Sunday, 18 May 2008

Should I send him nasty letters? Should I push him off his bike?


I spotted this 7” single in the weekly mailout of my regular mail order company and, without knowing anything about David Cronenberg’s Wife, I had to order it simply because it has the best band name and song title of the year. Thankfully the music lives up to the promise of the title. The song starts with some great surf guitar, then the singer comes in, sounding like Lou Reed, or 90s favourites The Flaming Stars, or… something else. This is really bugging me as the drawling vocals remind me of a 90s band (possibly even a specific song) and I can’t work out what it is. If anyone has any idea which band I’m thinking of then please let me know.

It soon becomes apparent that the vocalist is a potential psychopath, as he ponders various methods of getting revenge on his former friend, before the song climaxes with a terrific garage rock racket, including what sounds like bottles being smashed.

I recommend getting hold of this single if you can find it, but it is quite limited. In case you can’t find a copy, here is the video, which manages to be funny and slightly disturbing at the same time:

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Always different, always the same


So here we are – another year, another Fall album. When I first saw this one advertised, I thought it was one of those semi-official compilations that seem to appear just as frequently as actual studio albums. The title could easily have been generated by a computer program that picks random words to come up with possible names for Fall albums, and the cover art looks as if it has been deliberately designed to resemble the albums of the early 90s ("Extricate"/"Shift Work"/"Code Selfish"). However, I soon discovered that it contains completely new material, including a few surprises.

At first, it seems to be following the same pattern as the last few albums: totally forgettable opening song does nothing to instil hope, but then tracks 2 and 3 blow you away with classic Fall riffs and Mark E. Smith spitting out the words in his inimitable style. So we appear to be in familiar territory, until track 3, "50 Year Old Man", gives way to a strange banjo instrumental. A quick glance at the stereo reveals that this is not the next track, but "50 Year Old Man" is actually 12 minutes long and split into four distinct sections. Yes, you heard me correctly – The Fall go prog rock! It has been suggested that the four parts symbolise each decade of the band's career, although I’m not sure which era the banjo is supposed to represent. More surprises follow with the next song, "I've Been Duped". Again, it starts off like classic Fall, until the vocals kick in but it's not Mark, it's his wife (and keyboard player) Eleni Poulou. Once you get past the shock of a Fall song without MES, this one is very effective and is slightly reminiscent of the Slits, or possibly Kleenex/Liliput.

The cover of the Groundhogs' "Strangetown" doesn't quite work, mainly because it appears to be skipping all the way through. I inspect the CD for dust or scratches, then wonder if I have a duff copy before a quick read of the unofficial Fall website tells me that it's supposed to sound like that. Now I know I listen to some pretty strange music but even I can't quite see the logic in producing a CD so that it sounds like it's faulty.

The last half of the album contains a sequence of great tracks, in particular "Is This New" where the lyrics and vocal delivery remind me of mid-80s Fall. While nobody would deny that Mark E. Smith's voice is instantly recognisable on any track from the past 30 years, I do think that there are noticeable differences when you contrast recent vocals with those from early Fall songs; I guess he just sounds older and more world-weary now. But on "Is This New", his voice sounds much fresher and it brings back happy memories of my first encounter with the band during my teenage years.

After just a couple of listens, I found that I was enjoying this album more than anything they've released in the last 10 years, so if you're a fan of classic Fall but not familiar with the recent releases, this would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Come Back In Two Halves

WIRE - Manchester Academy 2
This weekend, Wire played their only UK show of the year, as part of the Futuresonic festival in Manchester. The evening began at the Contact Theatre where the band were interviewed on a sofa by legendary punk journalist John Robb, who is still sporting the same hairstyle that he's had for the past 25 years. The first thing I noticed as the band walked onstage was that Bruce Gilbert was missing. There was an extra chair laid out so I assumed they were expecting him to turn up later. If I'd bothered to check the band's website recently then I would have known that he only made minimal contributions to the recent EP and has now quit the band. The interview seemed disorganised and also a little awkward. There was only one microphone, which was passed between band members until they decided they could manage without it, and Robb did not seem to have planned enough questions to fill the allocated time. The band seemed like they would rather not have been there. Colin was fairly relaxed and did most of the talking, Robert said nothing for most of the conversation until the interviewer directly asked him a question. Graham looked tired (he explained that they had come straight from the soundcheck) and at one point appeared to have fallen asleep. He was also very irritable and responded aggressively to some of the questions, in particular he tore Robb to shreds when it was suggested that the "Pink Flag" album had a typical punk sound. I wasn't sure if this was just down to tiredness; it almost seemed that there was some long-standing tension between the two parties. However, in one of his calmer moments, Graham did mention that he felt sad to be back in Manchester and not be able to meet up with Tony Wilson. Partway through the interview, an audience member interrupted with a question. I don't think Robb had intended for there to be audience participation but he soon realised that this could rescue him as he was rapidly running out of questions of his own, so he opened the session up to the crowd. Inevitably, someone asked about Bruce and the response from the band was a little cagey. They explained that he no longer wanted to tour but it seemed there may be more to his departure than they were telling us. They were also asked for their views on Britpop and I was pleased to discover that they seem to dislike that period in music history nearly as much as I do. Unfortunately Robb soon decided that we were out of time so I never got to ask my question.

Photo: Bvrlyjn

After a quick bite to eat at the Deaf Insitute (which sadly does not cater specifically for deaf customers; it just takes its name from the charity that inhabited the building before it was turned into a bar) we headed to the Academy for the evening's main entertainment. By this stage I was starting to worry about how well the band would work without Bruce, and also whether Graham could stay awake until 10.30 when their set was due to begin. I noticed a laptop near the front of the stage so I started to suspect that they were replacing Bruce with electronic sounds. However, when the band took to the stage I discovered that they had drafted in Margaret Fiedler (from Moonshake/Laika) as a replacement. The laptop did not appear to be used at all. It was a very guitar-driven set with no discernible electronic elements so I can only assume that the screen was displaying the lyrics in case Colin forgot them. Although the band gave an impressive performance, the show suffered from poor sound quality for the first half. By the end, things seemed to have improved slightly but this may just have been because we had grown accustomed to the distortion, or perhaps the band were deliberately playing more aggressively to distract us from it. The structure of the show was also rather strange. The band played for about 30 minutes, concentrating mainly on "Send"/"Read and Burn" material with one, I think, or possibly two new songs. "Being Sucked In Again" was the only 1970s song played during the main part of the show. Colin handled most of the vocals, with Graham taking over for the most aggressive version of "Agfers of Kodack" that I've heard them play. His delivery suggested that he was still seething from the earlier encounter with John Robb. After leaving us wondering if they only had enough energy to play for 30 minutes, the band returned for three encores, which consisted of "Boiling Boy" and a host of "Pink Flag"/"154" songs, including "The 15th", "Lowdown", "12XU" (so frantic it was nearly over before I realised what it was) before ending with "Pink Flag" itself.

Although I didn't get the same buzz from this show that I got the last time I saw them back in 2000 (when the sound was better and the set was more varied), it was apparent that Wire have written some of the best material to come out of the UK in the last 30 years and they can still put on a better performance than most of today's young bands.