Archive for February, 2011
We’ll need to manage the release of it. I call it ‘Release Management’.
Released at a time when The Kinks appeared to be on the wane, 1970’s unconventionally-named Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One brought them back into the public’s conscience largely off the back of perhaps the most celebrated ode to transvestism in pop history.
The album itself failed to chart in the UK, which seems somehow fitting, given that large parts of it are a feast of Ray Davies’ cynicism and bitterness about the music industry and its principal actors – agents, managers, the press.
Top Of The Pops takes us on an entertaining jaunt through the lifecycle of a hit single climbing up the charts, leading to recognition in the streets from screaming fans and interest from the Melody Maker (ask your Dad, kids). This culminates in a momentous phone call from the singer’s agent with the news that the song has gone to number one, resulting in the opportunity to “earn some real money!”. Similarly, Moneygoround laments the complex web of music industry types who each dip their hands into the money earned from a song’s success, leaving Ray initiating litigation with survival his only goal, while Powerman is both defiant and resigned.
Other themes on the album include alienation, paranoia, and despair at modernity. Perhaps the most touching song on the album is Get Back In The Line, based on the Davies’ father’s experience of unionism and the effects it had on him, not to mention those it had on the young Ray seeing his father return home, jobless still. Also memorable are two Dave Davies-penned songs: Strangers, and Rats. The former is somehow both existential and full of human warmth; the latter drips with fear and paranoia, features a class-A addictive intro, and is oddly representative of my own feelings on my infrequent trips to that London. We also have the call of nature which is Apeman.
For me, despite (or indeed because of) its imperfections this album is essential listening for anyone with even a passing interest in The Kinks: it is executed with characteristic humour, and in a way that belies its underlying negativity, showing some of the Davies brothers’ finest moments.
“They neared the grounds of the abbey and here she noticed anew how the trees simply disappeared, as if the land was so cursed it could not sustain life. Storm clouds smothered the sky. She drove on and suddenly there it was, their destination. Carfax Abbey sat broken, haunting the cliffs above the sleeping town of Whitby. Its Gothic towers scratched the skies and its long-empty cathedral-like windows kept a silent and solemn watch over the mist-filled graveyard next door”
Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt (2009)
Not that I’m a sucker for any old tat related to something I’m obsessed by, of course, but I was always going to buy this book. It being £1.99 helped. Jointly written by a direct descendent (a great-grandnephew) of Bram Stoker and a self-confessed “horror geek”, this is a perhaps surprisingly ambitious novel, rather than a money-for-old-rope attempt to cash in on the family name.
The authors’ stance is that of attempting to reconcile the many different threads in film, theatre, and literature that were spawned by the original novel (many of which were a result of a failure to enforce copyright in North America). At the same time they seek to be true to both Stoker’s intent and the context of historical real-world events in 15th century Romania.
As I say, surprisingly ambitious.
This results in a novel which paints a more ambiguous picture of Count Dracula than most other portrayals, setting out to ‘give him his say’, describing him as a “complex anti-hero”. It also merges fact and fiction, making Bram Stoker himself (and, of course, his most famous work) part of the story, also including real-life ye olde worlde people such as Sir Henry Irving, Frederick Abberline, and, in passing, Oscar Wilde. Abberline’s involvement is as a result of a plot device which intertwines the Jack The Ripper murders with the story of Dracula, the Harkers and co, and which sees both Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing fingered as suspects for the Ripper’s killings. Finally, the end of the novel includes the departure of the Titanic from Queenstown in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the idea of reconciling different takes on the original story sees Carfax (in the novel, a house in Purfleet purchased by the malevolent Count; in film, an abbey) combined with Whitby Abbey to give us ‘Carfax Abbey, in Whitby’. Similarly the asylum in which the lunatic Renfield is originally held is relocated, again from Purfleet to Whitby.
This blending of fiction, fact, and, um, fictionalised fact does require a fair amount of deliberate explanation to be made, in order to make the new events more plausible. The authors do this by telling us that Stoker senior wrote his original novel based on a tale told to him in the pub. Stoker, believing this tale to be the fanciful ranting of a drunk, then took liberties with what were actually (but of course) true events. This, we are told, led him to using incorrect dates for Dracula’s arrival in England via Whitby harbour – thus allowing our modern-day authors to re-set the original novel’s events in line with the Ripper murders, the Titanic, and so on.
I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming very confused by this.
Anyway, the book has its weaknesses. In addition to understandable criticism aimed at the above faffing about, there’s a surprising amount of sex and swearing (I’m no historian, but however common the word ‘bollocks’ was in the early 20th century, it simply seems incongruous), and one ‘twist’ in particular was screamingly obvious from the outset. That said, the complexities described above are executed very entertainingly, and even just a passing knowledge of one or more of the original novel and its subsequent adaptations will mean they become all the more fascinating. Similarly, the mixing of old fiction, fact, and new fiction makes for an interesting read. There is also an extensive afterword, penned by an academic who has the honorary title of ‘Baroness of the House of Dracula’, as well as lengthy notes from the authors – these suggest they are indeed genuine in their love of the story, and sincere in their attempts to create a ‘legitimate’ sequel.
Personally, I like it. I like it to death.
I’ve noticed you don’t drink much, but then you eat a lot of fruit so you get your liquid source from your food input.
British Sea Power wrote Who’s In Control? in mid-2009, but it wasn’t released until late 2010. Curiously, this time gap allowed it to seem immediately resonant and zeitgeist-y.
One of BSP’s stompier affairs, the song is aimed at the disaffected and oppressed, a call-to-arms in the face of everything that’s “yours and mine” being sold down the river. Beseeching us to “fight, fight, point and stand, point and stand and fight”, the song immediately called to mind the student-led protests in response to the ‘austerity measures’ imposed by Little Lord Osborne and his chums.
Not long after, it was easy to consider the lines “Over here, over there / Over here, every-fucking-where / … I’ll never be, I’ll never see/ I’ll never be what you want me to be”, and reflect on the social uprisings in so many north African countries: British Sea Power, instigators of popular regime change? You read it here first.
Country Of The Blind by Christopher Brookmyre (1997)
This is Christopher Brookmyre’s second novel, the follow-up to Quite Ugly One Morning. While his first novel began with a detective uttering “Jesus fuck” at the discovery of a stool upon a grotesquely murdered man’s mantlepiece (we’re not talking furniture re-arrangements, either – quite an opening gambit from any debut author), Country Of The Blind begins in a much more genteel fashion: with a cup tea. Admittedly, this cup of tea was prepared by a man who has just been arrested for breaking and entering, robbery, and, of course, quadruple murder. His new-to-Glasgow lawyer initially finds her only potential line of defence to be that he had previously made her, yes, a nice cup of tea. That, plus a mysterious envelope he had handed her, on condition that it should only be opened were he to fall foul of the law.
And so we get a quick overview of some of Brookmyre’s favourite topics: murder and stitch-up, the law and its long arm, Scotland and some of its seedier inhabitants. Allied to these throughout his novels are fond(-ish) reminisence of school days, computer games, music, not to mention his evident disgust at the British Conservative party, Christianity in all its organised forms, the Old Firm of Rangers and Celtic, the right-wing media, casual racism, and corruption of The Man’s and/or The System. Fortunately these topics are addressed with a monumental dose of humour and copious amounts of sweary words, often in his native dialect – so much so that one of his later novels includes a glossary (sample entry: moolsy - Selfish, ungenerous, disinclined to share one’s sweeties with half a dozen cadgers who wouldn’t give you the steam off their shite if it was the other way round).
His chief protagonist is Jack Parlabane, a freelance journalist with a fierce sense of moral outrage (coincidentally, against many of the more egregious subjects listed above) and a handy lock-picking toolkit. Parlabane is an immensely likeable character, despite (or because of) his ability to start (and win) an argument in an empty house.
The plot details of Brookmyre’s novels don’t really lend themselves to too much description. It’s a little like trying to steal just a small piece of a large un-cut cake: nibbling at one slice of the plot tends to necessitate revealing at least part of the rest, and so on and so on until you realise you’ve eaten the whole cake and spolit the fun for everyone. So for now, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of any of his novels.
Incidentally, I chose this particular novel of his simply because I had the immense good fortune to find a very good condition, first edition hardback cover of it in a second-hand bookshop in Whitby, for just £5. It’s not often the cosmos deals me such cards, let me tell you. It was all I could to remember to pay for it before I ran out of the shop with it tucked under my arm, cackling.
“Mina and I chanced upon a sporting endeavour, most curious in execution, concerning the use of shaped metallic rods to propel a small sphere across various terrains into a receiving cupola. These terrains were many and varied, and featured all manner of curios: a windmill, a house with water-wheel ‘pon its side, and a strange cone-shaped object, purported to be a scale model of a vehicle intended for extra-terrestrial travel. The notion of this latter struck me as being little other than poppycock and fancy, and I dare say such ideas will come to naught. The premises belonged to a gentleman I know not, but who appeared to be held in no little esteem in the locality”
1991’s Kill Uncle found Morrissey in something of a half-way house. While the response to his debut solo album, Viva Hate, had been almost wholly positive, following this up proved tricky. As a result, Bona Drag, intended to be his second studio album, instead became a compilation of non-album singles, B-sides, and the two biggest hits from Viva Hate.
Thus, after a near-three year gap, Kill Uncle was released, Morrissey having parted company with Stephen Street, who successfully co-wrote and produced Viva Hate, and teaming up with song-writer Mark Nevin of Fairground Attraction. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting album was musically slight (Found Found Found standing out as an obvious attempt to remedy this) and lacked much of the deft ear for a popular tune that Street had brought. Lyrically, much of the album is on equally thin ice: King Leer is usually put forward as exhibit A in this prosecution, featuring rhymes and puns which are, regrettably, as bad as the title of the song itself. Either that, or in twinning “surprise yer” with “Tizer”, Morrissey is simply demonstrating that any fool can indeed think of words that rhyme (as per Sing Your Life).
Similarly, Mute Witness can be an uncomfortable listen for its seemingly unkind treatment of the witness (and implied victim) in question. There’s an argument which says Moz is merely reflecting the attitudes of the criminal justice system when faced with a young, vulnerable, and possibly disabled victim, but he doesn’t manage to pull off this ambivalence with as much empathy as in November Spawned A Monster.
This is becoming far too serious and earnest (not to mention nearly hinting at gentle criticism of my hero), so, moving swiftly on…
(I’m) The End of the Family Line is a statement of intent (or rather, non-intent) regarding parenthood. Getting beyond the inevitable speculation as to the meaning of lines such as a family “all honouring nature / until I arrived / with incredible style”, this is a touching song which acknowledges the selfish side of the decision (“I’m spared the pain of ever saying goodbye”) as well as being a declaration of a life to be spent alone.
Asian Rut is delivered with the singer’s typical mix of sympathy, pity, mild scorn, fatalism, despair and empathy for the outsider, and sees Morrissey contemplating a schoolboy who is seeking revenge for the killing of his best, and only, friend. From the outset it is clear that the ensuing confrontation will not go the way of our wannabe hero.
Our Frank, the opening track and first single, comes the closest to Morrissey’s initial (and still arguably finest) batch of guitar-pop radio-friendly solo singles. Ostensibly aimed at an acquaintance who insists on initiating deep and ‘meaningful’ conversations, more revealing is the end of the track where Moz is desperate to be released from his incessant introspection: “won’t somebody stop me / from thinking / from thinking all the time / so bleakly, so deeply / so deeply all the time / about everything”. Sounds familiar.