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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