Saturday, 5 August 2017

LINER NOTES: COME ON LET'S GO [2002]





  1. Five Years – David Bowie
  2. Captain Easychord – Stereolab
  3. Hard to Explain – The Strokes
  4. Idioteque – Radiohead
  5. Baby it’s the Best – Weird War
  6. Fell in Love with a Girl – The White Stripes
  7. Have You Seen Her Face – The Byrds
  8. Late Night – Syd Barrett
  9. Walking with Thee – Clinic
  10. The Modern Age – The Strokes
  11. Sunshine Superman – Donovan
  12. Powder Blue – Elbow
  13. Too Real – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
  14. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – 13th Floor Elevators
  15. Let it Run – Beachwood Sparks
  16. Come on Let’s Go – Broadcast
  17. Phantasies – Stephen Malkmus
  18. Dancing Days – Led Zeppelin
  19. Can't You Hear Me Knocking – Rolling Stones
  20. I Forgot – The Moldy Peaches
  21. Redfuchsiatamborine&gravel – David Candy

August 2001, in the beer garden at The Milford Arms. The former cohabitant from Brighton is regaling us with tales of his recent adventures in the Orient. He tells of Dionysian revelry on Thai beaches, of sharing rooms with rats and lizards and oversized insects, and the expediency of travelling light. It sounds exciting and terrifying in equal measure. The former cohabitant from Brighton is not the first friend of ours to engage in adventures of this kind: No Eyes has done a bit of it, as has the girl who used to live with my lady friend on the Isle of Dogs, and the brother of the guy who used to own a pager – who once threw mud at a cow – is constantly at it. Now, in our mid-twenties, there’s a sense that if any of us fancy a bit of this then we’d better get cracking.
Initially, I’m not very receptive to the idea but am gradually cajoled into it by my lady friend, as is the guy who passed out in Debenhams – with far greater ease than I. The logistics of the whole operation are a mystery to me. It’s something to get my head around. In the meantime I will need to curb my spending. My lifestyle is by no means extravagant but I earn a mediocre wage and will need enough money to cover my airfare to wherever it is we end up going, living costs whilst away, and a reasonable amount of money to tide me over on my return. Right now, it doesn’t bear thinking about...
 My disposable income broadly goes towards four things: drinking in pubs, eating out, buying records, and holidays (I am in the habit of buying most of my clothing from charity shops). I am not prepared to forgo a social life for the next 12 months but am open to negotiation on the other points. I will sacrifice visiting curry houses and the acquisition of full-priced vinyl and instead satisfy myself with the occasional fry-up and buying secondhand records of limited value. A third gite camp is regrettably out of the question, although I will find the cash for a short weekend away in Amsterdam, with my Cornish friend, my lady friend and the girl she lived with on the Isle of Dogs, and the guy who used to own a pager as well as his lady friend, who tenuously resembles 'brand mascot' Emily the Strange.


 Trip to Amsterdam

Come on Let’s Go feels lost in a chasm between 2001's The Boys of Summer and 2003's Journey to the Center of the Mind. It is a transitional work, fairly narrow in its scope. Bear in mind the chronology. My previous two compendiums were compiled with consecutive French holidays in mind – they were to be symbolic of them – and consequently conform to an academic calendar. This means that Come on Let’s Go begins in September 2001. Furthermore, it attempts to collate fragments of music deemed unsuitable for inclusion on the preceding playlist, for I hadn’t wanted to subject my fellow French explorers to much indie music. As a result, there’s very little on Come on Let’s Go that was released in the year it purports to celebrate: only Weird War and Clinic fulfil this criterion.
There had already been signs that my enthusiasm for so-called ‘indie’ music was undergoing something of a revival. Perennial favourites Stereolab had pointed me in the direction Broadcast, Make Up ensured I’d buy into whatever Weird War had to offer, and the ongoing renaissance of the band Delta awakened me to alternative-country bands like Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde. (One of my favourite musical ‘memories’ is seeing Delta – in support of Beachwood Sparks at the 100 Club – paying homage to the then recently deceased George Harrison with a sublime rendition of what’s probably my favourite Beatles’ tune, If I Needed Someone.) Finally, Radiohead were beginning to justify the praise lavished upon them, with the release, in a very short space of time, of Kid A (October 2000) and Amnesiac (June 2001). The two albums resulted from the same recording sessions, in fact.


Trip to Plymouth

Many people are of the opinion that The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is David Bowie’s finest work. I purchased a copy, for next to nothing, to find out. I had decided in advance that Five Years would feature on Come on Let’s Go after seeing footage of Bowie and his band performing it on The Old Grey Whistle Test. I concluded that although Ziggy Stardust might be Bowie’s most consistent work, it wasn’t his strongest. Five Years probably isn’t even my favourite song on the album – Moonage Daydream maybe is – but it does make for a good opening number in any context, so I went with it.
          Readers of my previous liner notes should have observed a preponderance of tracks by ‘the groop’ Stereolab. I think I was introduced to them by the guy who used to own many tapes, but I can’t be sure. I do know that my first Stereolab purchase was the 10” EP Ping Pong, bought in the final month of my first year at university – July 1994. I’m by no means a completist when it comes to these things, but I own most of their studio albums, as well as one EP, a mini-LP, and a couple of compilations. Sound-Dust is Stereolab’s seventh album. I purchased it on vinyl – as I do with most of their work – one of only 1,800 copies pressed. Where I place a Stereolab tune on any playlist will depend on the tempo of the tune I want to place. Captain Easychord is quite an upbeat number, a perfect antidote to the funereal tenor of Five Years, and so it becomes the second track of the compilation.
         One cannot underestimate the impact The Strokes debut album Is This It, released July 2001, had on the musical landscape, capturing the hearts and minds of indie kids everywhere. It wasn’t just about the tunes, let alone the lyrical content, but also the band’s image. Indie music was going through one of its sartorially ‘safe’ phases – loose jeans, over-sized denim jackets, sensible shirts, graphic-printed T-shirts, trainers. The difference between this and what The Strokes wore is quite subtle. Bootcut jeans were eschewed in favour of drainpipes, stout Nike trainers were swapped for svelte Converse All Stars, T-shirts became tight and open necked, shirts were bought second-hand and sometimes worn with a tie, leather jackets were pure vintage, hair was all over the place. Basically, they looked like Blondie did in the 1970s. It was almost a return to the early-to-mid 1990s – what could have happened to Britpop if Oasis hadn’t come along and made it all baggy. Bands like Travis, Stereophonics and Coldplay must have been all at sea.
         A year earlier and Radiohead might have been too. Fortunately for them they’d already managed to disassociate themselves from the dreariness of the post-Britpop scene and could therefore coexist alongside whatever the latest thing might be. They deserved to. Idioteque is an example of indie music transcending indie music and just being music – their best tune since Airbag – and I put together a Best of Radiohead playlist off the back of it.
        The first Weird War album is not their best. I don’t think Ian Svenonius had fully defined his vision for the new band – or maybe I was just upset about finding out about Make Up too late and bitter about the fact that I’d never get to see them play live. My mild disappointment was ameliorated by the discovery of the album Play Power by Svenonius’s alter-ego David Candy. “The best art attracts the best people, so I like to go see Suprematist artists like Kazimir Malevich or Vladimir Mayakovsky,” proclaims David Candy over the leisurely flamenco guitar of Redfuchsiatamborine&gravel. (This track didn’t fit on the original compilation, but it was listened to more than many of the tracks that did.)
The White Stripes released their third album, White Blood Cells, at almost precisely the same time as The Stokes did their first. Hence, both groups were seen as the vanguard of the post-punk revival. The White Stripes were informed as much by the blues as they were garage rock – it was their image and pared down sound that associated them – but it was obvious that both bands were offering something very different to the current trends.
When I plundered my father’s record collection for Stones’ records in 2001 I’d also grabbed a couple of Byrds’ albums: Mr. Tambourine Man and Younger than Yesterday. Aside from the contemporary groups bothering my turntable, I was slowly entering my second ‘60s period’, the first having occurred in and around 1995 (comprising the Rolling Stones, Love, The Beatles, Small Faces, the Blow Up soundtrack). Whilst I’d leant previously towards the Mod-ish face of that decade, I was now gravitating towards its more psychedelic and rockier elements: golden-age era Stones, Jefferson Aeroplane, Syd Barrett, Donovan, The Monks, the 13th Floor Elevators. Despite David Crosby’s best efforts, which would eventually see him kicked out of the band, The Byrds probably fell somewhere in between. Ostensibly, Younger than Yesterday takes it lead from The Beatles’ albums Rubber Soul and Revolver. There are touches, though, that are very much The Byrds’ own: the Tijuana brass on So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, the country and western inflections of Time Between, Roger McGuinn’s atonal guitar riffs throughout. I considered kicking off Come On Let’s Go with So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star but settled instead for the Chris Hillman penned Have You Seen Her Face.
Syd Barrett presented another dilemma. I borrowed a copy of his debut solo album, The Madcap Laughs, from Hounslow Library and my instinct was to represent it with the penultimate song, If It’s in You. It’s a strange and at times amusing song, but Barrett’s strident vocal is indicative of his mental state. I’d recently both watched The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story, a BBC documentary, and read his biography, Lost in the Woods, and had formed the opinion that Syd wasn’t quite as ‘mad’ as was often made out. If It’s in You suggested otherwise, and so Late Night made the cut in its place.
 I think I came by Walking with Thee, by Liverpool band Clinic, after hearing it on the radio (we didn’t have internet in those days). Under normal circumstances I probably would have proceeded to buy Clinic’s album, but I was saving my pennies. Instead I bought the 7” single, so they got something out of me. It’s an abrasive little number and far more interesting than most of the music being made by their peers (The Coral, The Zutons, etc.).
 In the absence of any jazz, funk or psychedelic opera, I was obliged to create tension by alternative means. To this end, I contrived to use the wigged out pseudo-psychedelic folk of Donovan to bridge across from the ersatz new-wave of The Modern Age by the Strokes to the alternative noise of Powder Blue by Elbow. (Sunshine Superman by Donovan is so emblematic of its era that I’m at a loss as to what to say about it. Rather than force the issue, I shan’t bother saying anything at all.) Before they were semi-famous, Elbow made pretty interesting music. I’d heard a particular song of theirs at a party, which turned out to be Any Day Now. This was before they’d released their debut album, Asleep in the Back. I assumed that what I’d heard was their new single, Powder Blue, and so bought that, and quickly realised it wasn’t. It would be many years later before I finally established the true identity of the song I heard at that party, but either track would have done in the circumstance, initiating a run of tunes that are fairly long, slow of pace and lugubrious in mood. I’ve built an anti-climax, as opposed to an anticlimax.
Too Real (4 minutes and 55 seconds long) by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club calls to mind Spiritualized, or Northern Soul era Verve. The 13th Floor Elevators cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue comes in at 5 minutes 17 seconds – 1 minute and 5 seconds longer than the original. Let it Run by Beachwood Sparks lasts an epic 6 minutes 38 seconds, although its coda drags on for more than a minute and a half of that. By the time it’s over, at a mere 3 minutes and 17 seconds, the punchy Come on Let’s Go comes as something of a relief. You’d think it might jar but the late Trish Keenan’s soft vocals connect satisfyingly with the gentle harmonies of Beachwood Sparks.
Pavement’s dissolution was sudden, although their final album, Terror Twilight, felt laboured at times. Steve Malkmus didn’t hang about getting himself back in proverbial saddle: just two years passed before he released Stephen Malkmus, the same amount of time that separated the last three Pavement albums. It wasn’t a radical departure from his former band’s sound, but Malkmus seemed reinvigorated. The song where he imagines himself as Yul Brynner is particularly amusing.
 Led Zeppelin: file alongside Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Acts of this ilk weren’t considered especially cool amongst the lo-fi loving indie aficionados of the late 80/early 90s (Syd Barrett era Floyd excepting). Not that this would have bothered me much – it just meant I didn’t come across them. They guy who used to own a pager, on the other hand, had been exposed to Led Zeppelin from an early age and was aware there was much more to them than Stairway to Heaven, which is manna to the muso. It was Led Zeppelin III that I feasted on initially, courtesy of Hounslow Library. Thereafter I found a cheap copy of Houses of the Holy on vinyl, which to this day is my favourite Led Zeppelin album. I still can’t stand Stairway to Heaven though.
I should have got around to it sooner: Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, working backwards through their golden age. Not quite up there with Exile on Main Street, but not far off. I included Wild Horses on the MiniDisc but it never felt quite right. For one, Wild Horses has connotations with my second year, drinking down at The Chariot (before it turned into Shannons). Second, I’d become slightly infatuated with the track Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and desperately wanted to include that instead, but at over seven minutes long felt I couldn’t afford to.
The Moldy Peaches were associated with The Strokes and The White Stripes. It was all about the timing – their sound wasn’t remotely similar to either. My lady friend bought me their album for my birthday. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed, but I had two and half minutes to fill at the end of my compilation and I Forgot held a certain charm.


Trip to Brighton

There turned out to be many more curries – as well as games of badminton and squash (the latter with the guy who took a shine to The Stars of Track and Field), afternoons spent drinking in the Portobello Star, evenings at the Dive Bar and the 100 Club, the occasional gig (The Darkness, Delta, The Dylan Rabbit, Arthur Lee), long weekends in Brighton, Plymouth and Nottinghamshire, camping trips, and excursions to various football grounds in support of Plymouth Argyle’s successful push for promotion into the Second Division. How I ever afforded my five months of traveling must be a testament to a healthier economy, a strong pound and a more reasonable cost of living. I can barely conceive of it now but am glad I took the opportunity when it presented itself.

 

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