Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mind The Gap

Darren's long list of hand-picked songs has arrived at:

"Zombie", by The Cranberries.

A song from, as he well knows, my "lost decade", the 1990s, the decade in which I gave up in frustration as the good (Beat Happening) were ignored and the lesser (Nirvana) hit the big time. Also, the decade in which I found myself assuming that I was, or should have been, "growing out of" young people's music as I left my twenties behind, and that I should do the respectable thing and move to classical music and, you know, "Kind of Blue" (not to in any way diss "Kind of Blue", of course). As has since become obvious, I mis-read myself: I seem to be one of the sad minority for whom pop music runs through their veins well beyond the normal use-by date. It often seems like the only musicians I followed through the 1990s were Tom Waits and Nick Cave.

By the time I broke the back of my thirties, and started this blogging caper, I figured that there was no point in fighting against myself, and I came back to pop music. Maybe the break did me good. My listening has moved forward, into European techno, new traditionalists (M Ward, Iron & Wine) and the second wave of New Pop (Rachel Stevens, Sally Shapiro, Kathy Diamond, Robyn, etc), and backward, to the music of the seventies that I had previously summarily dismissed, cloaked as I was in my post-punk straight jacket. And there sit the nineties, unexplored and without any place in my heart. Maybe I didn't miss anything. And yet entire fields of music, much of it held up, talisman-like, by today's respected music commentators, draws a blank. Pavement. The Pixies. Throwing Muses. The Beastie Boys. Britpop of every hue. This is where Darren can perform his most important service. He knows which stones to leave unturned and which to throw through my window.

"Zombie", then, it seems to me, sits somewhere between, say, U2 in its Irishness and its anthemicness, and Nirvana in its opening guitar sludge/buzz and its quite/loud dichotomy. I don't know that I could ever grow to love a song like this, but I imagine that every day radio stations all around the world play songs many times worse.

[Editor's Note: the above narrative is not entirely free of artistic licence. In fact, by the second half of the 1990s I was alive to the possibilities of, at the very least, Tortoise, Stereolab, and Belle and Sebastian. And if it took good people like Bart to steer me on that course, I nevertheless was prepared to grab those balls and run with them.]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Song of the day

"I've Got A Plan", by My Friend The Chocolate Cake. "My Friend The Chocolate Cake" is not a good name for a band. It tells you nothing about what to expect. Maybe that was its purpose. MFTCC evolved out of Not Drowning, Waving. "Not Drowning, Waving", aside from the difficulty of having a comma in it, is a good name for a band. Easter, another (brief) NDW spin-off, I'm not so sure either way as a band name, although there was a perfectly good band (now mostly forgotten) called Christmas, and a Melbourne electronic musician called Ash Wednesday, and neither of them was crucified (sorry) for adopting the names of religious festivals in the provision of secular entertainment. MFTCC took David Bridie's vision in a different direction, from the electric, ambient washes and Australian outback evocations of NDW and the semi-prog digressive stylings of Easter, to a more grounded, domestic, earthy place, where jaunty Irish jigs and Hungarian wedding songs could rub up against quiet suburban melodramas, all centred upon Bridie's more than useful piano playing, and the strings of the very glamorous Helen Mountford and Hope Csutoros. Giving such a venture a signifying, or meaningful, or even ironically distancing name might have been asking for trouble. So, for better or worse, we were left having to say, when friends enquired who was responsible for the lovely music they were hearing, "My Friend The Chocolate Cake", and trying to suppress an involuntary cringe.

I put them on in the car this afternoon because, well, because they have fallen somewhat out of our lives in recent years, and more specifically because I have just been reading Martin Flanagan's piece in yesterday's Age about people who support the Melbourne Football Club (of whom I am one). David Bridie and Andrew Carswell, both members of MFTCC, featured in the article. I knew Bridie was a Demon supporter. It was nice to read of the two of them breaking out the footy while on tour for some kick-to-kick. It turns out that Bridie's daughter also supports the Demons, which struck me as perhaps inevitable but also a little unfair (oh, the burden of having to justify supporting not only a frequently losing team, but also one that has the vestigial reputation of being the silvertails' team of choice - when they are not off skiing or down on The Peninsula).

Martin Flanagan is one of the great sports writers, because, like other great sports writers (A J Liebling, Roger Angell, Garrie Hutchinson, Brent Crosswell, Gideon Haigh, John Harms), he sees the larger-than-life narratives, and the poetry, that permeate sport without losing sight of the fact that it is, after all, just a game, and thus his sights are frequently aimed beyond the boundary fence. That he will be following Melbourne this season, as he did the Western Bulldogs a couple of years ago, is one of the few bits of good news to have fallen from the pages of a newspaper in recent months.

Anyway, back to "I've Got A Plan": I should be more careful, in my fragile middle-aged emotional state, listening to music that has deep personal resonance, especially something I haven't listened to for some years, while in charge of an automobile. That's all I’m going to say.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

John Zorn's Filmworks - The Overload?

I have, as you know, been chronologically cycling through the possibly endless series of John Zorn "Filmworks" releases. I should say that, just as there are many John Zorn recordings that I will gladly listen to a hundred times or more, there are also quite a few that, having listened to them once, I never want to see, or hear, again. (My list will differ from yours.) "Filmworks XVI: Workingman's Death" falls squarely in the latter category. If ever a soundtrack recording needed the visuals that go with it, this is it.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Darren's list: "Smoke on the Water", by Deep Purple

Is there anybody alive who doesn't know this song? Is there anybody whose body doesn't respond to its opening (and only) guitar riff with a wave of primal air-guitar action? Nobody in our house, anyway. Jules learnt the fife at school last year, and once he had figured out how to extract sound from that infernal instrument, you can guess what the first song he taught himself was. (It doesn't have quite the same grunt on the fife as it does when Deep Purple play it, but all the same it gets my (hypothetical) long hair flying.) (He moved on to "School's Out" and "Funky Town". Well, you would, wouldn't you.)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Catch of the day

I thought I had seen the catch of the season a couple of nights earlier, with Mike Hussey's stunning one-armed grab in between showers at the Gabba. But that was before Adam Voges's extraordinary performance last night. Degree of difficulty? Off the scale. Presence of mind? Don't even think about it. Watch the clip before Nine has it removed.

Monday, February 09, 2009


As once and future Victorians, we share the shock and disbelief of many about the terrible bushfires that devastated much of that State on Saturday. We can't yet be certain that we don't know anybody who has been directly affected by the fires (although at this stage we are quietly hopeful that we don't) but it is highly likely that many of our friends and relatives will either know, or know of, somebody who was, and our thoughts are with you all.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Things I Learnt Today

Catching up (slowly) on Tom Ewing's admirable Popular, and in particular the fascinating comments threads that append each entry. (If you want an example of the Internet hive-mind operating at its fullest potential, this is surely it.)

Tom has motored along to 1981, but I am still reading my way through 1975. And, in particular, the entry relating to 10CC's "I'm Not In Love". There I discovered two things relating to 70s popsters Fox:

1. Noosha Fox, the band's singer and focal point, had a previous life as an Australian folk singer, real name Susan Traynor.

2. The backing band was basically the same band that later, as Yellow Dog, had a big hit, in Australia at least, called "Just One More Night".

This latter is the type of factoid that gets me all hot and bothered (erm, any mention of Noosha Fox does that, actually). I was, and still am, in love with Fox's big single, "S-s-s-single Bed" (although as a naive youngster I had no idea what the song was really about). I was also, as a 13- or 14-year-old, hugely in love with "Just One More Night" (subtext, or text really, again, totally beyond me). I thought the spoken-word bits, especially right at the end where the singer phones in yet more pleading and whining, were the funniest thing ever committed to record. Listening to the song again today (thanks, Darren) I can see how wrong I was. But you can see how humour can work across generations: Jules was listening in, and also found much to laugh at.

(And as a further aside, in 1974 Ray Stevens had a big hit with "The Streak", which, similarly, my friend Weary and I were frequently in stitches while listening to, or singing, in the school ground. It, too, has been exposed by the passage of time as a terrible, terrible song, and yet since its recent discovery by our boys it has been on unpleasantly high rotation. "I said, 'Don't look, Ethel', but it was too late." Oh ho ho.)

(Actually, the first time I went to a day of Test cricket was with Weary and his mum, at the time when the streaking thing was first happening. We were less interested in watching the cricket than in trying to be the closest to the binoculars in case some drunken naked reprobate made a dash for the central playing area. It didn't happen.)

"Ah ca-a-ant ha-ardly sta-and it"

R.I.P Lux Interior.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

More Maira

Here you will find a lovely downward-scrolling report, by Maira Kalman, of the Inauguration. We love Maira Kalman at our house, from the "Max" series of children's books to "The Principle of Uncertainty", which I gave Adrienne for her birthday last year. She draws beautiful pictures, which she combines with a gently askance (or do I just mean side-on?) view of the world and everything in it.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A few (too many) words about "Adventure", by Television

There is a lot of talk (I have done some of it myself) about the idea of the "difficult" third album. You throw everything you have into your first album; everything else goes into the second. By then you become identified, most likely, as having a definable "sound". You have run out of songs. You might feel trapped in your perceived "identity". What do you do? You might do more of the same, and get canned. (The Ramones, you might say, did this ad infinitum.) You might crash through the walls of the box in which you have found yourself, successfully ("London Calling", "The Correct Use of Soap") or not (Franz Ferdinand, or not, depending on who you are reading, and I haven't heard either of their second or third albums and don't really care either way).

But what about the difficult second album? The story here is that you have five years in which to make your first album and six months to make your second. (This is no longer true; the modern dynamic, if anything, is more like you have six months to make your first album and a couple of years to make your second.) How your second album lasts, in the long term, really depends on where your career goes from there. To use the first two examples above, "London Calling" followed the disappointment of "Give 'Em Enough Rope", which remains more or less lost between the twin towers of the self-titled first album and "London Calling". Contrast with Gang of Four, whose first album was an inspiration, for me at least, whereas I don't know anyone who would cross the room to listen to "Solid Gold", largely, I suspect, because their career then went nowhere, or nowhere interesting, so there isn't much of a gap to fill.

In the case of Magazine, and I would throw in with them also Echo & The Bunnymen, their first albums were such a blast that for each of them the follow-up had to be a disappointment. And, for me, both were. But they sit so centrally inside a solid body of work (the former, for me, more so than the latter) that they remain intriguing, and I keep coming back to them from time to time, looking for the secret key with which to unlock their mysteries.

Which brings me, longwindedly and largely irrelevantly, to "Adventure", the second, and final (for so many years, anyway, that the much later self-titled third album forms its own continuum), album by Television. It, too, suffered under the oppressive weight of what came before. Television's first album, "Marquee Moon", is regarded, by me and by many other people, including many Actual Serious Music Critics, as one of the finest rock records ever made. Its title track is simply untouchable. Television had been around a long time, were roughly contemporaneous with, but were singularly not, punk. They looked cool. They hung with Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. They had to release a second album, and it fell flat. It is difficult to know what happened. All the ingredients are there. Maybe if it had been released by anybody else it would have been hailed. But it was by Television, and as such it had to be compared with its predecessor. And in every respect it fell short, and I have recently established that such is still the case 31 years later. The red colour scheme isn't quite as good as the black (although the red vinyl out of which my copy is made is rather sharp). The Mapplethorpe photo is not quite as talismanic as the one on "Marquee Moon". The songs, in favouring simplicity over the former's complexity, come across as not quite as good. The intertwined guitars of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, likewise, are not quite as good. Heck, even its "Marquee Moon" ("Ain't That Nothin'") is no "Marquee Moon".

Thus, it is a record that will always live in the shadow of its big brother. Nevertheless, I am happy to have found a used copy of the CD reissue, because "Marquee Moon" and "Adventure" deserve to sit together on any self-respecting record shelf, as they have done for many years at our house, down where the vinyl goes. It just won't get pulled out as often.