Used To Be Friends –The Dandy Warhols
A far more sophisticated proposition than their early albums and Zia’s
topless routine would suggest. If she tried it at New Zealand's 'Big Day Out'
I didn't hear about it. Like a Talking Heads interested in sex and drugs instead
of world music. From 2003’s ‘Welcome to the Monkey House’.
Satin –Miles Davies
I listen to a lot of stuff, but I don’t like jazz much. I think it’s
because most jazz players I’ve met have been incredibly pretentious, even
by the standards of Wellington's arts scene. Miles Davies is one of those Grown-Up
artists that we’re supposed to respect instead of enjoy. This song is great,
though –a playful, mostly live, ensemble piece from 1972’s ‘On
Devo were great –sarky, geeky, clangy and utterly daft, like Kraftwerk
with a sense of humour, or early Simpsons. Although they mutated into movie and
televison soundtrack production (notably ‘Rugrats’) their early recordings
are amusingly filthy. ‘Social Fools’ is a typical us-against-them
song from 1990’s ‘Hardcore Vol 1’ compilation.
one of those lost ‘80s bands who had a brilliant three-year run but
then quickly ran out ideas while their innovative electronic sound (like
a punk cartoon Kraftwerk) was pillaged by other bands. They are mostly remembered
now for their entertaining MTV videos and identical flowerpot hats, which
is a shame because their initial burst of creativity and energy produced
some entertaining and fun concepts that they never managed to build on. Their
outlook on the modern world was a satiric struggle against the dead weight
of conformity, while expressing a wistful desire to fit in. Their early sound
(released on the excellent ‘Hardcore Devo’ compilations) was
of an aggressive New Wave band with a penchant for primitive synthesisers
who quickly inspired enough hostility in their baffled post-hippie audiences
(listen to them taunting the crowd on 1992’s ‘Devo Live: The
Mongoloid Years’) to become identified with the early punk scene. The
Rope Song from 1975 is a good example of their early lo-fi but inventive
songs, often as crude as anything The Bloodhound Gang came up with. In their
initial songs they developed the entertaining theory of De-evolution and
the mythic backstory of spudboys and mongoloids which would sustain them
for their initial albums, but later cursed them with a ‘novelty band’ tag
which they never escaped or transcended. Their first released album was 1978’s ‘Q:
Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!’, produced with little interference
by Brian Eno and featuring their most memorable songs, including Come
Back Jonee and many other skilful pop songs. The follow-up ‘Duty
Now For The Future’ featured some of their richest tracks, covering
subject matter as varied as corporate anthems and brain aneurysms and continues
the Devo mythology with the epic Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA.
The 1979 outtake Soo-Bawlz is like Blondie without Debbie
Harry, and is one of many tales of sexual woe. It features on the excellent
2000 Rhino compilation ‘Pioneers Who Got Scalped’, which contains
a wide selection of otherwise unavailable tracks from their entire career.
As with most double-disc compilations it is painfully obvious the essential
stuff is all on the first disc. Devo’s 1980s albums generally contained
excellent singles but feeble album tracks and novelty cover versions. Gates
Of Steel is a strong track about the struggle for expression of
emotion from 1980’s ‘Freedom Of Choice’, and Beautiful
World is an elegiac piece about alienation from 1981’s ‘New
Traditionalists’. Devo released their last album in 1990, but continue
to issue soundtrack songs. The members continue to work in music or design,
and leader Mark Mothersbaugh is a popular soundtrack composer for film and
TV, notably ‘Rugrats’, which contains many of their signature
Doves represents one of the two types of British rock bands which are thriving
at the moment. On one hand: chord-crunching late ‘70s guitar revivalists
who have discovered teenagers are now so conservative they consider long
hair on boys to be pretty damn exciting. On the other: anonymous post-Radiohead
noodlers with complicated sequencers who dress like students and don’t
get enough sun. Dove are amongst the noodlers, having plugged away in obscurity
for year before making a breakthrough (of sorts) with 2002’s ‘The
Last Broadcast’, which is suffused with a luscious wistfulness, like
a slightly less earnest Coldplay. It’s still impossible to tell the
band members apart, though.
Sun –Nick Drake
Nick Drake is comparable to Jeff Buckley in that his untimely death created
a cult around his music. The difference is that Drake’s struggle for recognition
wearied him so much it gave his later recordings an unsettling air of mental
exhaustion and fragility. This song is the happy closer from his accomplished
first album, 1970’s ‘Five Leaves Left’, and sounds like it
could have been recorded (by Badly Drawn Boy?) yesterday.
Reflex –Duran Duran
They’re fat, they’re forty, and they’re back. They were never
that good, but their best songs have held up much better than they ought to and
still speak to a certain New Wave generation. And their Bond theme was much better
than Garbage’s. From 1983’s ‘Seven And The Ragged Tiger’.
Can I add on a personal note that a) I was appalled when I listened to their
greatest hits at how many songs I recognised and liked, and b) their 1995 covers
album ‘Thank You’ should be avoided at all costs.
Crepuscular track from an underrated and largely forgotten British band, now
to –be found on Britpop compilations next to Elastica and Gene. Includes
incongruous steel guitar. From their 1995 album ‘On’.
largely the personal work of Mark Oliver Everett (known as E) although
they began as a trio in the mid-nineties. The first album ‘Beautiful Freak’ (1996)
is very much of its time, fitting in nicely with contemporary albums by
Beck and Everclear. Your Lucky Day in Hell is a typical
mixture of grunge and sweetness. The next album ‘Electro-Shock Blues’ (1998)
is their best so far, an extraordinary mortality concept album written after
the death of E’s father and sister. Like Radiohead’s ‘OK
Computer’ the bleakness is quite beautiful, and although it trawls
some very dark depths, the overall message is positive. My Descent
Into Madness appears to be one of several songs written from the
point of view of E's unfortunate sister, and mixes dark bass, a violin sample
and soaring organs. Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Christmas is
a slightly more cheerful seasonal B-side from the same period. The 2000
Of The Galaxy’ was described by some as a masterpiece, but I personally
find it trivial apart from the title track which articulates a specific mood
of melancholy, nostalgia, depression and hope. The 2001 album ‘Souljacker’ was
the end of Eels as a significant commercial force (despite collaborating
with John Parish and the heavy plugging of Eels tracks in Dreamworks films
such as ‘Shrek’) and is perhaps their least focused album. E
dressing up as the Unabomber didn’t help, either. What Is This
Note? is a great fuzztoned love song (I think) with a chorus which
sounds like Frank Zappa’s ‘Disco Boy’. The most recent
album, 2003’s ‘Shootenany!’ represents even more of a
withdrawal from the public gaze with its black cover and lack of lyrics,
but it contains
many excellent songs including Numbered Days which is typically
existentialist and sounds like what we can only speculate John Lennon sounding
Backwater –Brian Eno
Demented and jaunty and probably shocking to anyone who just knows Eno as a producer
or ambient musician. From 1977’s ‘Before And After Science’,
which is full of similar double-vocal-tracked wonders, including the Talking
Heads pastiche King’s Lead Hat (it’s an anagram –he’s
ever so clever).
Brian Eno is most famous for his production work, creating big synth landscapes
for ‘classic’ period U2, a veritable world of glam for ‘classic’ period
Roxy Music and quirky little keyboard vignettes for ‘classic’ period
Talking Heads. He also basically invented ambient music and produced some of
Bowie’s best ‘classic’ period albums. Music critics hail him
as a genius in the most academic sense of the word, but personally I find the
intellectual aspects of his work less interesting than the sounds themselves.
He began releasing solo albums in 1973 after being ousted from Roxy Music for
being too weird, and released ‘No Pussyfooting’ with guitarist Robert
Fripp and ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ the same year. This album and
1974’s ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ are his most
popular solo works, combining elements of glam rock with weird instrument manipulation
and his double-tracked vocals. Songs like Mother Whale Eyeless are
also pure, weird, joyful pop. After developing the concept of ambient music
Music’ (sounds designed to provide atmosphere rather than be listened to
with great attention) Eno released few ‘singing’ albums, except for
the popular ‘Before And After Science’ in 1977. ‘Another Green
World’ from 1975 was a mixture of tunes and sounds, including Golden
Hours, which resembles concise early Pink Floyd. He was also producing
bits and pieces for soundtracks, which have been collected on several volumes
of ‘Music For Films’ and includes the heavily flanged M386 from
1978, which sounds similar to the influential instrumental pieces contained
on Bowie’s ‘Low’ and ‘"Heroes"’, creating
a reputation for experimentation Bowie never really followed through with and
indirectly leading to New Wave. The exploration of ambient sounds included collaborations
with David Byrne, Joachim Roedelius, Moebius (the famous French cartoonist) and
Harold Budd. 1978’s ‘Ambient #1: Music For Airports’ was designed
to be played in waiting lounges and 1982’s ‘Ambient #4: On Land’ includes Unfamiliar
Wind (Leek Hills), one of many Eno pieces that are designed to evoke
a particular time, place and feeling. This specific one includes birdsong and
is rather sad and beautiful. 1983’s ‘Apollo Atmospheres & Soundtracks’ features
the extraordinary An Ending (Ascent) which was used recently
to great effect in the non-zombie film ‘28 Days’. His work since
the 90s has been extremely serious, although Healthy Colours III from
1994’s ‘The Essential Fripp And Eno’ is a playful sampled sound collage
(ah –that’s something else he invented). His 1995 diary ‘A
Year With Swollen Appendices’ makes for unusually interesting reading.
Fear, No Hate No Pain – Eurythmics
Annie Lennox’s latest album is truly awful, infused with an utterly straight-faced
seriousness of purpose and the dubious ‘quality’ of her ice-clear
voice. Without the varnished charms of ‘Diva’ or even the novelty
value of her covers album ‘Medusa’, ‘Bare’ makes the
listener (well, this one, anyway) yearn for the edge and robotic coolness of
early Eurythmics. This song is from the 1983 album ‘Touch’ when their
chilliness evenly matched the social climate of Thatcher’s Britain and
Lennox’s extraordinary image was enough to get them banned from MTV. The
sight of a straight woman expressing strong sexual identity through androgyny
and gender blurring was revolutionary then, and still resonant now. But everyone’s
too busy ripping off Madonna to notice…
a strangely unlovable duo, like a frigid Kraftwerk with sex appeal. Their ‘80s
popularity has faded, leaving several classic singles and still-startling promotional
videos. Annie Lennox’s androgynous sexuality still has impact, and it’s
hard to imagine any contemporary female star being able to pull off a similar
trick. What set them apart from the beginning was their sound, Lennox’s
precise vocals backed by the chilliest of synthesisers. This atmosphere, which
never invited intimacy, is clearest on their home-produced second album, 1983’s ‘Sweet
Dreams’, on songs like Jennifer. Ironically the most
human thing about it is the electric guitars which swoop in towards the end
of the song. By 1985’s ‘Touch’ they were a hits machine and their
sound were becoming more epic on tracks such as Better To Have Lost
In Love (Than Never To Have Lost At All). This is a good song, but
a trifle overstretched, as you can tell from the title. 1986’s ‘Revenge’ was
derided as AOR, but the singles are as strong as ever. I Remember You is
the whimsical final track –regret is one emotion they could still convey.
1987’s ‘Savage’ is their best album, a ravaged, numbed collection
of songs filled with regret and resignation. I Need You is
designed to sound as though it was played live in front of an indifferent bar
Their last album before their breakup, 1989’s ‘We Too Are One’ is
a bruised and unfriendly collection lacking the single power of their previous
albums, but the strong mood of alienation actually enhances many of the songs.
On Sylvia, one of their typical lost females (see Jennifer and Julia,
as many girl-name songs as Lou Reed but with fewer transvestites) the cold
chamber arrangement of the synthesisers matches Lennox’s dispassionate
intonation. After a middling solo career (‘Diva’ is best described
as heavily varnished, ‘Medusa’ was just plain awful) Lennox and
Stewart unexpectedly reunited in 1999 and produced one of their warmest albums. ‘Peace’ was
a resignedly cheerful album with a less claustrophobic sound than usual, and
on songs like I’ve Tried Everything even the “Yeah,
you’re a loser now” chorus is leavened by the fact that, well,
at least they tried.
The Forest -The Factory
Tannoy-vocalled psychedelic track from a Surrey band who became cult favourites
years after they split up. This 1967 track was featured on the 2001 sequel to
the famous ‘Nuggets’ compilation, and sounds disturbingly contemporary.
Couldn’t Care More –Fine Young Cannibals
A band who were more than just ‘She Drives Me Crazy’, but not much
more. Singer Roland Gift had a wonderful liquid voice –does anyone know
what he’s doing now? Appearing in bank ads, apparently. This song, from
their self-titled 1985 album (one of only three they made) has wonderful background
vocals, but I can’t be bothered looking up whose they are. Sorry, I guess
I could care more.
really wish I hadn’t said that.
Hole In The Ice –Neil Finn
Better than Sting. An utterly bizarre song involving Eskimos and
Neil Finn’s usual melodic facility. I saw him enter the ‘Return
of the King’ premiere with his wife, and after a parade of smug nonentities
it was frankly a relief to see him.
Test –The Flaming Lips
“The test is over…NOWWW”. Squelchy and burbulent prog from
2002’s ‘Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots’.
Tomorrow Night -The Front Lawn
An Auckland duo comprised of Don McGlashan (The Muttonbirds) and Harry
Sinclair (who has since become a successful movie director), The Front
Lawn began in the
late 1980’s with a multi-media live show which was part musical and part
performance art. The songs on the first of their two albums, 1989’s ‘Songs
From The Front Lawn’ include an ode to Casablanca’s Claude Rains
and ruminations on infidelity, somnambulism and lost relatives, accompanied by
Wellington’s Six Volts, who were much
missed on the
vastly inferior second album. ‘Tomorrow Night’ celebrates the great
NZ OE (overseas experience, a travelling rite-of-passage when young New Zealanders
slum it around Europe for a few years –once to gain cultural experiences
and sleep with a lot of sexy strangers, now a reason to earn some serious dough
and pay off student loans).
Softer Landing –Fur Patrol
Fur Patrol have followed the typical Wellington, NZ band career path by making
an excellent EP (‘Starlifter’), recording an even better first album
(‘Pet’) and then being forced to sit around for a year - an entire
year- before it was grudgingly released, to national acclaim. Naturally they
left for Melbourne as soon as possible in search of less shabby handling and
have just recently returned with 2003’s ‘Collider’, which is
much darker and apparently bereft of catchy singles. They sound a bit like P.J.
Harvey, if anyone’s interested.
Hey, Man! -Nelly Furtado
This is the one with the string quartet loop. Descriptions of Furtado as “the female Beck” are patronising, as her audio eclecticism is secondary to
attitude and message…and besides, they’re referring to the breakbeat-and-donkey
Beck of ‘Odelay’, which he has shown no particular desire to repeat.
Furtado’s latest album ‘Folklore’ shows her maturing in a manner
similar to Björk, although there aren’t as many good singles. From
2000’s ‘Whoa Nelly!’.
“Let’s bomb the factory/ That makes all the wannabes” …Do
you think Garbage lost a certain edge when Manson went blonde? A typically demented
song from an unpopular album, which by their standards meant it sold a bucketload
but not as much as the previous one. From 2001’s ‘Beautifulgarbage’.
Silver Culture -Ghostplane
Arising from '90s Wellington band Dana Eclair, Ghostplane are murky indie rock, although they
wouldn't thank for me for describing them as such. This relaxed Pixies-ish
track is possibly the only song in the world to have the chorus "Substation
burning on fire". From the 2005 album ‘Beneath The Sleepy Lagoon’.
Strict Machine –Goldfrapp
Wow –what happened to the rather sexless soundscapes of ‘Felt Mountain’?
This track sounds like a porn remix of the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. On
2003’s ‘Black Cherry’ they began utilising Alison properly
in their videos, if you can describe a grown woman dressing up as Little Red
Riding Hood as ‘utilisation’.
Tijuana Lady -Gomez
Brits do Tex-Mex, but very sincere and narcotic like something from ‘Exile
On Main Street’ with that unique Gomez mixture of lead vocalists. From
1998’s ‘Bring It On’, which predates the Kirsten Dunst movie
by some years. The British music press widely held that Gomez had ‘lost
it’ with their third album, ‘In Our Gun’. You’d think
they’d be hanging on to whoever they could get.
Caligula -Macy Gray
Macy, Macy, Macy…liked the first one, liked the second one which no-one
else liked, haven’t heard the third one. People claim her voice is a gimmick,
but what other distinctive singer’s voice isn’t? Funnily enough every
album track from 1999’s ‘On How Life Is’ reveals an evil sexuality
missing from the singles.
Madder -Groove Armada
Unusually strident but quality song from popular British dance sprites. The lustre
may have gone off the mainstream dance music scene (Prodigy, anyone?), but these
things are always cyclical, aren’t they? From their 2002 album ‘Lovebox’.
Long Snake Moan –PJ Harvey
Polly Jean, the thinking man’s…er…the thinking man’s…I
don’t know, but there’s a kind of guy who always answers ‘P.J.
Harvey’ when everyone else answers ‘Britney Spears’. They will
also answer ‘Tilda Swinton’ or ‘Helen Mirren’ instead
of ‘Julia Roberts’. I can’t remember what the question is,
although I am that kind of guy, namely, a smartarse. P.J. is possibly
the most exciting thing to come out of Dorset since cream teas. This crepuscular
rattlefest is from 1995’s ‘To Bring You My Love’, although
her bleak album ‘Is This Desire?’ would have to be my favourite.
Which is what a smartarse would say.
PJ Harvey is unique. After operating for 13 years she has yet
to make a bad album. She is part of that holy trinity of female musicians
including Björk and Tori Amos who operate entirely on their own
terms. The early albums from when PJ Harvey was the name of her band
(a trio) are favourites of depressed young women everywhere. The songs
are scary and the production values low, but that’s entirely
the point, and the anger and energy are resonant, like the best ‘classic’ punk
albums. ‘4-Track Demos’ was released in 1993 and features
rawer versions of some of the songs from her second album ‘Rid
Of Me’ and standalones such as Easy, which is
basically a hell of a racket. 1995’s ‘To Bring You My Love’ was
recorded with a larger band and marks her advancement from loud but
basic dynamics into much more sophisticated areas and themes. It was
a necessary progression that she has continued ever since, and although
many people miss the energy and fury of her early sound, this album
opens the door to some much larger rooms. It includes Working
For The Man which proves she can wryly slink as well as howl.
The 1996 album ‘Dance Hall At Louse Point’ is an oddity,
almost a throwback to her earlier sound, recorded with John Parish
as the soundtrack to a dance work, and contains the last of her lo-fi
songs, including the incandescent spaghetti Western Heela.
My favourite album is 1998’s ‘Is This Desire’, which
is as stark as a Nico album and has unsettling moments of quiet and
storm, including The Sky Lit Up with unearthly drums,
guitar and her characteristic high keening wail on the chorus. It’s
like being stuck inside Charlotte Bronte’s washing machine. 2000’s “Stories
From The City, Stories From The Sea’ was her most popular album,
thanks to some killer singles, an extremely glamorous yet tough image
makeover, a broader sound palette and more accessible songs. The first
song Big Exit typifies this new sound, with jangly
guitars and a burnished soundscape. Intentionally or not, it was an
advance towards the mainstream, and her more blinkered fans breathed
a sigh of relief with the comparative lo-fi of 2004’s ‘Uh
Huh Her’, which is excellent as a whole but contains less individual
points of distinction. It includes The Letter, which
is the best song Radiohead never wrote.
Stalk of a Cherry -Headless Chickens
Headless Chickens were a brilliant and original Auckland band who scared
the hell out of the New Zealand music industry and produced three albums
before combusting in a heap of bad drugs and bad blood. Their sound was successfully co-opted by
bands like Garbage, who actually sample Headless Chickens on ‘Not My Idea’. ‘Stalk’ is
from their third album, 1997’s ‘Greedy’ which contains New
Zealand’s scariest #1, ‘George’.
It’s Not Fetish –Helicopter Girl
Slinky and dark electronica from Britain’s Jackie Joyce. From the 2000
album ‘How To Steal The World’. Like a jazzy, sexier Goldfrapp, or
Portishead if Beth and Adrian actually went out on Saturday nights…
Use Once & Destroy –Hole
“Ah went dah-ah-awn”…One of the least Fleetwood-Mac-like tracks
on 1998’s ‘Celebrity Skin’. Not a bad album, but not comparable
to ‘Live Through This’.
Speak Low –Billie Holiday
A twisty Kurt Weill song from the tragic singer who enjoyed a long career but
a terrible life. This song is from 1956, three years before her death.
Start! –The Jam
British Nouveau-Mods give the Beatles’ ‘Taxman’ a good going
over. A 1980 British No. 1 single.
Destiny Calling –James
James have been around for twenty years and are still a band no-one likes or
remembers very much. Their best-known song is the anthemic ‘Sit Down’.
From 1998’s ‘James: The Best Of’, released as a result of their
successful second wind and collaboration with Brian Eno, before loosing their
singer, contract, profile, audience...
Summertime Rolls –Jane’s Addiction
An ominous brooding song that unrolls like linoleum. From 1988’s ‘Nothing’s
Shocking’, the one with the naked Siamese twins on fire on the cover. I’ve
heard the new album is pretty good, but look what they’re competing with…
Someone Saved My Life Tonight –Elton John
‘Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy’ (1975) is
a thoughtful concept album describing how Elton John and Bernie
Taupin established their musical partnership. This song is about
Elton breaking off an engagement, as unusual a situation as that
Farewell Song –Janis Joplin
Joplin is only discussed nowadays as part of the sad pantheon of musical ‘J’s –Janis,
Jimmy & Jim, who died in a bunch at the druggy end of the ‘60s. Her
vocal technique is derided by people who know about things like that, but the
pain and rawness of her singing has resonated with millions. Of course she would
never have made it today, video killed the radio star and even Macy Gray would
be unheard of if she weren’t something of a looker. From 1993’s excellent
box set ‘Janis’.
A-C D-J K-Q R-Z