How Strong My Love Is -Otis Redding
Otis Redding’s contribution to music history has been somewhat distorted
by his premature death in 1967. If he were still alive he would be in the same
company as Al Green and Ray Charles and probably be appearing at Grammy shows
accompanied by Isaac Hayes. Like Billy Holly his back catalogue is now infused
with the kind of sadness that appeals to bedsit listeners and shy, cigarette-fugged
longskirted bohemians. From 1965’s ‘The Great Otis Sings Soul Ballads’.
Ah –now, Regurgitator are great, but I don’t know how popular they
are outside of Australia. They come over as a kind of vulgar Talking Heads, or
an intellectual Bloodhound Gang. This jaunty single reflects their usual lyrical
preoccupation with celebrity culture and the decay of society and is from 1999’s ‘…Art’,
which warns “actual product may not match expectations” on the cover.
One of the best songs from 1996’s uncompromising and unpopular ‘New
Adventures In Hi-Fi’. This album is bleak and rather long but contains
some excellent and thoughtful songs. R.E.M. were briefly in vogue again after
the release of a new Greatest Hits, but they appear to have squandered this
goodwill with the mopeful 'Around The Sun'.
Blues -The Rolling Stones
One of the murky, swampy songs from 1972’s ‘Exile On Main Street’ which
has provided a blueprint for the sound of so many American bands. Judged by common
consensus to be their last truly great album, ‘Exile’ was recorded
in France for tax reasons. It’s still a revelation for those who have only
heard ‘40 Licks’ or their ‘90s output.
A song where Brian Ferry comes over all cool and detached while Brian Eno goes
tinky-tonk-bleep-bleep kerangg. No wonder he had to go. Covered by Thom Yorke
for the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, a film I have discovered is best suited for
playing repeatedly on video in the background while helping a girlfriend assemble
a dress made out of chocolate and bamboo. The life of a cartoonist is short but
merry. From 1972’s ‘Roxy Music’.
Most people in the Northern Hemisphere (and that is most of you, I’ve
read the statistics for this site) will know Bic (pronounced ‘Beck') Runga
from her appearances at Lilith Fair and on soundtracks. I was lucky enough to
attend an intimate (150 people) performance of her new album some time ago at
Bodega, which is one of those tiny legendary performance places which has been
closed by road developments –in this case, a motorway extension which is
going through a derelict but undeniably historical part of my home city. I didn’t
like the new album at all when it came out –this stuff is much better live
with just a guitar and drum kit. “Hey’ is a plaintive track from
her first album, 1997’s ‘Drive’.
Formed from bits of Monty Python and The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, The Rutles performed
immaculate pastiches of Beatles songs, so well conceived that several have appeared
on Beatles bootlegs. ‘Shangri-La’ is an elaborate pastiche of ‘Hey
Jude’ with bits of ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’ and ‘All
You Need Is Love’. As a response to the Beatles ‘Anthology’ releases
of the late ‘90s, the Rutles reformed in 1996 (minus Eric Idle) for ‘Archaeology’.
The album is a strong collection of songs sung by Neil Innes in his nasal Lennon
Nowhere Again -Secret Machines
Like Doves, or a less charismatic Interpol, Secret Machines are slightly clinical,
but their songs are intense, and their more obvious influences unusual and interesting.
This song from 2004’s ‘Now Here Is Nowhere’ has the harried
atmosphere of The Easybeat’s ‘Friday On My Mind’ as sung by
Thom Yorke with Led Zeppelin drums. Or I could be under-intellectualising it.
On My Radio -The Selecter
A 1979 hit single for this interesting but now-obscure second-generation ska
band, apparently still widely played at British parties. Never as cuddly as Madness,
their brief run of angry, punchy hits include a demented version of the James
Bond theme: “James Bond…the killa…”. Interest in them
was piqued twenty years later when Basement Jaxx sampled this song for their
1999 hit ‘Same Old Show’. Undoubtedly No Doubt still wear their T-shirts.
Cool, Cool River –Paul Simon
There’s been a lot of talk about Simon’s melding of ‘warm’ world
music to his cool and dispassionate lyrics, with issues of exploitation and colonialism.
As far as I’m concerned, Joni Mitchell did it first on ‘The Hissing
Of Summer Lawns’ and David Byrne did it more successfully on every solo
album since 1989. This is from 1989’s ‘Rhythm of the Saints’,
a lower-key but less incongruous album than ‘Graceland’. It sounds
a lot like Talking Heads.
Baby –Six Volts
The Six Volts were a Wellington, New Zealand band from the early ‘90s when
the local music scene was run on less than a shoestring and even the most talented
bands languished unless they moved to Australia. Now, of course, there’s
a lot more money sloshing around –unfortunately there’s the same
amount of talent, which means it’s possible to become very famous in NZ
while remaining utterly mediocre, as many bands discover five seconds after they
triumphantly decamp to Melbourne. The Six Volts were brilliant, though, working
with Don McGlashan before he was in ‘The Muttonbirds’ and eventually
mutating into ‘The Brainchilds’. I think they now run a film & television
soundtrack company, the offices of which are in the middle of the same motorway
development which closed Bodega (see above). ‘Angie Baby’ is from
their 1991 album ‘Stretch’ and is indescribably weird. If you can
track it down over the Net I will be very impressed.
A relatively understated song from 1996’s ‘Stoosh’ album. I
think this single had the alarming video with Skin attached to the front of a
speeding truck. Skunk Anansie were one of those hard, wiry British bands who
never made it into the Noughties but left behind a small collection of post-grunge
masterpieces, like loud, dark little oil paintings. If they were American the
ex-members would be perfect candidates for those endlessly reconfiguring ‘supergroups’ such
as Zwan and A Perfect Circle. Skin's released a solo album 'Fleshwounds' that's
not bad, while their bass player is in 'Feeder'.
What Do I Do Now? -Sleeper
Gorgeous miserablilism from the minor Britpop band fronted by Louise Wener, who
was nearly as opinionated as The Smith’s Morrissey but much more widely
slated. One of the first of many female-fronted British bands where the rest
of the band members were somewhere in the background, anonymous and unloved.
From 1996’s ‘The It Girl’, already a lifetime ago.
Appels & Oranjes
1998’s ‘Adore’ is one of my favourite albums, although I didn’t
like it at all until I’d listened to it about three times, and it was painful
to see the Pumpkins shed their ‘Mellon Collie’ fanbase so thoroughly.
This song has that strange New Order sound they adopted without their drummer.
I’ve never liked ‘Machina / the machines of God’ despite repeated
listenings, and anyone who’s come across ‘Machina II’ knows
exactly why their record company refused to release it.
cruel to focus on the decline and fall of the Smashing
Pumpkins –they should be remembered for their glorious
early-nineties peak, not the perplexing decline in quality after
1998 that culminated in the ultimate rock indignity: their record
label refusing to release their final album. They were doing them
a favour. Their first album is 1991’s ‘Gish’,
an already excellent if moody set which introduced the world to
the delights of Billy Corgan’s dread and creamy voice and
er… whatever it was the rest of the band contributed. I understand
Iha is highly regarded as a guitarist (his solo album ‘Let
It Come Down’ is delightful) and Chamberlain was a valued
drummer (they certainly made enough noise about his dismissal and
reinstatement) but given Corgan’s habit of taping over his
bandmate’s parts, it’s hard to know who you’re
listening to without a degree in musicology. For example, did anyone
but Corgan and Chamberlain play on 1993’s ‘Siamese
Dream’? Anyway, Suffer from ‘Gish’ was
sampled by Tricky on ‘Maxinquaye’ and Hummer from ‘Siamese’ features
a wonderful liquid ambience and diamond-hard guitars. ‘Mellon
Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ deserves a place in rock
history as one of the best double albums with the daftest title.
There is notably less fat than on more famous double albums such
as ‘The White Album’ and ‘Electric Ladyland’,
and even the filler is very, very good. Hendrix features heavily
in spirit on Thru The Eyes Of Rudy. This album
made the band so popular that its B-sides were collected and released
in 1996 in a box set as The Aeroplane Flies High,
the title track of which is part tape collage and part slow guitar
grind. ‘Siamese’ is the favourite album of pumpkins
fans, ‘Mellon Collie’ the favourite of the general
public. My favourite is ‘Adore’, released in 1998 to
huge anticipation and a disappointment to nearly everyone as guitars
were replaced by piano and Chamberlain was replaced with a drum
machine. Tracks such as For Martha explore Corgan’s
complicated relationship with his family, and any commercial accessibility
was traded for mood and atmosphere. Hard to love until its fourth
listen, ‘Adore’ was the last time the Pumpkins meant
or said anything of value. 2000’s ‘MACHINA / The Machines
Of God’ was dreadful and ‘Machina II’ even worse.
This perplexing decline in quality is highlighted on the rarities
album ‘Judas O’ which accompanied the greatest hits
album ‘Rotten Apples’. Whereas the earlier rarities
album ‘Pisces Iscariot’ was nearly as good as a ‘real’ album, ‘Judas
O’ is woeful –except for 1998’s unreleased My
Mistake, a mournful piano piece with an unusually croaky
The Smiths are constantly lionised by music critics as one of Britain’s
greatest bands, but Britain seems incapable of producing a band like them at
the moment –and it seems so simple, as well…a combination of heartfelt
and personal lyrics, and arresting, clear melodies. Stuff like this must come
back into fashion sometime. The maudlin cult of personality around lead singer
Morrissey prejudiced many people against liking this band at the time, but now
they exist only as a collection of recordings it’s possible to appreciate
the songs on their own without all that nonsense about daffodils, hearing aids
and celibacy. From 1993’s excellent B-sides/rarities compilation ‘Louder
Skip Tracer -Sonic Youth
A sardonic description of teenage scenesters from 1995’s mid-period ‘Washing
Machine’, an album which I recognise chiefly from its many T-shirts. Come
to think of it, it sounds a lot like the Secret Machines…
Elephant Stone –The Stone Roses
From their eponymous 1989 debut album, which has suffered for more than a decade
from the praise heaped upon it by music bores. Brilliant as it is (see?) it now
sounds very much of its time. ‘The Second Coming’, which emerged
five years later, when their time was well past, sounds more modern given the
current vogue for Zep-influenced bands.
Strawpeople were an incredibly original duo who seemed to have the whole field
of electronic music to themselves in New Zealand in the early ‘90s.
They produced many classic songs characterised by marrying electronica to
great guest singers, like a less dub-heavy and druggy Massive Attack. Common
stuff now, but amazing at the time. The formula fell apart by their second
or third album after one of the producers left to be replaced by Fiona McDonald,
a competent singer (see ‘George’ by Headless Chickens) but on
the whole not a very inspired songwriter (her only solo album cost Kiwi indie
label Flying Nun a bomb and went absolutely nowhere.) The Strawpeople album
she coproduced (1996’s ‘Vicarious’) has its moments, particularly
the elegant, spiky and winsome ‘Boxers’, but pales against 1994’s
magnificent ‘Broadcast’. Unfortunately 2000’s ‘No
New Messages’ (minus McDonald) was worse. What a shame.
Monday Morning Comes –Suede
Time has not been kind to Suede. Their first two albums are saturated with an
atmosphere which, like the best fiction and movies, allows you to temporarily
immerse yourself in a self-contained universe. Other albums like this I can think
of are Bowie’s Berlin albums (‘Low’ and “Heroes”)
and UNKLE’s ‘Psyence Fiction’. Suede’s recent albums
are still strong melodically but lack engagement. This song is from their 1997
B-sides compilation ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’, which is much stronger than
most band’s A-sides compilations.
the first major band to emerge from the ‘90s Britpop scene, although
they had little in common with Blur and Oasis, who sounded much more
familiar to the public and soon overtook them. Suede were influenced
more by Aladdin Sane-era Bowie than the Beatles or Kinks, and unfortunately
soon discovered the limitations of this half-lit environment. Their first
two albums are set in a wonderfully dank teenage nightlife filled with
drugs and experimental sex. She’s Not Dead from
their 1993 self-titled debut is one of the first of a long series of
Suede songs describing the lives of specific women who are only just
clinging onto life. 1994’s ‘Dog Man Star’ is a darker
album, like The Clash recording a glam version of ‘Exile On Main
Street’. This Hollywood Life features another
Suede Girl suffocated by her environment and bad habits. Talented guitarist
and co-writer Bernard Butler left halfway through this album and took
much of Suede’s atmosphere with him, but it didn’t matter
at the time because 1996’s ‘Coming Up’ sounded like
greatest hits album, with singer Brett Anderson’s vocals processed
to sound as if they were emerging from a plastic AM radio. Picnic
By The Motorway extols the virtues of voyeurism and sniffing
petrol but still sounds magnificent. ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’ is
one of the strongest B-side collections ever, with many songs that were
even better then the singles they backed. These Are The Sad Songs from
1997 namechecks a dozen song titles to listen to in the dark. 1999’s ‘Head
Music’ was highly anticipated but exposed the limitations of Suede’s
world –there is only so much you can write about being young and
taking drugs before you start repeating yourself. Brett Anderson had
by now written too many songs where he sang “Sheeeee” and
trilled “la la la” for the last half of the song, presumably
after running out of things to say about depressed fashion models and
junkies who are drawn to the sea. ‘Head Music’ was also three
songs too long, although it does feature the transcendently mopey Down.
2002’s ‘A New Morning’ was better, with Anderson taking
a more reporterly and optimistic view of a scene he had presumably grown
out of. His voice is also more frayed, the affected tiredness of bored
youth replaced with the genuine tiredness of a more experienced observer.
In Lonely Girls he sings “Sometimes our lives
are not what they seem /Sometimes things aren’t like they are in
lifestyle magazines”. After a singles collection (appropriately
titled ‘Singles’) that was it.
Like You –Sugababes
I was in Palmerston North (a city similar to Utah, but with trees) a few weeks
ago appearing in a vampire movie (as a vampire, naturally) and listening to this
album on earphones brought a welcome gothic edge to my walks around the suburbs,
which consist solely of houses, dairies (drugstores) and churches. Yes, it’s
girly pop music, but the Gary Numan sample is so thoroughly evil… shame
about the video, which was kind of obvious (the Sugababes hunting down men in
nightclubs and subjecting them to unspeakable horrors). From 2002’s ‘Angels
With Dirty Faces’.
What The Bloke From Madness Did Next: after an excellent initial solo album (1995’s ‘The
Lone Ranger’) not much was heard from Suggs until Madness reformed. Before
that came this zippy single, easily the best thing about the dire and disastrous ‘Avengers’ movie.
From the 1998 soundtrack.
Like Us -Talking Heads
Are we ever going to see a band like Tallking Heads again? Intellectual yet listenable,
pretentious but fun, progressive yet danceable…one of my screensavers is
a shot of them backstage at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame last year,
sipping champagne and smiling at the camera like the past ten years of bitchiness
and acrimony since they broke up never happened. Oh well. This song is from their
1986 social anthropology satire ‘True Stories’ and features steel
guitar embellishments and painfully sincere lyrics. Or were those evil New Yorkers
just taking the piss?
Heads were an unusually intelligent band that broke
up for the wrong reasons. The closest they’ve come to reconciliation
was their brief performance in 2002 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll
Hall Of Fame, when they thanked the organisers for giving the
band a happy ending. Now remembered for a handful of excellent
but unrepresentative ‘80s singles, their reissued albums
are unlikely to find a market outside of people in their thirties,
which is a shame. If you’re a fan of intelligent rock,
avoid the Greatest Hits and go straight for their first five
albums. They started out jittery and arty with ‘quirky’ but
honest lyrics- very New York, very New Wave. Happy Day from
1977’s ‘Talking Heads 77’ has a tight rhythm
section and David Byrne’s famously strained voice, this
time sounding like a very white Al Green. 1978’s ‘More
Sounds About Building And Food’ was produced by Brian Eno
and resulted in such wonderfully weird songs as Found
A Job, all about filming home videos as a form of marriage
therapy. When, in a wonderful moment, the lyrics run out it gets
even better. 1979’s ‘Fear of Music’ was their
first album to experiment with world music –like Bowie,
they put an oblique twist on their influences to create something
new. The entire album is as dark as the industrial tread on the
cover, and tracks like Drugs are a blur of antiseptic
soundscapes, narcotic burblings and white-knuckled psychosis.
If it was a person, it would be buried up to its neck in the
subway. 1980’s ‘Remain In Light’ is also dark
but funkier, the expanded band deriving the white-funk drive
that propelled spin-off band Tom Tom Club. Songs like The
Great Curve sound like a freaked New York tourist running
pell-mell across an African savannah. After ‘Speaking In
Tongues’ and the remarkable live album and film ‘Stop
Making Sense’, Talking Heads slimmed back down from about
eight members to the original four and produced 1985’s ‘Little
Creatures’, a straightforward album with songs like And
She Was, a vaguely country-folk single that sounds like
a logical progression from the 1978 band. 1986’s ‘True
Stories’ was quickly recorded to accompany the curious
Midwest-bothering film of the same name, and included City
Of Dreams, a wonderful steel guitar concoction. Sadly,
1988’s ‘Naked’ was a misstep, recorded in Paris
with a large number of guest musicians who lent an expert world-music
sheen to some truly dreadful songs. Their only awful album. They
broke up acrimoniously in 1992 (see the David
Byrne entry) and the recent release on CD of 1982’s
forgotten live album ‘The Name Of This Band Is Talking
Heads’ was an unexpected but glorious surprise. Now go
and listen to their albums!
Dwarfs have been recording together in New Zealand since
1981, although Alec Bathgate and Chris Knox were previously in
several short-lived bands including Toy Love. The duo’s
lo-fi recordings have influenced Pavement and Sonic Youth, as
has Knox’s extensive solo career. Their songs are characterised
by their concise length, melodic strength and home studio atmosphere.
They play all their instruments themselves with little outside
participation, except for their International Tall Dwarfs project
in 1997 where they solicited tapes from listeners all over the
world to use as the basis for loops and backing tracks on their
album ‘Stumpy’. Their first non-compilation album
release was 1990’s ‘Weeville’, although their
early EPs were collected together on 1987’s ‘Hello
Cruel World’ and 1992’s ‘That’s The Long
And The Short Of It’. This included the 1985 EP ‘That’s
The Short And Long Of It’, featuring Burning Blue,
a typically multi-layered fuzztoned tune with Knox’s heartfelt
wailing, and the 1986 EP ‘Throw A Sickie’, featuring
the beautiful melody of Come Inside. 1987’s ‘Dogma’ EP
is included at the end of the 1991 album ‘Fork Songs’ and
features the brief Beatlesque strum of Missed Again.
1994’s ‘3 EPs’ album contains Archaeopteryx,
a demonstration of their love of live guitars and primitive drum
machines, with a gorgeously cracked chorus from Knox. 1998’s ‘Fifty
Flavours Of Glue’ has Just Do It!, a multicoloured
Velvet Underground* ranter. Deodorant from 2002’s ‘The
Sky Above, The Mud Below’ (their most recent album) was
actually a single and sounds like something the Dandy Warhols
and T-Rex could have cooked up.
VU have had a pervasive influence on New Zealand’s Flying
Nun bands, and largely determined that distinctive and slightly
odd ‘Kiwi’ sound that people associate with 'classic'
NZ pop and rock songs... the sort of thing they play in Kiwi bars
in London while undernourished expatriate graduates working in
middle management weep into their imported Lion Brown. This sound
has been thoroughly rejected by modern NZ bands in favour of a
glossly but utterly anonymous international sheen, and you can
call me Susan if it isn't so.
of Tricky’s elaborate juxtapositions, the vocals of Ambersunshower
and Hawkman competing with a vibe that keeps threatening to turn into
Blondie’s ‘Call Me’. 2001’s ‘Blowback’ was
an excellent album but nothing yet compares to 1995’s ‘Maxinquaye’,
which practically created a new genre.
Sweet Nuthin’ –The Velvet Underground
From their most mainstream album, 1970’s ‘Loaded’, when, fed
up with commercial and critical obscurity, they tried to sound like everyone
else and imploded messily. An inspiration to bands, poseurs and nihilists everywhere,
although Lou really should have shut up after 1989…
World –The Verve
An unfocused reverie from the 1993 album ‘A Storm In Heaven’, back
when they were ‘Verve’, before the US jazz label made them add ‘The’.
Four years later they would hit their peak with ‘Urban Hymns’, and
then…duets with Brian Wilson, anyone?
Yard –The Vines
A lot slicker than the antics of their apparently brain-damaged frontsman make
them appear. Even this relatively restrained song has frantic Barrett-like background
yelps, and a lush harmonised chorus. From their 2002 album ‘Highly Evolved’.
Still Here –Tom Waits
Unique for his voice and image –a kind of mad Victorian Captain Beefheart,
Tom Waits can produce songs of ugly cacophony, demented wurlitzer frenzy, sideshow
histrionics, Edward Hopper observations, and this beautifully weary, honest song
from 2002’s ‘Alice’.
Like You –The Wannadies
Plaintive and chuntering Swede-pop from their 1999 album ‘Oh Yeah’,
which I think was their last. Most of The Wannadies’ material has a wonderful
demented drive, like an evil eight-year-old let out for the school holidays. ‘Oh
Yeah’ is strangely charmless compared to ‘Bagsy Me’ and ‘Be
Something -The Willowz
Sounds like a raucous classic Flying Nun song from the '80s,
also referencing The Who (‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere). Featured on their 2004 mini-album ‘The
Willowz’ and also on the ‘Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind’ soundtrack,
although I can’t remember what it underlined.
Of My Dreams –Frank Zappa
This is a charming little song sung by Bob Harris which sounds like something
from ‘Monty Python’s Meaning Of Life’ with a choir and piano.
It is not a typical Zappa song. Zappa is indefensible, not for the density and
range and sheer number of his recordings but for the wearying misogyny of his
lyrics. I am always vaguely embarrassed when I hear these songs in public… although
it seems that all of my friends who own a guitar can play ‘Bobby Brown
Goes Down’. Don’t ask. From
1984’s ‘Them Or Us’.
Long Time Coming –The Zutons
An enigmatic band from Liverpool whose debut album ‘Who Killed The Zutons?’ is
an enjoyable trawl through the sound of British Invasion bands. This brief song
sounds a bit like The Animals.
A-C D-J K-Q R-Z