Themes From Great Cities

It might have come to your attention that I'm not a regular poster of love and understanding, which you will just have to get used to. I will however, have bursts of creativity where I move completely randomly from post to post with no rhyme or reason. I have recently posted a few singles (7 & 12”) and the odd bootleg which have been received very well by all who visit. More of the same will continue as you, dear readers, seem to be enjoying them.

Some of the rips are my own, but many more are from other blogs and I’m just sharing the wealth. If other bloggers out there wish to share the rips from my posts, please as I do, host them yourself. To combat this, the FLAC files that are over 6 months old will be replaced with MP3 files.

Finally I am happy to re-up old posts where the link has expired. Please comment in the relevant posts comments box.

Thursday

THREE GIRL RHUMBA



Awlright Here It Is, Again, And It’s Called…

Perhaps this is the most original début album to come out of the first wave of British punk, Wire's Pink Flag plays like The Ramones Go to Art School. Song after song careens past in a glorious, stripped-down rush. However, unlike The Ramones, Wire ultimately made their mark through unpredictability. Very few of the songs followed traditional verse/chorus structures, if one or two riffs sufficed, no more were added; if a musical hook or lyric didn't need to be repeated, Wire immediately stopped playing, accounting for the album's brevity (21 songs in under 36 minutes on the original version). The sometimes dissonant, minimalist arrangements allow for space and interplay between the instruments; Colin Newman isn't always the most comprehensible singer, but he displays an acerbic wit and balances the occasional lyrical abstraction with plenty of bile in his delivery. Many punk bands aimed to strip rock & roll of its excess, but Wire took the concept a step further, cutting punk itself down to its essence and achieving an even more concentrated impact. Some of the tracks may seem at first like underdeveloped sketches or fragments, but further listening demonstrates that in most cases, the music is memorable even without the repetition and structure most ears have come to expect; it simply requires a bit more concentration. And Wire are full of ideas; for such a fiercely minimalist band, they display quite a musical range, spanning slow, haunting texture exercises, warped power pop, punk anthems, and proto-hardcore rants, it's recognizable, yet simultaneously quite unlike anything that preceded it. 
Pink Flag is a fractured snapshot of punk alternately collapsing in on itself and exploding into song-fragment shrapnel. It's clear you're not getting a typical 1977 punk record from the opening seconds of "Reuters", an echoing bass line that quickly comes under attack by ringing but dissonant guitar chords. The tempo is arrested, lurching along to the climactic finale when Colin Newman, as the narrating correspondent, shouts "Looting! Burning!" and then holds out the lone syllable of "rape" twice over descending chords, which grind to a halt over chanting voices. It's all the bombast, tension, and release of a side-long prog opus in just three minutes.
As if to underscore that this isn't a predictable album, the next song, "Field Day For the Sundays", rages to a close in just 28 seconds. The band acknowledges the thin line between advertising jingles and pop songs on the 49-second instrumental "The Commercial", but also write a few genuinely hummable songs, like "Three Girl Rhumba", whose guitar part is actually more of a tango, and the more identifiably punk "Ex-Lion Tamer". "Strange," meanwhile, makes the mistake of sticking around, only to be eaten by spacey amp noise and quivering ambience-- a taste of things to come.

Tuesday

VAGUELY HUMAN

Travelling home from work today, I caught myself thinking about Flesh For Lulu and more importantly sharing more of their long forgotten classics.



Underneath the black clothes and eyeliner
 
Flesh For Lulu were no more nor less than a pop/rock band, forever cursed by their post-punk past. Born a decade too late, the group were condemned to the corners of the indie scene and the edges of the U.S. charts. In 1985, following on from their released from Polydor, the band signed to Hybrid Records and released the mini LP, Blue Sisters Swing, which was produced with Craig Leon. The cover image of two nuns kissing resulted in the mini-album being banned in the United States and Europe. Flesh For Lulu then joined Statik records, who released Big Fun City later that year. Virtually neglected by the American rock masses that were their natural audience, the British indie kids took them to heart, but Big Fun City deserved so much more than that. Having shaken off their cobwebs on Blue Sisters Swing, The Lulu’s came to NYC (thus the new album's title) to record with producer Craig Leon. A less sympathetic producer would have destroyed this record, either by foisting a thoroughly '80s slickness into the mix, or lazily permitting the group's retro sound to run rampant. Instead, Leon respected the group's vision, creating a modern album that remains a tribute to rock's rich past. A motherlode of riffs are the song's sturdy foundation blocks, mostly mined from a rich R&B vein. The Rolling Stones are an obvious influence, although The Lulu’s never plunder directly, instead creating the best riffs Keith Richards never played. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground also played a major role in the members' youths. Thus the band touches all the major rock roots before tossing them into their own indie blender. There again, even the Velvets in their heyday would have thought twice about recording "Death Shall Come," a brilliant piece of experimental foreboding that slithers slide guitar against a booming beat, drops surrealistic sound effects into the mix, then shrouds it all in an ominous atmosphere. On the other end of the spectrum were perfect pop rockers like "Baby Hurricane" (a British Top Ten indie hit); the boisterous "Seven Hail Marys" and "Vaguely Human" both slamming rock riffs and anthemic choruses into punk frenzy; and more sedate, but equally upbeat numbers like "Let Go," which showcases some of the guitarists' best work. The rhythm section's own proficiency is evident throughout, pulling off rock-solid, but never tiresome, rhythms regardless of tempo or genre, as impressive on the softer, slower numbers as the pounding rockers, while anchoring the more experimental numbers. Perhaps The Lulu’s were just too adventurous for the rock community, too willing to take chances, too energetic, too pop, and too different. Too bad for the rockers missing out on such a classic record. This CD release also includes the Blue Sisters Swing mini-album as an added incentive.

CHELSEA GIRLS

After the long weekend it was time to return to this great city with an all round Scottish classic. One of my all time favourite bands (you may have guessed this from the blog title) so there may well be a few more of their “Themes” to come in the future.


Immediately, there's no real indication of the Glaswegians' past as punks Johnny and the Self Abusers. Life in a DaySimple Minds' 1979 debut – owes an undeniable debt to Roxy Music and the David Bowie of Station to Station and Low, mixing curt piano lines and glam rock but also hinting at a sense of fun that would later be wiped clear. Chelsea Girl even sounds like the hit that would nevertheless elude them for three years.

Simple Minds' astonishingly rapid ascent from humble and derivative post-punk to platinum and transcendent art pop is just as remarkable as the descent that followed it. More remarkable is the fact that a fair portion of the band's fans have such a strict discographical line drawn in the sand (right at the chart-crashing masterpiece that is New Gold Dream) where both sides overlap but don't dare cross. While fans of the band's earlier work essentially drop off with that record (and choose to live in blissful denial that the band existed after that), those on the other end are more or less oblivious to what's on the other side. So what's on that other, earlier side? Five studio albums released within the span of three years. Five studio albums that range from safe to bold, from impenetrable to accessible, from strange to puzzling, and from good to pee-your-pants phenomenal. Life in a Day, the first of the five records released during this fascinating pre-fame period of Simple Minds' career, is easily the least of the first five. Despite the growing pains, this is a skilled and assured assemblage of guitar-heavy post-punk, with Jim Kerr's over-caffeinated voice taking the lead role. The arrangements are full, direct, and sharply executed. The high points: the teeter-tottering title track and the J. Geils Band like swagger (honestly!) of "Someone." The low point: "Pleasantly Disturbed" an epic Velvet Underground inspired limp that lasts eight very long minutes.

Wednesday

MISSING IN ACTION




Doomsteady, with a hint of seriousness

Waiting For A Miracle is a sorcerous first album; at least once it sinks in, after short-to-long phases of puzzlement, bemusement, and fascination. Its songs of romantic ruin, paranoia, and doubt are spare, inelastic, and ceaselessly on edge. Even when the songs are at their bounciest and most alluring, they have an insular and alien quality. The instruments are played with intrepid simplicity, but when they're heard as one, they sound peculiar and complex albeit with insidious lyrical hooks that are innocuous to the eye and startling to the ear, like "This is total war, girl," "Sometimes I feel out of control," and "I can't relax 'cause I haven't done a thing and I can't do a thing 'cause I can't relax."

Acting as something like a minimalist garage band with one foot in the past and the other in the future, with Andy Peake's memory-triggering organ bleats offset by structural abnormalities and twists, the band does come across as a little timid from time to time, unsure of how far to take its uniqueness, but it's only another factor that fosters the album's insistent nerviness. "Total War," a razor-sharp examination of a relationship snapping under the pressure of buried mutual contempt, threatens to stop as often as it appears to be on the verge of taking off, carries a circular arrangement, and provides no release. It was the album's "other" single, nearly as conventions-stripped as PiL's more venomous "Flowers of Romance" (released the following year).

"Independence Day," on the other hand, gave the band its greatest commercial success, wrapping all the band's strengths in one concise package, from the brilliantly paced shifts between the sparse and the dense to the balance between the direct and the indirect. Apart from the barren, ominous kiss-off that is "Postcard," each of the remaining songs sound like singles, even if they never had a chance at putting the band on Top of the Pops. (This is a band that called itself "doomsteady" with a hint of seriousness, after all.)

While there are crucial differences that reveal themselves after deep listening, this album can be appreciated by anyone touched by other maverick post-punk albums released the same year, such as Joy Division's Closer, Associates' The Affectionate Punch, Magazine's The Correct Use of Soap, The Sound's Jeopardy, and Simple Minds' Empires and Dance.

Often overlooked, Waiting For A Miracle deserves to be up there alongside Wire’s ‘154’, The Cure’s ‘Seventeen Seconds’, The Gang Of Four's 'Entertainment' and Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’….In those murky, post-punk days, many chose the solemn, Joy Division style path, whilst others, like The Comsat Angels chose a more optimistic route and held out for their own miracle. For that reason alone, surely they are to be applauded, for bringing light to those dark, dark days.

Saturday

COME AGAIN



Playing With A Different Sex is an album by English post-punk band The Au Pairs, released in 1981.

Opening with the tongue in cheek "We're So Cool," The Au Pairs debut record is a stunner, from Lesley Woods' scratchy guitar and declamatory vocals to lead guitarist Paul Foad's brittle soloing. This is an uncompromising, defiant record that asks for and gives no quarter; gender roles are turned upside down, hetero and homosexual relationships put under a microscope, and theories about sex and sexuality turned inside out.
"Come Again" refers to the social pressure to achieve orgasmic equality depicting sex as a dreary ritual in which partners as joyless as lab rats press bars and nose buttons in the hopes of an orgasm as dry and quantifiable as kibble. Directed at those who changed the game and brought in new rules, it asks "Is it real? Are you feeling it?", before turning into a dialogue between the female lead and male backing who is evidently attempting to satisfy her: "Am I doing it right?" he asks, and the woman reassures him, "You're not selfish/You're trying hard to please me – please, please me/Is your finger aching?/I can feel you hesitating".
Describing the albums taut rhythms and aggressive lyrics, Playing With A Different Sex makes it a classic example of how the influence of punk could steer rock into exciting new areas. The song "Diet", originally released as a single in 1980 was described as a masterpiece of feminist rock with an almost unparalleled power and pathos. An unflinching look at the world from 35 years ago, Playing With A Different Sex is one of the great, and perhaps one of the forgotten, post-punk records. The CD reissue adds eight significant bonus cuts from 1979-1981 singles, which include different versions of tracks from the LP and some songs which didn't make it onto the album.


Thursday

ALMOST MEDIEVAL



The birth of a child, never as dark and cold…

In the late 'seventies The Human League were a pioneer electronic band who used synthesizers in dark and experimental pop. The band was composed of Phil Oakey on voice, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh on synths, and Philip Adrian Wright.
Before The Human League re-branded themselves as chart storming synth-pop giants, they released a pair of albums that were perhaps thee most cold and dehumanised form of synth-pop ever heard. It’s almost so unfamiliar that some listeners may doubt the robotic beats of 'Being Boiled' or the eerie dirge of 'The Path Of Least Resistance' could have ever come from the same band who; a few member changes and a stylistic rethink later; produced enduring, pop leviathans like 'Don't You Want Me' a couple of years following.
It’s just so dark. Throughout the record there’s a lack of hope for the world and apathy for humankind strewn across the futuristic electro warbles and detached vocals and lyrics heard on virtually every track. On paper, that sounds unpleasant, but in reality it’s a well formed brand of synth-pop that doesn‘t care for commercial approval. It has its own flavour; its own sense of style and a clear idea of what it wants to be - cold futurist music, deployed using (at the time) cutting edge synthesisers to create a danceable, yet moody form of electronic music for those outside the realms of pop’s rose-tinted glasses.
Sure, 'Dare' is a masterpiece and, when it comes down to it, it’s probably a better record than 'Reproduction'. But just because their début didn’t aim for the charts, doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Whilst the music isn’t as hooky or digestible as it would grow to be; it is infinitely more interesting and thought-provoking. The opener 'Almost Medieval' pounds along with its despair filled beat and subtle background melodies to make one of the tensest tunes on the album, and despite the overall tone, one song managed to find its way onto the UK charts back in the day ('Empire State Human') - almost unbelievable considering its odd chorus: "Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall, as big as a wall, wall, wall".
Really, it’s a matter of taste. People who mainly enjoy, easy-to-stomach pop hooks and generic lyrics won’t see the appeal, and would be better off sticking with 'Dare', but those with a penchant for darker and more challenging music will find themselves a ground-breaking record they might actually prefer to the pop-leaning tendencies on later 'League' albums. It’s best to approach these songs with an ear for curiosity. If you’re looking for a simple pop fix like you’d get with 'Dare', you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re looking to hear The Human League at their earliest and most artily inventive, 'Reproduction' might just delight more than you expect.

Monday

RESTLESS



For so long a discordant gale of noise…

Nick Marsh, singer and guitarist for the band Flesh For Lulu, died Friday 5th June 2015 after battling cancer. He was 53. Nick formed the band Flesh For Lulu in the early 80's with drummer James Mitchell. The two recruited former Wasted Youth guitarist Rocco and bassist Glen Bishop and, in 1983, they signed with Polydor Records and released the quite remarkable Roman Candle EP. For the first time, their influences (Iggy, Lou and Bowie on a daytrip to Glamland) emerged a vibrant brew of textured, dramatic Day-Glo beauty, and even their foes were suddenly looking forward to their début album, if only to discover whether it was all a ghastly fluke.
It wasn't.
Ignore the cover (which is hideous by anybody's standards) and make straight for the opening salvo of "Restless." Marred only by an implausibly obtrusive girlie chorus, "Restless" introduced a Furs-meet-Spector Wall of Sound that doesn't let up, even when the Lulus dip into the horror show hoedown of side two's epic closer, "Heavy Angel." The trip en route, meanwhile, is spellbinding: "Hyena," an incredible cover of the Stones' "Jigsaw Puzzle Girl," the raucously mesmerizing "Brainburst" and, best of all, "Subterraneans" -- still one of the all time great rock & roll street anthems. Looking back on Flesh For Lulu from a distance of 30 plus years, it's easy to see why the British weekly Melody Maker once proclaimed its makers as "[possibly] the most important band we've got." It wasn't the most fashionable thing to say, and the Lulus themselves did their best to dismantle such praise when they started chasing the Yankee dollar. For a year or two after the release of this album, though, there was a lot of truth in that declaration, and the début album Flesh For Lulu still wears its scars proudly.