Monday, 30 May 2016

Rolling Away

YouTube can get awfully distracting. I often find myself being diverted from my intended path down a little sidestreet full of Monty Python sketches and Family Guy clips and QI segments. It was during one such diversion that I found myself clicking on this, the rather wonderful video for the rather wonderful single Raintime by the rather wonderful Wolfgang Press. This came out in 1989. 1989! The first time I saw/heard this was on a VHS indie compilation. It had Nick Cave's Mercy Seat on it and the awful Church Of No Return by Christian Death.

Raintime still sounds odd, and for that reason hasn't really dated all that badly. (Well OK, maybe just a little). A couple of years later, they jumped on the indie-dance bandwagon, started having massive hit singles and wrote songs for Tom Jones. True! Time hasn't been quite so kind to the music of that era of Wolfgang Press.



Soundtrack:


Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Devil's Music

Beat The Devil's Tattoo by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

I'm really not sure why BRMC never took over the world. When their first record came out in 2001 it seemed like they had the hooks and the grit to go the long haul. Mind, the press was in a frenzy over the White Stripes and the Strokes; everyone else was playing catch-up. Those hooks always had a bluesy feel to them, something ominous and devilish. That sound has persisted and, for me, BRMC sound as good as ever. The title track from their sixth album brings to mind dirt tracks, crossroads and Satan himself getting into the groove.



Soundtrack:


We bid a fond adieu to the Devil for the time being. I may resurrect this series at some undetermined time in the future if he lets me. Mind, there's a somewhat devilish new series starting next week. Things ain't getting any lighter for you mere mortals...

Friday, 27 May 2016

Dreams and Revelations

I fuckin' love the Coral. I was playing a homemade compilation of their singles the other day and there really isn't a weak track on it. Utterly brilliant, every single note of the damn thing. Their new album 'Distance Inbetween', their first without Bill Ryder-Jones, is my second favourite album of 2016 so far (my first is still 'Adore Life' by Savages). It's a real return to form, a beautiful mess of dirty psychedelic rock.



The thing with this record is it marks quite a dramatic shift in style. It's the first where there doesn't appear to be much of a folk influence, and the acoustic guitars of 2007's 'Roots And Echoes' and 'Butterfly House' from 2010 have been shoved to one side. 'Distance Inbetween' is firmly rooted in the late 60s, and the tunes are as top-notch a-bunch of songs as they've ever written. Miss Fortune is a great example of that:



I can't let a Coral post go without harking back to one of my all-time fave songs of theirs. Here's the very silly video for Dreaming Of You from their self-titled debut album in 2002. I just love James Skelly's voice in this, and musically it's a real taste of classic 60s Merseybeat.



And your MP3 for the day? Another of my fave early Coral tracks, one from their only number 1 album 'Magic And Medicine'.


Soundtrack:

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Welsh Wednesday #88

Mad Hatter by Masters In France

Here's a band who are not exactly prolific, but when they do put something out, it's generally rather good and well received. Tom Robinson is a fan and has featured Masters In France on his 6 Music show on a number of occasions. He's in very good company - MrsRobster also rates them very highly indeed. Shame about their name - try Googling it and see if you can find anything about them!

I previously featured Masters In France in one of my early posts in the Memories of a thousand gigs series. Since then, they have been strangely quiet. Formed in 2008, the band has to date released just two EPs and a handful of singles. No album - or any sign of one - but then sometimes less is more. They did, however, do a cover of Bo Diddley's Playin' With My Friends for an Ikea advert. In January, they put out the single Vaporise, their first new track in more than three years, and once again it became a big favourite among radio presenters including Mr Robinson. Guitarist/keyboard player Eddie Jones has also been working on an electronic side project under the name Buck, but all has otherwise been fairly quiet on the Masters In France front of late.

Mad Hatter is a single from 2011. A mere 500 copies of the 7" were pressed, but only 50 ever made it out of the warehouse thanks to an arson attack at the Sony distribution where they were stored. It featured on their 'Inhale' EP later that year.



Masters In France don't really do music videos. Instead they make challenging, often surreal films to accompany their songs. Here's the one for Mad Hatter. Be warned - it's a little disturbing...

Monday, 23 May 2016

Vintage Vinyl 18

Hazel O'Connor - D-Days 7"
Bought from: The Record Shop, Cardiff
Price paid: 50p

Another song with a sax. Unlike the Tom Robinson track I featured last time around though, the sax in this is more akin to X-Ray Spex, all spiky and playful. Mind, in 1981 the 80s hadn't really kicked in properly so all the very worst record production was yet to come. I don't remember much about D-Days despite it being a Top 10 hit. I was only 10 years old. I do, though, remember hearing the follow-up smash hit Will You rather a lot as a kid. Now there's some serious sax in that one.

Anyway, 50p seemed like a bargain when I picked it out of the box on the table outside The Record Shop. I was dead right - D-Days is a brilliant track. It blends pop, punk, new wave and post-punk seamlessly. Yes, the keyboard sound is awfully dated, kind of like you'd hear in some old public information film about what to do in the event of nuclear fallout - very of its time - but I still love this tune.

I once met Hazel O'Connor, you know. She was playing a show in Ilfracombe (yes, Ilfra-bloody-combe!) back when I was a wannabe journalist. One of the newspaper's photographers, Brian, was keen to go and take some pictures so I wangled a pair of free tickets. Before the show, we got backstage and had a chat with Hazel who I have to say was extremely welcoming, a really nice gal. Brian took a pic of me and Hazel, I took one of him and Hazel, and Hazel took one of me and Brian. Actually no, that last bit didn't happen. That would have been a bit weird. Sadly, the pic of me and Haze (as I didn't call her, but probably would have done if we had become bezzie mates) has disappeared. It was about 20 years ago, mind. A lot has happened in that time.

Anyway, as unnerving as it must have been for Hazel to have encountered two westcountry roughnecks like ourselves, she bravely played a corking set comprising her more recent (at the time) material and all the old faves - Will You, Eighth Day, Hanging Around, Cover Plus, and of course, D-Days which she opened the show with. I was pleasantly surprised how good she was, though I couldn't help but think how she might have felt having once done Top Of The Pops regularly to now playing friggin' Ilfracombe. If there was any bitterness or resentment, she didn't let it show.

I also once had one of those 'Old Gold' reissue singles which had Will You on one side and the mighty Eighth Day on the other. When I was at college (I believe they call it 6th form nowadays), the jukebox in the student union room got smashed up on the last day of term. I managed to salvage three records from it before all the rest became frisbees. The Hazel O'Connor one was one of them, Prince's Sign 'O' The Times was the second, and the other was Sultans Of Swing by Dire Straits. Don't ask.

Here are the tracks from the D-Days 7". As I still can't rip vinyl, I've had to rip the b-side from You Tube as it's the only place I could find it. It's rather crackly, but it adds to the charm I think. Time Is Free had originally been the b-side of Hazel's debut single Ee-I-Addio, but it was substantially altered for the D-Days single.



Soundtrack:


Here's one of the best old Top Of The Pops clips I think I've ever seen - Aside from her unusual entrance, Hazel jumps around to D-Days in her bra. On prime-time TV. With all those innocent young people in the audience. Bet Mary Whitehouse had a field day...



Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Devil's Music

The Devil's In My Car by The B-52's

I reckon the B-52's would be one of Satan's fave bands, especially in their early days. I have no reason for thinking that, I just have this image of a big party in hell where all the girls have beehive hairdos and 'Wild Planet' is playing on loop. Everyone is dancing, naturally, including the big guy himself. As for his driving skills, well I'd love for him to drive me around. He'd definitely take no shit from the morons I have to put up with on the M4 every day in their Audis, BMWs and 4x4s. Their self-imposed rules of the road would no longer count, only Beelzebub's. He'd leave them for dust.



Soundtrack:

Friday, 20 May 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #37: Lovely

Hands up who wasn't in love with Tracy of the Primitives circa 1988. Thought so. She defined every teenage indie boy's crush. That might have been part of the band's appeal, but the truth is, without the songs they would have languished in obscurity.

Only a handful of singles on their own label Lazy Records preceded their big money signing to RCA. Their first release of the new deal was the now classic Crash which opened their debut album 'Lovely'. What a way to start - a real rip-roaring ride; the brakes have failed and we're going to crash. Except that before we do, we hurtle through Spacehead, arguably the album's overall highlight. If you loved those early singles, you couldn't have hoped for a better opening.


It's not all fuzzy two-minute guitar thrashes though. Shadow is awash with sitars and tablas, a hippy-dippy excursion through the psychedelic turf once briefly so beloved by the flower children 20 years earlier, and perhaps a hint of what was to come (the so-called second summer of love was only a year and a bit away). Thru' The Flowers retains the blissful mood and still stands as one of the Prims' finest pop songs. Run Baby Run has guitars straight out of the Velvet Underground's third album; Don't Want Anything To Change is another dreamy 60s-charged pop tune; Carry Me Home and Buzz Buzz Buzz lend a rockabilly flavour with Paul Court taking lead vocal duties. And so on - fourteen (count 'em) wonderful examples of guitar pop that it is almost impossible to fault. 'Lovely' doesn't have a weak track on it, it's pretty close to being the perfect debut.

Dreamwalk Baby, Stop Killing Me and Nothing Left may all have that trademark buzz buzz buzz sound of those early singles, but 'Lovely' showed the band had some depth and the potential for great things. Yes, they did run out of steam and the media soon moved on to other things, but I maintain the two albums that followed 'Lovely' had some glorious moments on them. It's just a shame that pretty much everything that remains memorable to most people about the Primitives is contained on an outstanding debut album. But then, very few acts even have one record as good as this.



Soundtrack:
Zippyshare was down when I tried to upload these files, so I'm trying something else. Please let me know what you think.

Crash on Top Of The Pops. See how Tracy fondles the microphone stand, flirting incessantly with the camera. Imagine hormonal teenage boys watching that. No wonder it was such a massive hit!
 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Welsh Wednesday #87

Graves by Climbing Trees

Those who enjoy CC's Americana posts will probably love today's offering from the South Wales valleys. Climbing Trees hail from Pontypridd and make what has been dubbed 'Cymrucana'. It's very, very good indeed.

Climbing Trees released their debut album 'Hebron' in 2013 and quickly picked up plaudits galore. Their new album (still untitled at the time of writing) is out next month. Today's song was put out as a single last autumn and is, quite frankly, an utter delight. It's authentic Americana from Rhondda Cynon Taf[1].

I have something of an aversion to bands with beards. Climbing Trees maybe one of only a few who I would make an exception for. That is about the highest honour I can give them. Oh, and that of all my Welsh Wednesday posts, this is one of my faves.



Here's the video shot in Climbing Trees' hometown of Pontypridd.




I wrote a piece for Webbie's most excellent Football and Music site about the Super Furry Animals, their unofficial Wales Euro 2016 single and their long association with the beautiful game. Check it out here.


[1] Roughly pronounced Rontha Kunnun Tav

Monday, 16 May 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #3

#3: Half Man Half Biscuit
The Tramshed, Cardiff - 14 May 2016

Sometime in the early 90s, I went to see James in Exeter. I went with a mate and his girlfriend. I'd sorted the tickets out and gave them theirs the day before. When we arrived at the venue, I realised something: I'd forgotten my ticket! As going home to get it and coming back would have taken at least two hours, I was forced to pay over the odds to a bastard tout in order to get in. Since that day, I've always checked, double-checked and triple-checked that I have the tickets before I leave home.

So MrsRobster and I left the house, drove to Cardiff to pick up our mate Colin and then onward to the venue. Just yards from the Tramshed, Colin jokingly quipped: "Now you have got the tickets, haven't you?" My stomach sank, MrsRobster let out a loud gasp, and a collective "Oh shit!" escaped our lips. Guess who'd left them on the dining table? Now, we were only half hour away from home, but a round trip of an hour would have probably made us late. But I had a brainwave. The tickets were print-at-home e-tickets delivered by email. We were just 10-15 minutes from work. A round trip of 25-30 minutes and we'd be back before the start. And so it was that the wonder of the internet saved the day. After a quick detour, a slight wrestle with a printer that decided it didn't want its weekend disturbed, and a huge sigh of relief, we were back at the Tramshed with time to spare.

I was happy as I really didn't want to miss Half Man Half Biscuit, a band I first got into at the age of 15 but had never seen live. A band who John Peel once described as "a national treasure" and who stated that when he died "I want them to be buried with me." Fortunately they weren't. HMHB appeared on stage to a rapturous reception from an audience who I have to say were among the most responsive I've encountered at a show for some time. Not bad considering the age of most of 'em.

For an hour and 45 minutes (which itself is impressive), we were slain by an onslaught of some of the boys from the Wirral's finest moments from their 30+ years career. I made a quick list of songs I remembered them playing the morning after the show. I got 17 without putting much thought to it. That would be more than you get at your average show, and I know I'm still way short of the mark.

Highlights were All I Want For Chirstmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit, Old Age Killed My Teenage Bride, We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune, Bob Wilson: Anchorman, For What Is Chatteris..., Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes - you know, this could take a while. Let's cut to the chase - the classics were aired: National Shite Day, Joy Division Oven Gloves, The Trumpton Riots, Time Flies By When You're The Driver Of A Train and Vatican Broadside. Nigel Blackwell blessed us with some great banter, and then, during the encore, the biggest surprise of the night - a full, proper rendition of Wales' favourite folk song Sosban Fach. In Welsh. Like, properly 'n' all. Cue mass singalong.

Us long-term fans loved it, of course, and there were plenty of us there. There was also a surprising number of people there under the age of 30! For a band that has deliberately done everything under the radar for so long, the fact they can still reach new audiences says a hell of a lot. The only downside had to be, once again, the sound at the Tramshed[1]. Too often Nigel's vocals were lost in the mix, coming over rather distorted and muddy. A shame, because as you know, without the lyrics and Nigel's droll delivery, Half Man Half Biscuit would probably have been a below-par indie band who would have broken up before the 90s began and long-forgotten.

But as it was, what did we learn from this splendid event? Well, five things actually:
  1) E-tickets are possibly the best idea ever;
  2) Nigel Blackwell speaks Welsh quite well;
  3) The public toilets at Bourton-on-the-Water are the cleanest in the UK (thanks Neil);
  4) The site of "some big stones" in Wiltshire that the band drove past on their way to Cardiff "will look quite nice when it's finished";
  5) And 99 per cent of gargoyles look like Bob Todd. But we knew that one already...

MrsRobster's verdict: She's not what you would call a fan, but has expressed amusement on occasion when I've been playing HMHB: "They were OK, but it [the vocals] just sounded like he was mumbling." Come on Tramshed, sort that sound out!



Soundtrack:
I'm deliberately avoiding the obvious ones here. If you don't know what they are, you're definitely in the wrong place...

And just for fun, here's a clip from back in the day (1986, in fact) from Whistle Test:




[1] I refer you to my previous visit to the Tramshed in December [here].

Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Devil's Music

The Devil Has Thrown Him Down by Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sometime around 1943, at a time when Sister Rosetta was turning her attention away from gospel and more towards secular music - a move that caused her to be ostracised from her local and wider Christian community - she recorded this little beauty. Far be it from me to suggest that Sister Rosetta ever conspired or collaborated with Lucifer, but let's face it - Robert Johnson got his guitar-playing talent by selling his soul. 'The Sister' was easily the best guitarist of her era, and one of the very best of all-time. Coincidence? I should end this series now really, it doesn't get much better than this...



Soundtrack:

Friday, 13 May 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #36: Henry's Dream

As I said a couple of weeks ago, it was never 'is Nick Cave going be on this list', it was only ever 'which one?' This was tough. MrsRobster was never a Nick Cave fan, but she fell for 'Abattoir Blues' and reckons I should have chosen that. It was in the running for a while, as was 'Murder Ballads', 'Push The Sky Away', 'Dig! Lazarus, Dig!!!' and the first Grinderman album, and I spent a week re-evaluating all those on my final shortlist. But one evening, it was the turn of 'Henry's Dream' and it was pretty much cut and dried from that moment.

It was the seventh Bad Seeds offering and was by far their best to date. Why? The stories, man, the stories. Just listen to them. Nick had been developing into a brilliant storyteller over the previous few albums, but the songs on 'Henry's Dream' raised the bar to an almost unbeatable high. Papa Won't Leave You, Henry sees our hero thrust into the dark, debauched, undesirable underbelly of society; Brother My Cup Is Empty tells of a man's sorrow at the breakup of his marriage; John Finn's Wife is a classic Cave murder ballad; and When I First Came To Town is perhaps the saddest tale of all, how a town shuns the protagonist for reasons he seems unaware of - but he is plotting his revenge.


The stories. And their delivery. The zest and the vigour; the ferocity and the terror; the fear and the rage. The art of great storytelling is the delivery, to be able to set the moods and take your audience with you on the journey. The ups, the downs and the twists. This is where the Bad Seeds come in. Sure, Nick is the master of vocal drama, but the band knows how to carry it. It's worth mentioning that to many, this is arguably the best Bad Seeds line-up: Harvey, Bargeld, Casey, Savage and Wydler all flawless in their portrayal of Cave's characters and settings.

Perhaps, more than any of his other albums, you can tell Nick is rooted in the traditions of the blues. Stories are at the heart of every great blues song, and the best ones aren't pretty. On Jack The Ripper, we get perhaps Cave's best example of his blues influence. It's a basic 12-bar structure and it's sung from the point of view of a downtrodden man at the hands of his beloved:

 "I've got a woman / She rules my house with an iron fist
 I've got a woman / She rules my house with an iron fist
 She screams out 'JACK THE RIPPER!'
 Every time I try to give that girl a kiss."


And let's not forget Nick's other great strength - the love song. Straight To You is one of his best, telling how love and devotion wins in the face of adversity; and Loom Of The Land sees Nick and 'Sally' walking in an unusually (in Nick's world) pleasant and peaceful place where for once, all seems right with the world:

 "And I saw that the world was all blessed and bright
 And Sally breathed softly in the majestic night."


'Henry's Dream' is a masterclass of songwriting and narration. It captures perfectly the places Nick takes us to, the characters he introduces us to and the things that happen there. It's often foreboding, at times terrifying, but I can't help but think with Nick Cave by our side we'll be fine.



Soundtrack:

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Welsh Wednesday #86

Are You Ready For Me? by Pretty Vicious

Kids today, eh? If you can get them to look up from their mobile devices for as much as a single second, you'll get little more than a grunt or, if you're lucky, a swear word. And the music they listen to... I mean, call that music? Really? It all sounds the same to me... *mutter mutter*

But... there is hope, and it lurks in, of all places, Merthyr Tydfil. Yes, Merthyr bloody Tydfil, home of a group of obscenely young upstarts who go by the name of Pretty Vicious. They make a sublimely glorious racket that sort of comes across like a blend of Arctic Monkeys and the Clash circa their first album. I kid you not. Have a listen to Are You Ready For Me?, a single from last year that even has shades of Nirvana about it (Negative Creep, anyone?)

Pretty Vicious, all still teenagers, could be the saviours of their generation. Or not. Either way, they make a refreshing change from the awful nonsense that passes for pop music these days. The thing is, they already have a massive following - according to this article from the good old Beeb, fans in Japan wait for them at airports, and they had to turn down a support slot with Muse owing to "not being ready"; it would have been only their fifth ever gig!

A new four-track EP called 'Cave Song' was released less than a fortnight ago. I absolutely insist that you check it out. The video could double as a tourist information film for their hometown... In the meantime, soak in this supercharged dose of new Welsh rock. The kids are alright.







Here's a storming live performance:



In other Welsh news... 
The legendary Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, Oasis recorded 'Morning Glory' and Simple Minds made their seminal 'Empires & Dance' album, is the subject of a summer-long exhibition at Monmouth Museum. It's been put together by A-Level students at Monmouth Comprehensive School and is rammed with all kinds of interesting items, including Noel Gallagher's Wonderwall acoustic guitar! All museums in Wales have free entry, so it's a no-brainer if you're in the area. I live less than half-hour away so I'll be popping in.

Also, if you were ever a Gorky's Zygotic Mynci fan, there's a free tribute album available for download from Recordiau Prin (or Rare Records, if you prefer). 32 tracks in all!

Monday, 9 May 2016

This Monday Reggae Feeling

Bad Man by Steel Pulse

Who'd have thought that one of the greatest reggae albums ever recorded would have been made in Britain? 'Handsworth Revolution' came bursting out of Birmingham in 1978 wearing its political heart on its sleeve. This was no standard reggae record, this was heavy stuff. It's not particularly easy listening either, with few solid tunes to grasp a hold of. Where it succeeds is in the confidence that exudes through the sound. These guys were young, but by Jah could they play.

There's also an uneasiness in some of the off-kilter rhythms that crop up now and again. It was a record that seemed to break an awful lot of rules and set a new agenda. Maybe being British was part of it. Maybe being black and British was part of it. Maybe being detached from the Jamaican homeland of the previous generation allowed Steel Pulse the freedom to explore new ground while still retaining a link to their cultural heritage. Maybe the revolutionary sound of punk proved that everyone was looking for something new and anything was possible. Maybe. I don't know what inspired the sound of 'Handsworth Revolution', but what I do know is that it is one hell of a record and few reggae albums have ever sounded quite like it.

The obvious choice of track would be Prodigal Son which would probably make my list of songs to take to my grave if I gave myself a limit higher than 50. It has, in my opinion, one of the best endings of any song ever recorded. It's just too obvious though. Ku Klux Klan is often the alternative go-to track, and because of that I'm not going to go for that either. Instead you're getting Bad Man. More precisely, you're getting the version of Bad Man the band recorded live for John Peel for their first BBC session in 1977. The album version has some great vocals on it, but this one has a quite glorious acapella segment about halfway through. By Jah could these guys harmonise. What a performance.



Soundtrack:

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Devil's Music

Miss Lucifer by Primal Scream

Some devilish electronica today. Primal Scream are at their best when they add a touch of aggression to their music. Case in point: this no-holds-barred electro-onslaught which threatens to bury Bobby Gillespie's whispering without mercy. Shake it baby! I wish they'd make music like this nowadays. Have you heard that new album? I never thought the Scream, of all people, would compromise their art for the sake of moolah, but it seems that's what they've done. Sold their souls to the Devil's dollar. Sky Ferreira and Haim? Bobby wearing custom-made designer clothing? Give me a break. He's no longer a Marxist, he's as revolutionary as Marks & fucking Spencer! Burn, Bobby, burn!



Soundtrack:

Friday, 6 May 2016

50 albums to take to my grave #35: Modern Life Is Rubbish

I was always more of a Blur fan than an Oasis one, though I did like them both. I think I enjoyed not knowing what I was going to get, which is what drew me to Blur. You always knew what you were going to get from Oasis. But despite all the experimentation and eclecticism of Blur's later albums, my favourite by far was what can only be described as proto-Britpop.

The back story (for those of you interested): having hit big with their debut album, Blur were the talk of the British music media still trying to rake as much as they could out of 'Baggy'. Blur, however, thought their darker, moodier b-sides were better than their hits and much of the stuff on 'Leisure'. So when they went back into the studio to work on a follow-up, it was to make something more satisfying, more deep. The resulting record horrified the label to the extent that they refused to release it. There were no obvious hits and the band was dispatched to record something more commercial.

Two songs were deemed worthy of release, however. Popscene, a loud, brash, brass-fuelled attack on the very industry they now found themselves a part of, was put out as a single. The band loved it, the label loved it. So confident was everyone of its guaranteed success, that its follow-up, Never Clever, an absolute belter of a tune, was immediately lined-up in readiness to capitalise on the inevitable swarm of adoration that was about to gush forth on the band. That should tide things over before the album arrived. But Popscene flopped, reaching a criminally low #32 in the charts. The press slated it and turned its collective back on the band, writing them off as just another bunch of also-rans who got lucky on the back of Madchester. Never Clever was shelved. Neither were subsequently considered for the next album.

There were some absolutely wonderful songs recorded for 'the-album-that-never-was'. I did once compile what I thought made a pretty decent 'Lost Album' which I may post at some point. However, what we got instead turned out to be more than OK. For Tomorrow, a song written after the initial album was rejected, was the next thing we heard from Blur, and to these ears it was one of the most fantastic singles I'd heard. It was straight from the Ray Davies songbook of songs he never actually wrote. For Tomorrow was Blur's Waterloo Sunset and to this day it remains one of the best tracks of its era. Jim and Susan tread the same London paths as Terry and Julie did 25 years before them, "singing la la la-la-la..." But it's bleak and disconcerting, they're "hanging on for dear life."


As the album's opener, it seemed to plough a very different furrow to that which was originally intended. Clearly Blur had written some hits. But there was that dark underbelly creeping through the whole thing. Advert comes charging out of the gates with a cheery little keyboard riff lighting the way, but Damon rails against the all-consuming marketing messages towering over him while he waits for his Tube: "I need fast relief from aches and stomach pains."

And that's what 'Modern Life Is Rubbish' is all about - modern life being, basically, well, rubbish. The should've-been-a-single Star Shaped tells of an average bloke questioning his place in the world; Coping is about the feeling of losing control of one's life; and the enchanting Blue Jeans is a lazy shopping trip with your girlfriend with a hint of boredom and mundanity creeping in.

But for me, there's one enormous standout that will forever be my favourite Blur song[1]. Oily Water was the first new post-'Leisure' track to be recorded. It sounded like nothing Blur recorded before, or indeed since. It's murky and polluted, Graham's guitar rippling like filthy sludge while Damon's voice, almost lost in the depths of the mire, crackles through a megaphone. The cacophonous, abrasive roar that repeats to the song's conclusion accentuates the discomfort, not even Graham's soaring "ooohs" lighten the mood. In fact, they merely serve to heighten the tumult. Perhaps what makes Oily Water even more astonishing is that the album version is the original demo. It was never re-recorded - that first take deemed as good as it could get. A brave decision perhaps, but for me possibly the best of the band's entire career.

It's not perfect, though even the best things in life are a little imperfect. Aside from the completely unnecessary instrumentals Intermission and Commercial Break, Turn It Up wouldn't be greatly missed. In fact Damon always hated it. There are numerous songs from the original scrapped album - many of which were issued as b-sides - that could have taken the places of these, perhaps the most feted of them being Young & Lovely which turned up on one of the Chemical World CD singles. But that pretty much sums up 'Modern Life...' - most of it is brilliant, much of it is gloomy, and some of it even resigned, but there remains a sense of "what if..." How's that for a metaphor for real life?



Soundtrack:

Here's the hugely enjoyable video for For Tomorrow:



And for the hell of it, here's the one that got away, the utterly fabulous forgotten single Popscene:



[1] For Tomorrow is second, btw.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Welsh Wednesday #85

Paid A Meddwl by Y Reu

Sometimes I wonder how big some Welsh bands could be if they performed in English. Not that I'd ever say anything against any act that chooses to perform in its native language; it's just that, with one or two very rare exceptions, you won't see or hear anything from non-English language acts in the mainstream UK or American media.

Take Y Reu, for example. Here's an incredibly impressive young five-piece from Caernarfon who sound like they could be the missing link between the electro-swagger of Kasabian and the bolshy heaviness of Royal Blood. They have a very "now" sound, yet you've probably never heard of them, and until they break out of Wales you probably never will. How the rest of the world is missing out just because our media doesn't believe the Welsh have anything to offer in their own language.

Y Reu (trans. The Grass) have only released a double A-sided single and an EP to date, but have played pretty much every festival in Wales in the last couple of years. Paid a Meddwl (trans. Don't Think - or something like that) is a frenetic couple of minutes, possibly their loudest to date, but a real blast of fresh air.





Monday, 2 May 2016

Drip drip drip drip drip kinda' like...

The Kills are about to drop their fifth album 'Ash & Ice', their first in five years. In the interim period, Alison Mosshart has been working with Jack White in the Dead Weather, and Jamie Hince had an accident which made him lose the use of one of his fingers, forcing him to learn to play guitar again. Oh and then there's the small matter of him marrying Kate Moss.

Here's the teriffic title track from their second album 'No Wow' which still sounds awesome to these ears. I also think they remain the coolest looking band around.


Soundtrack: