Monday, August 28, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #22 - Singles & Jingles Pt. 1

Thom Yorke “Harrowdown Hill”
Reviews of Yorke’s first solo album The Eraser focused quite heavily on this track and made much of it’s narrative based on scientist Dr. David Kelly’s apparent suicide at the eponymous venue. I haven’t heard the album, but Harrowdown Hill is worthy of the positive reviews that have preceded it’s single release. I first heard it on music TV, slumped drunkenly on my sofa in the wee hour. In retrospect, this is the ideal combination of medium, physical state and timing required to appreciate the song. Judging by the EP’s aural palette, Yorke’s been listening to David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, not mention a slew of goth-influenced mid-1980s indie bands, and contemporaries like Kid606 and Two Lone Swordsmen. CD single ‘B-side’ The Drunkk Machine is less structured, both lyrically and musically but, like Harrowdown Hill, is underpinned by an infectiously funky bassline that breaks out of the swirl of electronica. Harrowdown Hill’s lyrics have been discussed and dissected many times over already. Suffice to say that Yorke’s writing is such that the song has a clear topicality, but skilful phrasing ensures a timeless appeal. If anything, the extended mix improves on the original, providing a spaciousness that perversely accentuates the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation. What a shame that the BBC canned Top Of The Pops – it would have been great to see Thom Yorke, sandwiched between Shakira and Beyonce, performing Harrowdown Hill to a bemused audience.

Tracklisting: 1. Harrowdown Hill (original version) / 2. The Drunkk Machine / 3. Harrowdown Hill (extended mix)

Amp Fiddler “Right Where You Are”
And now for some light relief, courtesy of Joseph “Amp” Fiddler. I’ll ‘fess up straight away that I’m largely unfamiliar with Herr Fiddler’s back catalogue and bought this on the strength of the pair of mixes by Tom Middleton, aka Cosmos. What can I say about Right Where You Are? Bland, MOR, chart-clogging R’n’B which thankfully on this single is an edit of the potentially coma- inducing full length album version. The hitherto unknown (to me at least) Australian duo 2am Productions provide a more upbeat mix which, to all intents and purposes, could be a Black Eyed Peas cast-off. Of the two Tom Middleton reworks the Biz Remix is unquestionably the superior, ditching most of the vocals whilst retaining the trademark Cosmos sound. Hot Chip have a similar disdain for Amp Fiddler’s vocal performance, chopping and changing the tempo underneath a melody that sounds uncannily like early Inner City, yet is strangely all the better for it.

Tracklisting: 1. Right Where You Are (edit) / 2. (2am remix) / 3. (tom middleton lub remix) / 4. (tom middleton biz remix) / 5. (hot chip remix)

Coldcut featuring Robert Owens “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”
Single number four from Coldcut’s Sound Mirrors albums sees the duo team up with Robert Owens to rework a classic 1970s number by Joe South. The album version and radio edit included here call to mind the string laden sounds of Massive Attack, the Now Voyager remix of You Got The Love by The Source featuring Candi Staton and, closer to home, their early 1990s cover of Yves Montand’s / Nat King Cole’s Autumn Leaves. Typically, there’s a diverse selection of mixes available on the CD. Tiga’s mix recalls his darker dancehall moments, with an urgent yet simultaneously unsettling beat. Tom Belton tries for a more uptempo, hands in the air feel (or, more specifically, Tom Middleton’s Cosmos sound), but doesn’t quite pull it off. Timo Garcia + The Cheshire Catz keep up the bpms, though retain the melancholy of Robert Owen’s outstanding vocals. However, only Henrik Schwarz really manages to enhance the Coldcut original, creating a sweeping epic that just builds and builds. The edit featured here serves as a teaser for the majesty of the full, nine minute version included on the 12” single, so maybe you need to buy or download that too. Four singles in, and there’s no sign that Coldcut are milking it.

Tracklisting: 1. Walk A Mile In My Shoes (radio edit) / 2. (tiga mix) / 3. (henrik schwarz edit) / 4. (tom belton’s ssl edit) / 5. (timo garcia + the cheshire catz remix) / 6. (album version)

The Flaming Lips “The W.A.N.D.”
The Will Always Negates Defeat, to give the song it’s full title, is possibly as angry as The Flaming Lips can get. Referring to “those fanatical minds…telling us all it’s them who’s in charge”, Wayne Coyne’s narrator defiantly responds that “we’ve got the power now, motherfuckers; that’s where it belongs”. An aggressive, dirty sounding bassline, plus prog-rock percussion, handclaps and sci-fi keyboard swoops all serve to propel the song forward, providing a great foil for Coyne’s cracked delivery and falsetto backing vocals. As you might expect from a Goldfrapp remix, the track is given an ethereal equality, with Alison’s additional vocals sharing equal room with Coyne’s. Nicking the rhythm from Associates’ early 1980s classic White Car In Germany, the remix is structured around the opening verse, and takes the song in an interesting direction, complementing rather than surpassing the original.

Tracklisting: 1. The W.A.N.D. (album version) / 2. (supernaturalistic goldfrapp remix)

Thom Yorke's The Eraser album
Amp Fiddler
Robert Owens on MySpace
The Flaming Lips

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Jukebox Juicebox #22 - Singles & Jingles Pt.2

Franz Ferdinand “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” (2006)
This is the first record I’ve bought by Franz Ferdinand though thanks to their ubiquity, I’m extremely familiar with their output. That said, Eleanor seems an odd choice as a single. The opening moments remind me of Blur’s The Universal, that is until a banjo (!) kicks in and the listener is taken into altogether more upbeat territory. If you believe what you read, the song is apparently either (a) about lead singer Alex Kapranos’ current love; (b) a nod to The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby; or (c) both. Whatever the inspiration, the lyrics are pretty throwaway. This new recording is a beefed up take on the album’s version, which begs the question of how thin sounding the original was. Accompanying track Ghost In A Ditch, featuring guitarist Nick McCarthy on vocals, aims for a similar Beatles-y vibe, particularly in the chorus and use of horn section. Actually, it sounds more like The Icicle Works circa 1985. Fade Together is the high point, thanks to a menacing ambient remix by The Avalanches’ Bobbydazzler. Stripped of the song’s lyrics and, presumably, the majority of it’s melodic structure, the track is underpinned by occasional piano chords and Kapranos repeating a couple of key lines. A rather mixed selection, then, but redeemed by the final track.

Tracklisting: 1. Eleanor Put Your Boots On (re-recorded version) / 2. Ghost In A Ditch / 3. Fade Together (avalanches remix)

Cabaret Voltaire “Just Fascination” (2001)
I was eleven years old when this track originally appeared on Cabaret Voltaire’s album The Crackdown and my listening tastes centred around Adam And The Ants, Toyah and Madness. Having a brother nearly four years older than me meant that, by musical osmosis, I also absorbed the sounds of Magazine, The The and Richard H. Kirk’s groundbreaking work with Stephen Mallinder as Cabaret Voltaire. Although the pair no longer record together, Kirk’s output in the past three decades has given prolific a whole new meaning. What’s amazing is that quality never seems to be compromised by the quantity of his material. No surprise then, that both Virgin and Mute have asked Kirk to revisit – and reinvent – his past for their posthumous releases of classic Cabaret Voltaire tracks. All but two of the five tracks on this promo CD single are available on Virgin’s 3CD Cabaret Voltaire anthology Conform To Deform. Richard H. Kirk previously updated Just Fascination for Virgin’s Technology: Western ReWorks remix album in 1992 and, on the evidence of the three mixes he delivers here, there’s plenty more mileage in this track. Dubbing the vocals and playing with a variety of rhythm tracks, what’s immediately apparent is that Kirk still has a strong dancefloor sensibility. The fact that the remixes are easily identifiable also confirms how right Kirk and Mallinder got it the first time around. Conversely, the pair of previously unreleased François Kevorkian remixes of Sex, Money, Freaks from 1987 demonstrate the challenge of enhancing or surpassing Cabaret Voltaire’s original takes. The 12” dub works best, but both sound very much of their time, in a way that the duo’s own tracks don’t.

Tracklisting: 1. Just Fascination (r.h. kirk remix) / 2. (alternative mix) / 3. (dub mix) / 4. Sex, Money, Freaks (kevorkian 12” mix) / 5. (kevorkian 12” dub)

The Free Association “(I Wish I Had A) Wooden Heart” (2002)
Planned as the lead single from the eponymous debut by David Holmes’ offshoot band, this inexplicably never made it beyond the promo CD stage. A shame, as this is a quality EP with a strong selection of tracks. In addition to the radio edit, Roots Manuva delivers a dub of Wooden Heart that presses all the right buttons. Providing an atmospheric, bass heavy vibe, Petra Jean Phillipson’s vocals fade in and out, with Manuva himself delivering a stream of consciousness rap (which, in all honesty, is complete gibberish) midway through. Accompanying track Effectin’ is a full version of a song that initially appeared on David Holmes’ mix CD Come Get It I Got It, which also served as an introduction to The Free Association. Again, Phillipson’s voice dominates, riding a wave of rhythms and samples that should be dissonant but add texture. A great ‘lost’ single that’s worth hunting down via the likes of eBay or Music Stack.

Tracklisting: 1. (I Wish I Had A) Wooden Heart (radio edit) / 2. Effectin’ / 3. (I Wish I Had A) Wooden Heart (space hog dub by roots manuva)

Blues Explosion “Crunchy” (2005)
Although still fronting the band, Jon Spencer has taken the democratic step of dropping his name from the band. Otherwise, it’s business as usual, with no major change to the Blues Explosion template. What I’ve always liked about the band is their willingness to explore new sounds and musical directions through remixers, whilst personally ploughing the same furrow. On this EP, !!! (pronounced chk chk chk) and The DFA overhaul tracks from the Blues Explosion’s album Damage. I love the former, which introduces an infectious beat (is it bossa? is it samba? darned if I know) to some seriously funky guitar chords. The vocals are a strange mix of Matt Johnson’s distorted delivery on his early 1980s The The albums and New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Every time I play it, I have a compelling urge to crank the volume up to max and sashay around the room. The DFA take a more typical route to the dancefloor, with repetitive one-note keyboards and an insistent rhythm bolstering Mars, Arizona. Spencer’s performance is largely untouched here and rides above the clashing guitar and bass breaks that inform the first half of the mix, and the oozing electronic bleeps that dominate the second. By contrast, Blues Explosion Man is a stripped down, live acoustic take which gives full vent to the Spencer spleen. It’s classic blues approach should stick out like a sore thumb next it’s club-focused companions, but neatly rounds off an essential EP.

Tracklisting: 1. Crunchy (tmj (!!!) remix) / 2. Mars, Arizona (dfa remix) / 3. Blues Explosion Man (live at fmu)

Franz Ferdinand
Brainwashed's Cabaret Voltaire site
Richard H. Kirk
François Kevorkian
David Holmes presents The Free Association
Roots Manuva
Blues Explosion
Brainwashed's !!! site

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Stripping Down #6

Ultimate Spider-Man & X-Men #58 (Panini UK)
“Hobgoblin” by Brian Michael Bendis & Mark Bagley (Ultimate Spider-Man #77)
“Magnetic North” by Brian K. Vaughan & Stuart Immonen (Ultimate X-Men #63)

As Comics International readers may be aware, I have mixed feelings about this comic: on the one hand, I generally fail to find fault with Ultimate X-Men; on the other, my reviews of Ultimate Spider-Man tend to be unremittingly critical. To get this out of the way, my main gripes with the latter are:

i) The reimagining of Spider-Man as a comic strip counterpart of teen TV soaps like Dawson’s Creek and The O.C.;
ii) Bendis’ admittedly skilful turn with dialogue, in particular ‘talking heads’ sequences, often being at the expense of pace and action;
iii) The limited development of characters, with an almost exclusive focus on (yawn) Peter and MJ’s relationship, which seems criminal given the potentially rich supporting cast;
iv) Mark Bagley’s pedestrian art, especially in failing to employ facial expressions to convey the emotional rollercoaster of Bendis’ writing.

Taking point iv), Bagley, to his credit, is an ace at meeting monthly deadlines, a seemingly all-too-rare quality these days. I also accept that I’ve much maligned him, both in comic book letters columns and the aforementioned CI reviews pages. Okay, the latter’s 60-word review limit does mean that constructive criticism often makes way for snappy put downs and, worse, means that I’ve rarely if ever acknowledged anything that Bagley’s done well. Time to redress the balance somewhat, then: Mark Bagley’s redesign of The Hobgoblin is stunning. Something of a cross between DC’s Etrigan and forgotten Marvel character The Gargoyle, Ultimate Hobgoblin not only looks like a scary mutha, but Bagley also manages to suggest the inner torment of Harry Osborn, the character unwittingly transformed into this monster. Visually, the exchanges between Spider-Man and Hobgoblin are thrilling, moving and downright unpredictable. How ironic that Bagley’s most emotive work features characters who are literally or metaphorically hiding behind masks. Where Bagley struggles is in transferring the emotion to more human moments, notably the awkward reunion between Peter and Mary Jane at the story’s climax. The problem is that Bagley’s characters are often barely distinguishable, particularly in extreme close-up. Given Bendis’ predilection for ‘talking heads’, and at times silent exchanges, this can result in my being unable to tell Peter and MJ apart! However, return to the Spider-Man / Hobgoblin scene and the proof is there that Bagley is capable of much more expressive work. Unfortunately, Bendis’ writing doesn’t quite hit the mark either: after five issues’ build up, the climax is strangely underwhelming. I was reminded of a similar storyline in The Amazing Spider-Man #233-236, where C-list villain The Tarantula is transformed into his namesake after a failed attempt to acquire the spider-powers of his foe. Despite the victim being a previously two-dimensional villain - rather than in this case Peter Parker’s best friend – writer Roger Stern invested The Tarantula with a depth that allowed me to empathise with the character’s inevitable and plausible end. After reading this issue, Bendis has unfortunately left me with the feeling that The Hobgoblin has provided (a) a trade paperback fulfilling storyline and (b) a stock ‘classic’ character to unearth when sales on Ultimate Spider-Man start to dip. My only other experience of Brian Michael Bendis’ writing - outside of a disappointing guest slot on Ultimate X-Men - is Alias, which I enjoyed immensely. I’ll soon be able to form an opinion his work on The Avengers, but I’m hoping that it won’t continually leave me cold, like Ultimate Spider-Man. Thank goodness then for Ultimate X-Men, which seems to have kept true to it’s principle of reinventing and challenging readers’ preconceptions regarding long-established characters, whilst remembering to tell a bloody good story every four weeks. Writer Brian K. Vaughan is on a par with Mark Millar’s memorable earlier work on this series, developing characters whose relationships to one another grow, fracture or break but always seem convincing. Current storyline Magnetic North presents a truly dangerous Magneto. Inspired by the X-movie trilogy, the character is currently incarcerated in a suspended plastic cell, seemingly beyond the range of his mutant abilities. Yet, a sequence of events have led to the similarly powered Polaris being imprisoned with Magneto and it’s plain that this all part of his plan. There’s an obvious metaphor in Magneto’s chess set (his sole possession), his games mirroring the actions of his free agents. Magneto’s portrayal as a strategist means that Cyclops and Havok, brothers and Polaris’ former/current loves, are drawn into conflict, even though Professor X is aware that he and his team are being manipulated. Vaughan’s characterisation is top notch, from Cyclops and Havok’s passionate sibling rivalry, to Polaris’ torment over her inadvertent slaughter of humans, to Magneto’s cold rationalising of his stance in the human-mutant conflict. Artist Stuart Immonen is the perfect foil for the writer, with a relaxed yet deceptively detailed style that adds weight to the story. Ultimate Spider-Man & X-Men has definitely polarised the opinion of this reader. If both had continued as individual UK titles in their own right, I would have ditched Ultimate Spider-Man by now. Accepting that a co-starring strip is necessary in a 52 page 4-weekly title, ideally I’d prefer to see Ultimate X-Men paired with Avengers counterparts The Ultimates or even Ultimate Fantastic Four. However, for now, it provides a compelling reason for buying the current incarnation of this comic.

The Avengers United #69 (Panini UK)
“Once An Invader” by Allan Jacobsen, Chuck Austen & C.P. Smith (The Invaders #0)
“When Worlds Collide!” by John Jackson Miller & Jorge Lucas (Iron Man (v3) #84)
“…Though Hell Should Bar The Way!” by Jim Shooter & George Perez (The Avengers (v1) #170)
“The Coming Of Loki!” by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby (Journey Into Mystery #112)

An unusual issue, in that neither of the contemporary stories reprints The Avengers’ own US title. First up is the conclusion of The New Invaders storyline, which in turn sets up their own short-lived series. Incoming writer Allan Jacobsen has a much better understanding of both teams than Chuck Austen and the story arc’s finale benefits greatly from this. C.P. Smith’s art doesn’t quite attain the heights of his subsequent work on The New Invaders, but his loose style is a refreshing change from the likes of Kieron Dwyer, Oliver Coipel and Scott Kolins, who have graced these pages in the past year or so. The Avengers play a largely peripheral role in this episode; whilst understandable, it feels rather odd, given that this is their own comic, after all. Also slightly frustrating is the sense that this latest incarnation of The Invaders are unlikely to reappear in a UK Collectors’ Edition title. Fine if you can get hold of the collected series (which I reviewed and recommended in Stripping Down #1), but it would be good to see at least the initial story arc reprinted in, say, The Mighty World Of Marvel. The second story coincidentally features fellow Invaders artist Jorge Lucas tackling the Armoured Avenger, Iron Man. It’s been a long while since ol’ Shellhead’s solo series has been reprinted in the UK and much has changed in that time. Not only has Tony Stark publicly revealed that he is Iron Man, but he’s also become US Secretary Of Defence. Neither of these significant events have really been touched on in The Avengers, the latter all the more surprising given the team’s recognition by the United Nations as an independent political power. John Jackson Miller does a good job of exploring the tensions and inevitable conflict of interest that this has created, as Iron Man discovers a WMD hidden in the basement of Avengers Mansion. I’ve found Jorge Lucas’ art to be somewhat inconsistent, but it impresses here, particularly with his attention to detail on the military hardware. This episode is apparently a prelude of sorts to the controversial Avengers Disassembled storyline beginning in #75, so it’ll be interesting to see how events develop. The first of the archive reprints shunts The Korvac Saga to the sidelines, focusing instead on the resurrection of Ultron’s robotic ‘bride’, the as-yet-unnamed Jocasta. Captain America and Iron Man seem to have resolved their differences a little too easily, following the events of last issue. It’s also interesting to note in retrospect how sorely underused The Beast was, his scientific prowess played down in favour of happy-go-lucky light relief, a role subsequently adopted by the She-Hulk. Though predictable, Jim Shooter makes the most of the plot and George Perez’ pencils are typically rich, though slightly hampered by Pablo Marcos’ less than subtle inking. Another Tales Of Asgard strip rounds off the issue, though Thor is conspicuous by his absence, as the focus shifts to the story of Odin’s adoption of villain-in-waiting Loki. Given their prodigious output, it’s hardly surprising that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby occasionally turned in a dud, and this is one of them, a rather unremarkable tale. Vince Colletta’s workmanlike inking really does Kirby’s pencil art no favours, begging the question of how Colletta was able to sustain a career. Sadly, in this case ‘classic’ doesn’t automatically mean good, but simply old. To end on a high note, a special mention for Steve Epting’s Iron Man cover, also featuring The Falcon, Ant Man, Black Panther and The Wasp. A slickly produced set piece, with effective colouring from an unfortunately uncredited artist with an indecipherable signature. Whoever you are, well done, that person!

Panini UK comics website

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #21 - Enjoy The Times

The Times “E For Edward” (1989)
…and Ecstasy and Electric Guitars and E.L.O, all of which influence the sound of this album. Edward Ball’s feet are still pretty firmly in the pop-rock camp, but an interest in club and drug culture is apparent from the opening anthem, Manchester, which name checks The Hacienda and 808 State, and is possibly the first song to use the phrase “off her shed”. Valvaline, more familiar as a brand of oil, is apparently also 1970s slang for ‘happy’ or ‘high’. The tune itself mixes the aforementioned E.L.O. with a synth-based riff on the hook from Dexy’s Midnight Runners Geno. Snow remains perhaps my favourite song on the album, unexpectedly fading in during the opening line. A simple yet effective love song, Snow is set to a pulsing bassline, stuttering synth lines and a typical 80s breakbeat that somehow all come together. I’m still not sure what the refrain “what I love, I bite … I love her” means, though. An instrumental take, retitled Gold and included as a bonus track, is good but doesn’t compare to the full vocal version. There are a number of downtempo moments, underpinned by acoustic guitar and strings, which Ball later developed in his subsequent ‘solo’ work. The coupling of Count To Five and All My Life create a heartbreaking ten minutes. The additional version of the latter which closes the album, is if anything even more stirring, sounding like Ball is performing in an empty theatre hall. Edward Ball’s lyrical strength lies in populating his songs with interesting characters and/or events and this is especially evident in Crashed On You and another favourite, French Film Bluerred. Musically, the rest of album is a typically diverse mix of influences: Catherine Wheel is a glam rock stomper, nodding to Bolan and Bowie, whilst No Love On Haight St. is the bastard progeny of Ray Davies, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg. Acid Angel Of Ecstasy, the final track of the original vinyl release, hints at the psychedelic leanings that would come to the fore on 1991’s Pure. A shuddering guitar chord recalls The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? (which Ball would actually sample on Et Dieu Crea La Femme), whilst the lyrics allude to the narrator’s submission to a drug fuelled existence. The song opens with “T.I.M.E.S….Trust In Me Ecstasy Said.”, the ‘bad’ aspect of the character’s personality listing sexually charged conquests, whilst the ‘good’ plaintively pleads “Forgive me, for I know not what I do.” E For Edward is not a perfect album, but it is vastly underrated. Despite the demise of Creation Records at the turn of the century, I hope that Edward Ball’s work as The Times will receive the re-release and re-appraisal it so richly deserves.

Tracklisting: 1. Manchester / 2. Valvaline / 3. Snow / 4. Catherine Wheel / 5. Crashed On You / 6. Count To Five / 7. All Your Life / 8. French Film Bleurred / 9. No Love On Haight St. / 10. Acid Angel of Ecstasy / 11. Gold / 12. Sold / 13. Life

The Times “Alternative Commercial Crossover” (1993)

Alternative Commercial Crossover is once more a frustrating melange of inspired ideas and styles that should have been massive at the time, but somehow failed to catch the record-buying public’s interest. Something of a comment on the times (no pun intended), there are two references to the period’s dominant US music in The Obligatory Grunge Song and How Honest Are Pearl Jam? Of course, the title of the former is a red herring, whilst the latter is a more polished update of the untitled bonus track from 1990’s Et Dieu Crea La Femme and says very little about the leaden Seattle rockers. Dub influences are more clearly to the fore on this album, not least in Baby Girl, which samples the melody and cribs the chorus from Scritti Politti’s The ‘Sweetest Girl’. It’s one of two songs to feature rapper Tippa Irie, the other being the positively loopy Finnegans Break. As the paraphrased title might suggest, breakbeats and toasting crash headlong into the frenetic Irish sounds of (ahem) The Bejaesus Ejit Celi Band. On paper, it sounds like a sorry mess, though it’s alarmingly infectious. A reprise unceremoniously ditches Irie, but drops the tempo, pumps up the bass and ends on a guiltily hilarious sample. Following it's original inclusion on Pure, the subsequent success of The Times’ cover of New Order’s Blue Monday (Record Of The Week on Simon Mayo’s BBC Radio 1 breakfast show in 1992, fact fans) means that Lundi Bleu makes another appearance here, albeit in a vocal free remix by The Grid. Sorry I’ve Written A Melody and The Whole World’s Turning Scarface are the counterparts of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and Loaded by Creation label mates Primal Scream, the first an anthemic grower, the second focusing on the piano and chorus and upping the groove factor. Edward Ball temporarily shelved The Times after this album, producing a brace of more conventional Britpop-focused records that sadly still failed to crack the charts. The Times were subsequently dusted off and independently released two albums at the tail end of the 1990s. There are also a number of excellent retrospectives available, including Here’s To Old England, released in Sep 2005. Check out The Times’ MySpace site, which links to Edward Ball’s other prolific output. Then go buy all his records and encourage him to make even more.

Tracklisting: 1. The Obligatory Grunge Song / 2. Finnegans Break / 3. How Honest Are Pearl Jam? / 4. Baby Girl / 5. Ballad Of Georgie Best / 6. Lundi Bleu (Praise The Lord Mix by The Grid) / 7. A Palace In The Sun / 8. Sorry I’ve Written A Melody / 9. Finnegans Break (Corporate Rock Mix) / 10. The Whole World’s Turning Scarface / 11. All I Want Is You To Care

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #20 - Go! With The Times

The Times “Pure” (1991)
Listening to radio station Triple J in Perth, Western Australia in 1990 was my only link to the burgeoning UK indie-dance crossover. I can remember being blown away one evening by a ten-minute cover version of New Order’s Blue Monday, sung in French, with extracts from John Lydon and (what I thought was) Sinead O’Connor seamlessly woven in. On returning to England several months later, I managed to get my hands on a vinyl copy of Pure and so began my fascination with The Times, and more specifically, the world of Edward Ball. The twin sides of vinyl were labelled Brown Ball and Pink Ball. Although this is the case with my recent CD replacement copy, the album has been segued into a single, 40 minute track. Whilst annoying for those who feel an obsessive need to program and skip tracks, Pure makes much more sense as a continuous piece. The album opener, From Chelsea Green To Brighton Beach is a rousing mix of football terrace chants, Quadrophenia samples and pastiche of The Jam before taking a sharp right turn into the psychedelia of A Girl Called Mersey (apparently a tribute to Pete Wylie’s daughter). Just when you think you’ve pegged the album, it takes another turn, this time laying samples from A Clockwork Orange over a dub-inflected interlude, before launching into the aforementioned Blue Monday, here retitled Lundi Bleu. The song opens with a sampled monlogue on the nature of conceptual reality, before a rumbling, locomotive bassline and Paul Heeren’s squalling lead guitar propel the song towards Edward Ball’s endearingly awkward French vocals. The song encapsulates the album’s spirit of experimentation, with the aforementioned Lydon rant from the middle section of Public Image Limited’s Religion I and 1970s folkies Prelude’s haunting rendition of Neil Young’s After The Goldrush creating an epic of gargantuan proportions. All cover versions should be this radical. Compared to Brown Ball / 'side one', the three tracks comprising Pink Ball are a stark contrast, opening and closing with kitsch 1960s radio show idents. Stylistically inspired by Ball’s dance offshoot, Love Corporation, A Beautiful Village Called England features cod-rapper Angel Dust (aka Cindy Lovecore) toasting DJ Mr. Wolf, who chops and changes the beats per minute with alarming regularity. Ours Is A Wonderlove World is a downtempo tale of a doomed existence, with vocalist Catherine Wheel’s deliberately emotionless recitation echoed by Ball’s more melodic delivery of the same lyrics, as the song leads to the strangely depressing climatic refrain of “God is love”. Angel Dust returns for more stream of consciousness ramblings over a bouncing beat that at times bizarrely mimics Pink Floyd’s Money. An untitled epilogue includes a female sample that sums up Pure perfectly: “Is it art or anti art? Dadaeqsque compositions on vinyl…or is it quite simply just pop?” Quite simply one of the best albums of the early 1990s.

Tracklisting: 1. From Chelsea Green To Brighton Beach / 2. A Girl Called Mersey / 3. From L.A. To Edgbaston / 4. Lundi Bleu / 5. A Beautiful Village Called England / 6. Ours Is A Wonderlove World / 7. Another Star In Heaven / 8. untitled reprise

The Times “Et Dieu Créa La Femme” (1990)
The blistering Septième Ciel, with it’s opening salvo of “Pop’s coming! / Don’t stop the party!”, is an infectious celebration of the dance culture spreading the UK at the time. Sampling The Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? (which contemporaneously appeared on Sinead O’ Connor’s I Am Stretched On Your Grave and Soho’s Hippychick), Septième Ciel – and accompanying track Aurore Borealé - continues the fascination with the ecstasy-fuelled tunes suggested by 1989’s E For Edward. Not that the album is solely focused on dancefloor hedonism. As the title suggests, Et Dieu Créa La Femme is equally concerned with old fashioned love. Edward Ball’s penchant for heartfelt lyrics come to the fore on the piano driven Confiance and Chagrin D’Amour, as well as the more uptempo tribute Pour Kylie. There are also moments of acid-tinged pop-rock in Volupté and Baisers Volés, whilst 1990 Année Erotique updates Serge Gainsbourg’s Je T’ Aime. A pair of unlisted and untitled bonus tracks bolster the CD release. The first is a version of The Times’ 1983 classic I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape. My guess is that it’s the Thanks For The Trip Dad! remix by (yet another) side project DJ 6 & the Escape Committee from the 1990 Creation compilation Pensioners On Ecstasy. It’s an energetic floor-filler that perhaps deserved more commercial success than the proliferation of dance tracks inspired by The Prisoner theme tune that decade, but doesn’t really fit in with the album as a whole. Likewise, the dizzingly paced final track samples a naggingly familiar 1970s track, the name of which will come back to me long after I’ve posted this review. Good as of itself, but again an unnecessary add-on to an otherwise seamless album. My advice: rip the bonus tracks onto a compilation, load the album proper onto your portable player and transport yourself back to the heady days of the 1990s. The aural equivalent of feeling flowered up.

Tracklisting: 1. Septième Ciel / 2. Aurore Boréale / 3. Confiance / 4. Chagrin D’Amour / 5. Volupté / 6. Baisers Volés / 7. Pour Kylie / 8. Sucette / 9. 1990 Année Erotique / 10. Extase / 11. untitled [I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape (Thanks For The Trip Dad!)] / 12. untitled

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