28.12.09

THE SHOP ASSISTANTS : John Peel Sessions 8/10/85 + 11/11/86

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Beware, there are deluded "twee" apologists aplenty who've convinced themselves that Edinburgh's mighty Shop Assistants are one of their bands. Fortunately, as per most of the C86 acts, these pre-pube hairgrip-sporting juves are seriously mistaken - the Shoppies (sorry) may have apologetically shambled but they also gloriously ROCKED, & never more so than on their two classic Peel sessions. Though I still dig their 7"s out occasionally, I hadn't heard either of these Beeb sets for ages. Listening to them I was briefly transported back to a mid-80s D.I.Y. netherworld of hissy late night FM, scuffed leathers, tatty denim, hoarded stacks of old NMEs & parties in damp 'n' dingy council flats. Heaven, basically. Sadly, Tallulah fucking Gosh & their paedo-lite ilk eventually crashed the party, totally missing The Point & ruining everything - they didn't like those horrid A Witness or Five Go Down To The Sea records at all, ma'am. Seriously though, if you've yet to hear Alex yelp her way through "Ace Of Spades" then you're honestly in for a bit of a treat...

Shoplifting

Ta to Hopeless for the linkage & Fruiter Than Thou for the top notch Polaroid. There's a decent fan site here & an interesting retrospective here too.

23.12.09

JOHN CALE : Comes Alive / Caribbean Sunset (1984)

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John Cale's back catalogue has been particularly ill-served by his old record companies generally with only a couple of keynote LPs receiving the mandatory "expanded / remastered" treatment, but the protracted unavailability of terrific early 80s LPs like these two 1984 obscurities, in addition to Honi Soit or Music For A New Society (both of which I covered elsewhere), makes little sense to me. Critically derided at the time (& D.O.A. commercially), I'm gradually coming 'round to the idea that Cale's post-punk wilderness years actually might have produced some of his most interesting music - it's certainly some of his weirdest...

Caribbean Sunset's oddly benign cover portrait belies it's gleefully brutal contents. Both title & sleeve suggest this might be an inanely poppy, easy listening-type affair. Fortunately for us, it most certainly is not. Released, as per Music For A New Society, on New York's painfully hip Ze label, it was savaged critically & has regularly been written-off as Cale's worst LP ever since (by people who haven't actually heard it I imagine). Hindsight is, of course, a marvellous leveller. In 1984, it no doubt appeared that Cale was opportunistically jumping onto the "punk" bandwagon way too late to expect anything other than derision, but 25 years later the messy, off-the-cuff manner of recording (predominantly single takes - you can hear him shouting out incoming chord changes to the band on a couple of tracks!) & erratic rehearsal room sonics sound excitingly raw. The sessions' spontaneous nature might partially be attributed to Eno, who apparently contributes to the general sense of chaos. Caribbean Sunset was pencilled in for a CD release in 2001, complete with outtakes, but was mysteriously pulled at the last minute (can anybody shed any light on this?). Incidentally, Ze was founded by Michael Zilkha (heir to the Mothercare fortune) & Michael Estaben (stepson of Lord Lever) who were introduced to one another in 1977 by... John Cale.
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Cale's final Ze release, Comes Alive was again recorded with the Caribbean Sunset line-up as back-up (sans Eno). At first glance it looks like one of those tedious "Why bother?"-type contractual obligation jobs: two specially recorded studio tracks (one of which, the opening comedic gambit "Ooh La La", might just be his Worst Song Ever!) bookending the highlights of a February 1984 live set from London's Lyceum. Ignoring the still fresh Caribbean Sunset, Cale reprises a handful of songs from 1979's well-received Sabotage alongside strikingly melodic re-interpretations of a couple of Music For A New Society tracks, an almost baroque "Waiting For The Man", & possibly his finest "Heartbreak Hotel" ever (& there are plenty to choose from). Stately & sinister, it dispenses with the usual hamfisted Hammer horror theatrics for something far more unsettling, a darkness that lingers long after the song is over. Minor point of interest: the British & American versions of the L.P. contain radically different mixes of the studio tracks (I've no idea which version this upload is I'm afraid). Last time I checked You Tube was a heap of live footage from this era (try "John Cale 1984"), you might want to give it a look...

Comes / Sunset

n.b. Exemplary Cale site here btw. And you can follow his tweets here if you so wish (am I the only person to find this latter development rather bizarre?).

22.12.09

SCOTT WALKER : Sings Songs From His T.V. Series (1969) / The Moviegoer (1972)

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A Festive treat for Gabardine-wrapped, Carnaby Street miserablists everywhere - two of Scott's rarest albums, neither of which you'll find on Amazon anytime soon...

Scott Walker Sings Songs From His T.V. Series has yet to be reissued on CD. Released by Philips 1969 between his classic third & fourth solo albums it's not the neglected masterpiece one might naturally expect, despite it's admirable vintage. It's a needless, compromised throwback to his Walker Brothers' years, a syrupy selection of slushy, pompously-arranged standards that sound like they were picked for him by over-cautious producers keen to placate the Septuagenarian pipe-&-slippers audience that had been so roundly alienated by all that smutty Brel rubbish (ahem). Drawing on songwriters as prominent as Charles Azanavour, Bacarach & David, Jerry Herman, Kurt Weill, Rodgers & Hammerstein (but significantly not Brel himself) it remains an uncomortable, often cringeworthy listen & it's not difficult to see why Scott might have attempted to block any kind of re-release (a few songs have slipped out on on Mercury's 2005 Classics & Collectables compilation however). Tragically, the entire T.V. series (plus a couple of standalone specials) this collection was cherrypicked from has been wiped by the ever-dependable BBC so there's zero possibility of ever viewing these songs' solitary saving grace, the fantastic period footage. Idiots.

Succeeding 'Til The Band Comes In, 1972's The Moviegoer was briefly reissued in the immediate wake of Fontana's early 90s reissue programme but was quickly withdrawn at Scott's behest (again, a handful of tracks appear on Classics & Collectables). I guess it's understandable that he might not want to be reminded of this era, creatively & personally he was in terrible shape, prepared to sing anything Philips put in front of him providing the fee was ample & the scotch was flowing. Contrary to popular opinion, it's a surprisingly lovely listen in places - Scott is on magnificent form (his vocal technique had definitely matured since his Walkers' heyday), Johnny Franz's production is huskily melancholy rather than garishly overblown, & the selection of cinematic theme songs is far from repellent (only the pungent country Stilton of "All His Children" is likely to set one's teeth on edge - dig that atrocious cornball phrasing, it's the one time he lets his stoic professionalism slip to sound as royally pissed off as the indignant sleeve pic implies). Listening to it as I type, at 2am with the lights dimmed & a large glass of wine at hand, it's beginning to sound very seductive indeed. It's no Scott 4 but I still tentatively recommend it...

T.V. / Movie

Links sourced from the now defunct NoMusik blog (thanks).