Finley Quaye : Vanguard

Utterly without parallel.

The late and occasionally great [a]Billy MacKenzie[/a] of The Associates once declared it was every pop star’s duty to seek genius, to create music that had never been heard before, and record it in such a way that the listener could only be amazed and hazard a guess upon which instruments it was made. And God bless him, he came pretty close with ‘Sulk’. It’s unlikely that Finley Quaye has ever made such a grandiose pronouncement, and yet he’s only gone and done it.

‘Vanguard’ doesn’t just defy categorisation, it beggars belief! How to describe it? Well, if ‘Chad Valley’ could be called, say, Balinese hillbilly, then ‘Feeling Blue’ would have to be industrial ska. If ‘Everybody Knows’ is a psychedelic foxtrot, ‘When I Burn Off In The Distance’ might very well be baggy easy listening. OK, so they’re asteroids apart sonically, but there’s something about ‘Vanguard’‘s playful disregard for convention that recalls Captain Beefheart‘s ‘Trout Mask Replica’, perhaps the most infamous work within the rock field to thumb its nose at description while giving pretension the big swerve.

. And then it proceeds to free-associate through a variety of beans.

What this all means, apart from the fact Finley must have been mixing up the medicine, is anyone’s guess. But, amazingly, ridiculous as it sounds, Finley pulls it off. ‘Vanguard’ is one hell of a cool album. There’s more, ‘Chad Valley’ sounding thus: “Her name was Suzy/Met her in a Jacuzzi/Nearly twice my age/She had a son my age… Her Kawasaki runs on saki/You can burn rubber but it takes a while”. Eat your fucken heart out, Brian Molko, this is the real mad shit.

Names to throw into the mix? Kate Bush. Beck. Bob Marley, of course. Listen to the [I]heart[/I] of this record because, for all its snazzy flaunting of the rules and its love affair with variety, there’s a tough emotional depth to this music that would make Thom Yorke weep. Take ‘Hey Now’, the album’s finale. It’s naked the way Nick Drake‘s awful, soul-blasted ‘Black Eyed Dog’ is naked. It chills like early Tricky without romancing the dark side. Strung out across a sinister tabla backbeat and the kind of pump organ Neil Young employs when he really wants to dig deep, propped up by a lone, plaintive flute, this is the sound of a man devastated by longing.

Flashy, sexy, funny, nuts, ‘Vanguard’ is a rare work that tempts comparison but is utterly without parallel. Truly modern music for the 21st century. Which is what, of course, Radiohead‘s new thing is supposed to have been. Somebody wondered aloud the other day what the faces at the record company must have been like when they first played ‘Kid A’. Christ knows. But I can make a fair guess at the reaction to ‘Vanguard’. Big grins all round.

Steve Sutherland