Thursday, 24 April 2014

Hole - Live Through This (1994)

According to a bloke on the internet, fresh evidence has recently come to light regarding Courtney Love's supposed assassination of Kurt Cobain, the widely venerated singer man of Nirvana and the Linda McCartney of Hole. I'm not sure what this supposed evidence might be because at the time I was busy watching paint dry and found it impossible to tear myself away, but the important thing was nevertheless of such quality as to inspire a bunch of blokes on a popular social networking site to express their views, which is nice because as you know blokes on popular social networking sites tend to keep their views to themselves as a rule. One of them daringly opined that Kurdt Cobain was the voice of a generation, which works providing you discount the great majority of yoots present within that same generation who never gave two shits about the guy, you know, like anyone who ever bought a Tupac CD. If he was the voice of a generation, was he really ever saying anything beyond I want my mummy? Whilst There There is often hailed as a great album, and the success of singles like I Got A Pain In My Stummick and I Hurt My Finger surprised everyone, were they really good enough to justify the proposition that Kurtd Cobain, the Lady Diana Spencer of Grunge, died for our sins?

I would say not, and would further deny his being anything besides a modest talent - not even a member of the best Seattle band, that being Tad. He had a pretty face and was able to articulate a vague sense of whining dissatisfaction with modern life that could stand for almost anything from I done a poo in my pants to my dad sucks without alienating those who knew their period of rebellion would last just long enough to get them through college; and of course there were those natty little tunes, the plaid shirt Beatles with a fuzzbox; and onto this canvas was projected whatever people needed at the time, which unfortunately turned out to be a sort of rock Jesus for the mumbling and disgruntled when he shot himself and the legend turned all Sidney Vicious for a while. More annoying than Kurt's unexpected sainthood was that the elevation of such human sacrifices tends to require the parallel canonisation of a devil, which turned out to be Courtney Love probably because she had a massive gob and was a woman.

I can't speak for Love's actual character, my understanding of it being based on a media image that I'm not inclined to trust. Perhaps it is true that Kurtd Cobain, the innocent Queen of Hearts of Rock was led astray by another one of those crazy mad period women, forced to take heroin because she had told him it was just some sweeties or something, and that this terrible titty-witch didst rob us of a noble soul who would otherwise have remained stood to this day upon a high mesa with his hair blowing majestically in the wind like someone hunky from The Lord of the Rings, his beautiful spirit free and untramelled, whatever that means, but I seriously doubt it.

Conspiracy theory even stretches to suggest that the mighty Cobain wrote most of this album. I'll concede that there may be parallels, notably the preponderance of milk as a theme, but it's nothing that can't be accounted for by Kurdt having told her indoors all about his great day at the studio with the guys whilst she was washing the dishes, making him some chips, or ironing his lumberjack shirt ready for the pop concert. Furthermore, if Cobain was really capable of writing songs this good, you would think he might have kept one or two for inclusion on his own records.

Courtney Love may indeed be the world's most enormous cockmongler for all I know, but I rest my judgement on her music being as it exists independent of any supposed media harridanry, and particularly as the rest looks like the usual stuff where it's funny when Keith Richards pulls that crap, but a chick, man - that be fucked up.

Live Through This is probably one of the greatest rock albums of all time, in my view - a record so good that when I first bought a copy it took me about six months before I finally managed to turn it over and listen to the second side. Lyrically, it's both deeply affecting and chilling in suggesting the horrors of a less than ideal upbringing or the more unpleasant corners of human sexual politics without spelling everything out which, I would cautiously suggest, grants Live Through This an appeal beyond the Riot Grrrl audience, something more trailer home than student bar. It's the sound of the shittiest day you've ever had, but with tunes. As an album, it's so good that there's almost no point writing about it, aside from to remind people of its being good, and that Courtney Love's media presence should generally be regarded as a separate, possibly unrelated entity. I've nothing against Nirvana beyond believing them to have been somewhat overrated for a band who recorded a song about how they only wanted the really cool people listening to their music, but this is as good as they could have sounded had they been something other than an Iron Maiden tribute act.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Alanis Morissette - The Collection (2005)

Inevitably we come to Alanis Morissette, the one-woman empowering tampon advert meeting all your daily Nirvana requirements for readers of Cosmopolitan and viewers of Desperate Housewives alike, the beef curtain Cobain you can eat between meals without ruining your appetite, singing her way through the self-help section with just enough grunge to appear tasteful, and of course the woman who brought us Ironic.

Ha ha.

Ironic, as Ed Byrne, the wry Irish-themed chipmunk and professional comedy game show contestant observed, is a song without any ironic content, although you might regard that as itself ironic which would suggest that Alanis Morissette is actually fucking with us and knows more than she's saying. Whilst Byrne's routine undoubtedly comprises some of the most hilariously wry observations ever made by a stand up comedian, it's not entirely true, and he might have done better just telling his little jokes, prettily fluttering his eyelashes, and flicking his lush Celtic locks over one shoulder like the lady in the shampoo advert. Whilst certain situations described in the song Ironic may indeed be more properly characterised as simple bad luck, it seems safe to say that most of them would be considered ironic given a wider context. Rain on one's wedding day for example, whilst not in and of itself ironic, might be regarded as such after many weeks without rain, and it doesn't take hugely inventive leaps of imagination to frame the other examples given as having some potential irony. However, Alanis Morissette's job is to get over a certain level of meaning in a snappy three-minute pop song, not refute the existence of a Deity on a fucking message board, and if you can't quite see what she was getting at in Ironic, then you're probably an idiot. Little Richard's Tutti Frutti might equally well be considered gibberish in so much as the lyrics would doubtless be judged insubstantial were they to be submitted as a thesis as part of a doctorate in behavioural studies, but I suspect anyone with half a brain will understand what he was talking about.

Let's start again.

Whilst some criticisms made of the Morissette may well be justified, I find it hard to get around the double standards here - a variation on the rock classic of how Keith Richards snorting marijuanas out of a teenage vagina and then writing a song about it be some painful, frowning, manly shit and telling it like it is and that, whilst Courtney Love - or whoever else you care to mention with the same XX chromosomal configuration - must by definition be some crazy incoherent period lady castrating them menfolks on the way to the nuthouse; and I suspect Morissette's supposed loony menstrual no talent harridan credentials can be blamed upon her singing songs whilst failing to pop them out for the lads. Elsewhere we find related slings and arrows predicated on the notion that people who either read self-help literature, live in Portland, or who occasionally wish their boyfriend were less of a twat should not be allowed to listen to music because their problems aren't as artistic as that talentless hat-wearing wanker out of The Libertines eating heroin sandwiches.

It's all about the music, man, as these Mojo reading bumfaced cockmonglers themselves keep telling us over and over, and frankly Alanis Morissette scores quite well in that department. Not only does she have a reasonably amazing voice - expressive with a good range - but she knows how to knock out a tune, and understands the dynamics of putting a bit of music together. So it's all fairly self-involved, but really no more so than Nine Inch Nails, or probably about half of the music already in your collection; and whilst we're here I'm surprised how much of this actually reminds me of Trent Reznor's work, sort of a female Trent Reznor but grown-up and with a few vaguely folky, vaguely stadium trip hop touches chucked in for the sake of contrast. I'm not saying it's the most mind-blowing music ever recorded, but I really do feel the Morissette deserves significantly less sniggering from the cheap seats, not least because it's mostly hur hur hur chicks can't rock, man.

Nevertheless, excepting a hugely ill-advised Cole Porter cover to which her voice is entirely unsuited, and Mercy which is apparently from a prayer cycle or summink and thus steers a bit too close to Sting's Amazonian Experience for comfort, this is a surprisingly great set of songs. The almost absurdly powerful Thank You is still probably one of my top ten from whichever decade that was; and the big singles mostly sound even better than I remember; and Crazy rescues the Seal song from its mackerel-guzzling flipper clapping origins; and Uninvited almost turns into Led Zeppelin's Kashmir without anyone slipping in puddles of patchouli oil and breaking their neck.

Ironic will probably forever remain at best a guilty pleasure in public imagination thanks to the Ed Byrnes of the world - although it is admittedly entertaining when keyboard warriors cite it as evidence of the supposed American inability to grasp irony, given that Alanis Morissette isn't actually American - but fuck it, regardless of whatever received wisdom you may be labouring under, this is some damn good stuff.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Front 242 - Pulse (2003)

I loves me some Front 242, and I've been missing them ever since Tyranny (For You), which didn't sound that amazing in its day, but improved with plenty of repeat listening, somehow taking on the quality of a timeless classic in comparison to those two later albums named after phone numbers. Not that either 05:22:09:12 Off or 06:21:03:11 Up Evil were necessarily terrible, but aside from Serial Killers Don't Kill Their Girlfriend, I can't think of a decent track on either, and to be honest I can't even remember if I've heard 06:21:03:11 Up Evil or not. They sounded like - ugh, excuse my fucking French - dance remix albums, endless noodling around with tracks that should have been left aside from one of those crappy Alain I drink beer and I'm like really dangerous 'n' shit Jourgensen projects, silk purses turned to sow's ears as the engineer yawns, looks at his watch, and tries again for the millionth time with the snare sent through yet another effect in search of something that will stop the music sounding shit. It seemed a sorry end, not least once they began turning up to photo shoots in sweat pants and baseball caps with a rapper in tow, and not one of the good ones either. It all seemed a far cry from Official Version which, for me, remains one of the greatest electronic albums ever recorded.

Anyway, somehow I missed the more recent reunion and release of new material in the form of Pulse, but I'm here now. My expectations were low, as only seems natural, but happily I was way off the mark. Musically speaking, Front 242 were always more complex than just music for skinheads in aviator goggles marching up and down, often displaying a pseudo-classical compositional complexity, at least in comparison with all those po-faced Work! Obey! bands named after chemical manufacturing conglomerates; and it was never anything so simple as a sweaty man barking something suspiciously Nietzschean over a sequencer.

Their sheer range is amply demonstrated on Pulse which works its way through all of the variant moods which made Official Version such a momentous album, and adds some new flavours to the mix. Most surprising of all, at least to me, is the lengthy Seq666 - raw, thudding techno of the kind so beloved by disco biscuit consumers, which resembles genuine techno, and still sounds entirely like Front 242 rather than some saggy old industrial has-been trying desperately to hitch his grunting schtick to a more contemporary bandwagon because hey, it's a drum machine - how hard can it be?

Seq666 is seemingly to Pulse as W.Y.H.I.W.Y.G. was to Official Version and is as such followed by slower more contemplative pieces  hinting towards everything from jazz to church music, all held together with dynamics now suggesting Nine Inch Nails but which were originated right here - specifically those unique touches which could only have arisen from Daniel Bresanutti and Patrick Codenys - a certain attention to detail with the sounds employed, how they change and interact, a sense of precision with regard to tone and composition quite unlike the blunt instrument approach of most EBM types. Incredibly, Pulse was perhaps not only a return to form, but possibly their finest work. It's good to have them back, or at least it was in 2003 if you see what I mean.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Fatima Mansions - Valhalla Avenue (1992)

Fatima Mansions managed to more or less pass me by at the time, excepting North-Atlantic Wind which Andrew Cox stuck on a tape and which impressed me as possibly the most terrifying song ever recorded; and yet somehow I never got around to further investigation, aside from the Nite Flights 10" which, two decades later, I've still probably played only once. I don't know - it was a blind spot, I guess; possibly the influence of Melody Maker which I read weekly, but almost entirely for the David Stubbs material which was always roughly forty times more entertaining than anything else in there - notably features on all those bands with Union Jack guitars singing quirky songs about Harold Pinter characters whilst pretending Cathy Come Home had only just hit the picture houses.

Or was that all a bit later?

Who cares? It was shite anyway, and whilst Fatima Mansions were patently nothing to do with any of that - or the spirit of optimism in general - I seem to recall their getting voted album of the year or something, which was probably enough to put me off the scent.

With hindsight, even leaving aside the most terrifying song ever recorded, I can see why Andrew enjoyed this stuff. Valhalla Avenue, and I suppose by extension Cathal Coughlan's songwriting, puts me roughly in mind of a happier Jim Thirlwell of Foetus, or at least a more gleeful Jim Thirlwell. It's theatrical to the point of being offensive, apocalyptic cabaret for want of a less ludicrous term - material of such a quality that Sinatra could quite easily have sung a few of these had he been less worried about offending anyone within a fifty mile radius. Actually, I have no idea whether Sinatra ever worried about offending anyone, but lyrical turns such as people dressed as cows form an orderly queue for a drug that makes you dead for a second or two seem a little more barbed than his usual fare, and he probably wouldn't have gone for that whole pretending to bugger oneself with a figure of the Virgin Mary whilst on stage in Rome routine; and yes, seeing as I've introduced religion as a subject, this is the sort of madness which could only have been born of Roman Catholicism in all its God fearing spectacle, which - to briefly turn on the autoreview whilst I go and make a coffee - might account for the manic fervour of Coughlan's delivery, a golden voice delivering sermons with the insane force of ten Ian Paisleys. John Peel apparently said he could have happily listened to Coughlan singing the phone book, and yes, I take his point. Listening to Go Home Bible Mike, it doesn't take long before you too wish Bible Mike would piss off. In fact even vicars listening to Go Home Bible Mike will almost certainly find themselves telling the guy to stick that feckin' book up his poo-chute. Then of course we come to:

In the all-night party at the chemical plant,
Everybody's feeling grand.
The Irish peasants haven't had this much fun,
Since their ancestors fled the land.
A man with a hammer smashes down a wall,
And everybody shouts, "Hooray!"
And the virgins get taken in the shower stalls,
Where the cyanide comes up the drains.
Don't call an ambulance if you can't pay.

North-Atlantic Wind - a nihilist hymn to the inevitability of birth into a cruel world preceding a bleak, meaningless death - still chills me to the bone, and it's just a song, albeit a song which makes Killing Joke at their most embittered sound like Travis having a wistful day because it's raining and the really great indie music record shop is closed; and yet it's scored with that big band sound that could segue effortlessly into something from The Lion King at any moment, whilst nevertheless sharing certain compositional similarities with Nine Inch Nails.

I'm not sure why it's taken me twenty years to catch up with this, but I'm glad to have finally cottoned on.