Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America: Round 24 – Tom’s Selection

You know how every once in a while an artist comes along that becomes your own little secret. Well, for the past two years (ever since I picked up Hadestown, Anais Mitchell’s compelling and original ‘folk opera’ based on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in the underworld yet set in depression era USA and featuring a host of guest vocalists) she has been mine. With the release of Young Man In America this Spring, I was expecting that situation to change. The British newspapers gave it glowing reviews and there has been some enthusiastic chat about it over on the Metacricket forum (which is where I first heard of her), but since that initial burst of interest there has been precious little coverage of what sounds to me like another bona-fide classic. Crucially, and somewhat bemusingly, Pitchfork seem to be avoiding her, which is great as far as I am concerned as she will be much more likely to remain ‘mine’ for a little longer whilst the behemoth of internet music reviewing remains dis-interested or unaware. Not so sure Anais herself will be so pleased with the situation as it is though.

Having said that, Young Man in America sounds like yet another record that has been made with scant consideration for the audience. This is a tough listen, confessional at times and full of thought provoking imagery and, particularly in the case of the ultra beautiful Shepard, harrowing tales that pull no punches (although you can avoid the tale completely by just listening to the snare drum…as Nick did). To compound matters, there is barely a chorus in sight – only the sprightly Venus offers anything approaching a major chord progression – and the instrumentation throughout does the last thing you would expect it to. In fact, the more I listen to penultimate track You Are Forgiven, the more I am astonished by the instrumentation in the last minute and a half of the song as horns and guitar interweave their magic by playing only the briefest of single notes and then disappearing from sight, only to resurface seconds later in an equally ephemeral form. The amazing thing is that each of these singles notes sound like they have been lifted out of a solo that has been discarded from the album, so that when the notes appear, you can almost hear the solo erupting in your own mind. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone do that before.

As it’s only early days, my view of Young Man In America is evolving with each listen and songs are constantly jockeying for places in my affection. At the moment, the title track (which is more-or-less an extended mirror of the opener Wilderland) holds me spellbound, especially when Mitchell pulls, out of nowhere, a melody line that is a ringer for Joanna Newsom, and then lets it go, never to be repeated. The restraint shown throughout this album is remarkable and there are wonderful flourishes all over the place – the dark minor chord that appears in the otherwise lilting and sweet Annmarie (the song would feel completely different without it); the second half of the devastating Tailor where the narrator loses their partner and then their identity and the song alters to match that erosion of confidence; the ebb and flow of the epic Ships as it builds from a simple beginning into something complex and astonishing. This is an album full of grace, made by an artist of rare talent, and if there was any justice in the world she would cease to be my own little secret pretty damn soon. And if that means there will be further Anais Mitchell albums to come, I’d be pretty happy to share her!

Update: Pitchfork has finally got around to reviewing YMiA. I was going to do a ‘Southall’ and rant on about how ludicrous it is to rate an album on a hundred point scale, especially when the review itself seems to contradict the rating…but to be honest, life’s too short, and Nick will probably do it for me at some point soon anyway.

Nick listened: As Tom suggested, I somehow managed, despite him making us promise to listen in silence to track nine before he even pressed play, to not take in any of the words of this. Partly this is because I don’t generally pay all that much attention to words anyway; partly it’s because listening in a group is an odd thing to do; and partly it’s because Anais Mitchell’s vocals are pitched at a level somewhere around that of Joanna Newsom, which is one I have difficulty ‘focussing’ on, as it were. But mostly, as intimated, it’s because I was caught up listening to the music, the ebb and flow, the instrumentation, and the enormous cavernous spaces inbetween. At points it reminded me of Gillian Welch, or Mark Hollis’ solo album (without the jazz thing, perhaps), a kind of sand-blasted outsider country, minimalist, considered, and affecting. I’d like to listen to it again, sans company.

Rob listened: ‘Metacricket’? *googles* Ah… Metacricket…
This was beautiful. Tom has been banging on about ‘Hadestown’ for a couple of years now but it sounds like rather a lot to get ones ears and head around. ‘Young Man In America’ meanwhile was entrancing. Intimate, complex without being impenetrable, it progressed like beautiful machine operating in a way you coud only understand one small movement at a time. One of the best things i’ve heard at the Club.

Graham listened: Magical, dramatic and absorbing, “simples!”. Reminded me of Stevie Nicks at times on some of the some of the dreamier late 70’s Fleetwood Mac.


CAN – Ege Bamyasi: Round 24, Nick’s choice

So, at long last, the motherlode of Devon Record Club; the artist we’ve spoken about more than any other.

Before recording Ege Bamyasi in 1972, Can scored an unlikely pop hit in the German charts with Spoon, which sold some 300,000 copies due to being the theme tune to a television program. They used the earnings from Spoon to buy an old cinema, which they both lived and recorded in for the next few years; prior to that they’d recorded in a castle, because the owner of the castle thought they were great, or something. Recording Ege Bamyasi was fractious – two of the band obsessively played chess during the sessions (if you can call them sessions), driving the rest of the band to distraction, and a shortfall of finished material meant they superglued Spoon to the end of the album in order to flesh it out to 40 minutes and seven tracks in length.

Ege Bamyasi is my favourite Can album, I think, possibly because it’s the first one I got, some 15 years ago as a wide-eyed 18-year old, and possibly because it’s also the most fun. I played it at a party once, years ago, and everyone else complained that it was weird. It’s Can’s poppiest album, even though it sounds like aliens hearing the entirety of 20th century music at once and mashing it all together to make their own music, which contains everything (German youth post WWII desperate to split from their country’s past and create something absolutely new). So you end up with something that borrows from jazz, from rock, from the beginnings of electronic music, from Vietnamese music and various other musics from across the globe, long before World Music became a section in HMV. There’s guitar as wild as anything Hendrix committed to tape, synths and electronics as innovative as anything you’ve ever heard, Damo Suzuki’s unrivalled, inscrutable vocals in any number of made-up tongues, and always, always, Jaki Leibzeit’s incredible, pulsating drumming, repeat repeat repeating into delirium, making you twitch and jerk and spasm with little, replicating jolts of percussive joy.

Pinch, the alum’s ten-minute opener, is a shuttling roll of drums and electronic squeaks, the first thing I’d ever heard by Can, and the summation of everything I’d imagined they would sound like after reading about them. I’m So Green is a liquid funk thing that got nicked by The Stone Roses. Sing Swan Song is a bona fide, blissful pop song, delicate and beautiful and oh so very strange. After 15 years I still find new things every time I listen.

Tom Listened: You have to hand it to Can, they certainly knew how to open an album! All the Can albums I own (the four biggies of the early seventies) kick off with an amazing song – Tago Mago has Paperhouse, Soon…the wonderful and, possibly, underrated Dizzy Dizzy, Future Days begins with Future Days and then there’s Ege and its opener, the remarkable, mind blowing swirl of squonk that is Pinch (squonk is a technical term for the sound that Can make on Pinch). It was my first encounter with the band and I can still remember being incredulous that the sound coming out of the speakers could be being made by (a) humans and (b) humans of the 1973 variety.

Although Pinch is undeniably incredible, there are many other outstanding moments on Ege Bamyasi and it feels disloyal to single one or two out and tedious to run through the lot. I suppose it’s easier to say that the last 5 minutes of Soup – it’s a free-form freak out (to use a phrase coined by the Red Crayola) – is the only part of this amazing album that is less than outstanding and ironically (given that I’m sure the band thought this would be, like, totally cutting edge at the time), it sounds far more dated today than any of the more conventional soundscapes that the band conjured up on the rest of the album! So to sum up: a must have album from a band that gets talked about a lot at DRC (but not as much as Talk Talk).

Rob listened: It’s not the motherlode, it’s just another record. I was both relieved and I guess disappointed that Nick, who seems intent on bring as much of the canon as he can haul to our meetings, dragged along the only Can album I know. I rarely ever go back and listen to it, but when I do it’s always a pleasure and tonight was no exception. Amazing to think they were putting this stuff together when they were, and delightful to try to trace the lines of influence down through the years. I was disappointed not to have ‘This Nation’s Saving Grace’ in my glove box so I could play Tom and Nick ‘I Am Damo Suzuki’. It’s just the two of them who have spoken about Can more than any other artist, but I’m sure they would have enjoyed MES’s gag-filled yet genuine tribute. Maybe next time.

Graham listened: First listen for me left me very confused. Nick has in one fell swoop managed to wipe out a significant portion of my musical reference points. No one told me bands were alowed to sound like this in 1972! Some parallels to the first time I heard Spirit of Eden (which is in no way a a crude attempt to get Talk Talk back to the top of the most talked about band charts, oh no…).

Art Brut – ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’: Round 23 – Rob’s choice

art brut - bang bang rock & rollOne of the recurring themes of our discussions over the past year has been intent. What were they thinking when they made this music? What did she mean? What did he want? What did they intend us to think about it? Are they serious? Are they being silly, but with serious intent? Do they even know what they’re doing, and why?

It comes up surprisingly often, perhaps a dead giveaway that we all four are music listeners rather than music makers.

No record of recent years has straddled the line between smart and stupid with such perfect, giddying poise as Art Brut’s debut album. It’s a record about being in a band and making a record which you want to express all your youthful hopes and fears and realising as you do so that wearing your heart on your sleeve is sneered at in the early 21st century and that your fellow hipsters out there might think you’re being silly and embarrassing.

And it deals with it. Brilliantly.

Whatever cheap shots you might throw at Eddie Argos and his band, from the state of his throttled singing voice, to their apparently boundless ambition to their unbridled love of people and things, they’ve already thrown their counter-punch. From the moment 50 seconds into ‘Formed A Band’ (a debut single which essentially encapsulates the band so perfectly – they could easily have split up after releasing it leaving nothing left unsaid) when Argos sneers, “And yes, this is my singing voice, it’s not irony, it’s not rock and roll, we’re just talking… to the kids” you realise they’ve thought this through much better than you and there’s no point being chippy about it.

The rest of the album is studded with in-jokes, self-reflexive digs and confessions of pure love for girls, places and even paintings. All this drilled home by an irresistible, whirling, day-glo thrash-pop without which, of course, Argos’s words would be so much pointless posturing. Every song has something, either a killer hook or a killer gag, to recommend it.

It’s fun and very funny, whilst still being clever, provocative and insightful. That’s a rare balance and those are rare priorities in these cynical times. More to the point, ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’ is a record about pure, uncontainable enthusiasm, that most unfashionable of emotions. It’s a minor miracle for a record so unbridled to deal with pretension so unpretentiously. It’s an almost impossible trick to pull off and, listening, one is forced to conclude that far from the knowing hipster outfit they might superficially seem, Art Brut must actually be very brilliant and very very smart.

Nick listened: Art Brut are a name I’m very aware of – plenty of people I know and respect the musical opinions of love them to bits – but they’re one of those groups I’ve enevr investigated for some reason; possibly, as I’ve mentioned before, because you simply can’t investigate everything you come across that sounds interesting or fun or worthwhile. There just isn’t enough time. Anyway, this was great, and I wasted no time in borrowing Rob’s copy to listen to again at home. Art Brut are disarmingly clever, witty, and fun, without ever being irritating or smug or smarmy, which is quite an achievement.

Tom Listened: Rob had lent me Bang Bang Rock & Roll on a previous occasion and I had had a couple of cursory listens prior to the meeting but I think it’s fair to say the record didn’t really grab me when I had played it in my own home. And whilst I certainly enjoyed its energy and the unusual lyrics this time around (and Formed a Band sounded great with the volume cranked up as loud as Rob thinks his neighbour can stand), I still felt there was something missing in the album that would prevent me from going back to it and exploring it further. I can’t put my finger on what it was though and I am perplexed by this fact.

Graham listened: Really didn’t know what to expect from this one, but quite possibly my favourite from the night’s offerings. Refreshing, funny, witty and clever and some great pop songs.

10,000 Maniacs – In My Tribe – Round 23 – Graham’s Choice

In My TribeThe soundtrack to my summer of 1987. If we had an outdoor, summer evening round of DRC, this would have been my choice. Would also have fitted have fitted nicely into an “earnest and worthy” theme night. Though not sure where I was actually going, this never seemed to be out of the cassette deck in the car that year.

Can’t really recall how I came about buying this album, it may have been the music press or even my desire to own everything REM (pre-Green, naturally), as Michael Stipe features on a track.

Natalie Merchant’s distinctive vocals, often restrained and occasionally soaring, carry you through this album, backed, in the main, by bright and jangly guitars. The subject matter of child abuse, alcoholism, US militarisation etc. etc. could be overbearing but is lifted by some joyful playing by the rest of the band. All that changes on the last track, where her vocals and the piano are simply beautiful. In fact, fellow members identified that Verdi Calls could well have inspired what later became Night Swimming, by REM. Generally you could categorise the sound as folk-rock/ pop-folk with the odd tinge of country. Though regarded as their best album, if I have a problem with any track it would be My Sister Rose, as the imagery of the vocals and style of playing, just doesn’t  seem to hang well with the rest of the tracks.

Given the general vibe of peace, love and tolerance to all, a wonderful irony was the later removal from US versions of the cover (and it’s a good one) of Cat Stevens’ Peace Train. This followed alleged statements from Yusef Islam about the Fatwa on Salman Rushdie.

This was the Maniac’s 2nd album on Elektra, and as I recall (though can’t find the CD’s at present) a lighter/poppier sound than their debut, with Wishing Chair. I’m sure we had the 3rd, Blind Man’s Zoo, knocking around as well, though I seemed to have moved on by the time the 4th, and final album involving Merchant was released. In various forms the band are still knocking around on the live circuit to this day, though I’ve not seen/heard/looked for any more of their output.

A perfect slice of summer when  its miserable weather or you’re in feeling a little down.

Nick listened: I hate to be predictable, but this pretty much passed me by, as Rob and Tom predicted; it is jangle-pop, after all. It was very pleasant, and the lyrics seemed interesting from one DRC exposure, but I think I’ve just got a big deaf-spot when it comes to jangle-pop in general.

Tom Listened: Come on Nick, you love to be predictable!

I am quite a fan of jangle-pop but I am also well aware of how often these records can pass you by on a first listen. So, in many ways I agree with Nick but at the same time I have a feeling that I may be being unfair on In My Tribe to dismiss it after just one, curry interrupted, listen. That said, I tend to like my jangle-pop to be either a bit twisted (The Bats, The Chills) or to have a seam of wistful melancholia running through it (The Triffids, The Go-Betweens). It seems as though other per-requisites are that the band have to come from the Antipodes and have the word ‘The’ in the name…unfortunately, 10000 Maniacs fail on both counts!

Rob listened: I realised listening to ‘In My Tribe’ how I subconsciously yearn for that period in the late 80s when a group, usually from somewhere in the lower half of North America, could simply jangle away at a couple of chords for a whole album and that would be just fine. There was a weird still point there where records didn’t have to do all that much to sound sweet. I guess 10,000 Maniacs really did get stuck in that still point, not quite country, not as oblique or interesting as R.E.M., not as wracked as Throwing Muses they just sort of jangled away and everyone else moved on. I enjoyed the listen.

Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul; Round 23, Nick’s choice

There was an article, some kind of ‘lost classic’ thing, on the final page of a 90s music monthly, about this album, which was the first time I’d ever heard of it. I knew of Isaac Hayes as the guy who’d done Theme From Shaft, and he might have already been the voice of Chef from South Park (which started in 1997), but I knew pretty much nothing else. The title of the album, and its obtuse cover (the top of Isaac’s bald head, his face hidden), were immediately intriguing, and the description, of an avant-garde album, made by a backroom producer and writer (Sam & Dave have him to thank for Soul Man) given complete creative control by a record label (Stax) recently split from its home (Atlantic) and floundering to find its own identity, sealed the deal. I had to have this album.

Hayes debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, had been a bit of a flop and he was going to step behind the scenes again, when the split from Atlantic meant Stax lost their entire back catalogue. Stax executive Al Bell decided to release 27 albums and 30 singles on the same day in a crazy attempt to construct an instant back catalogue, and Hayes used this opportunity to make an album where he had the final say on everything. It’s pretty fair to say that the resulting LP is a singular vision.

At 45 minutes long, there are only four songs, two of those spectacularly elongated covers of recent (now deemed classic) hits by other people. It opens with Bacharach and David’s wonderful Walk On By, stretched to breaking point at 12 minutes in length, lavished with an ornate, psychedelic soul orchestra, sparkling guitars and the most insistent, physically demanding rhythm section imaginable. The final three minutes or so lock into an unbelievable groove, the volume waxing and waning in intensity as the band play harder, softer, harder, but keep the pace constant. An edited version was a hit, and has been sampled countless times, but you need the full experience, really. It’s one of my favourite musical experiences ever.

Next up is a 9-minute funk / soul workout, one of two original songs, with a ludicrous title – Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic – and another outstanding groove, this time the rhythm adorned with piano (remarkably house-like at points). Again, it’s been sampled plenty (including on Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos, apparently). The other original is a (prototypical, but very good) soul ballad called One Woman, which plays things pretty straight and comes in at about 5 minutes long. The album closes with an extraordinary 18-minute long cover of By The Time I Get To Phoenix, the first 8 minutes of which are a spoken-word introduction, where Isaac talks about how great the song is, how he’s going to do his own take on it, and about the power of love and moral weakness. Obviously.

Our first foray into soul music at DRC…

Tom Listened: Whilst I am still a little confuzzled as to how this comes to be labelled ‘avant-garde’ (sounded pretty straightforward to my ears) I really enjoyed about 3/4 of it. The best track was Walk on By and, once I managed to put Nick’s ever more exaggerated gyrating to the back of my mind, I came to see what he was on about in his introduction to this record. An amazing slab of sound and, somehow the guy twiddling the volume knob in the studio didn’t even get in the way of my enjoyment of this track (which was almost as good as the Stranglers version). I liked tracks two and three a lot too, but found my attention wavering on the first 10 minutes of By The Time I Get To Pheonix which I felt was unnecessary and bewildering – it’s one of the best songs ever written, why would you do that to it? But, all in all, a great listen and an album I intend to pick up at some point.

Rob listened: I’m familiar with some of this record from soundtracks, and have a couple of Isaac Hayes’ later records. I love the sound and of course the sheer shameful indulgence of a guy being able to stretch his songs out over as long as he likes is somehow thrilling. I’m glad we didn’t get into a discussion about the definition of soul music. It would have done none of us much credit. However, i’m not sure something as outre as this can quite be it. But then we did get into a discussion about the definition of ‘Avant Garde’ during which I demonstrated comprehensive cluelessness, so what would I know?

Graham listened: I also struggled a bit with why this album may be regarded as ‘avant-garde’ and  “By the time ……”, was interesting, bordering on murdering a great song. But the main thing was I loved the rest of it. The extended instrumentals sounded like great  live jams that had been put down on tape, and in moderation, there is nothing wrong with that. A whole area of music I have never really consciously avoided, but just seem to have ignored. Not for much longer!

Baby Bird – Fatherhood: Round 23 – Tom’s Selection

I would hazard a guess that to most people Baby Bird means You’re Gorgeous. And much like Rob’s recent choice for record club, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the presence of a gargantuan hit single that towers over the rest of an artist’s work has not only been misleading for those whose only exposure to the band is that one song, but has almost certainly been damaging to that artist’s critical and (possibly) commercial prospects. Baby Bird’s first four albums are nothing like Ugly Beautiful (the album that housed You’re Gorgeous) and shorn of the glossy, unsubtle production values and the somewhat overt bid for radio play, Baby Bird’s songs reveal themselves as twisted little oddities that very much reflect the (presumably) twisted mind of Stephen Jones, the man who created them.

Fatherhood is the third of four home produced albums that proceeded Ugly Beautiful and is generally recognised as being the most cohesive and consistent of the four. It’s a slow burn of an album, very dark and brooding in the main, with pared down arrangements and a vast array of vocal styles (check out the falsetto in the Spacemen 3 a-like I Don’t Want To Wake You Up). In a similar way to my last choice for record club, it may sound on first listening as though there isn’t much going on. But closer inspection reveals a wealth of variation and subtlety – melodic alterations within a song, shifts in vocal intensity and delivery, lyrics that sound throwaway but are actually unusual and unsettling (examples:  ‘And the rain comes down and it makes a fool of us. No-one sees it coming except the animals. We rely on the TV, so what does that say about us?’ or ‘Little girl that swings, watch me through your fingers. Holding on like murder to this failed old singer’ or ‘I hope all little girls will be safe when he starts to dream about fatherhood’). It’s all a far cry from ‘remember that tank top you bought me, you wrote ‘you’re gorgeous’ on it’.

Whilst introducing the record, I tried to articulate that even though I really like this record, I’m still not sure it’s a particularly ‘good’ record. And, having ruminated on my fellow members’ confusion at this statement over the past 24 hours I suppose what I meant was that the one thing I like most about Fatherhood is that, 16 years on from first obtaining it, I still haven’t come close to understanding it – I have no idea what Stephen Jones’ motivations are! Is he laughing at us, or being sincere? Facetious or heartfelt? For me it’s a conundrum. And therefore, in much the same way as Lick My Decals Off Baby, Fear of Music (the least favourite but most listened to Talking Heads album I own) or the Guardian Xmas Crossword (the actual thing, not an album title), it keeps drawing me back, challenging me to unlock its mysteries and untangle its twenty strange little songs.

Nick listened: A strange listen. I know Babybird from You’re Gorgeous, of course, but I’m also very much aware that before this he’d released a (very rapid) string of albums made up entirely of home-recorded ‘demos’ (I hesitate to use the word lest it seem like a pejorative; it isn’t), and that this was the most renowned of those records. Many of these songs felt like they would lose something – intimacy, spontaneity, diversity perhaps – if they were recorded ‘properly’ (although I was intrigued to notice that one of them was an antecedent of You’re Gorgeous; an earlier, rickety version with different lyrics, which almost prompted me to say “he’s always had a great way with a pop melody, this sounds instantly familiar” until I clocked what it actually was), but, at 20 songs and an hour long, it’s a difficult thing to take in all at once. Is it even an “album” qua album, as it were? Or is it, as I mooted, just a musical way of Babybird “showing all his workings”, like you’re asked to do in a GCSE Maths exam? I can certainly see it being fascinating.

Rob listened: I saw Baby Bird play an early set as part of the first In The City festival in Manchester. There was a buzz about him back then and I remember thinking I didn’t quite get why. I suspect, looking back, that this was exactly the effect he was after and with that one memorable slip-up, he managed to dodge expectations and attention like a slippery eel. There was much to entice in ‘Fatherhood’ and I found myself comparing it to the Big Star records we listened to a few weeks ago (much to the dismay of Tom and Nick, our Big Star correspondents). To me, both sounded like records made without expectation of an audience, like the true expressions of a singular artist who didn’t carry a care for what others might think. This also brought to mind those early Sebadoh albums, similarly crammed with songs. Although totally different in nature, those records were made by two friends in correspondence, again without thought for an audience, and there’s something pure and privileged in being able, eventually, to listen in.

Rob read: I can’t believe Nick said ‘qua’ back there.

Rob corrected: Actually, I can.

Graham listened: Sometimes you come across an tracks and less often, whole albums that seem so personal to the artist, it can almost feel intrusive to listen. The way this is put together seems to me to be more important for the artist to document his work, rather than present it to his audience. One I would  need to work my way into.

Black Grape -It’s Great When You’re Straight… Yeah – Round 22 – Graham’s Choice

After getting in to a pattern of fairly dark and humourless offerings, I felt it was time to lighten up a bit.

While fellow members maybe justifiably stressed by my continually tardy write-ups, on this occasion the subject material has been at the root of the problem. With the mythology and history of the Happy Monday’s last album, subsequent break-up and bankruptcy of Factory Records, who would have predicted that Shaun Ryder and his new rabble would produce this? Moreover, who would resource him to produce anything? How much of this was a ‘happy accident’ and how much was well-planned collaboration?

Whatever happened, the results are great and on first listen this hits you straight away. Repeated listens may reveal a few more insights in to the quips and barbs in some of the lyrics, but the hooks in the first four tracks grab you instantly and demand your attention. Apart from drunken nightclub groovin’, the Mondays didn’t do much for me. Liked the singles, but didn’t get a whole lot more from listening to the albums.

I bought this after hearing the first single, Reverend Black Grape, and never looked back. The first four tracks on this album are so rich in hooks, grooves and humour (3 out of 4 were singles) that they draw you in to the more melancholy sound of the rest of the album. Not being part of the ‘scene’ at the time, I suspect that there may have been chemical product which when taken, synched perfectly with the dynamics of this album.

Looking back I don’t know why I never investigated the second and final album, but maybe they had ticked all the boxes with this release. In fact, I wouldn’t want to tarnish memories and the impact of this as a great ‘one-off’ and unexpected comeback album (bugger, should have saved this for when those were future theme nights!) More perhaps to do with belatedly discovering Talk Talk’s last 3 albums around this time and deciding to be less flippant with my listening.

Tom Listened: I really loved the Mondays. Bummed was one of those albums that was absolutely instrumental in developing my musical tastes beyond what I had heard on the radio. The Mondays on Bummed sounded vital and dangerous…unhinged even, but totally inspired and fearless at the same time. They ruled their ‘ghetto’ and were brim full of confidence. They operated outside the established order of things, set their own agenda and wrote blistering, often unsettling indie pop songs that you could kind of dance to. And for most indie kids at the time, ‘kind of dancing’ was about as good as it got. I trawled the back catalogue, got myself 24 Hour Party People and all the early EPs. They were all fantastic. This band were genius. What could possibly go wrong?

Well….Paul Oakenfold got his hands on them, did something unspeakable to Wrote for Luck, the ‘crossover’ became clunky, obvious, no longer insidious and subtle, Bez took the wrong drugs (actually, they all took the wrong drugs) and slowed his dancing down to a slothful lope. Something was definitely wrong. For me, Pills ‘n Thrills was confirmation of this…one of my biggest musical disappointments, it seemed to lack all the elements that made Bummed so amazing. I was convinced that if I listened to it enough it would suddenly make sense, but it never did and the follow up Yes Please seemed to back up that rather than being a crowning achievement, Pills ‘n Thrills was the beginning of the end.

So…Black Grape came along and I went along with it but there were too many echoes of Pills ‘n Thrills era Happy Mondays for me – the female backing vocals, the glossy production, the lack of real edge. I liked it well enough. Driving along in my car it made the journey go that bit quicker, but I always looked forward to I Should Coco on the other side of the tape. That was the great thing about tapes…it was a perfect way of truly finding out how you felt about an album. And when you started yearning for the other side (or even rewinding to get to it), I guess you knew.

Nick listened: I know this very well, and have done since it came out when I was 16; it soundtracked the summer after GCSEs, and the summer after that too, when people started having cars – it’s a good record in the car, in summer, with the windows rolled down. I like this more than any single Mondays album I know, which isn’t many of them, for the simple fact that this came out at that peak part of my adolescence, and the Mondays were active when I was a little kid, really.

%d bloggers like this: