I always feel guilty about the fact that I first heard Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” in a car commercial; there’s something about Drake in general, and “Pink Moon” in particular that that feels like heresy, as if just by that process of discovery, I’ve somehow cheapened the music and Drake’s tortured experience in life. This is what’ll happen to future mes, when Elliott Smith is used to advertise sneakers and they hear “Needle In The Hay” for the first time. There’s a lot to connect Drake and Smith, even beyond the tortured artist stereotype; a sensitivity and serenity to their music, a preference for hushed vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitars… Smith is, in many ways, the more openly self-loathing descendant of Drake’s, but there’s a warmth to Drake that Smith sometimes misses.
(A lot of that warmth, I think, comes from Drake’s voice, which is weirdly charming in its breathiness here, and the almost comforting nature of the song, which is simple and open and has the type of chord structure that makes it feel more relaxing than others, for some reason.)
Having said all of that, my favorite version of “Pink Moon” isn’t the original; it’s Beck’s cover from a few years back, which adds a melancholy – again, I’m tempted to say that’s a vocal thing as well – to the original, a sadness and resignation that gives the entire song a strangely more affecting mood.
Clearly, I just like the sad songs.
I’m not quite sure just why this week has proven to be so exhausting, but it sadly has, hence the relative silence here. While I’m recovering and feeling a little scared about the backlog of songs I have to write about, have some Cornershop doing Bob Dylan and making it into a lovely little pop song:
Another day that feels weirdly overwhelming for reasons I can’t explain – although there was an upside of seeing a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time – and so, a song that (as much as I love it) feels as frantic as my head right now. It’s the drum beat, which feels like it’s come from some awesome jazz record in the past, and the way it doesn’t quite go with the hum of the rest of the song. Never mind all of Noel Gallagher’s Beatles-esque stylings and lyrics – This is definitely a lesser cousin to “Setting Sun” in that regard – because “Let Forever Be” is really all about the aural mismatch in the music, and the way that it sounds like the most pop dream you’ve never had.
‘Nuff said, surely? (My favorite of the versions on show here is most likely the Sinatra, which somehow manages to be both melancholy and swinging. I think there’s a depth to the vocal performance that’s at odds with the musical arrangement, but in a way that somehow works, if that makes sense…)
Writing needs space, time to develop and breathe and turn into something that’s worth reading and not just verbal sludge pouring forth from your fingers and keyboard. The problem with that, of course, is that sometimes your life becomes too much everything and not enough space.
Ruth is one of those bands that you remember, but don’t remember anything about; as far as I do remember, this was the closest thing they ever had to a hit, but even then this was really a near-miss that graced a lot of radio and TV play but was pretty much ignored by the Great British Public, who hadn’t really come around to the idea of overly-produced pop that’s pretty much saved from the disaster of mediocrity by the Brian May-esque guitar solo that comes in at 1:50 from out of nowhere. But for me, this song isn’t about Valentine’s Day or the limitations of power pop but instead, a trip to London in the final year of my bachelor’s degree at art school, sleeping on a friend’s floor and thinking way too much about pop music, leafing through the CDs that he’d been given for free and discovering all these bands that I never would’ve heard of otherwise. Ruth was one of those, but a lesser one; I remember finding things on that trip that would stay with me for years afterwards, dubbed onto blank tapes until I could finally manage to track down and buy them for myself. Weird memories of the world opening up and wandering home along streets that I one day thought I might live in, listening to songs on headphones that were falling apart, trying to stitch new sounds and ideas together with every step.
Because it’s Sunday, and because I mentioned Red Snapper yesterday, and because it’s been a rough few days, and so on and so on… It’s time to “Get Some Sleep, Tiger.” In particular, this Plaid remix of said track, which makes the awesome jazziness of the original and makes it just a little weirder, taking it from the “theme song for the best spy movie you’ve never seen” to something almost postrock…
Normal service will be resumed sooner rather than later.
I first saw Beth Orton back when she was singing with Red Snapper, way back in the mid 1990s, and I remember very, very clearly leaving the venue and she was standing outside, leaning against a car smoking and me just completely being smitten by her in that moment, as random as that may sound. It was that memory, that smittenness, that led me to pick up her first single and album and become as equally – if not more – smitten with her folk revival sound than the way she looked post-gig, grumpy and trying to ignore the crowds wandering past her in a cold Glasgow alleyway. It’s not that she was doing anything particularly special or original, but just the sound of her voice and simplicity of her arrangements that sounded especially fresh in the dying days of Britpop. “It’s Not The Spotlight” shows off what I liked best about her output at that time – the covers that stripped back brassier pop tunes and remade them as something quieter and more beautiful. Even now, years after I’ve pretty much stopped paying attention to her career that closely, things like this still send slight chills up and down my spine.
It’s possible that there’s a song somewhere in the world of music that more easily and quickly evokes the idea of a damaged relationship trying to be repaired than Gorillaz’ “To Binge” (from Plastic Beach, which may or may not be the final “proper” Gorillaz album depending on what rumors you care to believe), but if there is, I doubt it has a moment that tugs the heartstrings as much as when Damon Albarn sings “But I just have to tell you that I/Love you so much these days/I just have to tell you that I/Love you so much these days/It’s true.”
Plastic Beach is a weird album, and “To Binge” a standout song from it because it is so much more fragile than everything that surrounds it, and so much more… traditional, I guess; the song structure is pretty much a basic duet, with very basic accompaniment, which helps make its case as something more honest than the songs it hides between, more heartfelt. Who can listen to this and not want for everything to end up okay for Albarn and Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano and their mini drama implied in this four minute song?
Besides Jellyfish’s (sadly meager) output, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend is pretty much my template for “power pop” as a musical genre; it has the 1960s emphasis on harmonies, guitars and songs that are easy to singalong to, but it also has a particularly 1990s sheen to the overall production. That’s what “power pop” is, for me; an attempt to evoke the 1960s in a very then-contemporary way (Things like Lilys’ Better Can’t Make Your Life Better, for example, with a sound that’s far, far closer to the actual production values of the original ’60s pop and garage bands, are something other than power pop, for some reason; I know that it’s a particularly weird line to have, but it’s mine and it’s there, dammit. Sorry). In those terms, I’m not sure it gets much better than “Girlfriend,” which is Sweet in full-on sugary-pop mode giving it his all with his nasal voice and love of guitar solos. Outside of all the “ooooooh” and “aaaaaaaah” backing vocals – which I adore, no joke – what really makes this song so memorable for me are the lyrics, which are so… childlike, I guess, in such a weird way: “I wanna love somebody/I hear you need somebody to love” and “Oh honey, believe me/I’d sure like to call you my girlfriend” are the kinds of things that you’d expect from someone who’s never been in any kind of relationship ever, which I somehow manage to take as charming rather than, say, offputtingly naive. So much of Sweet’s 1990s peak feels like the work of someone who’s obsessively listened to their favorite records over and over again, taking them apart to see how they work and then trying to recreate them with each new song they write, and that idea follows through on “Girlfriend,” which you can believe is the work of someone who’s so much of a music nerd that they’ve not had time to actually pursue a real life relationship of their own. And yet… that kind of nerditry appeals to me, here; if you’re going to write a song called “Girlfriend,” why not have it sound as if it’s being sung by someone for whom that word still holds a special charge…?