Jeff Buckley – Grace: Round 96, Nick’s choice

How do you write about Jeff Buckley in 2016? When so much water has gone under so many bridges, when so many imitators have drained his legacy, assuming that a sensitive falsetto is the key part of it? How do you even listen to Jeff Buckley in 2016, given all this? It’s nearly 20 years since he dove into the Mississippi and never climbed out.

Jeff Buckley was the first name mentioned at our “I can’t believe we haven’t played this already” meeting a couple of weeks ago, by Tom, but still no one played Grace. I’d thought about Buckley, and ummed and ahhed a bit, but decided not to bring him along to that meeting (everyone would much rather listen to U2, I thought). It then felt kind of obvious to bring him along to the next one, for which there was no set theme. So I did.

I bought Grace on CD in Newton Abbott Our Price (remember Our Price?) shortly after he died in 1997. I’d have been 18, just. It’s one of the few records that I can remember impacting me on first listen. Stupidly, at that age, I wasn’t into solo artists because I had a bizarre notion in my head that they’d all just sing unaccompanied by anything other than an acoustic guitar (for at least the majority of their songs), and therefore be insanely boring. Because otherwise why not just be in a band and have a cool band name? (It’s fair to say that I was quite fixed in many of my ideas about music – and other stuff – when I was younger.) But it was obvious from the first few seconds of “Mojo Pin” – that low hum, the twining guitar, the sashaying drums – that this wasn’t some bozo with an acoustic guitar and nothing else.

Like many people back then I became a little obsessed with Jeff Buckley; I hammered Grace until I’d internalised every vocal and instrumental nuance and climax, bought up old live EPs and CD singles, and waited impatiently for the unreleased songs that would emerge, almost exactly a year after his death, as Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. (But not, it must be said, the ragtag gaggle of hodgepodge compilations that have followed over the years.)

I haven’t really listened to Jeff Buckley much in the last 15 years or so; like many artists I gorged on in days gone by I haven’t felt the need to because of over-familiarity. Also, with Buckley in particular, but with several other late-adolescent favourites, there’s a vague sense of guilt at the emotional indulgence of listening: Grace is a very, very dramatic record, full of heightened emotional states, whooping climaxes, and histrionic expressions that are coupled with very few direct referents and very little clear sense. Which is to say that I have pretty much no idea what most of the songs here are about, but good grief they don’t half make you feel.

A lot of modern ‘crescendo rock’ (read Elbow, The National, Radiohead, Coldplay, Snow Patrol) turns its tricks by repeating and repeating with added elements and intensity. This can be penetratingly affecting, but it can also be deeply dull if the purveyor isn’t incredibly skilful. One of Buckley’s masterstrokes on Grace is his ability to build to enormous, overbearing, wailing crescendos without repeating himself much if at all; “Last Goodbye”, the obvious big single, for instance, manages to get to its destination without really having a proper chorus or phrase that’s repeated more than once, even though it feels like it must do.

A lot of modern ‘crescendo rock’ also utilises lyrics that are opaque to the point of being meaningless, and that’s no different here, for the most part. Buckley was a massive Smiths fan, but there’s none of the multi-layered humour and self-analysis that Morrissey was so great at. Sure, some of the couplets (when paired with that voice and these arrangements) are strikingly memorable (the “please kiss me” line from “Last Goodbye”), but they’re counterbalanced by a stream of adolescent clunkers (“she is the tear that hangs inside my soul forever” from “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”). But these wracked, intense demonstrations of emotion are forgivable, ignorable even, because (again) of that voice, and how fulsomely and convincingly Buckley throws himself into the songs.

Also, a lot of the time I simply don’t have a clue what lyrics Buckley’s singing, such is the fervour with which he bends vowels and consonants and syllables out of recognisable patterns. (In 2016, of course, you could just look-up the lyrics on the internet, but in 1997 that wasn’t so easy.) (Are they in the sleeve? I can’t even remember.) (They’re ultimately not that important.) (And music writing that leans on literary analysis of lyrics just plain sucks, anyway.)

Like an intense, body-shaking adolescent sobbing fit (or a big teenage wank), Grace gives catharsis but can leave you feeling spent and a touch guilty for letting yourself go to the indulgence of release. Revisiting it has been fascinating; I’ve no idea what I’d make of a record like Grace if I were to encounter it new today, but I’m very glad I got to it when I was 18.

The Avalanches – Since I Left You: Round 96 – Tom’s Selection

since_i_left_youTaking advantage of a theme free and underpopulated evening I chose, as the deadline was looming, the 1 hour and 39 seconds of aural bliss that is, it turns out, The Avalanches first (as opposed to only) album, Since I Left You.

Released in 2000, for me no other album signified the coming of the new millennium quite as effectively. Bright, busy, supremely optimistic and breathtakingly well conceived, Since I Left You seemed, at the time, to mark a new dawning, a fresh way of doing things. Surely the shape of things to come! Taking our lead from the album cover, we waited, with baited breath, for the tidal wave of copyists; the magpies, the hoarders, the new collagists, imitating the mother lode but, inevitably, never improving on it. But they never really came, sunk without trace!? So we waited for the Avalanches themselves; to follow up their gargantuan first effort…and we waited, and waited, and waited! Internet rumours came and went, as they tend to do, but the offerings were piecemeal; the odd song here and there, guest artists occasionally letting slip that they had been allowed in to have a play but still nothing. And then, just as we were giving up, Wildflower was released and finally, Since I Left You had a sibling…sixteen years on! What does it sound like? I don’t know because, I’ve never heard it! I haven’t felt enticed because, and I guess this might be partly why we waited so long, Since I Left You is as close to damn it to perfection that I really don’t feel I need anything else like it.

I realised, as I was considering writing this blog entry, that Since I Left You is probably the only album I own which I really, really love yet know practically nothing about. After all, I can only recall the names of two of the songs, and can’t really hum, or even remember anything other than the occasional musical motif, a whiff here and there, the tiniest of shards, gleaming yet gone in a flash. Since I Left You (the song) and Frontier Psychiatrist are so anomalous (in that they are recognisable as songs in their own right) from to their bedfellows that even though they are both awesome pieces of music, you do end up wondering whether they belong with the rest of the stuff on the album. Because, if they weren’t there, Since I Left You would play out a bit like a dance orientated, poppy version of one of those albums we’ve had at record club every so often (The Necks and William Basinski spring to mind) where the music twists and turns and morphs and mutates over time, shape shifting imperceptibly yet definitely. But, in contrast to the minimalism on show in these other cases, the movements here are from one beautiful groove to the next, gradually and seamlessly blissing out as the end of the trip looms into view. I own the vinyl version of the album and the only breaks in the musical theme (apart from the aforementioned singles) are the end of the sides…I almost wish I owned this in some digital format instead, just so that that continuity could be preserved!

I don’t listen to Since I left You all that often but, whenever I do, it feels like a real treat. As for Wildflower, I am pleased for the Avalanches that they have managed to move back towards, if not into, the zeitgeist but I can’t help feeling that there is something inherently cool about those rare cases in popular music where a band comes along, releases a single classic album and then buggers off never to be seen again. For sixteen years The Avalanches were one of those bands; now they just seem a little bit more ‘regular’ than their fantastic debut album would suggest.

U2 – Achtung Baby: Round 95, Nick’s choice

I reckon U2 are more influential than The Velvet Underground, in terms of how many records the artists influenced by either have sold. And how many artists they’ve influenced. Turn on the radio at any point in the mid-00s and you’d hear a massive Sincerity Rock Band with echoes of U2; take “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap as an example. Or Coldplay or Snow Patrol’s entire careers. (OK, maybe not the first two albums by the latter.) When I first heard Arcade Fire I baulked because everyone was going crazy for them but they were using the U2 bassline all over Funeral, which I basically see as both emotionally manipulative and creatively bankrupt. Arcade Fire then, of course, went “full Achtung Baby” on Reflektor. More about what “full Achtung Baby” means in a bit, possibly. Even in the 90s the likes of Oasis and Radiohead made nods towards the Irish megaband even if they didn’t quite sound like them.

I once told a staunch U2 fan and sensible atheist (and holder of a PhD about vaginal imagery in the Alien films), many years ago, that every U2 song is about god, one way or another, and they said I was talking crap. “Go away and think about it” I replied, and a few days later they came back and said I’d ruined U2 for them, because it is, indeed, true, that every single one of their songs is about god. One way or another.

Every time I use the phrase “you too” near my elder brother, such as when he says “have a nice weekend” and I respond “you too”, he says “what’s Bono got to do with anything?”, which is intensely annoying. I have started doing this as well, which is probably also intensely annoying.

U2 are almost inconceivably massive; they’ve sold more than 170 million albums, won 22 Grammys (more than any other band), and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005, the first year they were eligible. (Though we established on the night at Record Club that Rihanna and Taylor Swift have each sold more records in a considerably shorter timeframe than U2.) (Other artists who’ve sold more records that U2: The Beatles, Elvis, Jacko, Madonna, Elton, Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, AC/DC, Whitney, Queen, The Rolling Stones, ABBA, Garth Brookes, Eminem, and The Eagles.) What this means is that they are ‘the establishment’.

I feel like U2 have hovered over Record Club like a tiny grey cloud, often imperceptible but occasionally remarked upon, recognised as bringing something potentially necessary to the table (the rain that makes crops grow, to extend the metaphor), sometimes beautiful, productive and useful in their own right, but mostly fucking annoying.

I once a read an interview where Bono said that he harboured vague ambitions to write a novel, but had decided that he never would in case it wasn’t “one of the great novels”, as what would be the point in branching out and producing something merely average, or even quite good, in another field, when he’d already made some of “the great records”. More than anything else, that sentiment made me think he was a cunt. Bono’s clearly a massive smugface bellend, but he’s more wealthy than most countries, so probably doesn’t give a damn what I think.

Achtung Baby is U2 trying to think outside of their box, trying not to be a massive Sincerity Rock Band anymore, trying to embrace groove, art, pop, Berlin, Bowie, hip-hop, that shuffle-y indie-dance beat that people think The Stone Roses introduced (they didn’t; it was The Mock Turtles), postmodernism, the 90s, and probably some other stuff. Including nudity, judging by the cover. When a band “goes full Achtung Baby” it’s arguably the equivalent of a middle-aged man buying a sports car. A (futile?) attempt to rebrand oneself as one feels youth and relevance slipping away, perhaps.

Achtung Baby is, of course, co-produced by Eno, and it sounds like he does a lot more here than just add widdly ambient intros to massive Sincerity Rock Band anthems. Except that, actually, Daniel Lanois is arguably more important. And maybe U2 themselves deserve a little credit. And actually let’s not give U2 anty credit for anything, the massive bellends. I pretty much hate U2, but this album is really, really good. Except the last three tracks, when being a massive Sincerity Rock Band kicks in like biological memory, and they can’t help themselves. (Notably this is only the second record we’ve ever chosen not to listen to the entirety of at Record Club.) Many of the songs on Achtung Baby are actually fun! And groovey! (“Even Better Than The Real Thing”, “The Fly”, “Mysterious Ways”, “Zoo Station”.) The drums and bass consistently sound really weird and thuddy and odd, like someone really misunderstanding dance music and krautrock and making something kind of interesting by accident instead. The Edge (Dave to his mum) does some interesting stuff with his guitar that doesn’t involve playing three notes over and over with massive delay.

In the press around the album Bono ranted about corporate sponsorship and the stupidity of rock mythology and rock’s “fat bastards” and sticking up for indie bands (in 1991, when ‘indie band’ actually meant being independent and alternative), which is kind of sad, because U2, as established by the buckets of Grammy Awards and 170 million album sales and undeniable influence on all sorts of other bands who really ought to be a whole lot better, are the most establishment band that there has ever been. Way more than The Beatles ever could be. They’re corporate rock 40-year careerists. They literally foisted an album on millions of unsuspecting, innocent people by signing a massive horrorshow deal with Apple that basically abused everyone’s iPhones. They’re pretty much disgusting. I quite like bits of Pop though, and those first three songs from The Joshua Tree are pretty undeniable.

Achtung Baby being really good might actually, probably, be down to Flood. it’s all about how it’s mixed. Just get the minimalist start to “So Cruel”. Pretty much everything U2 have done post Pop has been an exercise in sounding as much like people think U2 sound as possible. What they’ve forgotten is that, actually, U2 also sound like this, as well as The Joshua Tree.

Steve listened: I came out in a bad U2 rash after this outing of Bono Vox – for that is his full alter-ego pretentious name adopted much in the same vein as Sting. The thing that U2 have done is to have provided a simplistic template of how to herd the masses in terms of musical taste – adopted then by the likes of Coldplay, Snow Patrol etc. They masquerade as the underground, playing with those influences, much in the same way that a certain main-chain shops take on qualities of the independents. They also make themselves sound more important than they actually are, and this comes through no more clearly than via the mouth of Bono. Vague statements about “coming together”, “peace”, “touching god” make for an insipid attempt to probe the human psyche, but don’t really require much thought to get there. Easy listening for the masses and that is why I hate them.

The Velvet Underground – ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’: Round 95 – Rob’s choice


I ran through my vinyl, pulling out albums that seemed to me we should surely have reached within our first 350 choices. I found a dozen or so and then I stopped. It’s a testament to how wide and deep we have dug over the past few years that so many of the absolute staples haven’t registered yet. From this shortlist, the Velvet Underground stood head and shoulders above the rest. Tom’s comments are accurate: we really haven’t invoked the Velvets anywhere near as much as we might have been expected to. Off the top of my head, our top ten most mentioned are along the lines of CAN, The Beatles, Danny Baker, Coldplay, Rick Wakeman, Pink Floyd, Husker Du, Tim Buckley, Mark Lanegan and Steve Albini. I’d say there were a couple of names in there, three at a push, that could claim to be as influential as the Velvet Underground, especially when looking specifically at the music our past 94 rounds have demonstrated that we love the most.

So, one way or another, it does seem surprising that we’ve never had then before.

After my initial sift, my thought was to bring ‘White Light/White Heat’ which I considered the tabula rasa of alternative rock music, the point at which the Velvets cut loose from all restraint and flew into the stratosphere, breaking the mould and setting rock and roll free for generations of wild-eyed punks to capitalise. Then I listened to it, and enjoyed it as ever, but wondered whether it was something that bore re-presentation. As part of my deliberation I checked back in with ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’, my theory being that this was essentially a record that could have come from any number of the emerging pop rock acts of the mid 60s. I also feel a lingering antipathy to it because, frankly, Nico’s voice has always left me cold. I understand that it leavens the sound here in a really useful way but, well, I just don’t like it.

Within a few minutes I was reminded just how disconnected I had become from the album, and just what a masterpiece of sweet and sour, concision and experimentation it was. And also, just how much wild, breakthrough sound it contains.

About half the record could quite easily have been recorded by Dylan, or the Doors, or Brian Wilson, or some other boundary-pushing iconoclast. Then there’s the half that just… couldn’t. ‘Venus in Furs’, as thrilling as ever even aged 50. The guitar that slices through the second half of ‘Run Run Run’ like a chainsaw, like nothing else anyone had ever heard before. The drone and majesty of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’. And ‘Heroin’, a shockingly beautiful masterclass of expressionist music-making, structure, form and intent all working in perfect, chaotic harmony.

In short, having left it on the shelf for 10 years or so, I was knocked sideways by just how brilliant a record it is, from start to howling finish.

I can’t believe we haven’t had it already.

Steve listened: I can’t believe you haven’t had it already, having come in late in the story of DRC. It is a classic but feels so out of place for 1967, the year of its release, given the subjects of some of the songs. It feels more like the realism and come-down of 1970s after the optimism of the hippy revolution had died down. Far grittier and sharper edges, less fluffy and more dirty spoon and from the bad end of town. New York and not San Francisco. Listening to it again was a great experience and reminded me of how I came to hear it for the first time. A wonderful record.

Tom listened: Of course Rob is spot on when he says that much of The Velvet Underground and Nico sounds like nothing else that had come before. And thinking about it, nothing else since has really embraced that buzzsaw guitar playing to quite the same effect. It is surprising that we hadn’t already had this album, yet I have never come close to selecting it as I don’t…whisper it…like it very much. With the exception of the majestic All Tomorrow’s Parties (I actually quite like Nico’s glacial tones) I just can’t click with it, and truth be told, never have…even though I spent a few years in my twenties trying to kid myself that the opposite was the case. I did love White Light/White Heat though, although that fire has dimmed over the years, and the third album has its moments and a great atmosphere…but throughout their career Lou Reed’s ego, lack of self-regulation (some of their songs go on way too long) and inability to write a deft melody line has ensured that, as far as I am concerned, The Velvet Underground have stayed a band that has been easy to admire but hard to love.

Grimes – Art Angels: Round 95 – Tom’s Selection

59ef246fMy choice for Nick’s ‘I Can’t Believe We Hadn’t Had This Already’ round elicited a disapproving sneer from our illustrious and sage leader when he walked in, late, to the strains of Belly of the Beat…or Kill VS Main…or some such.

It appears that my choice was ill conceived in that:

a) We had already had a couple of songs played from it at the Xmas round up last year (technically only one as far as I am concerned as Realiti is not on my version of the record and I, therefore, don’t consider it as part of the whole).


b) It’s only been around for about ten months.

Well, I see the first point as an irrelevance (we’ve never played the album) and I see the second point as…an irrelevance too! The irony is that Grimes has been mentioned far more times at record club than the band that made Rob’s record (I’m not going to give it away by mentioning it by name) and, hence, of the two, I am much more surprised it hadn’t yet been featured at the club. As a side note, I’m not surprised at all that neither Nick or Steve’s albums had passed us by up to this point!

But, seeing as Art Angels is a work of genius, a signpost to the future of pop music, an enduring classic (I’d put money on it) in its infancy, I felt it was about time somebody did the decent thing and took it along. It is also one of only a handful of records that everyone in my family is nuts about…well, maybe not my parents, but my wife and kids seem to love it just as much as I do.

And it’s not hard to see why. Because what Grimes is doing on Art Angels is stunning. Listening closely tonight to Belly of the Beat, trying to see what it is that makes the record so special, it struck me that it is the production (Claire Boucher did everything on this album, including the engineering!) that is particularly breathtaking. One of the albums shyest tracks, Belly of the Beat is, ostensibly, an acoustic strum laid over a programmed drum beat with some typically sweet vocals floating eight miles high above the instrumentation. Strip away the production and you’d be left with something lovely…but unremarkable, perhaps. Listen closely, however, and you’ll hear the workings of what is, surely, one of the great minds working in music today. Sounds come and go in torrents, gush and then recede, swirl and distort but, crucially, never feel forced or over-considered. The song itself never really does much, there’s no rousing singalong chorus, no real hooks, but it also never repeats, never gets lazy, constantly keeps you guessing and, consequently, leaves you wanting more. And more is what you get, because each and every song (even the weird little ones, the grit in the oyster, if you will) sound amazing. Art Angels is such a complete work, 45 minutes of aural, and cerebral, bliss, art masquerading as pop. I worry for Grime’s next album because it may never appear this natural, this unforced again. With Art Angels she’s pulled back the curtain, revealed the magic and, in the process, made things very difficult for her future self.

But worrying about something that may never happen makes no sense at all and so whilst I wait to see what her next move will be, I plan to wear out my copy of Art Angels whilst regularly reminding Rob of how it’s actually a much better album than a scuzzy 50 year old relic with a banana on the front. Whoops. I may have just let the cat out of the bag!

Steve listened: No need to get all defensive…It’s a great album although I wouldn’t have said that it was a classic one that we have failed to listen to yet, whereas a certain recording with a banana cover…is. I would also argue that Mr Cope’s entry into the world of music also fits that bill. But here’s me being all defensive of the other choices when Grimes’ album is, I agree, a pop masterpiece. It’s also a possible intersection in the musical Venn diagram between my tastes and my children’s. So, I will inevitably buy it and listen to a lot… the car.

Rob listened: We’ve only had 8 or 9 rounds of DRC since this record was released (slowing up guys…), and 3 or 4 of those had prescribed themes. So, on balance, I can very well believe that we haven’t had ‘Art Angels’ yet.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t a welcome arrival. I bought it when it came out, on the strength of the blistering ‘Kill V Maim’. I loved the album but never really allowed it to sink it’s hooks into me, and without the early attachment, it has sunk out of sight. Hearing it again reminded me how laser bright, mercilessly catchy and gobsmackingly inventive it is. Hearing all three wrapped up in one package is very, very rare and so I concur with Tom, this is a special record.

Glad we didn’t have to wait any longer.

Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro: Round 95 – Steve’s Selection


Why on earth haven’t we played this album yet? This could be a question asked by the arch Drude himself, so full of ego (or ergot) he is, was, that the man seeks attention. Perhaps it is the cocky swagger of this debut of Mr Cope that sets a precedent of many more pretenders to come. All leather trousered and snake hips, snapping the minds of the youth. Yet, few have sounded quite like this album. Few sounded like it at the time. A post-punk psychedelic revival? XTC would later develop their own psychedelia through the Dukes of the Stratosphear, but nobody else had the gall surely? Here was a man astride a white piano on Top of the Pops LSD’d up to the eyeballs, appearing on the front cover of Smash Hits and sharing a house with a pre-Nirvana Courtney Love. Please God this is rock and roll! But enough of the image and the what for the music?

The opener ‘Ha Ha I’m Drowning’ has a horn section on it, which immediately jarred with me when I first heard it against a backdrop of punk. This combined however with the ghostly mellotron (I think it is a mellotron) and the crashing guitars, incredibly tight rhythmic drumming sends you immediately into an off-kilter bonkers go crazy dance across the floor. The horns and repeating lyrics (“You can watch rafferty turn into a serial”….”I just wander around”….”It’s just like Sleeping Gas. Oh so ethereal”) on ‘Sleeping Gas’ also lead you into what seems to be describing a drug induced nightmare. Is it a bad trip? He’s babbling, but trying to make sense of it all at the same time. Cope’s dalliances with hallucinogenic substances are well documented, and yet it is documented here so vividly and yet in a jolly distinctly English style. Perhaps the analogies with Syd Barrett are fair here, although there’s a distinctly post-punk feeling to this. It’s not the psychedelia of the 60s, nor the 80s. Cope interprets his descent himself, wobbling out of control. ‘Treason’ was the first single I think. I knew Cope’s nephew at University in Leeds and he told me the whole family had to buy a copy of the 45 when it came out. They viewed young Julian with some despair apparently. Later on in the album, on my favourite track (‘Bouncing Babies’) he sees his poisoned status in the family unit

“I was a poisoned child
I was fighting for my life
Clinging to something
Fighting for anything”

On ‘Brave Boys Keep Their Promises’ he notes

“Fighting with your relatives
You’ve got your mother and your father and your brothers to Your aunts and your uncles are all against you”

‘Poppies in the Field’ is perhaps one of the weaker tracks on the first side, but there’s an accomplished range of instrumentation, with sounds that can only be fitted into a psyche of the late 70s/early 80s. The album’s production, by Bill Drummond (later of KLF of course, who we have covered and talked about a lot) and Dave Balfe future-proofs the sound like Martin Hannett did with Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures (what we haven’t covered that album either…with arguably the best opener of any post-punk album?). Cope growls on the first track on the second side (‘Went Crazy’), more overtly talking about his evolving and declining mental state (“Je suis suicide, je suis pain. Jabber indecision here we go again, I’m going (insane?)”). Perhaps this fame thing is too much for him? Drummond is alleged to have pushed him a little too far in his creative approach (there were legends about sliding acid tabs down a ruler into his mouth). He’s also alleged to have manipulated the Teardops and Echo and the Bunneymen to play simultaneous gigs in Rekjayvik and New Zealand along an ancient ley-line (you couldn’t make this up?). The chronicling of chronic depression and loss of mind through drug induced mania is no celebration of youthful abandon on this album. Far from it, more a warning to the intrepid journeyman. Cope exiled himself in Barrett-like seclusion in Tamworth (where he lived as a pre-Teardrop), an image he has tried to shake off. He re-emerged later with odd solo excursions (‘World Shut Your Mouth’ and ‘Fried’ being two examples) and we are of course indebted to him for chronicling Krautrock, Japrock and standing stones (‘Krautrocksampler’, ‘Japrocksampler’ and ‘The Modern Antiquarian’). Cope the scholar, or literary agent of the mind is brought to the fore on the last 3 tracks on this album, pointing to more eclectic musical styles, and less reliance on verse-chorus-verse structure that would sell singles at the time. ‘Thief of Baghdad’ is story-like, prosaic, with eastern influences milking through the patchwork of a wandering and fractured mind. The last track opens like early Depeche Mode (maybe they got their influence from here?) but quickly descends from the tight pop structure to the more open and surreal. And there it is. The end. For two glorious years Julian Cope was pinup number 1, on Top of the Pops and yet helter skeltering uncontrollably into a drug psychosis. Hardly what the established Radio 1 vanguards of the youth in the 1980s would call an example to teenage children, drowning drowning, and so the track fades and we hear no more like it then, or will hear it like it since……down the rabbit hole we go. Utterly brilliant.

Tom listened: Now, The Teardrop Explodes I knew of…Reward I had actually heard…but I’m not sure I had even heard of Kilimanjaro the album before Steve pulled it out of his bag on the evening.

More fool me because it’s a great record. A tad homogenous perhaps (most of the songs sounded like a bit of a rehash of the aforementioned single to be honest) but when the single is THAT good what does it matter. Loved this from start to finish…in another, better, world, perhaps this would have fitted the theme even more closely!

Laura Nyro AND LABELLE – Gonna Take A Miracle: Round 94, Nick’s choice

nyroI could, and should, have just gone for the safe choice, and picked something from this year that I knew no one else owned because we’d talked about it, like Anna Meredith or Thee Oh Sees. Or some semi-obscure electronica like Akufen or Superpitcher. Or some bloody modern British jazz, like I pick every other bloody round anyway. But no, I tried to be a bit clever, and pick something by someone that somebody might have heard of. Tom asked what year it was from. When I said 1971 he replied that he owned something by EVERYBODY from 1971. And he does, the bastard. So Laura Nyro AND LABELLE cost me a tenner. Unfairly, I might add, because this album of sumptuous, fangirl covers of the soul, R’n’B, doo-wop, girl-group, Brill Building and Motown that Laura adored growing up as a teenager in the Bronx is most definitely a collaboration, and Tom only actually owns a live album by Laura Nyro which features no LaBelle at all whatsoever, making this, I think, a record by a substantively different artist.

Anyway, quibbling aside, Gonna Take A Miracle is produced by Gamble & Huff, who are basically the architects of that sumptuous Philly soul sound, and it is lush (but not, note, overblown). Laura’s a good enough singer on her own, but backed up by Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash, as well as the formidable musicianship of Gamble & Huff’s session band, she becomes part of something absolutely formidable, and not a little bit gorgeous. It’s a record made by great musicians as a tribute to the great music they grew up with, and as such it’s full of love.

There’s not a great deal else to say about Gonna Take A Miracle; it’s soul music, and it’s fabulous. I don’t have a back story with it particularly – I bought it years and years ago after reading about its status as a bit of a lost classic. I might argue that it contains the definitive versions of “Jimmy Mack” and “Nowhere To Run”, but arguing about this music seems churlish to say the least. Just enjoy it.