Friday, July 31, 2009

Song of the day

"Hello Earth", by Kate Bush. When you hear this at its allotted place, near the end of "Hounds of Love", it doesn't particularly stand out. But when it appeared, unexpectedly, during a mix that was recently posted at, it was almost a heart-stopping moment. She is good, isn't she?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Product placement

We are grateful to our friend Colin for drawing our attention to the existence (disbelieved by us at first) of Lego kits that allow you to build your very own Guggenheim Museum and Fallingwater. We have, almost literally, a house full of Lego pieces, and we are married to an architect, so they have an obvious attraction. Nevertheless, there is something not quite right about the results, at least as depicted on the box. It may be that Lego is just not a good medium for Frank Lloyd Wright. Still, full marks to everyone involved.

On the other hand, we could easily be seen dead wearing one of these. Richard McGuire, he is the man.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Song of the day

"You Never Knew Me", by Magazine. For some time when I was sixteen, "The Correct Use Of Soap" was my favourite album, and it is a strange experience to be listening to it again after quite a long time. (Not that I haven't listened to Magazine since, but until recently "Soap" felt so ingrained in my mind that I didn't have any need to actually play it.) As a self-imagined "alienated" teenager, I was particularly struck by "You Never Knew Me" because of how far against the grain it went. There was nothing "punk" here, it was slow, gorgeous, melodic, it couldn't be any less in your face. I suspect I can now see where my love of breathy female vocals (soon to reach full bloom with songs like "I'm In Love With A German Film Star", by The Passions, and "Trees and Flowers", by Strawberry Switchblade) came from. Had there ever been girl singers of this sort, gentle, free of stance/attitude, on a post-punk record before this song? I doubt it, but I'm sure somebody will prove me wrong. Ah, Howard Devoto. Was there anything he couldn't do?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Avert your eyes, kids, it's a record review

Circumstances conspired against my catching any of the reformation gigs by the most important of eighties Australian bands, The Laughing Clowns. The offer of a ticket to the Mount Buller leg of All Tomorrow's Parties couldn't be taken up on account of my having to be back in Canberra at the very time when my proposed lift would have been driving back down the Hume towards Melbourne. Plans to attend the Basement gig in Sydney a couple of months later (which morphed into a Bad Seeds with Ed Kuepper gig, with Laughing Clowns supporting, to add insult to injury) had to be abandoned on account of a secondary school open day in Canberra that same weekend (and our application was rejected anyway, thank you very much).

So it is a genuine consolation, albeit laced with bitter disappointment at what I could have witnessed first hand, to be able to listen to "Laughing Clowns Live", the latest in the ongoing Prince Melon Bootleg Series (the shades of Dylan in that title not, presumably, being accidental). I have no idea which gig it is taken from, or if it is a hybrid, or even if an entire concert is here (set lists I have seen suggest there are a few songs missing - insert sad-face emoticon here). The editing is extremely sloppy, the sound is serviceable (I would like to be able to hear more of Jeffery Wegener working his magic), and there are a number of fluffed notes. But it's Laughing Clowns Live, circa 2009, and you can't put a price on that.

One listens to this, with one's knowledge of how the Clowns ended so acrimoniously first time around, of Ed's peripatetic but patchy (but, lest this be seen as faint praise, frequently inspired) subsequent solo career, of his ceaseless revisiting and reinventing of his songbook, and of Wegener's addiction and gradual re-emergence, and gets the sense that this is the music that Ed Kuepper was put on this planet to make, and that he has been honing his own skills this past 25 years in the hope that somehow, some day, he, Louise Elliott, and Wegener would once more command the stage.

Which, remarkably but on the other hand unsurprisingly, they do. The set opens with something called "Everything Is Not The Fault Of Minorities" (a very Laughing Clowns title, that), which comprises six minutes of Necks-style abstraction (don't forget that Chris Abrahams plays on their penultimate album, "Law Of Nature"), finally resolving into the briefest fragment of an actual song before abruptly stopping (shades of The Field, and in particular "A Paw In My Face", which turns out, after five or so minutes, to have been a heavily disguised "Hello", by, ahem, Lionel Ritchie).

Then come three shorter numbers, all cornerstones of the Clowns' back catalogue: "Come One, Come All", "Everything That Flies Is Not A Bird" and "Theme From 'Mad Flies Mad Flies'" (and with all three also appearing on "Live To Air 1982", which may yet turn out to be a recording of the only Laughing Clowns gig I ever saw, anyone with a more intimate knowledge of these songs than my own will be in trainspotter heaven). Ed's guitar seems to have thickened up considerably since the early 80s: perhaps that is just a product of technology, but the two live performances, side by side, would seem to confirm that his playing has changed. Single notes have become big chords, and that sinewy, metallic sound is gone. It suits the music. (His voice has thickened quite a bit, too, across the years.) Elliott, of course, is magisterial throughout. Wegener may not be playing quite as frenetically as before (to the extent that you can hear him) but his singular sense of rhythm and texture has lost nothing.

Not to suggest that these three songs are mere potatoes, but what follows is the real meat of the performance: a harrowing, stretched-out rendering of the most desolate, and most emotionally intense, song of the post-punk era, "Collapse Board", and yet another re-working of "Eternally Yours". ("Eternally Yours" appears on each of the Prince Melon Bootleg releases to date: one, in fact, comprises just that song, strung out over 17 minutes, with (I think) just Ed, Elliott and Wegener, somewhere in the UK in 2007, and the way Elliott is introduced makes me suspect that this may have been the first time they shared a stage since the Clowns initially fell apart, and that her appearance was possibly unexpected and/or unrehearsed: in which case, you can only think that those 17 minutes were the fuse that led to the full-blown Clowns rebirth, if that's what it is. You couldn't do what they did there and not be compelled to see what could happen next.)

"Collapse Board" has been pulled in two directions: the already slow instrumental passages are slowed down almost to the point of stasis, while the, for want of a better word, verses have been augmented by some sterling piano work. Kuepper does something almost twangy with the guitar, too, possibly recalling the unlikely but wonderful surf-rock re-working of the song ("Diving Board") that turns up on one of his instrumental albums. The crowd mistakenly thinks it is over after six minutes (Ed very politely tells them, "Wait for us, wait for us"), but Ed knows better, and it would be less than half the song if he had ended it there. Elliott proceeds to blow the living shit out of everybody in the room. Alister Spence, on piano, is clearly thinking, at least tangentially, of Chris Abrahams here, too, while in the quieter moments Wegener can be heard playing all around the song, just like the old days. The song doesn't so much end as run out of places to go.

And then there's "Eternally Yours". If anything on this record is going to run a shiver up your spine, it is this. The song doesn't reveal itself at all until a couple of mostly expressionistic minutes have passed. That sax line kicks in. Does Ed's voice almost break? I find myself welling up, whether just from the thrill of hearing this song being played by this band after this many years, or from a sense of how emotional this moment must surely have been for Ed - assuming, contrary to most impressions, that he is really just an old softy. It lasts for 13 glorious minutes. Elliott, again, leaves one speechless (and herself breathless). Unlike "Collapse Board", it gets faster as it goes on: it ends in what is more like a train wreck than the end of a song. When it ends, and Ed semi-legibly introduces the band and says "Thank you, you've been really fuckin' great", one is left wondering whether he is speaking to the audience or the band. I suspect the latter.

As an encore they do "New Bully In The Town" (one of my favourite late-period Clowns songs), in a spirit of elation. It's that kind of song. Ed's guitar and Wegener's drumming are everything, although the flute solo (!) makes me want to listen to some Jethro Tull (!), and the electric piano builds huge rectangular blocks of sound. I smile. What else can you do? It's only a record, not a physical experience, but still I am emotionally drained at the end. You can't ask for much more than that.


I am.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Song of the day - or is it?

"Mr Roboto", by Styx. Adrienne claims to remember this. I have no knowledge of it whatsoever, aside from its brief appearance in "Faraway Idol", at the end of "Shrek 2", where Pinocchio sings the "domo arigato, Mr Roboto" bit. (Interesting, but irrelevant, question: will I still go to the cinema to watch children's animated movies when the boys are too old to want to go with me? This may be put to an early test with "Coraline": I think that I would want to see it, but the short has sufficiently scared the crap out of both boys that they aren't going to be going anywhere near it.)

Anyway, the Pinocchio fragment (and there, Mr Dan Brown, is your next novel, "The Pinocchio Fragment": it's all yours, and I claim only a very modest 15 per cent) comprises a brief section roughly two-thirds of the way through the song, and bearing little connection to what is around it. Bizarrely, "Roboto" is pronounced "Robarto", presumably in the interests of rhyme (over reason).

I have no knowledge if the song was a big hit. I "found" it as part of something called "80's [sic] Giga Hits Collection" so I can only assume that it was (although my sources suggest it never got into the UK top 40 - a rare exercise of good taste by the British pop punters if true). But as a song, precisely what the fuck is it? It has no hook to speak of (outside of the "domo arigato" bit, and even that is somewhat less than catchy), no chorus, no particularly notable instrumentation. Big hair? Undoubtedly. Big eighties keyboards? Check. Trouser-hugging high male vocals? Ouch, yes. Big concept? Well, that is the nub of the problem: it is all concept. Here was a band so wrapped up with the perceived importance of what they were doing that they lost sight of what it was that they were meant to be doing. And what is with that "Kilroy" bit at the end?

It's all rather puzzling, really. A futurist manifesto masquerading as a song. And it's not even a proper song! What it puts me in mind of more than anything else is "Robots", from the first series of "Flight of the Conchords" ("Binary solo!"), except that was comedy, whereas "Mr Roboto", well, that may be comedy as well, but, judging by the earnestness on display, it would be unintentional.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happiness is ...

... when you are having a day off work, and listening to Kraftwerk's "Minimum-Maximum" live double-CD, and at the end of "The Model" two little voices from the other end of the house shout, in unison, "Play that song again!".

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Continuity error

Oh no! We have written about two songs from Darren's list before writing about the previous song on that list. As the sequencing of the list was generated at random, anyway, it hardly matters, but we are sticklers about that sort of thing, so it hurts nevertheless. What follows should go before what came before.

"Louie, Louie", by The Kingsmen, is the wellspring from which a thousand garage bands bloomed. It is the sine qua non of the three-chord wonder. It is the "Smoke On The Water" of the lank-haired slacker set. If I had ever owned a cheesy organ, those opening chords are the ones I would have been desperate to learn. It has been covered so many times that if you played them end to end you would probably die of old age before they finished. (But not of boredom: somebody on Melbourne's Three Triple-R, many years ago, devoted an entire show to this song, and it ended all too soon.) Like many of the perfect things in this world, it thrives on its simplicity. And on the fact that it was the first.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two more from Darren

Number 18: "Pyjamarama", by Roxy Music. The day I paid a ridiculous amount of money for Brian Eno's "Seven Deadly Finns" seven-inch single (without a picture sleeve), I was also on the hunt for "Pyjamarama". Same label, same format, same non-album-single aura, which, back in those pre-Internet days, more or less meant you would never get to hear it unless you had your own copy. And, obviously, the common element to both records: Eno. Anyway, I didn't find "Pyjamarama", or I would have had a difficult decision to make. The Eno song, if I am being entirely honest with myself, is not entirely indispensable, more "clever" than clever, but as an artefact the single is enhanced by its b-side, "Later On", which I have never seen mentioned anywhere, and which reduces his early work with Robert Fripp into a digestible, stars-on-45-style medley (but without the handclaps). This entirely defeats the point of the music, which depends in large part on repetition and length, but is pretty funny in its own way. "Pyjamarama", on the other hand, is a great song, perfect single material, as well as being the one Roxy Music song that actually does help to explain why Magazine got so many Roxy comparisons: if you cut it a fraction of a second before Ferry enters the song, it could easily pass for something from "Secondhand Daylight". (As, I now notice, does the hugely atmospheric b-side, "The Pride And The Pain", also a non-album track.) And, thanks to Darren's diligent fossicking, I didn't have to pick it out from the singles wall upstairs at Au Go Go Records in order to hear it.

Number 19: Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up". Which is better known amongst the younger members of our household as the source of the riff that drives "Voodoo Child", by Rogue Traders, a song that will appear later on if we persevere for long enough with this list, although its appearance may well be over Carl's dead body. Carl has a problem with "Voodoo Child". We can't exactly figure out what that problem is, except that it seems to involve the perceived appearance of a "swear". I don't think the song does contain a swear, and I suspect we are in Misheard Lyrics territory, but I can't extract from him what he thinks they are saying (I guess that is a good sign; he's a good boy). Hence, by association, he also has a problem with "Pump It Up" itself, which is a shame because, whatever your view of latter-day Elvis Costello, back in those distant days he was unsurpassable, and its parent album, "This Year's Model", is one that I would quite possibly be playing right now if only Carl would let me.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Song of the day

"Boobs A Lot", by The Fugs. From "The Fugs First Album". Not all mid-sixties post-Beat "performance art" falls into the category of "You had to be there".

"They're big and round / They're all around."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Song of the day

"You Never Know", by Wilco. On the weekend I bought the new Wilco album, "Wilco (the album)" (thanks for that). I have only just begun giving it a good listen. It hasn't grabbed me as strongly, or as early, as "Sky Blue Sky", but then the new one seems more a collection of songs as such, and so will quite possibly reveal its real strengths, the way songs do, through repetition. But I can say a couple of things. The first is that this album is, I think, the first Wilco album (at least since the first two, which I don't really know so can't really comment on) in which they don't so much change direction as consolidate recent gains. It could, on that basis, be considered as something of a let-down, but that would be unfair, and would amount to criticising Jeff Tweedy for being, for the first time in a long while, in what they call a "good place".

The second thing I could say is that I am picking up a lot of influences and/or references. As these are to a few of my favourite things, I am of necessity going to be predisposed to like what they do. The opening knees-up, "Wilco (the song)" (thanks again for that), kicks with a 70s-era platform boot. "Deeper Down" is permeated by a distinctly REM turn. Early favourite "Bull Black Nova" is almost, in its first half, an unexpected convergence between my two favourite albums of 2007, "Sky Blue Sky" and Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga". But today I want to give a shout-out to "You Never Know". There is, I suspect, a nod to Talking Heads buried in here somewhere, but more significantly this song contains so much George Harrison that you'll believe in life after death. Coming at a time when, by way of Marcello Carlin's having reached, in his run-down of UK number one albums, the Beatle Years, I have been reabsorbing myself in what made the Fab Four so marvellous and Important, a song like "You Never Know" is exactly what the doctor, unexpectedly, ordered. And I know that last sentence is a bit convoluted but, trust me, it works.

Friday, July 03, 2009


I'm glad that there exists in this world a band called The Duckworth Lewis Method. It's a pity, though, that the name doesn't belong to some ramshackle bunch of young upstarts, but just a few Old Farts At Play. Still, it's a great name, redolent as it is (when shorn of its cricketing context) of Carnaby Street circa 1966 (like I would know).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Song of the day

"Inspiration Information (Kaoru Inoue Remix Beatless)", by Spikewave. You know how it is, you wake up a bit fragile, you get to work and everything rapidly goes to hell in a handbasket, and you find yourself desperate to listen to some Manuel Gottsching. Well, I wasn't able to get my hands on any Gottsching, but this proves to be a more than adequate substitute. It floats along on its own pillow of breathless air, you can entirely lose yourself in it, and all pain is taken away, as if you had swallowed a giant, fluffy Disprin Forte. It may not extend towards infinity like, say, "E2-E4", but you can put it on repeat and bask in its golden glow for just as long as you need to.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Song of the day

"Mystery Train", by Elvis Presley. Are you meaning to tell me that this never got into the UK top 40? A remarkable failure of record company savvy, if true. Or were there copyright issues?

So, if the lineage of music-related megastardom goes, Frank Sinatra -> Elvis Presley -> Michael Jackson, and we are living in a megastar-devoid moment, who, assuming nature's usual abhorrence of vacuums, could possibly fill that hole? (And, on the evidence of the latter two, (why) would anyone want to?)