Juliana Hatfield better.