Pretty Vacant

In comments to the last post, Alex called me out on my nomination of the Sex Pistols as the “Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated”. I wanted to craft a short pithy response, but I don’t do pithy particularly well (snarky? rude? condescending? Oh, I can do that). So in my attempt to justify my choice, I ended up with something that seemed a bit much for a comment box.

First, some personal history. I’m too young to have any concurrent memories of the class of ’77 (at 4 1/2 I was all about Batman). Add in the fact that I’m not British, and the very particular cultural and social references the Pistols make don’t translate. As a topper, I grew up in a rural/suburban setting and the “disaffected urban youth” identifier doesn’t carry any significance.

Bereft of this ancillary weight, I have only the music – Never Mind The Bollocks and a few scattered singles (I don’t hold the continued desecration of the corpse of their short career against them). What to make of it; a few songs I really like, namely “Bodies” and “E.M.I.”; a few I don’t mind, say “Pretty Vacant” and their Stooge-lite version of “No Fun”; the might-have-been-revolutionary-now-not-so-much-fun-even of “God Save The Queen” and “Anarchy In The U.K.” (both of which are innocuous), and stuff I can’t remember because I didn’t care enough to pay attention.

Culturally, I’ve read about their importance, and understand it as an historic truth. The two Julian Temple films, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury, are both really interesting documents, and really hammer home the non-musical importance of the Pistols; but nothing I’ve seen, read or heard makes me understand the importance of their music. It really wasn’t about the music, was it? How can it be, when the Stooges and Ramones did it better before, the Clash did it better at the same time, and soon thereafter the Dead Kennedys took it further than little Johnny Lydon and company (as did little Johnny with PiL, the much, much better band)? I understand that the Clash and the DKs wouldn’t have existed without the Pistols, but that’s further proof of their importance to the musical culture, not their music’s worth on it’s own.

I don’t see how they can’t be part of the Inaugural Class of the Academy of the Overrated based solely on the 40-odd minutes of mid-tempo mediocrity that they released in their short lifespan. Their historic import will always be there; an inarguably important band for what they did, not for what they put on tape.

A Few Questions Answered

Phil (of Running The Voodoo Down) asked his reader’s to answer a series of questions and post them in his comments. I thought they were interesting enough to share with my readers and to make the same request to fill up my comment box. What follows are Phil’s questions and my answers:

1) What song or album did you have to listen to multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it
Kinks – Muswell Hillbillies. Ended up being my favorite Kinks album, but it didn’t sound like anything I liked about the Kinks.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
Sex Pistols. Wonderful product, horrible music.

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another song within a song
AC/DC – “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. I still smile when he throws “TNT” and “High Voltage” as possible ways to ff the offending personage.

4) Favorite Stax/Volt song
Only one… today, it’s “Able Mable”. Tomorrow could be “Bootleg”, or “You Don’t Miss Your Water” or a dozen other tracks.

5) Your favorite music video
I haven’t watched many videos since I was a kid, but I still like “Sledgehammer” and maybe “Sabotage”.

6) Nas or Jay-Z?
Nas, but more by default than choice. I’ve always gritted my teeth at Jay-Z’s habit of lazily falling off the beat. If the line you write is meant to fit the rhythm in a tight and meticulous fashion (as opposed to MCs who play off the beat like jazz soloists, working to accentuate their rhymes and flow), then hit the mark. Don’t drift away on the fifth line, never to return.

7) Song or album that, despite being from a genre you don’t typically follow, led you to appreciate that genre’s possibilities
I’m not big on the ambient or post-rock genres, but the MONO/World’s End Girlfriend album Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain is one of the best things I’ve heard in the last six months. Evocative and beautiful.

8) Favorite Rolling Stones song
“Little T&A”, but I’m not much of a Stones fan.

9) The Clash or the Ramones?
The Clash, but the best of both are pretty unimpeachable.

10) What song can make a shitty day seem less shitty?
“Bring It On Home To Me” – Sam Cooke, from Live At The Harlem Square Club.

11) Conversely, what song can make you wish you were deaf, at least temporarily, whenever it comes on the radio/TV/grocery store PA?
“Paradise By The Dashboard Light” – Meatloaf fills me with thoughts of violence, pure white hot rage.

12) Favorite James Brown song
“Licking Stick-Licking Stick”, from Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.

13) Beck or Bjork?
Bjork by a landslide. Excepting Mutations, I could pretty much leave all of Beck’s catalog alone.

14) What is the most inventive usage of a sample you’ve ever heard?
I’m unsure of what is really the heart of this question – I’ve been surprised (say, Timbaland sampling Area Code 615 for Bubba Sparxxx), I’ve been impressed (Paul’s Boutique), but inventive? Maybe the Butthole Surfers with “22 Going On 23” – they took a radio call in help show and made the most disturbing, menacing and dark thing I’ve ever heard.

15) Robert Christgau once wrote that “All good rock and roll risks fascism simply by generating mass energy, and much of it flirts with sexism simply by exploring the music’s traditional subject matter. Sometimes the risks are worth it, sometimes they aren’t.” What are your favorite examples of the former and the latter?
I don’t see any truth in this statement.

16) Favorite Miles Davis song
Not really a fan, but I like some of the late 60s quintet recordings, say “Nefertiti”.

17) Favorite song about comic book characters
“Alley Oop”.

18) Betty Davis or Millie Jackson?
Death.

19) Your favorite, or most despised, lyrical cliché
People as food stuffs in a sexual way is rather tired.

20) Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction — yes or no?
Yes. Still a great hard rock album, big dirty riffs and Axl as sleaze vs. creep.

21) Favorite Wu-Tang verse
Haven’t cared since 95.

22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated
Slade. Nothing quite like them, and they were pretty much solid gold from 71-75.

23) Your favorite rock song to not use guitar (or favorite jazz song to not use piano, or favorite rap song to not use samples/scratching)
Rap song: Devin The Dude – “Brairpatch”.

24) MF DOOM or Madlib?
Better together, like Peanut Butter & Jelly, but Operation: Doomsday is better than the Madlib I’ve heard.

25) Your favorite live album
Sam Cooke – Live At The Harlem Square Club.

26) What alternate take/demo version/remix do you like more than the original version?
Elvis Costello – “Green Shirt (demo)”.

27) Favorite song on which Duane Allman plays guitar
Wilson Pickett – “Hey Jude”.

28) Portishead or Massive Attack?
Portishead.

29) Your favorite Captain Beefheart song title
“I Wanna Find A Woman That’ll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go” from Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

30) As a music fan, what do you want from a music critic, or from music criticism? And where do you see music criticism in general headed?
I want less reviews and more thought. Prior to the last few years, reviews were critical because most music being reviewed the reader would never hear. Now you can sample almost anything, whether through online stores, band or label websites, myspace, etc. I would love to read more criticism that aimed less at telling me what something is (press releases are everywhere, too), but more on why I should listen, how does it succeed or fail, how should I listen to better understand. For example, I’m trying to familiarize myself with metal after a 15-year hiatus; what should I be listening for in the new Neurosis or in Ulver? What was necessary in the 200-word print review seems lazy in the modern world of online media; shorthands like “typical tech/death metal” don’t tell anyone unfamiliar with a significant portion of that genre anything at all – what about it is typical, and what makes it tech/death metal?

This is where blogs and forums become so important. People who have the breadth of knowledge can share that with people who may not, and can do so with only the limitation of their own desire.

Reason #1068 To Love Robyn Hitchcock

Not that anyone should need more than a song or two to understand the need to embrace his demented genius, but Robyn Hitchcock articulates things I can’t quite grasp, and manages to do so with a quiet beauty. The Guardian today asked “tastemakers” for their opinion on who excited them during last weekend’s SXSW festival. Robyn chose Elvis Perkins (whom I’ve mentioned a few times here, and whose recent debut Ash Wednesday really fulfills much of the promise of his demos), and hits on much I’ve wanted to say and adds the requisite Hitchcock twist:

“He looks like Another Side of Bob Dylan-era Dylan – the button-down shirt, mouth-harp and the hair going up – crossed with Rolling Thunder-era Dylan 10 years later with the upright bass. But the mood of the music isn’t Dylan-y at all; it’s quite ramshackle and very direct, passionate but not self-conscious. He didn’t appear to take himself too seriously. There’s a very interesting story to his life but the music that came out of it wasn’t what you’d expect. He’s got quite a feisty band, with a bass player who looks like Chuck Norris and a drummer who looks as if he must know how frightening he looks. And what with having two names that come from the Million Dollar Quartet – as in Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins; it’s like being called Roy Cash – he is, as we say, so a story. One to watch.”

Headed For The Light

The music news of the day most likely to be greeted with eye-rolling and WTFs from my meager readership, but that lit up my eyes like a Nintendo 64, is that my beloved Wilbury’s are traveling back into print. According to Billboard, not only are they re-emerging, but with bells, whistles, garlands and a prom dress from 1958:

“Traveling Wilburys Volume 1” and “Traveling Wilburys Volume 3” will be available together in one package with bonus tracks and a DVD of rare footage, as a deluxe linen-bound edition, a vinyl set and a digital bundle. The DVD boasts a 24-minute documentary and five music videos.

Now I remember Vol. 3 as a big steamy pile, but to get Vol. 1 with bonus tracks (including the never officially released Dylan song “Like A Ship”) and those ass-tastick videos they made just makes me giddy. I wrote about Vol. 1 back in the day, and I see no possible way to better encapsulate my feelings than to raid my own, sad, dilapidated archive.

I Scream For Crow

After too much basketball (though my craving for hoops is not easily sated, the opening weekend of March Madness can often be like a sugar high; this year was sweeter than expected, in that the lack of upsets in the first round led to a hotly contested second that was as good as any in recent memory), I need a reset. I wrote in December about my first taste of The Goslings, and how that was a cleanser to a cluttered mind. My mind isn’t so befuddled as to crave such a Zen-like sense of nothing, but thanks (again) to Ian I can turn to the missing middle album, Between The Dead, and be refreshed versus be remade.

Between The Dead (currently out-of-print, but it will hopefully be saved a la Spaceheater/Perfect Interior) is more than just the missing piece of my Goslings collection; it is the link between the ambient noisescapes of Spaceheater and the aural assault of Grandeur. I think this is most easily understood when one considers the three albums use of space. On the EPs, many of the songs contained open space that was bookended by noise. This space was eliminated with extreme prejudice on Grandeur. On Between The Dead, the places for space are painted and filled with a light wash – a held note, an a capella (though not unprocessed) vocal – that help the songs to differentiate out of noise into discrete entities.

That is not to say Between The Dead is not a noisy, visceral listen; far from it. The guitar tone I expected from hearing Grandeur Of Hair (I would describe it as a thick, smoky burn; not fast like fire but the slow, unstoppable immolation of a blackening magma flow) is in full effect, the rolling cymbals still crash like swords on shields, the voices ring and pierce like oscillating sine waves (though they are more distinct and carry a menacing sneer, as on the opening track, “Crow For Day”). But all these things are easily discernible if not intelligible, and I find I can follow each part of the whole. The effect is not quite so overwhelming, and in some respects may be the better for it. I can do something like write this post and hope to be somewhat coherent, whereas I find I don’t really exist think function while listening to Grandeur.

I want to stress it is not a bridge album in the sense that it is merely a path from here to there, a last piece in the puzzle; Between The Dead is a good album all by itself. To revive the My Bloody Valentine comparison I cited in my prior post, Between The Dead reminds me of Isn’t Anything. A high-water mark in their comparative careers, the two albums share to me a sense of reaching a creative peak, one in which their prior work only hinted at as a possibility. To make the comparison all the more personally apt, I heard these earlier works only after being “thrown in the deep end”, so to speak, with Loveless and Grandeur Of Hair. So though they are both solid works, they are overshadowed to some degree by their denser, noisier, petulant and more frightening younger brothers.

I’m glad I have it now, and I do truly enjoy and recommend it. Having a Goslings album that can fit into a lifestyle is a great and wonderful thing.

Pods and Sods

Hello all – just wanted to let you know I’m still doing podcasts. To be honest, it is a bit easier than typing right now so I did two this week.

Follow the link in the sidebar if you’re interested.

And once I can type more comfortably (hopefully next week) I have something percolating about the Gosling’s Between The Dead, their album prior to the mind-blowing Grandeur Of Hair.