Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Monday, February 6, 2023
The Beat rarely put an immaculately shod foot wrong in their five year, three album career from 1978 to 1983. They were the coolest Brummie kids on the block and were frequently on Top of the Pops during those years. You might think a Greatest Hits would do, but really you need all of their three studio albums. They're all invaluable in their different ways.
I remember a school conversation about The Beat that went on for a while after they appeared on TOTP for the first time in 1980. I hung around with a slightly geeky set, I'm sure the others wouldn't mind me calling us that at this remove. It was mostly composed of kids I went to Primary School with and we were now in the third year at Secondary.
Garth, Ben, Andreas, Adrian, Simon myself and a couple of others. We spent our lunch hours in the library rather than outside, kicking a football around. We were not girl botherers yet. but we did watch Top of the Pops. Everybody did in those days when it was particularly terrific, a must watch frankly between 1979 and 1983.
The conversation centred around The Beat and their debut single Tears of a Clown. A cover, but a terrific one, of the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles classic. Adrian didn't like it for some reason and boy did he go on about the fact that he didn't like it. I couldn't see why not and frankly neither could anyone else.
Peer pressure is such a thing at that age. Eventually after maybe a couple of weeks of this conversation recasting and reformulating itself while The Beat went up the singles charts and appeared on Top of the Pops again Adrian softened his position and eventually I think backed down in the way you can without losing too much face at that age. He was right to. The Beat were triff. They continued to be triff.
By 1983 though they had lost their chart sparkle though their records were still very good. Things happened very quickly in chart land in those days. The Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, Squeeze and many others had their moment in the sun before they found their singles momentum failing them until they struggled to even get Top 40 placings any more. At this point their days were probably numbered.
In 1983 this happened to The Beat. They'd toured The States a fair bit, with some success but were falling behind in The UK. Save it for Later was one of their career best singles but only reached No 47 in the UK charts. A calamity and an injustice in every respect.
The band split into factions and formed separate groups. General Public for the bands apparent generals, Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger. Fine Young Cannibals for guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele who recruited vocalist Roland Gift to front their cause. Surprisngly it was the latter that cleaned up for the rest of the Eighties.
I'm naturally inclined towards any band who choose to call themselves The Psychotic Monks. Particularly if they hail from Saint-Ouen, a suburb in the North of Paris. And call their latest album Pink Colour Surgery. And most of all make one hell of a musical row.
Their choosing of the name Psychotic Monks indicates that the band know their musical past and so very well might know their future. Theirs is a very Punk name in all of the very best respects indicating they might be aware of their Monks and their Count 5s and probably what came afterwards. MC5s, Televisions, Pere Ubus, Saints and so on and so forth.
A cursory listen to Pink Colour Surgery. reveals that they're well aware of John Lydon too. Particularly after he formed Public Image Limited which is a highly sensible departure point for them where he's concerned rather than the slightly more obvious stuff. I set off into the heart of this record fairly confident I was in for a very good time.
And so it proved. Not everything was wholly to my tastes but I never really like things when they turn wholly dark, minimal and repetitive as things do frequently here. That doesn't mean I don't know a good thing when I come across one.
Psychotic Monks understand what a lot of the newly garlanded British Post Punk breed do not. That there is more to that much abused term than The Fall, Gang of Four and Can. PiL, The Pop Group and Industrial noise for starters.
And all sung in English with an English accent that many actual English people, would die for. A splendid record. And with the latest from En Attendant Ana coming up soon, surely not the last great French album of the Winter.
Sunday, February 5, 2023
A bit more than two years back I chose the first, eponymous Billy Nomates album as my second favourite album of the year. I thought she was going to take on the world and quite possibly better it. She seemed to have the world at her feet. She had everything I want from an artist.. Attitude, tunes lyrics. A young Patti Smith.
Since then what? for Billy, (and I'm going to call her that), her arrival coincided with the arrival of Covid-19 and Lockdown. It wasn't the best time for a new artist to emerge. Arlo Parks did the same, and moped about the fact that she was being denied her rightful acclaim and fame publicly. Arlo, judging by Collapsed in Sunbeams was clearly a bit of a moper. Even if she tried to sell herself as an empath. But she ended up landing a major slot on a major stage at Glastonbury last year and cheered up visibly. What of Billy? She was clearly not a moper. How would she fare?
Judging by her second album, CACTI which came out a couple of weeks ago, she's in rude health indeed. I can't say my relationship with the record started promisingly. I didn't like the cover and I always struggle with a new record where I don't like the cover. It's like deciding to go out with someone new when you don't really like their face.
Still things after a couple of weeks with CACTI are altogether more promising. I've played it a few times and liked it more each time. And though I'll never like it as much as I like Billy Nomates and it certainly won't end up as my second favourite record of 2023, (there are quite a few that I like more already), it's certainly got a lot going for it.
Tunes for starters. They're more complex than the ones on her debut and ultimately possibly have more long term potential. She seems to have moved from the evening show radio slots and be looking for daytime play. Nothing wrong with that. I like daytime radio, so long as it retains its brain cells.
This certainly has brain cells. Billy is perhaps a little less confrontational these days. She certainly doesn't sound like she's cohabiting with Sleaford Mods, who were incredibly supportive of her in her early days. Probably for the best. She's playing in my neck of the woods soon. Might just go and see her. Good for Billy. This will take her further.
Talking Heads were coming to the end of their Imperial Phase. But hats off to them it was an imperial phase that lasted for over four albums and five years. Talking Heads '77, Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear Of Music and Remain in Light. One of the truly great runs. During that time they'd developed from a scratchy, minimal barely competent trio into a funky, ecstatic multicultural band of the Family Stone stripe, bestriding large arenas across the planet, making a fantastic, almost unprecedented musical row and coining considerable dollar.
Speaking in Tongues was not quite the groundbreaking record musically that the previous four had been. But it was still pretty bloody great. Few bands could live with them at this point. I could easily have chosen Burning Down The House for this countdown. Terrific album and concert opener and single. But I had to plump for this instead. It's one of those songs that demands to be heard and heard again. One of the band's absolute peaks and they had so many.
As for me and Talking Heads. I was into them at the time. It was one of the few things musically that me and my friends agreed on. My particular Talking Heads friends were Philip and Robert who both lived in Kew, round the corner from one another. We all loved Talking Heads. How could you not. Robert was not much of a friend really, or even a very nice guy, but he had a car, and that was important at that point of life. He drove us one night in his mini, at breakneck speed into Central London, to see an all night feature at the legendary Scala cinema where Stop Making Sense was on the bill. Robert slept through most of the film, woke up, and it had 'stopped making sense' according to him. This became something of a catchphrase between me and Philip. Golden memories of youth.
Oh 2023. What a musical start. Barely into February and already at least 15 albums that have turned my head good and proper. So many I haven't got round to writing about. The new Robert Forster. As splendid and moving as you might expect. The Murder Capital. Billy Nomates. And John Cale, probably my favourite thus far. And now this.
The Waeve is a collaboration between Graham Coxon, of Blur of course and Rose Elinor Dougall. Their eponymous debut, released on Friday is certainly a concept. A weird and thrilling one. Futuristic, weird and fantastical. Like some fabulous dystopian novel by Ursula Le Guin. Or one of those truly out there Sci-Fi Seventies or Eighties films. Logan's Run, Rollerball, Tron.
Musically Coxon has upped his game. Even for him. The whole record has an electro-pulse reminiscent of Jane Weaver and there are squalls of early Roxy Music, Bowie and Fripp. The two harmonise in almost ecstatic bliss. It's really some record.
Born, like so many great records of the last couple of years out of Lockdown. Necessity inspiring incredible imaginative invention. I listened through to this in increasing astonishment, at a single sitting yesterday. I'm doing so again, now as I complete this review. It's a quite wonderful record. Astonishing, playful and very, very more-ish.
Saturday, February 4, 2023
The Human League were in transition from the sleek Pop machine they'd unveiled with Dare to something much more varied and difficult to pigeonhole. In 1983 they came up with a fabulous one off single that used brackets to wonderful effect in its title, was astonishingly funky for a white band had an utterly fabulous video and graced the charts for weeks.
Another recommendation from Darren Jones and once again I'm hugely grateful. Spice World are yet another Australian DIY concern, That land mass has been a quite remarkable production line virtually ever since Courtney Barnett showed up on the block at the turn of the last decade.
Spice World work from a well worn and familiar template on There's no 'l' in Spice World, apparently their debut album. Raggedy guitars out of tune nasal vocals. Coy and cute. Not a mile away from Half Japanese, Dag and early Goon Sax with a more campfire edge.
All rather lovely and heart warming. In Friend of Mine particularly, they have an indie anthem that will endure. Clearly made by a group of people who really, really enjoy each others company and are altogether comfortable in their own skin and have no plans to grow up any time soon.
Friday, February 3, 2023
As I've said previously in this countdown and re-experiencing of my distant youth, 1983 was a big year in Pop Music for Liverpool and the kind of characters that could only come from that great city. Care, The Pale Fountains. Bunnymen and Wah! still to come, and now Icicle Works. Just right in 1983 for a wet behind the ears late teen like me who was into romance, literature and melody and hoping to get his first girlfriend if he could..
The Works eponymous debut album was just right for youthful types who'd been incredibly excited by the Bunnymen and Teardrops records of the previous tears. I grew out of it within a year in a way that I didn't with the Teardrops or The Bunnymen and didn't buy the records that followed when they, in quick succession, became highly political and then severely traumatised by the influence of Neil Young.
Still, for a while I very much enjoyed the company of Ian McNabb and his muse. He was like McCulloch and Cope's younger brother. McCulloch for his way with lush melody and vaguely Gothic sensibility. Gothic as in the Romantic authors and poets rather than Gothic like Bauhaus the band. Cope for his devotion to the Sixties Scott Walker. Here was their only Top 40 hit. It was overwritten, but all the more endearing for all that.
Darren Jones to the rescue. And not for the first time. Darren is a regular supporter of this blog and is constantly coming up with suggestions of his own of records he's enjoying which I would otherwise miss. They almost invariably take my fancy.
Here's his latest.. Longest Day of the Year . The new album from Dari Bay out of Burlington, Vermont. A charming combination of a cheerier Elliott Smith, Bill Ryder-Jones and Dave Grohl at his Foo Fighters, Foo Fighters peak.
It's an altogether charming record. Jam packed with classic songs that you may have heard before but are more than happy to hear again as soon as you realise that you're in the company of such a craftsman. Many thanks Darren. Certainly one of the best records I've heard this year. And keep 'em coming.
Thursday, February 2, 2023
I still have a great fondness for Wall of Voodoo and Stannard Ridgeway and when you talk about either, you need to talk about Mexican Radio, It was their own near hit It might as well have been an actual hit, it made such a mark when it came out on IRS Records in 1983, even though the only actual charts it featured on were probably independent ones.
IRS were a kind of a halfway house label. Not wholly independent, so able to get their records into high street shops while still coming across a cool and not overly corporate. Wall of Voodoo, just like R.E.M., Oingo Boingo, The Go Gos and The Beat were just made for such a set up. Imagine a world that is cool where cool records feature on the radio all day. Where you don't have to pretend to like the latest Phil Collins or Sting songs.
Mexican Radio would have got maximum play in such a world. MTV which was just setting up was obliged to feature it heavily as it didn't have a huge number of promos to feature. So we got Stannard singing out of the corner of his mouth as if he was Daffy Duck and weird 'found' lyrics that hinted at another parallel world more attractive than our own with a strange, heady atmosphere that almost seemed to prefigure Twin Peaks and Breaking Bad.
They played the song all the time at the go to club in town for students when I went to university and found my people. It was a song that told me I would need to move away from the beaten path to find the things I really loved. I had this feeling again and again during 1983 and the years that followed.
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Lawrence has come a long way from the youth who led Felt into the eighties and seemed to want nothing more than to be the purveyor of crystalline guitar driven artistic flights of fancy in the Tom Verlaine scheme of things.
His new album Pop-Up! Ker-Ching! And The Possibilities of Modern Shopping are frankly as diametrically opposite from all that as it's possible to be. It's an album that's utterly devoid of beauty and bohemianism of any description.
It's a drawl through living in Poundlands-ville and charity shop drabness. The record is as daft and grey as you could possibly want.In some ways of course it's all a front for one man's existential misery, the realisation that he will never be the pop star he's always been in his head. Lawrence's natural Pop nous still shines through, but one play will do for me.