Saturday, June 30, 2012

Every Roses gig has its thorns

These days I seem to spend a lot of my time writing excitedly about band reunions, but one that wasn't greeted with any enthusiasm whatsoever here at SWSL Towers was Stone Roses' reformation. So it was with some irritation that I read the BBC's Ian Youngs claiming: "The band's 1989 debut album is one of the greatest ever recorded".

However, much of the rest of his review of their homecoming show in Manchester's Heaton Park raised a smirk on the face of this committed Rosesphobe...

"'As you can see, we've still got it,' [Ian Brown] assures the crowd early on. Luckily, during the first few songs, the crowd is singing too loudly to be able to tell whether he has gained the ability to sing in tune."

"Mani, meanwhile, whose potent basslines underpin the band's best songs, seems to wear a slightly strained expression, as if he is high on Immodium rather than the ecstasy that is associated with their baggy heyday."

"But the Stone Roses can also sound awfully ordinary at times. After five or six songs, the energy levels in the crowd start to drop dangerously and the band move into a mid-set lull. It becomes clear that Brown's vocals are still rather wayward and the sound from the PA, which is being blown about like the dry ice, does not help."

Quote of the day

"To be published alongside the man who ate 22lbs (10kgs) of his own boogers, beside the woman with the longest toenails, or perhaps even to be published beside an individual who has had maybe 1,000 cockroaches stuffed into their ears… that, to me, would be one of life's absurd joys."

Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, commenting on the band's achievement of setting a new world record for the most gigs in 24 hours. Bet he told each crowd it was his favourite venue...

Of all the crazy things they've done recently - six-hour-long charity singles, 24-hour-long songs on USB drives embedded in skulls, upsetting Erykah Badu by releasing a video featuring her writhing around naked in blood and semen - this is actually pretty tame, but nevertheless very handy promotion for forthcoming album of collaborations, The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends. Badu and Nick Cave are among those who've contributed, but if the recent collaboration with Lightning Bolt is anything to go by, I'm not holding out too much hope of it being worth the investment.

Friday, June 29, 2012

RIP Alan

Sad to report that Operation: Good Life has had a bit of a set-back with the untimely death of one of our two hens, Alan. She fell ill a month ago and neither injections at the vet's nor a couple of extensive courses of antibiotics have been able to cure her of the infection or cause her to regain her misplaced appetite. She was so weak in the end that she couldn't keep her balance or lift her wings, and had a temperature so severe the vet couldn't believe she was continuing to cling on - and yet cling on she did, looking wistfully out at the other chickens roaming around in the garden, until today.

Alan's survived by Hadrian - who's as noisy, cheeky, boisterous and fun as ever, and who has developed a fondness for being tickled under his wings - and Birinus, who, despite her diminutive size, has been laying small white eggs since the beginning of May at a rate of roughly two every three days.

Know Your Enemy

"It's monstrous. It's probably intended as a monumental shock, but it seems to me hideously hubristic. There's always been something in that big, bombastic pop that is almost Nuremburg-lite. The most charitable thing I could say about Muse is that they were trying to mimic that tradition."

David Stubbs reveals he's no fan of Muse's official Olympic single 'Survival'. Neither am I (here it is in all its dubious glory), but Stubbs seems to have led quite a sheltered life for a music critic if he thought Muse coming out with a "bombastic" and "hideously hubristic" song might possibly constitute "a monumental shock"...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fringe festival


(Well over a year overdue, but, y'know, I've got to start catching up on the backlog somewhere...)

Tonight is The Freemantle's very first gig - and what a venue for it. The grand old Regal has rarely seemed so cavernous, so sparse is the crowd. As for the band themselves, well, I can't be kind so instead I'll just be quiet.

Attendance has swollen somewhat by the time Matt Winkworth takes to the stage, warming us up with some communal vocal exercises. Solo, his lyrically dexterous piano-based ditties suit an intimate environment, but tonight he's backed by a full band (the Winkworthers Originals, adding guitar, cello, violin, brass and drums) and songs such as 'Just Like The Movies' and '4am' are blown up to fill the space. The transformation demands that he stands rather than sits at his keyboard, a focal point for the audience, informing us that he's been researching the Regal's history and was amazed to discover it was opened in 1937 by Dolly Parton. This may not be true.

Sadly our enjoyment of his tall tales and musical flights of fancy are cruelly curtailed when the rather naive promoters, concerned that everything is overrunning, take a leaf out of the 1-2-3-4 book of rude stage management and simply shut off the power without consulting or even forewarning the performers.

When the resulting bafflement subsides, it's replaced by a feeling of annoyance which leads me to contemplate staging a walk-out in principled protest. It doesn't help that headliners Borderville failed to wow me at Truck, or that the venue is freezing - "Outside it's as cold as ice, and inside it's also as cold as ice", observes frontman Joe Swarbrick, shortly before playing a song called 'I Am The Winter'. I stick around, though, and am rewarded with something far better than the try-too-hard set they failed to pull off at Truck.

It's still overtly theatrical and wide-open to accusations of pretentiousness, of course, but then this is a band who are gearing up to release a concept album unashamedly inspired by Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Tonight, though, there's more aggression, more angst, more murk. The aforementioned 'I Am The Winter' lopes along with a menacing Bad Seeds bassline that seems to know where the bodies are buried, while even the slower songs are like Bright Eyes putting up the blackout blinds and preparing for the apocalypse, 'Afterlife' finding Swarbrick declaring "There's no such thing as heaven, you fucking fool". 'Short Sharp Shock' brings an end to proceedings - appropriately so, as I've been jolted out of my dislike for one of Oxford's more idiosyncratic outfits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Know Your Enemy

"As we approach the bottom of your first paragraph you refer to the 'corporate slick production on future of the left's third album' - a question, my dear friend - would this be the kind of corporate slickness you get through recording an album in 16 days (using the same methods as ever) over a six month period in studio downtime and friend-financed to the tune of £2,000 (whilst we work in temporary jobs and with credit, when available, to support our habit) or instead the kind of corporate-slickness (since, as tone indicates, we’re using the term pejoratively) a person could get from writing for a site which has run the adverts of a variety of corporations, big and small, for many years? I may not be wearing my eyeglasses at this particular moment, but I can definitely see a lovely shiny one sitting atop your review at this very moment. Oh … it has moving pictorials and everything – quite lovely!"
(Thanks to Niall for the link.)

Naming rights

'If You Love Somebody, Set Them On Fire'

'Excoriating Abdominal Emanation'

'Gluing Carpet To Your Genitals Does Not Make You A Cantaloupe'

'Talkin’ ’Bout The Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)'

'Living Color Is My Favorite Black Metal Band'

Just a few of the song titles mentioned in this AV Club article. The Flaming Lips, The Fall, The Smiths, Yo La Tengo and Sufjan Stevens are among the artists featured - the only wonder is that Mogwai have somehow been excluded. With gems like 'I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead', 'You're Lionel Richie' and 'I Love You, I'm Going To Blow Up Your School' in their back catalogue, it's a travesty.

(Thanks to Brian for the link.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

Money's too tight to mention?

The Guardian's income comparison tool: a handy way of finding out your relative standing in "Breadline Britain". Personally speaking, using it was a humbling experience. Despite what the tool might have suggested, I can assure you I don't walk around in a carefree daze with fivers fluttering from my pockets - but perhaps I should stop taking the regular album purchases, jaunts about the country and the semi-decadent Waitrose shops so much for granted.

The great British summer strikes again

Glastonbury weekend, and it's another festival that's hitting the headlines for having descended into a mudbath. My reaction was (I admit) at least partly Schadenfreude, but there's also a small but significant part of me that's actually jealous. Bet Michael Eavis is counting his blessings that Worthy Farm is being spared this year.

Update: And I was right! Eavis: "Looking across the farm at the moment I think we were very lucky to choose a good wet year to take out. Amazing bit of luck!"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The downward spiral

"I hurt myself today / To see if I still feel". So croaked Johnny Cash in his twilight years, imbuing Trent Reznor's melodramatic line with far greater and deeper resonance than its author ever could. In Cash's hands, 'Hurt' became not a howl of existential angst but a poignant and bittersweet reflection on the wreckage of a life, a mediation on decades of self-abuse, sensory excess and sensory numbness.

The original version of 'Hurt' was the climax of an album called The Downward Spiral, and it's the dangerous descent of musicians into a horrific cycle of self-destruction that is the theme of Nick Kent's collection The Dark Stuff. Cash is just one of a litany of greats whose gradual decline Kent chronicles in unflinching detail. If Motley Crue's The Dirt is a largely enjoyable romp charting the exploits of a quartet of clownish and mischievous scallywags with too much make-up and heat-seeking groins, then The Dark Stuff is the antidote: to quote Neil Young, another of the book's subjects, its focus is very much on both the needle and the damage done.

Most of the chapter-length portraits conform to a predictable trajectory: a gifted individual rises to prominence, before becoming seduced by the same old sirens (alcohol, drugs, sex, ego, violence, depravity); talent is squandered; fame curdles to notoriety; and the individual is left floundering, unable to do the one thing for which they've become celebrated. However, just because the trajectory is predictable doesn't make the unfolding narratives any less compelling.

As you might imagine, the pages are populated by some of popular music's most colourful characters. There's Young, constantly falling out and making up with David Crosby and Stephen Stills (both portrayed as creatively-spent druggie leeches) and popping over to Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's house for a rendez-vous with Charlie Manson. There's Sly Stone, mixing with mafia types, trying his hand at pimping and becoming convinced that paying someone to kill his bassist is a rational course of action. In a long opening chapter, there's Brian Wilson - the insecure genius who only a few years before had filled ears and hearts with the celestial music of Pet Sounds - banished to the changing room of his outdoor swimming pool by his wife because she deemed his insatiable appetite for drugs and porn a corrupting influence on their children. And then there's Iggy Pop, author of the book's foreword and clearly a particularly favourite of Kent's - a self-proclaimed innocent who actively pursued self-annihilation because he thought that was what was expected of him. (His self-abasement hadn't reached its nadir by the time the book was published, though - that would come with those Swiftcover insurance adverts...)

While Kent generally shows a certain amount of respect for the stature of his subjects (and understands well enough the allure of the "dark stuff" himself), he's also not afraid to stick the boot in. Hence he's baffled by the reverence of the French nation for obnoxious, incoherent drunk Serge Gainsbourg; he refuses to see Kurt Cobain's death - a successful suicide attempt by someone determined to shuffle off his mortal coil - as conventionally tragic; he portrays Phil Spector as a poisonous bewigged backstabber, a nasty piece of work even in a notoriously cut-throat industry; and he characterises Sid Vicious as "the exploding dimwit", a "deranged exhibitionist", a thuggish caricature who symbolised English punk's demise.

The volume ends with a short piece Kent wrote on the subject of self-destruction and its place in music at the request of Franz Ferdinand, when the band were guest editors of the Guardian. In it he offers a chronological overview, and concludes that trying at once to destroy and redeem oneself is "a fool's dream, but it won't stop younger minds from being seduced down that path again and again". Not that he (or I, for that matter) think that's necessarily a bad thing: "What's the alternative? A long life and a world full of moderate musos like Belle and Sebastian"...

One issue that I'd have liked Kent to have tackled is that of gender; of all the musicians featured in the book, not one is female. Is this simply a consequence of the editorial selection process, or does it actually suggest that self-destructive behaviour is characteristically male? In the Guardian article Kent does at least allude to Whitney Houston - both she and Amy Winehouse would make fascinating subjects for a revised edition.

The artful dodger

Ouch. He's been accused of stealing other people's jokes, and now Jimmy Carr stands charged with cheating the public purse. You've really got to question yourself when someone like David Cameron feels confident in branding your actions "morally wrong"...

Update: Carr has quit the offending K2 scheme and apologised for a "terrible error of judgement". The damage may already be done, though - not least because Jim Davidson has been among the few to leap to his defence...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Know Your Enemy

"Alistair Campbell: @ campbellclaret So @ AIannucci OBE joins the Establishment he claims to deride. Malcom Tucker and I do not approve of honours system"

Armando Iannucci: @ AIannucci It's probably more Establishment to order your army to march into other countries for no reason. Swings and roundabouts

Alistair Campbell: @ campbellclaret
you see, your wit a bit tired and blunt already. Three little letters can have more impact than you realise. Tut Tut

Armando Iannucci: @ AIannucci WMD"

That Alistair Campbell v Armando Iannucci Twitter spat in full. While I can't help but think that Campbell has a bit of a point, Iannucci clearly swung the decisive punch to emerge victorious at the end and Mr Spin got what he deserved for having the gall to try and take the moral high ground.

Taking on professional comics? It seems Campbell still hasn't learned his lesson despite that mauling from Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and even Ross Noble on Have I Got News For You...

Is this thing on?

Oh ATP, you do tempt me so. No sooner had I faced up to the reality of a first ATP-free year since 2008 (having been less than inspired by the bill The National are assembling) than you go and announce that house band Shellac Of North America will be curating an alternative pre-Christmas bash. Albini's mob have had the honour before, back in 2002, and it's the quality of that bill - which included Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Low - that has me salivating at the prospect.

The festival is returning to its old stomping ground of Camber Sands, where I first saw Shellac in 2000, when they were invited to play by Mogwai. Minehead is being abandoned, it seems - still, I'm sure that the locals will be glad not to have scruffy oiks clearing the shelves of their Tesco of pizzas and cheap vodka, and that, in the absence of festival news, there will be plenty of exciting stories about obese hedgehogs to fill the local papers.

(Thanks to Phill for the link.)

Quote of the day

"I have always liked chaffinches. The money I may receive from this show may well allow me to buy more pictures of chaffinches."

Kevin Eldon reacts to the news that he's been handed his own TV series, which will involve the people behind Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle. Can't wait.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Know Your Enemy

"I can't think of any people outside of Weird Al Yankovic who have both embraced and pissed on rock more than I have. Obviously there's a level of reverence, but there's also a level of intelligence to even know what to piss on. Because I'm not pissing on Rainbow. I'm not pissing on Deep Purple. But I'll piss on fucking Radiohead, because of all this pomposity. This value system that says Jonny Greenwood is more valuable than Ritchie Blackmore. Not in the world I grew up in. Is Ritchie Blackmore a better guitar player than me and Jonny Greenwood? Yes. Have we all made valuable contributions? Yes. I'm not attacking that. I'm attacking the pomposity that says this is more valuable than that. I'm sick of that. I'm so fucking sick of that. I'm so fucking sick of it and nobody seems to tire of it."

As has been pointed out in the comments thread to this Guardian article, the irony of frontman Billy Corgan lambasting anyone else for pomposity is simply mind-boggling. Could he be any less self-aware?

And to think, I used to love Smashing Pumpkins (and still do love the early albums).

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Pomp and circumstance

Gawd bless you, Your Maj, for having the good grace to grant Jenni and I a four-day weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Perhaps this monarchy malarkey isn't that bad after all.

The elongated weekend was spent back at our wedding venue, enjoying some leisurely countryside walks, lots of steak and (on Sunday) a thoroughly British day getting soaked to the skin in ultimately successful pursuit of feelings of nausea at Alton Towers.

And now for the second leg of the anniversary holiday. Primavera Porto, here we come...

Stewards' inquiry

Nice to know that the Jubilee celebrations conformed to that rich, longstanding tradition of exalting the extraordinarily privileged while debasing those less fortunate, isn't it?

Cat power

You've heard of the book 101 Uses Of A Dead Cat? Well, I can be pretty sure that one use author and illustrator Simon Bond didn't come up with was as a helicopter. Orville the duck always wished he could fly - well, courtesy of his owner Bart Jansen, Orville the cat can...

(Thanks to Rich for the link.)

Friday, June 01, 2012

Feel good hits of the 1st June

It's been a while...

1. 'Headin' For The Top Now' - Spiritualized
2. 'Have You Ever Heard A Digital Accordion?' - The Lovely Eggs
3. 'Load Your Eyes' - I Break Horses
4. 'I'm Not Stupid' - Cat's Eyes
5. 'Irene' - Beach House
6. 'Postcard From 1952' - Explosions In The Sky
7. 'Microcastle' - Deerhunter
8. 'Lungs Quicken' - Lanterns On The Lake
9. 'Goodbye' - Best Coast
10. 'Ode To Sad Disco' - The Mark Lanegan Band


1. Far from convinced by Sweet Heart, Sweet Light thus far - there are at least a couple of drab Pierce-on-autopilot songs - but this is a corker and something that could appear on Pure Phase without seeming too out of place.

2. Should've known that neither Lovely Eggs album would come close to capturing their live shows, but you've got to love this for its rhymes and doomy prophesy of divine justice.

3. I Break Horses may now be the band I'm most looking forward to seeing at Primavera next weekend -  Hearts is wonderful. Spiritualized, Beach House and Explosions In The Sky are also on the bill - hence recent listening habits.

5. I can sense that Bloom will sweep me off my feet in the same way that Teen Dream did, and closer 'Irene' is arguably even more meltingly gorgeous than anything they've done before.

10. Mark Lanegan goes electro. And yes, it really works.