Thursday, 26 February 2015

Klark Kent (1980)

I know it's hard to like the Police these days in light of the vast and shitty shadow subsequently cast by their most cheekboned member, but they caught me at just the right point of my growing up and getting into music, making such an impact that even Ouch at his most tantrically rain-forest homeopathiary cannot diminish their light. The objections I've heard mostly seem to revolve around the Police having attempted to pass themselves off as a punk band and their playing crap reggae. I was eleven in 1977 and living in rural Warwickshire and was thus indisposed that night down the 100 Club when the Sex Pistols invented safety pins, the word fuck, and ruthless authenticity, so can't really comment on the first; and whilst it's true that the constabular version of reggae may have been a poor substitute for the actual thing, I'm not sure Stewart, Andy, and Ouch were ever really claiming to be anything they weren't, or that they ever had any serious intention of putting Gregory Isaacs out of business.

Klark Kent was of course the cunning disguise of Stewart Copeland, drummer of Curved Air and then the Police. Given some of the rubbish for which Ouch has been responsible since 1986, I'd venture to say he was also probably the main reason that the Police were ever any good, and you can sort of hear it on this bright green 10" oddity. Klark Kent slapped out a couple of wonderfully bratty pop singles before this, Don't Care and Too Kool to Kalypso, establishing himself as some sort of pseudo-fratpunk pioneer, which would seem comical with hindsight had he not made such fucking great records. His voice was never so strong as that of Ouch, but then it didn't need to be because his compositions were so weird and distinctive, a mish-mash of unorthodox influences welded into his own unique form of alien bunny hop and somehow smuggled onto vinyl as the Beach Boys in straight trousers. It's not that we're talking anything quite so bizarre or terrifying as the Residents, but Klark Kent always made more sense stood next to them than next to the Rolling Stones or whoever. The Police were never punk obviously, and neither was Klark Kent, although you might smuggle him in under the radar on the grounds of bands like Split Enz or Talking Heads ending up on the same misjudged compilation albums of the time, you know - picture of some sneering and suspiciously glamorous punkette with red spikey hair and increasingly generic ransom note lettering.

This is another one of those records it's taken me thirty years to get hold of, and it sounds as great as I knew it would. I still don't quite understand why it was just a 10" and why no Thrills or Office Girls - the two tracks on the flip of Don't Care comprising one of the greatest ever b-sides in the history of stuff - but frankly ah couldnae gie twa shites. It's a shame that my Klark Kent kollection should be complete now that I have all eleven songs, but that's still eleven better than anything Ouch ever managed on his own.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Xzibit - Restless (2000)

I don't know if the mark of musical quality can be attributed to being able to remember where you were when you first heard a certain song, or when the brilliance of a certain song first occurred to you, but I suspect it could mean that you really have something if it works the other way round - a specific kind of weather compelling you to dig out a particular record, as was the case here. I played Restless to death when I first got hold of it, all morning on my Discman as I trudged up and down Barry Road shoving poll tax demands and pizza advertising through letterboxes. I listened to that thing over and over, and now associate it with one hot day which had gone on far too long, culminating with fish and chips from Semas Fish Bar - the best chippie in East Dulwich by a wide, wide margin - then falling asleep on the couch for the rest of the afternoon. Restless invokes hot blue skies, palm trees, and cars that go up and down more than it does south London chip shops, but I'm sure you know what I mean, or can at least make the effort to shut up and just take my word for it.

Today being the warmest day that we of San Antonio, Texas have thus far enjoyed this year, following a wet and fairly miserable winter by our subtropical standards, I went outside, noticed how I am now living in a place with hot blue skies, palm trees and cars that go up and down fitted as standard, and realised how long it had been since I played Restless.

Xzibit was probably better known as the bloke from the version of Pimp My Ride which thankfully didn't have Tim Westwood looming around with his weird nose crease, ludicrous accent, and all that twisted shit he did with his hands; or you may recall him from that yo dawg meme which got old pretty fast, unless you discovered it fifteen years after everyone else whilst watching The Bing Bong Theory and then went around repeating it whilst somehow imagining that this constituted being down wit da yoots dem; or hopefully you may recall Xzibit as the first lyricist to draw a bit of attention back towards the west coast in the wake of Death Row Records dropping the ball - attention in this case meaning the likes of The Source and XXL who hadn't really been taking too much notice of that side of the country.

Xzibit's first two albums were decent, but not astonishing, at least not in the same way as Restless is astonishing. His third strike seemed to come through during that millennial west coast push which also brought us Dr. Dre's 2001 and Snoop recording albums you could play more than once, but Restless is easily the most lyrical of the lot.

That said, lyrics were never Xzibit's problem, and where this one succeeds is in eschewing the undergroundisms of the previous two, opting instead for big, brassy Dre-style beats from Battle Cat, Soopafly, DJ Quik and the man himself, amongst others. The sound can be generally characterised as placing the listener's head inside the bass drum with basslines squirted out of cartoon toothpaste tubes beneath the pounding fists of Tom & Jerry tough guys. In terms of heavy it makes Godflesh sound like someone tapping a biscuit tin with the end of a pencil, but much happier because the sun is out, and the car is going up and down just as it should.

I can drink a whole Hennessy fifth,
Some call that a problem but I call it a gift...

Being associated with Tha Alkaholiks crew - or Tha Liks if impressionable young minds are still awake - Xzibit has never been afraid to get ign'ant; which has always been one of his greatest strengths in my view, with that wonderful blend of ign'ant committed with the sort of vocabulary and dexterity more commonly associated with edumacated beret-wearing freestyle and its like. In this respect  our man shines brightly on Restless, particularly on Fuckin' You Right with its robust defence of touring debauchery as a forum wherein one may pick up all sorts of perverted new techniques specifically for the purpose of increasing the sexual pleasure of a wife or partner once the tour is done; and this he balances out with the like of Sorry I'm Away So Much, a genuinely moving address to his young son. It's this sheer range which makes Xzibit one of the greats; and whilst he's produced some fine albums since this one, Restless still sounds like the best to me.

Get your walk on,
Get your head right,
I know you feeling this shit,
Shit is dead right,
Get your bounce on,
Back that ass up,
Bitch, pass me the bottle,
Fill your glass up.

Yeah - I'd say that just about settles it.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Gary Numan - Berserker (1984)

Whilst I was mightily partial to a bit of Numan at school, Gary and I parted ways round about the time his album covers began to resemble budget versions of action films which hadn't even had the sense to rip off anything that had been worth ripping off in the first place. This wasn't so much a direct reflection on his music as that I was on a budget and suddenly aware of there being plenty of other stuff out there which I liked better. Occasionally I would pause in my local branch of Our Price to briefly examine the cover of Strange Charm or The Fury with an indulgent smirk, amused by the fact of his still churning it out regardless, then head for the counter to complete purchase of my sophisticated Heaven 17 album.

Years later, having completed my fine art degree and realising that I was pretty much fucked, I moved to a bedsit in Chatham and resigned myself to beans on toast having become an exotic luxury, a rare treat enjoyed when I could afford to buy a loaf of bread. I no longer had the money to buy my records new as they came out, and took to trawling the racks of Plastic Surgery, a second-hand place in Maidstone which, if nothing else, at least bought me up to date with Kate Bush and Gary Numan for relatively little outlay - thus inadvertently priming me for the appreciation of Vostok Lake some years later. I was intrigued that Gary Numan had continued to release stuff despite my failing to buy it, and so I took the White Noise live double album for mere pennies on the grounds of it including older material I already knew I liked, in the event of the newer songs turning out to be as pants as I was fairly sure they would be; and against all expectation I played that live double into two large flexidiscs, then bought Berserker, the associated studio album from which many of the newer tracks were derived. Life was pretty miserable at the time, and Gary seemed to understand.

Ha ha, you may well observe, customarily smirking at the slightest mention of our beloved comical Bowie impersonator, or else having decided that it's now okay to admit you like Numan in the same way you might admit to liking Leo Sayer or the Rubettes.

Ha ha.

I never had any problem with openly admitting to the pleasure I took from Numan's records. Sure, he may have been a light aircraft piloting knobesque Conservative voter who married his own stalker at certain points in his life, but there are many other artists whose political views fail to align in precise accord with my own, and we're not exactly talking No Remorse here. Additionally, Gary was hardly the only person to draw inspiration from David Bowie, and nor was his inspiration drawn exclusively from that particular sausage-seeking well. The crime seems to have been that his version of Bowie was always more technical college than art school, music for the chess club guys with their boxes of cheese and onion sandwiches and terminal virginity - the kids who would never be cool enough to dance upon the hood of a gridlocked vehicle like Michael J. Fox teaching those grown-ups a thing or two about what it means to be young. Of course, this says more about those who deem that which must be regarded as saaaaaaad this week than the actual music, the artist, or his fans.

Gary's crimes, aside from those mentioned above, seem to be based around having a big fat face which never lent itself to robot impersonations so well as those of his peers, and having a bit of a nasal voice, and failing to conceal his influences, and the one song on every album describing how much the music press hates him and how little he cares. The last point probably holds some water because sour grapes are never a good look, although the rest can be put down to either personal taste or being so much irrelevant bollocks. Whilst it could be argued that having been a sort of conflation of David Bowie and John Foxx, he briefly turned into Japan, then Robert Palmer, and has more recently been heard sounding quite a lot like Nine Inch Nails, this doesn't have to be a problem unless you want it to be. Even when the influences are kicking you in the shins, a Gary Numan album will only ever sound like a Gary Numan album, and besides, if it's okay for Bowie to send his butler out to look for one of those drum and bass chappies when he feels the self-conscious need to be down with the kids, I don't see why anyone else should be denied the benefit of the doubt.

The bottom line here is that, for all his faults, Numan can make just two notes sound like no piece of music you've ever heard, invoking isolation and alienation with such profound conviction as to make all those other glumsters sound like twenty-four hour party wankers. In other words the proof of the pudding is in eating the thing, and in that respect, this man has a fairly astonishing track record providing you keep in mind he may not necessarily have set out to sing the song you want to hear.

Beserker emerged from the transitional period between Numan turning funky and then deciding to be Robert Palmer's Addicted to Love on Metal Rhythm - another great album, by the way. For something which sounds like it's trying quite hard to get into its own party, it's a surprisingly chilling record, particularly on Cold Warning and My Dying Machine. Lyrically it's business as usual in so much as it's anyone's guess what any of it could be about, and there's the customary selection of William Burroughs and Philip K. Dick one-liners hinting at that which Gary apparently dare not describe; but crucially, as ever, the level of obvious sincerity is terrifying, so painful you can barely look it in the eye. This is Numan's strength. Regardless of how lame he sounds, how well he measures up to your expectations, or what the blistering fuck he's talking about, he really, really means it, and that's why he sounds so great when life has been kicking you in the face for any length of time. Ironically, Bowie now sounds like his own Phil Cornwell impersonation by comparison.

One day some Mojooid will mislay his copy of Exile on Main St., slap on Beserker by accident, and recognise it as the fucking cracking record it is and always has been; and then we will all be told it's okay to admit to liking Gary Numan yet again, or at least the old stuff, like the one that got sampled on that dance tune. At this juncture it may be worth noting that some of us never needed permission.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Pixies - Indie Cindy (2013)

It just goes to show how much attention I've been paying - I didn't even know they were back together, and this is their reunion album; except it isn't. It's actually the three EPS which I hadn't realised they released since getting back together all assembled as an album, and Kim Deal wasn't involved in any of it, so it's the Pixies roughly in the sense of the first Frank Black album being the Pixies, I suppose.

But is it any good?

Well, kinda... I guess. It's that same massive Pixies sound, and that same unsettling contrast of sweet and slightly psychotic, and those weird jagged riffs underpinning the angelic croon; and the lyrics are still mental, and in a good way. Yet there's some detail, something which doesn't quite fit which I can't quite identify. I habitually expect reunion albums to be a disappointment with everyone old, fat and sounding like Jeff fucking Lynne. Thankfully Indie Cindy isn't and doesn't, although it feels a little more like a compilation than anything new, which is of course what it actually is. The new Pixies album was generally something of an event way back in the days of old, always delivering without ever quite being exactly what you expected thanks to a certain quota of completely idiosyncratic tracks doing something to screw up the formula by means which made perfect sense despite everything. This time you get more or less exactly what you would expect, at least providing you didn't really expect old, fat and sounding like Jeff fucking Lynne. Excepting Bagboy, nothing really breaks the pattern, and it all chugs along in generally efficient form with the same sort of fidelity as any reasonably convincing tribute act generating their own themed material in the same style. It's good, often great, but then so was Chris Morris's Mother Banger; and I can't get past Indie Cindy having also having been a cartoon in Poot! comic even without the suggestion of self-conscious smirking equivalent to that fucking abominable song by the Killers about how it's indie rock and roll for me, whatever the fuck it was called; and just to get it all out of my system, the first couple of times I played this, I kept finding myself thinking of those later, more dreary Beck albums with sparkly acoustic guitar drenched in reverb all over, the audio equivalent of velvet paintings of big-eyed orphans with puppies.

Despite all this, it was nevertheless immensely exciting to find Indie Cindy in the racks at Hogwild now that I have my record player plumbed in and am able to listen to vinyl albums once more; and it's great to take that fat slab of 180gsm plastic from the sleeve and to drop the needle into the groove and have that big fucking sound once again come blasting out of the speakers after all these years. So, despite all reservations, Indie Cindy has nevertheless been getting a lot of rewinds in our house, as they say in all the really cool discos. I've a feeling that I will have stopped caring about most of the above reservations after a few more spins.