[a]Blur[/a] snap up SOTW with [B]'Tender'[/B]...
[/url] You already know all there is to know about this record. How it steals the extremely good idea of a gospel choir from Spiritualized. How it sounds far more like a John Lennon song than Oasis have in a long while. How it's an eight-minute uplifting hoedown about life, love and the pursuit of a good singalong. You've debated its level of calculation, the quality of its handclaps; whether or not it's about Justine. If by some strange alchemy, you don't actually like it, you're probably ready to emigrate.
Because this is the most talked about, pre-played, rotated, downloaded and hysterically anticipated record in recent memory. Is this going to be the tune that heralds a new home-grown golden age? That's what the industry money men are wondering. Are Blur going to knock Steps-style pop off its garish podium and whup its pert behind? That's what the rest of us want to know.
For the moment, however, let us cease heaping expectation on 'Tender''s fragrant shoulders. Let's just reflect that, "Oh my baby/Oh my baby/Oh why/Oh my", says a lot more about the human condition than a raft of therapists ever could. Let's just stop bloody thinking so hard about it and let some beautiful music heal our minds.
The Ballad Of Ray Suzuki
This is not quite what we were expecting. "Bunch of loopers!" exclaims a vocodery voice that might belong to a more cheerful cyber-child of Radiohead's 'Fitter, Happier' droid. And before we know what's hit us, some dippy samples and breakneck rhythms skitter off in the direction of Bentley Rhythm Ace, and dance upon the ruins of your preconceptions.
For Looper are Stuart David of Belle & Sebastian infamy, plus his lovely assistants Karn (Mrs David) and Ronnie Black (brother of David), and their second single sounds nothing like the fey folk pop of Stuart's day job. Neither, it must be said, does this sound like 'A Spaceboy Dream', the Stu D track on the last Belle & Seb LP that sees him coming over all Arab Strap. Or, for that matter, the scratchy, lo-fi seven-inch effort that Looper put out on Sub Pop last summer. There's plenty of all that to come on the album. For now, though, Looper are happy to mess with your head, thumb their noses at what's expected of them, and quite possibly make you shimmy.
And if you thought Looper had baggage, how does the working title of 'Nick McCabe's Mates' Band' grab you? Doubly burdened by the attentions of this generation's Johnny Marr/John Squire/Bernard Butler 'troubled guitarist' figure, and the hot rumour they sounded just like The Verve, it's a wonder Witness ever got up the nerve to put fingers onto frets in public. But earnestly strum they did. And this second single is Witness' latest attempt to wrest an honest identity from the music business' weakness for new things that sound exactly like successful old things. As it happens, 'Scars' sounds like a more minimal, beaten-up REM. But then, that's no bad thing, really.
Hymn For The Alcohol
A charming no-fi love song, played out in a booze metaphor, essentially. Which should be enough to endear it to your hearts forever. But this little record is remarkable not just for successfully being soppy, jealous, resigned and funny all on one side of seven-inch vinyl. It's the first record where Darren Hayman's drowning puppy vocals - the love/hate line dividing Hefner-philes from Hefner sceptics - actually sound vulnerable, rather than just shit. So we'll forgive it for being the exact same tune as 'Love Will Destroy Us In The End', slowed to 78, and raise a glass to its sozzled melancholy.
JEEP GRRLZ Re-Wired
How did an atonal male bellow ever come to signify passion? It seems that hollering like a hippo in a turf war is enough, in these post-Manics days, to hoodwink people into thinking your songs are 'epic'; and your feelings, 'deep'. A voice like Tarmac also has the added value of making you sound 'gritty', and therefore, utterly unconcerned by the bourgeois girlie fineries of inflection or mood. It says, proudly: "I am bloke. Hear me roar."
That said, the Stereophonics' latest worthy plod has the virtue of being quite Zen about, like, wanting stuff you don't need. Despite being on a movie soundtrack. So we'll ignore the fact that it sounds a little like U2's 'With Or Without You', only sung by an ox, and live amicably with its total saturation of every radio station, pub jukebox and car stereo in the land, forever.
U2's perverse influence turns up on the Jeep Grrlz record too: this pumping, jumping, really quite terrifying club hit samples U2's 'Wire' ("Wipe your tears awaaaaay!") a track that dates, kids, from the extraordinarily early-'80s. It's sick and it's wrong. And you know what else? They're not even girls.
Anything But Down
Ah, the thinking person's vapid songstress, nominated for more Grammys than anyone could possibly carry in their handbag. She is the thinking person's solo lady not just because she can, like, produce and stuff, as well as write catchy songs all on her own, but because there is a clever pun at work in this song. Let's see if we can work it out. Y'see, Sheryl reckons she brings her man lots of things - like MOR guitar music, Bob Dylan's autograph and Grammy Awards bath toys. But the only thing he brings her is... down. And we're not talking quilt-stuffing here. We're talking full-on, gold-plated, clinical mild glumness. Do you see? Next week, an analysis of the role of sarcasm in Dire Straits' '80s classic, 'Money For Nothing'.
Get You Alone
From dumb, then, to dumber. Here, there are mountain-sized riffs, drums like stereo battering rams, and a voice rumbling up from the underworld. An acoustic strum that recalls Bon Jovi's 'Wanted Dead Or Alive' also lurks, but don't let that put you off, because this is genius. A self-styled "69 megaton declaration of ROCK!", Monster Magnet romp through cartoon sci-fi horror-rock territory with panache ("When I don't get my bath/I take it out on the slaves", indeed), but more importantly, with the intention of destroying your speaker cones. Oh, and everything you hold dear. You get the sneaking suspicion that Monster Magnet's forked tongues just might be nestled in their collective cheek, at least some of the time. But we'll play dumb along with them, because it's fun.
And while we're on the subject of ace no-brainers, here's a three-minute stab of juddering, Ramonesy, ramalama garage punk, played by some juvenile delinquents all called (oh yes!) Donna. It rhymes 'stereo' with 'go, go, go', which is dead hard. It's lascivious, in a 1950s suburban America kind of way, and doesn't so much feature a guitar solo as the sound of a guitar being drop-kicked. Mighty.
Mystical Machine Gun
People alleged he was a Nazi, and still you bought his records. We told you he felt the deprivation suffered by the poorest Asian people wasn't important because they were going to be reincarnated - and still, you made him richer. Admit it: you like his ruling-class good looks, the false consciousness of his bloated hippy rawk music, the cut of his leather kaftan. You'd secretly love to feel the swish of his crop.
There is not much point in telling you, then, that this is a bombastic, cod-spiritual load of elephant dung. Because you'll thrill to the big nonsense chorus, the hypnotic guitars, the swelling brass. You will mistake his New Age alien guru schtick for some deep truth, and you will buy this record in droves. And you know what the really scary thing is? This record is actually quite fun.
If this band get any sleeker, they might well dissolve. Endless American touring has meant that these once fey indie kids do everything in widescreen, and this brooding slab of killer pop is no exception. Nina reprises the role of slightly sinister, blonde panther cub that served The Cardigans so well on 'My Favourite Game' and... hang on. Aha! This is actually 'My Favourite Game' played at half speed. And the CD offers the added bonus of the unexpurgated 'Game' video on CD-ROM, complete with unsafe driving and big death! Not as good as the original, then, but lethal all the same.
A Touch Of Love
The Moss Side soul sisters have grown up in a hurry. Well, it was bound to happen, you know. After all, you can't seriously expect teenage girls to remain adorable rope-haired soul-hop muppets for life. But (she says, reaching for pipe, slippers and the crossword) it would have been far more interesting if they'd skirted the path of shimmery soul pap that will make them global mega-stars for the next decade, and kept a hold of the mischief. Y'know, worked with Missy Elliott, or something. As it is, Cleo's traded her Manc vowels for a transatlantic yelp, and much of her originality for big bucks approval. And for all her laudable writing credits, this is still prematurely middle-aged ear toffee. 'S a shame, though, y'know?
More young people, this time from leafy Colchester, where the spirit of Sonic Youth and all things arty and punk rock live on. Well, it does 'round the Hi-Fi's house, at least. For their proper grown-up recorded debut, the 'Fi proceed to clatter, mutter and agitate their way through a display of guitar finery the likes of which we haven't seen since Urusei Yatsura. There are needling guitars, urgent bursts of speed and much furrowing of brows at the concept of restraint. All of which is most welcome, given our next tune.
Arrrrg! Noooo! Bring back the vocoder, or whatever robo-gizmo time-stretched Cher's voice into that world-beating techno-warble that we laughed at last year! 'Cos Cher's gone over all Gloria Gaynor now, and this isn't half as good as 'Believe'. It tears its shirt off and dances on a podium like any disco anthem worth its gay club following, sure. There's strings scything all over the place; and brass parping like there's no tomorrow. But there's something very straight going on here compared to the full-bodied ridiculousness that was the chief allure of 'Believe' - and every good Cher hit, ever. It's like... it's like... she means it, or something. Brrr.
Like a spectre gaining flesh, Low seem to get more hunky with every release. 'Immune' virtually bounces along, slick with melted-butter coos, as though some big-knobs producer had thrown a whole studio at it. Instead, it's Steve Albini, a man once famed for his skeletal recording techniques, at the helm. 'Immune' is still sad, mind, and clocks up maybe six beats per minute, but it's all disconcertingly lush stuff compared to the Minnesota trio's trademark whisper-core. Curiouser and curiouser: the flipside is a reworking of 'I Remember' done in an early-'80s Factory Records stylee. It sounds like (hurrah!) three ghosts playing Joy Division e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y slowly. Which is fabulous, really.
Is a record that makes you nauseous any good? It's a tough one to call. Because, while you're busy marvelling at the sinister trombone, axe-murderer bass and uneasy electronics weaving in and out of earshot on this excellent A-side, you begin to feel decidedly peaky and contemplate turning it off. Add to this dilemma some extremely pretty music vying with the jazz drumming and moaning guitar for ear-space, and you either have a modern classic, or the musical equivalent of those vile after-dinner liqueurs that make you hurl. Think Add N To (X), think Salaryman, think Tortoise: but don't even imagine you can wolf down your elevenses while this is on the decks.
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