Thursday, 24 September 2015

The CARPENTERS: Only Yesterday: Richard & Karen Carpenter's Greatest Hits




(#406; 7 April 1990, 2 weeks; 28 April 1990, 5 weeks)

Track listing:  Yesterday Once More/Superstar/Rainy Days And Mondays/Top Of The World/Ticket To Ride/Goodbye To Love/This Masquerade/Hurting Each Other/Solitaire/We've Only Just Begun/Those Good Old Dreams/I Won't Last A Day Without You/Touch Me When We're Dancing/Jambalaya (On The Bayou)/For All We Know/All You Get From Love Is A Love Song/(They Long To Be) Close To You/Only Yesterday/Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem Of World Contact Day)

As the new decade finds its feet,  no one seems to be sure what to think or where to go.  Popular music seems to be a pull between the old and the new, and as you can see, the old has been winning out lately.  There was nothing past 1984 on the previous album, and there is nothing past 1981 on this one.  It seems as if the 1980s themselves are slowly but surely being erased, that they are too terrible to contemplate, too close.  And so nostalgia beckons, and most of the spring - a time of hope and renewal - is marked here by music that is from the past.  Why is this?

It is easy enough to say that again - as with Karen Carpenter fan Gloria Estefan - it's the women who bought this en masse, or it was advertised on television, etc.  But for seven weeks?  That's amazing, but also kind of frightening, mainly for how The Carpenters stand for something that people can still get nostalgic for - a woman in a dress standing and singing a ballad.  But Richard and Karen, Yankees transplanted to Southern California at a young age, were not ever that simple.

For one thing, Karen plays the drums and sings;* I don't drum myself, but I can imagine that doing both is tough, but rewarding.  (I tend to think of drummers as the ones who really get lost in music, as the beat is so essential that they become the music while it's playing; and drummers are ones who make noise, who can be rebellious, who like a fight.)  Richard, on the other hand, is the studio whiz, the arranger, the one who wants to make everything perfect on all accounts, and that kind of Wilsonian mania is great for anecdotes, but not so much for living a normal life.  Richard wanted to be a musician when he was 12, and younger sister Karen wanted to drum, only coming to singing later on.  Late 60s Los Angeles was their context, a time of jazz/rock and Frank Zappa as much as the complex harmonies of The Association and The Turtles (with the British Invasion/Motown there as the music of their youth, as with all Baby Boomers).

I don't know how much of all this was part of the nostalgia for The Carpenters at this time - very little, I'd guess.  Because the painful memory of Karen Carpenter's death lingered on for years with women; the shock of it (though she had been underweight for some time) was intense, even if you didn't particularly care for The Carpenters' music per se.**  And so this album, buying it, is a long-delayed act of mourning.  32 is no age for death; anorexia nervosa is no way to go.  Maybe the women (and men - I don't want to generalize here too much!) remembered how lively and delicate/tough she was, singing and playing, using her whole body to make music.  (This, on the cusp of Riot Grrl, of the decade that saw the rise of so many girls and women making their own noise.)

This is what I would like to think; but of course it could just be  this was indeed a direct link to the past, right back (as with the previous album) to 1969, an anchor year for a whole generation.  Something ended there, something started there, and once again, the story unfolds...

And of course it begins with "Yesterday Once More" - a song about music from the past and being able to go back.  The music industry banks very hard on the public's too-easily-won tendency to, when nothing seems to be happening, go backwards.  Radio stations which dwell in the past will always be around, people will always sing along to them.  To fix time?  To erase the present?  To make something old new again?  The trick is to do the latter, but the line of least resistance brings the music back as sheer pleasure, almost a kind of drug.  Things, people can fade, but the music is still there. (This version, by the way, is the single edit, not the full version with the medley.)   

"Superstar" is also about listening to the radio and hearing a certain song, a certain guitar - and the joy here is mixed with pain (Karen's voice suggests both) - this is what happens when you really get involved in music, with a musician.  The music is live, the guitarist is real, there is an affair, and then distance.  How weak it seems, just hearing the song on the radio as opposed to in person, how tiny the guitarist is, how big the music is.  It is a song that goes beyond a crush, and when Karen sings "I really do" at the end, vowing her love to the guitarist, to music itself, it's almost too damn much to bear.  Having a song that you share with your Other is one thing, but what if your Other wrote the song?  It practically becomes part of your body, I imagine.  And it is always there, even if the Other plainly isn't.

"Rainy Days And Mondays" is a lovely song about being in the dumps and not being able to do anything about it.  Notice how she's complaining, sure, but it's not like she's Morrissey and has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Karen accepts her sadness (she inhabits her songs; she may not have written them but she makes them her own) and frowns and looks at the calendar - yep, it's to be expected.

"Top Of The World" is a weird song.  I mean, it's nice to hear Karen and Richard (he does come in on harmony vocals at times) all happy, but how can anyone actually look "down on Creation"? There's being exalted in love, and there's hovering over the surface of the Earth itself, like you're an astronaut.  How powerful a feeling is that?  How light, how buoyant, how unreal must the narrator be? The surprise in Karen's voice is real, but the easygoing country feel of the song makes it surreal, brings back the kind of dreamy mellow optimism of the US in the early 70s - all that weirdness is over, the music says.  (No wonder The Carpenters were asked to perform at the White House.)

"Ticket To Ride" is quite something - the song is slowed down, both of them sing, and the gorgeousness is almost - almost - decadent.  She has been abandoned, sure, but the feeling here is not one of agony, as Lennon wrote it and sang it.  That has been replaced by the complete elegance and beauty of the song itself - this is the literal act of hiding inside a song to shield yourself from the meaning of it.  It's not so much as a direct homage but an act of love.  And it was recorded just four years after the original version, showing what a huge leap there was between the mid and late 60s.

"Goodbye To Love" is a song that seems to come at the end of the universe.  Life is mysterious; love is even more mysterious; nothing can be done about either, hence the smile in Karen's hopelessness.  Maybe one day things will change?  Hm.  Maybe.  The rocking guitar solo shows her real agony, her real anger, that things have come to such an unpretty pass.  The aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH wall of harmonies at the end does the same - this is the kind of song the generation to come, Generation X, will claim as their own - the complexity here is theirs, right down to the need to take control of love, as if that could be done.

"This Masquerade" is very jazzy, very cool (Karen's earliest influences as a singer were Ella Fitzgerald, Mary Ford and Dusty Springfield) and she sounds right at home here, even though the song is about deception.  Are they happy?  Not really, but like automatons (is it just me, or is there something kind of unreal about The Carpenters?) they just keep going, unable to find the words, maybe unable to speak altogether.  Together alone, lonely together, alienated as hell but unwilling to part.  Karen sings it as if it's sad and delicious and slightly sensuous...

"Hurting Each Other" is not a song I had heard before, and I was immediately reminded of Scott Walker (so much of the orchestration here is like his Stretch period, in a way), only to find The Walker Brothers had recorded this!  Well of course - it is big and dramatic and foursquare and responsible.  They are so good together, why are they suffering like this?  It is damn refreshing to hear Karen sing about wanting to stop being miserable, to stop this self-destructive behavior.  What with Karen's weight problems and Richard's insomnia and subsequent addictions, well, you know.  So many times musicians predict things in their songs, though whether these are self-fulfilling prophecies, I don't know.  Irony kind of breaks down with these two.    
"Solitaire" is a huge song, one of a man who has deliberately turned his back on everything, on all others, on love itself.  (Sigh, so many songs here about being alone, voluntarily mostly, or being in a state that is just as good as being alone, if not worse.)  But what's this?  He loses his love because he's...indifferent?  WHAT?? No wonder Karen sounds, quite frankly, a bit angry here.  This is a man who lost his love due to his silence, and she sees him and his little hopes and his bossy ways and how he pretends he'll never love again and scorns his suffering.  Oh, she seems to be saying, I feel compassion for you, but not forgiveness.  You could love again if you opened yourself up and really felt something, yes it hurts but without that actual grief, nothing is possible.

I mean, look at the couple in "We've Only Just Begun"!  They are happy, optimistic, content.  The world is theirs, and if there is fragility in the song - melodically, not just in Karen's voice - it's that this won't last.  The moments have to be seized, that place where there's room to grow isn't going to appear soon, but if they keep going, it will.  This is the smiley face button with a tear in its eye, naive but knowing, fresh and self-aware.

"Those Good Old Dreams" is about love, about fantasies that come true; once again in the beginning she is a child (as she is in "Yesterday Once More") and is a daydreamer.  Well, now she is grown up, singing a mild song - happy, but less perky than "Top Of The World."  From 1981, and sounds as if it could be 1975, really.  You'd never know Karen made a disco record hearing this (one that her label refused to release, and only saw the light of day in 1996).  Her voice sounds a bit rough here, deeper somehow....

I'll be getting to their version of "Please Mr. Postman" on Music Sounds Better With Two, but once again here she is being patient, waiting and waiting....

"I Won't Last A Day Without You" is about being in love, but about disappointment too - the world is cold and mean, and her Other is the only thing that can make her smile.  It's "nice to know" the Other is there, but how huge is this dependence?  "Touch me and I end up singing" she says, as if the Other is actually Music itself.  "I can take all the madness the world has to give" she sings, and that is also huge.  How could anyone hear this as easy listening?

"Touch Me When We're Dancing" is yacht rock, all swishing strings and romance, stolen kisses and "you've got me up so high I could fly coast to coast."  Again, there is a breezy sense of joy here (and the obligatory 80s saxophone solo) and how weird is it to say you want to be "touched" when you are dancing?  Unless this is more suggestive than it first seems?  And how eerie is it to hear her sing in 1981 about feeling light?

"Jambalaya (On The Bayou)" has always seemed like an odd song for The Carpenters to cover, unless they really liked Hank Williams.  Too neat, too sweet (do I hear a flute solo?), it's just...nice.

"For All We Know" is from the movie Lovers And Other Strangers***.  It is joyful and sad and "love may grow...for all we know" is the killer lyric here.  The two are strangers "in many ways" - but as they get to know each other, they will become closer.  Or will they?  The music here is ambiguous, but hopeful.  (The Carpenters were told to see this movie by their manager while waiting around in Toronto to play as the opening act for Englebert Humperdinck, enjoyed it, and as soon as they got back home recorded the song; it's not in the movie as such.)

"All You Get From Love Is A Love Song" is such a meta title, and once again we are in yacht rock - "love was washed away" and it's a "dirty old shame" that her love is over.  "The future lies before me - I cannot see" is the abyss of the song.  This seems to be some kind of sequel to "Superstar" as she is the one who broken his heart, and he is going to write a love song about it, because "the best love songs" are written by someone who is broken hearted.  Well no wonder she sounds smug!  Oh poor songwriter, how do you like things now?  Sure, my future is over, she is crying and cannot appreciate the sunrise, but all you, musician, get is a song.  That's nothing to be too happy about, compared to being in a relationship is it?

Is it?

"Close To You" is one of those songs that suggests romantic adoration that is kind of crazy, but then lovers can be a bit crazy, and it's Bacharach and David, so it sounds magical, and Karen is soft and the whole thing is like being hugged the whole way through.  It's a song with real jazz changes (as easy-going as it sounds) and it was covered with tremendous verve by Errol Garner on his album The Magician in 1974; the pastel teddy bear waaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhh of The Carpenters is replaced by a full-on rainbow of joy.

"Only Yesterday" is about loneliness - "in my own time nobody knew the pain I was going through" stings here, for certain.  The morning light she can't see once she's dumped her musician comes back - "maybe things will be all right."  The same guitarist from "Goodbye To Love" is here, now that she is happy, at home in his arms..."the best is about to be."  And his love is making her feel "as free as a song, singing forever."  In all this narrative, has she now found happiness?  This song is too tentative for that conclusion, but it's a kind of girl group song, one where hope beats experience yet again, where long-term contentment may be possible, even... 

And then there's "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" which is Canadian weirdness and a sure sign of something itching inside both Carpenters to go a bit south, if only their public would let them.  In the narrative here it's as if she's gone through all this romance only to look to the skies for a greater love, somehow.  At the time I didn't quite understand the whole Close Encounters/UFO mania of the late 70s, but here is the hapless LA radio jock and the alien, here is the magnificence of the whole universe, and Karen speaking for the Earth's citizens by saying "we are your friends."  (It also led to this weirdness, which I didn't watch but cannot help but imagine.)

And there we are, left looking into space with The Carpenters, who maybe really were the aliens who came down, did their business, and then disappeared, in Karen's case too painfully literally.  That the public wanted this more than anything as the new decade began shows how uneasy they were, how frightened - and, I would guess, how profoundly attached to their past (and therefore, youth) they were, as well.  Even if the past represents two people giving themselves to music so fully that it seems to have ruined them both for a while, that, that is what the public are happy to buy the most for weeks on end; ignoring their fates, ignoring the implications of the songs, lost in the melodies and the undeniable greatness of some of the songs and nearly all of the singing (Karen's voice does get a bit weaker by the end).  But the end result is a denial of the present, a preference for the past over the present, a paralysis that comes when the public cannot get a handle on what is happening; we are now fully in that period when everything is up in the air, and many will reach back for something, anything, rather than squarely deal with what is here, right in front of them....

...which is never a good idea, in the ocean of sound....              

Here in London, on Regent Street, not that far from Piccadilly Circus, is a literal ocean.  It is in the display window of a clothing store, a big chain, but the display isn't clothing.  It's a huge screen showing...the Pacific Ocean.  The live feed of shore at Huntington Beach, California.  It's a big screen, and it has a blue filter on it so it's all indigoes and shades of white and black, an idealized ocean.  It is by far the most beautiful advertising in London, as nothing can outdo nature, and if you're lucky you can see surfers paddling out over the waves and then surfing back, at one with the Pacific itself.

It is one thing to look at this as someone who has never actually seen the Pacific in person and regard it as nice or clever; it is something else altogether to look at it as someone who has seen the Pacific, in person, and remembers it very well.  It is like a tonic for me to see it; I claim it, without saying anything to anyone, as mine. It seems silly to claim something so huge, but that is how it feels.  Even some of the ocean, filtered and used for advertising, is enough to give me that vital connection, so truly profound that I cannot say anything when I see it, save to remark on it being there and joy at seeing someone there on the screen, paddling out, the memory of salty fresh air and the peace of such a place...

The ocean is the end of things, but the beginning as well; and the Pacific is so big that it extends right down to a place I didn't know much about in 1990 called New Zealand.   But once I heard Submarine Bells by The Chills, well....



 (Dig the drawing and autograph by Martin Phillips himself!)

It made all kinds of sense to eventually work out that their town, Dunedin, is on the Pacific - sure, it's thousands of miles away, but it's the same ocean, at least.  And the music was different from the Australian music I had already heard; I wasn't sure how, though living in a place so close to the Antarctic and so fundamentally away from everything else (Dunedin is on the southeast coast of New Zealand's South Island) I was amazed to eventually read about there being a whole scene down there.  I shouldn't have been, though; music often comes from places where there is nothing else to do, save for sport, and the small town (by American standards) of Dunedin fits this perfectly.  Martin Phillips started The Chills in 1980 as a teenager, spurred on by the DIY post-punk thing, and after lots of configurations and losses, singles and EPs and European tours...one version of The Chills came to the UK in 1987, toured around, and eventually recorded Submarine Bells.

And thank goodness they did....

Because even if this wasn't a huge album in the US or the UK, I did hear "Heavenly Pop Hit" on CFNY and it had (and has) the same effect on me as that Regent St. advertising.  The music is pure Pacific warmth and joy and welcome, that first blessed glimpse of water and sky beyond any buildings; when Phillips sings "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOO-OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" in the chorus, I know what he means.  The song is about the joy of music itself, but its bigness is due to nature, to the Otago Peninsula, to the freedom being away from it all.  Though this was recorded in the UK, Phillips' soul is in Dunedin, is there on that beach, and it is the best Beach Boys-influenced song I've ever heard.  Which is to say that though he seems to be from far away, the Pacific unites us; I felt an immediate kinship here that I can't feel with The Carpenters, who seem so closed off from the elements, so perfect; with this song I can too feel floating and happy and FREEEEEE, and after such years as '88-'89 ("we've passed through the dark and eluded the dangers") this was something I needed, and it was new....

....another thing about this song - and the album - was the open sincerity of it; it was not trying to be cool or hip.  Phillips is not assuming roles or characters in these songs; they are him, pure expressions of his heart, with no side....

...which is just as well, as the overwhelming feeling here is longing - longing for so many things, and fear as well.  This is not a good-time party album, as ecstatic as the first song is....

"Tied Up In Chain" is about neo-Nazis, about prejudice, but mostly about unthinking habit.  The "children of gloom" are ignorant and don't care, and "we feel we must be others and this is more than that/if egos are inflated they can crush a people flat"**** - I can well imagine how someone from a place so remote can feel crushed, and have sympathy for those who have been, as well.  But the roots of these chains go back through generations, so what seems simple at first to criticize widens and widens...All this over a melody that is nervous but confident, rolling and arching and then resting at the end...

"The Oncoming Day" hurls itself, rocks along, and Phillips rides it like a rollercoaster; he just about keeps up, too.  He sings to her, to the glade where they once made love, to the past; he is trying to write a song to say that he still loves and remembers her, but comes up with "nothing worth anything - nothing worth nothing - nothing left in this lump of grey" - how rare this is - "that even vaguely says I love you in a way that pleases me so I'll let the oncoming day say it for me" - this isn't so much New Pop as something else, and we are right there with the day here and the sun rising, and that is enough for him to say, to insist "no one can take your memory away from me!"  Nature itself, powerful and cyclical, is the best, the only thing big enough to represent his love, and he cannot be afraid of it, because in a way he is it.  The song finishes, but the main question of "Is sustaining past illusion just insanity?" is there.  There are fine lines between that and hanging on to the past reality, the pain of it there in the music and words...

"Part Past Part Fiction" is Phillips there in London, feeling alone, "so far from home here" - and now his wordless sounds are of sorrow, loneliness.  He hasn't meant to go away for so long, but here he is, knowing things are wrong but unable to do anything about it.  (Sigh, the guitar solo.  I mean, SIGH and AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH.)  "Where could we dwell in a past alive and well?" he sings, and then the line, the LINE: "You cannot drive and steer rear view."  That it takes an expatriate living in London to express such a fundamental truth about life - you can look backwards, but "to hide in fiction and nostalgia can be eerie" is something maybe only us expatriates can really understand.  If I feel far away from Toronto here, I can only imagine how lonely Phillips was; at least the Australian contingent of musicians could hang out together, but I sense The Chills were very much on their own....

...and in a 1990 sense, I knew mom and I were going to leave Oakville, we could not stay in a house that contained so many memories, so many things...

"Singing in My Sleep" is a drone that muses on how terrible the world is, and how his singing and music are a protest, a bulwark, against those who hate, those who are blind leading the blind, against "the pressures of musical life."  The songs fade when he wakes, but even when he is asleep he is creating music, "songs of such beauty and sadness."  These songs are of the Earth itself; once again, there is little division between him and nature...

"I Soar" is a view from high up above Dunedin (I think?  it is a steep place) that fills him with great emotion, but he is alone and has no way of expressing himself, outside of describing what he can see, flying with the wind, soaring and seeing that his family have flown away, away from the crumbling homes.  The past is gone, his "emotions are imploding" but there's "nothing to say."  (So much of Submarine Bells is about communication, about trying and trying to find a way to express things.)

"Dead Web" is superficially jaunty, but is about those who contain their emotions, bury them, pretend they don't exist; they are in a dead web, a world of the past, mourning that that world is gone; Phillips understands this, to a point, but shakes it off, and the song ends sharply, the past best left to those who want to focus on it; he's got enough problems as it is...

"Familiarity Breeds Contempt" is as tough as The Chills get, rocking as Phillips snarls about the perils of coming from a scene so small that backbiting and meanness are everywhere, even within himself; that contempt is as withering and damaging as obsessing over the past, and the song rages against cynicism and hard people, ugly assumptions and "when the past is thought irrelevant our destiny is black" - you cannot go forwards without knowing and appreciating where you've come from, but how stinging was it for Phillips to bear the burden of essentially being The Chills, now a band a decade along with not much success outside of New Zealand?  It must have been damn hard to be the band that had to do well in order for the label Flying Nun to do well....and so this is a song that comes out of this constant pressure, as angry as you like....

...and there is the private sorrow of having to be away from the Other, too.  It is, to use a word overused these days, devastating.  "Don't Be Memory" is a song that flows and halts, falters, and then picks up again, grasping on to something, wanting so much more. "I would tell you love's eternal, but eternity is such a long time" - and the clock is ticking, "we've this greenhouse on"***** - and he wants to forget her, get away from this pain, but he knows he can't.  The memories flood back:  "Cozy in the north wing, taking turns at Swamp Thing, listening to The Byrds on the tape recorder..." In order to keep his love, he must get back to her, but then OH - "sensing your essence so reminiscent - a forgotten flavour..." and once again I am wordless.  He doesn't want her to be just a memory, to feel unrepresented, lonely, because she is there all the time, unbidden, unexpected.  And this overtakes his song, that she is there; they will be together soon ("if nothing goes wrong" he worries time and again) but in a way she is there already.  "The uncaring power of memory/So crippling in its clarity"  - and damn it, there's the whole problem right there, and the only solution, too.  The clarity of something means you can see it and understand it, if you have the strength to do so; to get over the "spiteful spikes" of the feelings, to find a place of peace....

"Effluoresce And Deliquesce" is about a couple fighting; but with such poetical words (like the title) that beauty of the song (and it is elegant) can mask the pain, the conflict, but make them like dance, a back-and-forth (the song pauses regularly, as if we are watching the argument like a dance of sorts) that rises to admit the "anger flows like fire" but on such a watery album, it goes, extinguished, and in an hour "they burst into flower."  They are slow to ice over, quick to turn into a supernova, but the happy end is always there, and they reach it and the song ends, neatly.

"Sweet Times" is a holler and a strum about how the world, no matter how useless things may seem, still hasn't ended....a holler that times are sweet....

And then comes "Submarine Bells."  And suddenly we are in the Pacific again, deep inside the inner ocean******, with a lullaby so beautiful that like the first song it reminds me of the live feed from Huntington Beach, the soothing waves, the ease, the gentleness...the slowness of the song like a descent into the water itself..."I slice the surface here beside you/lungs filled liquid yell I love you/sound moves further underwater..."

I wish I could remember how it was when I first heard this, but the fact that I listened to it more than any other album in 1990 should tell you enough.  It was my solace; it was and is one of my favorite albums of all time....

"Deep and dark my submarine bells groan in greens and grey/mine would chime a thousand times to make you feel okay..."

This, this is just one example of what was actually happening in 1990, but was ignored in favor of the past.  It is wise, tender, aware, current.  It deals with that tug of the past, of sentiment, and ends with something deep and profound and great.  Is Dunedin fundamentally so far away?  I didn't feel it was in a way, which ended up with my buying a guide book to New Zealand and reading and rereading an article about The Chills and willing myself into that experience, especially once my mom and I did move to Toronto that summer.

There was, of course, another album of this time that counselled against nostalgia, and it couldn't have been more different:

 



Oh yes.

Flood (that watery theme again!) is so good, it's ridiculous, and the UK public eagerly took to it, because of the hit single, "Birdhouse In Your Soul."  If the sheer gorgeousness of Submarine Bells hides the tough messages it has (and in part it does) then Flood's great humor can mask its equally tough messages.  "Why is the world in love again?  Why are we marching hand in hand?  Why are the ocean levels rising up?" ask TMBG in the first song, and the only answer is that "It's a brand new record album for 1990."  New decade, y'all, and it's not small in any way...

"Birdhouse In Your Soul" is pure dorky happiness, beeping and trundling along, happy, going forward.  Is is a parody of R.E.M.?  I don't know, but the "bluebird of friendliness, like guardian angels it's always near"  - and it's a tough little bird, this blue canary.  Is it a love song?  Is it the future singing to us in the present?  The word makes it spiritual too, eternal even....

"Lucky Ball & Chain" and "Twisting" are both songs about a woman who has left her guy; the guy is baffled, sad, the woman is free, and the man is left to his own railroad apartment, her old copies of Young Fresh Fellows and db's records back....

The first argument against fixating on the past - it's too late, it's gone! - is their cover of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" - "if you have a date she'll be waiting in Instanbul."  Why the change?  "People just liked it better that way...."  The world changes, and you have to change with it...

There are two...well, I hesitate to use the word "perfect" here, but let's just say really really awesome songs and leave it at that, on Flood. "Dead" is the first one, a simple song with a piano, the two Johns and a lament that "I returned a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the expiration date" and then "I came back as a bag of groceries accidentally taken off the shelf before the date stamped on myself."  It took me a while to figure this out, but "I will never say the word procrastinate again/I'll never see myself in the mirror with my eyes closed" is was straight enough for me at the time.  There is no time to waste, to give up before your time is over.  Otherwise you may as well be dead.  "Was everybody dancing on the casket?"  "Now it's over I'm dead and I haven't done anything that I want/Or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do...."  If Martin Phillips wasn't as drastic as this, this is still his point - that getting caught in a dead web is something to be avoided, at all costs...

"Racist Friend" is about racism, but also about a party, about drinking, about conformity and feeling like a hypocrite "bobbing and pretending" that what is happening is happening.  It is about as hard-rockin' as TMBG ever get, with a Latin trumpet solo in the middle perhaps nodding towards the racist's prejudices...."can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."  The party is over, 80s hypocrites!

"Particle Man" is a song so simple and easy you can close your eyes and see the animated short in your head (as my father would have, had he lived to hear this song).  Particle man is Generation X, Universe man is MASSIVE, Person man is hopeless - "who came up with Person man?" - and then there's Triangle man, surely one of the greatest fictional villains, who fights and always wins, who hates for no reason....

And now the other great song - "We Want A Rock."  I don't think there is a thing wrong with it; and it is all so casual!  "Where was I, I forgot the point that I was making....I said if I was smart that I would save up for a rock to wind a piece of string around."  (Is it just me, or does this sound like a Walkman?  An iPod?)  In short, "throw the crib door wide"....by the time this completely hummable earworm of a song gets to "Everybody wants to wear a prosthetic forehead on their real head" then the complete madness of conformity and doing something just because everyone else is doing it (the two Johns' singing here is utterly straight and with no side, as if this behavior was just as normal as any) could not be more clear.  (The prosthetic forehead costs seven dollars, by the way; a rock to wind a string around must cost a lot more...)  Accordion!  Fiddling!  As usual, TMBG makes outsiders, those who don't fit in, feel a bit better about themselves....

"Someone Keeps Moving My Chair" is of course about Mr. Horrible, the ugliness men, the many things they do which annoy him, but he's so so horrible none of these things bother him so much as he can never find his chair.  One of the many songs They Might Be Giants have about work...which leads straight into "Hearing Aid" and the about-to-burst anger ("don't say the electric chair's not good enough for a king-lazy-bones like myself") with Arto Lindsay himself on the guitar, scraping and giving the song - otherwise weirdly reggae like - the paranoid messed upness it represents.  Is there a reason for this employee to be so angry with "Frosty the supervisor"?   No, it's "BECAUSE....BECAUSE!!!!!!"......

...."MINIMUM WAAAAAAAAAAAGE!! HEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!"

(whipcrack) (60s tv theme about the poorly paid)

And now, for a moment, back to love...

"Letterbox" is a crowded song - speeds by with the speed of a sparrow - "and I never know what I never know what you are what you are, oh...."

"Whistling In The Dark" is about the haplessness of being yourself in a world that so often tells you to be yourself, but is that enough?  The narrator is "having a wonderful time" (even though he's in jail - due to being himself?) but would rather be whistling in the dark - and the song thumps along like a marching band going down a cul-de-sac, turning and then turning again, finally figuring out there's only one way out....

"Hot Cha" is about missing someone who never really acts normally - maybe he acts like himself?  And the details are glorious - "left the bathtub running, stereo on and cooking bacon, never came back to tell us why." A jazz song about someone who just leaves, comes back, leaves again....

"Women And Men" is about nothing more than the ocean of sound as it's reflected in the many people of the world (echoing the beginning of "Heavenly Pop Hit" and the many millions mentioned there).  "Three by three as well as four by four" the population on the land grows, and the river of people eventually becomes an ocean with ships bringing more women and men....

"Sapphire Bullets Of Pure Love" is one of those haiku type TMBG songs that are lovely and sweet but I am never sure what they are "about"; it just is, and I will leave you with the mystery....

"They Might Be Giants" is just awesome, though, as a theme song.  "Hang on, hang on tight" says the narrator (I don't know who it is) who elaborates later: "so everyone has to hang on tight just to keep from being thrown to the wolves."  Who are they?  Well, they might be anything, small, big, who knows, but what to do besides hang on tight?  "They might be big big fake fake lies - tabloid footprints in your hair."  But can we be silent, Generation X?  No!  Because they might be giants....

The album ends with the sobering "Road Movie To Berlin" - "Can't drive out the way we drove in..."  Much later in the 90s I remember listening to Flood on a trip back to Oakville; visiting the graveyard, the old record store, and agreeing with the driver that being "the nicest of the damned" was about all Generation X - or our little social circle - could hope for.  "Time won't find the lost" the song says, as if to say, yet again in a different way, that now is now and the past is the past.  Berlin isn't what it used to be; the old road back home is the old road, and there is only the past to find there....

Though this was an actual hit album in the UK, I don't know if anyone who bought Flood also bought The Carpenters; I doubt it.  As friendly as it starts, it leaves on a note of cinematic doubt and worry; the bluebird of friendliness seems a long way away.  But it is a fiercely realistic album, the sort children would understand much faster than adults, all over the place musically but hanging together with great humor, wit, intelligence and fun.

Both The Chills and They Might Be Giants act as a counter to the seemingly endless nostalgia represented by The Carpenters, and I would like to think they were at least heard and understood by some people, but again I also sense a generation gap here, between those who are looking back and those who find it eerie, creepy to look back too much, lest they get stuck there.  Those who are wary are in the minority for now, but soon enough will begin themselves to have hit albums, and wrestle with the past in their own way....

...but for now, rest in peace, Karen Carpenter - this is the last time The Carpenters grace Then Play Long, and for better or for worse, we must move forwards....     

Next up:  more nostalgia?

* A rarity even now, and something to admire her for, really.  

**I grew up hearing them in places like the dentist's, the doctor's, friend's houses, and then on my own radio, once I had one.  I had no ideas about them, really, besides that she could really sing.  I can't get nostalgic about them as I don't associate them with the 70s in any big way.  But I know so many female singers who did listen - Jann Arden, the aforementioned Estefan, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Gordon...who wrote an open letter to Karen once that ended, "Did you ever go running along the sand, feeling the ocean rush up between yr legs?  Who is Karen Carpenter, really, besides the sad girl with the extraordinarily beautiful, soulful voice?" (Girl In A Band, pg. 173)

***In one of those odd coincidences, there was (and still may be) a nighttime radio show in Toronto called "Lovers And Other Strangers" which plays soppy songs and has the broadcaster telling poignant stories about love.  Is Don Jackson still there on CHFI, soothing the romantic pains of the masses?

****The way Phillips pronounces "flat" is very New Zealand, and being an American susceptible to foreign accents, I liked it right away.

***** This is the first time the greenhouse gas problem is mentioned on Then Play Long, and there's lots of info in the album's booklet about this, nuclear bomb testing and other problems of then and now....

******This is no more the "real" ocean than the "Wide Open Road" of The Triffids was an actual road. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

EURYTHMICS: We Too Are One



(#395:  23 September 1989, 1 week)

Track listing:  We Two Are One/The King And Queen Of America/(My My) Baby's Gonna Cry/Don't Ask Me Why/Angel/Revival/You Hurt Me (And I Hate You)/Sylvia/How Long?/When The Day Goes Down



"The door closed and I just waved good-bye, and when I began descending, I was shaking a bit - but the backseat drifter was gone.  I was released from the obsession, and before I'd reached the lobby I couldn't believe what a brain-dead glutton I'd been - for sex, for humiliation, for pseudodrama...And I planned right there never to repeat this sort of experience ever again.  The only way you can deal with the Tobiases of this world is not to let them into your lives at all. Blind yourself to their wares.  God, I felt relieved; not the least bit angry." Douglas Coupland, Generation X


There comes a time in any band's life when it should (or has to) come to an end; some bands have that end dictated to them, others just wear themselves out or go on a "hiatus" which turns out to be permanent.  Eurythmics, though, had to record this album before they split up for their own good - Dave and Annie weren't getting along anymore, and this disunion, if I can put it that way, is the subject of the album; Eurythmics being, if anything, a band that is definitely in control of itself.

That control was especially evident in their previous album, Savage, which makes a very handy guide/prequel to We Too Are OneSavage was the Eurythmics cutting loose after making the please-the-record-label Revenge,  and it includes the delirious, mocking "Beethoven (I Love To Listen To)," "Shame" (wherein Lennox looks at her generation and its gullibility towards the media and glamour), "You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart" (love as a commodity as opposed to love as something warm and free).  It's core, though, is "I Need You", where Lennox sings alongside Dave's acoustic guitar to a room full of happy cocktail hour people who aren't understanding anything she is saying.  It is one of those unexpected New Pop moments that takes the band and the audience and shows just what a gap there is, a kind of silence; or even makes it seem as if no one is listening at all and that she is singing to herself, more or less...

...and then there's "I Need A Man," where Lennox does a better Mick Jagger than Jagger himself, and her "Huh!" at the end shows her contempt for the whole rock rigmarole. 

How appropriate, then, that We Too Are One beat Steel Wheels to the top of the UK album chart, as Lennox and Stewart's dead-eyed stare at the camera was virtually saying, well here we are one more time, separate yet apart, not sarcastic or sharp like last time, but calm, with that cleansing sense that things are over, they are done, with nothing else needed to happen.

It starts with a steady, heavy backbeat and some wahh-woohs that sound half-human, half-mechanical - I thought it was going to be a first-song freakout, going back to Lennox's Redbrass days, but instead it is the first of many heavily ironic songs that says exactly what it doesn't mean.  "We Two Are One"?  Hmm, maybe.  It is, in fact, "Uncle" Charlie Wilson making noises as if he was playing a harmonica - yes, Wilson from The Gap Band!  The song is a vow of love, of fidelity - "We're gonna live forever."  In this upbeat song (which has Wilson also singing in the background), nothing is bad, though the fact that they can't be separate is because they are too "messed up" to live otherwise.  This is an album that may sound confident and big on the surface, but look underneath....

...and here are "The King And Queen Of America" who don't exist, who can't exist, but have such self-belief that they think they do.  "We're the all-time winners in the all-time loser's game" - another big brassy song steams along.  "The king of nothing and the queen of rage" is what they really are, on their "glittering stage" - is this the Eurythmics themselves?  Or just any couple who aim big but get little, really, in return?  What it boils down to is a near parody of David Bowie's Let's Dance, showing up that shiny emptiness for what it is, and of course the king and queen here end up going into outer space, the normal Earth having nothing good enough for them....

"(My My) Baby's Gonna Cry" is the first key song here - an anti-"I Got You Babe" that trundles along with David and Annie singing to each other, with Jimmy Iovine as the ref (he was brought in to settle any and all disputes, and I'm guessing there were a lot). Yes, we hear them both, flat and done, with no relish, because this is real.  The guitar break has fake audience applause in it, as if to say - yes, you the audience, you too are involved in this, applauding our misery up here, go ahead, we're beyond irony now.  The line between a song being a song and a song being something happening right in front of you, as you listen, is very narrow here, though the punctum has yet to fully appear...

"Don't Ask Me Why" is in the traditional Eurythmics style, with plucked strings and a delicate, but harsh line from Lennox.  "I don't love you anymore, I don't think I ever did" is a  painful thing to admit.  A lot of pretenses are being dropped, and the efforts of a whole decade are coming up as empty, with nothing good in the distance.  The 80s have been, from this perspective, a letdown, and a lot of soul-searching is the answer, but in the hubbub, the rush to the end, is self-knowledge even possible?

"Angel" is ostensibly about the death of Lennox's aunt, but hearing this at the time - those "57 winters" jumped out at me  - my own father dying at 58, in the winter.  Did I think of my father as an angel flying over me?  No, most certainly not.  The first verse is longing and plaintive and lovely, but then come these lines - "She took her life in her hands...no one can tell her what to do now."  Did she die naturally, or not?  I don't know, and don't want to presume, but this song too has a way of sounding utterly normal Magic-104.5-friendly and yet barbed, as if this angel is faulty, protective but fragile, too.  I don't doubt Lennox's sincerity here, and it would inevitably be the song Lennox would re-record for the 1997 tribute album to the late Princess Diana...this is a long way off "There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart)."

"Revival" is a song that sounds as if it could be a way forward, telling others (themselves?) to get up, get out, get on with it - and Wilson is again here in the background.  It sounds more than a bit like "She Drives Me Crazy" but that's not a bad thing, right now.  "Living in a bad dream" is a phrase which jumps out, and the woman in the next verse - Mona Lisa to his Superman - is twisted, bitter, beaten-up.  To revive is to come back to life; and Lennox wants to do this, but there's wanting to do something and then doing it.  This song, as well-meaning as it sounds, doesn't have enough oomph to truly do the job; it's too pat, too easy.  Even Lennox doing her best to invoke James Brown at the end only makes me want to hear the actual James Brown - a man who needed some reviving himself at this time, if I'm right...

"You Hurt Me (And I Hate You)" starts with Lennox greeting the new day (as she did at the end of Savage) with the sun entering her room, the light spreading across her, as she slept "like a baby."  The song picks up, with Lennox at her fiercest, claiming "I'm not an angel, I'm not that quaint" (thus damning the previous angel?) and saying she doesn't need a preacher (bringing back her "Missionary Man" to diss again).  She has been the broken nail to his hammer, and her hate seems to be invading everything, her sureness in her being in the right and his being in the wrong is absolute.  "You put me down" she sings in the background, as she vows to make her scorn inescapable for him.  This is a bright and sprightly song, but again feels a little...cursory?  Everything here is still a bit guarded - this is like a therapy session of an album, inviting you in to hear things being said, but there is no resolution in sight.  Catharsis, cleansing - those are the aims, but instead a kind of terrible truce is being acted out here, before Lennox storms out, done and exhausted....  

"Sylvia" is a song I took to be about Plath at the time, and its eerie harmonies and pauses are near psychedelic - we are looking at a young woman, a woman who longs to be nothing - "the queen has lost her crown today."  "Passing through the underground" is something I knew, could feel.  Only in sleep can she "forget herself" but there she is in London, painted and ready to be adored, only to meet with "cold caresses" - this is Lennox herself, running to London from Aberdeen, and now alone, her partnerships over, missing, truly gone.  The anger of the previous song has turned into wanting to be gone, be forgotten, to be absent.  It is a stunning song, compassionate, sweet even, in its own way....

....and now, can there be a way out of the 80s?  Because it is going, and the Eurythmics with it...

"How Long?" looks out the window - it's 5 in the afternoon, the radio is on, the wind is casually shaking up the dust on the street...it is in the details that change, positive change (hello Soul II Soul) appear.  And the band sounds a little different here - more bass-heavy, with a kind of space that is narrow, but you know is going to widen.  A little curtain on the 90s appears...life in the "fancy town" is dull, boring as frozen food, bare, immoral.  "How long will your love hold on, stay strong enough?" is the question, against the rising winds and growing dusk.  We are in the very roots of Curve here - the doctor's dotted line, the pavement's cracks, the sense of something wrong having to be endured over, prevailed....

....and then...

The last song, "When The Day Goes Down."  It starts gently, with Lennox directly addressing her audience - telling them not to cry, telling them that "you're as good as all them, of this you can be sure."  But who are being addressed especially?  I don't think its herself, or Stewart, but the people who are to come.  "Don't think that you're the only one who's ever broke right down and cried" she says, giving those people her shoulder, her hand...

..."this is for the broken dreamers...the hopeless losers, the helpless fools...the burned-out and the useless...the lost and the degraded....the too dumb to speak."  These are not her peers she is talking to, not the yuppies, not even the strong-minded young women who have paid attention to the Eurythmics from the start.  No, this is the next generation, who have been on the wrong end of everything since they were born - who have witnessed terrible things, had terrible things done to them, and who have (as of yet) no real cultural voice of their own, no nickname even.  The day goes down on them too much; she is here to let them know that they are not alone (as so many of them feel and think) and that while she understands their misery, they cannot give up.  This is Generation X, the ones who don't fit in, just as Lennox says of herself - "I don't fit into any slot.  I am not really a rock and roller and I never really was a punk or a hippy..."  She is here as a misfit herself to acknowledge the others, to, at the very end, bring punctum.  Her hopeless obsessing over a dead relationship is gone, and her actual compassion and love are evident, and the long drum roll at the end brings even a kind of nobility. 

We too are one; the unity mocked at the start suddenly becomes real.  The night is coming, but it can be endured, because of this unity.  Thus ends the 80s from the Eurythmics' point of view - internally fractured, but not too self-obsessed to extend their empathy outwards, to encourage that positive change....

Up next:  two courageous generations.      

Monday, 17 August 2015

Gloria ESTEFAN: Cuts Both Ways






(#393: 5 August 1989, 6 weeks)

Track listing:  Ay, Ay, I/Here We Are/Say/Think About You Now/Nothin' New/Oye Mi Canto (Hear My Voice)/Don't Wanna Lose You/Get On Your Feet/Your Love Is Bad For Me/Cuts Both Ways


As a woman writing about music, I tend to think - I like to think - that I am writing not just for my own self but my own sensibility.  And what is that?  More than a bit aimless; ready to listen to anything if it is good; appreciative that there are times when I don't want to listen to something that the (still overwhelmingly male) music-writing massive would call "important" or (ahem) "seminal."

Which is to say, Cuts Both Ways did not make the critical end-of-year lists in the NME, Melody Maker nor the Village Voice.  (As for Robert Christgau's review of this album...well...) It is at these times that I think the whole rock consensus as to who is good and who isn't really truly needs to be thrown out, as it doesn't value an album like this nearly enough.  (I may as well say the rock hegemony has a problem with women all together if they make pop/r&b - the "oh, that's nice" syndrome meets the "there can only be one at a time" problem and it's the same today as it ever was, alas.  At the same time, could there have been a Jennifer Lopez without a Gloria Estefan?)

It is their loss, of course, and those who kept this at #1 in the UK for over a month were likely those who don't pay much attention to the music press in the first place*.  This is Estefan's first solo album, and she sounds more upbeat here than on Anything For You; it is as if her apprenticeship as one of Miami Sound Machine (woman-machine) is over and now here she is, a woman in her own right (though MSM are still there, more or less).

Is this album worthy of one of those sit-down-don't-fidget Classic Album listening experiences?  Yes, it is - the album builds up, as all good ones do, with...

"Ay, Ay, I" begins the album with the main theme - "I can't do without you" - and all the troubles that come from this irrefutable feeling.  (This album is about feelings, and some boys - not men - have problems with feelings.) Musically it jumps along like Janet Jackson, and she sounds as determined to win back her Other, who she knows loves her, even though he sets her up, knocks her down.

Things slow down for "Here We Are" - is it wrong for me to think of a cool evening after a hot day, and it's the world of love and hurt that lingers, light as a perfume and just as sad, in a way.  She wants her Other, but for some reason (never stated) they cannot be together.  Is one of them...both of them...with someone else?  The focus is on the narrator and her crushing love for her Other, one that she calls "sublime" and one so intense it makes her cry.  Estefan wrote it (as she wrote most of the songs here) and sings it with a kind of elegance that comes out of an actual experience, remembered.  (I have no idea how autobiographical these songs are, by the way; but she sings them as if she knows what she's talking about - from the heart.)

"Say" is about wanting to hear from the Other - oh, I've had this too Gloria - where you get all excited by the Other but when are you going to hear that declaration back?  This is no mope, but an upbeat song (by the then-up-and-coming Jon Secada) that is like a cheerleader jumping around more than someone saying "please, please say something."  That said, waiting for someone to say "I love you" is tough - "don't wanna worry, but is our love alive?" asks Estefan, then recovers from her doubt, as her - yes - feelings about her Other are so strong, in the end.

"Think About You Now" begins with "Is it worth the time/To bring back a forgotten rhyme" - as if Estefan is now lamenting the loss of a poet, or of language itself.  The affair is over, but the thinking goes on, and of course there is no one else who "could have the same effect on me" - love is indeed the drug, and her Other has left her in half hope, half existential despair.  "It won't be long before I'll be with you somehow" she sings, sounding sure that something will be worked out, maybe once she can rouse herself out of the languorous longing of the song itself.  (And yes, that's Jon Secada in the background, sounding a bit eerie, a bit Michael McDonald.)

"Nothin' New" sounds like go-go, a little Frankie in the chorus (hoo-HAH-hoo-hoo-HAH) and is a weird song about how difficult love is and there is nothing new under the sun and whatcha gonna do about it, kid.  It is a "we" song - "life goes on no matter what you do" is the main thrust, and we are practically in Nein territory here.  There is nothing to do but love, and it's not new and so what.  You have to trust and do the best you can.

"Oye Mi Canto" is about being who you are, standing up for what you believe in, but also - how unrock! - "Find common ground/Go in between/Things aren't always what they seem" - and how feminine is a song that says "Why always take/The upper hand/It's better to understand."  All this to a salsa where she laments - about what? - "Hate is so common it's almost tradition."  I am guessing this has something to do with politics, and who could be happier about the US and Cuba having better relations than Havana-born Estefan herself? Hear my voice, the song says, and suddenly it's not just about the Other but about all Others - and the one voice becomes all voices as the others join in at the end.  Once the political is introduced, it of course goes on to shadow the other songs...

"Don't Wanna Lose You" is a ballad about hope, self-confidence and real love - love that gives of itself, that admits truths, and is willing be courageous and say the awkward, real thing.  Her Other may not want her, but she's sticking around, as she knows they are "gonna get through somehow."  The song is one of real devotion and is grounded, in the best way.  (Estefan's realism in love reminds me strongly of George Benson.)  Estefan's good faith is cheering, and continues with "Get On Your Feet" - a song to someone who is down - "so scared that life's gonna pass you by/Your spirit dying" - oh existential horror!  But Estefan & Co. are like a big hug and smile here, willing the listener to get up and dance and get going, that action is better than being a dull slugabed.  That's not very rock either, now that I think about it...

"Your Love Is Bad For Me" brings us back to the torture of "Here We Are."  The longing here is more explicit, and the badness is just part of her pleasure, in the end.  "I'd love you till you could not take it any more" is followed by "Then you'd walk out the door."  Estefan - or the narrator - is not messing around here.  "You don't belong to me" is the thorn here, the moment when all this sleepless insanity and melodrama has its reveal, and it's done lightly, as if the badness - he's cheating! with her! - is the cause of her love, as much as the Other.  (I can imagine whole Oprah programs about this, with guest psychologists and everything - I'm The Other Woman And I Feel Conflicted.)  What on earth could Emilio, her husband, make of all this?

The album ends with the title song, one that implies violence.  It is quiet and reflective, at first, as Estefan admits that she and the Other are "heading for a broken heart" - and then picks up when she admits that she loves her Other too much, they both want too much..."Don't be a fool/Haven't we already broken every rule?" she asks, as if the awful end is already in sight.  There is no way out; it's too dangerous, too dangerous to continue, and too dangerous, apparently, to ever really end.  If love is the drug then this is the comedown, the time when the actual situation has to be reckoned with, and Estefan's voice is tough, vulnerable.  Their love is like a knife; neither is strong enough, willing to sacrifice, to end it.  This is not the rock joy of extremes (or of overcoming extremes) but the blunt fact of how love is powerful and painful and is much, much stronger than any individual who thinks that with a bit of pep and realism for sure things can work out.  Well, says Estefan, maybe, but also maybe not - this is the ground of Cuts Both Ways, a place where the heart can be open and rebel and revel in its badness, only to be caught up short by that badness turning into something more complex, the lover realizing that they actually do have feelings that pierce and the knife may as well be an arrow...

It is because she is so willing to get into the guts of these emotions - many of them painful, if self-inflicted - that Cuts Both Ways works so well.  While it was at the top other albums appeared - Adeva's Adeva!, Shakespear's Sister's Sacred Heart, The Blow Monkeys' Choices, Fuzzbox's Big Bang! - which also had their realities and tough voices (and like this album mostly bought by women - including me). That Estefan was badly injured while on tour supporting this album - and came back, determined and grounded as ever - attests, as she might say, as to how strong an album this is, how its floods of emotion and cool intelligence balance each other out, how striving for the middle ground can actually be far more difficult and rewarding than giving up or taking the easy way out.  Neither of those are ideas Estefan could endorse, and the pleasures and agonies of the songs go well with a time when no one quite knew what was happening, when the decade was coming to a close and feelings and emotions were coming to the fore...a time for complexities to be faced and worked out, however painful, for the sake of the Other, or Others...not very rock, but then this is the ocean of sound, this is that cool night after the heat of the day, the long letting-go, emotions and waters that only look placid...

Next up:  look what Bunny wrote!             



* Not all of them, though.  I'm sure the Pet Shop Boys bought this and loved it. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

TRANSVISION VAMP: Velveteen



(#391:  8 July 1989, 1 week)


Track listing:  Baby I Don't Care/The Only One/Landslide Of Love/Falling For A Goldmine/Down On You/Song To The Stars/Kiss Their Sons/Born To Be Sold/Pay The Ghosts/Bad Valentine/Velveteen

 Lately I have been studying the art of display - how to arrange things so they can all be seen to their best advantage.  It is a tricky thing, though I enjoy doing it, and while learning I have once again come across the idea of "pulling focus."  There should always be something to catch the eye, to give some (but not too much) glamor, so that the whole display can work around the focal point and not clash with it, or make it seem ridiculous or out of place by comparison.  I am studying and arranging books this way, but album covers have to have their own internal logic as well, and just as with books you can actually learn a lot from an album cover...

...and are Transvision Vamp reflected badly by their cover?  Well, yes and no.  Is the focus of the group lead singer Wendy James?  Oh yes.  Are the other three in the background, looking a bit bored or distracted, as La James looks at the camera in her best sultry manner?  Yep.  Are they in a dressing room which happens to have a lot of signifiers around, like Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, The Velvet Underground and, uh, Mudhoney?  OH yeah.  (There is even a book called Sex In Movies there, just in case you forgot they are trying to be sexy.)  While this isn't as blatant as Rattle & Hum in its yearnings and idealizations of US culture, it does give me pause.  As an American I am always a little disconcerted by the idolization of these people, as if Transvision Vamp would have no real purpose or inner substance of their own, beyond making music that somehow reflects all this love for these people.

Except it doesn't.  I don't know if it's the fault of producers Duncan Bridgman or Zeus B. Held, but this is a very safe album.  (Remember how generally conservative the album charts are, compared to the singles one.)  The band are competent and put their songs (all written by Nick Sayer, more or less) through their paces, and James acts (more on this in a minute) the best she can.  But you can't put such revolutionary figures as Dylan and the Velvets on the cover and just make regular pop/rock music, can you?  Is just signifying enough to show that you are different from the other Chris Roberts Blondes* like Tracy Tracy from The Primitives or Andrea from The Darling Buds?

"Baby I Don't Care" is a declaration of pop love and the joys of things being "best left never said" and gets the full zoomy treatment, with James trying her best to get across her own insouciance, but the production from here on in is too timid, not willing to be rough or sexy enough, leaving James to carry, at almost all times, these qualities herself.  But there is only so much even she can do, only so much focus she can pull, before the songs become "songs" and her voice is just a "voice."  James had no hand in writing or playing any of these songs, and so it is her acting out the songs that distracts after a while; a lot of rock 'n' roll cliche is on hand here, and in her growl/whisper she tries to bring them to life.  But how can you bring pastiches of ye olde rock love songs like "The Only One" or the seemingly endless title track** to life when there's no Other actually being addressed?

Other songs fare a bit better - the endless list of stars who were "Born To Be Sold" is an acceptance of the whole we're-only-in-it-for-the-money/fame vibe that so many bands would deny - Transvision Vamp marched right into a corporate label office and demanded a deal, man.  There was no way they would go to an indie label, and this is them hooking their hopeful claim up to others who were also ambitious, as if mentioning "Little Richard and Lady Day" their successes would rub off on them.  (She sounds, believe it or not, a bit like Lawrence from Denim, years before Back To Denim - the music is suitably retro, as you'd expect.)  "Song To The Stars" is before this, where an ambitious man leaves his Other behind, with the requisite sadness in James' voice.  "Kiss Their Sons" is a bit rougher, a bit better, with real disgust in James' voice - this is where Mudhoney come in, I think.  (They are absent from the rest of the songs.)  It's still a bit too neat, but at least they are trying....

"Falling For A Goldmine" is interesting - "there's flowers growing on the Berlin Wall" - but this song about Marlene Dietrich (at least that is who I think it's about) is all starry-eyed wonder, but it's a bit too one-dimensional, not pop enough to be kitsch (a beautiful word), not spaced-out enough to live up to the words.  And what does the title mean?  "Marlene On The Wall" by Suzanne Vega is a lot better using Dietrich as a presence, giving her a character and voice.  With Transvision Vamp, she's an icon, and the song could just as well be set in Paris and refer to Edith Piaf...

"Down On You" is James growling away, but the music is slick, slicker than a water slide, when it should be very rough.  (It has this awful squelchy synth in it, and of course a guitar solo.  Sigh.)  Compared to fellow Blonde Band The Primitives' "Sick Of It" this just sounds like a snobby Sloane Ranger dumping on her ex-boyfriend, and not a real purge.  In the face of what is already happening and what is to come, Velveteen is dated, and I wonder how dated it even sounded at the time.  In such a fast-moving and unpredictable time as this period of fractals and Tiananmen Square, making only a partial effort to be different (and not changing your producer) hardly counts.

"Pay The Ghosts" is yet another song where James is expected to bring the roughness as the song goes along sounding like...library music rock.  Yes, that's what Transvision Vamp are doing here - making rock that sounds remarkably like the real thing, only...not.  So James sings "Pay me what you owe me" while Rihanna is still in diapers, but again there's a snag - pay the ghosts?  Who are the ghosts?  Yep, James screams at the end, but there's comic books that have better plot than this.  And so it goes, "rocking out" to the inevitable fade.

"Bad Valentine" is quiet, and sounds a bit like a try at Tom Waits/Bruce Springsteen, but even James can't really sell this one; she says she bad, sure, but do bad girls ever proclaim their badness?  No, they don't.  And I bet bad girls didn't buy Velveteen - Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Paula Abdul even - that's what the bad girls like, pure pop without a hint of self-knowing or irony.  They don't want near-ten-minute failed epics like "Velveteen" (it's got a string section and everything)!

So then, does the cover show what the contents reveal?  It wants to be all pink and purple and velvety and so on, but that US glamor is forever just outside their reach, and their nodding towards Seattle to make up for this isn't quite enough.  There's zero politics here, unless you count the awkward mention of the Berlin Wall, and James' acting is fine, but isn't enough to make up for everything else.  She never seems to be singing to the listener but to the producer; I get no feelings jumping out at me, no shuddering drama, no trashy overacting, nothing.  As much as they admire Americans, Transvision Vamp are British, and that reserve they have is doing nothing for them here. 

Perhaps all these songs came off better live; I don't know.  What I do know is that after their next album they broke up, James did a fine album of songs written for her by Elvis Costello and Cait O'Riordan called Now's Not The Time For Your Tears in '93, then went off to learn how to play guitar and write songs, first in London and then in NYC.  I am pretty sure that she is much happier doing her own thing now than she was before - when all she wanted was to be famous, pure and simple.  Velveteen marks the apex of the Blondes - the bands kept going, but sadly neither the more indie-identified The Darling Buds nor The Primitives got their own number one album.

Transvision Vamp meant well here, wanted to make a rough, bubblegum-girl group-garage classic, but the production diluted anything that was interesting, for the most part; and Wendy James got to see what fame was like, and enjoyed it while she could.  But there are greater things than being a pop star...   

Next:  meanwhile, in north London...       


*Chris Roberts had a whole obsession with Blondes in Melody Maker that was always over-the-top and yet also accurate in appreciating these three young women, all from bands that were pop and rock and indie and mainstream.  I think he felt they were part of the apocalyptic feeling of the end of the 80s - these girls were good/bad but not evil, they had a kind of insouciance about things and were more "sincere" in a way than your actual U2s or Dire Straits.  (I am sure one Courtney Love read all this and understood it immediately; in some ways she was the real Blonde of this time.)  I don't know if Roberts had a crush on all these young women, though a lot of guys did, James in particular.

**I realize now that it's a Velvets/teenager thing, but at nearly 10 minutes it has no real climax and dissolution, no real sense of drama.  (It thinks it does, like so much of this album, but it doesn't, and I remember at the time feeling let down by this.)  
 

Friday, 24 July 2015

SIMPLE MINDS: Street Fighting Years




(#386: 13 May 1989, 1 week)

Track Listing:  Street Fighting Years/Soul Crying Out/Wall Of Love/This Is Your Land/Take A Step Back/Kick It In/Let It All Come Down/Mandela Day/Belfast Child/Biko/When Spirits Rise


"Students, we came too late. We are sorry. You talk about us, criticize us, it is all necessary. The reason that I came here is not to ask for your forgiveness. What I want to say is that you are all getting weak, it has been seven days since you went on a hunger strike, you can't continue like this. As time goes on, your body will be damaged beyond repair, it could be very life-threatening. Now the most important thing is to end this strike." - Zhao Ziyang, May 19th, 1989


It was an exhausting spring, the spring of '89; none of the signifiers of spring seemed to bring very much calm - not the green grass, the blue skies, flowers, the lilac tree blooming - it felt a bit like living in a picture book, where I was.  Very calm, while outside in the world, it was anything but calm.  It was fine that a spirit of change and freedom was in the air, but you have to have your health to enjoy it, or even fight for it.  By now I was nearly done with Ryerson - as mentioned before I graduated, I had time to do nothing and nothing was about all I could do, recovering from anaemia as I was.  I went out for groceries as my mom didn't feel like doing it (we also, for the first and last time ever, had groceries delivered to us - my mom couldn't drive*, so father's car was useless to us) and at some point I bought - while still having to go to Ryerson for exams - this album.

I remember listening to it on my father's old tape deck - it could record tape-to-tape and it also had a function where you could play a tape on repeat, which is just what I did one day with Street Fighting Years, laying on my bed and trying to gain some sense of things....

I press play and it starts...

A bass; a few notes, then a rhythm, not a fast one, more one that ambles along, with some drums and other percussion joining in; then some guitar and keyboards, and Jim arrives last...and like the rest of the music, his voice is quiet.  This isn't like, say, Sparkle In The Rain at all...

"Chased you out of this world...suddenly you were gone.."  The music gains strength, and his voice introduces the key line and idea - "here comes a hurricane."  No amount of patient Trevor Horn production (for it is he, he who has waited so long to work with them) is going to mask what is going on here.  "Will you look down this way...I need you 'round me."  Charlie Burchill plays the blues, dammit.  The song increases and is like a scene of amazing 360 degree completeness...and then, stops...

...I get a shiver from the new chords as Kerr sings "there's a multitude of candles in the windows of this world" and "we've got panic in the evening...I hear your sister call out (Sister Feelings Call)...don't you think that I don't care and don't you think that I don't know" And finally "I love you, I live for you..." as the song calms down and then resolves itself, eerily.  Some of this is boomed out with that mid-80s voice of Kerr's but mostly it's been softened, hushed, and hidden somehow.  The song is big, and Kerr meets its bigness, but he seems vulnerable, lost, unknown.  The maelstrom is upon us and all his previous music has been powerless to stop it.  The one phrase that sticks out for me here in this late tumult is "things won't be the same."  "I hear big wheels turning" he says twice, as if it is him vs. the machine, and he is doing his best, darn it, to adjust.  But it is tough; these are the "street fighting years" and there is indeed panic on the streets...

"Soul Crying Out" is less a mountain of a song but a documentary.  This album was recorded in Scotland and has, even for Simple Minds, a profoundly Scottish outlook on things.  The rhythms of the street are always what count here, and here is Scotland, facing the Poll Tax a year before England "the government says you have to pay pay pay."  And then, without much warning, these lines:  "I see the woman with tears in her eyes/I hear the baby, crying in the night/Something on the bed, was it something she said..."  And remember this is a man who is married, who has a child of his own.  The world is shrunk down to that trio, and the words of escape - everyone is crying out, crying for relief, for escape - points to domestic disintegration.  (Disintegration by The Cure was #3 behind this album and entry #287.)  He wants "peace of mind" but if you do not have it at home, you do not have it anywhere.  All the chaos of the outside is reflected by the sorrow indoors; or vice versa.  This is a tough thing to pull off, without sounding pathetic, but at the time I didn't know that there was such discord, it was not literal but figurative for me.

"Wall Of Love" is a booming tough song with delicate Horn touches; the Wall is of course in Berlin, and the wall Kerr wants is a new one, not just in Berlin but in "the townships of Soweto."  The "devil with his chainsaw" wants to cut it down, but that wall is going to be built.  "I believe one great day the rain will come and wash this mess away."  Yes, Taxi Driver signifies here, as much as "the prisoner in the wagon while the children chase the dragon."  "There's people making love tonight" he sings as the song ends, but that love, that reaching out, making the wall of love, is somehow still "not enough."

Quiet, then a sound like a gong; a simple line from Burchill, some percussion, and all is calm again.  "This Is Your Land" is like getting out of a stuffy car and breathing in the sea air.  It is also a call to Scottish nationalism, at a time when that was unfashionable.  The rambling lyrics see old people, the sky, the city, the sea and the ancient places.  Then look who shows up but...Lou Reed to say "Money can't buy me...money can't buy me...I've.got.time...time is on my side."  "You don't know what you've got 'til the whole thing's gone, the days are dark, the road is long" says Kerr quietly, and then Reed replies "When you go away, when hope is gone, tell me what is right...what is wrong."  And with that endorsement from a man who knows what it's like to stand for a place himself (hello, New York), Kerr comes back to say once again that you have to take where you live in your hand, to hold it, to possess it - to defend it.  (How many places gain their freedom and independence during this time of uncertainty?)  And yes Lisa Germano comes in at the end with her violin, the song becomes a march, a march to self-determination and independence.  I can't say I knew that much about Scottish nationalism at the time, but the fractals of land on the cover and the multicolored view of a city - is it Glasgow? - inside point to a rethinking of things, of a taking account. 

Bolstered by this, the last song on side one comes in with a drum roll, and who knows what goes on behind closed doors?  Is he singing to the people of Scotland, or to the world or to...one person?  There's the early line about "try to shake the deep foundations of this land" but then we are in that fancy hotel and I can see this through a haze of angry, tearful phone calls and "Take A Step Back" has a new meaning beyond getting a fresh perspective.  Is the narrator - it's Kerr, that's clear - is he the "wanderer" who hears that "the rumors all around, said you're coming back to me"?  Well yes, but it is clear from the music - unsettling, rattling like the train the narrator is on somehow - that it is too late.  "Don't tell me it's a bad dream/"Don't tell me it's not what it seems" - there is an unease at the heart of this song of deceit and of rollercoasters of emotions and actions.  Kerr is the needle in the haystack, elusive, not gracious or accepting, but cold and angry.  The 80s are coming to an end, and a lot is coming to an end with them....

...the tape ch-chunks over to side two.  My room feels a bit small by this point...

"Kick It In" starts with some organ, guitar, synth, sliding up to a beat that is big, ambitious.  Never forget how ambitious this band in; Kerr steps in and sings of a city that is destroying itself, only to build itself up.  Could it be Glasgow?  The city wants you to "spread your love all over town" as he says, and the song is a sprint up a hill, a race down Montrose Street to the very center, a leap across the Clyde itself....and then this pulsing beat disappears for a moment as Kerr sings "Take off with me..."  (This after closing the door so the demons - whatever and whoever they are - won't get in.)  The song stops and pauses, hazy, as the city - not just Glasgow but any city, appears...then song picks up again, and that phrase "new gold dream" appears out of nowhere, as if that dream won't happen without some demolition, some adventure, some renewal.  And the song ends on a heavy note, abruptly, as the work is there to be done and there's only so much that needs to be said....

As the decade ends, there is a sense that there are a few things left hanging that need to be tended to, old losses that are still niggling away that have to be addressed.  The decade is collapsing, caving in on itself, it seems both big and hollow at the same time....

...and "Let It All Come Down" is one of the exit songs of the decade.  If it seems like the sibling of The Korgis' "Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime" then that's due to Trevor Horn, who helped out the band with the song - but this is sung clearly to someone, from Kerr to Hynde (the "get close" is a direct pointer to her Get Close) and it is sung at night, anticipating a sunny but cold morning.  She is crying, and he is encouraging her to cry, to keep crying.  The music is big, ennobling, scary in a way.  If you have ever been in a breakup, on either side, you know how awful it is, how much crying there is, how horrible it can be.  "I cry and cry, and this isn't like the crying all the times before, not lusty and somehow pleasurable.  This is the coldest, loneliest feeling in the world" as Julie Powell puts it in Cleaving.  "All is in control (she's lost control again) love is on the open road...make me wanna live, make me wanna die" he sings as the piano picks up, then moans wordlessly, and comes back to the shining sun, the one spot of light possible.  "So let it all....let all come down" he sings, and the song is quiet and then crashes in, collapses, as Burchill once again plays the blues.  There is nothing left to say.  Words are not meaningless, but this is beyond words.  The main theme, the terrible truth, comes back, or rather looks over its shoulder at the ruins of the song, the end of the relationship.  It is The Korgis' song from 1980 that acted as one of the first songs to mourn Ian Curtis (there are so many that unofficially do this, but the end of the song does refer to Joy Division) and here we are with that grief echoed yet again, circled back to, as if the decade cannot end with at least one more song about his loss.  As bright and shiny as the 80s were, all that is rubbing off now, and it is ending where it began...

"Mandela Day" is, by contrast, a song that looks forwards - it is an act of magical thinking, and it has the light air of something that is confident, hopeful, warm.  It sounds vaguely African without being Paul Simon about it, and was written specifically for the Mandela Day concert in June 1988.  It is a song celebrating his release before he has been released - much as "New Gold Dream" looked to '83 and '84, to a Utopian future.  It has been 25 years, and now he is free; free as he is now so well-known that his fame, even before release, is a kind of liberation.  The sun rises too in this song, but its promise is not the cold one of the previous song, but the warm one of fresh air, no shackles, and liberation not just for him but for all his people...."what's goin' on" sings Kerr at the end, another link back to the past...

Sometimes a song has one meaning, no matter where you first hear it; songs can change in emphasis, however, if you are in a different place than most listeners, and I use the word “place” in more than one sense here…

As I've said at this time I was still living in Oakville - a quiet, modest, reasonably well off town full of people from the UK who had at some point decided to leave and try their luck in Canada. At least two of my father’s fellow teachers at Sheridan College were from the UK, and there were countless others across Canada who left for whatever reason and yet still felt a pull towards home, even if they could not return. To hear a song that explicitly calls for native sons and daughters to ‘come on home’ is perhaps one thing when heard on one side of the Atlantic, and quite another across the ocean. (My favorite Pogues song by far is “Thousands Are Sailing” which also came out around this time; and let’s not forget The Proclaimers’ “Letter From America” that lists the towns devastated as residents moved away, were forced out…)

What to do if your home and native land (to quote “O Canada”) is full of violence? What if you leave? How can you go back when you know very well awful things are continuing to happen? “Someday we’ll return here” he sings, “when the Belfast child sings again.” (Echoing, if a bit clunkily, of all things, “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Part of the confusion of the song is that Kerr sings the verses as someone leaving and then in the chorus as someone encouraging himself and others to return.) This is a song that tugs rather heavily on what is usually buried or not talked about, not without some diligent prodding, and that is the idea of home and where one’s actual ‘home’ is. It is an awkward subject for a song and yet when he cries out “The streets are EMPTY!” and then quietly resigned, nearly whispers “Life goes on…” – that is the punctum for me. Life goes on whether the person – indeed the people – return.

So the picture here is of a man talking to himself in a room, his own heart breaking and being vulnerable – overly-vulnerable you might say – to the quiet and semi-buried misery of others, their own losses and longings. It is as if the shiny yellow New Pop balloon has burst and here he is, seeing the world in a new (fractal and fragmented) way, full of separations. “But all’s not lost!” he sings at one point, however – he still has that “81-82-83-84″ optimism that something is going to change; not right now, but something is going to happen.  And as any exile or expat knows, you are often in the odd position of feeling as if you are in two places at once, and having to make a decision, if you can, as to where you really want to be.  "Belfast Child" is about wanting joy and return and renewal again, but the lumbering quality of the song shows just what a struggle this is.  To miss someone is one thing, but to miss an entire culture and land is another....

And so back to 1980 and Peter Gabriel and "Biko" - Simple Minds toured as support for Gabriel back then, and this is their tribute to him as well as Steven Biko; this album has several of Gabriel's band members on it as well**, so another circle is neatly drawn together.  Simple Minds' version is less stark than the original, but no less felt; if Gabriel introduced many to the horror of his death, then here the horror is known, famous, almost turned into a curse against his oppressors.  There is the sense - all the way through - that something else is being referred to, via the synth/bagpipe skirls.  The fire of nationalism is there, the wind will blow it higher, and indeed something already is happening.  The world is going to change, in this year, in 1990, and in decades to come.  Scotland - the other Other in so many of these songs - is evoked yet again, as Kerr reaches for the quiet in his voice - "gotta wake 'em up, gotta face up - I think you've gotta wake 'em up...never turn away."  And the song ends, puuuuuuuussssssssssssooooooooossshhhhmmmmm, with the finality of a roll of thunder.

"When Spirits Rise" makes all this subtext, text.  An instrumental that has all the bagpipe and drum corps strictness and passion you could want, it lures and ennobles again, as if that Utopian future really is possible if you are already there in spirit, that your energy and determination are always aimed for it.  The calling to a higher consciousness - to a sense that the world is much bigger than your bedroom, and that it includes you, you there eating your defrosted breakfast early on a chilly morning, is one that is not always welcome.  It can seem like a burden, but the promise of the burden is that you will be (paging Public Enemy) doing the right thing.

This album shows the struggle to get to that point, beyond the personal heartaches, or rather through them, to something bigger, something that you can put your heart and spirit into, if only it's a march, a signature on a petition, or an actual action like volunteering or changing a personal habit or method of doing things.  The 80s have come crashing down, and there's a lot of building and refurbishing to do, and the chaos and uncertainty these times have lends itself to both tiny and sweeping gestures. 

As it says on the inner sleeve, "Out there in the darkness, out there in the night, out there in the starlight, one soul burns brighter than a thousand suns."  But you have to stay strong and healthy to keep your soul going, and your spirits up.  This is yet another album that helped to make that possible (for me and others), and I am guessing was only too tangible for those living in Scotland, and other places where weary spirits needed it.  A new decade beckons...              


* My spatial relations are so bad that driving for me is pretty much an impossibility; if I could just walk everywhere I'd be happiest.

**Stewart Copeland plays drums on this song; Mel Gaynor and Manu Katche play them elsewhere.  

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Now That's What I Call Music 14







Track Listing:  Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Marc Almond Featuring Gene Pitney)/Two Hearts (Phil Collins)/Stop! (Erasure)/Help!(Bananarama/Lananeeneenoonoo)/Looking For Linda (Hue And Cry)/Fine Time (Yazz)/Four Letter Word (Kim Wilde)/Stop (Sam Brown)/You Got It (Roy Orbison)/She Drives Me Crazy (Fine Young Cannibals)/Need You Tonight (INXS)/Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again) (Status Quo)/Big Area (Then Jericho)/The Last Of The Famous International Playboys (Morrissey)/Every Rose Has Its Thorn (Poison)/Belfast Child (Simple Minds)/Buffalo Stance (Neneh Cherry)/Good Life (Inner City)/Hey Music Lover (S'Express)/Blow The House Down (Living In A Box)/Promised Land (The Style Council)/Respect (Adeva)/Wild Thing (Tone Loc)/I Live For Your Love (Natalie Cole)/First Time (Robin Beck)/Straight Up (Paula Abdul)/I Only Wanna Be With You (Samantha Fox)/Be My Twin (Brother Beyond)/Love Like A River (Brother Beyond)/All She Wants Is (Duran Duran)/Tracie (Level 42)/Love Changes Everything (Michael Ball)


"In the moments that followed the withdrawal of one wave of history you could see, if you chose to look, a brief glimpse of the undercurrents at work in the late twentieth century." John Higgs, The KLF, pg. 211


This is the inaugural posting on Then Play Long of an irregular series - albums that would have been number one but for the fact that they were various artists albums.  At some point in 1988 enough music industry people (Stock, Aitken and Waterman being three) complained that their artists were not getting a fair chance at the top because of the omnipresent nature of the Now and Hits compilations.  Rick Astley should have gotten to the top with his second album; Sade would have; and so on.  And so the official chart began a separate chart for such compilations; on the NME chart, though, the rule didn't apply and this album was there at the top for a week in April.

Because of the "unofficial" quality of this, I feel free (well, I always do, that's obvious) to mention a few other albums as well, and to cherrypick from The Hits Album 10, too - so this covers roughly the spring of '89, as that came out in June...

....which brings me to my last semester at Ryerson, a hectic and not always unpleasant time.  For reasons I still don't understand, I was given the job of the editorial page on The Ryersonian as the person who first had it wasn't opinionated enough.  I tried to be serious with my opinions while pleasing the actual editor and head of Journalism, while running completely inane person-on-the-street questions underneath.  It wasn't exactly perfect, but our edition never missed a deadline, and the tv installed up in the corner of the composing room (so we could follow the Dubin enquiry into athlete doping after Ben Johnson) was always turned on to MuchMusic anyway, our deadline on Tuesday being heralded by the country part of the program schedule, Outlaws & Heroes.  It was stressful but good; I wrote poetry on the side that was okay now that I think about it, and some of it was published in the White Wall Review.  If I focused on the present - this sentence, that essay, that exam, this poem, that seat - I was fine.  But there is only so much commuting and writing anyone can do, and I graduated with no real goal or ambition.  (I felt alone in this respect, as you'll see.)  My health was so bad I had to get iron pills that spring and as I can't swallow pills, I had the, uh, "fun" of smashing them up and eating them on toast with strawberry jam or (a better method) smashing them up and eating them quickly via ice cream.  Anaemia is what I was fighting, though a general lassitude was another.  I went to our graduation dinner at a fancy hotel by the lake and as I was a vegetarian at the time, I got...a plate of fruit.*  For dinner.  It was most embarrassing, and I didn't go to my graduation ceremony as my father wouldn't get to see me graduate, and my mom isn't much for ceremonies, anyhow.

In the meantime, the world of music was changing; even I could see that.  The brief glimpse that Higgs talks about he dates at 1991, but for me it starts earlier (maybe being a poetical half-exhausted opinionated outsider helped).  Decades tend to speed up as they go, but the 80s was just go-go-go for so long that by '89 it was disintegrating before my eyes, the 90s were already here, save for the calendar.  I wasn't sure about the 90s, but then time itself - so regimented for so long - began to take on a different and horrible dimensions.  I was ill, pale, in need of good cheer, and music had to rise up to help me...

...and so to Now 14...

...in the figurative diner where I have had my portobello burger and onion rings and shake and now am having my tin roof sundae** and looking over the songs here...some I have done before, or will do, and by 1989 standards there are some I know and some I don't...to make things easy, all hopped up on the sundae as I am, I'm going to categorize: 

Cover Versions

"Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart"- The bracing dramatic New England blizzard that is Gene Pitney finally gets to number one, courtesy of fan Marc Almond, whose warm and equally melodramatic voice make this declaration of love - from blues and grays to scarlets - quite stunning.  Pitney had a hit with it back in 1967 and its confiding tone - it's like an aria, really - meant he recorded it in Italian, where its title in English is "You Don't Know, Man."  And that is how bold it is - out of the darkness comes light, out of pain comes blessed relief.  I didn't hear this at the time, alas, but how good is it to hear Almond's proclaiming and then hear Pitney's voice - there hasn't been anyone quite like him since, and I doubt there will be. 

"Help!" - This was the Comic Relief single in February, long before the public were requested to wear deely-boppers (I think) and DJs exhausted themselves one way or another to raise money.  It's Bananarama and Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and Kathy Burke together to make up Lananeeneenoonoo and it works as Bananarama play it straight and the others are what's missing - i.e. they are John Lennon making fun of the song and wouldn't he have loved it?  (McCartney's recent quotes about The Beatles, amongst many other things, makes me think he would.  Also, Paul, shut up and play the bloody bass.)

"Promised Land" - Paul Weller & Co. didn't do that many cover versions, but this is Chicago House DJ/producer Joe Smooth's song and it's done with mmmmmmmmmmmmlllllllaaaah flair and sincerity, the joy and optimism here is genuine, but their label didn't think anyone would want a Style Council album that was all House-style songs, and it was scrapped and the soulcialists broke up soon after.  Modernism:  A New Decade didn't see the light until the late 90s, by which time Weller had probably become mates with Noel Gallagher (maybe later?) and he really should do a dance album now, shouldn't he?  The message of this song is timeless, he might do it again... 

"Respect" - Or, you thought it couldn't be done, but this is a great House version of the Otis Redding & Aretha Franklin song. Patricia Daniels plays with the words, woooooo-woo-woo-woos them, makes the song her own, darlings.  "Come on and respect me when I'm cleaning, come on and respect me when I'm cooking" she sings, and with her "Respect ME respect MEE AY AY" and the house piano dancing all over the song with her, it is a classic.  Daniels came out of her church choir to the world of house, as did someone else I'll be getting to soon...

"I Only Wanna Be With You" has to be one of the least necessary cover versions of all time; even by her not-very-high standards, it's only so-so.  That Dusty Springfield herself was working with the Pet Shop Boys and was known to a whole new generation of fans was a good thing.  This, uh, not so much.  Even The Tourists are better than this, and I'm saying that as someone who likes the Eurythmics a lot more.


Soulcialism And Its Discontents

"Looking For Linda" - Hue and Cry do Level 42 better than Level 42 shock!  Possibly the only song to mention Paisley, this is soulcialism done right - focus on the particular, not the general.  Linda and the narrator meet on the train, and the narration is worthy of Henry Green - there's romance, drinking, running away from a man, and constant longing.  Musically it's jazzy and lovely and the whole song is very fine. 

"She Drives Me Crazy" has already been discussed over here; suffice it to say there are only a few bands who did the veni, vidi and vici thing, and Fine Young Cannibals was one such band.  If only more could do that.

"Blow The House Down" - Whenever I hear Living In A Box I am reminded that the late Bobby Womack covered their song "Living In A Box" and I would rather hear him doing this song than them.  Still soulcialist, but with lyrics like "We have got the power to build the highest tower/Standing with our feet on the ground" - this is the tower, I guess, of righteousness that will blow the house (of Parliament?) down.  I am not sure this kind of big-lunged bluster (complete with "rock guitar solo") is going to work after the Second Summer of Love, and it was not really a tower that helped to end a particular woman's career as PM, as we shall see....

"Love Like A River" - Climie Fisher's last hit, and recognizably them without otherwise being particularly good or bad.  This is the sort of thing that is about love being like water, saving the narrator from living in a desert, etc.  It's all very Magic 105.4 brunch background music on a Sunday, but nothing else, and I'm not even sure it's remembered outside of the Climie Fisher fandom. 

"Tracie" - In which Level 42 aren't just missing Tracie but are also missing Boon and Phil Gould, so this sounds like a diet version of Level 42, lacking that vital something - a song? - and just skirting around this loss and never really getting down into a genuine feeling.  Which is a shame as Tracie was a real person.  Guitarist Alan Murphy (who had been in Go West) joined the band in '88, died of AIDS in late '89, which is of course far worse than this being a meh single. 


Good Morning Radio One

"Two Hearts" - In which you can have Lamont Dozier help write a song and it's only bearable because of him.  From the movie Buster, where a criminal's life is whitewashed because it's really about Buster's relationship with his wife, and not so much about the crime.  Even in this light, Phil Collins told Charles and Diana not to attend the premiere of it as it is about the Great Train Robbery, which in some quarters is the Worst Thing That Ever Happened, Short Of WWII.  In 1988 terms, at least.  But the song is bright and breezy, a pastiche that works because of Dozier.   

"Stop!" - Oh the multicolored and flashing and almost overly-awake world of Erasure!  And, uh, confusing too - I mean there's Andy Bell talking about "we'll be together again" and how no one is going to separate him and his Other, but then the chorus is all about how others want them to slow down and be cautious.  Don't jump before you look say these faceless people, but the narrator and his Other are never going to be separated, and that "again" means maybe they were before?  Why do I think this is some lost song from a Jane Austen musical?  A very busy song, and one that, despite its cheer (and the odd echo of "And Then He Kissed Me" in the verses) is all about defiance of the worrybots.

"You Got It" - The return of Gene Pitney was within the mourning period for Orbison, a dry Texas plain hiding riches and depths.  It is too bad that Orbison is singing on what is essentially a tailor-made ELO record here (you can hear Jeff Lynne in the background), putting a limit on this song, which if produced differently could have been as dramatic as Pitney's song is, really.  (And then on the title track "Mystery Girl" he's supposed to be Bono.  I'm sure it's a fine album if you can ignore all these things, but come on, Orbison deserved better than that.)  The Traveling Wilburys are on the TPL schedule, and how well do I remember my Reporting teacher pausing to listen to Roy's part on their singles, when the videos was being shown on MuchMusic.  He always smiled, and I do the same.

"Burning Bridges (On And Off And On Again)" - Status Quo are one of those groups beloved in the UK but unknown in North America, so I didn't hear this at the time and apart from its odd highland-fling parts thrown in I am not really sure what makes it different from any other uptempo single by them.  This was later adapted as "Come On You Reds" in the 90s for Manchester United.  The original seems to be about a man who thinks he can leave someone but really can't - it is all false bluster, but deep down he's sad.  A cheery song about misery...

"Big Area"- Gives the impression that something of importance is going to happen, but besides the cheekbones of one Mark Shaw I am not really sure there is much to admire here. "Living far beyond my means, do you know how that feels?" he sings, and the big area is apparently somewhere inside him - his heart, his mind, his soul, his liver?  I am still not sure.

"Every Rose Has Its Thorn"- The US Christmas number one, if that counts for anything.  Power ballad by the numbers, but not that bad, all things considered.  I'm not sure why it is that cowboys always sing sad songs, but they sure do, and even hair metallers have to slow down sometimes and talk about how love hurts.  Bret Michaels wrote this after he talked with his girlfriend on the phone (he was calling from a laundromat) and he had been crushed as he heard another man's voice in the background while talking with her.  Yes, even glam metal bands do their own laundry, folks. 

"First Time" - This is a song so devoid of anything close to true feeling that of course it was used as a commercial for Coca-Cola, which then propelled this to number one.  I am sure Robin Beck was happy about this, but it's no "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing" - there has been no lasting impact here, though she is still out there performing to this day.  Doing work that is strictly commercial is not a terrible thing per se, but nowadays songs themselves stand unaltered, unlike the 80s, when a song was a mannequin to hang an ad on. 

"Be My Twin" - In which Brother Beyond work with Stephen Hague so it sounds like the Pet Shop Boys while still being a nice but kind of forgettable song, which is too bad - they are the anti-Bros, after all, and I want to like this a lot more than I do. 

"Love Changes Everything" will be dealt with along all the other songs on Aspects of Love.  Oh, you thought we were done with musicals?  Nope! 


What Becomes A Legend Most?

"Four Letter Word" - This section is all about daughters; not that I knew Kim Wilde was anyone's daughter in particular at the time, and I don't even think it was released as a single in North America.  But it is a fine ballad (written by father Marty and brother Ricky) about no, not that word, not that one either, but love.  "How can the love that she has be profane/And how can something that's so beautiful/Just Jeckyl and Hyde around?" she sings, and the divine love she had has fallen into the abyss, though this is as smooth as a river stone and Wilde's singing is quietly despairing and disappointed - she knows what love is about.

"Stop" - Also a daughter, though again at the time I didn't know Sam Brown at all - unlike Kim she seemed to come out of nowhere with this torchy ballad that is amazing - the whole thing works because of her voice and I think she almost cries at the end!  The horror of knowing "you're not the only one" in your Other's life is at the heart of this song, and Brown gets down into it, making the desperation and anguish leap out.   

"I Live For Your Love" is a Natalie Cole ballad - yes, I knew who her father was at the time - but this is soft and squishy and nice in a stuffed toy way.  She sings it really well and the song is on the brink of existential nothingness, but it's so sweet that you might not notice.  The narrator only lives for her Other's love and nothing else actually matters.  "I just can't go on anymore" she sings, smiling, "I hate to admit it." You never know with some songs, do you?

"Need You Tonight" - I've already mentioned how great Kick is over here, but this is one of those songs that sounds just as fresh today as it ever did; slinky, genuinely sexy, minimalist.  Eventually I will get to it over at Music Sounds Better With Two, where no doubt I will talk about how it segues into "Mediate" and another little bridge into the 90s is born.  However, I cannot mention one band from Australia without mentioning another:






In the whole story of 80s music - which of course is winding down here at TPL - I cannot let The Triffids go by unnoticed.  If I had more time I would talk about them altogether, but at some point I was alerted to them (I think it was an NME cover story on them that was so big it had to be stretched over two issues) and went and bought The Black Swan (the symbol of their hometown of Perth) and lost myself in it,  from the saturated colors on the cover to the vague understanding that this music was practically from the end of the Earth itself.***  Did I feel more grown-up and sophisticated just owning this?  You're damn right I did, and I did crush out a little (hey, I had a lot of catching up to do on that front) on singer-songwriter David McComb, one of the few men I've heard who are audibly handsome.  I think I found a previous album of theirs secondhand somewhere, but this was my favorite, and it is not as far as you'd think from a newish townhouse in a cul-de-sac where very little happened in Oakville to Perth, which I presumed was like Los Angeles but only on a tiny scale, or maybe more like Baltimore...a port city.

A place where sailors pass through, where restlessness sets in pretty early.  So many of the songs are about that fierce restlessness and accompanying lethargy ("Too Hot To Move, Too Hot To Think").  "Falling Over You" is the Triffids doing the Pet Shop Boys and making fun of Dire Straits (I think) at the same time and AAAAAAAAAAAAA is it good.  The first song mentions listening to the Hit Parade, and this album is a hit parade all on its own, from the sweet-and-sour pop of "Goodbye Little Boy" to the country ballad "New Year's Greetings" to the punk rock of "One Mechanic Town" - dammit it is good to hear Stephen Street produce some rock again - and there is a bluntness to McComb's language that evades irony and just goes straight for the physical, the tangible, again and again.  It must have been that restlessness that I picked up on, plus the small-town romanticism that was as fierce as The Smiths, but so so different...  

Oh I want to build a time machine!  I usually say this whenever I am lamenting that a particular artist didn't get to do something he or she was going to do, or to prevent something from happening that had a lasting influence on them.  In McComb's case I would go back to 1986, to somehow stop him from being in a car crash that would mess up his back and cause him so much misery.  (I would somehow make it that I could see The Triffids live, just as I would go back and see The Go-Betweens live.   If they ever did a double bill then oh who can build a time machine for me?)...

...the moods shift and continue, with the relief of "Good Fortune Rose" to the melodramatic "The Clown Prince" (their version of "Tears Of A Clown" by way of Tom Waits); and ends with the lovely but painful "Fairytale Love." Innocence and youth are remembered, idealism too, but where are they now?  "The black swan spread its wings and hissed lo! the night came on" McComb sings, and I am now aware (I wasn't then) that he wrote poetry.**** I also didn't know it at the time, but this was their last studio album; the wear and tear of being critically popular but unloved by the masses exhausted them, which is too bad (echoing what happened with The Go-Betweens, now that I think of it).  Still, who made an album with The Triffids as his band in 1986?  Bill Drummond, that's who - he got to know them as they toured supporting Echo And The Bunnymen.  (Another double bill worthy of a time machine.)       

R.I.P David McComb, 1962-1999.


"The Last Of The Famous International Playboys" - There is a definite being-down-with-the-lads element to Morrissey, and if those lads are criminals, well, what of it?  They dress sharp, they're nice to their mom and other harmless types - "they only kill their own" is the phrase here.  But "Dear hero in prison" leads to the narrator committing crimes so he can be just like his hero, and I somehow sense the worship here is real and not ironic.  He doesn't want to be evil!  But he wants to meet his hero, and day visits to prisons are so passe!  This song works because he means it, and it doesn't hurt that Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke are here, too.  Didn't he eventually meet one of the Krays? 

"Belfast Child" will be discussed in a future entry at TPL, which as you may have guessed already I'm going to write. 

"All She Wants Is" - In which Duran Duran, who actually regained some cool when they worked with Nile Rodgers back in '86, totally lose it with this song, which manages to be worse - or at least as bad - as "Hungry Like The Wolf."  Big Thing may well be an okay album Duranwise, but this song is just so...eeech...complete with a groaning female voice and a stop-start-stop rhythm that reminds me of nothing more than a traffic jam (this is diplomatically described as "aggressive" on wiki).  

Modern Fizz

"Fine Time" - Yazz slooooowwwwwws down here to a near crawl, in order to get across her misery and despair over being left alone.  They were together and she is still in love, but "everybody seems to tell you/that ain't no good for you/You say that I make you feel so blue" and a thousand girls in pubs, wine bars or just drinking at home nod and drink and feel her pain.  Yazz (aka Yasmin Evans) now sings gospel and is much happier than this song, which slinks along, Yazz so quiet there's a desperation behind the gloss.


1989:  The Year That Saved Music



I don't want to write too much about Raw Like Sushi, other than it's something that I listened to a lot at the time as a kind of older-sister-tells-how-it-is album - I mean, how with it is Neneh Cherry?  (And like the others [Wilde and Brown], I didn't know she was Don Cherry's daughter as my father wasn't a Don Cherry fan, so she came to me fresh, as she did for most folks I expect.) The album is vital and moving - after being in bands and working as a backing singer she finally gets her own thing going, which is still so hard for young women in the UK to do.  It could easily be called Love Vs. Money***** as almost every song is about that subject, about love's importance above selfishness and cheap self-regard.  Musically it's kind of dated (these things happen) and the first two songs are the best, which makes listening to the rest of the songs a bit of a letdown.  There will never be a day when "Buffalo Stance" isn't like a ray of sunshine ("harmolodic" she says, signifiying that she comes from jazz, and the zipping and twists and turns in the song are certainly jazz - hey people who think you don't like jazz, you're soaking in it!) and it sums up the whole album pretty well.

But then...

....comes "Manchild" and you can just hear the 90s opening a door gracefully, coming in and sitting down.  The white light illuminating the darkness on the cover of Now 14 may be from a mundane source, but this is something new, something that is shedding light from a divine place, a little scary and yet shamelessly from the heart as well.  Is this the future?  As tremendous as her singing on this song is, and her lyrics and compassion, it is the strings of Wil Malone that make this the stupefying thing that it is.  After that warmth and chill, the rest of the album is just one big recovery room of anger, lust and true love, not to mention motherhood and a strong sense of self-worth and endless honesty.  I was reading Jane Austen for the first time around now******, and while Austen's world is so different from Cherry's, there is that heroic quality to her that Austen's main characters have as well.  Cherry will not settle, and neither do they.       







It is a rare thing for me to feel, but Inner City for me are from Detroit (Kevin Saunderson) and Chicago (Paris Grey) and yet Big Fun (or as it's known in the UK, Paradise) is for me an album from some other dimension that us Earthlings are blessed to have.  I am that in love with it, and it touches me in a way nothing else here can, with few exceptions.  That Paris Grey, like Adeva, came from the church is one thing, but get your mind around this - it's just them.  She sings; he plays his various synths, and that's it.  She is in the front at all times, but the beats, the rhythms, the little noises and notes that appear...when something like this happens, I just have to sit down (or dance) in awe.  Is it house?  Techno?  Is this the spirit of Detroit itself, that indestructible no-matter-what city come to life?  It is all these things, but it is one big reason I got through 1989.  How could I not be cheered up by "Do You Love What You Feel" or sense a much bigger and better world through "Paradise" or "Inner City Theme"?  Or the New Pop "Good Life" with its Occupy London-predicting video?  The light at the end of the tunnel is what's on the cover of Now 14, but this was my light, absolutely, which is why I cannot write about it too much without...not crying...but feeling very moved.  That it all seems so effortless is the simplest way of saying it's a work of art.    


"Hey Music Lover" - How can you tell this is produced by Philip Glass?  Because it's really good and blissfully repetitive. Yes there are samples, hell yes you can dance to it, no there's no narrative, but it has an irresistible energy that is like the Ocean of Sound David Toop goes on about reaching out to you, taking you by the hand and skipping with you down the street.  Higher HIGHER HIGHER!!  Music itself comes out and says hey, it's a new day, y'wanna play? It is indeed wonderful.

"Wild Thing" - In which Tone Loc goes girl crazy, does the wild thing on a kitchen floor (ouch, her mom is there but forgives them - well phew) and ends up with a girl who is "good to go" but expects to get paid.  Oh Tone, are all girls the same to you?  Sexy in a way teenage boys think they're going to get all the ladies, but end up alone as they don't know how to be nonchalant and yet not a jerk.

"Straight Up" - Or, what the US danced to before Rhythm Nation appeared later in the year.  Abdul worked with Jackson, and this is as sharp and fierce as Jackson, without her plush sensuality.  New Jack Swing meets the girl group lyrics and yes, it still makes me dance.  Abdul's a dancer and choreographer first, so it's always on the beat. 


1989:   The Year That Saved Music Part Two

There are plenty of good songs (or at least songs I like) on The Hits Albums 10 - any album that starts with "Eternal Flame," "This Time I Know It's For Real" and "I Beg Your Pardon" by Kon Kan is going to get my attention, but there are three songs that stand out for me here...

"Edelweiss" was done by two Austrians who read The Manual (they actually met up with the KLF who had just finished writing it!) and it's a riot of hip hop aw-yeahs, disco, bitonal yodelling, ABBA being revised and God knows what else.  It starts with actual cow bells and goes into house piano and it's completely insane.  This is what "Doctorin' The Tardis" hath rendered, and the aforementioned Kon Kan are sober rationalists with a love story to tell (Canadian, so it's all very deadpan) in comparison.  The rise of the non-narrative song continues...

Now there are probably going to be some raised eyebrows out there, but may I suggest that the next album here is better than the debut by The Stone Roses?



The reason it's better for me is that this album, full of OMG the-world-is-going-to-end-any minute-now humor and nervousness, was simply a much better match for me as my time at Ryerson was ending.  The Roses seemed to be singing to themselves, but the Poppies (as they were called) seemed to be in a magical place where hip hop and rock actually met just as much as Run-D.M.C.were and it was like a big high-five all around.  "I'm freakin' and you couldn't care less" sings Clint Mansell, and that summed things up for me - I was freaking out about so much, but everyone - my fellow students included - were too busy freaking out themselves to notice.  The Stone Roses couldn't help me out with that, but "Can U Dig It?" and "Not Now James, We're Busy!" and especially the boss "Def Con One" could, and did.  As the Roses have been talked about so much, this album is still ignored, and was only in the charts for a few weeks, in comparison.  But as I understand things, they are back - with Mansell! - and that is good news.


And then there's only the album of the year...




Around this time I was reading not just Jane Austen but something called Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth, a poet who had seemingly read everything and wrote short pieces about everyone from the Greeks and Romans on down.  For him a classic, no matter where it came from, was always surprisingly simple.  They spoke directly across the centuries about how life is, and that is what De La Soul do here.  I think I must have bought this at some point and listened to it constantly.  Why?  Because they were so evidently great that even in my enervated state, they could cheer me up, keep me guessing, and just plain amaze me.  Skits!  A French lesson turned into hip hop!  Suburban surrealism!  The DAISY age was one I truly wished to enter, and in listening and relistening to this album the DAISY******* age (DA Inner Sound, Y'all) came to life again and again.  (Et encore, if you like this album, you like jazz.  You're soaking in it!) There are too many moments and sounds and beats and samples to mention here, in part because this is that (dammit I want a time machine again) time when you could sample anything and get away with it, and this album is proof that with some sensitive ears and fearlessness, you can do something that was fresh in 1989 and will remain fresh for some time to come.  "Me, Myself and I" is what Hits 10 has, but literally everything on here is great and so detailed that you have to listen to it a lot just to absorb it all, just like jazz.  And it's wise, put together really well, and tickles your mind the way it should be tickled - with fun first, and then with the deeper joy that it exists in the first place.     

And so went my spring of tension, iron pills, final exams and making it through the graduation dinner with a sense of the absurd.  The time I longed to be at home and yet elsewhere (not England....clearly that wasn't to be), out of my lethargy and with the purpose and ambition so many people I knew had.  I had no idea about anything, hardly, and had to grieve at home, and look for music to help me regain some sense of self and perspective.  It would be melodramatic to say the music rose up to help me, but music does seem to do that - reach out to meet those who need it.  Or maybe those who need it are more sensitive to it?

That late spring I saw on a dark night, out of my bedroom window, a huge red aurora appear and disappear in a matter of minutes.  The silent whoosh of color was a warning of sorts (red sky at night, etc.) but I felt it meant that yes, there was going to be blood, but blood is life and life in the darkness goes on.  Music encouraged me (along with all my reading and writing) to go on, to continue...

Next up:  Liverpool, once more.     



*I would have been perfectly happy with some salad and macaroni & cheese, really - but vegetarians were barely understood back then.

**A tin roof sundae is vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce and lots of peanuts.  Basic, sure, but really good.

***In case you were wondering, I am going to be discussing a certain album from New Zealand in 1990 and will be even more excited by it, and yes the band are from Dunedin.

****There's a book of his poetry called Beautiful Waste and I would love to get a copy, but I don't know if it's available outside of Australia.

***** There is an album by The Dream with this title and it's really good.  

******Believe it or not, I was never taught any Austen books at White Oaks or Ryerson, and thus had to track them down and read them myself, just out of my own interest. 

*******In one of those coincidences that exists just to make me wonder if the Ocean of Sound is a real thing, the first name the Triffids had back when McComb & Co. were in high school was Daisy.  The Daisy age is reborn!