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.


Here Are The Roses

The entire ethos of Dragons' debut album, Here Are The Roses, can be fairly succinctly summed up: it's a tribute to Joy Division, basically. Okay, so you could pick a worse band to sound like. And anyway, so dense are the waves of electronica that the likes of Covenant and Depeche Mode hold as much sway over the record as the early-80s post-punk isolation that is worn with obvious pride. It's a sound that may be distinctly lacking in ambition and one that never really explores much beyond an exclusive set of influences and connections, but it is nonetheless a fine example of cold pop electronics and dark rock resonance. Familiar enough to fit into the furrows already ploughed by Interpol, The Editors et al, the deep-rooted infusions of synths and keys do, on occasion, add a different timbre and a slightly rawer edge that is all too seldom explored by their peers.

Allowing copying comes in many guises. Bands are digging into the treasure trove of musical history all the time – when they are so inspired by a single source we can be kind and say they are paying homage to them. Only when we dislike the end result do terms like ‘copycat’ come out.
Here Are The Roses from Dragons is a difficult case because, I’m getting to like it. 85% of it, at least, would not, could not have existed had Joy Division not come into being. There is a little late Jesus & Mary Chain (well someone’s been listening to Bobby Gillespie’s take on Mo Tucker’s drumming, anyway), a soupcon of Depeche Mode and even a hint of Heaven 17 when they dive too deep into the stark electronic sounds.
Their bundle of influences is very similar to those of Editors, to whom they will no doubt be compared, particularly when it comes to the many sections of repeated guitar notes on songs like the bitter yet tentatively hopeful Lonely Tonight.
But Dragons are very open in their adoration, doesn’t that count for something? From the initial jangly guitars and droning, depressed-sounding end of title track Here Are The Roses when that phrase is repeated over and over, through singer Anthony Tombling Jnr’s harsh vocal mannerisms to the majority of the song titles – Condition, Treasure, Obedience, Forever. I would bet a considerable sum that several Joy Division fans could be persuaded one of these was a Joy Division outtake, especially the monumental and fleetingly hopeful Forever, which uses layers of sound to build to a climax that is almost exuberant. As I listen I cannot help but think “well, if you’re going to take chunks of 80s electronica as your source, they’ve certainly taken the right chunks… and surely I would be glad if there was another Joy Division album in the world so…
This is a good album but not an original one. It’s well structured from bitter to contemplative to mildly hopeful. It flows, there’s enough change of pace to keep you interested if you already like the mix of electronic effects and guitar, and contains several strong tunes (Trust, Here Are The Roses, Forever).
The lyrics are rather earnest and suitably miserable to appeal to the inhabitants of Bedsitland. Tombling and partner David Francolini (former drummer with Levitation and Dark Star) have clearly constructed their songs carefully and are masters at what they do; their work has a hovering darkness, a brooding edge to it, but then so did Joy Division’s.


The Affectionate Punch

All ten songs on The Affectionate Punch are nearly swollen with ambition and swagger, yet those attributes are confronted with high levels of anxiety and confusion, the sound of prowess and hormones converging head-on. It's not always pretty, but it's unflaggingly sensational, even when it slows down. Having debuted with a brazen reduction of David Bowie's "Boys Keep Swinging" to a spindly rumble, multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine and vocalist Billy Mackenzie ensured instant attention and set forward with this, their first album. Mackenzie's exotic swoops cover four octaves, from the kind of isolated swagger heard in Bowie's "Secret Life of Arabia" to a falsetto more commonly heard in an opera house than a bar. (Dude sounds like a diva, so proceed with caution if you'd much rather hear a voice in line with PiL's John Lydon or Magazine's Howard Devoto.) Though the subject matter of the duo's songs would later veer into the completely inscrutable, there's some abstract wordplay here that scans like vocal exercises or Scott Walker at his most surreal: "Stencilled doubts spin the spine, Logan time, Logan time"; "If I threw myself from the ninth story, would I levitate back to three"; "His jaw line’s not perfect but that can be altered." Meaningful or not, there's always a sense of great weight. When Mackenzie runs through the alphabet in "A," he could be singing in code about the butterflies of love. Rankine, with help from drummer Nigel Glockler and a background appearance from then label mate Robert Smith, covers most of the other stuff, specializing in spare arrangements that can simultaneously slither and jump, crosscut with guitars that release weary chimes and caustic stabs, as well as the occasional racing xylophone.

Fated to reside in the popular consciousness as a one-hit combo (they did, in fact, manage three top thirty flurries), and with celebrity fans coming out of the woodwork, the time may be finally ripe to reassess this mercurial Scottish duo. Alchemised from the pairing of Billy Mackenzie's death-defying vocals and Alan Rankine's unconventional instrumentation, The Affectionate Punch was their first major statement of intent in 1980, and remarkably - for such an artefact of its time - age has not withered this 25th anniversary reissue one jot.
Bonding over their love of Berlin Hansa-era Bowie (their first recording adventure - Boys Keep Swinging - is included here as a bonus), the Associates' sound always veered dangerously close to something approaching totalitarian chic. Such flirting was lingua franca for the time, yet what saved the duo were both a sense of impish humour and an innate belief in their own un-tutored talents. Thus Punch boasts a rude confidence as Billy's swooping and swooning mannerisms are multitracked over audacious arrangements. The only thing that places it as an early 80s artefact is the sound of guitars squeezed through chorus pedals and drums so gated that they sound like cardboard boxes. Otherwise this could be music from Mars; so oddly 'other' is its approach. Mackenzie's voice was already utterly unique in its octave-spanning bravado, but the whole construction just seems like something constrained and constricted to fit studio technology that wasn't ready for the job. Who knows how they'd sound these days?
And the lyrics? Ah, here lay the boys' trump card. Just as the sound is pressed thin by its limitations, so the words seem to strain to express feelings and places not meant to be pinned down by syllables. In turns sexually ambivalent (A Matter Of Gender), violently surreal (The Affectionate Punch), wildly romantic (Even Dogs In The Wild) or just incomprehensible (Logan Time) they spill out like postcards from an imaginary Europe. Half chanson, half krautrock. Totally their own.
The haste and budgetary restraints meant that the follow ups (Fourth Drawer Down and Sulk) were both more acceptably polished and more outlandish. Indeed their first major label signing saw them packed off to the studio to remix this whole album for re-release - but it now stands as a worthy document on its own. Few bands today would dare to be so audacious...


Tin Machine

A remarkable recording for many reasons, the debut of Tin Machine predates by nearly five years much of the guitar-oriented alternative pop that followed the grunge explosion of 1991-1992. This does not sound like Bowie in a band; missing are the quirkiness and theatrics that characterize much of Bowie's solo work. This is a band with a band attitude, not exactly what the fans were wanting at the time. Stunt guitarist Reeves Gabrels provides much in the way of ambient guitar solos, not unlike Adrian Belew's work. Drummer Hunt Sales provides a sticky tenor vocal similar to Bowie's own voice in a higher register; they blend very well together. The music is hard-edged guitar rock with an intelligence missing from much of the work of that genre at the time. Highlights include the emotional "Prisoner of Love" and the driving "Under the God." The band does a rocking rework of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero," with a killer machine-gun fire-sounding riff that permeated the track. The strongest analogue to Bowie's earlier work is a five-minute number toward the beginning of the record called "I Can't Read"; with its deliberately out-of-tune guitars and half-hearted vocals, it's a nice piece of artistry. This record would have been more popular had it been released five or six years later.

By the end of 1987, David Bowie had been a superstar for 15 years. Mentioned in the same breath as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, Bowie was a very wealthy man with hit albums, movie roles and top-grossing concert tours. However, the sheen of pop stardom faded after the mega-excess of the Glass Spider tour. “Being shoved into the Top 40 scene was an unusual experience,” Bowie admitted during an interview at the time. “It was great I’d become accessible to a huge audience … but not terribly fulfilling.” The tour was financially in the black, but the reviews from critics were harsh, causing Bowie to question the authenticity of his music and the nature of superstardom. He wasn’t interested in being a greatest-hits singer, but was eager to reinvent himself once again.
The creation of Tin Machine, with Bowie as lead singer, would be the path to his reinvention. And although the band released only two studio albums (the first of which was released on May 22, 1989) and one live album in its brief lifespan, Tin Machine became David Bowie’s musical redemption.
The group was created as a way for Bowie to purge his past while making his usual deft assault on the market. The first part of that statement certainly turned out to be accurate. Bowie teamed up with Reeves Gabrels, Hunt Sales and Tony Sales to form a band where every member was equal. Favouring jamming with each other versus having a songwriter bring in lyrics and a demo for the group to learn, Tin Machine were a cathartic experience for all involved.
The Sales brothers were part of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life tour with Bowie, while Gabrels was a relatively recent musical partner Bowie met during the Glass Spider tour. Together, they were ready to create music that weaved in their influences from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. Bands like Cream, the Pixies and Jimi Hendrix were all mentioned as key influences in Tin Machine’s sound. And from the opening track of their record, the bluesy “Heaven’s in Here,” it’s clear that a kind of British interpretation of blues was part of the group’s sound; a sound that was grittier than most rock bands in the music business at the time.
Even the way the album was recorded (live takes, few overdubs, and no finessing the lyrics), was at odds with production standards of the day. It took a certain leap of faith on the part of the engineers to trust in the way they wanted to record.
The band relished its unorthodox approach and the creative freedom this process produced, ignoring the modern rules of recording. The result was an unvarnished, proto-grunge sound that had Gabrels’ screeching, yet melodic, guitar at one end, the Sales brothers adding deep, rhythmic foundations of drums and bass on the other. Bowie remained at the centre, an angry middle-aged man.
Tin Machine’s sound was ahead of its time. As such, when the band made its 1989 debut, the general reaction seemed to be collective confusion. Rolling Stone, MTV and Melody Maker all gave Tin Machine fairly positive press, but the majority of the media simply savaged the group. Many of Bowie’s fans were not pleased with the music, either. Few knew what to make of a bearded Bowie simply serving as a singer in a hard rock band.