Justification: Apparently the Notwist started life as a metal band before discovering electronica, which baffles me. I listen to this album relatively often and I can see how indie guitar bands might have heard, say, drum n bass and gone “OK, let’s start using twitchy beats with our stuff” – but metal? How did that work? Where was their entry point? You play electronica to metalheads, you get industrial – everybody knows that! That’s the entire basis of the enduring success of Depeche Mode: making metal musicians think that if they let out their moody side, they’ll become Trent Reznor.
Hence, how do wistful songs in halting English about feeling isolated and alone fit in to this paradigm? And for that matter, where do jellyfish enter the equation?
Notwist, you raise more questions than you answer.
In any case, this song is damn perfect. Pitchfork, you and I are in total agreement on this.
Justification:Spoon broke through in Australia with ‘The Way We Get By’, which Triple J went absolutely nuts over, but this was the superior song in my humble opinion – mainly because it rocks so much harder. And because it’s a nice revenge on a schoolyard bully – the real J Fisk used to pick on Britt Daniel at school, although Daniel claimed that in adulthood Fisk became a huge fan of the band and attended dozens of gigs, presumably right up until the moment that he listened to the lyrics and realised what an arsehole he’d been and decided to dedicate his life to doing good works. At least, that’s what the man should have done. Speaks with his fists, indeed.
I’m pretty sure they played this the first time I saw them, at Fowlers Live Adelaide in support of Gimme Fiction circa 2005. I could be wrong, though, since most Spoon shows are an exercise in disappointment. For a band that can’t make a bad record, they can be mighty patchy live.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Scritti Politti were getting inscrutable with ‘Woodbeez’.
Justification: The one time I saw GVSB was when they toured behind this album. They were supporting Magic Dirt, played at the Tivoli, and sucked balls. The mix was terrible – if you’re mixing a band where most of the songs have two basses, you might want to work out your EQ pretty early in the piece rather than noticing there’s no bottom end in the second last song – and the band were not in good spirits – I have a vague recollection that the gig might have been the day they flew in, which would have been a nightmare. Poor little guys.
Anyway, this was then and is now one of my favourite songs on the planet, not least because it’s called ‘Basstation’ – I mean, seriously. How good a name is that? That whole album is freakin’ underrated if you ask me. No wonder it was their last (to date).
Fun fact: lead singer Eli Janney did the theme music for (awesome comedy programme of the early 90s) The State.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Madchester melancholy with Inspiral Carpets and ‘This Is How It Feels’.
Justification: “So, Andrew,” I hear about fifteen people saying, “given your vocal and often tedious advocacy for mclusky, one that applies equally to their subsequent semi-incarnation Future of the Left, care to explain why it’s taken you 278 entries to get around to covering them?”
The reason is obvious: this, their best known song, doesn’t have a video. And while that’s not quite a dealbreaker, it gives me pause. For a long time I considered going for ‘She Will Only Bring You Happiness’ simply on the grounds that it actually has a video, but you don’t know it, do it? No, you don’t. You can’t rediscover it, then, can you? See how this works? Hence, you’re getting a live clip of dubious sound quality.
Anyway: when this appeared on my desk in 2002 I thought “oh, nice looking thing” and would have stuck it in my listen-to-when-you-get-a-chance pile, which never gets shorter and finally gets put in an Australia Post tub and given to an op shop had it not had a Steve Albini production credit on the back cover.
“Oh, Albini!” thought I. “I shall give this a listen right now.” And thus was my mind blown.
I don’t what I loved most: the abrasive guitars, the kick-in-the-guts bass stabs, the Bill Hicks-paraphrasing lyrics (“We take more drugs than a touring funk band”), or the gloriously incongruous exhortations to “SING IT!” My colleague Simon Coles and I played the EP over and over and over and over until the parent album arrived, and then we played that. And we discovered that it was about the fourth best song on the most perfect album we’d ever heard.
They played Adelaide once – ONCE – in 2003. They played at Enigma Bar to about 60 people on day eight of a ten day 40-degree-plus heatwave, and they fucking gave it their all. And then they decided they’d give Adelaide a miss on their subsequent (and final) tour the following year. I’m pretty sure Future of the Left have skipped A-town on most of their tours too, but have they come to Sydney? Why yes, they have: thrice, no less. And every time they have played the best gig of my life, pretty much. The new four-piece version were downright amazing in January.
Anyway, the point is this: singer/guitarist Andy Falkous is a freakin’ genius.
And bassist/singer Jon Chapple has his moments too: Shooting At Unarmed Men’s Triptych is well worth your attention.
THIS TIME IN 2010: Re-read, re-listen and rediscover why Models are the greatest band Australia ever produced via ‘I Hear Motion’.
Justification: “Andrew, you’ve talked about a lot of bands who you’ve loved more after seeing them live – but have there been any you’ve loved less?’
Yes there have, imaginary reader I just made up; yes there have. I can’t recall why my ex-wife bought Ladytron’s debut 604 at Red Eye Records in Sydney in 2001 or something (it must have been a holiday: we were certainly fans by the time Light & Magic was released, and we still lived in Adelaide until 2006), but it was a wise purchase. The analog synths and chilly vocals were intoxicating and we were mad keen on the band when this album and the subsequent Witching Hour came out. I’d done a couple of interviews with Helen Marnie and Daniel Hunt by then and found them pretty stand offish as well, but it wasn’t until they played at the Metro in Sydney while touring Velocifero in 2008 that something very important dawned on me: they suck live. Not because they aren’t powerful (the live rhythm section really pumped things along), not because the songs aren’t good, but because Marnie’s blankly expressionless performance doesn’t exude icy cool so much as I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-this. I tried to get into the show, I danced, I sang along, but it was no use: not even the final encore of ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’ could stop the night sinking into shitfulness.
In the band’s defence, I should probably add that this was (I think) the last gig my wife and I attended together and things were pretty icy and indifferent there too by that stage. But then I saw Ladytron at the Opera House for Vivid Live the following year and they sucked even more suckily. And played the exact same set, if memory serves.
I still love their music (and adore this song), but a single indication that Ms Marnie gave two fucks about playing her music would mean they were still one of my favourite bands. Which, of course, I’m sure keeps them up at night.
Album:They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, 2002
Justification: “Your?” Jesus, Liars, would a proofreader have killed you?
The punk funk explosion of the early 00s didn’t quite herald the revolution that appeared to be around the corner. Bands like Radio 4 and the Rapture were all about the jerky, I’ve-been-listening-to-UK-post-punk rhythms with slashing guitars and yelpy vocals, and Liars fit squarely in the middle of all that. They changed dramatically after this album was released (not least because half of the band quit), however, getting seriously art-rock and increasingly unlistenable. And that leaves ‘Mr Your On Fire Mr’ as a strange musical foster kid, unloved by its natural parents (the Liars of today certainly sound nothing like this) yet unable to even cling to the hope that one day mum and dad might just get back together.
That said, Yeah Yeah Yeahs* did a great cover of it. Maybe they should adopt it.
THIS TIME IN 2010: The Cure were getting all synthy with ‘The Walk’.
Justification: This came to mind because of recent SYSRDTBIIA ‘Personal Jesus’, standing as one of those rare, wonderful times where a cover version dramatically improves upon the original.
Cash covered many relatively contemporary songs over his late-period American Recordings renaissance with producer Rick Rubin, doing predictably good versions of ‘Personal Jesus’ and Nick Cave’s ‘The Mercy Seat’, but it was here – his dignified, heartbreaking cover of Nine Inch Nails’ histrionic ‘Hurt’ – that it was made clear just what an inspired song stylist he could be. It was recorded shortly before the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, and is also one of the final songs he recorded before his death, four months later (and on the subject, don’t listen to his posthumous album Ain’t No Grave: Cash can barely croak a line, and the effect is downright ghoulish). Reznor has said that the song is no longer his, and you know what? He’s right.
THIS TIME IN 2010: Custard were rockin’ the party with ‘Apartment’.
Justification: This is the second in my unofficial series of Songs That Demonstrate That A Clear Headed Commitment To Reality Doesn’t Equal Passionless Chin Stroking. Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ is the world’s funkiest celebration of rational thought, and this magnificent song is a joyous hymn (and I use the term advisedly) to life and love that acknowledges that it’s all going to end in the deaths of everyone we’ve ever met or cared about, including ourselves, and that’s OK. As some other guy once sang, just imagine there’s no heaven.
Attempting to write universally-powerful songs almost always ends up sounding mawkish and hollow – hey REM, everybody sure does hurt, huh? – but this sweeping, beautiful ode to the joy of life is one of the few that touches something genuine and beautiful, helped by the very human cracks in Wayne Coyne’s voice. Coyne wrote the lyrics after the death of his father and during drummer/multiinstrumentalist Steven Droyzd’s hideously painful heroin withdrawal. Losing a parent and watching one of your closest friends writhe around in hideous physical agony will certainly get you pondering the big questions.
It’s also the Official Rock Song of Oklahoma (yes, really: it was adopted as such by the state in 2009. Ohio’s is ‘Hang On Sloopy’), which was much less controversial proposal than you’d expect in a Bible Belt state with a strong fundamentalist Christian population. You’d think they’d have taken issue with Biblically-contradictory and uppity book-learning-supported statements like “Do you realise we are floating in space?” and “the sun don’t go down/it’s just an illusion caused by the Earth spinnin ‘round”.
That said, it didn’t get the votes necessary in the state legislature and had to be ratified by Governor Brad Henry via an executive order. However, it had nothing to do with the song itself. It didn’t pass the lower house with the necessary majority, it would seem, because people voted along party lines (about, you know, a pop song). Some of the Republican pollies objected because some other Flaming Lips songs contained potty language, and State Representative Corey Holland reportedly stamped his little foot because bassist Michael Ivens had worn a hammer and sickle t-shirt to the Capitol building when the song’s nomination was announced. You can relax, Oklahoma: the insidious threat of ironic Red Peril t-shirts has finally been addressed by your elected representatives. Freedom isn’t free!
Justification: Hot Hot Heat could have been huge, you know. They appeared out of Canada just as interest in late-70s UK music was peaking in the early 2000s and had a ludicrously catchy album in Make Up The Breakdown (first released on Sub Pop, then bought by Warners), which contained this super-infectious single. And then the US decided to invade Iraq in 2002, the UK and Australia obediently followed, and a song with a chorus of “Bandages, bandages, bandages” seemed like a slap in the face to our brave fighting men and women who were out there liberating the middle east and was quietly dropped from radio playlists. The band’s fortunes never really recovered, with line-up shuffles (including guitarist Dante de Carlo jumping ship for Wolf Patrol) and a few middling albums – although last year’s Future Breeds is really, really good.