I’m playing some records down at the San Fran this Friday, March 24th – billed as “The Greatest Music In The World” (hey, no pressure) it’s going to be a night of classic funk, soul and R’n’B, you know the Stax and Motown labels, you know some Philly-soul, you know maybe a little bit of jazz and blues, and the start of hip-hop but basically it’s an old-school funk and soul show, the 50s and 60s, maybe into the 70s too. All the names you’d expect from Aretha and Sam & Dave to Dr John and Ray Charles, Al Green, Albert King, B.B. King, Ashford and Simpson, M/F/S/B, The Spinners, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder…and on…and on… Read More
I can’t be sure when I first heard the music of Ennio Morricone – it’s possible that I was hearing his film scores without realising who he was. That’s very possible given the hundreds of movies he’s scored. But at some point the name started to resonate – it was referenced. Bands that I listened to mentioned this great composer and I heard this piece of music from one of his most famous film scores – The Mission – and that was me hooked. On a quest… Read More »
I’ve been hearing his songs ever since I was a little boy – his riffs and his stories. The guitar sound that cut through the airwaves and the glint of humour in his voice. Read More »
I was reunited with my blue acoustic guitar. A friend has had it on loan for about 18 months. It is a cheap guitar with a chip in the finish below the pick-guard area. It has grimy old strings on it – and I can’t play it very well at all (it’s why it was on loan) but it was very nice to be reunited. The other day I strummed all the chords I knew – it’s not that many – and it felt good. And right. And one day (or more likely over several days) I will work at getting a bit better. Read More »
Quite often reviewers are told they have no idea; it’s quite often that reviewers take a view of a film, album or show that is stand-alone – it is, after all, just an opinion. That line is trotted out and made to seem empowering whenever a disgruntled reader/viewer/listener proudly says it. But of course it’s the truth. Reviewers know that.
I’m no stranger to being the critic thinking something is awful when others love it. It happens quite a lot here. There are ‘key’ artists or albums I just don’t get. I’ve never understood the appeal of The Arcade Fire for instance. Read More »
Many months ago I promised Simon I would write this. I thought it would come easily, a flood of so much bittersweet catharsis on tap. It would be as simple as penning an open letter to an old hero, a very belated love letter written cold, long after the swoon. I would begin with Dear Morrissey and it would all flow unstoppably from there.
It turned out I couldn’t address Morrissey directly. It felt presumptuous, even borderline sacrilegious. The head-on approach was too overwhelming. It was like staring straight at the sun, or addressing the Queen as you might one of your household pets (and I bring the Queen into this here, of course, in honour of Morrissey’s well-documented ambivalence towards all things monarchic). And besides, what if Morrissey got up one morning to check his Google Alerts over a cup of lapsang souchong only to find some out-of-love upstart from the bottom of the earth daring to address him so familiarly? Read More »
So it’s a Five For Friday with no real theme – if there is one it’s there in the title, these songs – old and new – have all been on my mind and on the turntable over the last couple of weeks. Songs that standout on new releases, or old records I’ve just picked up, gig announcements, and a wee nod to the ghastly St Pat’s Day phenomenon that props up Irish pubs in New Zealand…or used to. Happy Friday. Hope you find something here worth listening to. And better yet, that something here inspires further listening. Read More »
The old Coasters song Poison Ivy is about a woman that carries a dose of the clap – “you’re gonna need an ocean of calamine lotion” – there are warnings the whole way through the song, most obviously “you can look but you better not touch”. But even in the song’s opening line the overtly sexual nature is pointed out. “She comes on like a rose”. There’s even the hint of promiscuity there to the flower opening (“but everybody knows”). String all the lines together, crafted to suit the melody, to fit the meter and you have double-entendres and innuendos. But you have a song. Read More »
A few years back I wrote to Hamish Kilgour of The Clean – and asked him some questions about one of my favourite songs, Anything Could Happen. It was for a book I was writing, On Song. Hamish wrote back to me with a response that seemed worthy of quoting in full. Only one problem: it was about 1600 words. Well, I say only problem – it was also in one single paragraph, entirely in lower case. I could imagine a deep breath and then boom! It all came out. So the formatting is mine. The words are (inimitably) Hamish’s. Sit back and enjoy – with his blessing, here is Hamish Kilgour’s full response to some very simple questions about where the song Anything Could Happen came from. He suggested the title for this post also. A gift from Hamish Kilgour (and guest post) – proof too of just how much goes in to the writing of any one song.
The lyrical base for the song came out of an experience where I was recommended by my Christchurch uncle to go see a pal of his in Dunedin where we were living who ran a commercial graphic art business. I was probably “between engagements”, my uncle knew I was very keen on art and I took my drawings and paintings down to see this guy. He looked at my stuff and pronounced that what I did had no commercial usage and I should get myself together if I was to even function in the NZ work-a-day world. Ah yes, fuck you very much.
It was funny cos a current girlfriend was discovered by me on my visit working in this same company for this asshole and she hated the job intensely. She was a trained graphic artist. He’s the doctor who points me to a junkyard – that’s my Dylan reference – and she’s my junkyard angel. The whole song is a nod to Bob, with the imagery of empty doorways and highways. As a teen I had devoured all of Jack Kerouac’s writing, gone hitchhiking around New Zealand and hung out around the fringes and insides of Kiwi hippie surf and glam counterculture. I had experienced radical young schoolteachers out of Christchurch in a small country high school at cheviot in North Canterbury. We had a cool art teacher, we did photography, sculptures for a small ceramic kiln and we’d be listening to radical socialist schoolteachers talking about Malthus, playing us Revolution No. 9, digging Hendrix, Joe Cocker, The Who, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Jim Morrison’s lyrics…etc.
There was a secondary school magazine called Affairs which was full of progressive stuff, the Little Red Schoolbook and wild Canterbury university capping magazines…we would go down to Christchurch for fixes of music and books and street fashion and always come back with some new thing. Christchurch seemed way more vibrant to my young eyes then, it was a different place. It seemed much more urbane and urban before they started tearing down all the Victorian and Edwardian buildings, but most importantly fun and free and easy full of small cool shops, alleyways and alcoves.
I digress, but all this fed into my consciousness…
I went to Otago University (1975-77) and got a BA with a double major in English and History. I also delved into political science, experimental American fiction and medieval history and literature including Old English and medieval passion plays. I also dove into decadent French literature and esoteric thinkers and philosophers.
So punk starts hitting on 77 after we had been into the Velvet Underground, John Cale, Neil Young and of course Dylan and The Stones (I was an early Stones freak) and don’t forget Bowie, Bolan and the Hoople. The Ramones and their dumbed down minimalism immediately appealed. Our first attempts at songwriting were reductive attempts at matching our primitive abilities as players. I deliberately tried to write simplistically and obtusely. I had been smitten by Arthur Lee and his writing for Love. I took my first acid trip around this time.
We had also gone deep into American psychedelia – and listened to Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Strange imagery with open-ended meanings where the listener could play with the lyrical ideas and extract sometimes several meanings from lines much like Dylan, complexity and simplicity in one rocking and rollin’ ball.
Anything Could Happen was an amped-up rocker when we first performed it. Often David would come up with riffs and I would match with lyrics and we would jam up or write songs whilst rehearsing. Sometimes lyric catchphrases or ideas would come afterwards for me, walking the streets and hills of Dunedin and we would figure them out together – it was pretty exciting because we were trying to write songs and playing with structure. I wrote some laughable crap at this point in time but it was all self taught experimentation, doing it for ourselves and, for me, free of institutional learning.
Anything Could Happen is a pretty simple song. I think my reading of Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs informed the optimistic, Buddhistic chorus with the verses essentially being negative, echoing confusing social messages and behaviour, hypocrisy and the ridiculous weight given to so called authority. Alienation and despair. We were reacting to our parents’ conservative ideology and mindset and conservative New Zealand culture. And Dunedin has a particular strain of Presbyterian stoic Scottish repression and conformity that spins into aggression, dogmatic moralism and drinking and drug abuse as the only license to be able to let go and be a bit free.
I’m glad I have Irish and French blood to counter the dour highland Scots bit. I like the image of the doctor being someone you go to “fix” yourself cos you are unwell. You need a drug to help you cope but then you discover that he is the king of the capitalist junkies and he has to have his fix first before it’s your turn. The supposed norms of society are f**ked up. It’s a nod to Lou Reed’s I’m Waiting For The Man: gives you free taste but you’ve always got to wait. In this case I was sent to the doctor who is supposed to help –but he’s a f**ked-up junkie himself. This is also based on experiencing a bad doctor who was feeding people drugs with no moral discretion or care for her patients back in North Canterbury in the early 70s.
The Big City is Auckland, which was the biggest city I had experienced. I actually arrived in Auckland in a white Rolls-Royce with my cousin in early 1976 (Xmas hols). We were hitching out of Tauranga and I was standing on the road eating a breakfast out of a box of muesli when the driver of the Rolls picked us up. He was working for some rich dude in Auckland. That summer in Auckland we stayed in a flat with a Christchurch Maori friend of my cousin’s who was working at a working man’s Queen Street bar selling Lion Red to customers. He lived above a group of hipster-junkies one of whom had a shaven head and was dying of cancer. You could go to the Globe tavern and see early Hello Sailor and listen to a jukebox with Roxy Music and the Grateful Dead side-by-side: Neil Young Be Bop Deluxe, Little Feat, Bryan Ferry, The Stones…free concerts in Albert Park. Beautiful old Auckland with its arcades and cool architecture before the gutting in the 80s.
I can remember walking through The Domain and down through Parnell in bare feet. Something I wouldn’t have done in 1979 with the heyday of the bootboys, urban soullessness and the ever-present possibility of violence. New Zealand seemed a kind of safe place but wanton violence was always a possibility around any corner. New Zealand was definitely a more easy-going egalitarian place in the 70s; yuppiedom hadn’t arrived, youth culture was less divisive, working class kids went to university, nobody had much money, everything was cheaper. And it was not so much about materialist wealth/greed and trying to hold onto what you had grubbed for, there was a better sense of community, easy play and humour. Things started changing after the oil shocks and the lack of employment that I experienced as soon as I pooped out of university – it’s weird but the things that informed NZ punk and the social tension are all here today staring at us in the face. Except, substitute underclass for working class. And more extreme wealth inequality.
And its funny but I came across an old university English lecture notebook of mine at me mum’s place and along with scrawled images and the current bands that I was besotted with was the word postmodernism with a question mark after it.
We were punks as it happened.
I had cut off my long hair super short, pierced my ear, distressed clothing bought in op shops – and tried to bleach my hair like Lou Reed’s in 1975. I had people yelling “deviant” at me and punching me in the stomach walking George Street late at night. The V8 boys begat the bodgies who begat the bogans and so it goes.
So anything could and can happen – it’s how you deal with the reality of that moment: active rather than reactive. Still a good bit of advice to scribble on the inside of your head or write on your own notebook.
I still take notes on things that interest me. And I still have most of Bob Dylan’s best songs etched into my consciousness and I later came to appreciate his social-realist foil Phil Ochs. Plus even after the deluge of punk and new wave music that we devoured, we still listened to that old favourite Exile On Main Street in our touring van. The feel I was going for with Anything Could Happen in 1981 was a Highway 61/stones country feel. David and I had developed a great affection for the history of 20th Century folk, blues and country. After teaching ourselves how to be a punk band we sort of naturally gravitated to the music we had listened to leading up to punk. No pop, no style: we strictly roots.
I still feel we can wring meaning out of playing the song; every Clean version of one of our standards is never the same twice. Still look for that certain tempo and swing and it has a Velvet Underground-country feel for me when it’s working. We look to each other for the vibe and I still love it when David pulls something out of the hat on guitar as he always does.
Some people around, or on your own. Just a good bunch of songs; just perfect for a night in.
Simon Green – who records and performs as Bonobo – will play one show in New Zealand at Auckland’s Town Hall, Thursday, July 27. He was last in Auckland a couple of years ago for a DJ set but this will be a performance with the full band, in support of the terrific new album, Migration.
When David Lynch appeared in a recurring role cameo role on the TV show Louie his character uttered a wonderful line, “You have to go away to come back”.
I think about that a lot.
I’m really happy for anyone who enjoyed seeing the Pixies in 2017 – especially, I guess, the people that had never seen them previously. I hated seeing the Pixies in 2010 – but of course I had hoped it would be great. I went along, paid my money, booked flights and accommodation – and ended up enjoying the Lady Gaga show the following night far more. That wasn’t even planned until the day of the show, a lucky email resulting in lucky tickets. I wasn’t a Gaga fan but wanted to check out the spectacle. I flew back to see a Harry Connick Jr show and that was better than the Pixies too.
Music isn’t a competition and there is no reason to compare Pixies with Lady Gaga and Harry Connick Jr. But I saw all three, three nights in a row. And in terms of the music meaning something to me, Pixies should have nailed it; should have totally nailed it – been the clear winner. But not a chance. They were the duds. Weird.
They would go on to release an EP and then another and then eventually a new album. All of it was horrible. Borderline-embarrassing. So now their shows include some of that garbage, though I know from seeing the setlists it’s obviously still about the hits. The new songs are not good. No way. Anyone saying so is operating under a weird loyalty-based delusion.
Also, when I saw the Pixies Kim Deal was the best bit. She’s gone now too. She walked a while ago. Knew that enough was enough. The Pixies-in-reunion have been together longer than the Pixies first time around. That’s always a worry.
The Sex Pistols admitted it when they reformed, calling it The Filthy Lucre Tour. A similar name should have been given to whatever it is the Pixies have been doing.
Even if there’s a solid reunion show it’s usually a worry when talk turns to the dreaded New Album.
Google best comeback albums and you’ll hear about the great return of Bob Dylan or U2 and a whole heap of other artists that never actually went away. People love talking about Johnny Cash’s comeback albums, his American Recordings series. But a lot of them conveniently forget that there were a heap of Cash albums even in the lead up to the first American Recordings album; they were just horrible, best forgotten. He didn’t stop making records at the end of the 1960s, he just –for the most part – stopped making good ones. A hook-up with Rick Rubin, some wise selections, a hint of timing – the idea, too that he had disappeared, failed, tucked his tail and wandered off – and suddenly boom: Hipster cache.
But let’s focus bands rather than solo artists. And let’s make it bands that did actually break up; groups that went away, went their separate ways, disappeared. We can’t count bands that renamed themselves either –you know how Joy Division became New Order and then even started releasing albums under the name Interpol.
It has to be the same people (or the majority) working under the same name.
It’s a very small list of reunion albums that are actually worthwhile, the lie that’s sold works because, as fans, we’ve decided to invest, we are in fact already invested in this – there’s goodwill, there’s a hope that it will be, in some way, a reminder of the band at its peak. It’s hardly ever the case that this works out.
But there are some exceptions.
The Go-Betweens had a great run of albums across the 1980s, dreamy, wistful pop music. And then the band’s two songwriters moved off to make solo records – they took the 1990s off, well, they spent the nineties as solo acts, the band was dead. Done. And then in the year 2000 they released The Friends of Rachel Worth. It’s not quite up there with the earlier great material but it does feature members of Sleater-Kinney (a bonus!) It has a couple of magical tracks on it. More importantly it set the stage for a lovely comeback – two further albums after Rachel Worth and with 2005’s Oceans Apart they did make something that rivals their strong early albums. Actually I’d plump for 2003’s Bright Yellow Bright Orange too. So, three good records from a band in its second phase. Nice work. When I’m feeling generous I’d say all three albums from the band’s second phase are worthy. But certainly the group’s swansong stands strong.
A handful of the post-punk bands returned with strong albums in the late 2000s, bands like Wire and Pere Ubu spring to mind – but they had carried on with only a little bit of a break; they had warmed-up into their comeback/reunion albums. The good records were noticed on the back of average/decent-enough ones that had trickled out across the last two decades.
In that sense Devo surprised with Something For Everybody. The title proving (fairly) accurate. It sounded like the same band that cut Freedom Of Choice 30 years earlier. It sounded like the same band. A great effort considering 20 years out between albums.
Same with Magazine and 2011’s No Thyself. A far better record than anyone could have ever expected after a 30-year hiatus.
Part of the problem is contextualising the comeback. In the case of the Pixies they have two whole new albums now, and that certainly counts as new material from a band that hadn’t released anything for two decades, that had at one time imploded.
But Nine Inch Nails receive regular notices about comeback albums, about a return. Here’s the thing though, Trent Reznor called time on the band for four years. In that time he released soundtrack albums, formed another band and Nine Inch Nails sometimes took five years out between records when they were active the first time around. Reznor is the brand, if not the band. And the crucial point there is he had a longer drinks-break between albums when the band was at its peak than during any “return”.
You Have To Go Away To Come Back.
Problem is we are too kind when something is even close to good. We suggest it to be a comeback even though they never went away or when they do come back, it’s open arms and kid-gloves.
What band do you consider had a worthwhile comeback that included a reunion album the equal of their prized earlier material?
Do you agree that it’s a case of a small handful of exceptions rather than the rule?
And what’s your pick for the best reunion album, the best comeback from a band that – at one time – broke up, only to return as strong as ever on record?