Wednesday 27 August 2014

QUEEN: A Kind Of Magic

(#331: 14 June 1986, 1 week)

Track listing: One Vision/A Kind Of Magic/One Year Of Love/Pain Is So Close To Pleasure/Friends Will Be Friends/Who Wants To Live Forever/Gimme The Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)/Don’t Lose Your Head/Princes Of The Universe

Five-and-a-half years after their soundtrack to Flash Gordon, Queen were asked to write and record some songs for the movie Highlander. So much had changed in the interim. Where the Flash Gordon soundtrack is, with two exceptions, utilitarian instrumental accompaniment (with speech and sound-effect samples) to the action in a trashy but harmless piece of semi-camp revivalist fluff, the music for Highlander – six of this record’s nine songs appear in some shape or form throughout the film – is as flatly bombastic as the movie itself. Revivalist fluff was no longer good enough by the mid-eighties, as though it ever had been, but Highlander is a dreary trench of noisy, pretentious and violent nonsense directed by an over-promoted video editor who, perhaps and depressingly correctly, saw that audiences were perfectly happy to gawp at loud, colourful, disconnected balls of cinematic string drained of purpose, genuine emotion or belief, that flash, dazzle and cutting to the chase were all that counted (in the last decade and a half, all but three of Russell Mulcahy’s films have been TV movies or straight-to-video/DVD jobs).

And who were these absurd figures on the cover, seemingly snatched straight from a mid-eighties Pernod cinema advertisement? “People say you’ve had your day,” Mercury self-references on “Princes Of The Universe,” and the impression is certainly one of an ageing rock band trying hard to make its audience believe that it can still be relevant in the eighties. But so little of this music breathes.

One of the three songs not included on Highlander was “One Vision,” commissioned for a disgraceful piece of cinematic war propaganda called Iron Eagle, wherein Louis Gossett Jr. and others take on those villainous Libyans; the consequences of this type of thinking are painfully apparent today, and although the song’s central riff itself is fine – almost good enough to be Def Leppard – the introduction, swamped by movie dialogue and whirring warcraft FX, is reminiscent of “Welcome To The Pleasuredome,” and the song itself barks along like Stanley Milgram square-bashing, with its one this and one that. “A Kind Of Magic” is no better with its “one dream, one soul, one prize” and might even be worse with its “rage” that will last “a thousand years”; this is perilously close to Riefenstahl rock. Between them, fried chicken japes or no, these songs carve out the pathway to today’s dead mainstream pop with its deafening odes to heroes and suns and flames.

Mercury gives a fabulous white soul performance, almost worthy of the 1986 Prince, on “One Year Of Love,” but unfortunately somebody forgot to convey that information to the rest of the group. “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure,” with its pained falsetto vocal and demo-standard musical backing – it sounds, of all things, that they’re trying to be the Diana Ross of “Chain Reaction” – is one of the most anaemic songs to appear on a major eighties rock album (even Mika would sound bolder than this). “Friends Will Be Friends” meanwhile drops us right back in 1973 and Mott the Hoople, and plods like a listless mash-up of “We Are The Champions” and “Saturday Gigs.”

Side two shows some (very) minor improvement; both “Gimme The Prize” (the bad guy has all the best tunes) and “Don’t Lose Your Head” (including, unrecognisably and incredibly, the speaking voice of Joan Armatrading) thwack along very entertainingly in a 1986 Sigue Sigue Sputnik/Test Dept/Propaganda manner, with big beats, distended vocal samples, and Brian May’s guitar which at different times calls up the spectres of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” and ZZ Top’s “Legs”; and yet “Don’t Lose Your Head” progresses to Pet Shop Boys stateliness and even a post-Big Country synthesised bagpipe threnody. But the closing “Princes Of The Universe” demonstrates that they have learned nothing; you get the feeling that if Queen were really on top of things, they wouldn’t feel the need to shout their confirmation out so petulantly.

But then there is the elephant in the record’s sitting room; “Who Wants To Live Forever,” a song unlike anything else on the album, and hardly performed by Queen – just Mercury and May with Michael Kamen’s orchestra. Indeed, as May sings the first verse, one could be forgiven for thinking he was Morten Harket; but then Mercury comes in, with the lyric’s regretfully apocalyptic West Side Story rebuttal – and all of a sudden he, and Queen, are made to realise how things really are. This performance has long transcended its cinematic origins – wherever you go in the world, however long you live, you always end up dragging yourself along with you; and the angel-forsaking-immortality thing will be better dealt with the following year by Wim Wenders in Wings Of Desire – and is now impossible to listen to without foreknowledge of what was shortly to follow.

And so, in a year which seemed to be stalked by death and endings wherever one looked, here is…well, it is an ending of sorts, or the expression of fear of an ending. But if you examine the tenets of Zoroastrianism – and its belief in one universal, omnipotent god (Ahura Mazda) is fully in keeping with the beliefs expressed in “One Vision,” more so than anything to do with Dr King or Live Aid – then you will find that they state that earthy life is a temporary condition wherein the believer must deal with the struggle between truth and falsehood. This is not to say that when the believer dies, they will be reincarnated; rather, their soul is returned to the protection of their guardian spirit, or fravashi. Even then, in the spiritual world, the soul is expected to continue the battle between what is true and what is not. There is not the calm acceptance of mortality that one finds in Buddhism; the expectation here is that there is always more work to do, more battles to fight. You might “live forever,” even if you don’t particularly savour the prospect.

The feeling with A Kind Of Magic, however, is overwhelmingly one that Queen’s moment had passed, but that they were fated to be “Queen” for a long time still to come (this is far from being their final number one album). There is portentousness and sentimentality where once there was lightness and laughter, and perhaps in some respects there was good reason for this. But it was as if lightness and laughter just weren’t enough for audiences in or after the eighties; there has to be something more, even if everything that attracted us to the music in the first place is being systematically turned to vapour. “Take me to the future of your world,” asks Mercury in “Princes Of The Universe.” You know, I think he really believed that.

Next: yes or mmmm?

Tuesday 26 August 2014


(#330: 31 May 1986, 2 weeks)

Track listing: Red Rain/Sledgehammer/Don’t Give Up/That Voice Again/In Your Eyes/Mercy Street/Big Time/We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)/This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)

Interviewed in the October 2011 issue of Uncut, Peter Gabriel said that the only compromise he made in the making of his fifth solo album was to agree with Peter Saville’s notion for a vaguely romantic and moody monochrome cover pose (although the cover shot was actually taken by Trevor Key, who once photographed the cover of Tubular Bells) since he was told that “my usual obscure LP sleeves alienated women.”

Now he certainly had less to worry about in that department than Phil Collins, whose records were mostly bought and listened to by lachrymose, drunken middle-aged male divorcees in wine bars. If you look at the cover of So, however, and temporarily mistake it for an album by, say, Richard Marx, you are not going to be wholly convinced by listening to it that it’s not.

This business of updating images and making them appear modern is a recurring feature in TPL 1986. If 1986 was indeed “the year that saved music,” when there was something new and different to hear and/or see practically every day, let alone every week, then how come most of its non-compilation number one albums are by familiar figures from the seventies, or, in one case, the sixties? Given that the album chart has an already-demonstrated tendency to think and move at the speed of a dinosaur – and given the crop of new names who do turn up in TPL 1987 – one might regard this as inevitable. But it also suggests something more sinister; that contemporary consumers just want the same old music by the same old people, tarted up here and there to make it seem of the now and relevant.

So, typically, is probably 1986’s most complex instance of this tendency, and again it beats No Jacket Required hands down; whereas Collins’ idea of communication is to stand on the lawn in the pouring rain at two-thirty in the morning, sobbing in self-pity, Gabriel is more concerned about the problems inherent in communicating with other people; many of So’s songs involve a second voice, or at least the acknowledgement of a second voice, even if, as in “That Voice Again,” it’s the discouraging voice of his parents or teachers that he remembers from childhood and stops him from listening in the present tense (hence it is a natural follow-up to “Don’t Give Up,” with the latter’s “I was taught to fight, taught to win”). If the album had ended, as originally planned, with “In Your Eyes” – different from the George Benson song, and in the States the “Our Tune” of thousands – there would also have been a clearer hope, instead of the troublesome way in which the album does end.

But where Peter Gabriel 3 was a dark and densely challenging record which reluctantly let in the world at its close, So stands in the light and wonders, half-apologetically, whether it’s all worth it. “Red Rain” – about a nightmare Gabriel had involving bottles of wine – has a clear subtext of global trouble (and a more specific one of South African apartheid), but apart from his extreme vocal similarity to the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan in the choruses, the song does not really connect, despite (or perhaps because of) the presence of three worlds of drums (Jerry Marotta’s kit, Chris Hughes’ Linn programming and Stewart Copeland’s onomatopoeic hi-hat). The music sounds expensive, meticulously tailored and finally uninvolving; Daniel Lanois co-produces throughout, but I do not really think that there is much palpable evidence of his touch here, other than the semi-spoken need to break through to a North American audience; in fact Lanois had worked with Gabriel on his Birdy soundtrack in 1984, and along with old faithful David Rhodes, the three worked up songs and rhythms – Lanois dealt with Gabriel’s famously procrastinatory approach to lyric-writing by locking him in his room until he had finished the lyric.

“Sledgehammer” was the probable main reason why So is in this tale, and it remains debatable whether it’s a sellout or pop’s best compendium of John Thomas analogies. Certainly reading the lyric is rather like scanning the storyboard of its video, as if the latter were in the singer’s head before the song, but actually Gabriel intended the song as a comparatively lighthearted tribute to Otis Redding; it was seeing the latter on stage at the Ram Jam Club in Stockwell – 390 Brixton Road, to be precise - back in 1966 that convinced the teenage Charterhouse pupil Gabriel that he should pursue a career in music. Furthermore, Gabriel contacted Wayne Jackson, Redding’s original trumpeter, who then reconvened the Memphis Horns to back the singer on both “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time.” “Sledgehammer” is either a brilliant act of subversion on horny man-pop or Steve Winwood on steroids; I still can’t decide which.

Although it is hard to imagine anyone other than Kate Bush singing the female counterpart on “Don’t Give Up,” Gabriel initially had a Nashville country ballad framework in mind, and his first choice of co-singer was Dolly Parton. She, wisely, turned it down, and the episode indicates that Gabriel perhaps did not have a clear idea of what he wanted with this record. Nonetheless, I agree with Dave Marsh that it is equally hard to imagine this song being conceived or performed by an American; there is a characteristically British (or English, anyway) air of weary acceptance about both Gabriel’s lyric and performance; he is stoical, steadfastly refuses to blame anybody outright or sink into self-pity. But his pain remains apparent, and when he approaches the bridge he is clearly in two minds about whether or not to jump.

In which case, Bush’s warm reassurances are the only real response to his internalised agony; she is gentle but insistent, she reminds him that there are others, that when he thinks “I can’t take any more” it is like saying “God, I can’t do this any more” and she has to tell him, over and over, that he is not alone. But there is the ghost of that old Then Play Long stalwart, “My Elusive Dreams”; they wander from town to town, don’t really find what they’re looking for. But then again, nobody dies…yet (the harmonically ambiguous figure played by Richard Tee’s electric piano and Tony Levin’s bass towards the end suggests that danger has not been averted).

As mentioned above, “In Your Eyes” perhaps would have closed a happier So, since it is about the only instance on the record where Gabriel is unquestionably, and without qualification, happy; he can barely stand for his awe (“I see the doorway to a thousand churches”) and so has to rely on his backing singers (one of whom is Jim Kerr) for support. Youssou N’dour’s ecstatic Wolof scatting entry at the end is mixed too low, but like “Biko,” the world can now be approached without much in the way of doubt or uncertainty.

But then side two continues with “Mercy Street,” a quiet, hesitant meditation on the life of Massachusetts poet Anne Sexton, who took her own life at the beginning of October 1974, aged forty-five, which bears, I suspect, more than a hint of the pain evident in her posthumous collection The Awful Rowing Towards God (“Let’s take the boat out”); I wonder if Sexton’s late sixties jazz-rock/poetry group Her Kind ever made any recordings, and what a fifty-three-year-old Plath might have made of observations like “Pulling out the papers from drawers that slide smooth/Tugging at the darkness, word upon word.” The confession box, the forbidden kisses, the mercy, “nowhere in the suburbs/in the cold light of day.”

Then Stewart Copeland offers a cheery “Hi there!” and “Big Time” smashes into existence, an exercise in free enterprise irony as clear and subject to misreadings as “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money).” Gabriel has said that the song was intended as a satire and a cloak for his doubt whether he really wanted to be that famous. On close reading and listening, I can’t see how the song could be taken as anything other than ironic (and a less-than-subtle extension of the central penile metaphor of “Sledgehammer”), but that thwacking beat – so similar to “Land Of Confusion” – was persuasive, and the promises sounded tempting to those young conservatives who chose to bang the song around their Porsche speakers and not listen at all closely. On the other hand, however, one could interpret the song, with all its Hammond organ and PP Arnold contributions, as a prequel to “Don’t Give Up” – it’s the Mod sixties, and young Peter is dying to escape the “small town” where he comes from and make it in the “big city”; “Don’t Give Up” is what happens a generation later when the hope runs dry (a similar London de-evolutionary process via the pop song could be conducted, starting with Des O’Connor/Jim Dale’s idiotically optimistic “Dick-A-Dum-Dum (King’s Road)” and culminating in Brian Protheroe’s terminal “Pinball.” The protagonists of both songs are incurably, and wilfully, alone).

But then, with a subtle start, comes the reminder that we are listening to a Peter Gabriel album. The original LP actually ends with “We Do What We’re Told”; the background to Professor Stanley Milgram’s experiments is outlined here. Music and voices are bitonal, robotic, nightmarish; OK Computer finds another potential starting point, and the closing chant of “one doubt/one voice/one war/one truth/one dream” can usefully be borne in mind when considering #331 (and the “one doubt” will end up corroding that record). It is as if Gabriel has already seen the future, and knows that it is not worth having.

However, the record (first generation CD copy) now ends with, of all kindred spirits, a perky Laurie Anderson; Gabriel guested on her original “Excellent Birds” (which is to be found on 1984’s superb Mister Heartbreak) and here blended it with his own observations; he sees “pictures of people, rising up…/falling down” and actually he is not that pessimistic – he sees that change is coming and can happen. “When I see the future,” he says, “I close my eyes.” The supporting cast includes Manu Katche, Tony Levin, L Shankar, Bill Laswell, Larry Klein and Nile Rodgers. The music, as a whole, does not live up to these promises; there is the mid-eighties disease of politesse, of restraint as emotional muffler, at the use of what was then just beginning to be called world music as a panacea rather than the key to another universe. Gabriel did not wish to be pinned down to promises of “Sledgehammer 2”; his next, non-soundtrack album would not appear until 1992, and he would never again be as big - in the "Big Time" sense - as he had been in 1986. Yet his approach might be one of double-bluff; yes, I look and sound smoother, but don’t be fooled, and how long have you got to find out, and whom do you please if you can’t, or won’t, please everyone?

Next: “Though I saw it all around/Never thought that I’d be affected.”

Monday 25 August 2014

Bryan FERRY and ROXY MUSIC: Street Life: 20 Great Hits

(#329: 26 April 1986, 5 weeks)

Track listing: Virginia Plain/A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall/Pyjamarama/Do The Strand/These Foolish Things/Street Life/Let’s Stick Together/Smoke Gets In Your Eyes/Love Is The Drug/Sign Of The Times/Dance Away/Angel Eyes/Oh Yeah/Over You/Same Old Scene/In The Midnight Hour/More Than This/Avalon/Slave To Love/Jealous Guy

The thing I loved most about “Virginia Plain” when it went into the charts and onto Top Of The Pops was how funny it was, how much fun the band seemed to be having performing it. I was eight years old in 1972, and so my principal pop principle was: if it made me laugh, it was great. Therefore I discerned no difference between “Double Barrel” and “Ernie,” saw T Rex as a more swinging  version of the Archies; to me it was all colourful, daft and precious (and maybe it should still be my principle; I’ve just heard Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 describe how Steve Jones came up with the riff to “Pretty Vacant” by playing around with the keyboard riff of Abba’s “S.O.S.,” which he’d heard on the pub jukebox one night and was taken by. So much for Abba being the “enemy” of punk. So often, punk has ended up its own worst enemy).

If the Roxy Music of “Virginia Plain” reminded me of anybody, it was the Bonzo Dog Band; the same strange assemblage of trans-stylistic art school no-marks fronted by an ironic model of elegant decadence, with a reserved aesthete to intermittently useful hand (you question Neil Innes being the Eno to Ferry’s Stanshall? Hear 1969’s “Noises For The Leg”). It was a cartoon love thing; I loved Ornette Coleman’s “Rock The Clock,” from the same year, for exactly the same reason. And “Virginia Plain” is as hopeful and propulsive an introductory song about trying to make it, hitting a rut and then striking out again, as Oasis’ “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” and a good deal lighter and more adventurous.

On TOTP Ferry is seated at the piano, but face and body hunched towards the camera, dressed in a ridiculous feather boa construction and even more absurd feathercut hairdo, clearly having a ball (“We-are-fly-ing-down-to-REEE-OOOOOH!!!” he hiccups, and shakes both hands in the air, Al Jolson-style, while hiccupping it). Eno minds his own business at the other end of the stage, and the camera team do their best to avoid him altogether; the producer presses the Quantel button to accentuate the particularly weird bits, which to me, still ignorant of The Great Learning and suchlike, just sounded like Chicory Tip caught up in a particularly inexplicable episode of Bright’s Boffins. For decades I thought “Far beyond the pale horizon” (at the beginning of the final verse) was “Throbbing on the televisor,” which I thought an impressively Futurist reference (I still prefer it to the actualité).

What matters about the early Roxy and Ferry stuff collected here – as opposed to the generally rather more sombre albums from which most of it stemmed – is the overriding feeling that they are having an arty laugh, and we can laugh back with (not at) them. So it is that “Do The Strand” sounds like the fiercest, yet warmest, manifesto for…well, as “Manifesto” the song impiled six years later, it could be for whatever you liked, but it sounded rounder and livelier than the square death of what it was superseding. “Strand” is a list song with no central purpose other than the celebrating of itself, and so stands midway between “The Intro And The Outro” and “Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3” – a study on the differing, parallel strands of British art school and their respective influences on music is still awaited.

Moreover, “Plain” and “Strand” now demonstrate to me – as do “Re-make/Re-model,” “The Bogus Man” and other works – as model examples of getting the balance between art and pop right; the noise  and the catchiness complement each other perfectly, as opposed to the many hamfisted and awkward attempts made during this period by certain British jazz musicians to “go pop”; other than Andy Mackay having graduated from first alto in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Roxy, I think, benefited from not being burdened by “jazz”; they were able to recognise and aim straight at pop’s heart (whereas, as too many others found out, because they felt that pop music was beneath them, writing a “simple pop song” was one of the hardest things to do).

Something of this spirit carried over to Ferry’s first solo album These Foolish Things, a history of pop music interpreted as though the primary purpose of pop was to fit into the singer’s life. Actually that’s being over-facetious; Ferry commits himself to these thirteen interpretations in ways I think he subsequently mislaid. I think that his “Hard Rain” works so well, falling just the right side of ludicrous and camp, because he doesn’t just mean what he is singing, but because he arranges the song, or the song is arranged, as Spike Jones or Bobby “Boris” Pickett might have done, with comedy sound effects on cue – not only does this undercut the assumed solemnity of Dylan’s original, but it also reinforces the point behind Freewheelin’s segue of “Bob Dylan’s Blues” into the original “Hard Rain,” the intentional absurdity of one strengthening the apocalypse of the other. Add to this that in the late autumn of 1973, when Ferry’s “Hard Rain” was in the top ten – a time when it really was a matter of guessing whether there’d even be a 1974 – the record sounded scarier because of its comic cuts.

But the title song, which closes the original album, sums up the essential dilemma of, and dichotomy within, Bryan Ferry. He sings it as straightfacedly as he can, adhering to the original lyric as performed by Dorothy Dickson on stage in the 1936 musical comedy Spread It Abroad; but as his wistful recollections of times and people now vanished are gradually subsumed by a reggae-lite backing track, we see a conflict. Ferry begins with the original prelude (“Oh, will you never let me be?/Oh, will you never set me free?”), and although this is as much of a list song as “Do The Strand” (with differing arrangement and approach, the latter could have easily made it into any thirties West End musical), its intentions are very different; this is a recollection of bitter, perhaps bereaved, memories (although the song’s principal composer Eric Maschwitz wrote it while pining following the end of a shortlived Hollywood affair with the actress Anna May Wong).

Through his interpretation of the song, we see how Ferry regards popular culture, and I suspect that he does so with an eye that has been somewhat disappointed by what it sees; he craves the old Europe (if such a chimera ever existed), the old art, the old eloquence and elegance, the economy of the essayist, and yet is also driven by an incurable obsession with the newer culture which he knows in his bones is eclipsing the old, principally fifties and sixties rock and soul – although he does “You Won’t See Me” on These Foolish Things, not to mention “Sympathy For The Devil,” he sounds as though he was happier in the days before the Beatles, or Charlie Parker, or electric recording systems, had come on the scene to dispel simple (minded) enjoyment.

And yet his “These Foolish Things” also tugs at the present with its reminder – as Ferry keeps impaling himself on the crystal banister of clinging ghosts and singing hearts - that such feelings are older than rock and roll, perhaps even older than anything we might now recognise as having been popular music. As the song gradually disappears, leaving only ethereal, wordless female voices which might have emerged from a work by Tavener, there is also the subtler hope that pop music, and British pop music in particular, does not have to possess a stinkingly rotten and corrupt heart, that innate goodness can still be extracted from what may yet prove to be an irrevocably evil core.

It is a struggle with which Ferry has perhaps continued in the intervening four decades. “Pyjamarama,” the second Roxy single, sounds unfinished, hesitant, all build-up and no release. “Street Life” sees Ferry getting positively angry as the noise and art steadily dissipate around him. It is as if he is intent on cutting everything down to its emotional core. By 1974, his “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” has become merely mannered, as if he is allowing himself to be slowly sucked into the middlebrow culture that he so professes to hate (although he has plenty of time for both highbrow and lowbrow). In the midst of this milieu, it is perhaps surprising that “Love Is The Drug” works so well, or perhaps that is the song’s least surprising factor; its introductory sound effects are from Jelly Roll Morton’s “New Orleans Bump,” and the song places itself squarely in the centre of the mid-seventies Abigail’s Party crisis; cruising the singles bar, looking for fleeting sensations, discos bumping up and down, no lasting satisfaction, nothing but emptiness; quiet wine bar Armageddon. It was maybe the truest statement Ferry made in the whole of the seventies (and his best use of the Picardy third), and the fact that in Britain it was only kept off number one by a reissue of the six-year-old “Space Oddity” says an awful lot more, with the accent on “awful,” about late 1975 Britain than it does about Ferry.

After that, he began to drift; he reworks Wilbert Harrison as a stern, finger-wagging Sunday Post lecture about fidelity (despite the yelps which may or may not have been yelped by Jerry Hall), to no obvious effect, since 1978’s break-up album The Bride Stripped Bare, half covers, half doleful Ferry originals (including a courageous rearrangement of “Carrickfergus”), saw the singer at the bottom of the emotional rock, yet perhaps never more candid or telling; “Sign Of The Times” plays like a final snarl of the old Roxy spirit, in a punk-doesn’t-scare-me sense (and it worked; in its end-of-year critics’ poll, the NME placed the single tenth).

On side two Ferry smooths himself out to the point of oblique strategizing. In 1979 Roxy were “back,” and although the “East Side” of their comeback album Manifesto might be the best side of music on any Roxy record – including a noticeably rockier mix of “Angel Eyes,” sent to the eighties and bitonal electronica on its superior 45 mix (included here) – “Dance Away” indicates that things had not really changed since “Love Is The Drug”; still the singles bar, the hopeful dancefloor, the loneliness of the crowded room, the absence, the darkness, now sounding quieter and darker. As with “Love Is The Drug,” the single peaked at number two, held there for three weeks behind Blondie’s “Sunday Girl.”

The Flesh And Blood and Avalon material has already been written about; enough here to say that if Ferry were set on rubbing himself out of the picture, i.e. the world, entirely, then he made a pretty thorough and expensive job of it; still the pull of the old, though, in that “Over You” could have come out of a neighbouring Brill Building cubicle to “Virginia Plain” – at least until the Harold Budd piano interlude drifts into the picture midway – that “Oh Yeah” could be Roy Orbison or, more pressingly, Adam Faith (complete with synthesised pizzicato strings). But “Same Old Scene” continues to want the rest of the eighties to happen – remember that at the same time Eno was busy in New York, working with Talking Heads, and consider “the same old scene” as set against “same as it ever was” – and in this setting “Avalon” may actually represent something of a happy ending; at last Ferry meets somebody at four in the morning, and there is an abstract female voice throughout the song’s second half which is markedly less frantic and more philosophical than “Let’s Stick Together.” That being said, this is the fourth number one album in less than a year to include “Slave To Love”; but then it is the record’s, and Ferry’s, McGuffin; look at me, I love the idea of love, the notion of art or music, but the reality? Too much work, darling…

But then the album ends marooned in the past, if not encumbered by it, and with their, and his, only number one.

It is true that, when considering Ferry’s comparatively recent (autumn 2006) incarnation as hugely willing leading man for the underwhelming Marks and Spencer range of gentlemen's clothing, it is hard to imagine him ever having done anything other than "dreaming of the past." Did all the futurism, the 2001 Eddie Cochran/Eric Dolphy shotgun scenario, depart from Roxy along with Eno? Did the unparalleled mongrelisation of mischief and adventure which characterised everything from "Virginia Plain" to "The Bogus Man" mean nothing to Ferry other than a passport to the fuller life he so clearly desired, to become the kind of gleaming Establishment crooner whom Roxy were originally/supposedly set up to displace forever? Was he only ever the aesthetic great uncle to Calvin Harris?

Few artists, however, have perfected the art of disappearing seamlessly into their art as the post-1974 Ferry has done. If he can squeeze as little but as indelible of himself into his records or his menswear advertisements, then he is satisfied. And the 1981 Ferry - still hurting from Jerry Hall's abandonment - was the perfect man to make Lennon's memory vanish into the Avalonian mists of nevermore.

I have written about Lennon's "Jealous Guy" before, and perhaps Ferry was the only other performer who could convert the song into an elegy of apologia before he disappears forever. The music's surface is as "perfect" as late period Roxy ever was; no bullets can disturb the serene stream, which seems palpably akin to the Styx - crossing over to non-existence. Manzanera's guitar and Mackay's saxophone, such efficient musical detonators in Roxy's past and elsewhere, are restrained and dignified.

Finally Ferry himself vanishes into an unspecifiable distance, whistling, hands in pockets, a mind an eternity away, as the synths swell behind him (in a manner not dissimilar to the end of "Decades," just to remind us that he and they might be thinking of somebody else who died in 1980) and the camera pans out to...the memory of a memory, Bryan Ferry's diplomatic goodbye to someone he wanted to be fifteen years previously. Were this a painting by his art tutor Richard Hamilton (“Virginia Plain” having in part been inspired by one of Ferry’s own paintings), his face would lengthen the further back he stepped from the foreground; and yet it is an apposite tribute and ending to this TV-advertised compilation which was the ideal length for handy compact disc - unsentimental, not of this earth, a life-goes-on-somewhere shoulder shrug whose motion never really stops pulsing, like a star in the farthest galaxy, still shining but now unreachable, and untouchable. Listen to the Vivian Stanshall of 1974, and specifically to “Strange Tongues” (“When the world was young moons made smiley faces/Stars: angel eyes, we know better”), and you might come to the conclusion that things stopped being funny for both gentlemen fairly early on. Ferry, however, proved stronger, and has survived; “It makes no sense, you’d think of me,” he notes in 2010’s exquisite “Tender Is The Night,” “When I’m out of place in your society.” That square he may never circle.

Thursday 14 August 2014


(#328: 29 March 1986, 4 weeks)

Track listing:  The Sun Always Shines On TV (A-ha) /You Little Thief (Feargal Sharkey)/I'm Your Man (Wham!) /Manic Monday (Bangles) /Borderline (Madonna) /Digging Your Scene (The Blow Monkeys) /Imagination (Belouis Some)/Chain Reaction (Diana Ross) /How Will I Know (Whitney Houston) /If You Were Here Tonight (Remix) (Alexander O'Neal) /System Addict (Five Star) /Don’t Waste My Time (Paul Hardcastle) /(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin’(Whistle) /Alice, I Want You Just For Me! (Full Force) /Eloise (The Damned) /Suspicious Minds (Fine Young Cannibals) /Rise (PIL)/Hit That Perfect Beat (Bronski Beat) /It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) (Eurythmics) /West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys) /Kyrie (Edit) (Mr. Mister) /The Captain Of Her Heart (Double) /Radio Africa (Latin Quarter) /Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) (Mike + The Mechanics) /No One Is To Blame (Howard Jones) /Come Hell Or Waters High (Dee C. Lee) /Hounds Of Love (Kate Bush)/Calling America (Electric Light Orchestra)

I have gotten into the habit of calling 1986 "The Year That Saved Music" - with my usual love of hyperbole, if not irony.  And yet I tend to think that this is true, beyond those modifiers.  1985, as previously mentioned, paused in the middle to have a definitive run-through - a transatlantic one, at that - as to who mattered in music, and who didn't.  With things seemingly so cut and dried, so made perfectly apparent in every way, there is a pull between the old and the new that's inevitable and Hits 4 is the first post-Live Aid compilation to make it clear.  It may seem like an exaggeration to say that you had to take sides in 1986, but I don't think it's a big one, as anyone who was working at the NME* at the time can attest.

That said, there's only three artists here that were also at Live Aid, so we may as well start with them and meander into eventual greatness.

The Live Aid Generation

"Borderline" by Madonna is from her first album (a much better one than Like A Virgin) - so Hits 4 goes back to the fizzy days of 1983, and here is the real Madonna, singing in her own voice, in a song that may not always make sense but resonates anyway.  The oddness of the line "love me 'til I just can't see" is attacked by Maggie Estep in her poem "Bad Day At The Beauty Salon**":

Madonna's song Borderline is pumping through the club's speaker system for the 5th time tonight: "BORDERLINE BORDERLINE BORDERLINE/LOVE ME TIL I JUST CAN'T SEE." And suddenly, I start to wonder: What does that mean anyway?



Screw me so much my eyes pop out, I go blind, end up walking down 2nd Avenue crazy, horny, naked and blind? What? There's a glitch in the tape and it starts to skip.


Nevertheless, it's a fine song, but I would advise against trying to dance in a strip club in too-high shoes (as the narrator here does) to it, as it would drive you crazy, as well.

You'll notice that Madonna is one side one tape one, whereas Howard Jones is on the mostly dull last side, with, yep, Phil Collins there drumming and singing and co-producing with Hugh Padgham, a combination that ensures "taste" and "refinement" and total dullness.  Jones sings about various pre-Morissette situations of frustration and concludes that there is no one to blame, make do and mend, if you try to alter things you will no doubt make them worse.  Whatever happened to "Things Can Only Get Better"?  Jones is waving the white flag here to a world that is full of young thrusting Thatcherkids on one side and Red Wedge fans on the other, and clearly he wants no part of any of it.  Well, that's fine, but as a result we won't be hearing from him again.  Adios, Howard.

"It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back)" is supposed to be a warm hug of a song, but it always makes me a bit uneasy - she doesn't even care where he's been?  Really?  I mean, here she is multitasking away like crazy (a ledge, a flowering tree, a clock, a danger sign, even a stormy sea - it's like she's a Transformer or something) and so utterly happy he's there that he seemingly doesn't have to do...anything.  Except "be yourself tonight" - whatever that means.  And there are horns and Dave Stewart's delicate guitar picking and so on, but the warmth here jars somehow, as if this is the real Dave 'n' Annie and all that early stuff - so sharp, surprising, at times raw - has been cooked and condensed down to this pub bangers and mash with onion gravy that fills you up but gives you no pang, nothing unexpected.

The Tropic of "Meh"

While we're here at the No Excitement buffet, here's some more songs that are "meh" (not a term used, as I recall, in 1986, at least not in Oakville).  "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister is well-meaning - after all, it's a prayer, with "Kýrie, eléison, down the road that I must travel/Kýrie, eléison, through the darkness of the night" as part of the chorus.  I didn't know that that was Greek at the time, maybe even Ancient Greek, but I've got to respect them for at least using the total Reaganrock template to put something beyond the usual love song out there.  Also, what to make of the line "Somewhere between the soul and soft machine/Is where I find myself again"?  Could these guys, who got their name from a song by Weather Report, know about Robert Wyatt?  Hard to tell, as unfortunately this is so darn manly/uplifting normal, and of course went to #1 in the US.

"Imagination" by Belouis Some puts a damper on what, as you can see, is a fine first side here.  He's trying so hard to sound sexy!  He's failing so badly!  His girl is all about "American Dreams" (cut to me looking at UK music papers/magazines at this time and seeing nothing but stereotypical "American" stuff in ads, a trend that baffles me, an actual American) and wants him to use his imagination, which is a big request, considering how this song is so irritating.  And yep, this is another example of how the Chic organization - Tony Thompson, Bernard Edwards - passed 1985, by helping one Neville Keighley make a record which is trying way too hard.

"Chain Reaction" must have looked fine on paper - Diana Ross!  The Bee Gees!  But The Bee Gees were no Chic here either, and in hearing this I end up feeling like I'm playing a fairground game of Whack-A-Metaphor.  I mean, there's the chain reaction from nuclear explosions (hence "You let me hold you for the first explosion"), "Shine a light for the whole world over" "You get a medal when you're lost in action" - the Brothers Gibb make love sound like war, but what to make of lines like "We get a picture of our love in motion" or "You make me tremble when your hand moves lower/You taste a little then you swallow slower"?  I don't know, but then the key changes make it tougher and tougher for Ross to sing at the end, so The Bee Gees, frustrated by not being able to take center stage on their own record, take over, as they can sing in a higher range than Ross.  It is an awkward song no matter how you look at it, and yet it got to #1 in the UK, number nothing in the US, despite Ross' best efforts.

Concerned People Being All Concerned About Things

"Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" is a R2 staple so you know that it's sung by Paul Carrack (what would R2 do without him?), written by B.A. Robertson and Mike Rutherford of Genesis, and is so White Male Anglo-Saxon Protestant that it's scary.  Except it's not; it's too spaced out and gloopy and, well, square, jack.  The narrator is warning his family - after all, he's ahead of time of them, he's in space! - to get their guns and ammo ready for the coming anarchic period of Earth warfare. Just hide out in the cellar like good Survivalists, and raise the kids to rebel, all the while saluting whatever flag's being flown.  Atta boy, dad!  How about using your from-the-future powers to stop all this chaos to begin with?  Maybe they can't hear him, and will use their common sense instead.  As a protest song it's no "Won't Get Fooled Again" and it certainly isn't "World Machine."

Latin Quarter are just as meh here as Mike + The Mechanics, though they are at least talking about the here and now, and not some dystopian time-travelling future.  "Radio Africa" - which only seems to broadcast sad news. What puzzles me here is not the Stingesque concern for, uh, Robert Mugabe, but the fact is this was a Top 20 hit but hasn't lasted as a protest song.  I think it's because the whole thing screams Camden Social Services (where Paul O'Grady worked in the 80s, fact fans) - earnest, but dull. It lopes along in a way to suggest they actually listen to music from Africa, but it in the end is a bit too mopey to really make you care about the purse-strings being white and how it's not just Ethiopia/South Africa that's in trouble, kids.  Leaflets outside Sainsbury's probably made more of a dent than this single did, all told.

Poor Five Star!  They seem to be only slightly afraid they're turning into what they beheld - "System Addict" is probably about being stuck on Tetris 24/7, or some such thing.  Or maybe they're just really into Filofax.  Whatever it is, they are certainly positive about it, like Gary Numan on Prozac or a cheerier Roy Orbison doing "Penny Arcade."  This sure ain't "You Are In My System" by The System, amongst many, many other things it's trumped by.  God willing and the creek don't rise, Five Star will get the, uh, most positive writing possible here at TPL.  One hopes.

The Obligatory Mention of ELO Part

Jeff Lynne really couldn't wait to get to America, could he?  This defines "phoned in" in all ways, and yes, finally he gets to leave.  Next stop:  The Travelling Wilburys. I don't even think Roy Wood could have saved this from being as, uh, naff as it inevitably was going to be.

Also, Hits 4 people, where's "Kiss" by Prince or "Living In America" by James Brown?  Compilations that end with a damp squib aren't going to work, you know.


I bought the Hounds of Love 12" at the time and really liked it, as it broke down into pure drums and Bush sounding more frightened and obsessed than on the original. The b-side has "Burning Bridge" and "My Lagan Love" and I must have spent hours listening to either side, as it completes itself and the terror on one side is balanced by the joy and love on the other.  One of my teachers at Sheridan College had seen me walking along with it, no doubt going home, and asked me before or after class what it was.  She seemed pleased to hear it was Kate Bush, though she didn't look at all the type to know who she was.  Maybe she did by then?   

To Cover Or Not To Cover

Dee C. Lee, from Balham, was on Our Favourite Shop; here she is with a non-Top 40 single (well, at least it made the chart).  It's a cover of a song by Judie Tzuke, and that means it's once again polite and elegant and Lee does her best, but this is a little too polite, the sort of thing Jazz Fm would play on a Saturday morning.  Given the extremity of the song, you'd think it would have a little more oomph, but no.  Soul as Alan Partridge would understand it.

There is no point in doing a laid back proto-lounge version of "Eloise" and The Damned here make as much noise as they can, though it's still not as tortured as the original.  Goth pop is what The Damned did when punk ran out, and they made a good go at it, too. There is no getting away from the 60s, is there?  I am still not sure how it is that Eloise exists and yet doesn't, but this is Goth, where death is but a small barrier to obsession.

So(ul)cialism, At Long Last

Is there any song here lighter and yet heavier than "Digging Your Scene"?  It's enigmatic - I still don't really know what it's about, though I always figured it was about the gay club scene and the gay arts scene in general; this confirms it.  Dr. Robert scats and sighs, sings in a way that he learned from Marc Bolan, and the whole thing is delectable and against the grain, somehow old-fashioned and way ahead of (almost) anything here.  It's style and substance, which is always harder to pull off than it seems.  A reminder that for some, death was real, and not just in a song...

"Suspicious Minds" is a paranoid song, or rather a song where an innocent man is driven crazy by his Other's paranoia, and the Fine Young Cannibals (featuring, as it would say nowadays, Jimmy Somerville) play it direct and harried, as if the singer was being backed into that trap and fighting like hell to get out.  It grips and doesn't let go, and Somerville's backing vocals just make it that more insistent and strong, until it speeds up entirely and finishes and explodes. Yet another account, I'd say, of how Thatcherism was making people's relationships a lot more painful and making love much tougher to keep going through stresses and strains.  Roland Gift sounds even more in pain than Elvis, which is saying something.

I figure Wham! are here as so(ul)cialists as they are going Motown right (unlike Diana and her boys) and in the trampoline-bouncy beat are able to get George saying any old thing and make you think he's taking soul to some new level, where he can say "Baby your friends don't need to know" and all that doing it right stuff is yeah what you think it is, but then maybe not.  "I'll make you rich, I'll make you poor!" he says at the end, and he says "Do it on my own" as if he's Bono.  Before Leonard Cohen could explain how he's your man, here's George sounding as if he just invented something yesterday.  George is ready for you, but are you really ready for him?

Paul Hardcastle and Carol Kenyon make as if they've heard George's endless, boundless Olympian promises before and just aren't interested; she sounds a bit snooty, but who knows what lines she has been hooked on before, by what bait.  Jazzier than "19" and tougher than you'd expect, though I still prefer Carol Kenyon singing about market capitalism on Heaven 17's "Temptation."  Or maybe she's singing to the Tory Party here in general, that she's not voting for them in '87?  Am I hoping for too much here?

A Star Is Born

It is difficult for me to regard this song as just another song by a performer.  That is because it - the painful indecision, the longing, the hoping, the admitting that she is shy, her appeal to you the listener, because you "know about these things" - it is all I can do to stop running off to wherever they are working on a time machine (Switzerland, I guess) and go back and explain to Houston that yes you have to trust your feelings, you can't just get a daisy and pull the petals off, you have to watch what he does as much as what he says to know if he's in love.  Love is far more that possessions, far more than words, though those help; it is chemical, in the best way.  Her sunshine voice and openness and yes, youth make me shake my head as to how she could get love so wrong, including that love George Benson sang about, amour propre.  Love yourself first, Whitney, and that will make it easier.  If only.

It is interesting to note, btw, that Whitney bursts on to the US scene just as Diana Ross stops having hits, and that if it wasn't for Dire Straits her first album would've been #1 here, too.

A Certain Longing

Speaking of Switzerland, Double's "The Captain Of Her Heart" is more of a notion of a song than a song; like a more mellow Yello, a modest and sweet song that meanders and settles, the quiet satisfaction of this man's return is far more believable than that of the Eurythmics; it is the closest thing to a proto-lounge moment here, utterly European and sophisticated in a way I could only, in Oakville, long to be.  (We will reach the height of that European brilliance in a while.)

Tell Them Christopher Sent You

The Bangles were from Los Angeles and picked up the baton from The Go-Go's as the big all-girl group that could sing and play and started out as a punk band, The Bangs.  This song, by Christopher (a.k.a. Prince) is a joy, the best song about being late to work ever, and the activities of Sunday become the Valentino dreams of Monday morning, a lingering delicate Paisley melody letting you know that maybe the boss too has had a good time the previous night and all is well.  Time, it goes by so fast...

Hip Hop Wars, Anyone?

The NME was about to get embroiled in an imbroglio (a contretemps, some might say, a brouhaha) that has become known as the "hip hop wars."  In retrospect it was a sorry state of affairs - every time they put a hip hop artist on the cover, sales (which were already sliding) would dip further.  And yet who could resist Whistle's "Nothing Serious (Just Buggin')"?  Six full years of hip hop (called rap at the start, not really sure when it began to be called hip hop) and there is a knowing sense in this song that hip hop is indeed here to stay, that quoting the Green Acres theme and what would become "Stop This Crazy Thing" by Coldcut a few years later is what music is really all about in 1986 - they're here to have fun but are no one's fools, and there is a freshness and insouciance here that is fun, sure, but they also mean business.

Um, is this mic on?  "Alice, I Want You Just For Me!" (not enough songs with exclamation marks in them these days, methinks) is from Full Force's first album; it features Howie Tee as the DJ and the Brooklyn hip hop group as slightly clunky ("Let me be your carpenter I want to lay your tile" is Block That Metaphor time) but otherwise solid and charming (the narrator wants to take Alice to the "picture show" after school - which decade is this anyway?) and almost every utterance of devotion is met with a horn skronk, like Victor Borge's audible punctuation.  Full Force will go on soon enough to work with Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, The Real Roxanne, etc.  But for now they are disarming and "In The Place To Be" as they say.  "Baby, you're the greatest" they say at the end, to hip hop fans everywhere.  Including the NME.

Perfect Beats

I am pretty sure the first or second copy of Melody Maker I bought had John Lydon on the cover, being contrary as ever, no doubt.  This song stands for so much - Ginger Baker pounds out the beat big enough for future hip hop gods to sample (has it been sampled though)?  Lydon doubts himself as as much as Houston does, but with a steely purpose - as if indeterminacy was a power itself.  Bill Laswell (bass, production) is huge as well, and oh look, there's Steve Vai on guitar! And L. Shankar on violin, all working to the drum's beat, along with Tony Williams and Ryuichi Sakamoto.  "They put a hotwire to my head!" "Your time has come, your second skin" - just in hearing this vertiginous song I knew something was going to happen, that music wasn't going to be quite the same again.  That it is an anti-apartheid song should've been obvious to me at the time, but wasn't (and I'd just marched against it in Toronto)!  Anger is an energy?  May the road rise with me?  Remember I didn't hear any punk the first time around, so this was new to me, daring, encouraging.  Important.  Tutu addressed us that day at Queen's Park and praised us, but this is praise too, a blessing.  To hear something like this on the radio afterwards was a vindication.

To show how quickly 1985 moved, when it began Jimmy Somerville was part of Bronski Beat but by 1986 he'd left and John "Jon Jon" Foster had replaced him as lead singer.  "Hit That Perfect Beat" is hi-energy, "to close for comfort" but immersed in music, the music providing a refuge - the boys are "hiding from the danger that's been sent from hell."  How many people felt this way in 1986?  That music was the one thing that they could feel and enjoy and draw from with no chance of danger?  The music somehow suggests this is a good idea but not an ideal one, but what else is there to do?  (This reminds me, only slightly, of "Dr. Beat" by Miami Sound Machine, and the meaning's much the same, too.)

He Said, She Said

"A Good Heart" was written by Maria McKee about her relationship with Benmont Tench; and "You Little Thief" is Tench's reply.  She asks him to be gentle, but in this Tench says she crushed him, left him with "nothing" and Sharkey sings it as if he is stunned too, abandoned, yet somehow still in love - note is quiet "you little girl" as if this was the case (and it's true; McKee was nineteen).  It's a Dave Stewart produced stomper but don't let that put you off; Sharkey gives the song his all and his "you watched me faaaaaaaallllllllllllllllll" is better than anything from Be Yourself Tonight.  Such emotion from a man who claims that he has "no feelings at all."

"If You Were Here Tonight (Remix)" by Alexander O'Neal is the kind of song that looks and sounds old-fashioned and it is; how I wish there were more songs like it.  It's not really like anything else here.  Sorry if I sound a little stunned, but it's just so real and lovely and beautiful.  And it doesn't rhyme, which makes it more real, somehow.  As if you're overhearing someone, their real love, their real life.  O'Neal's voice is direct and open, actual soul - not fussy, not showing off.  And then he whispers!  If a guy had put this on a mixtape for me in '86, then I would've known it was for real.  A modern classic.

And now we begin to ascend...hip hop is the future...but New Pop is back back back....

Norway To The Rescue

I doubt if anyone expected three guys from Norway to help save New Pop at its darkest hour, but that's how it was - this Alan Tarney-produced cathedral of sound stormed up to #1, as if anything could possibly stop it.  And it can't - the song carries you up with it, ennobles you, takes you out of the darkness into something Other.  "The Sun Always Shines On T.V." is a big enough song to encompass love, media "reality," the imagined and the real.  There is something feverish about the song (and indeed two of the band had high fevers when it was recorded). "Please don't ask me to defend/The shameful lowlands of the way I'm drifting gloomily through time/I reached inside myself today/Thinking there's got to be some way to keep my troubles distant" - this worried man glides through a miracle of a song, as it rises and rises to merely ask for love, to be touched and made real.  There is so much bustle and energy here, urgency and need, but the music is a balm, a promise, that New Pop is not dead, just on a camp bed raring back to life, hurtling into the stratosphere...

From Lake Geneva To The Finland Station

I first heard "West End Girls" in its first incarnation at the end of 1984 on CFNY (which should tell you how cool a station it was at the time).  And I was hypnotized; I had never heard anything like it, had no idea who they were - beyond English, obviously - and had no idea how something like this could have a basis on...poetry?  I wasn't - oh, the irony - a very poetry-taken person at the time, didn't know much about it, have a feel for it, etc.  But I knew a good rhyme when I heard one ("unstable" and "table") and wondered about the calm - the apparent calm - of this man as he sang about someone who is dangerous and crazy - a threat to himself and others.  I didn't really know what "west end" or "east end" meant; just that they were opposites, just as girls and boys are opposites.  (1986, the year that brought sides together, or pulled them apart - the binary year.)

And then there was capitalism - "Do you get it/Have you got it/If so how often/Which do you choose, the hard or soft option?"  The boldness of Tennant's calm was something else; the just-out-of-peripheral vision music was another.  This song nudges and suggests; it is with you, not talking down to your level but with you somehow.  There's the backing singer, the saxophone, but they are deep and distant, dreamlike - and the song continues, "just you wait 'til I get you home" - recited, not sung - "Got no future, got no past, here today, built to last" - with only a few words Tennant looks askance at everything and then concludes this is how it is everywhere - "from Lake Geneva to the Finland Station."

At the time I didn't know what that meant, just that there might be something cold or chilly about this world he was describing.  The song carefully and nonchalantly leads you to the history of revolution, a place where maybe there's not so many shadows or whispering voices, a place where freedom of expression and meaning are encouraged.  This is practically New Pop explaining itself, and yet so hummable and even sing-a-longable that it got to #1 in the US.  There are few 80s singles greater than this. It's my pleasure to welcome the Pet Shop Boys to Then Play Long.

1986, the year that saved music?  An exaggeration, perhaps.  But it definitely saved New Pop, and sustained me through this uncertain year, of which more later.

Next up:  Flowers for you, Mr. Ferry!    

*I first came across the NME in the summer of '86 at the main library in Oakville and attempted to read it but found it dense and difficult; I bought a copy of Melody Maker around the same time in Toronto and found it much easier, though I kept trying with the NME as I sensed there was an energy it had that came clearly from some kind of friction, which much later I found out was the case.   
**From the great album No More Mr. Nice Girl (1994).