Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Dan

Just wanted to draw attention to the excellent interview with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen on Radio 2 yesterday (you can listen again here for a week). The duo, the creative nucleus of Steely Dan for nigh on 35 years, regaled us with stories of hawking their songs around the Brill Building, of their love of jazz, and of the highs and lows of their songwriting partnership. In particular, they devote some time to discussing the track Show Biz Kids, which according to contended grizzled interviewer Johnnie Walker, could have been an international hit, save for one judiciously-placed expletive . The Super Furry Animals made this profanity-laden line the central sample of their 1996 non-hit (and tribute to Cardiff footballer Robin Friday) The Man Don't Give a Fuck. They're both first-rate choons, and guess what? They're presented here for you to compare and contrast.

Download Show Biz Kids by Steely Dan (deleted May 2008)

Download The Man Don't Give A Fuck by Super Furry Animals (deleted May 2008)

Buy Steely Dan

Steely Dan site

Buy SFA stuff

Friday, August 24, 2007

Mission: "Control"

I had the pleasure of seeing the Anton Corbijn movie Control earlier this week, and while it provided few surprises, it was solid enough entertainment...if "entertainment" is the correct term to use in describing a film about the events that lead to the protagonist's suicide. In fact, Corbijn's film, which received the CICAE Art & Essai awards at Cannes this year, struggles in two respects; first, the fact that the film's narrative arc will be known to most of its viewers, and second, that a previous film, Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People, covered roughly the same territory five years before.

On its own merits, however, Control has much to recommend it. Sam Riley's performance as Ian Curtis is little short of uncanny, especially in the live scenes, where Riley gets Curtis' eyes-closed, eyebrows-raised, hunched over the mic stance dead-on. Samantha Morton plays against type as Debbie Curtis, the singer's wife, portraying her as slightly mousy and unremittingly homely, especially when compared to her husband's free-spirited, independent and worldly Belgian mistress Annik Honore. That Honore is portrayed in the film in an even-handed way and not in the slightly (and understandably) derogatory tones of Debbie Curtis' book Touching From A Distance, on which the film is based, is no doubt down to the intervening hand of the scriptwriter, Matt Greenhalgh. The actors who play the rest of Joy Division (Joe Anderson, James Pearson, Harry Treadaway) give engaging performances, and extra kudos to them for playing all the songs live rather than miming to the original tracks. Rob Gretton (Toby Kebbell) provides occasional, and much needed, moments of levity, especially in his scenes with the hapless Alan Hempsall of Crispy Ambulance (AH "Where's my twenty quid?"/ RG "In my fuck-off pocket!"). John Cooper Clarke, playing himself at a recreation of the last night of the Electric Circus, is good value as always (and as my wife pointed out, is probably the only survivor from that era who could still comfortably fit into his old clothes. In fact, come to think of it, I don't actually think he's changed clothes since 1978...). The mise-en-scene is astonishingly accurate, down to the Golden Wonder crisps, and recreates the bleakness of the era in vivid monochrome detail. The soundtrack is exactly right, taking in Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk as well as Joy Division. And while there are few surprises in such a well-known story, there was one revelation, for me at least; was the insistent tss-tss sound on She's Lost Control really produced by a deftly-deployed aerosol canister?

While Greenhalgh's script is commendably non-partisan, he clearly missed the screenwriters' class where they teach them that "show, don't tell" is the best way to move narrative forward. Thus, there's a particularly clunking scene where, after an early gig, the band are greeted backstage by a tousle-haired, bespectacled stranger, and the following paraphrased dialogue ensues...

Gretton (for it is he): "You're good, lads, but you need a good manager..."

Band: "Who are you?"

Gretton: "The name's Rob Gretton."

Roadie: "But they've already got a manager...me."

Gretton: "And who are you?"

Roadie: "I'm Terry Mason."

There are a few other cavils. Tony Wilson, played by Craig Parkinson, seems to be channeling the spirit of Peter Cook, as others have pointed out. But most of all, the film is exactly as you'd expect an Anton Corbijn film about Joy Division to be. Slightly predictable, in other words. There's little use of moving camera, no spontaneity, even in the gig scenes. Many of the shots are so well composed, it's like looking at a 120-minute Depeche Mode or U2 photo. And despite the moments of hilarity provided by the Rob Gretton and Peter Hook characters, it's almost entirely reverent, portraying Curtis as a doomed, tortured genius, rather than the often-selfish, occasionally-childish flawed character of Debbie Curtis' book. I missed, for instance, moments like this, at the Leigh Festival of 1979...

"I was wary about what I had been told about turning up at gigs without the other girls, so I made sure I collected Sue Sumner from her flat before driving to the festival. It was a bright, warm day and I was disappointed because it hadn't occurred to me to take Natalie along. I mentioned this to Ian, but he was so busy discussing the size of a particularly large turd in the toilet tents that he didn't seem to hear me." (Touching From A Distance, p.89)
The whole thing is a bit like an extended version of Corbijn's video for Atmosphere. And if you think that the most obvious thing that the director of a film about Joy Division could do would be to put Atmosphere over the closing scenes, then I hope I'm not giving anything away by revealing that Corbijn obliges. It's all a bit too tasteful, a bit Peter Saville; classic-looking, hagiographic, not-at-all gritty, despite its subject matter. In this it suffers slightly by comparison to Winterbottom's earlier film, which was, I suppose, the Central Station take on the Factory story; irreverent, anarchic, free-wheeling. And it's this that I missed most in Control. The film feeds the Ian Curtis mythology, that of the tortured, enigmatic genius, and while 24 Hour Party People played fast and loose with the facts, I can't help feeling that it was closer to the messy, complicated truth of Factory and the characters that surrounded the label than Corbijn's black-and-white (in all senses of the phrase) version.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Clash of 2007

So what is/was the best punk album ever? It's a question that has been vexing precisely no-one, but Irk The Purists will endeavour to settle the non-existent debate once and for all. Never Mind The Bollocks? Some great singles, obviously, and the inclusion of Bodies puts it right up there, but there's also some filler (Submission, anyone?). The Clash's first album? More of a contender, possibly, but still some duff tracks. Another Music In A Different Kitchen? A good LP, but it missed the punk boat (it was released in 1978)... Eater-The Album? Okay, now you're getting silly.

Really, the album's title should tip you off, but I can now reveal that the best punk album in the world, ever, is.....(drum roll, please...) Fulham Fallout by The Lurkers! Oh no, hang on, there's been a steward's enquiry. No, it is in fact, the album pictured above, entitled The Best Punk Album In The World...Ever. Now notwithstanding the fact that the sleeve is like a GCSE art student's homage to Jamie Reid, that the track information is scanty at best, and that most heinously, Virgin subsequently saw fit to release the oxymoronically titled The Best Punk Album In The World...Ever 2 (which, to my mind, is right up there with the Stallone vehicle First Blood II in the "shurely shome mishtake?" stakes), this 48-track double CD, released some 19 years after our parents fought the punk wars, really is the best document of the era.

Compilations like this usually feature approximately 33% good tunes, and 67% that are brought in to pad out the album to something that punters will pay £12 for at Christmas. So while The Best Punk Album contains stone classics like Identity by X-Ray Spex, New Rose by The Damne, and Television's Marquee Moon, you'd be within your rights to expect it to also contain making-up-the-numbers tracks by the likes of Splodgenessabounds, Sham 69 or the aforementioned Lurkers. You'd be wrong in this case, however. This compilation really does cover all the bases, from Richard Hell & The Voidoids' Blank Generation to Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner, from Buzzcocks to The Jam to The Undertones. Even when it does step outside its remit, bringing in post-punk from XTC, Talking Heads, PiL and Magazine, the songs are so strong you really have to cut it some slack. Quite honestly, this is all killer and no filler whatsoever. Even the less revered groups in the canon (e.g. Boomtown Rats, Stranglers) contribute their 'A' material (Peaches, Get a Grip On Yourself and Lookin' After Number One). You can see the full track listing for the two CDs here, and I dare you to disagree with the inclusion of any of the songs, even if many of them aren't strictly "punk". I think the fact that Virgin had its own vaults to plunder, along with those of EMI, explains the strength of the CD; they didn't have too many rights to negotiate. In fact, while the odd purist may cavil at the exclusion of, say, The Dead Kennedys, I think most would look at the track listing and say that the only real glaring omission is that of The Clash. CBS, The Clash's label, presumably didn't want to play ball on this one.

Not that The Clash are short on exposure at the moment. The increasingly cadaver-like Mick Jones is currently 50 per cent of Carbon/Silicon, along with his old mucker Tony James (note to self-- a Sigue Sigue Sputnik post over the next few weeks...hmmm......), while Paul Simonon teamed up with Damon Allbran at the turn of the year to some acclaim. However, it's M.I.A. that's going to bring most attention to the Clash's back catalogue over the next few months, I suspect. Her new single, Paper Planes, produced by Big Dada artiste Diplo, samples "Straight To Hell" to startling effect, and rocks so hard that I'm prepared to break the unspoken credo of the MP3 blogger and make it available to you right now, even though it's not released as a single for another few weeks. I'm doing this in the hopes that everyone will fall in love with it, and then buy Paper Planes, as well as Kala, the album from which it's taken. So don't make a fool of me. Think of it as a free sample, a bit like those small bottles of shampoo that sometimes come through your door. If you like it, buy it! As well as biting The Clash, another of Kala's tracks, Bamboo Banga, quotes from Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner. Which is roughly where we came in. And so, as all those leather jackets used to proclaim circa 1983, punk's not dead. In fact, like zombies in a George Romero movie, it's roaming all over the shopping malls in the 21st century. And when the music it's engendering is as vital as M.I.A.'s Kala, it'd be churlish to get too upset.

Download Paper Planes by M.I.A. (deleted May 2008)

Buy Kala

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Factory floored

There's not a lot to say about the death of Tony Wilson that won't be said elsewhere more eloquently by others. It was hardly unexpected, as he'd been ill for some time. But Tony really did change lives, mine included. And for a large group of thirty-somethings who grew up in the North West in the 1980s, and were too young to recall So It Goes, there was that wonderful moment when the penny dropped, and we realised that that the man who read the news every night on Granada Reports was also largely responsible for Blue Monday. It was quite sobering. For those that lived outside the Granada region, I'd imagine that if Reginald Bosanquet had let slip that he was one of The Residents, the effect would have been similar.

So instead, of a lengthy encomium, I'll pay tribute to Tone's life in the most appropriate way, by showcasing some tunes by some artists, many of whom went on to bigger, though not necessarily better, things, and some of whom were legends only in their own lunchtime. All enabled and paid for by Anthony Howard Wilson and the nice people at Factory, without whom...

Download Brighter by The Railway Children (deleted May 2008)

Download Hymn From A Village by James (deleted May 2008)

Download Reach For Love by Marcel King (deleted May 2008)

Download Electricity by OMD (deleted May 2008)

Download Time Goes By So Slow by The Distractions (deleted May 2008)

YouTube stuff:

Tony tribute from GranadaTV c 2002

Happy Mondays on Other Side of Midnight

The Fall on So It Goes

Wired feature on Factory c 1988

Steve Morris, Paul Morley, Peter Saville et al on Newsnight 10/8/07


Anthony. H Wilson b. 20th Feb 1950 d. 10th Aug 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Wolfe tones/ Sexy MF

My holiday reading this year has been the latest Tom Wolfe novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. The story of a small-town naif (or presumably, since the protagonist is female, that should be naive) at an Ivy League campus, it wasn't terrifically well received by critics on its release a couple of years back, but it covers similar stylistic ground to Bonfire of the Vanities and A Man in Full so if you rated those you'll probably dig this. Most of Wolfe's literary tics are present and correct. His ear for dialect, for example, is as acute as ever. His microscopic observation of current social mores (the status of academics at American universities, for example, and the unfettered use of what Wolfe calls the "fuck patois") is bang-on, of course. In fact the only give-away that this is written by a 75-year old Southern WASP rather than a staff writer for The OC, is his frequent use of the neologism "Bango!" to signify a sudden interjection in the narrative. Here, the school's basketball coach is pouring scorn on one of his charge's desire to break out of stereotypical jockdom and take a high-level course entitleed The Age of Socrates...

Coach ignored all of that and said "You know who Mr. Margolies is, by any chance?"

"No, but I hear he's really good."

Like his previous novel, A Man In Full, IACS contains a lot of references to rap music. Luckily Wolfe, possibly stung by criticism of the untypically inaccurate characterisation of the rap scenes in A Man In Full (one featured the improbably-named Doctor Rammer Doc Doc), has raised his game in this book. While the name of the rapper that soundtracks the basketball team's locker-room antics in IACS (in this case, he's named Dr. Dis) still isn't quite on the money, it's a lot more plausible than Doctor Rammer Doc Doc, who always sounded more like a Haitian voodoo priest and part-time porn actor than a hip-hop superstar. However, names aside, Wolfe's attempts at writing fictional raps to put into his fictional rapper's mouth are, to my mind, pretty much on the one. Certainly, the thugged-out mixture of humour, scatology, bragadoccio and nihilism in Dis's putative rhyming wouldn't sound out of place coming from the mouth of say, DMX or Trick Daddy. Here's a verse from Dr. Dis's masterpiece "Know'm saying?"...

"Know'm saying?
Call yo'self a cop? Swap yo' dick and yo' ass,
Ev'ry time you shit, yo' balls go plop plop.
Wipe yo' dick and it bleeds choc'late.
You needs to fuck with yo' butt, cocksucking cop cop.
Know'm saying?"

Fo' shizzle! Damn homey. For a guy in a white suit pushing 80 years old, that's some flow. And all the more accurate for being so knowingly crass. Not quite up there with wordsmiths like Rakim, Nas or Common, but certainly better than much of the stuff covered in Nik Cohn's Triksta. And hell, that was fact rather than fiction! So, a tip of the fedora to Mr. Wolfe.

While the fictional Dr. Dis could probably hold his own against much of the dreck that passes for entertainment on Tim Westwood's show, he can't hold a candle to the great MF Doom. Doom's been a long time underground and even collabs with DangerMouse haven't quite pushed him into the mainstream yet. This is a shame, as, for my money, he's the best out there right now, just edging out Roots Manuva. As DangerMouse comments admiringly, with Doom's rhymes there's "no waste". Every word counts, and every reference is worth following up. His magpie mind flits from 1930s cinema to pop art to the realities of street culture in the early 21st century. Best of all, he seems to have as much reverence for the cartoonish and the escapist as he does for the need to represent. His costume and outlandish persona hark back to old school mysticals like Rammelzee and Afrika Bamabaataa circa "Planet Rock". If more of today's rappers looked to Stan Lee rather than Glocks and AK47s to settle their beefs, I can't help but think the scene would be in better shape. Okay, sermon over. But, of course, metal masks and superhero costumes would count for little if the goods weren't up to scratch. Thankfully, they are. Doom's narcoleptic narratives pull you in. This guy's so good, he doesn't need to proclaim; if you want to listen, you can, but he ain't going to break a sweat to make sure you hear. The listener has to put in some work, but it's always worth it. His choice of breaks helps, too. Below are a couple of tasters courtesy of The Wire magazine; Hoecakes uses Anita Baker's Sweet Love to good effect, while Frendz is a cautionary tale of the corruscating effect of fame.

Download MF Doom's Deep Fried Frendz MP3

Download MF Doom's Hoecakes MP3

MF Doom on Myspace