Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bug Powder Dust

One-man electronica act Bomb the Bass, also known as Tim Simenon, helped to popularise the idea of the DJ as a bona fide artist, with his run of innovative dance singles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, giving rise to what will eventually be known as DJ culture. Simenon also helped to develop what would subsequently become the trip-hop genre with 1991's 'Unknown Territory' album, which introduced more textural qualities to the electronica scene of the time. However, it is with 1994's 'Clear' album that he really established his credentials as a sound stylist of substance. 'Clear' still constitutes an excellent example of the progressive directions electronica is capable of in the hands of the right man, being a multi-faceted work that bristles with all manner of cabalistic sub-genres, running a triumphant gamut from ferocious industrial pop and sample-based hip-hop to dark-hued, earth-shaking dub and rave-inspired techno. Check out one of the bona fide highlights from 'Clear', the remarkable, propulsive 'Bug Powder Dust', featuring notorious performance artist Justin Warfield on guest vocals. This freeform advocation of recreational drug usage, laden with numerous references to William Burroughs's 'Naked Lunch', is wrapped up in a wildly oscillating, full-fledged, mutated-electronic thrash-metal jacket, and backed by a hallucinatory, hazy, travelogue-themed video.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wild is the Wind

This might be hard to accept now, but there was a time in the mid-1970s when David Bowie was coked up beyond belief, suffering from a prolonged bout of substance addiction and chronic depression. But, as the late, lamented Nick Drake once whispered, the darkest shadows can give the brightest light, and Bowie produced some of his best works in the aforementioned era, even as he would later claim that he couldn’t remember much of what went on. ‘Station to Station’ from 1976 was a schizophrenic, dual-natured tribute to classic Motown soul and electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. There’s virtually no filler on the album, but Bowie’s cover of the old Tin Pan Alley standard ‘Wild is the Wind’ is a particular standout. Arguably Bowie’s most passionate vocal accomplishment is present here, and producer Tony Visconti had the sense to secure Bowie’s ghostly yet affecting croon to an immaculate, pristine, jazz-tinged backdrop, bringing out the soulful quotient of the song admirably. Chacek out the starkly simple, yet brilliantly effective black-and-white promo clip of Bowie and his band in action working their virtuosic way through this vintage love song.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Drugs Don’t Work

The monumental ‘Urban Hymns’ from 1997 rightfully remains the Verve’s magnum opus, by dint of its incredibly focused songwriting, epically ambitious production values, and some of the Wigan group’s most virtuosic performances ever. While the towering, larger-than-life loser’s invective ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ instantly takes the prize as the album’s most recognisable single, no less noteworthy is the heart-rending, woefully woebegone break-up saga ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’. Adorned with appropriately weepy pedal-steel guitar riffs, a maudlin orchestral arrangement, and a highly affecting vocal from ‘Mad’ Richard Ashcroft, this modern classic torch song justifiably charted at the top spot on the British singles chart. Check out a passionate performance captured on the venerable 'Later With Jools Holland' variety show.

Saturday, July 03, 2010


One of the brightest and most promising bands of the late 1980s and early 1990s was Glasgow-based Deacon Blue, who managed to score a string of Top 40 hits in their native Britain before disbanding in the mid-1990s (thankfully, in an amicable manner, and not in any “classic” intra-band implosion like a thousand others).
But during the group’s glory days, fans were consistently treated to highly melodic, pleasantly intelligent (but hardly awash in the sort of witty cynicism displayed by someone like Morrissey), and top-quality pop songs that are unfailingly accessible, but never condescending to the level of swamping listeners with clichéd, histrionic sentiments.

Of course, much of Deacon Blue’s success can be attributed to the songwriting of frontman Ricky Ross, surely one of the most criminally underrated singer-songwriters to emerge from the British blue-eyed soul scene of the late 20th century. Some might charge that Ross is nothing more than a Scottish version of Bruce Springsteen, with the same sort of song topics: urban desolation, working-class concerns, general social issues and that dependable standby, unrequited love.

However, the point is that Ross never engaged in the rabble-rousing grandstanding that the Boss is partial to on occasion, and while his band never quite tasted the sort of global glory that Springsteen’s E Street Band revelled in, they made enough of a name in the British Isles during their time to still be remembered fondly today.

Deacon Blue's defining album remains their 1987 debut, the fabulously dour 'Raintown', basically a candid, no-holds-barred musical commentary on their perpetually rain-lashed and wintry hometown. The title track (preceded by an abbreviated piano-and-voice snippet called 'Born in a Storm') is a rational start to the record, its dramatically windswept, rain-lashed atmospherics hardly diminished by the march of time.

'Ragman' and 'Loaded' are also strong entries in Deacon Blue’s oeuvre, two basic but highly ear-friendly soul-pop tunes that tell of the drudgeries of working in dead-end jobs. The hit singles from 'Raintown' are placed squarely in the middle of the album, and they thoroughly deserve such strategic positioning. The strident 'Dignity' is still one of the best expressions of everyman defiance in the face of overwhelming economic odds ever recorded, while the slide guitar-enhanced tale of unrequited love, 'Chocolate Girl', mines the country-pop vein with customary aplomb.

The three members of now-defunct British soul collective Londonbeat are brought in to lend backing-vocal weight to the yearning lost-love ditty 'When Will You Make My Telephone Ring', adding an interesting counterpoint to Ross’s raspy lead vocal. And finally, the resentful, angry 'Town to Be Blamed' is an apt ending, basically a denunciation of the evils of union-destroying Thatcherism.

In retrospect, the music on 'Raintown' remains startlingly fresh and soulful, despite its age, and also contains some of Ross’s most inspired songwriting. Deacon Blue did put out more stylistically varied albums since 'Raintown', but, confessional, revealing, heartfelt and intuitive as it is, this one will be remembered as a particular highlight in the band’s repertoire. A hugely underrated album that deserves to be introduced to a new generation of listeners.