Friday, September 30, 2005

Jukebox Juicebox #3

Pony Club “Home Truths”
I was introduced to Mark Cullen aka Pony Club via the track Single, chosen by Morrissey for his Songs To Save Your Life compilation, an NME cover-mounted freebie. It was one of the standouts, recalling the likes of Marc Almond, Pulp, even early Matt Johnson/The The in it’s lyrical dexterity and lush yet lo-fi sound. I picked up a copy of debut album Home Truths for a few quid, expecting more of the same and was astonished by what I found. A bleak picture of high-rise, low-rent council estate existence, in terms of narrative, this is one of the most rewarding albums I’ve heard in a long while. Opening track Fuck With My Heart sets the scene with the narrator trapped in a loveless existence where “fights start with you coming home”, forcing them into an affair with “someone you know”. This is followed by the abrasive CCTV, illustrating a world where “Hilfiger glamourise(s) violence” and “everybody calls their first born Britney”. The narrator’s life “revolves around my local GP” and driving around in their Audi TT “till the sound of my bass bins drown all the ugliness and hatred that’s in me”. Sure, this is a typically British picture, but it’s easy to empathise with the pent up rage and frustration at this dead-end existence. The cheap sound throughout actually enhances, rather than diminishes, the atmosphere. The pace becomes increasingly more sluggish, mirroring the fatalistic apathy of the characters in the closing track Afternoon Drinking, whose closing refrain is “If we get drunk in the daylight, then we get drunk in the daylight”. This is an incredible debut album, an insightful but ultimately depressing view of working class urban life, which hopefully wasn’t drawn too deeply from Cullen’s own personal experience at the time. With a second album Family Business already available and a third Post Romantic out soon, Pony Club are definitely worth further investigation.

The Dead 60s “The Dead 60s / Space Invader Dub”
If the 60s are indeed dead, then the late 70s are alive and kicking in this Liverpudlian band. The influences will be obvious from the outset, but this is an enjoyable mix of post-punk, ska and dub. Ploughing the same furrow as underrated 1990s band Gold Blade, and contemporaries Radio 4, The Dead 60s have a more basic approach, both in terms of lyrics and melody. However, this seems to have worked well for them, particularly in the US – touring commitments there on the back of their success resulted in the album’s delayed release in their home country. However, the benefit of this delay is the additional dub version of the album, more of which later. Opening with the single Riot Radio, The Dead 60s deliver 13 songs in just over 30 minutes and this economy is refreshing in an age where bands are compelled to pad albums with below-par material to bolster them to a respectable CD length. Songs never outstay their welcome, hovering around the one- or two-minute mark, with the slow skanking We Get Low a whopping 3:43 in length. There’s a very natural flow to the songs, suggesting that producer Central Nervous System has worked closely with the band in shaping their sound. This perhaps more evident in the accompanying Space Invader Dub, where the band have allowed the producer to strip the songs down to their convincingly authentic dub bones. Again, this is a solid album – 10 tracks in under half an hour – with great titles such as D-60 Fights The Evil Force and Police Radio Dub and too many musical highlights to mention. The band have taken their name from a local saying that many bands sound “dead 60s”. In this case of The Dead 60s, we’re not talking Merseybeat, but Kingston, Jamaica. Check this album out now, and make sure you don’t miss out on the essential dub version.

Tindersticks “Curtains”
A relative latecomer to Tindersticks but an enthusiastic listener, I found Curtains less immediate than it’s accessible follow-up Simple Pleasure. The sleeve notes indicate that this was a troubled time for the band and this possibly comes across in the music. However, repeated listening rewarded me with a growing appreciation of the album’s rich textures. Standout tracks include Ballad Of Tindersticks, Buried Bones (an excellent duet with Ann Magnuson) and (Tonight) Are You Trying To Fall In Love Again, as well as the singles Rented Rooms and Bathtime. It’s a relatively long album – roughly an hour’s worth of music – which is perhaps why it took a while to appreciate the songs both individually and as a complete work. The (considerably briefer) bonus disc offers alternate takes of Bathtime and Rented Rooms, the latter’s swing version admirable but not quite successful. A Marriage Made In Heaven is notable for Stuart Staples’ duet with Isabella Rossellini. Whilst not an accomplished singer in any sense of the word, Rossellini’s deadpan delivery is nevertheless well suited to the song. All in all, a fine collection. Stick with Curtains - it may require several plays, but you won’t be disappointed.

Eurythmics “In The Garden”

It seems that the Eurythmics’ 1981 debut album is largely overlooked in favour of it’s commercially and critically successful follow-up, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This). Although I hated the band’s inevitable overproduced pop rock sound from the mid-80s onward, I like their early albums (up to and including Touch) and In The Garden is perhaps my favourite. The unsettling English Summer sets the scene, Annie Lennox’s vocals and meaningless lyrics adding to the feeling of disorientation. This atmosphere is recreated on several tracks, notably She’s Invisible Now and the French language (but equally meaningless) Sing-Sing. In fact, what becomes quickly apparent is Stewart and Lennox craft great songs, but the lyrics are superficial to the point of being throwaway. The band’s penchant for guest musicians – which perhaps reached it’s peak on 1985's Be Yourself Tonight – is evident here, with appearances by Can’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebzeit, plus DAF’s Robert Görl and Blondie’s Clem Burke. In The Garden's highlight is Never Gonna Cry Again. Although a flop as a single, the track is arguably a prototype of no. 2 hit Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) and indicates the direction of that album. Revenge is a pleasing closer, again featuring Clem Burke on drums (who also appeared on their 1986 album, er, Revenge). In The Garden is maybe not as accomplished as it’s successors, but it does catch the Eurythmics at a more experimental – and ultimately more interesting – time.