Thursday, December 28, 2006

"I..I really, really like them!"

As promised, a quick round up of 2006 as seen through the eyes of the overworked propellerheads at IrkThePurists Towers. Drum roll, please....

Most overrated band Red Hot Chilli Peppers
How can a band that gives props to The Gang of Four and The Durutti Column in their interviews consistently turn out the most turgid, lily-livered drivel and yet still fill stadiums on a regular basis (I've a feeling the two things may be connected...)? Their latest, Snow, is unmitigated dreck, a sing-songy nursery rhyme that goes nowhere and takes an age to do it.

Most unanticipated re-union All Saints
You have to at least let us miss you before re-forming, OK?

Most overused phrase "Fit For Purpose"
Once only uttered by New Labour policy wonks, this tired cliche has now found its way into policy makers' jargon and appeared in every paper, proposal, and booklet I read in 2006. Enough already!

Best jazz-rock album Acoustic Ladyland--Skinny Grin
Acoustic Ladyland are (confusingly) the electric version of Polar Bear, a skronk-jazz outfit of some repute. Skinny Grin, their second long player, includes a mix of one track by Scott Walker and guest sax by long-missing-in-action NY scenester James Chance, and it's mighty impressive, ranging from Peter Brotzmann-like sax squalls to percussion-driven workouts. By the way, kids, if you want to see what twenty-odd years of heroin abuse will do to you, just gaze at the ravaged visage of James Chance in Don Letts' recent biopic Punk Attitude. Even scarier than Zammo singing 'Just Say No'.

Most disappointing album Primal Scream Riot City Blues
After three trail-blazing albums in a row, Bobby Gillespie and co decide to play it safe, eschewing the Can, Velvets, Kraftwerk and My Bloody Valentine influences for tired Byrds and Stones riffs. Out go the politics, and in come the crowd-pleasing cliched lyrics, as Bob seems more interested in being in Heat and Grazia than in doing it for the kids. I blame Kate Moss.

Most outspoken pop star Pink
Good for her. Mr. President isn't a must-listen by any means, but at least she's stuck her head above the parapet.

Best cartoon band since The Banana Splits Eagles Of Death Metal --I Gotta Feeling
Chanelling the sound, if not the vision, of Alice Cooper. Axl Rose called them "The Pigeons of Shit Metal", but you really can't pay attention to anything said by a man with cornrows.

Best hidden track Cunts Are Still Running The World--Jarvis Cocker
Tucked away at the end of his recent Rough Trade release, and still, surprisingly, awaiting a playback on Saturday morning kids' TV...

Best music-related book Rough Trade by Rob Young

Best autobiography Rupert Everett's Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins

Most interesting new prospects The Victorian English Gentlemen's Club
They're Welsh, which is slightly confusing (though Welsh Gentlemen's doesn't have those kinky overtones), and more than one critic has compared them to the B-52s. And that's no bad thing.

Best live act Scritti Politti
And I wish I'd put money on this. Just think of the odds I would have gotten in December 2005. Graham Coxon ran them a close second.

Most low-key comeback Section 25 at Poulton-Le-Fylde's Over The Edge club
Northern miserabilists decide on another go round; typically perverse, they do it some 4 years after interest in Factory peaks with 24 Hour Party People.

Album I most wanted to love and couldn't quite Joanna Newsom--Ys
The critics said this was an album you'd either love or hate this. I beg to differ. I certainly don't hate it; it's different, it's ambitious and hell, it brought together Van Dyke Parks, Steve Albini and Jim O'Rourke on the same record; that doesn't happen every day. Its longest track clocks in at 16 minutes. It's sumptuously packaged. It'll make your hi-fi sound like a million dollars. It's the best album by a harpist you're likely to hear this year. And yet I'd be lying if I said I'd taken it completely to my bosom. Perhaps its the convoluted subject matter, perhaps it's the depiction of Ms Newsom as an medieval wench on the sleeve, perhaps it's her voice, midway between Bjork and Janis Joplin. But somehow, I couldn't quite fall in love with this, much as I wanted to. Maybe it'll grow on me in 2007.

Bonus interview: Steve Albini talks food

Download Acoustic Ladyland Salt Water (Scott Walker mix)
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Download Joanna Newsom Cosmia
(deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Greatest Christmas Album Ever...Ever...Ever!

It's that time of year when everyone and their uncle weighs in to the "greatest Christmas songs ever" debate; in the Grauniad, John Harris had a bash, and in the blogosphere, PodBop has been posting 5 songs a day (yikes) for some time now... and so, launching itself into an already over-crowded arena, and by no popular demand whatsoever, IrkThePurists presents its own top Christmas choons.

Only a fool would try and compile one of these lists without at least one song from Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift For You. Darlene Love's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) is first track on the vinyl copy of the album I own, so it's only fitting it should kick off proceedings here (on the CD reissue, it's been relegated to the 11th track--why??).

Clarence Carter's Backdoor Santa deserves a place for its innuendo-laden title alone--I always find it's good to put it on after the fifth glass of Warnink's advocaat--but we'll try and overlook Jet's recent cover version.

Run DMC's Christmas In Hollis is related to the above, and appeared on a one-off compilation called Christmas Rap put out by their record company, Profile. The album also featured a notable contribution from Brit-rap also-ran, Derek B, whom I once interviewed. Re: the lyrics; I know what collard greens are, but can any US readers tell me what "the hawk is out" means? I've been wondering for nearly 20 years.

Cocteau Twins' Frosty The Snowman. 'Nuff said.

St. Etienne's I Was Born On Christmas Day is evocative of coming back to see parents and finding that the town you left some years before has changed ("Did you know they pulled the Town Hall down? I don't think you'd recognise this town,"), and that you've changed too. Not bad for a throwaway bit of proto-Britpop.

Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses is from Ze's Christmas Album of 1981, the greatest Christmas album ever, hands down (it's closely followed by the Les Disques Du Crepuscule compilation Ghosts of Christmas Past). If a bunch of snarky New York hipsters can get over themselves and indulge in Yuletide cheer, then there's no excuse for the rest of us to mope about at the end of December. Cristina's Things Fall Apart or James White's Christmas With Satan (also on the album) are great songs, but it's a little too easy to include lots of bah-humbug tracks when compiling these things. Half Man Half Biscuit, as usual, said it eloquently and succinctly in It's Cliched to be Cynical At Christmas.

Mogwai's Christmas Song is one of the few of theirs that stays quiet all the way through, rather than doing the quiet/loud/quiet thing they're so good at. Christmas is always tinged with a little melancholy, and I think Mogwai capture that pretty well. The Raveonettes' confusingly similarly-titled Christmas Song is here to preserve the indie mood, but give the party a bit of a Swedish lift. I think a few fingers of Ikea own-brand Glogg would be appropriate here.

Finally, Vince Guaraldi Trio's Skating will instantly transport you back to your first viewing of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Only the hardest of hearts will fail to sniffle slightly.

And so, gentle readers, that's yer lot. Have a cool yule. In a daring break with mp3 blog traditions, I'll post some "Best of 2006" tracks here sometime over the next week, hangovers permitting. Cheers!

Download Darlene Love's
Christmas (Baby Please...)

Download Clarence Carter's Backdoor Santa

Christmas in Hollis by Run DMC

Download Frosty The Snowman by Cocteau Twins

Download I Was Born On Christmas Day by St Etienne and Tim Burgess

Download Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses

Download It's Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas by HMHB

Download Mogwai Christmas Song

Download Christmas Song by The Raveonettes

Download Vince Guaraldi Trio's Skating (n.b. all the above tracks deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Out To Lunch

I was flabbergasted to see in my local Tesco’s (I know and I’m sorry—the wholefood co-operative was closed) the attached ad for blue cheese in one of their Christmas leaflets. Headlined “The Soft Parade”, I can only imagine it was the work of a bored copywriter with a penchant for The Doors. Unless, of course, The Doors’ canon has now become so subsumed into the mainstream that even housewives doing the weekly shop in Chipping Sodbury and Diss are expected to chuckle knowingly over references to psychedelic rock albums from 1969. I don’t believe this is the case, and I think the reference will go over the heads of 90% of Tesco’s demographic, unless I’m being a total snob (and that’s always a possibility…).

Many schoolboys (and some schoolgirls) have a flirtation with The Doors, often coinciding with a viewing of Apocalypse Now. I know I did. Their first two albums really seemed to speak to me for about two weeks at the age of sixteen. The portentous lyrics that seemed to hint at secret knowledge. The shamanistic, ritualistic figure of Jim Morrison. The interminable keyboard solos of Ray Manzarek. Of course, most of us grow out of this brief infatuation; songs about frogs, Red Indians and the like seem a bit hammy once you hit, say, seventeen. And anybody reading No One Here Gets Out Alive would realise that far from being a sexual revolutionary and visionary, Morrison was a thoroughly mysoginistic and unpleasant individual.

None of which stops him being quoted in popular culture. Or supermarket flyers, as we’ve seen. In fact, that ad for cheese was my second Doors reference of the day. Earlier, I’d been listening to Bug Powder Dust by Bomb The Bass, which is chock-full of metaphor and simile, including two references to The Doors: rapper Justin Warfield compares himself to “Mr Mojo Risin’”, and the song includes the following couplet “Waiting for the sun on a Spanish
/Solar eclipse and I'm feeling like starin' man..”

More prominent than these fleeting references to Pere Lachaise’s most infamous resident, though, are the many literary allusions scattered throughout the song; references to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness and Wade Davis’ The Serpent and The Rainbow appear alongside more prosaic pop culture yardsticks like Jeff Spicoli, Agent Cooper and Jimmy Page. The most prominent author, though, in this neo-psychedelic stew has to be William S. Burroughs. Indeed, the whole song is an homage to the Naked Lunch (and in particular David Cronenberg’s admirable attempt to adapt the text for the screen in 1991) with its references to mugwumps, the Interzone and so forth. The album from which it’s taken, Clear, is well worth getting hold of, incidentally; one track is written and narrated by TV panellist and occasional author Will Self, while another features legendary stoner Lesley Winer. And BTW, don’t you think Tesco could work the words Naked Lunch into one of their future campaigns?

Burroughs was probably the most influential writer for rock musicians from the mid-60s onwards (though JG Ballard arguably ran him a close second for a while circa 1978 to 1982); as well as Bowie’s penchant for cut-up lyrics, Soft Machine and Steely Dan owe their names to his novels, and his associate Brion Gysin was instrumental in bringing together Brian Jones and the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Hell, even Duran Duran got in on the act with their Wild Boys single…

He didn’t just restrict himself to the written word, however; he would occasionally step out from behind the typewriter and into the recording studio, sometimes to record spoken-word versions of his writings under the watchful eye of John Giorno, and often to collaborate with bona fide musicians, such as Michael Franti, Hal Willner, Tom Waits and Ministry. Some of his most fruitful collaborations, though, were with downtown NY supergroup Material. He contributed to their long player Seven Souls, and then followed this up with a guest spot on their track Words Of Advice from their 1994 CD Hallucination Engine. The track is notable for the interplay between Outlaw Bill’s lugubrious voice and the sax of Wayne Shorter (who, before leading Weather Report was one quarter of Miles Davis’ classic quartet, alongside Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock). It’s notable, too, for the admonition to “never interfere in a boy/girl fight”. Words of advice, indeed, and ones we’d all do well to remember with the festive season approaching.

Download Bug Powder Dust

Download Words Of Advice (both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Horror Show

Managed to pop along to see The Horrors the other night, knowing full well that I'd be just about the oldest person there. Mind you, I think Peaches Geldof would have been sneered at for being too old. The mean age was probably about 16, I'd say; we knew this when we walked to the bar, and, upon asking for two beers, were politely informed that it was soft drinks only that night. The crowd, unusually in this day and age, had made something of an effort to dress up. There was a lot of peroxide in the air, and many punters had chosen to wear fishnet tights (and that was just the blokes--b'dum tssh, I thangew).

Actually, it was all a bit Rocky Horror Show, but the kids in the crowd absolutely lapped it up, clearly being too young to remember The Cramps, or Alice Cooper before them. The group played up the Grand Guignol for all it was worth; the keyboard player (who delights in the soubriquet Spider Webb) was wearing a cape, ferchrissakes, and twirled it round quite a lot. Faris Rotter, the singer and backcombed object of the crowd's veneration, leapt into the throng on more than one occasion, to the chagrin of the bouncers who kept trying to pull him back on stage. The girls in the audience (and possibly some of the boys) screamed, not in terror, but rather in excitement, like the crowd at the beginning of A Hard Day's Night. We (that's Malcolm and I) both remarked later that this was the first gig we'd ever been to where anyone actually screamed. There was a lot of strobe. It was over almost as soon as it had begun, within 27 minutes in fact, presumably so the kids could go and do their homework.

The sound? Well, go on then, if you insist. A liitle bit Cramps, a little bit Nuggets, a little bit Foetus. Slightly heavier and less garagey (is that even a word?) than on record. But I get the impression that the music is secondary in importance to the group's image for the kids in the audience. And just in case you think this is going to turn into a "style over substance" rant, I'm actually all in favour of their dressing up as The Addams Family. Christ knows we could do with some pop stars that know how to look and act like pop stars rather than Gap adverts. If I were a sixteen-year old kid faced with a musical diet of "ITV indie" like Keane, The Kooks, and The Killers, then I too would probably go nuts at the sight of The Horrors. They may not be offering anything new, but they're a damn sight more attractive than 98% of the charts right now.

You can see the Chris Cunningham-directed vid for Sheena Is A Parasite here:

See Foetus and Soft Cell covering Suicide's Ghost Rider!

When I said, below, that Optimo was the best club night in Glasgow, I was of course forgetting about the excellent Papacool. If you want to pretend you're in a loft in New York, then by all means go to Optimo. If however you want something more Left Bank than left-field, then Papacool, I'm assured, is the place to be. Here's a picture of Jane Birkin looking tres jolie. Cheers, Bill!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Faithless- Bombs

This is a fantastic song, all the better for its lack of bombast, and even though the video's "message" is a little bit like Soviet propaganda, it's still very moving. Apparently, it's the work of Howard Greenhalgh, who used to make lots of Cocteau Twins vids. That's all.

A Man Called Adam

I've just finished Adam Ant's autobiography, and it was a profound disappointment. Kudos to him for having written it on his tod, (I can't imagine a ghost-writer being involved given how plodding and prosaic a book it is), but given the source material I have to say I expected some more fireworks. I mean, if you'd had the word "fuck" carved into your back by Jordan (no, not that one) at an early age, and then gone on to squire Jamie Lee-Curtis and Heather Graham, you'd probably have some juicy material to draw on, right? Well, you ain't gonna find it in Stand And Deliver, sad to say.

It's hard to put one's finger on exactly what's wrong with the book, but the subs didn't do the writer any favours. The little-lamented group FourBeTwo, for example, become Four By Two a couple of pages later. Adam also avers that Ant Rap reached no. 3 in the charts; on the next page he claims it reached as high as no. 4, and two pages later the damn song's back at no.3... Editor! And even my granny knows that the Sex Pistols signed to EMI first and A&M second, and not the other way round as Adam claims. But beyond pettyfogging, nit-picking inaccuracies, the main problem is that the prose is just so flat, the account of his life so mundane and so uninsightful. It's all "then I did this, next I did that, next I rerecorded my vocals for Goody Two Shoes, then I broke up with my girlfriend..". Where are the bon mots, the witty apercus? Granted, he was no great shakes as a lyricist, descending into doggerel all too often, but he clearly had an imagination, as evidenced by the snippets of his contemporaneous diaries. Unfortunately there's little imagination on display in the book. It's all a bit "This Is Your Life". My missus cleverly pointed out that this flatness is probably due to the medication he now has to take to keep his well-documented bi-polar disorder under control. It's all a bit of a shame.

Luckily, the simultaneous release of yet another Greatest Hits package manages to redress the balance somewhat. I'd heard few of the 22 tunes on Stand And Deliver: The Very Best of... since Adam's heyday, and some (like Room At The Top, his 1987 collaboration with early Prince partner Andre Cymone) not at all. Some random observations: Apollo 9, a solo single from '85 or so, turns out to be quite audacious (I don't remember enjoying it at the time); it sounds like a 21st century sea shanty. The early stuff (Cartrouble, Deutscher Girls and associated B-sides) sounds very now all of a sudden, and not a million miles from The Libertines. Both singles from the Phil Collins-produced Strip album (i.e. Puss In Boots and Strip) are dreadful, tipping over into full pantomime where he'd earlier merely hinted at it amidst the Burundi beats. The Andre Cymone-produced stuff from his solo Manners and Physique album is actually quite palatable, even if it sounds like they'd nicked the Fine Young Cannibals' drum machine; it's quite similar to what The Chiefs Of Relief were doing at the time... hmm, and didn't the Chiefs of Relief feature a couple of ex-BowWowWow hands? One other thing: my kids are going nuts for Stand and Deliver itself (the song, that is), insisting that I play it 6 times today in the car.

However, it's Ant Rap that really astonishes. Not the main part of the song, (though, as rapping goes, I've heard worse) but the last 20 seconds or so, the coda if you will. Whistles, congas, drums... holy hell, I didn't realise it at the time, but this was damn near industrial funk! Download this, chop out the last twenty seconds and loop it, and you could take it to Optimo next week and tell them it was a lost out-take from a Liquid Liquid EP. They'd definitely believe you. In case you don't, I've included the Liquid Liquid track from which Glasgow's finest club night took its name so you can compare and contrast. ACR, ESG, Liquid Liquid, Adam and the Ants!?! Whoulda thunk it?

Download Ant Rap by Adam & the Ants

Download Optimo by Liquid Liquid (both deleted Feb 2007--sorry!)

Keep Adam medicated