Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Night Local: Sharon O'Neill - 'Words' (1979)

Whups, I may have forgotten a couple of Fridays.

ANYWAY, when last we met I issued a challenge to readers on Twitter to nominate a Sharon O'Neill song for the next Friday Night Local post. How did that turn out? Variably.

I can only conclude that because O'Neill is such a significant figure in the not-small arena of Kiwi women in rock, that simply coming up wth consensus was just too darned hard. Guanolad nominated 'Physical Favour's, but lost his bottle on it. Frankly, the late Eighties are not O'Neill's happy hunting ground, and I really think the other end of the decade is where her star shone brightest. On that note, Jamas sggested 'Maxine' - ah, but which video? The Australian one or the NZ one?  Answer: the Australian one is the more recognisable, with its quasi-narrative about the ill-fated streetwalker, but I prefer the local version. It's familiar without being overplayed - and 'Maxine' got a lot of play on both sides of the Tasman.

That was it for the punters, besides occasional commentor Tim who wanted a Shona Laing number (sir, hang your head in shame), and to be honest I thought I'd see Paul S chime in with the theme from 'Smash Palace', a great opener to Roger Donaldson's early masterpiece of kiwi mateship. 'Asian Paradise' has its fans... I'll leave that there. Here's mine instead:

'Words' is from O'Neill's debut and frankly, I can't hear it wthout wanting to sing along, surely the mark of a great pop song. Her voice doesn't have the husky, Christine McVie sound of some of the aforementioned tracks, but melodically it's very sharp, with some great backing vocals (check out the number of mic stands in that video!), and hell, any upbeat song that opens with the line "let me out like the new blood at the slaughter." is worth listening to I reckon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Down with the Clown!

A short blog post from me today, folks. Family medical emergencies having claimed all spare time and concentration*, this is one from the vault of drafts: Riddle me this: what is in this picture below?

Answer: A nail, of course. Ah, but no ordinary nail - it's been monkeyed with and turned into an even handier tool than one made to wed two pieces of wood - indeed, one that every scratch-build modeller, kit-basher and dad should have in their kit! One hack-saw, a model vice, a bastard file and some careful metal torture later a rare tool indeed has been born; one that was never meant to be wielded by those outside the fast food industry's toymaking empire...

"The worm has turned, has it not, my Happy Meal freebie friend? Look at you! You were once so proud, intact and flat of battery. Now feel the wrath of the tri-driver of Jet Simian!"

(*Family medical emergencies righting themselves by the day, incidentally)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Night Local : Jean-Paul Sartre Experience - 'I Like Rain' (1987)

The nights are getting darker earlier, the mornings stay gloomy for longer. There's a slight bruising to the clouds, and afternoons have the watery light of sun through old glass. Yes, Autumn is finally here.

It's not time for winter songs yet, though - oh no! I have some sweet little mid-year ditties to come yet, but in the mean-time we've had quite the day today with- shock me, some rain! This is a big thing, because for overseas readers, growing parts of the country are in drought or near-drought conditions, and even poor Sticky Al has lost a tree or two in his country abode to simply not enough water. So it's not all fun in the sun this year, and as more of an indoor Simian I for one celebrated some change in the weather with today's rather heavy precipitation, and what it might mean for our poor garden.

So this video says it all, albeit with milk bottle top foil cutouts, some easy-to-learn shape throwing moves, and a handy bottle of fabric softener in the first verse. No David Yetton here, as this is presumably during his OE away from the band, but the requisite amateur Flying Nun look and daggy JPSE humour is there. It's a fun, audience-friendly song, as was road-tested by my band during a Southland tour many years ago. Grab your gumboots and enjoy!

POstscript: Next week for a change I'm crowdsourcing this puppy with some audience participation. The subject will be the one and only Sharon O'Neill - but which video should I play? Answers below, or on twitter, hashtag #FridayNightLocal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

'European skies, European desires'

Manic Street Preachers - 'Futurology' (2014)

"I am the sturm und drang / I am the schadenfreude"

In unprecedented haste for a band of its age, the twelfth studio album from Manic Street Preachers was released around six months after its companion, Rewind the Film. Both albums complement one another, and yet are intended to be opposites, Rewind the introspective middle-aged Holy Bible, while Futurology, while not exactly future-looking, is an optimistic, outward-looking work. Its predecessor is no slouch, but fed on Krautrock, and presenting electronic soundscapes and a peculiarly Welsh view of modern European history, the Manics' latest album is one of their strongest and most complete.

"Working class skeletons / lie scattered in museums" 

Like Rewind the Film, Futurology was recorded at Hansa by the Wall, in Berlin. The British artist or group retreating to Berlin for reinvigouration and reinvention has past form, of course: Bowie (Low and "Heroes") and U2 (Achtung Baby) both did it, and while Manics eschewed Eno and parted with Visconti five albums previously, there is a sense of hat-doffing to the former. But this isn't pastiche as Achtung Baby pretended towards (and Zooropa achieved) but a logical transition. Doubled with Rewind the Film, its studio companion, the two albums converse and share ideas, sounds and influences.

Futurology is a confident album - still equipped with the doubts of Rewind, but seated in a continental context, and an historical one. Its Europe is a Europe of ghosts both living and dead: - 'The Next Jet to leave Moscow's' "old jaded Commie walking in Red Square", while bonus track 'The Last Time I Saw Paris' has its protagonist wander the French capital looking for 'the boxer' (Sartre) and 'the goalkeeper' (Camus), Grieg's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King' is sampled in 'Let's Go To War', Munch's painting in 'Between the Clock and the Bed', and more personally, the shimmering 'Divine Youth' sparks from Wire's catching an image of himself and Richey Edwards in their younger heyday on a bootleg t-shirt.

"To understand your country you must first understand yourself"

So while U2's European experience is largely as travellers and impressioned observers, Manics draw on European political history, Welsh history as European history ('Dreaming a City (Hugheskova)' and 'The View from Stowe Hill'), and their own politics to create part-essay, part travelogue. Far from the cut-up soundbite approach of the Richey era, there are easier entry points in thee songs, and what seems to be an attempt to demystify the lyrics, maybe Wire's past-affirmed "attempt at mass communication." And so alongside the possible survivor-guilt of 'Walk Me to the Bridge' and eflection of 'Between the Clock', there are songs about Wire's dwindling Socialist values ('Moscow') and a self-referencing of the band's more notorious history: "so you played in Cuba did you like it brother? / I bet you felt proud, you silly little f*cker."

My overriding impression of this album however is one of generosity. There are songs loosely about the band and its primary lyricist, but these seem small ingredients alongside the wealth of ideas, the inclusion of fellow Welsh vocalists Georgia Ruth and Green Gartside (duets being another element shared with Futurology), and the impressive soundscape from Bradfield and Moore - hinted at in the previous album's closer, but fully formed here. It echoes not only the Krautrock of Can, Neu and Kraftwerk ('Black Square', to my ears, and also 'Misguided Missile'), but more domestic influences - PiL, Simple Minds, a dash of The Skids. I don't think manics have ever not worn their influences on their sleeves, but here the influences seem broader and more accommodating. And I'm very happy to have it in my collection.

Cover story: It's allegedly a good sign because the band logo and lettering has the reversed letters back! fans would therefore expect a call-back to similarly-typed albums The Holy Bible, Send Away the Tigers and Journal for Plague Lovers, and, perhaps third album excepted, it's not a bad comparison. The photo: a blonde fraulein standing on a block of ice in brittle, beautiful midwinter sunlight. Gorgeous. And futurist Berlin architecture forms the backdrop to the band portraits inside. Job done.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Friday Night Local: David Kilgour - 'You Forget' (1992)

Ah, summer’s lease is nearly at an end here in New Zealand, and already with the mornings growing darker and the breeze cooling by the day the early sun-bleached weeks of 2015 are becoming a memory. We’ve not had a lot of rainfall over the country – worryingly little, in fact, with several areas including North Otago and South Canterbury (locations of the Simian ancestral pile) declared drought zones – so the image of your New Zealand summer and its blue sparkling waters and blessed friendly sun seem a little far removed at present. Let’s get them back for a bit – all the way from 1992.

David Kilgour’s solo debut was an album remarkable for its lateness. For the best part of the previous decade Kilgour had spent his career alternately providing signature riffs and hooks for The Clean, The Great Unwashed and latterly his own trio Stephen. By the late 80s he was a quiet member of the alternative music establishment, while the reunion and resurgence of The Clean with brother Hamish and Robert Scott providing a new lease of life and to my generation of students at least, a new generation audience. When it arrived Here Come the Cars with its faux-Dylan cover portrait was like the proverbial beam of golden sun, jangly, poppy, melodic and upbeat.

David Kilgour’s part in The Clean was always the most significant to me, his guitar riding over sometimes weedy vocals or leaden one-two drum falls, the eccentric dancer in a very Dunedin drunken reel. I adore the Clean, but Kilgour’s solo showing in Cars, as well as the likes of Sugarmouth and The Far Now broaden his talents even farther, with some lovely piano and sensitive production pushing his more melodic songs further forward. For a while it seemed Flying Nun finally had its first real solo star, and 'You Forget' is probably when Kilgour shone brightest. It's one of my favourite summer songs, from one of my favourite guitarists, and it takes me immediately back to the summer of 1992 and 1993, which was a very good summer indeed.

Here he is, with surfer car, a sparkling Auckland Harbour and Rangitoto, and an enviable collection of colourful footwear, to send summer on its way.

'This side of the truth where no sun shines'

Manic Street Preachers - 'Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers' (2002)

What to make of an album of B-sides? What to make of an album of cover versions? Can you tell much about an artist or a band from either? Of course you can; whole careers have been jeopardised on cover albums alone (*cough!DuranDurancough!*), but B-Sides are quite a different kettle of fish.
There exist some bands for whom the B-Side is a serious attraction. If an act is large or popular enough, fans will follow them to the ends of all second-tier 45 fillers, but for the most part, it seems to me the best-regarded B-Sides come from bands who simply haven't treated their non-A-Side works as lesser cast-offs. The Smiths, for example, command a discography in which many Bs and album tracks at east are not so much indistinguishable, but equals, and Oasis, apparently, did the business with their own collection Stop the Clocks (of which I must admit I’ve only heard one B-Side, the highly commendable 'Acquiesce'. On the other hand, from my own collections Blur and Iron Maiden are largely the less on the flip-side, while The Darkness vary depending on how silly they felt on the day of recording. It’s a broad church.

Lipstick Traces, a Secret History of Manic Street Preachers attempts to have a go at both tacks, presenting two discs of B-sides, one entirely original compositions and one entirely cover versions. It’s a lot of songs – long enough to rival National Treasures, and at $6.00 (I think) from our local JB Hi-Fi I definitely felt I was getting more than my money’s worth.

The original songs are pretty well chosen, though omit some fan favourites such as Are Mothers Saints. Nevertheless the spread of singles and years presented here offers as much a potted history of the band as this set’s contemporary best of. Here’s 'Desolation Alley' from the Manics’ very early days, through to the titular 'Forever Delayed' (oddly left off the Best Of that bears its name – I find it more interesting and engaging than 'Door to the River') and This Is My Truth drop-out 'Prologue to History', perhaps the best B-Side of the band in its second generation. Certainly, the first half of this disc is well worth your time, with some great variety of style and composition thrown in.

Highlights are many – the aforementioned tracks of course, plus would-be Judge Dredd track 'Judge Yrself', the Radiohead-esque 'Donkeys' and rabble rouser 'Socialist Serenade'. For the expected Richey tribute track there’s 'Sepia', another sound piece. What comes out of this collection is not so much a secret history as an alternative history of Manic Street Preachers; indicative of the band in its various guises, but arranged in such a way as to keep you guessing what might be around the corner next. Fans would (and did) complain that there’s a lot left off this anthology, and perhaps the missing tracks and remixes will be visited in time by the band or label, but in the mean-time this is tidy, still luxurious in length, and varied enough to not get samey.

And so to the covers. This blog has already nodded in the direction of Manics covers a couple of times (here and here and also here), so we’re traversing familiar territory. But something should be said of the choice of covers here – from the obvious early influences (The Clash’s 'Train in Vain', GnR’s 'It’s So Easy') to the more obscure, like Campervan Beethoven and, yes, Mike Batt/Art Garfunkel. That the likes of Strummer and Slash speak across both discs though cover and pastiche is one thing, but adding the likes of Bacharach and Linden ('Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head') to that list – informing to my ears original B-Sides like the lovely instrumental 'Horses Under Starlight', says to me that these are genuine influences, and not throwaway dress-ups. There’s a bawling enthusiasm in 'Rock and Roll Music', and even 'Can’t Take My Eyes Off You' that would surely beckon audience participation, and may well speak for their origins here as set-fillers . More recently Manics have covered contemporary songs with a straight face, giving their own interpretation to the likes of Rihanna’s 'Umbrella', while on here there’s a similar gravity to an old Robeson standard:

So on reflection it’s an interesting set of cover versions, and in places a strong one. Worthwhile, even.

As mentioned above, there’s easily space for a Lipstick Traces vol 2, though I suspect this will be more in the hands of fans than the group itself, and fair enough. For the most part, such histories are an intimate thing, a matter between artist and enthusiast, and something removed from the initiation of a singles collection. This is a set I visit infrequently, and only once entirely in one sitting, but on pretty much every hearing there’s been a new discovery, and that’s no bad thing at all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

There's Nothing Like a Dane, etc.

Here it is, Barbarian, from The Darkness' forthcoming Last of Our Kind, due late May/early June.

As if I didn't already have one album to look forward to this year.

Truly, if this had been around twenty two years ago, Anglo-Saxon history might have been an entirely different prospect for me.