Archive for March, 2011
Yes, it’s the Young Knives’ new single, ‘Love My Name’. The first time I listened to it, I didn’t like it, and this feeling made me scared and worried. Second time, I thought it might have something about it. Third time, I got it. There’s no sign of the alleged Rn’B feel they claimed would feature on their imminent third album (but they are cheeky monkeys so could have been having everyone on), it’s more choppy guitars but with a few doses of electronic wibblings thrown in.
What is not to love?
I’ve only seen one of his films, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), in which Granger (l) stars alongside John Dall (r), and the peerless James Stewart (centre). This is a gripping film, full of tension, intellectualism, and repressed homoeroticism between the three characters pictured here (fairly remarkable stuff for 1948). Granger puts in a wonderful performance of a timid, nerve-wracked man, struggling with his conscience having carried out something he can barely believe he was capable of.
Oddly, the main reason I watched this film in the first place was as a result of an episode of (some of) The League of Gentlemen’s Pyschoville which paid homage to the film, despite being a Hitchcock fan in any case. Odder still, I’ve been intending to write about The League of Gentlemen for a long time but haven’t done yet. On reflection, this isn’t odd, just procrastination.
Speaking of procrastination, watching Granger’s other most notable film appearance, in Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, is one of many, many things on my ever growing (and rarely tackled) mental to-do list.
1985’s Meat Is Murder, The Smiths’ second studio album, was quite a departure from their eponymous debut, both lyrically and musically. The debut album was let down by poor production, resulting in recordings which sound wafer-thin in places, and meaning that the Hatful of Hollow compilation is in some ways a better representation of their earliest work.
By the time of the second album however, the greater force and direction of the music was done full justice in its engineering. The prominence of Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums) are particularly noticeable, and set a thoroughly concrete foundation for Johnny Marr’s melodies. While his familiar ‘jingle-jangle’ is still the defining element, Marr embraces other elements, most notably funk, showing a leap forward in his writing.
Morrissey, meanwhile, leaves behind most of the callow, reticent, passive persona of the first album (the girl-shy boy of Pretty Girls Make Graves, the impotent despair of Miserable Lie), and reveals a strident sense of assertiveness and outrage.
The Headmaster Ritual opens the album by railing against violent authority figures, rejecting education and life, while I Want The One I Can’t Have sees Moz as the frustrated lover, imploring his unwitting target to call round when they have grown up a little – this song begs more questions of his own sexuality than it gives answers. What She Said is another song which can be comfortably interpreted in any number of ways, in which a bookish, resigned girl is brought to life by a scally from the Wirral.
We see a little of the frailer Morrissey is on That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More (reputed to be Marr’s personal Smiths highlight), and the beautiful Well I Wonder, where even in the throws of death, defiance persists: “Gasping, but somehow still alive / This is the fierce last stand of all I am”.
Both Rusholme Ruffians (tainted at least a little in the knowledge that it, um, ‘borrows heavily’ from one of Victoria Wood’s piano sing-alongs) and Nowhere Fast (with its early pop at the monarchy, and wonderful train-track rhythm) contemplate life mundanities, whether the casual aggression of a northern fairground or a stultifying life of marvelling at the most basic of domestic appliances.
The album closes with Barbarism Begins At Home and Meat Is Murder, Morrissey decrying cruelty to children and the eating of animals. Both tracks feature unusual aural effects, from the singer’s own yelps, to the cries of distressed cows interspersed with the sound of the abattoir knife. These last two bring the album to an appropriate end, being songs of protest and outrage.
If I can come over all pushy for a moment, ignore the acclaim for The Queen Is Dead being The Smiths’ best album: it isn’t, this is. Meat Is Murder is their tightest, most focused, most ‘joined-up’ album. It’s not perfect, but finding the last two tracks to be over-long isn’t too bad as far as criticisms go, and it manages to avoid nearly all whimsy (Victoria Wood pastiches notwithstanding). When writing these album pieces, I generally focus on a select number of key songs from the album; I had to write about all of these (excluding How Soon Is Now?, which was added to re-issues of the album and therefore doesn’t count. The album also sounds better without it).
This is simply an outstanding piece of work. You’ll have spotted I’ve linked to every single song mentioned above (including those not on the album) bar one, and here it is, perhaps my all-time number one (including a video featuring Moz in several lovely blouses):
Tony was nothing if not a people person:
..Yeah, we’ve met them, we interacted with them, and we zapped them..
..Getting all those users together, from their remote geographical locations, it’ll be hell on wheels..
..I keep having to dish out mini-bollockings..
..He hides behind his workload. I don’t mind people saying “Tony, I’m shit deep”, but don’t piss me about..
..I’m frightening you aren’t I? You’re not a process man, I am..
Le Ventre de Paris by Emile Zola (1873)
Our hero, Florent, arrives in town on the back of a horse and cart which is bringing a stall’s-worth of turnips to the market. After years’ imprisonment on an island off French Guyana, mistaken for a political dissident, he finds his step-brother, Quenu, now something of a master butcher, and sister-in-law, Lisa, of Zola’s notorious Macquart clan. They take him in under the cover of being a distant cousin. Although hugely intimidated by the coarse, brash women of Les Halles (not to mention his own anti-authoritarian instincts), Florent takes a job as an inspector in the market. In his spare time he begins to develop an ineffectual, amateurish socialist plot against the Second Empire – Lisa’s bourgeois self-interest takes hold, and she denounces him to the police, whereupon he is arrested and deported. Again.
This is generally considered to be one of Zola’s second division novels, but features several striking elements which raise it deservedly amongst the classic French works of its kind.
Firstly, as with Germinal’s mine (Le Voreux) and La Bête Humaine’s train (La Lison), Les Halles transcend their man-made limitations to become a living, breathing character in the novel. Emblematic of Paris’ imminent ruin, the belly of the capital is more important than its heart or its brain (of which there are no signs); all working-class life is seen to revolve around Les Halles: disputes are settled with fist-fights, clumsy teenage romances are consummated on makeshift beds of duck feathers, and life itself comes to an end courtesy of a lump of stone to the back of the head.
Meanwhile, the novel contains Zola’s perhaps most famous single passage of prose, a description of entering a cheese shop and being overwhelmed by a multitude of pungent odours, also referred to as The Cheese Symphony (no, really).
And finally, we have the ever-present symbolism of a bitter struggle throughout the book. The most common English translation of the title is ‘The Fat and The Thin’, reflecting the ongoing battle between ‘les gras et les maigres’ – there is little or no subtlety about this from Zola: Florent (the exiled, starved, socialist) is painfully thin and barely eats, while Lisa and Quenu are portrayed as human mountains of flesh, compared favourably with the glistening charcuterie they sell. Quenu’s love for his brother is ultimately undermined by his wife’s petty aspirations – indeed, ‘le tout Paris’ has no time for the poor or the miserable: les maigres.
I’ve alluded to the Young Knives’ contemplation of mortality here before. They do it particularly well on the back-to-back tracks Coastguard and Loughborough Suicide on their first album.
The first of these sees them chastising a coastguard for carelessness resulting in a young girl’s death (“..are you familiar? / High tides are not peculiar”), using the surprisingly haunting image of a domestic table to hammer the point home: this being home to first an unused yellow coat, then the coastguard’s sorry face, and finally an empty dining place. Far from being maudlin, this is a dark, driven track, with vocals alternating between near-screaming and clinical, matter-of-fact statements (one of which led to me to learn a new word, the adjective ‘benthic’).
Loughborough Suicide takes us from under the sea to up in the air, contemplating a leap from a tall tower. In Loughborough. Obviously. Resignation permeates the song, as well as a nice sense of procrastination (“Well it’s cold, cold, cold / And I think I’m going to die in here / Considering Loughborough suicide / Which I’m definitely going to do this year”). The tone is lighter than Coastguard, reflecting an uncertainty in the lyrics (year abroad, psychoanalysis, death from a great height… oh decisions, decisions).
Both videos are below, while here you can access a map of the Loughborough Carillon: I hear it offers marvellous spring-time views.