Posts Tagged Paranoia

A tin of baked beans and a woman’s weekly

We all remember those legendary Top of the Pops moments: Boy George’s first appearance which confused an entire nation; Morrissey’s marriage proposal; all those shows presented by Jimmy Savile.

What? Oh.

Anyway. My own favourite TotP* moment pales into insignificance compared to most, but that’s the odd thing with favourites isn’t it? Back in 1996 Brit Pop was all the rage, its two behemoths (Oasis and Blur – or was it Catherine Wheel and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? I forget) spawning no end of chancers, equivalents, and superiors. Falling into one or more of those categories came Space. On their debut Top of the Pops appearance, the opening line to Me and You Versus The World (“I first met you hanging knickers on the line”) caught my attention and I was hooked for the rest of the song; the tragi-rom-com story of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde set the tone for their first album Spiders.

Tommy Scott’s songs of love and hate are full of bizarre, cartoony characters and settings, including Saddam Hussein and John Major, as well as tearing into the popular hate figures of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. His wonderfully, fiercely Scouse singing voice** was backed by a raucous, sometimes messy agglomeration of drums, guitar, keyboards, and odd vocal samples. Their poppy uniqueness came from the band being one part lyrical weirdness, one part guitar enthusiasm, and one part dance, with their first two albums both featuring dedicated dance tracks.

Space’s zenith came as they were promoting their second album, in the afterglow of the three hits off the first. A breakthrough to the big time beckoned, with endearingly daft appearances on mainstream TV programmes: on This Morning the band performed Avenging Angels, with Tommy telling Richard and Judy that he did indeed believe in these protective beings, and in fact had seven of them himself***.

While Tin Planet did give them their biggest ever hit, The Ballad of Tom Jones (which proved ultimately to be more of a platform for Cerys Matthews), it failed to be as successful – or as much fun – as the first album. 

Llistening back to both albums, I’m now struck by how much dark humour – and just plain darkness – lurks beneath the chirpy Scouse surface, with spade-loads of anger, murder, paranoia and despair. Exhibit A, the twisted genius of Drop Dead’s “I’m your number one fan and I go to every picture / The more I see you, the more I wanna hit ya”.

From here the band suffered label difficulties and a rapid turnover in members, with the planned album I Love You More Than Football never seeing the light of day. The occasional song popped out, including the enjoyable Diary of a Wimp, later followed by the album Suburban Rock n’ Roll, which was poor fare, even to the ears of this dedicated fan.

The most basic of internet search results in the promise of a new album (worryingly titled Attack of the Mutant 50ft Kebab), but this dates back nearly two years so I won’t be holding my breath just yet****. The associated live clips on YouTube suggest a move towards ska, which nearly threatens to work – time will tell.

Despite a sad fading away at the end of their initial fame, Space will always be the soundtrack to much of my late teens, and will always put a smile on my face. Nothing sounds quite like them, and ultimately Tommy Scott was right: Felix the Cat was a twat.

*as the show was inevitably re-branded during its final days on palliative care

**Scott described how he became a singer to emulate the singers idolised by his Dad. Whichever style he adopted (including Mexican, Sinatra, and plain old fruitcake) his Scouse twang was prevalent

***sadly I can’t find any footage of this appearance. Tommy made his way through the interview with admirably straight face

****I will be

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Tony time

This is the sweat; this is the sweat that’s going to happen

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I don’t want to die in a nuclear war

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.

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