It's A Beautiful Thing
[a]Echo & The Bunnymen[/a] in stunning late-in-life brilliant record shocvker...
Recent portents for the continued second coming of Echo & The Bunnymen have been far from auspicious. Both the useless footie record and [a]Ian McCulloch[/a] singing (albeit beautifully) on a TV ad for Bell’s finest eight-year-old liquor suggested the erosion of some once hallowed principles. Then the news that Les Pattinson had left the band meant that in terms of original personnel we were back to a disconcertingly Electrafixion-esque McCulloch and Will Sergeant. What price that unique Bunnymen chemistry?
So here’s the staggering news: ‘Rust’ is magnificent. Naturally, it breaks no new ground. This is the same string-laden ballad template from whence the few decent moments on last album ‘Evergreen’ drew their lifeblood. But beneath its over-familiar surface there’s a strain of heavy-lidded soul way beyond anything upon which this band has placed its illustrious name since ‘Ocean Rain’, some 15 years ago. Unlike the mannered ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, it’s one continuous, effortless swoon. ‘Rust’ barely breaks sweat, from the opening harmonium wheeze through spiralling guitars and on to a chorus that’s pure Bunny metaphysics.
[I]”Give me one more try, and I’ll come flaking back to you”[/I], sings Mac, still erring, still looking for forgiveness, but assuredly back on the ball. The melody here is momentarily identical to Whitney Houston’s gaudy showstopper ‘One Moment In Time’ – an accident, doubtless, but indicative of the grandstanding class we’re dealing with.
In a week where a woeful crop of singles confirm that in terms of sheer intuitive verve, electronica of varying textures is the cutting edge of modern music, trust these hardened pros to come up with the best song by several light years. And call me an auld c–, but there are times when only a great song will do.
No Flies On Frank
Lest we forget, Damian O’Neill was responsible for the guitar solo in The Undertones‘ ‘Teenage Kicks’, as definitive and luminous a ten seconds as pop has ever known. According to the press release accompanying this, his debut solo EP, Damian himself believes, “I know I could never equal again in sheer attitude what I achieved with that song.” Such candour is rare among musicians who hit a transcendental peak early on in their lives, but it’s a measure of the man’s desire to seek out a new kind of kick that over 20 years later O’Neill can feel so at ease with his past.
‘No Flies On Frank’ comprises four deft, allusive instrumentals, co-mixed by a fully plugged-in Kevin Shields – hapless Placebo, one of the MBV-man’s many recent remixees, can attest to the fact that this is not always the case – and brimful of neo-psychedelic intrigue. Main track ‘Early Morning Surprise’ hoists the standard of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ as rendered by some stoned Tijuana brassmen, a G-funk odyssey with sitars in its eyes. ‘Moon Tide’, though, is the peach in the picnic, as treated guitars slither like genetically modified eels across a skitterish rhythm track that somehow contrives to speed up and slow down simultaneously.
The architect of ‘No Flies On Frank’ formerly played in a band called That Petrol Emotion. This heart still blazes.
Bagpipes in pop have not had a good press, and that’s the way it should be. The things just weren’t designed to cope with conventionally simple melodies. Which is why ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ actually gets worse when the pipes come in, and also partly why Orbital‘s return is such a coup. For on ‘Bigpipe Style’, one of five versions of ‘Style’ spread over various formats, the brothers Hartnoll employ pipe-u-like skirls on a massive tune destined to indelibly soundtrack ’99’s party season. You’ve also got a Suzi Quatro sample (from ‘Devil Gate Drive’). There’s the breathy squelch of Dollar‘s Therese Bazar, swiped from the saccharine duo’s Trevor Horn-inspired flirt with kitsch cool. And then there’s Orbital‘s renowned magpie melodic know-how – this money’s on early-’80s New Order track ‘Your Silent Face’ as the prime source for ‘Style’‘s winning decorum – which uplifts and separates the techno pretenders as has become their regal wont.
Mysteriously, Rolf Harris decided to withdraw himself from this Stylophone-inspired romp. That’s didgeridoo players for you.
Songs From The Sturdy Chariot
Despite lumbering themselves with a name as transparently crap as anything since the sight of the words ‘Ned’s Atomic Dustbin’ caused otherwise perfectly reasonable individuals to headbutt small children (or, come to think of it, Pram), Tram are making a decent fist of being the London Low. So understated, so deceptively calm, the drama’s underneath the surface brushstrokes on these four songs for clinging lovers. Like the background drone on lead track ‘Too Scared To Sleep’, which you gradually realise is the loudest component, or the way Paul Anderson‘s head lifts just enough from its position of repose for his sticky-mouthed croon to invest the line [I]”And I’ll do these things for you, the things I said I’d do”[/I] with revelatory properties.
A beautiful dusty old brooch of a record, ‘Songs From The Sturdy Chariot’ is off the pace and out of place, like the millennium’s never going to happen. Perhaps the name’s not so bad after all.
Tower Of Ghost/For Ute
Music to arrest the passage of time, or else to just get arrested. Venerable improv trio AMM offer a 20-minute approximation of stiletto-heeled mice tuning a grand piano. It whirrs, it clunks, it has stale cheese on its breath. “One, long, aleatory drift,” a record company source states, accurately. In other words, they made it up as they went along – though it must be said that 90 per cent of the singles released this week could have benefited from a similar approach.
Apparently, the first track Merzbow contributed for this split 12″ was “literally uncuttable”. For devotees of the one-man Japanese guiterrorist, this hardly bears thinking about. ‘Tower Of Ghost’ is tremendous nonetheless, 12 minutes of undulating white noise catastrophe that is curiously revealed to contain notes and cosy things like that, the further away one stands from the speakers. Only those in possession of every Merzbow release are truly qualified to expound definitively on its worth, however, and seeing as there are over 80 of these, consider this little conundrum instead. Nicky Wire Hoovers, whereas Merzbow makes records that sound like Hoovering, albeit Hoovering on the surface of Jupiter’s wildly volcanic moon Io. Who’s got it right? As ever, you, the public, shall decide.
At My Most Beautiful
The inescapably lovely Beach Boys homage from ‘Up’ makes its inevitable single appearance, buttressed by the necessary purchase inducements created especially for you, the cash-strapped punter. And lo! From the sensational TV show Later! ‘Tis ‘The Passenger’! Yes, that car advert tune popularised by Iggy Pop is cheerily debased in a pub rock-stylee with the help of that renowned passenger himself, Jools Holland. And then! Also from Later! Oh yes! A song called ‘Country Feedback’ which dates from many years ago, a time when REM‘s drummer got to appear in the photos, a guy with two giant black caterpillars above his eyes who answered to the name of ‘Bill’. Believe it or not, for all the manifest quality displayed here, there are some romantic old fools who suggest things aren’t the same without him.
The World Turns Without You
Tonight, Matthew, Pilotcan are going to be the Lemonheads doing ‘It’s A Shame About Ray’, right down to the bit where that song hangs in mid-air before swooping upwards to its denouement, with additional skronk’n’skree frolics. More patented, slightly dated Americanisms from melodious Edinburghers fond of applying the viscera with a rusty spade, then…
Except Pilotcan have never previously sounded so warm or so plangent or – most importantly – so completely at ease with assimilating their well-schooled influences. Chocka with winking guitars and sleightful melody, ‘The World Turns Without You’ is a big-bottomed rock monster, laughing in the face of its own unfashionablility. The geek shall inherit the Earth, and all that.
NATIONAL PARK VS FUTURE PILOT AKA
Norman Dolph’s Money
Merrily repetitious clash of Glaswegian titans-to-be National Park and everyone’s favourite Edinburgh driving instructor Future Pilot Aka, Sushil Dade. ‘Norman Dolph’s Money’ proves conclusively that if you glue together a couple of Velvet Underground bridges and maintain a smile close to the heart then the world spins that much easier.
Talk About The Blues
The tale of this is as follows. Jon Spencer talks about the blues. In fact, he talks about it a hell of a lot. Primarily to journalists, y’know, Rolling Stone and the like, people just too square to realise that Jon Spencer, he don’t actually play no blues – he plays rock’n’roll! That’s what you call ‘irony’. Baybeh.
A fab record, sold unrepentantly on the fact that the video features Winona Ryder as Jon and another two actors as the other two BXers. Next week: Kathy Burke as Shaun Ryder in the ‘Cool As Nuts’ ’99 mix of ‘Fat Lady Wrestlers’.
Oslo formed at art school in Brighton, and buggering Christ, it shows. The three songs comprising this debut EP strain every sinew to BE! REALLY! DIFFERENT! and succeed merely in being STALE! VACUOUS! and, for good measure IRRITATING! With its sing-song piano motif and booming, stop-start drums, ‘Talk To Feet’ is heavily redolent of an emotionally lobotomised Talk Talk, while Lee Bryan does his best affected disinterest thang on lyrical clunkers like [I]”In a side-street/There is silence/And someone/Takes care of all the violence”[/I]. ‘Undertones’ is a Warm Jets rip-off – or at least a rip-off of the Warm Jets ripping off Wire – but then again, ‘3.99’‘s producer happens to be erstwhile Jets guitarist Paul Noble, so it must be OK. Admittedly, the harmonium-based torch-yodelling of ‘Stop. Start Again’ is diverting, but chiefly because it’s hard to believe it isn’t being sung by Thom Yorke.
Live, Oslo happen to sound exactly like Radiohead. Don’t come running in six months’ time and say you weren’t warned.
It’s Science Vs The World! (Interpolating Victory In Space)
Just as too many records these days are made by people convinced that sounding as much as possible like Radiohead is not only a virtue but destined to make them rich and liable to sire Christina Ricci’s offspring, then too few records these days come wrapped in star charts. The second Southall Riot single is a triumph on both these counts and others besides. Admittedly, the absence of any discernible ‘Headism is unlikely to make them either rich or eligible to Hollywood starlets, but no matter. As one gazes mesmerised at the mythic celestial swirl and dreams of gossamer-winged transport to Delphinus or Vulpecula or, uh, Boscombe, the Riot boys trip our lights fantastic with a tremulous vision of Guided By Voices fronted by Bobby Gillespie. ‘It’s Science Vs The World…’ is a mini-concerto for drone guitar, pat-a-cake drums and all-around perplexity. Remember kids, locked grooves can set you free.
Charlie Big Potato
Yep, the feisty mixed-gender, erm, duo’s big rock noise just gets bigger and rockier and noisier. [I]”Tell it like it is!”[/I] Skunk screams, as Anansie performs synchronised projectile conscience vomiting into our faces.
Truth is, it tastes rank. The title, incidentally, was chosen by fans voting on the band’s website, narrowly pipping both ‘Fat Boab Cauliflower’ and ‘Muckle Mike Margarine’, and comprehensively trouncing ‘Would Anyone Give A Shit About This Awful Group Were The Singer Not A Black Lesbian?’. You’re a deep bunch out there in cyberworld, and no messin’.
There are times when influences aren’t so much worn on a band’s collective sleeve as embedded in its skin like shrapnel. This brazen approach works heroically for Beatglider, a group of Blighty tykes for whom life began during 1993 and The Flaming Lips‘ ‘Transmissions From The Satellite Heart’. That is, sherbert-sweet melodies, deranged instrumentation (trumpets, bird whistles) and whacked-out lyrics about strange creatures: [I]”Premonition dragon jump in my horse and wagon…”.[/I] A glorious mess.