Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Yes, this comes down to "I don't like nihilism". but some of the songs Johnny Cash did are brilliant in a way I don't think I can articulate right now, but THEY STILL ARE.

also, a quote: "when you're buried up to your neck in shit, there's nothing to do but sing."

kubrick never sings and means it
I really liked Dr. Strangelove at age eleven or twelve or so: it was funny. it had comedy Nazi jokes.

I still find the jokes funny, I guess. The comedy is (deliberately?) inept: the jokes are of the kind where you're meant to groan before you laugh: "You can't fight in here! this is the War Room!". The thing is, you know how it's going to end. You do, you've seen it before. It ends - the punchline to an hour and a half of vaudeville - with the death, more or less, of the human race. So every cheap joke, every detail that makes you giggle, is tied to that. You end up looking at yourself and feeling fairly naeseous: what are you laughing at, exactly?

This maybe was more of a political statement of the time. I don't know. The nihilism of it - totally punk, I suppose, but all my favorite punks' records have been about their performers realising the uselessness of being punk - seems to stem from not wanting to come down to bein anti-nuke, to affirming the right to not care, to laughing at the wreckage. It ends (although I haven't been able to bear to watch this, not tonight) with We'll Meet Again played over the stock film of the bombs going off. Not Kubrick's ending. Ade already suggested that what I'm kinda sorta thinking about above isn't really what Kubrick intended, he just wanted wacky comedy for its own sake, but that doesn't mean that his cameraman and set designers did.

I ran into We'll Meet Again last year at the end of Johnny Cash's American IV. The record starts with a statement of faith, Cash original about the biblical apocalypse, death and salvation, together - "the whirlwind is in the thorn tree", the chorus goes: the image comes from I can't remember what bit of the bible, but it's God amongst human corruption..

Hurt is a single now. It's the most commented-on of the covers, but I'm going to avoid mentioning even who its by, because the whole hipster-novelty aspect attached to Cash's records of the last decade, reducing them to some kind of mildly amusing diversion, is something I really deeply fucking detest, frankly, but never mind that. Hurt is about drug addiction, and about wanting to hurt others - human corruption, then - but Cash is able to invest it with a dignity that suggests that even the offer offered here: "you could have it all / my empire of dirt ... I will make you hurt" could be, somehow, a route to healing..

And Hurt, and all the other songs inbetween the first and the last, are covers, mostly, about people, and what you do to other people, and about death and salvation, but on a more human level. And Cash has never been a better performer than this, when it works. God is largely absent, save as a rhetorical device: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Personal Jesus are both secular songs of devotion, and Cash sings them perfectly, stripping whatever irony there might have been away from the latter song: "reach out and touch faith" sung as if its the last thing to hold onto in the world: the ruling idea being that god help us we need people to hold onto.

Which reads banal. Banality is what this record keeps threatening to slip into. In My Life isn't invested with any real significance, for instance: it's a song about people and their meaning to you, and here it sounds little like it means anything. The last track is We'll Meet Again, which of itself surely has to be about the most banal thing ever written. The reference has to be intentional. What if we didn't get to anything more than this? What if we were only pretending salvation?

Bridge Over Troubled Water is a song I'd never thought I'd like. I thought it was meaningless half-poetic drivel and Simon and Garfunkel weren't ever the sort of singers to work hard enough to convince me otherwise. And here, with a distorted male choir sampled in the background, and with Cash and Fiona Apple wailing away at it, I heard it last year and was amazed that it had the power to actually, truly convince: an offer of help, of devotion, which sounded like it meant it.

And if this record comes to the same conclusion as Kubrick's film does, then because that faith in salvation, human or religious, has been there, it redeems things: "what if we were only pretending salvation?", a question, something we can move within and around, even deny, whereas formulated in Dr Strangelove it's a statement: there isn't a single instance of real human closeness in the film, and wherever there might be Kubrick makes sure to hit hard on whatever ironic distance can be used to ensure that there is no offer of salvation in the film. Commander Ripper tells us he believes he can account for his actions in the next life before shooting himself, and it's just another instance of the same punchline. What the film suggests comes down to a state where no real humanity even exists, where attempts to save and destroy it alike come down to cheap jokes. and i can't watch it without feeling pretty fucking sick.

Friday, February 21, 2003

maybe mostly I just don't want to let an album Uncut described as a grower grow on me.

"oh baby just admit
if both my wrists were slit
you'd bandage them with style and grace"
Listening to the new Ed Harcourt album and, I don't know, Ed was one of my favourite new things of last year (or, I think, the year before) and it's kinda disappointing that I can't think of more to say about this. I like it. I guess.

There's nothing as perky as the poppy songs from before here: the woozyness of it sounds like the Maplewood demos album, or Something in my Eye from the first album proper, extended to an ethos: a couple of the tracks approach having grooves, but don't, not really. It's like a deliberate decision was made to take the bits that didn't work before and do whatever could be done with them. It works, I suppose. I keep adding qualifiers. This is the kind of record I can only bring myself to like with qualifiers. I guess.

It's a winter record. There are songs about death. There are more than two songs about death. Ed ends the album muttering "then .. slowly.. die... then.. slowly.. die.."

February is not really the best month to bring out a winter record.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Actually there's a trajectory, isn't there: from Uncle Arthur and Laughing Gnome through to the glam phase, there's something of the same portraiture done: Station to Station keeps a lot of the same theatricality in performance, but doesn't need to work in snapshots in the same way as lots of other stuff does; I suppose it's more cinematic, but I hate using that word of music, because, you know, it isn't film.

by Low this thing is totally gone, whatever it is - I'm not in the mood for in-depth listening (ugh, sounds dirty) - and anyway I'm missing half a dozen of the albums in question..
Have been listening to lots of Bowie lately: something that comes across is his marvellous sense of character, not as normally reported - who IS the thin white duke, exactly? is he something like the Goblin King? - but in inhabiting people for the space of a track - Cracked Actor's past-it Hollywood star breaking down into "sta-ay, please sta-ay.." is more or less exactly right, and Ziggy Stardust works because Ziggy himself isn't being heard but this unknown washup is: actually the songs which work least well on The Rise And Fall Of.. are the ones where the singer's role isn't actually deformed at all..

(typo: DEFINED at all, but i think the other way works, maybe)
try harder, danny

Saturday, February 15, 2003

I think it is probably appropriate to report the total u-turn of my opinion towards Tatu. I recommend to anyone who has managed to perform the miracle feat of not seeing the hideous wank-fest video by now to never see it (talk about clouding judgements - it's so much BETTER that they're FAKE LESBIANS!) and listen intently to the first fifteen seconds of this record and DARE to tell me it's not absolutely brilliant.

Or in short:

Trevor Horn = better than being given The Horn (!)

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

(hi, theoretical readers!!)
kieron i spoke to once and he said "fuck thom with hammers". charity sent me a hat with FIRE CHIEF written on it. ewing took about a month to fix our NYLPM link, the sod. dan i always meant to email back about dexy's and never did. marcello i have never had any contact with but his blog is the best i have ever seen and everyone should go read it.

(What is the etiquette for this sort of thing? is there one? i mean if anyone, theoretically, was reading this, these theoretical readers would be much better off going to any of the above than they would reading this, but linking to people without some kind of context feels sort of scary and intrusive: apologies)
I should see more films. I could write about films. Or Ade could. Hey Ade. Write something about films.

"the rarely-updated electric revival", wrote Dan Emerson, and I thought hey, I updated that about the second week of January, and then I thought, oh yeah, that's actually quite a while ago now. It's a fair cop, guv. I'm lazy with regards to many things but writing most of all, and a lesson I don't see myself being likely to learn is that starting something like this is not in itself something that counts as making more writing: in fact the safety net of it-is-only-an-internet-blog isn't really a safety net at all: I'm not sure even that it's not a reason to try harder, because there's a million other fuckers out there and at least some of them are trying pretty fucking hard and are pretty fucking good at it too. Start with reading the people linked on NYLPM, and then start reading all the people they've linked, and read them all, or try to read them all, and then try and write, and then give up reading them all because it's too much time (for the internet!!), and then remember that people more honest and less self-obsessed are already writing and then and then etc etc excuses etc

"those who can't, blog", someone quipped - I mean this in some new sense of the word which doesn't imply any actual humour, of course - in an email to danny l: well, whatthefuckever. try again when you display some indication of having talent.

things i meant to write about: an actual real defense of tatu, which would have used the word "punctum"; why justin timberlake is the perfect pop star for ex-wannabe-indie-kids; top twenty six things I started listening to in 2002, of which five actually were released in 2002, and one came out in 03; why i (heart) avril levigne; the libertines and britishness. going to attempt the latter as soon as i remember to borrow the streets album from someone again: queen boadicea's children's children vs 45th generation romans FITE!!
Going from Baby's On Fire to Babe I'm On Fire was totally accidental and I didn't even realise until I clicked post, but I still feel I should apologise.
My favorite surprise of last year, musically, was downloading the new Nick Cave album pre-release and finding out that he'd got good again: it's weird to see the Seeds finally meshing with Cave's singer-songwriter pose, being able to play these songs fluidly, sounding like an actual band, not just the concept of one, and yes this sounds like I'm blaming them when if there's anyone to blame for No More Shall We Part it's totally Nick, I think.


Should I have any real genuine thoughts about the album - unlikely - I'll share: right now I would like to point out that the final track, Babe I'm On Fire, is a totally loud and over the top; is forty-three verses long, each of which consists of a list of people who would, in fact, agree that Nick Cave is indeed on fire; sounds like the narrator from From Her To Eternity actually got with the girl; is the noisiest thing the band has done since Tender Prey; has good jokes; has bad jokes; has Blixa Bargeld making atonal noisy atonal guitar noises; has B-movie organ riffs; has the most melodramatic piano ever; has the Bad Seeds SOMEHOW holding it all together; has Nick Cave returning to the Old Testament inflections he'd been hiding and this time finding a way for them to MEAN something; is the most terrifyingly devotional lovesong I've ever heard, or at least feels that way right now.
brian eno - baby's on fire
I think listening to pop music purely for instant gratification, which is what I do a lot of the time, is kind of insufficient because there's this vast brew of potent signifiers behind it and they're at least worth paying attention to: as you can tell I was sufficiently moralized by the sheer badness of the first half of this sentence to bother trying to write it to a full stop: look, colons!
Well, whatever. This is a song I hate. I think part of (all of) why I hate this record (mp3) is because it seems to buy into the idea that an artfully (ha) skewed (ha) take on pop is in some way superior: it's seriously one of my least favorite things ever. it doesn't have a fucking tune. it's like a five-minute sneer. made of synthezisers. it isn't even good at being clever, which is anyway a shitty thing to be good at being.