Saturday, 8 March 2014

50 songs to take to my grave - #4: Dirty Boy

Where does one start with Dirty Boy? I've used the word 'genius' a few times already, but if the word applies at all in popular music, it surely cannot be more appropriate than when used in relation to Tim Smith, frontman of Cardiacs. If you 'get' Cardiacs, you absolutely adore them. Most people however have never even heard of them, and plenty of those who have cannot abide them (stand up Mrs Robster). I admit, they are somewhat polarising; Cardiacs do not do pop music like many expect pop music to be. I suppose you could argue Cardiacs are to pop music what Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring was to classical music in 1913. But a hundred years later, that is now one of the most revered works ever composed.

Cardiacs is a band like no other in my collection, and the styles and sounds they have incorporated over the years are fascinatingly diverse. But if I had to introduce someone to Cardiacs for the first time by way of three songs, I think I would choose Is This The Life?, the song that lends this blog its name, their most well-known and arguably their least Cardiacs-like; Tarred and Feathered[1], a delightful burst of Cardiacs' most oddball elements that will either make you grin with uncontrollable glee, or irritate you to the extreme; and to round it off, the pièce de résistance, Dirty Boy from Cardiacs' magnum opus 'Sing To God' from 1996.

Dirty Boy is probably one of their 'biggest' songs in that it sounds anthemic right from the off. Where it goes over the following nine minutes (yep, it's a long one) is not immediately apparent. The song's subject matter is also not totally obvious, but such is the lyrical obliqueness of Tim's writing. I think it's loosely about religious fanaticism, death (murder?), a crazed mind, redemption, perhaps some kind of cult... who knows? 

WE WILL PRAISE HIM off his pins
Clear him of all sins
Oh my! We sang with strength to carry on
Encouraged him to sing along
We sang of all the world and praised him HOORAY!

Stay alive to live or without
And he is down all over and out

Watch us hang on shoulders as tall and as gold as
Feely hand and finger around all we
And look to see if we care if he is heaven sent or
Hell bent but WE WILL PRAISE HIM
Praise him all away"

Musically though it is a religious experience. It climbs and climbs towards paradise, often pausing its ascent to explore its surroundings before setting off again. A choir of (fallen?) angels arrive mid way and accompany the song ever upwards. After 6½ minutes, it arrives, the awe and splendour of its destination holds it in suspense, the final word uttered - "out" - rings out continuously as the song, now having reached its goal, joyfully reaches its conclusion. The gates open, it goes inside. By the grace of whatever superior force (or none) that brought it here, Dirty Boy is done, forever to radiate its magisterial elegance on us mere mortals below.

If there is just one negative, it's the production - it just sounds a little thin and top-heavy. Sadly, that's something Cardiacs have suffered from throughout their career, but if you could actually hear the bass, Dirty Boy would be even more MASSIVE than it already is.

Quite where this song came from cannot be explained. Was it from a brilliant or deranged mind? You might argue you can't have one without the other. Tim Smith may be both or neither, but there's no escaping the fact that in Dirty Boy we have one of pop music's great triumphs. Truly unique, joyously euphoric and utterly, utterly brilliant.


[1] WARNING: Unenlightened fools and those of a very delicate disposition may find this video disturbing...

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff. Given the blog title I was looking forward to the first Cardiacs post, and concur with all you wrote, especially the final line which is one of the best descriptions of their music I have come across - 'Truly unique, joyously euphoric and utterly, utterly brilliant'

    Must admit, as great as they are, I have never quite enjoyed Sing to God and Guns as much as some of the earlier albums. Both contain brilliant songs but don't quite reward my ears in the same way as A Little Man and a House... or On Land And In The Sea or Songs For Ships and Irons do. Incidentally, Cardiacs was my second ever gig. The gig itself was interrupted half way through by a fire alarm requiring evacuation to a freezing cold metal fire escape which only added to the slightly surreal nature of the evening.

    Here's hoping Tim Smith continues his recovery.