Archive for July, 2011

August à la française

In homage to perhaps my true calling in life, that of being a French civil servant (working for a majority French-state-owned company, as I do, doesn’t count. Not if you work for said majority French state-owned company in Nottinghamshire), I’m taking August off.

I need to recover from the Tour de France for a start: 1 hour highlights every night for three weeks, with only two rest days thrown in? Forget about it…

Who knows, I might return invigorated, upbeat, and a real go-getter. Chances are it’ll be more of the same old jaded, cynical tat, but for your sake I’m hoping not. See you on 1st September.

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The Liver Building

This building is looking more and more interestingly unusual as the regeneration of Liverpool continues – not to say that either of these things is bad. Just an observation.

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Wanted: chimney sweep. Must have own brush

Improbably, this is a chimney (or ventilation duct, if you prefer), on the Wirral side of the Liverpool-Birkenhead tunnel

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Gainsborough Internal Drainage Board – Jenny Hurne Pumping Station

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When your profession is humiliation

And so from the acclaimed ‘best’ Morrissey album to perhaps his most widely disliked album. Southpaw Grammar (meaning “the school of hard knocks” says Moz, rather neatly combining his interest in education and boxing) sticks out like a sore thumb from Morrissey’s oeuvre in so many ways – the lack of the man himself on the cover (we have a (sadly muddy) photo of boxer Kenny Lane instead); only eight tracks, two of which are over 10 minutes long; a track with a two-minute drum solo intro; production to further accentuate the already heavy weight of the music…

Amid all this singularity, a coherence emerges as the album is symmetrically bookended by its two longest songs, the resolute adherence to ‘heavy’ instrumentation makes it feel joined-up musically (and seems to suit the musicians themselves), and Morrissey has a solid platform for songs which are almost exclusively about dysfunctional individuals and relationships.

So we see a series of caricatures: strings darken the tone for a harassed, threatened teacher in The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils (which itself represents a nice reversal of the premise of The Headmaster Ritual); a pair of Jack-the-lads with, first, the Boy Racer who, brilliantly, “thinks he’s got the whole world in his hands / stood at the urinal” and then the often-lamented (unfairly) Dagenham Dave; a tiresome acquaintance (The Operation, featuring that drum solo intro).

Affairs closer to home are considered in probably the album’s most auto-biographical song, Best Friend On The Payroll, in which a close friend gets a little too comfortable chez Morrissey, rumoured to be based on Moz’s long-time confidant, chauffeur, and former boxer (hmmm…), Jake, and Do Your Best And Don’t Worry.

Particular standout tracks include strings returning to lighten the mood in the marvellous Reader Meet Author (allegedly based on a meeting with Julie Burchill, but I suspect there’s more of Morrissey in it than anyone else), and the closing track, Southpaw: a rangey, vaguely discordant, jarring, but rousing finale, in which Morrissey teases and torments “a sick boy” with the revelation that the girl of their dreams is “here all alone” (presumably alone with Morrissey that is, but quite what outcome he’s suggesting is left up to the listener to decide).

Defy convention, and make this, arguably his most ‘raw’ piece of work, the first Morrissey album you listen to. Personally, it’s my favourite of his albums, and recommendations don’t come much higher than that.

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Guilt by association

Vauxhall and I (1994) is generally put forward as the high point of Morrissey’s solo career (insert your own ‘damning it with faint praise’ gag here, haters).

Coming off the back of the glam-rockish and well-received Your Arsenal, the musical differences from its predecessor are quickly apparent, with its darker, more serious tone (the songs deal with introspection, retrospection, and regret; menace and scorn), and increased number of ballads. At the time of its release, Morrissey ventured that it was his best album to date (doesn’t he always?) and (less common, this) possibly his last.

Among the highlights, Now My Heart Is Full, where love meets despair, Spring-Heeled Jim’s swaggering threat bleeding into impotence (with its tantalising snatches of conversation from Cockney scallywags), the obsession-cum-stalking of The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get, and (rarely for Moz) an elegant railing against the music industry in Why Don’t You Find Out For Yourself.

What stops me from getting fully behind this album is the change in pace, both lyrically and musically, towards the end of the album. We see a little too much self-pity, and outright derision of others, and yet, and yet… he saves it at the end, with the towering, defiant, pseudo-confessional Speedway.

Characteristically, what he’s confessing to is left unclear but used as a stick with which to beat a perceived ingrate, the message being “just think how easily I could have brought you down with me” (as a side note, his recent live gig in Grimsby (oh yes) saw his current band struggle to avoid butchering much of his back catalogue; this song, however, they nailed).

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So, how does this make you feel?

If Air achieved huge success with the ambient, relaxed, soothing Moon Safari (or “Smug Aspirational Property Show Original Soundtrack” as it is surely known within the BBC and Channel 4), they unleashed a rather different vibe on an unsuspecting audience with 2001′s 10,000 Hz Legend.

I can’t claim to love this album, and I can’t claim that it’s an all-time great, but it manages to both possess and obsess me at times. It paints an aural picture of a world which is bleak, alien, robotic, cold, and touched by ghosts, but at the same time unsettlingly familiar and comfortable. This could represent 20th century fin de siècle ennui, it could reflect my latent misanthropy, or it could just be the inevitable consequence of locking a couple of talented, arty Frenchmen away in a recording studio with a frankly obscene amount of electronic equipment.

Basically, the whole thing is weird, but in an electronic, Gallic, slightly bleak, slightly pretentious way. Which I like.

The openers, Electronic Performers and How Does It Make You Feel? set the tone with otherworldly mixes of swiping percussion, piano, keyboards, disembodied lyrics, and chain-smoking computers. Radian continues in a similar vein, ghostly and pulsating, before unexpectedly going all pleasantly flutey, while Don’t Be Light buzzes in a cheery, perky, schizophrenic kind of way.

My personal highlight is People In The City, which I’m certain is a story of daily city life being torn asunder by a nuclear apocalypse. At least, that’s the story it seems to tell me at 3 in the morning.

 

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