Articles

  • Every dog is gonna have his day...

    21 fév. 2009, 20h59m

    If you're obsessed with pop music you'll find certain songs take on a particularly significant meaning at various points of your life (like, duh).

    Change was first recorded by Sparks in the mid-eighties as a jagged electropop orgy of orchestra hits, then re-recorded by them in the late nineties as a glorious Kurt Weill-esque chamber pop number. There's also a poignant live piano ballad version floating about (and if anyone has a studio version of this I'd love to hear it). All three interpretations are excellent. It's taken a long time for me and this this song to converge. But like a lot of Sparks songs, it's about proper grown-up issues, and maybe I've only just grown into it.

    The narrator begins the song being thrown out onto the rainy street like a dog by his partner, but then somehow he manages to see glimmers of hope - a rainbow in the morning sun - and before he knows it he's off deciding that his golden days have just begun: 'Change - every dog is gonna have his day/every loser's gonna have his way/I don't care what other people say.' Whether this is a deluded flight of fancy it's hard to tell, but there seems little basis for his sudden bout of optimism.

    In the next verse he dismisses arguments about the nature of love as trivial, declaring that he has better things to do with his time: mountains that he has to ski, apparently. And the chorus is joined by an even more defiant (and deluded) 'just ignore them and they'll go away'. There follows a series of dramatic declarations about major changes through history: the disappearance of paradise, Greece and Rome, the wild West and vaudeville, all of which the narrator seems to suggest in his grandiose way are similar to either his relationship or his own ability for monumental change.

    The last verse has him discoursing on possibly getting back with his partner one day. There seems no grounds for this, there's been no word from the partner since they threw him out in the first verse. Again, the narrator seems to have difficulty separating fact from fantasy.

    By the end of the song it's hard to tell whether one should feel sorry for the narrator for being so self deluded, or applaud his mettle in forging ahead. The final verse suggests that his attempts to forge an entirely new future may be so many words, but even so, the energy and delight the raucous chorus rings in throughout the song makes it feel ultimately uplifting. There's a sense that he's a drunk propping up the bar somewhere, alternately maudlin and belligerent. Perhaps he is Walter Mitty, and completely deluded, but it's hard not to love him for it.

    It's hard to say why this song has come to mean so much to me. It might be the sense that the narrator is dredging up some sort of self respect from the gutter that is so appealing. The lack of detail makes you put yourself into the song to fill in the blanks. The tune itself is fantastic, and the three versions make it endlessly listenable.

    Whatever it is, Change is the song that means most to me at this point in time. Forget those lauded grown-up songwriters like Leonard Cohen, this song is what being an adult is really like: hitting middle age to find you're dragging a whole lot of mixed-up baggage and dreams around with you.
  • Big love for Lil' Beethoven

    10 juin 2008, 23h03m

    I'm lucky enough to be attending 7 of the 21 Sparks events in London this month. So far I've seen Kimono My House, Indiscreet, Number 1 in Heaven, Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins and Lil' Beethoven. I still have Hello Young Lovers and Exotic Creatures of the Deep to come. It's going to be too painful to review them all after they've all finished, but I must make a special case for Lil' Beethoven – my favourite Sparks album and the one that really got me back into them in a major way. My mate Gareth took me to see them perform this album about 5 or 6 years ago. I was blown away. Not only were the songs extraordinary – a mesmeric mix of minimalist classical composition and spiky vaudevillian wit, but their performance was so clever, ambitious and well realised. For a band who'd fallen off my radar for a decade after Gratuitous Sax and who were knocking on a bit I was rather shocked by their energy and creativity.

    And seeing them restage that tonight was such a treat. In the intervening years I've become obsessed with this album. Your Call's Very Important to Us. Please Hold. being the most overplayed of them on my ipod. It was like being able to relive a favourite evening of my life. With the interactive video screens crazily representing each song with cartoon Rons running about the place, swear words, unattainable brides and the rest, and Ron's fantastic prop extendible arms for How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall and his dolly bird companion for Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls it's more of an art installation than a gig. Once again it made for one of the best and most memorable nights out I've had at a gig, and has left me panting with anticipation for the final two, and dreading the end of it all too.

    What an amazing thing to do, to do all 21 extraordinary albums in a row like this. The reception they've been getting has been phenomenal, quite rightly. Tonight it seemed especially wild and jubilant. It's great that they get to see the reaction all of their songs are still having on people. And fantastic to get the chance to see them perform them, to dance and sing along, and tonight just marvel at something quite brilliant.

    And, boy, that curly haired drummer bloke is turning out to be my hopeless crush of the summer. Bonus time!
  • Great Lost Albums

    11 mai 2008, 11h58m

    Pet Shop Boys ‘Accidental’

    (How Many Times Do I Have To Tell You That You’ll Go) Blind
    House
    Neither One Thing Nor The Other
    As I Said To Betjeman
    It’s Dirty
    On the Russian Front in 1943

    Smash Hit
    You Said You Wouldn’t Bring It Up (with Ethel Merman)
    A Couple of Stiffs
    Unemployment (Disco Mix)
    I Didn’t Think I Loved You But It Actually Seems I Did A Bit
    West Hampstead Thameslink
    ______

    The Smiths ’Can I Do You Now, Sir?’

    I’m Not Moving From This Street
    Mother, You’re Never Wearing That Blouse
    Ancoats Raconteur
    Bobby in a Brassiere
    You Are Slightly More Distasteful Than Sex
    Newsreaders Should Be Ashamed of Themselves

    Swine
    Thelma on the Pill
    You Know I Don’t Fancy A Quick One Because I Love You Too Much
    We Can Never Take That Bus Again
    Cracking Bust
    It Doesn’t Matter How Long I Live I’ll Always be Disappointed
    ______

    The B-52’s ‘Shimmy’

    Sputnik Hair
    Dracula My Dear
    Godzilla Shimmy
    Mashed Potato Moonbase
    Love Fridge

    Seafood Bullets
    Stop Driving My Car!
    Laundromat
    Do You Know The Way To San Tropez?
    Hey Girls!
    Spatula
    _______

    The Decemberists ‘Daguerreotypes’

    Ballad of the Orphaned Sea Serpent
    My Lady’s Trap Awaits
    LadyBird Johnson and Rosa Parks on the Greyhound Bus to Heaven
    The Gingerbread Galleon
    A Stovepipe Hat, My Love
    The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All
    At The Grand Guignol with the Baker Street Irregulars
    George Kaplan’s Lament
    Crinoline oh Crinoline!
    Graverobbers and Ladykillers
  • Sweet Talking Wuss

    15 déc. 2007, 17h05m

    Okay, so I'm not the most emotionally demonstrative of men. I very rarely cry, and when I do it tends to be at unexpected moments. And today has been no exception to that rule.

    I noticed that my Electric Light Orchestra music on iTunes had become corrupted, so I re-ripped some. And listening to Sweet Talking Womanand smiling to myself I suddenly noticed that I was becoming far more emotional over the huge old wardrobe of a song than was strictly necessary.

    Now, I guess there might be a couple of reasons that the old waterworks got flowing. It's a song I hadn't really listened to for years. It reminds me of my childhood. Out of the Blue was one of my Mum's favourite albums, and I remember loving the songs and also the album artwork, with its Close Encounters-meets-Simon spaceship, and the amazing video for Wild West Hero with the cowboy and spaceship theme. And, you know, it's coming up to Christmas, and I miss my parents, both sadly long departed, and this was a really left-field evocation of my childhood, and it sneaked in under my radar.

    And then there was a the time this summer when I went to the incomparable Vauxhall nightclub Duckie and they played it, and I was dancing with my lovely ex-flatmate Mark Evans and his boyfriend Adrian, and it was one of the most purely blissful moments of the year, the three of us smiling and singing along, caught up in the song's infectious energy.

    So, I guess, the memory of moments of pure happiness from across my life must have set me off. Which seems reasonable enough. But then when I just popped to Sainsburys and came back listening to Mr Blue Sky I could feel the bloody tears welling up again, perhaps in regret for the recent karaoke massacre this song suffered at my hands last week, but who knows really. And I'm thinking is this the end of the road for me and ELO? Can I be trusted to listen to one of their hyper-upbeat mega-orchestrated rock anthems without blubbing like a loon? Especially as it's pretty difficult to explain why it's making me cry. I mean, you see someone crying to everybody hurts or Drive and it makes sense. But Sweet Talking Woman? That's just weird.
  • Stock, Aitken and Stalkerman

    19 août 2007, 10h33m

    As a complete aside to Mr Orange Anubis's recent journal about Every Day I Love You Less And Less vs Love's Unkind it got me thinking about a much darker and more sinister Donna Summer song: This Time I Know It's for Real. It is possibly the most intense stalker love song of all time:

    'I'm going crazy just to let you know
    You'd be amazed how much I love you so, baby
    When I get my hands on you I won't let go
    This time I know it's for real ...'

    and later, after walking 'a tightrope way up high...'

    'I'm going crazy just to let you know,
    If I wait too long for you I might explode,
    I've been around long enough to know,
    This time I know it's for real!'

    It is, in short, brilliantly terrifying. Cape Fear with cowbells. Not so much Love's Unkind as Love's Unhinged. I often have little movies in my head when listening to songs. This Time I Know It's For Real involves Donna Summer dragging a bloodied locked trunk on stage and singing to it coquettishly. Fits perfectly.

    And this mode of unhinged women was the speciality of the song's writers, Stock, Aitken and Waterman. A casual glance at, say, Kylie Minogue songs, reveals a catalogue of desperation and delusion. In I Should Be So Lucky she dreams about him all the time, in Je Ne Sais Pas Porquoi she has no idea why she still loves him, In What Do I Have to Do? she is willing to do literally anything to prove she loves him, and in Better the Devil You Know she 'd rather stay with a man who abuses her than move on to something healthier. Most of SAW's songs for women are at the crazy in love end of the spectrum. But This Time I Know It's For Real is the most extreme and outrageous, and is all the better for it.

    I personally think being in love is a form of madness anyway, and best avoided for one's mental health.
  • My Meltdown

    18 juin 2007, 21h29m

    Okay, so keystothecity and I were chatting at work today about the Southbank Meltdown festival, and who we would invite to perform if it was up to us. I'm assuming it goes on for 2 weeks, so that's 14 acts. Here's my dream line-up.

    Julee Cruise and Angelo Badalamenti performing those two amazing albums they produced, turning the Southbank into Twin Peaks for the night.

    Altered Images, I'd definitely get them to reform to perform some of my all time favourite pop songs.

    I'd love to get the Pet Shop Boys and The Magnetic Fieldsto perform an evening of Stephen Sondheim songs with an army of guest vocalists and west end Wendys.

    It's be super to get Kraftwerk to perform, but if they couldn't make it, maybe the Balanescu Quartet could perform their rather brilliant string quartet versions of those electro classics.

    I'd love to see The Art of Noise perform Close to the Edit live. And imagine seeing Malcom McClaren with them, performing Madame Butterfly and Double Dutch. Amazing!

    Luke Haines needs to be there with Black Box Recorder or The Auteurs, maybe both, I'm not fussy.

    Imagine how great it would be to get some new wave stars out of retirement. I'm seeing an amazing double bill of Lene Lovich and Propaganda.

    I want Richard X and Annie there, maybe with Kelis and Deborah Evans-Strickland from the Flying Lizards for some jerky electropop.

    And we need The Beastie Boys to perform Hey Ladies and Body Movin'. Imagine that in the Festival Hall.

    I think an all-star cast needs to sing the Kate Bush songbook, though I may need some suggestions as to who would do it best. I'm thinking Kathryn Williams and Mary Coughlan for starters.

    Saint Etienne, those patron Saints of the Festival Hall, need to perform. I might confine them to a synths only nights, so they do all my faves like Lightning Strikes Twice, Heart Failed In the Back of a Taxi and B92.

    There's no way it could happen without Laurie Anderson adding a bit of minimalist genius to the proceedings.

    Le Tigre vs The Gossip, now that'd be fun!

    And I know Morrissey had them at his Meltdown, but Sparks are such genius live, and I'd get them to perform all of Lil Beethoven, my favourite album of theirs.

    I think that's it. I'd love it. It's maybe lacking a bit of noisy geetar action, some spoken word, but maybe in the foyer there's room for that.

    Bloody hell, I'm knackered. Right, keystothecity, do your worst! Who's at your Meltdown, huh? Less electronic handclaps and orchestra hits, more banjos and viols I'm guessing...
  • Joe Le Taxi vs Google Translate

    28 mai 2007, 12h05m

    I've always wondered what on earth Joe le taxi was about, my french being more low level franglais. I remember trying to work it out in O level french class with Jason White. He thought she was singing 'dans ca caisse' - as if Joe was driving around Paris in a giant till. But then he also misheard La Vie En Rose as La Viande Rose and assumed she was singing about pink meat.

    So I've enlisted the help of Google translate and now it's all perfectly clear. Google translate is a thing of such brilliant subtlety, I'm sure you'll agree. I love how it's even translated her name...

    VANESSA PARADISE LYRICS

    “Joe the Taxi”

    Joe the taxi
    Y does not go everywhere
    Y does not go to soda
    Its yellow sax
    Connait all streets by heart
    All the p' tits bars
    All black corners
    And the Seine
    And its bridges which shine
    In its case
    The music has Joe
    It is the rumba
    Old rock'n'roll with the mambo
    Joe the taxi
    It is its life
    Rum with the mambo
    Congestion
    It is like Ca
    Rum and mambo
    Joe - Joe - Joe
    In its case
    The music has Joe resounds
    It is the rumba
    Old rock'n'roll with the mambo can
    Go ahead Joe
    Go ahead Joe
    Go ahead sinks
    In the night towards the Amazon
    Joe the taxi
    And Xavier Cugat
    Joe the taxi
    And Yma Sumac
    Joe - Joe - Joe
    Joe the taxi
    It is its life
    Rum with the mambo
    Congestion
    Joe the taxi
    And Mariachis
    Joe the taxi
    And the cha-cha-chi
    Joe the taxi
    And the cha-cha-chi
    Go ahead Joe
    Go ahead sinks
    In the night towards the Amazon
  • Interrogated by my record collection

    10 avr. 2007, 22h52m

    My eye was drawn to this rather super idea by Mr Orange Anubis, whose explantion ran thusly: 'Many great memes are floating around blogland at the moment, this one from Stoibee really caught my eye. By setting a smart playlist in iTunes with the criterion "Name contains ?" and limiting to 10 tracks, you have your own purpose-built interrogation from the depths of your music collection...'

    And so I ran one myself and this was the result:

    Are You The One? - No. 'The One' is not a concept I approve of or believe in. It smacks of a kind of emotional OCD. And if there is a 'one' I am most certainly not it.

    Do U Lie? Well, of course I don't, Prince dear chap. Although, of course, if I were a liar... Etc.

    Do You Hear What I Hear? Probably not, actually. Years of listening to my Walkman, Discman and now my iPod too loudly have given me the sort of low level tinitus that distorts everything a little.

    Do You Remember the First Time? I most certainly do, Jarvis. I was 17, on the 130 bus back to New Addington after my late night shift in a bookshop. A young black guy wanked me off on the top deck and then I gave him a blow job behind the fish and chip shop in Homestead Way. A couple of years later I served the guy, his wife and child when I had a Christmas job in Debenhams. Aw.

    How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall? The obvious answer is given in the song, of course. Practice, boy, practice.

    Is It Really So Strange? Yes, probably. It's easy to give trite answers, like these. But truth is stranger than fiction. See? Trite.

    London Can You Wait? Of course not, Martin. London is far too busy and has bigger fish to fry. The motto of London being 'There'll be another one along in a minute'.

    What Do I Do Now? I've no idea. As Quentin Crisp so eloquently put it in mid-chat show interview 'I'm terribly sorry but I've reached the end of my personality'.

    What You Waiting For? Well, Ms Stephanie, it's likely to be the junk shop in Forest Hill to get more 1950s sputnik-legged tables and chairs in to make my flat into a grotto fit for the B-52's (the pop group, not the strategic heavy bombers).

    Who The Fuck? Sorry Polly. I won't do it again, I promise. Whatever it was.
  • My Top Ten Bestest Song Intros EVAH

    7 avr. 2007, 14h10m

    Well, clearly the best song intro ever is Boogie Nights - the spookiest, jazziest, harpiest (?!) opening to a song you could wish for, which then after noodling around for ages suddenly coalesces into the disco funk riff so beloved of 70s theme nights everywhere.

    Two of my favourite Pet Shop Boys original album versions, Being Boring and Left To My Own Devices also have maginificently harpy and elongated intos which always succeed in whipping me up into a frenzy. They love the details of intros - every one on Actually is a corker, for example, from skittering drums to headsmashing orchestra hits.

    Then there's Hounds of Love with the breathless 'It's in the trees - it's coming!' sample and collosal drumming which immediately makes me want to run through John Carpenter-esque forests. Too few song intros have that effect.

    Wordy Rappinghood starts with a busy typewriter with a few bass notes sneaking around under it, only hinting at the bleepy boingy relentlessness to follow. And I've always had a soft spot for outrageously pretentious OMD intros, of which the Being Boiled-style white noise at the start of Joan of Arc completely overshadows the song which has to follow after.

    The New Pollution has that sunny popcorny twittering intro which has nothing to do with the rest of the song other than being utterly genius. And Be My Baby has that dramatic and suspenseful drum pattern start without which we'd have never had The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Raveonettes to name but two.

    The sulky little Moroder-ish synth at the start of Like a Motorway sounds like it's been left on doing that same line all night, and there's a sort of release when the dinky little riff kicks in. It's a short intro but it's compelling.

    Oh shit, that's nine already without thinking. Perhaps this should have been a top fifty. Anyhow, my tenth is Three Girl Rhumba, just the most hypnotic and compelling song opener, and it makes me dance just thinking about it.
  • Self Control by Laura Branigan

    18 jan. 2007, 20h58m

    What's brilliant about rediscovering a song you only partially remember from decades past is that it brings a sort of echoey resonance with it that imbues it with loads more meaning than it would have otherwise. I don't remember much about Laura Branigan, was vaguely aware that she died young last year and that was that. And then my flatmate's boyfriend made him listen to Self Control recently and now I'm hooked too.

    One of the best things about it is that the song rambles about in a Girls Aloud Xenemania style from catchy verse (Oh the night is my world...) to what you think is an amazing chorus (you take my self, you take my self control...) which is then in turn supplanted by an even more amazing chorus (I! I live among the people of the night!). It even has epic Boys Boys Boys-style Oh-ah-ohs.

    And it plays with all those fab Eighties pop-gothic themes of vampiric lust and swooning away, like the breathtakingly meaningless Total Eclipse of the Heart. I saw the video of Self Control just before Christmas and was extremely pleased to see the heavy use of masked men, long corridors of dry ice and writhing artily pretentious dancers. Actually, a lot of it looked like nightclub scenes from the film Short Bus crossed with an episode of Buffy. Laura should have been belting out Self Control in The Bronze dammit.