Monday 31 May 2021

Monday long song: New Amusements

Not that I ever need an excuse to post Gene, but here's the song that gives this blog its name, from 1997's Drawn To The Deep End: a long song for your bank holiday Monday, if you will.

You're welcome.

Thursday 27 May 2021

You can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear...

Lipstick is a piece of generic pop pap that Jedward sang to represent Ireland in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. They came eighth with it, the sort of dizzying success that UK entrants can only dream of these days. But still, Jedward and Eurovision: hardly a ringing endorsement, right? I'm not going to embed it, on principle, but if you must watch the twins' ESC performance, knock yourself out.

Now imagine you are a one-man band quietly plying your style of alternative rock online. You've got a bit of an Electric Six/Dick Valentine obsession going on, maybe, but that's okay. Maybe you hear the Jedward track and think, hang on a minute...

So this is Lipstick by Norwich-based alt-rocker Molten Vole. Bonus points to him for squeezing a Delia Smith reference into the lyrics, and for the extra verse.

That this is quite such an ear-worm speaks volumes for the original three-man songwriting team, I think, but fair play to Molten Vole for taking the bare bones and turning them into something more.

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Is it really just me?

Yahoo's UK home page had a poll on with a poorly worded question asking whether Britons should refuse to pay the television licence fee. The options were: Yes, it's not worth it; and, No, it's value for money.

Quite apart from the poorly designed questionnaire (yes for a negative, no for a positive), I broke a longstanding habit of not voting in onine polls, because the Beeb is important. Yes, I voted No, because the licence fee is value for money. And here are the results at the time I voted this morning:

That's depressing, isn't it? That only about 1 in 8 people thinks the BBC is good value, when it provides ad-free television of a very high standard, fulfils a public service broadcasting remit, delivers national and local news, offers a fantastic range of national and local radio, gives us the iPlayer and Sounds app, and has one of the best websites in the world? All that for £159 per year. Yes, Netflix and Prime might be cheaper, but offer just a fraction of what the Beeb does. As for Sky, you don't really want to line Murdoch's pockets, do you?

Am I alone in thinking this? Am I so out of touch with popular opinion?

Here's a song in praise of the BBC... with bonus Susanna Hoffs.

Monday 24 May 2021

Monday long song: Spandrels

From last year's comeback album The Panglossian Momentum by Thousand Yard Stare, this is Spandrels. And here's a link in case you were wondering what a spandrel is. Can't help you with how that relates to this song though, sorry.

Sunday 23 May 2021

Sunday shorts: See My Way

Here's a rarity for you, a Who song written by Roger, not Pete (I think Roger contributed four songs to the entire Who discography). And to make it even rarer, I've gone for a BBC Sessions recording, rather than the original from A Quick One, just because I think it sounds better - brighter, cleaner, a superior recording. Well done, the BBC.

Friday 21 May 2021

Blue Friday: Please, Please, Please... (instrumental)

Ripping yourself off

You know when an artist or band re-uses either their own lyrics in another song, or recycles a tune and sticks new lyrics on top? For example, when The Style Council took With Everything To Lose, from their excellent second album proper Our Favourite Shop, swapped out the lyrics and turned it into Have You Ever Had It Blue? for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack? Or when REM took 7 Chinese Bros from their excellent second album Reckoning and, in a moment of madness or inspiration, overlaid lyrics that were read by Stipe from a record sleeve, to produce Voice of Harold, for the B-side of So. Central Rain. You get the idea, right? So you also get the jolt that comes from recognising a track when it starts and suddenly realising it's not quite what you thought it was.

Well, I had another such jolt yesterday. I was doing the washing-up and, apropos of nothing, had asked a smart device to serve up songs by Simon & Garfunkel. After the random/not-random predictable first offering (Bridge Over Troubled Water), this was next up: Somewhere They Can't Find Me.

Which, if you'll pardon the modern vernacular, prompted an actual WTF moment for me. For these are the lyrics to one of my favourite S&G tracks, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. At least the verses are - see for yourself:

Not only that, the music bears more than a passing resemblance to another of their recordings, Anji, listen:

Am I the only one who didn't know about this?

Monday 17 May 2021

Monday long song: Stereotypes/Stereotype Pt 2

A bit of a cheat, maybe, because it's two songs segued together, but the join is seamless, it's listed on the album as one track and, most of all, it's excellent and I want to play it. So here, direct from 1980, are seven and a half Special minutes. Ever drunk your ages in pints?

Sunday 16 May 2021

Sunday shorts: I'm Amazed

Yes, alright, I know that picking early Pixies as a way of finding good short songs is like shooting fish in a barrel, but that's about all I'm good for at the moment. And blimey, it would be even shorter if not for Kim Deal prefacing the song with the tale of a former teacher who was "into field hockey players"...

Saturday 15 May 2021

I don't want to join your revolution, so leave me alone...

A serendipitous Bandcamp find, this is the archly titled The Record Player and the Damage Done by The Reds, Pinks and Purples, aka Glenn Donaldson. This and the whole parent album Uncommon Weather are quite listenable. I will explore further. He certainly has a way with a melody, and a natty line in Morrissey-esque song titles (I Hope I Never Fall In Love, A Kick in the Face (That's Life), I Wouldn't Die For Anyone, that kind of thing).

Monday 10 May 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Flowers for Algernon

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

5/21: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The blurb: The classic novel about a daring experiment in human intelligence Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper and the gentle butt of everyone's jokes - until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental tranformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

The review: Brooklyn-born Daniel Keyes was a merchant sailor before finding his calling as a university lecturer and, eventually, professor of creative writing. He wrote four novels, apparently, but Flowers for Algernon is far and away the best known. Originally a Hugo Award-winning short story, Keyes expanded it to a novel whereupon that won the Nebula Award. He also adapted it for a 1968 film, Charly, which landed an Oscar for its lead actor but - spoiler alert - the film has not aged as well as the book. Oh, and it also got the TV movie treatment, twenty odd years ago, and that starred Matthew Modine and is well reviewed, so I'll be taking a look at that when time allows.

So what of the book? Well, the Hugo and Nebula awards should be telling you this is a science-fiction story, and it is... but it's a question-raising morality play too. What is more important, this novel asks, to have a brain or to have a heart? To care or to be aware? And, less directly but equally effectively, whether mankind should play god, in the grand tradition of everything from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park and a whole lot more besides. In this case, and to paraphrase, the scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could turn Charlie into a genius, they didn't stop to think if they should.

It's also a heartbreakingly sad novel too. Protagonist Charlie leads a simple but happy life but, as his intelligence grows, he realises that his life has not been, and is not, happy - that people he thought were his friends were actually just laughing at him behind his back. Also, as he gets smarter Charlie is able, for the first time, to examine and understand the troubled family history that saw his parents abandon him. And, most painfully, as he grows he realises that he can love, but cannot give himself over to that love until it's too late - his spiralling IQ means that he has left his sweetheart behind intellectually.

The real kicker comes in the book's final third, and is hinted at in the blurb. It's a hard read and left me wondering whether it is better to have been smart and lost that, than never to have been smart at all; it also left me wondering, not for the first time, what I would want to happen to me in the event of suffering a traumatic brain injury, or developing some form of dementia. To know, to be all too aware you are losing your mental prowess must be terrible.

There are also some neat writing tricks at play here from Keyes. The novel is written in Charlie's first-person narrative as a series of progress reports that he keeps as part of the study, and Keyes has great fun with this, varying his protagonist's writing style subtly yet progressively to demonstrate a growing intelligence. And having digested Charlie's linguistic up-turn at the start of the novel, this reader was hyper-attuned to subsequent variations; it was all the more saddening to see the first signs of deterioration creep into Charlie's writing (apostrophes were the first thing to go) because you know what had gone into the intial improvement. Watching a tower crumble is bad, but doubly so if you had invested in building it from the outset.

There's also another theme to be discussed here, I think, about the burden of intelligence, the separation it can cause, the loneliness. Which would you choose: to be a sad genius or a happy imbecile?

The bottom line: don't be put off by the SF tag; this is a gripping, emotional read that raises a lot of questions and lingers long in the mind; only deprived a full complement of stars by a slight narrative lag in the middle third.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Monday long song: This is Hardcore

Great (long) song and a great video too.

Saturday 8 May 2021

Minding the gaps: The Liar

Way back in January 2018, I posted about this song - The Liar by The Fernweh, and said that "when the single is released and there's a full embeddable version somewhere, I fully expect to darken your door with this again." So here I am, two and a half years later, to darken your door. Finger on the pulse, me...

I also said, "It's sounds like... 1969, I think." See if you agree.

Friday 7 May 2021

Blue Friday: Possibly Maybe

This popped up at random recently, and gave me a bit of a "time flies" moment as I reminded myself it is 26 years old. Twenty-bloody-six. Still sounds terrific, I reckon; maybe the key to ageing well is to be timeless.

And if you're wondering why this qualifies for Blue Friday, well, it's a break-up song, isn't it? Check the lyrics, especially the last three verses. "I suck my tongue in remembrance of you" indeed...

Great video too. 26 years may well have slipped by, but there's still no-one quite like Björk.

Monday 3 May 2021

Monday long song: Babe, I'm On Fire

I still have, and will probably always have, a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Nick Cave, but this is a powerful, wrecking ball of a song.