The drums push forward, the bass pulls back and this isn’t really a song, it’s a bunch of ideas falling over themselves, cascading, oscillating, evading melody in favour of finding a groove. The words are catchphrases, evangelical, delightful. A tune existing in its own space, in its own way, separate from everything but somehow linked to the band’s previous history – how very existential; that seems to fit the lyrical tone. This was the band’s first single off its fourth album. It was the single first thing I heard from the band. I’m in my fourth year when I hear this. I listen to it still. It has me hooked on its two-bar rhythmic loop. It feels like the first time I heard it when I listen to it now. It feels like a new first time every time. Same as it ever was.
We are down at the river. The family. We’re all there for a game of softball and a picnic. It’s the day after Christmas. Later, an ice-cream. It’ll drip down my fingers even though I’ve been warned to not let it drip down my fingers. This is Hawke’s Bay – but there are no winery concerts and the village is quaint enough to be called a village. Now it might as well be New Zealand’s answer to Anywheresville, USA. This was the Hawke’s Bay I like to remember – whenever I hear this song. That rat-tat-tah-tat drum fill: that’s Ross Burge from The Mutton Birds. Ross Burge one of this country’s greatest drummers. That’s the key to this song. That drum fill. Ross was called in to nail that – and the groove of the song. The band wasn’t good enough to play on this song – they had to call in the session guys; get it done properly. That drum-fill comes from reggae and R’n’B together. That drum-fill signals the softball at the river. The swell of the horns takes the song along as the current of the river would sometimes steal our ball. But there’s a siren-song; that wail from Annie Crummer (she improvised it) and that rallies the troops. That’s my mum calling us in, and all of a sudden the family is all there behind and in support. We are the chorus of backing singers repeating the refrain as the car is packed and we are off. Another ice-cream. Another time.
It’s So Sleazy. And it’s not quite punk and it’s not quite metal and mum and dad know that I’m listening to it – and they’re fine with that (I think) but they’re probably not quite sure of the language involved. At least not at this stage. And I’m in my room listening to this over and over, the tape player sitting next to me on my bed. And I’m in trouble for some reason or other. So I’m writing the school rules out twelve times in a row. That’s the punishment. It’s the weekend. And I was told to handwrite the school rules twelve times. There are twelve rules. I can’t remember any of them now – but they were bound to all be pretty stupid. And I remember thinking that as Axl says “it’s so easy, so fucking easy” that if mum and dad were there I’d probably blush, but they’re not, so Axl and the band are just egging me on. I’m furiously writing, their guitars are furiously squealing. And Axl is just (always) furious. And that opening drum and guitar bit, where they coil around each other, the riff and the snare-roll, I’ll play that over and over as I put these stupid school rules in to place. And in another few years I’ll get to see the band play some of the best material from this album live. And it all just seemed so vital. It didn’t feel that easy. It felt tightly-wound, angrily bound. But it will forever be the soundtrack to me laboriously writing and rewriting someone else’s idea of the truth. It’s So Essay. (So fucking essay).
He’s such a thief. There’s a hint of Joe Cocker’s version of With A Little Help From My Friends in the swirl of the organ intro and then it’s to Led Zeppelin’s Thank You rewritten by Prince. And after the perverted mysticism of Percy Plan recast as The Purple One with “I am you/you are me/why’s that such a mystery” we go to a huge chorus, so sing-song with drum-fills telegraphing the changes. Lenny Kravitz is Led Zeppelin, Prince, Curtis Mayfield, John Lennon (and Jimi Hendrix – because the mainstream media needed an obvious African American icon) in a blender. But that guitar solo set against the strings is friggin’ glorious. Well it feels that way when you’re speeding home in a car. You’ve watched your girlfriend of the time hooking up with one of your team mates. And you could let them have an earful. But they’ve – both – got their hands full. So you’ve got Lenny Kravitz. And though you won’t have him (or want him) forever. There are times when he gets it right. And good.
I like The Cure. But I was never attached to the band. Never quite a fan. More a distant admirer. This song caught me though, pulled me in. That long, loping intro and the feeling that even though you might like to relive the past you can’t ever (quite) do that. This song came to me on a mixtape (an actual cassette tape). One of my best friends sent it to me while he was living in the UK. And what was I doing? Nothing. I was unemployed and more troubling I was unemployable. My best friends lived overseas – all of them. We used to all live in the same city. If they weren’t in other countries then they still weren’t in the same city as me. And given the strange space I occupied I don’t blame them for actually getting on with life. I was all of a sudden permanently between flats, jobs, relationships. I lived in my own bubble (hey, don’t we all). But it had gotten bad. How bad? Well, a song by The Cure actually pulled me out of my own funk. Yep, that bad. They say you can never go back, you should never go back, you can’t have your time again. If I could change anything about myself, what I did and who I was it would be from when I was between the ages of 20-25. I was a total cock.
Discovering the music of Aphex Twin was one of the most important things that ever happened to me. Yes, how very Pitchfork. And how very predictable for me to get there by reading that Thom Yorke was so heavily influenced by Aphex Twin for the new direction that Radiohead had embarked on, leaving Coldplay to be the Radiohead the band no longer wanted to be. The album Drukqs might not be the obvious choice but to this day it is my favourite Aphex Twin record. And that is because somewhere inside this double-album is a part of me. I lost myself deep inside this record. Me and the mad Turkish flatmate would drive around late at night listening to this (he wasn’t mad because he was Turkish by the way, just mad – in the nicest possible way and Turkish in a very Turkish kind of way). We overdosed on Drukqs. This album was our drugs. We even tried to make our own music that was (in part) inspired by this. The drill’ n’bass, white noise and abrasive textures – that’s a big part of Aphex Twin. The weird dub and ambient ideas that are fluid but still so very screwy…they’re a big part of the Aphex sound too. But my favourite thing within the Aphex world are pieces like this one – a delicate, haunting refrain. So straight that it’s bent (cf: David Lynch’s beautiful film, The Straight Story). I am at peace with the fact that – mostly – the Aphex Twin thing was a phase. Nothing more. But such a very good phase. Such a crucial phase. And this piece was so beautiful for me, to me – right up until Kanye West stole it. Best we (try to) forget that.
This song makes me very happy. And also The Other Side from Undun (as well as Walk Alone from How I Got Over) – I could have picked any of them but I’ll go with One Time. This is music that moves me. This is next-level music for me. It makes me feel like all is right in the world. It makes me forget about the world while I am listening to it. It makes me excited that I have a child to share this music with. It makes me prepare for the fact that he will show absolutely no interest in this unless he wants to. It makes me thank my parents for the musical education. I’m really not sure how anyone could not love this. There’s emotion and feeling, there’s technique and ability. And something new and vital is being said. What’s not to love? Music – it’s the best.