We don’t go through life talking in text speak, just like in the age of the telegraph people didn’t talk like telegrams. Some of it makes its way into the language like “OMG,” but we saw the same thing with proofreading terms like “stet” and “ibid” or things like that.
People are always scared of new technology. On the first trains, people had nervous breakdowns, because they were going too fast. When the first bicycles came out, people were warned about getting “bicycle face.” [Atwood pulls back the skin on her face to demonstrate, looking like the victim of a bad plastic surgeon.]
What people were really worried about was that it could enable sex, because you could get away from the home and parental control. There were similar concerns about the automobile. And a similar uproar was caused by the zipper. People preached sermons about the dangers of zippers. And now we have velcro! That’s even easier.
It took years – Genuinely, more than a decade – to realize that Alex Chilton sings “Air goes cool” in this song, one of the more fragile and beautiful from the mythical third album from Big Star. This song is one of those that changes as I get older, and what originally sounded haunted and upset when I heard the song for the first time in my early twenties now sounds peaceful and contented years later. There’s a feeling that this is a song unwinding, breathing slowly and softly and enjoying the lack of horror and anger that happens in each of the other songs that surround it on the album. There are worse songs to listen to as the sun sets and you find yourself wandering through the city on a summer evening.
As far as I’m concerned, this is the shining moment of Jarvis Cocker’s career, and it happens on a guest shot for someone else’s album. Officially, this song is credited to Barry Adamson, upon whose Oedipus Schmoedipus this comes from. But, whether it’s the spectacular arrangement behind Cocker – The vibes! The “Rocks”-esque drums! The thudding of the bass guitar! The strings! The choir! – the wonderfully desperate lyrics (“So please/So please/Don’t leave me alone in this double bed/It smells of damp towels and asthma inhalers,” while the choir plead for sexual release without masturbation, “Save me from my own hand!”) or just Cocker’s breathless performance, at once pathetic and (faux-)seductive, “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Pelvis” has long been the best thing Cocker has ever done, the fulfillment of all the promise of his Pulp themes performed with far more verve, gusto and humor than that band ever managed to achieve by themselves. It’s a very specific experience, this song, and one that may only appeal to those with furtive teenage sexual fumblings and unrequited desires, and yet… Yeah. This song is the real thing, for me.
Another of those songs that sounds to me like some kind of pop perfection, “Oh! You Pretty Things” is about way that vocals play off each other in the chorus; it was the first thing that caught my attention, the call-and-response, the swinging of the lead against the sturdiness of the backing vocals (The way that “Driving your mommas and papas” builds to support the landing of Bowie’s swoop, mirroring the fall of their earlier “Oh, you pretty things” as it climbs down). Even before my attention was sworn by the words being sung (“Homo sapiens have outgrown their use,” indeed) or the piano instrumentation that collapses into full band for the chorus. There’s a lovely balance of delicateness and swagger in this song that I find irresistible, but even cover versions that pretty significantly change the sound of the song make me swoon more than slightly:
As you could likely tell from my silence yesterday, my schedule hasn’t exactly settled down just yet. To be fair, I was absent because I was watching the first episode of the new Doctor Who season (It’s very fun), but still. I’m back now and will try to stay on top of stuff a bit more, apart from when I’m on vacation for a couple days in the near future, but that should be vacation and that’s good and and and… Hey! Go read my Time piece from this week instead of me rambling here. That’ll be so much better.
First off, I apologize for the video. Scroll down and ignore its terrible flashing.
Secondly: Holy crap. This is Nina channeling Ray Charles, isn’t it? The call-and-response, the freak-out at 0:59, the arrangement that sees horns and electric guitars in the background, the vamping in the background at 1:51, the breathless vocal in general… It’s all weirdly Ray Charles-esque, whether intentional or not.
Not that that’s a bad thing, and yet… There’s something weirdly off about Simone doing this; she was enough of an individual that such imitation seems beneath her, somehow. It’s like when you hear her “Revolution” from 1969 and feeling as if it’s just ripping off the Beatles song of the same name the year before:
I feel like a bad pop fan, thinking such things. One of the things I genuinely love about pop music is that everyone steals, and then twists things and turns them into something else, and so seeing Nina obviously take on some influence or another should feel like something to approve of. Maybe my problem is that I can see the original all too clearly in each of these two cases…?
DJ Shadow is someone whom I continually find frustratingly uneven; so much of his work feels self-indulgent and lacking the presence and beat that I want from it, and then he’ll turn out something like this, one of the lead-in tracks from his 2011 album The Less You Know, The Better. There’s a freshness and simplicity to this song that always appeals, a sound that sounds under-produced and almost live-to-tape despite being constructed entirely from samples, combined with a lyric that’s at once lovelorn and funny. “I’ve been trying/To get you to love me/I’ve been trying/To get you to care/Put forth a lot of effort,” the unnamed vocalist complains, sounding as if it’s been a chore trying to woo his unrequited beloved, the unspoken sense of “C’mon, you owe me” just under the surface.
Add to that the more produced parts of the song – By the time the flute enters around 1:51, I am always inexplicably reminded of Hall and Oates; I wish I could understand why – and this becomes a wonderfully unexpected comedy track of sorts, set off with the “Hi, kitten. This one’s for you” smarmy sample that comes in just before the vocal begins. When Shadow is on – and it feels as if he’s definitely on in this song, which works on multiple levels – he can be fantastic. I just wish he was on more often.
Purely because the last track reminded me how powerful the piano/fucking awesome singer combo could be, here’s Nina Simone singing the hell out of a song from Hair, backed by a band that is apparently 100% in tune with what she wanted to do with the track. Sadly, this video lacks the coda to the track that’s available on some releases, where post-song, Nina comments “That should be good,” and the producer can be heard, raving over the intercom, “That’s groovy.”
It really is, and in a way that feels timeless, as opposed to forever linked to the 1960s or ’70s.
As wonderful as Roisin Murphy’s vocal is on this track from the first Handsome Boy Modeling School album may be – and it is, haunted and fragile and knowing all at once, alternatively icey and pleading, sometimes switching between the two in a single line (Her “But in your present state/You may as well not be here at all” is a line that makes me wish that Murphy got better material than she normally does; it’s just an amazing reading, as is her “Baby, I’ll die/Without you by side” at 3:50) – there’s almost no way to hear this without just wanting to bow down to the sampled, looped piano, the way that it continually builds tension by ramping up the performance and then returns to the beginning of the sample, over and over again, jittery and uneven in all the best ways. It’s a beautifully simple loop to build the song around, and deceptively dramatic at the same time. There’s no real release in the song, it just builds and drops and builds and drops. Add to that the messy drums, and even such a spectacular vocal as Murphy’s finds itself eclipsed by the music surrounding it.
(I’m not ignoring the J-Live rap, as much as not having much to say about it; it’s relatively dull by comparison to the Murphy vocal or the sample, which is a shame. It has an important and necessary place in the song, but it doesn’t really do anything worthwhile with it, I think.)
Okay, so apparently I took an extra day off from this blog than intended. That’s because yesterday’s return to the day job was slightly more hectic than I’d hoped, after a weekend that was much more hectic than I’d hoped, and to be honest, by the time I’d finished work at 10pm, the thought of writing some more just made me want to collapse onto a fainting couch with the back of my hand to my head. “Why, I do declayah!”
Back to fighting fit status soon, I hope. Stay tuned, Earthlets.