Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Cardiac Arrest

Oh the joys of a USB turntable! Since my acquisition of one of these little devils, I have been rifling through my old vinyl collection like it was ooh...1972. Despite having a turntable still set up and operational, I rarely play vinyl records these days and so many gems from pre-CD days have remained hidden and forgotten. Until now.

Just to sidetrack for a minute, one thing I have noticed is how good MP3 files sound when they have been processed from an old vinyl analogue source. There is a warmth and detail about them which just re-ignites all those arguments about whether digital recording is really the nirvana it was cooked up to be. With modern editing software it is possible to remove the worst of the inherent surface noise of a record and even to remove scratches if you are very careful. Hence MP3s from vinyl can sound just like new and it has spurred me on to move a load more stuff into the digital domain.

My latest vinyl rediscovery has been a very strange album by the Cardiacs entitled ‘A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window’ which was originally released in 1988 and must have been almost the last vinyl record I ever bought before succumbing to the shiny silver disc. The Cardiacs arty progrock style is difficult to describe but a cross between Split Enz and the Cure with a splash of Sparks wouldn’t be too far from the mark. Its content is almost wilfully perverse and takes some listening to but it is one of those albums that repay you if you stick with it.

The crowning glory of this album is the monumental ‘Is This the Life’, something I would play regularly once upon a time but have almost forgotten about of late. I have attached a link to the promo video for the single version of this song to the bottom of this post as it is utterly bats in the style of all truly great rock stars. The single version of the song is, regrettably, the result of cutting about one and a half minutes off its length but it is still magnificent. You’ll just have to imagine the final minute plus as it continues its bonkers way to a surprisingly poignant finish. They don’t make stuff like this anymore – it is what music is all about, warm and enveloping yet strangely anarchic at the same time.

I wonder how many more gems there are awaiting me in my dog-eared record collection?

Friday, 23 May 2008

Another Fine Mess...

Of late, I have been reviving a mild interest in the golden age of silent comedy – you know, the sort of stuff your parents made you watch as a kid – Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, the Keystone Kops and of course, the incomparable Laurel and Hardy. I think that one with them trying to hike a piano up an interminable staircase will haunt me to my grave.

Anyway, I picked up a couple of Laurel and Hardy DVDs (later 1930s ‘talkies’) very cheaply and spent an hour or so watching some of them with my 8 year old daughter and 4 year old son. It was then that the true realization dawned. The world of the 1920s and 1930s is so far removed from today that it is almost unrecognisable. I seemed to spend more time explaining things to my son than I did actually watching the film. Here’s a good example: In ‘Busy Bodies’, Olly and Stan are driving down the road to work when Stan pulls a string on the car dashboard and music starts up. It later transpires that the music emanates from a wind-up gramophone located under the car’s bonnet (hood, for you Yanks). To a 1930s audience this is both surprising and funny. To a contemporary child it is incomprehensible. After all, all cars have in-car tape/CD/iPod players and always have had. What’s more they do not rely on a needle scraping over a revolving shellac disk which to them is totally mystifying. Hence a long explanation of the history of technology ensues.

But it doesn’t stop there. What’s a chimney sweep? Why does a radio need a roof-top aerial? Why does Hardy say, ‘It’s great to have a job to go to!’? (Answer: it’s the great 1930s depression)

In essence, this is why comedy dates. It is because much of it relies on knowledge of the customs, technology and the politics of the day which to subsequent generations is quite baffling. This is also true of music. Albums from decades before we were born often sound disappointing and it is not until we understand the social and technological backdrop that our appreciation has a chance of being boosted.

But my children did laugh at the antics of L & H, but only when they became ‘universal’ and much of that translates to slapstick. We still laugh at the misfortunes of others. In this at least, human nature has not changed. Now, where did I put that banana skin?


Sunday, 18 May 2008

Red Red Wine

Philosophers throughout the ages have generally concluded that a life of debauchery for most men (and presumably some women) can be reduced to the required elements of wine, women and song. And who am I to argue with such venerable thinkers? All three components seem to work very well together but to take just two is a little less satisfying. Wine and women still seems a reasonable proposition but women and song could be a bit dodgy. It depends on who does the singing, I suppose.

The effect of the final combination of wine and song is perhaps the most antisocial as can usually be seen at the end of most parties and pub closing times but I am indebted to my friend Alan, who has directed me to an article in the Telegraph which claims that scientific research has shown that there may be a more subtle connection. It is now claimed that music can affect the way wine tastes and can thus enhance its flavour by stimulating various parts of the brain. Therefore, by playing the correct music it is possible to increase your appreciation of any given wine. Sounds good to me.

The research goes further and actually suggests the following favourable combinations, viz:
Cabernet Sauvignon – ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Jimi Hendrix. I take it that this means something heavy and forthright. Presumably any sort of heavy rock would do.
Merlot – ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’, Otis Redding. Clearly this is a more laid back wine which requires a more introspective frame of mind. Either that or it needs to be drunk near water.
Chardonnay – ‘Atomic’, Blondie. The classic example of bubbly feelgood pop so anything from the dance charts would probably be OK.

Thus wine and song have a subtle link which you ignore at your peril. I must admit that I’ve always thought that ‘Agadoo’ can sound quite acceptable after a bottle or two of Chianti, so perhaps there is something in it. I notice that there is no suggestion for my favourite grape, Sauvignon Blanc. Perhaps it’s more acidic character requires something like P J Harvey or even Billy Bragg.

The logical conclusions to be drawn are that a) branches of wine merchants like ‘Threshers’ or ‘Oddbins’ should open a CD department with recommendations posted on wine labels and b) wine tasters should expand their vocabulary to include band names in their flowery descriptions. For example:

‘A touch Tina Turner on the nose, with distinct overtones of the Stereophonics and a lasting James Taylor aftertaste’. Makes more sense than their usual indecipherable drivel.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

This 'Ole House

Despite the fact that I seem to spend most of my spare time thinking about, playing or listening to music, I have actually spent all my working life in the Property industry – even music obsessives have to earn a crust. But up until now it has never really occurred to me that there may be links between the two aspects of my life, so your intrepid researcher set out to discover the truth.

So far, I have only looked into the murky pool that is residential agency. You, know, those much-maligned people who sell you your house. It appears there is quite a repertoire for them to play all day on the office iPod when the market is slack. For example, apart from Shakey (see title) there is ‘Country House’ (Blur), ‘Our House’ (Madness) or even the sinister ‘Hyacinth House’ (Doors). Then of course at the end of a hard day’s toil gazumping there is the blessed relief of going ‘Back to the Old House’ (Smiths) or if the stress has finally got to you, the ‘Happy House’ (Siouxsie and the Banshees).

For those exiled in the lettings department, there is simply the collection of ‘Rent’ (Pet Shop Boys) to contemplate or if they are of a more aggressive frame of mind, to ‘Raise my Rent’ (Dave Gilmore). When sitting tenants become a bit of a problem there is always ‘Get Out of My House’ (Kate Bush) or at the extreme ‘House Burning Down’ (Jimi Hendrix) but let’s not go there.

However, we should not be too hard on the poor agent, property management also has its practical problems in the areas of maintenance, ‘The Roof is Leaking’ (Phil Collins) and decoration, ‘Paint it Black’ (Rolling Stones) and on-site industrial accidents are a constant threat, ‘Blood on the Rooftops’ (Genesis) or ‘Nails in My Feet’ (Crowded House). Site security can also be a source of worry, ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’ (Beatles).

In the lucrative pond of property development, first find your location, ‘Respectable Street’ (XTC) and then get the builders in, ‘Build it Up and Tear it Down’ (Fatboy Slim). Finishing touches always help to generate sales, ‘Thorn Tree in the Garden’ (Derek and the Dominoes).

I’m sure there are many, many more to uncover, but frankly it was all becoming a little bit too much like work so for the time being that is the extent of my investigation.

I dare say that all these songs and more will probably be appearing on a new double CD, ‘Now That’s What I Call Residential Property Management Vol 6,473’.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

REM - Accelerate

There has been much approving comment about the new REM album, ‘Accelerate’ so I thought I’d better pick up a copy to see what all the fuss was about. So with breathless anticipation I sat down and played it a few times but I am disappointed to say that I am a little underwhelmed, which is a shame because I generally like REM and I really wanted this to be a cracker.

So what’s good about it? There is no doubt that it has real energy and I think this is what many people like about it, especially those who are long term fans and remember the likes of ‘Document’ and even ‘Monster’. Of late, REM has tended to be a little wistful and underpowered in style and a return to the rockier upbeat mode is certainly to be welcomed.

Also, Michael Stipe seems to be on top lyrical form on this album, which again is commendable as it shows that he is still thinking and hasn’t given up and retreated to his superstar shell. Nor do I object to the fact that the album is only 35 minutes long. I actually like albums to be this sort of length as it allows easy assimilation. What I find less likeable are those interminable albums that go on and on for the best part of an hour. So, ticks in the box for energy, lyrics and length.

BUT. Where are the good tunes? Energy and lyrics are not enough. Music stands or falls by its melody and it is a sad fact that so many bands fall into this trap. Whilst their slower songs are chock full of melody, everything goes to pot when they rev it up a little. But it needn’t be like this as a quick listen to their own ‘Stand’, ‘Orange Crush’ or ‘Imitation of life’ demonstrates. These are energetic and powerful, yet they still have tunes to die for. I also re-listened to ‘Up’ and ‘Reveal’ just to remind myself of their melodic invention and the result was even more dissatisfaction with ‘Accelerate’.

For me, ‘Accelerate’ doesn’t quite work. The best tracks are single ‘Supernatural Superserious’ and ‘Until the Day is Done’, both of which manage to meld a great tune with an upbeat rhythm, but the rest of the album I find a bit hum-drum but this may be because I always have high expectations of this band. By any other standards this is still a good album.

Now if their next album could maintain the attack and relentless energy of ‘Accelerate’ and graft in the type of melodies on show in their albums from say ‘Automatic for the People’ to ‘Reveal’, then we really would have a REM album to cheer about.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Bits of News

Just a short post to distribute a few bits of unconnected news:

This is the first anniversary of this Blog! When I nervously put up the first post last May, I never expected to be still doing it a year later but it has now become part of my life and I’m not sure I can stop now. Originally, I posted about once a fortnight as I was scared stiff that I would run out of things to say, but the frequency of posts has gradually increased to about once every 5 days. If the gap gets any smaller, I may have to give up work! A big thank you to everybody who has dropped by to read or leave comments – much appreciated.

As you probably know, I am a big fan of the 1970s band Fanny and for all you Fanny fans out there, you should know that their website has had a bit of a makeover and now contains more video and images as well as a piece by yours truly entitled ‘A Fan’s View’. There is also a link to a new Forum ( where fans can chat about all things Fanny. And about time too.

You may have noticed that I have added a new-style BlogList to the right sidebar (towards the bottom) which shows a snippet of what’s going on at my fave blogs. This gadget is currently in what Blogger calls ‘Draft’ status – that is, it doesn’t quite work properly. I have noticed that it doesn’t always update and that sometimes it brings back spurious data, or no data at all (Sorry Tr1-Guy) but I’ve left it in any way as it’s quite neat! If you are a blog owner and wish yours to be removed from the list, please let me know.