Wednesday, 25 October 2017

J.J. Burnel - Euroman Cometh (1979)

I had some reservations. Much as I've loved the Stranglers, they had distinct periods of experimentation with being macho shitheads, and more recently I encountered Hitler salutes delivered in praise of Euroman Cometh on a peculiar blog constituting an assemblage of quotes of far right inclination. Mostly it was excerpts from interviews in which various members of Killing Joke proposed which demographic groups they would like to see sent to a hypothetical gas chamber, mainly referring to fairies, effeminate types, nancy boys, anyone who likes Boy George, people who listen to pouffy music, other fairies who have somehow eluded the initial sweep, over and over - what larks! It was hard to work out whether the author of the blog had compiled all of this material as evidence for the prosecution, or because he too wished to see fairies sent to some hypothetical gas chamber, but the suggestion of Euroman Cometh being cut from the same jackbooted cloth was troubling, particularly in the wake of certain fat folky fuckers who just happen to be stood on stage in black uniforms singing about how they quite like Europe.

Thankfully I was mistaken, as I probably would have realised had I bought this at the time. Burnel's Crabs sounded great on the Strangler's Christmas EP, but apparently not so great as to inspire me to buy the album, but never mind. Euroman Cometh is thematically a call for European unity as a progressive and essentially inclusive entity, a refutation of American influence and the more unpleasant episodes of recent European history; and even Burnel's motorbike fixation is turned to a restatement of this ideal on the cover:

The Triumph Workers Co-operative at Meriden have proved that personally motivated enterprise coupled with group interest is a necessary ingredient in successful socialism and the sham they call national socialism could only be suggested and perpetrated by enemies of the people.

See, Dougie - that's all it fucking takes, you goose-stepping wanker.

Musically speaking, Euroman could almost be a Stranglers album, albeit one with a subtle shift of emphasis in the direction of the European sensibility it strives to communicate, so it growls and swaggers just as you would expect whilst somehow invoking Metal Urbain, Grauzone, and other cold wave types who added grumbling bass to one of those primitive rhythm machines which was usually just a wooden box with a button marked rhumba on the side. Strangely, the only minor disappointment is that the studio version of Crabs isn't quite so convincing as the live version which accompanied the release of Don't Bring Harry; but this is otherwise a fucking cracker.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Spandau Ballet - Journeys to Glory (1981)

We read in the weekly music paper about how they were all the rage down in that London, but it was difficult to hear them over the sound of Judas Priest, Saxon, and the Wurzels around our way, so their impact was reduced. We smirked at them in their tartan blouses on Top of the Pops, but truthfully we weren't that bothered, and I bought The Freeze because it sounded a bit like Joy Division; and a handful of approximately decent singles followed before they turned into Val Doonican's warm-up act. Toes were tapped but ultimately it was hard to care, meaning that I'd never really thought about Spandau Ballet for longer than five seconds - excepting periods of meditation upon my hatred of Robert Elms which probably don't count; and thusly over a thirty-year period didst Spandau Ballet eventually accrue mystery sufficient as to warrant my noticing this in the Half-Price racks and wondering what it was like.

The thing which surprised me most is how pedestrian they sound, some new wave band you might have heard rehearsing in the village hall beefed up with a big production and - oh - looks like Santa brought someone a synthesiser for Christmas; and yet this was once thought to be what comes next. We had seen the future, and it was a little bit like what you hear when you turn over to BBC2 and watch the test card for a while. With hindsight, it was all very Alan Partridge.

Okay, that's a little harsh. Journeys to Glory is not without its qualities, and there was probably a point at which it sounded important and forward looking when played in some self-involved club or other; and musically it's fairly decent, but the problem is that Tony Hadley is simply a fucking awful singer. Technically he's wonderful but, to paraphrase my friend Andrew J. Duncan, there's nothing wrong with his voice and that's what's wrong with his voice. He sounds like a million other technically perfect bellowing and hooting Brentwood's Got Talent contestants, but that's all he does. There's neither range, subtlety, nor soul, regardless of how closely he sonically resembles the somewhat superior Alison Moyet. If they revised this with all of the vocals re-recorded by some guy caught having a poo in the alley outside the studio, it might be remembered as a classic, as opposed to the first album by that New Romantic band who weren't as good as Duran Duran.

I'm still going to buy the second one if I see it though. Instinction was mint.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Third Door from the Left - Face the Firing Squad (1981)

Face the Firing Squad really feels like it should be referred to in the same sentences as Second Annual Report, The Voice of America, Tissue of Lies and other brooding classics of the admittedly loose genre which I can never quite bring myself to consider industrial. It dates from roughly the same era and I played it to death at the time, but being released as a cassette, I suppose it's inevitable that it shouldn't be so well remembered. Third Door from the Left were Kevin Thorne and Raye Calouri, who met at Throbbing Gristle's performance at the YMCA in 1979, and Kevin's name appears in the list of those invited to the recording of Heathen Earth, alongside members of Coil, Konstruktivists, and others you will have most likely heard of; and you may recall Kevin's name adorning the covers of numerous Chris & Cosey releases in his capacity as designer.

Anyway, we might lazily characterise Third Door as occupying a sort of half way point between Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, or at least live Gristle. The comparison isn't entirely unjustified, or no more so than saying the Rolling Stones were just Charlie Patton for suburban whities; but there's a lot more going on than just strange sounds and dark moods. For starters, Third Door from the Left were never afraid of a guitar sounding like a guitar, and regardless of the pensive sense of menace, you might say they were significantly more accessible than anyone from whom they may have taken inspiration. The sheer emotional weight of It's Not Us still floors me thirty-five years later in ways that Joy Division never quite managed. Seriously, it makes New Dawn Fades sound like the theme music from the Generation Game.

This edition has been lovingly pressed up as a record by Vinyl on Demand, meaning no more coughing up hundreds of quid on Discogs for a Woolworths cassette which probably won't play. The quality remains as it was on the original cassette release, which isn't a problem as it was a fairly decent recording given the limitations of the equipment of the time. At the risk of sounding like a bit of a knob, I'd suggest that this one is essential.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Dr. Dooom - First Come, First Served (1999)

It took me a while to come round to Kool Keith, and what eventually swung it was a stack of his albums for a couple of quid each in a second-hand place in Camberwell. Without actually having heard the man's work, I'd received the impression of his being another one of those rappers for people who don't actually like rap. This came from recommendations by, amongst others, Shaun Robert, formerly author of weirdy sound art cassettes under the name factor X, who, having inspected my shelves of rap CDs, opined something like, I'm a bit surprised that you don't have any Kool Keith, which sounded faintly like sneering at the time. We'd probably just had a disagreement over the merits of Björk, my position being that there aren't any, so Kool Keith became rap for people who like Björk and who probably read The Wire, to my way of thinking; and of course I was wrong.

I warmed to the idea of the man when he released an album on Esham's label, Gotham Overcore - which is probably ass-backwards, but never mind; and then when he sang the praises of low-brow rap, as the journalist termed it, in the pages of Vibe or The Source or one of those, specifically No Limit and other labels keeping Pen & Pixel in business. I could have just listened to his records, of course, but that would have been too easy.

First Come, First Served, defiantly released with another eye-watering Pen & Pixel cover, was recorded by one of Keith's numerous personalities, specifically the one which really seems to focus what I like about the guy, although appreciate may be a better word than like. He raps like a nutter, lines spat out with just a hint of anger, like you've spilled his pint but the situation hasn't quite made it out into the pub car park; and he's about four-thousand times more eloquent than most rappers. It all spills out, even sluices out in a barrage of faintly queasy and upsetting images, and it's like that moment where you take out the trash and lift the lid of the wheelie bin and get just a whiff before you remember to hold your breath. Keith seems fixated on detritus and snack food and rubbish, anything with a bit of a pong, as a sort of combined inversion and refutation of just about everything else which has ever happened in rap. If he wasn't so fucking good at it, you could be forgiven for thinking he hates the genre. There's not a lot of gold, and nor are the fizzy millionaire drinks aflowing - just about every other liquid you might care to mention but probably wouldn't, but definitely not a lot of Alizé. In fact, the imagery of dollar store diapers, cereal, and egg shells is of such concentration that if you wrote everything he said down, I'm pretty sure it would read like a less alcoholic Bukowski.

What he's actually saying is similarly pungent, and with not very much that would have seemed out of place in one of the earlier, more harrowing John Waters films. This is because he's keeping it real, as we say, but really real, the sort of real which is customarily subject to a restraining order. His message to fellow artistes is You Live at Home with Your Mom, and once you compare this album with whatever else has been doing the rounds, you realise that they do.

Musically, it's a little basic, just hard atmospheric beats keeping a rhythm to the justifiably arrogant dispensation of bile, which is how it should be. Anything stronger would mask the odour and would miss the point, so instead we get hints of turd-strewn sidewalks, film soundtracks, and Peter Lorre on full ooze sliming his way around a backing vocal, knocking on your door at midnight to apologise for the smell from the apartment across the hall, and hey, you got any toilet paper?

First Come, First Served is a classic, no argument, and I think I need a shower.