Friday, 8 February 2013

This is the new record by

There was a chance twitter feed – a facebook post – and suddenly there was a new album – new sounds from the past. Existing out there in spite of the industry - maaaan. A rush and a push and the songs are ours – they just threw them up on the net. This is not how things used to be done. The times they are a changin’. Everyone has gone a little Bowie – a touch Radiohead.

You used to have to live with the anticipation of something emerging – hints that the band were recording – that they’d played a new song live in someplace in Norfolk. You might find a bootleg cassette at a record fair in Doncaster with the track listing saying ‘New One’ on it. Could this be on the new album – would it sound like it did on the tape – would the lyrics have changed?

I saw The Smiths in 1985 – in Scotland – a short tour of the isles – an intimate thing before the onset of superstardom – if you count getting to number 14 a blast of the big time (mind you  - you did have to sell more records then – to be in the charts) and they played Frankly Mr Shankly and Bigmouth Strikes Again – two new ones – real things played for our very ears. A glimpse of something fresh coming our way. It made the wait that much harder – us – that is my Scottish counterparts and I knew that The Queen is Dead would already have two wonderfully lyrical ditties that we could fail our arms and look effete to. What I’m getting at is that the wait and anticipation of the ‘next’ album was both exhilarating and frightening.

Or seeing Smile performed by Brian Wilson in the Royal Festival Hall. These familiar songs all fitting into place as Wilson let us all share in his vision – his sound and vision. It wasn’t released at that point – it was bootlegged and shared and discussed and whispered about  - this long lost long player – and now we we’re hearing it. And we knew it would be released. It built the anticipation. It filled the waking hours. Okay – not quite – I had a newly born beauty at that time and she was taking up most of my thoughts – they tend to take most of them these days too. I do remember buying SMiLe though – I was so worried that the local shops wouldn’t be stocking it (this is in London mind) that i left work – boarded a train to the centre of the city and purchased my copy in HMV on Oxford Street and then zoomed home – to the loft to listen and feel the psychedelia (do you get me?)

Our two bit rock n roll band once played some merry dates with Primal Scream and I remember Gillespie playing Automatic by the JAMC over the PA – it was just out and he was digging it. This new record (well cassette) in his hands. Was it living up to expectations? In Bobby’s eyes you could tell he was happy – you could tell that this third record by his friends was a beauty – full of scowl and growl – tight drums and loud guitars. There’s something beautiful and tangible in a new release – a new record by.

In some ways I’ve known this record was coming for years – we knew Kevin hadn’t given up on music – on sonic experimentation – on turning his amp on and making a racket. No he’d continued that trend since the inevitable collapse/ demise/ retirement of My Bloody Valentine in the early 1990s. There where snippets and gossip – map references that led us nowhere. So Sugar given away with a magazine was a song buried in layers of dirt with squirming guitars and rolling electronic drums – a continuation but a difference. Then suddenly nothing. Rumours on pages and casual conversations that heralded Shields as the new Lee Mavers – obsessed by ancient equipment and elusive sounds that couldn’t be drawn from his head to his strings – from his hands to his amps. It was as if we forgot that Belinda, Colm and Debbie also played a part – they have ideas too. So over the years Shields became this revered thing of sonic manipulation of playing with the very foundations of pop music. Ephemeral and concrete – loud and soft – right there with you but dancing in the distance. I have downloads and bits from ballets and outtakes but what I didn’t have until Saturday was the new record by My Bloody Valentine.  There was a fading hope that there would never be a new record by My Bloody Valentine – but here it is.

And already there’s disappointment floating and filling cyberspace – oh if only it had been more like this – or I think it should have pushed the boundaries more. You know as if the valentines were a contrived thing like Sigue Sigue Sputnik – out to unite the pointless and facile. They weren’t making music that they considered new and dangerous they just happened to forge out this sound – you could see it building from This is your Bloody Valentine – it’s already there – visceral, pounding and in your face. They are a band who make music. Some of it sounds similar. Christ, The Beach Boys put out an album last year – it kind of had harmonies and eulogies to God on – maaan that’s so 67 – soooooo Petttt Sounnnds. It was bound to be. And this is My Bloody Valentine – the guitars take off like aircraft and shimmer like the heat on the pavement – they are loud and the words are not clear. What did you want a fucking U2 meets Radiohead type of vibe?

It’s music – and it’s very good music too. M B V is a wonderful modern album – an extension of and looking back at the past. Why? Because it was always going to be like that. And I’m alright with that. I do think the sound has changed though – it sounds more live in its feel. Guitars are scratched and strummed – they feedback and jar at times. Nearly drag the song to a standstill. They sit on top of the mix – they are instruments in themselves – not the wash and blur of Loveless. It feels a little hurried – which is ironic – you know twenty years in the waiting all that. Perhaps it is the download copy I have - but the songs stop and start – they explode into sound whereas Loveless just felt like it floated along – these songs were there to breathed.

But it isn’t Loveless – and that’s fine.

I’ve already found myself singing along with the opening tune – making up sounds like a male Liz Frazer to fill my lack of real words. It takes off from where Loveless ended – it skips around the houses – pops to the shops and ends back where it started – with flanged double speed breaks and stuttering guitars.

There’s always been a beauty in the noise that the Valentines create, something aching at the heart of it. And it’s there tucked inside every tune – a fragility covered in bombast – as guitars breakdown and seek therapy. This post shoegaze psychedelic melee – this unique sound of a band as an army – taking down the enemy through sonic prowess. I fucking love ‘em. Once again I trawled the comments and barbed quotes about waiting 20 years to post a review because that’s how long it took to release the album and someone on The Guardian debating whether Throbbing Gristle were the real experimentalists – of course they were – but we’re not all listening to them on a regular basis. They hurt your ears. Someone even managed to get into a spat about whether Ned’s Atomic Dustbin really had pushed the boundaries in the 1990s rather than My Bloody Valentine. There was no irony – or a knowing wink – it was all genuine.

The thing is – Shields and co have released a beautiful noise ridden long player – it isn’t polished – it is neither contemporary nor rooted in the past  - bar those early 90s drum and bass riddim breaks. It sounds like the valentines – it has new songs on it. Brian had to follow Smile – Jonny Carson on Fifteen Big Ones was not a step forward – so why are we wanting and expecting more from this? In some ways I wish there was more of the ambient textures of Loveless – that unif(r)ied sound that captured waking in a dream. I used to listen to the Tremolo EP at New Cross Station – up for work and travelling to Euston - on a cassette player from Boots – kind of a walkman – but you could record with it – and those songs used to merge with the outside world – sounds swapped over – cars, birds, trains and announcements, conversations and shouts, bleeps from ticket machines and the very thoughts inside my head mixing in the spaces and shapes that they created. I used to drift to work.

So here drums are buried and sounds layered – except this time you can seem to tell when Belinda’s axe is riding over Kevin’s – this is a guitar band writ large. There’s the sound of computerized bass – but with added feeling – and tremolo guitars in a song like ‘new you’. Or synthesised organs, like a futuristic ‘Meant for You’ and heartfelt honesty in ‘if this and yes’. Then grinding repetitive posturing in ‘nothing is’. It’s like Panda Bear got angry. If you understand what I mean.

This is the new record by My Bloody Valentine. I like the new record by My Bloody Valentine. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

I liked The Cult as a teenager

The transition from juniors to secondary school has faded somewhat from my mind. I can’t remember whether I was full of fear or excitement. It was just another school – you know just another brick in the wall and all that. Blazers, ties and band allegiances – I’d cultivated that at an early age. That’s probably why I can’t quite remember the feelings – blotted them out with Shakin’ Stevens and the Sex Pistols. We used to have school discos in the main hall at my juniors – at lunch times – you could bring your own records – I would follow ‘Hot Dog’ with ‘Friggin’ in the Riggin’ – I was a shock jock then.

I’ve always been eclectic maaaaannnnn.

I arrived in secondary school clutching on to the late 1970s – early eighties rock n roll revival. Not quiffed yet – that would come two years later with The Smiths and awkward moments on the dance floor – or should I say cringe worthy moments. The thing is – I like dancing – we want to dance and have some fun – but I must have spent a fair part of my youth with arms flailing and fringe swinging. It used to make the girls go giddy - well actually – it didn’t – that’s artistic licence for you – I could say that it did and you’d just have to believe me. Still I’ll write about the dance floor again another day. This is about the switching and changing of musical taste of hearing something new and embracing it – which you’re ripe to at that early age – sponge like and not set in our ways. Saying that – I wasn’t open to it all – this whole thing is a ball of contradictions – it preaches have a listen and then puts the boot in too.

I’ve always been like that you know. Contradictory and opinionated. You could say I’m not that easy to get along with. The family recognise it – my friends recognise it – I care not to and blindly carry on doing it. Saying one thing – meaning another – tying up my tongue in frustration and incoherence.

So how is this going to get to talking ‘bout (love) Ian Astbury and Billy Duffy – this chief and warrior union through glam goth rock and the stomp of something rocking? I had a cousin further up north – so far in fact it’s another country – and she was a few years younger than my brother – they enjoyed the dark music – they embraced the backcombed in their lives. Now as I have previously stated – I wanted a piece of the alternative too – I once wore a ribbon in my hair in a heady tribute to Porl Thompson of The Cure (at that time) However, I’m not sure the wider general public of Port Seaton recognised the dandy in me – it was more likely that they laughed. See you – aye – see that ribbon.

So you could say I was open to suggestion at this point – it was time to move on from ‘Shirley’ and ‘Green Door’ and Matchbox weren’t cutting it anymore – I didn’t want the girl’s to cry on my shoulder. I didn’t want Jump the Broomstick – at Heslam Park Rugby Club disco – I wanted guitars, scarves, chants and emotions – I wanted an alternative. And The Cult initially filled those transient times – they weren’t The Cure – Paul (my brother) had claimed them. That sudden shifting from the Top 40 to all things independent. You know what it’s like with men – we’re just looking for a perfect list. So it seemed that the mainstream wasn’t quite cutting it for me. The arrival of the music press in the house was slowly shifting my agenda and ideology. Writing could do that then – I’m not certain that the current readers of NME (.com) ever get that feeling. I maybe wrong – but the newspapers back then had articles about music and misery, unemployment and anger coursing through those inky pages. Writers who wanted to write about music and about life. There were four page interviews – you know – lots of words and that.  Oh I know it was affected – isn’t this?

And as my cousin played me Spiritwalker and Resurrection Joe – up there in the bedroom at the top of the house  – there was something different –a kind of groove – mixed with yelps and the feeling that it was alive – I couldn’t reference The Doors then, and this in itself was a good thing – because you know how I feel about The Doors. 

I hadn’t even seen them – at this point. I don’t mean live – I just mean moving. It had been still photos and words on pages. I was reading something the other day from an American about The Smiths and there was a line that resonated with me – he said he never saw The Smiths move until 1986. This lack of internet look ups – DVD sales and promo videos – you know Derek Jarman made the first Smiths videos or should that be films and they weren’t in them – all this music coupled with all those static images – it meant you had to think what they would look like moving – grooving – playing and dancing – even just walking.

Nothing could have prepared you for Ian Astbury – this hip (shaking) shaman – this screamer and bawler in leggings and leather – feathers and fur. He was cartoon like in state – larger than life – and the songs referenced tribal gatherings and dream walking and all that spiritual shit. Beside him quiffed and ready for action – Duffy heading up the troops – all blonde hair and low action.  But I fell for it – I liked the fact that Resurrection Joe was eight minutes long – it wasn’t digitally produced – it was flawed – in production and composition. You don’t come out fully formed – you kind of grow into it – and boy would The Cult grow – into a muthafucking rock stomping behemoth of a band. All hair and Gretsch White Falcons – double bass drums and Marshall stacks – by the time Love Removal Machine emerged – Astbury was inflicted with a rock tourettes all yyaoowws and yelps – screams and yeaahhhs. Sweat pouring down his made up face – more bloated than Morrison – a sort of Rob Zombie version of Mick Jagger.  He’d eventually slim on down (to the other side) and join The Doors 21st Century – life – art  - you know the saying. He made a good Morrison though – but it’s weird watching it. It’s studied – it’s knowing – it’s honest – yet it doesn’t quite feel right. Like the wig might slip.

I stuck steady with The Cult – well I was steady with the Cult from their Southern and Death incarnations – and then when She Sells Sanctuary crossed over – in appearances on TOTP and The Tube. This single line floating melody that kicked in with a bang and made all our heads turn as this band from the Midlands (with some northern parts) made a beeline for the top of the charts. Okay – it got to number 14 – but to us ‘outsiders’ looking in that was success  - that was gate crashing the party. And then came the long player – Love – I liked it – I listened to it a great deal. I was part of their cult. I was into the gatefold cover – the graphics – and the tunes. The Cult felt like a band that was mine – they weren’t overly gothic – they flirted with it – but there was a straight rock ethic flowing through it. Plus they were always brilliant - self-deprecating in their interviews – it helps to have the ability to laugh at yourself  - it’s taken me about 30 years – but I’m getting there.

And then suddenly they ‘broke’ the US – and that was that – an almighty clash of Zepp and AC/DC – they went proper raaawkkk. It didn’t scare me – just disappointed – I hung in for a while – but eventually we went our separate ways. I just happened to come across an odd glam rock version of She Sells Sanctuary that my band did years ago – in a Scunthorpe bedroom and it brought me back to the original – that first dalliance with the Cult.

It was good to be friends with them – through vinyl and reported speech. It was a decent dalliance. Cheers Ian.