Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Art Of Noise A-Z Of Music: P

Back after a week off - and this week's installment is a bumper edition. So get yourself a cup of tea, get your feet up and get reading...

P is for …

… packaging (Ben)

In the light of my contribution on nobodies a couple of weeks ago, you might be expecting this to be an analysis of the way pop stars and bands are constructed, marketed and sold to the public. But no, it’s not – and in any case, that sort of thing is best left to someone who’s studied the machinations of the industry in detail. Like Jez.

No, I’m talking about packaging in the physical, tangible sense: the record sleeve, the CD cover, the inlay booklet. And the reason for this? I’m obsessed with it: the way it looks, the touch of the paper or card, even the smell...

This obsession goes back pretty much as far as my love of music itself. I can remember studying the fold-out inlay of my copy of Appetite For Destruction, marvelling at the sight of the bunch of bedraggled, long-haired, tattooed, whisky-supping bad ass motherfuckers pictured therein and wondering what that cartoon image was all about.

After Nevermind condemned Guns ‘N’ Roses to the dustbin (literally) and grunge got me firmly in its grip, for a long time my two favourite albums were Superunknown by Soundgarden and Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins, both of which had incredibly visually rich booklets that could keep me engrossed for practically the full duration of the records (and I hasten to add that they’re both very long).

In part this obsession stems from an interest in a band’s choice of cover and artwork. Of course, certain album covers – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dark Side Of The Moon – have become iconic, but there are countless albums I can think of in which the artwork complements the music perfectly. Will Schaff’s horrifically bleak line drawings for Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven and Kid Dakota’s The West Is The Future are particularly striking – all grim skull-faced people, suffering, despair and death. Similarly, remove the dustbin lid CD of Therapy?’s Troublegum from its tray and you discover the bin’s filled with an assortment of unsavoury objects (bloodied knife, syringe, porn mag, dead rat) just as the album itself is stuffed full of an assortment of unsavoury tracks.

Another attraction of album packaging is that inlay booklets can enlighten and inform. When the lyrics are printed, they’re a much more reliable guideline than the array of websites which claim to have them right. Always useful when you want to try and follow Nick Cave’s ranting and raving on the fifteen-minute-long ‘Babe, I’m On Fire’, or the lyrical thread of your average Fiery Furnaces song. Did she just say: "I shared a Woodpecker cider with a local fratricider"? Er, yes. Did he really just say: “I wanted to be a typewriter mender when I grew up, / But things didn’t work out so”? Yes, he did. And equally useful when you want to find out who that is playing the kazoo on track ten. And then there are the thank you lists – a real point of interest.

The most striking and original packaging of recent years? Well, personally I love Sigur Ros’s ( ) which, in keeping with the title-less album and songs, comes with a blank-paged booklet that you can fill in yourself, and the folded funeral programme that accompanies The Arcade Fire’s debut full-length. Radiohead can be relied upon for consistently innovative packaging; the secret booklet beneath the CD tray for Kid A, the hard-back library style book for Amnesiac, the fold-out poster for Hail To Thief (which I treasure, even though it is very fragile and a bugger to accommodate in CD racks).

I guess that this obsession of mine in part stands behind my distaste for burning and downloading albums. The way a record is packaged is not peripheral to but inseparable from the record itself, it often seems to me (as inextricable as a single and video, for instance), and so burning and downloading means you get something that is incomplete. Which is why, though I might baulk at describing myself as such in other contexts, when it comes to packaging I’m an unashamed materialist.

… Pato Banton (RussL)

I find that I generally half-remember many of the hits of yesteryear in a similar sort of way. ‘Baby Come Back’ was, formerly, a typical example.

COME BACK! / Something something something something / BABY COME BACK! / Something something something something / And my CD COLLECTION! / Of BOB MARLEY! / COME BACK!

And so forth.

For a long time, that’s all I remembered Pato Banton for. One faintly embarrassing big chart hit, with that line about his “CD COLLECTION! / Of BOB MARLEY!” A recent quick ask-around of my meagre few friends saw them thinking similarly. Is it fair, though?

Some years ago I did a college course, in which one particular task we were set to complete was to organise a gig in that fine institution’s drama hall. Naturally, we needed a line-up that would appeal to a broad spectrum and a name headliner. A flash of genius descended on one of our number – his cousin’s mate’s girlfriend (or whoever) knew PATO BANTON. What, THE Pato Banton? “CD collection of Bob Marley” Pato Banton?

Why not. It’ll be a laugh, eh?

It turned out to be a bit more than that, on the night. After drawing the raffle (ooh, there wasn’t half controversy. I still maintain that it wasn’t a fix. This is another story), he gave a little speech about how it was good to see youths like us doing something positive such organising an event for other youths like us, rather than robbing old ladies and stampeding cattle (or whatever kids do these days) out on road. So far, so laudable-but-ever-so-slightly-platitudinous. It would have long since been forgotten had it not led into the a-capella song he performed. I don’t know the name of it to this day, but in many a-year of gig going there have been few individual songs I’ve found quite as moving. A tale of the hardship of modern life both vilified and pathetically mitigated by those who simply try to ascribe blame unto the few, delivered by a voice that could bring a tear to the steeliest eye of the toughest road yoot.

There was a bit more to this Pato Banton individual than the fact that he owned a CD collection of Bob Marley. Evidently, he’d actually listened to and learned from it.

As a postscript, I recently had the pleasure of seeing him perform a couple of songs at The Barfly in Birmingham (with the wonderful Yaz Alexander on backing vocals). One of them was ‘Baby Come Back’. You can probably see the ending of this ramble coming, but nonetheless - yes, it was a MUCH better song than I remembered.

… Pavement (Jonathan)

Some random things I love about Pavement.

They were simultaneously perfect and perfectly flawed, and I listen to them every single day, still.

Unfinished sentences: the closing moments of Crooked Rain's epic finale, 'Fillmore Jive'; my god, when Steve croons: "When they pull out the plugs and they snort up the drugs.... They pull out the plugs and they snort up the drugs.... their throats are filled with...”. One more bass note and the record is complete. What? Filled with what? Or 'Give It A Day', where a lovely, rare moment of Malkmus directness is buried like an unpolished jewel at the close of this playful whimsy - one moment Steve is singing about Arab terrorists and the next he's whining: "Your father, he's another one of them, I don't wanna mention him again cause I talked to him last night, he hates my guts, we had a fight and he called you a slut, girl, why's that? What did you do to him to make him think...”. The sentence hangs unfinished in the air. So, yeah, unfinished sentences.

The jokes: "What about the voice of Geddy Lee?", Steve asks on 'Stereo', "How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?". Suddenly Bob Nastonovich chips in, "I know him. And he does", to which Steve replies: "Then you're my fact checking cuz”.

Slow burners: Take 'Fight This Generation', for example; a first half of slow, half-formed indie rock with Malkmus whining "What you got to prove? Who you gonna screw?" before the song drifts into oblivion. And then all of a sudden a Sonic Youth-y riff and synthesiser squeal herald a stunning Krautrock finish with Steve sighing “Fight this generation” half-heartedly over the top. Totally unexpected and quite brilliant. Or the laid-back 'Speak, See, Remember', which meanders along like a nondescript Steely Dan / Creedence homage for a couple of minutes. There's really nothing to it. And then it's somehow, invisibly changed. "God loves you but what he could do?", Malkmus asks, now so laid-back and non-committal he's putting on a silly voice. A piano tinkles into silence. Then, wallop, the song, several minutes late, arrives fully formed. It's gorgeous.

Not even bothering to work out the lyrics: Anyone tried to decipher "One of us is a cigar stand and one of us is a lovely blue incandescent guillotine”? No, me neither. Or how about "Like a docent's lisp, like a damsel's spit, like a dry gin's twist (of lime)", which the fifteen year Jonathan used to holler along with, while my parents exchanged strange looks. "Like a poor droll sir, like a pike's dull spurs, like a pastor's flock (of sheep)”.

They hate Billy Corgan: Who can forget the impossibly lovely and deliciously petulant 'Range Life's “out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins...” line? But even better was the way Malkmus used to start Terror Twilight's 'Billie' when they played it live. "Billy my friend the saint", he sang, "you're perfect in so many ways. But you never wrote a song and you never lit a bong and you are just a motherfucking loser”. A while ago Malkmus played 'Range Life' on his acoustic at a solo gig. He forgot half the words and changed others. Everyone wondered if he'd let the Pumpkins line go. He sang it straight, although he amended the end to "...and I could really give a fuck, F.U.C.K FUCK YOU!", proving he's as winningly brattish as ever.

They just didn't give a fuck: "She's so lackadaisical", Malkmus sighed over 'Texas Never Whispers's immaculate buzzsaw pop, "Should have been a West Coast bride”. They never even got round to living in the same state, never mind living in a house together or, y'know, rehearsing.

They gave a fuck: Malkmus did write from the heart sometimes, and when he did it was delightful; how about in 'Spit On A Stranger', when he sings "Honey I'm a prize and you're a catch and we're a perfect match. Like two bitter strangers. And now I've seen the long and short of it and I can make it last".

Slanted And Enchanted: Which is a Swell Maps meets Fall lo-fi masterpiece in a league of it's own.

Watery, Domestic EP: Four perfect, precise indie rock classics. "I've got style, miles and miles, so much style that it's wasted”, Malkmus sings, truthfully.

Crooken Rain, Crooked Rain: Which is a near perfect, swooning blend of art-rock and AOR and probably my favourite album of all time.

Wowee Zowee: Which is the Trout Mask Replica of the 90s; confusing, strange, inconsistent, and peerless.

Pacific Trim EP: Four songs thrown away in a day, and frequently hilarious and gorgeous.

Terror Twilight: The record I learned to love; Pavement are all grown up, and then gone forever.

As you'll have noted, it's completely impossible for me to put together any coherent reasoning behind why I love Pavement. I love them for all the reasons above, and plenty more which are far more sensible and true. They will always be my band.

… pedal steel (Skif)

Is there any more precious sound than the delicate, mournful trill of the pedal steel guitar? I doubt I would have come to love country music if it wasn’t for the heavy usage of steel in the genre.

I used to abhor country music, saying things like “I love all music, except country”. Mind you I was a teenager living with country-liking parents at the time. That may explain my belligerence. Think it was Conway Twitty’s ‘Blue Is The Way That I Feel’ that swayed me initially with Johnny Cash (although not an advocate of the steel himself) and the acts reeling me in proper. Why? It has to be the peal of the steel.

Now lap steel, dobros, Hawaiians, whatever you want to call it, are great instruments, in fact I own one – I can’t play it (or any instrument) but it was a kind gift considering my penchant for its sound.

However the real daddy is the pedal steel, where the instrument comes off the lap and is treated like a piano – a stool and nifty feet required. What makes this the slightly superior instrument is the way the pedals can tighten or relax the strings in various combinations at once and therefore bend the notes through live re-tuning. It is this bend which creates the emotive hook, tugging hard at your empathy. Cynics might suggest this jolts out the emotion rather than letting it flow. I say a kick up the arse can often be just the thing you need.

If there is a God, and he is in a band, I see him with thumb and finger-picks on the fingers of his left hand, a metal slide in his right. That is not to say that country is God’s music, as much as some exponents would like to think it is, as the steel guitar, both kinds, are utilised in other places too. Hefner used it successfully in their later period, jazz, blues and jùjú players have worked with extensively, while The KLF centred their ambient classic Chill Out LP around its gorgeous whine.

Indeed, one track on that record is entitled ‘Elvis On The Radio, Steel Guitar In My Soul’. What more, really, could you ever want?

… ‘Piano Man’ – Billy Joel (Swiss Toni)

It's nine o'clock on a Saturday / The regular crowd shuffles in / There's an old man / Sitting next to me / Makin' love to his tonic and gin”.

Is Billy Joel naff? Is it a bit embarrassing to say that you like his records? Is it the kind of middle-of-the-road, easy listening nonsense that I should be sneering at? Should I be rebelling against his music purely on the grounds that my mum and dad might like him? His music is probably included on free CD giveaways with the Mail On Sunday ? I mean, come on – isn’t it enough of a warning sign that he regularly tours with Elton John?

Do you know what? I don’t care. I think Billy Joel is a genius.

He says, ‘Son, can you play me a memory / I'm not really sure how it goes / But it's sad and it's sweet and I knew it complete / When I wore a younger man's clothes’”.

I first became aware of him in 1983 when I was nine years old and watching ‘Top Of The Pops’ before going to bed. I watched with some amusement as this funny sad-eyed guy danced around in a mechanic’s overalls singing his number one single. It was extremely catchy and it stuck in my mind for days afterwards – one of my earliest ever earworms. I’ve still got a massive soft-spot for that song today, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered that there was a lot more to Billy Joel than ‘Uptown Girl’.

La la la, de de da / La la, de de da da dum”.

In 1989 I heard a Greatest Hits compilation, and was introduced to some of his other work: ‘Only The Good Die Young’, ‘Honesty’, ‘Allentown’, ‘Tell Her About It’, ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, ‘Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’, ‘Leningrad’, ‘New York State Of Mind’ and this song, his signature tune, ‘Piano Man’.

Sing us a song, you're the piano man / Sing us a song tonight / Well, we're all in the mood for a melody / And you've got us feelin' alright”.

He’s been massively successful – he’s sold 100m records worldwide and he’s the sixth best-selling recording artist in the USA, but for an artist with such a wide appeal, he’s famously geographically specific. Whether it’s taking the Greyhound on the Hudson River Line in ‘New York State Of Mind’ or sailing through Block Island Sound looking for stripers in ‘The Downeaster Alexa’, if it ain’t New York, it ain’t worth singing about. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that his songs have formed the basis for a Broadway musical: ‘Movin’ Out’.

Oh God. A Broadway musical based on his songs? Perhaps he is naff after all. Is Ben Elton involved?

Polly Jean Harvey (Caskared)

I have been listening to PJ Harvey since Sheela-Na-Gig in 1992. Her music helped my transition from pop heavy metal pre-teen to indie kid muso during my first year of high school. From her raw passion / aggression of Dry and Rid Of Me hitting me right in my early teenage years, through to Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea reaching me during my early career, I have related to Harvey’s music and the way it, and she, have grown over the years.

Radio 1 championed her from the beginning – I first heard her played by John Peel and then by Mark and Lard. Now her live material is aired by Radio 3, a sign of her standing as one of the finest performers in the UK. Each album captures a timely feel and work as whole pieces, in particular To Bring You My Love from 1994 with its characters interweaving like the recurring roma-esque acoustic guitar and tremelo strings and moog. Her songs ooze musicality, she finds melodies and riffs that create atmospheres for her lyrics. Her voice ranges from strongly matriarchal, to an aping male base register, to banshee screaming, always clear and commanding.

PJ Harvey’s live performances are tight and bizarrely joyous. I have seen her several times and hope to again. She toured with John Parrish, a stage band and dance troupe for Dance Hall at Louse Point. She and Parrish positioned at the periphery while the dancers took the music into a physical form. The performance was macabre and entrancing, PJ’s skeletal pale frame contrasted with the full voice and contorted sounds she could produce with such might. Playing at the Glasgow Barrowlands some years later I was struck by how happy she was to be performing. She beamed a charming grin throughout the night, regularly switching instrument. She lead her supporting band with a relaxed confidence, enjoying the full sound and power of the noise, and making comments in her Dorset accent between songs. I only wish I could have seen her legendary performance at Glastonbury in the electric pink catsuit or last year at the Royal Court.

She has won a plethora of awards from the Mercury Music Prize in 2001 for Stories From The City…, Artist Of The Year 1995 from Rolling Stone and Spin, and more recently 2005 Best International Female at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards and nominations for Grammys and Brits. She has recorded seven studio albums, defied pigeon-holing (journalists having tried to write her off as Riot Grrrl or Britpop), and has mellowed from the angry young artist but still pushing at what her music can be for where she is now.

… pomposity (Jez)

Nobody has ever said: “It was so pompous it was great”. Let’s face it, if that was the case Marie Antoinette would still have her head on her shoulders, albeit connected by placement nowadays and not a pleasurable sight at that.

Pomposity is like drunkenness; you have no idea you are in that condition and you spout complete and utter bollocks. And smell. So who takes the awards? This list could go on and on, therefore becoming a piece of pompous hubris, I’ll keep it down to five or I’ll get an anger-induced heart attack:

Geldof – Give your own fookin’ money and fook off.

Hewson – Sell the castle; stop spending millions on lawyers’ fees over a pair of bloody trousers and get on the bus with that idiot from above.

Anything whatsoever to do with Queen – Aaaaaaaarrrgh!

Early Genesis – No, it wasn’t art, it was shite.

Cowell – I should’ve written about him for C, and it wouldn’t have stood for his surname.

… Portishead (Pete)

Apparently, Portishead are releasing their new album soon. No. Really. Eight… no, nine years after the release of Portishead, I (and I suspect quite a few others) am still waiting for that fricking third album. Get a move on chaps, glaciers move quicker than your recording sessions.

Apparently, Geoff Barrow is surprised that people thought the band had split up: "We've just had our heads down really, we've never actually broken up, or parted, or whatever. So for us it just seems, even though we haven't played for years, we still see each other and write - we just haven't released a record for a long time”. Well, you're a band, isn't that what you're supposed to do? Or have I missed something?

Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but these shades of the Stereo MCs are a little bit frustrating. In the meantime, Beth Gibbons might well have released an album with a more folky take on the material that she performed with Portishead, but it's not quite the same. After all, there aren't many artists who remain practically timeless. As much as I love Parklife, for example, it does occasionally sound a bit dated, probably because there've have been so many bands since then who've tried to emulate that record. Did someone say "Menswear"?

But Portishead have remained untarnished, and both albums still sound as fresh as when they first came out. To my ears anyway. So Adrian, Beth, Geoff and the rest of your merry crew, pull your fingers out, the world is crying out for another 'Roads', 'Glory Box', Cowboys' or 'All Mine'.

I'm still not sure about one thing: is Dummy better than Portishead?

… posture (drmigs)

No. Don't worry. This isn't an article for an online finishing school. There'll be no instructions to walk across the room with Jane Eyre balanced on your head whilst orating "My Pa drives a Jaguar, and drives it rather fa-st!" In fact, I'll be writing about the exact opposite.

Imagine the following. You're the lead singer in an up and coming band, your music's good, you've got an idea about your image, and you've got a gig booked. It's all cushty. Just one problem – what are you going to do with your body when you step up to the microphone? Whether you like it or not, as the band's front, it takes hard work to correct a bad impression made in the first ten seconds of a gig. The live performance is the bread-and-butter of the music industry, and the best musicians dominate an audience.

Bands who've cracked the formula have, at the very least, a lead singer with stage presence. Think Jarvis Cocker, think Shaun Ryder, think Mick Jagger, sod it, even think Shane McGowan. The way you sing the song – dictated by your body language - can be the difference between success and failure. A belting hit with a shy and unconvincing presentation, is just, well, wrong. The audience won't buy it. Similarly, an aggressively sung ballad just won't work. The right posture, or possibly the right posturing, is an important part of the act.

It goes further. You can go as far as saying that you can define the difference between bands by their posture at the mic. For want of the lazy example: Blur - pseudo-intellectual Londonites; Oasis - no nonsense Mancunians. Make up your own examples. There's an endless choice. Then there are the individuals. Would Bjork be the star she is without her tortured pop-pixie pose. Ditto Elton John, ditto Michael Jackson, ditto Alice Cooper. All talents in their own rights, but whose superstardom is embellished by having an understanding of what to do with their body.

I don't want to be mistaken here; a good posture at the mic., without the musical ability, is nothing. The ability to sing, but only sing, is quite a lot of the story. However, commanding the stage and being able to sing, that's where stars are born.

As already hinted, posture and stage presence is a knife that can cut both ways. I remember being bitterly disappointed after seeing the Cardigans live. The music was still their music, but they just stood / sat and assumed that you were as interested in what they were playing as they were. The audience didn't engage, and the whole thing fell flat. Also, there's nothing like a bad first impression, look like you're an insincere whiter-than-white boy-band, or British Gas call (centre) girls about to embark on a slut aerobics routine, and I'm afraid you've said enough already for me. I'm no longer 14.

You might not like to admit it, but in live music, and increasingly so in the age of the finely choreographed music video, your posture (just like your grandmother told you) is very important.

… The Proclaimers (Alison)

Who could fail to love twins Craig and Charlie Proclaimer? Actually, don’t answer that. Once the shame of all Scottish teenagers, I’m sensing a shift among my peers. ‘(I Would Walk) 500 Miles’ was the undoubted floor-filler at the last wedding I attended. And it wasn’t the normal Dexys Midnight Runners crew who were up on the floor, these were Madchester schooled Ibiza graduates. A poll, sponsored by Mr Smirnoff, revealed that more than half owned a copy of the duo’s Best Of album (though I may have accidentally asked some people twice).

I failed to see The Proclaimers twice last year. In early summer I missed the boat for their outdoor gig at Birmingham’s MAC. Having nothing better to do on the night, and in celebration of a mate’s birthday, a few of us went along anyway for “comedy”. To our surprise there was a whole crowd of other people listening over the wall. A few months later and the tent they were playing at the V Festival had reached capacity before I got there. My friend who made the effort to arrive early said it was the highlight of the festival (even if the crowds were singing “Na-na-na” over every song). My affection for the songs of Fife’s finest reached a peak in the autumn when I wrestled the microphone from a Chinese restaurant waiter and made my karaoke debut singing ‘Letter From America’ a-capella.

Original and proper fans of The Proclaimers would no doubt argue that the band was always cool, citing their famous TV debut on ‘The Tube’ and subsequent jamming of Channel 4 switchboards. But that certainly wasn’t the opinion round our school; we hated the geeky look, the whinging political lyrics, and especially hearing undisguised Scottish accents on radio and TV. As far as we were concerned, only SNP supporters, Aberdonians, and English people taking the pish could be buying these records. I’m not saying that I’ll be buying up the back catalogue, but I’m ready to admit that I actually don’t hate The Proclaimers.

… Propaganda (James)

And ZTT, and forgotten geniuses, and the rise of electronica.

I first heard Propaganda when a friend of mine introduced them to me. He was a huge fan of Whitney Houston and Tracey Ullman (yes… indeed) and so I was largely sceptical. However, he had somehow acquired P-Machinery and was playing it to me, and another small piece of my life fell into place. Cut to a year or two later, I had begun clubbing and one club that I went to (The State in Liverpool) would regularly play the rare remixed version of ‘Duel’ / ‘Jewel’. This band were never going to leave me.

Now, this was all fine in 1985-1987. People were generally within living memory of Propaganda and would understand why I considered them little short of genius. Even if they did not remember the band themselves, they did know the label, ZTT, and the more famous label-mates, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Art Of Noise. But if we cut forward 20 years, I have to be careful whom I mention them to. My highly knowledgeable CD dealer eyes me oddly when I mention them; friends look at me quaintly – “James does have his quirks…”. Others stare blankly.

This bothers me. I’ll admit that my appreciation is probably coloured by that time and place, and so is just a little more indulgent than someone who was not there, but first up; their debut LP A Secret Wish is excellent in every way; secondly, they, alongside The Art Of Noise, are a crucial step in the development of electronic music.

Propaganda only released one proper LP. It was preceded and followed by a handful of 12” remixes (collected on Outside World), followed by a remix LP Wishful Thinking, and a second LP 1234 (with only one of the original members and not on ZTT). But it is A Secret Wish I want to consider presently, and just to prove a little objectivity, I will mention its weaknesses first. There aren’t many. Principally, its dominant weakness, from the perspective of 2006, is the range of sounds chosen. Only the percussion sounds really hit the bottom end of the range; the bass sounds all have that 80s feel – heavy on attack, light on resonance. Overall, the sound is just too top-heavy, with the sonic-assault intended not quite having the chest-heaving “whoomph” required. A second problem, much more minor, is that for a band that did so much with its percussive sounds (relied upon them, no less), they never really broke away from a heavy 4:4 beat. It is sometimes disguised, but it is always there, ready to be revived once the assault begins again. This is partially a problem of technology perhaps, but from today’s perspective, it figures.

On the plus side, Propaganda were never short of adventurous in their sounds and textures, every track rewards repeated and close listens immensely. The textures are complex, and put together with the precision of 5,000 piece jigsaw. They are nothing short of exciting. In preparing this piece, I re-listened to both A Secret Wish and Outside World, and on several occasions I felt myself being physically drawn into the increasing volume and pace and intensity. It is rare that recordings are genuinely invigorating, but Propaganda fit that bill. They, as a band, achieve exactly what they set out to. The sleeve highlights the phrase (in typical ZTT fashion) “Without love, beauty and danger, it would almost be easy to live”, and Propaganda create that arena of a dangerous passion, exultant and yet somehow foreboding. They do not wish to be easy, and yet they do wish to be attractive. It is a tricky balancing act, but I believe that they manage it.

But what about this claim that they provide the crucial step in the development of electronic music? The Art Of Noise and Propaganda can both claim the accolade with their dynamic use of samples, instrumentation and textures; external samples used as additional layers to the music, spoken word, propulsive rhythms. Listen to the LP, or to their early 12”s and you will hear so many classics, still years away; 808 State’s ‘Pacific’ in ‘Dr. Mabuse’, Orbital’s ‘Belfast’ in ‘Dream Within A Dream’, Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’, early Warp Record releases.

Now, will people stop looking at me strangely…

… pulling (Paul)

It's impossible to extract sex from music.

I know that's a bold claim, but think about it.

So much of music has been written, or played for one primary reason, and that is to meet members of the opposite sex.

Franz Ferdinand memorably wanted to make music that girls would dance to. Elvis The Pelvis sold sex in the 50s. Beatlemania wasn't just about wanting to hold hands.

Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie are probably responsible for the conception of half the population of America, whilst in the UK Sting sang about stalking his-ex...

The beauty of music is that it transcends some boundaries, whilst at the same time it also reinforces others. In an instant, people with similar tastes and outlooks are brought together at gigs and clubs to listen to a shared passion, despite the fact that they might otherwise have different outlooks on life. It's there that people go to meet. Sure, the music might be a big draw, but so many people have at least one eye open for who's around them.

Granted some times and places are better designed for pulling than others.

Compare the slow last dance at the school disco with the middle of the mosh-pit on the last night at Glastonbury. One is an ideal chance to pull; the other is significantly more challenging, but no less fun.

Music may be an art form, but it's very clearly one designed to allow people to pull by showing off their best qualities, whether it be as musician, dancer or simply by displaying similar, subjectively excellent, musical taste.

* * * * *

Thanks to regulars Jonathan, Skif, Swiss Toni, Caskared, Jez, Pete, drmigs, Alison and Paul for their contributions, and welcome to our two new contributors RussL and James.


Blogger Ben said...

RussL: When my girlfriend was about nine, she had her balloon signed by Pato Banton at an outdoor gig. She's still got it...

Jonathan: You've picked out two of my very favourite Pavement lyrics there - the comedy exchange about Geddy Lee from 'Stereo' and that bizarre line about the "lovely blue incandescent guillotine" (can't remember the song, but it's on Brighten The Corners, isn't it?). High time I listened to them again.

Swiss Toni: You are a brave man with some of the things you've admitted to on this site...

Pete: I prefer Dummy, to be honest. And I really thought they'd split too...

Caskared: Stories From The City... is a splendid album!

Alison: Come now, there's no need to pretend - you love them really. Less of this faux-uncertainty...

5:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give two thumbs up (each) to the support for Billy Joel and The Proclaimers. Nuts to cool, I'm more bothered about good songs.

I saw The Proclaimers play in Wolverhampton last year, actually. They seem like a charming pair.

~ Russ L

6:18 pm  
Blogger stevedomino said...

yeah, cool-schmool. billy joel is a big favourite round at domino rally - i posted "Scenes From and Italian Restaurant" a while back and the download numbers went through the roof. he wrote great songs - a few stinkers too, but who doesn't?
also, propaganda were my favourite band when I was 12 - they were ALWAYS in smash hits. "a secret wish" is still great! 1 great album and then that's it ("1234" doesn't count, does it?) - if only more bands did the same!

7:31 am  
Blogger rashbre said...

NIce site, stumbled across after you hit mine for some lyrics?

I shall need some time to read this. On packaging, I generally throw most of the plastic stuff away, keep just the booklet and the round thing.

Now we are digital, whats the little box about?


7:19 pm  

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