The Go-Betweens – Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express: Round 52 – Tom’s Selection

the-go-betweens-liberty-belleI thought I would take advantage of Nick’s non-appearance at round 52 to play something that I presumed he would have no interest in hearing seeing as it inhabits two of his musical blind spots – jangle-pop in general seems to get short shrift from Mr Southall and as the Go-Betweens hail from Australia, the chances of Liberty Belle offering much in the way of aural pleasure for him was always going to be slim. However, as it is my favourite album by one of my favourite bands, I always intended to bring it to record club at some point – this seemed like the ideal opportunity (if you’re reading this Nick and are gutted that you missed out on hearing what is one of the most exquisite indie pop albums ever made, I will happily lend you my copy…or you can, no doubt, find it on Spotify).

Liberty Belle was my first Go-Betweens album. I bought it in the wonderful Spring of 1993 having just returned from a year travelling through the band’s  homeland. On reflection, the timing couldn’t have been more prescient. Liberty Belle offered the perfect soundtrack to those gloriously fresh yet warming days of a great British Spring and listening now I am instantly transported back to that time, a time of re-discovery, enjoying my old haunts as if they were new, having spent some time away, with fresh and excited eyes. The Go-Betweens always traded in melancholic nostalgia and never more so than on their majestic fourth album. Liberty Belle is crammed full of wistful melodies and sparkling, iridescent guitars and violins conjuring up a warmth and comfort that sounds as though it could be cloying and trite but, for me, is simply beautiful and so affecting that it is all I can do not to shed a tear as the closing bar of Apology Accepted shuffles off into the play out groove.

Strangely though, Liberty Belle also provides me with a nostalgia for an Australia I never actually experienced – a dustier, simpler land to the one I spent time in. It’s the Australia I wanted it to be rather than the one I found myself in. Maybe that’s part of the reason why this album resonates so deeply with me. And maybe it’s the Australia the band wanted to be in as they suffered the grey miserableness of life in grimy old London town, 12,o00 miles from home!

All the Go-Betweens albums I own are great but all bar Liberty Belle house at least one clunker, one track that makes me question the band’s ability to sift the wheat from the chaff. But Liberty Belle for me has no weak links at all, just ten perfect pop songs from the bright and breezy opener Spring Rain through to the aforementioned Apology Accepted. The songs are divided equally between Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (Oz’s answer to Lennon and McCartney?) and scattered throughout are musical and lyrical pearls. There is no point giving a track-by-track account of the album as, a bit like Sister Lovers by Big Star, choosing one above the other is almost impossible – they exist partly to complement each other, the best one is the invariably the one you’re listening to at that moment in time.

It’s hard for me to be objective about a record I hold so dear and, much like the albums by American Music Club, I can entirely see that Liberty Belle could never have claims to greatness within the pantheon – this is no Trout Mask Replica, Revolver, Blonde On Blonde or What’s Going On, the musical world did not shift off its axis upon its release – but that isn’t the point. Albums such as Liberty Belle, that have the capacity to drill into our deepest, hardest to reach emotions are the ones that I would always pull first from the fire. Remember Nick, the offer’s there should you ever feel the need…

Nick didn’t listen: It’s just jangle pop, isn’t it? It’s probably quite good if you like that stuff.

Rob listened: I never bonded with The Go-Betweens and so clearly the sort of life-long love affair Tom and the GBs have shared just wasn’t possible. At the time I think I wanted them to be as immediate as the Wedding Present, as intricate and enveloping as The Smiths and as otherworldly as R.E.M. Instead they were something else, something either too subtle, or just tuned differently to my teenaged ears. I’ve since spent very enjoyable hours with ‘Bellavista Terrace’, their Best Of… but this was the first of their albums proper I’ve given my full attention to. I really enjoyed it. Really really. I’ll listen again and maybe go further. But I’ll never get it as hard as Tom. Some bands just snag you at the perfect time and make a mark on your heart and if you miss them, you’ll never know what you could have had.

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Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’: Round 51 – Rob’s choice

Black Sabbath - ParanoidI was a punk, in spirit and predilection at least, if too middle class and too young to actually, like, be one. I knew nothing of Black Sabbath, but had them bracketed with both Led Zeppelin (hippies, basically) and heavy metal (a laughable music which took the sonic force of hardcore punk, largely removed the humour, replaced the desperate energy with technical proficiency and then wrapped the whole package in spandex).

Then in 1999 I was sent a review copy of ‘The Last Supper’, a documentary built around the Black Sabbath reunion tour of 1999. I watched it and within ten minutes realised I was wrong. Three things particularly struck me. Firstly, they rocked. They were four guys who seemed about to blow the walls out from whichever faceless Enormodome they happened to have rolled up to. Secondly, they were genuinely down to earth, funny, thoughtful and entertaining. They’d been to the ends of the earth in all sorts of ways, but still seemed like people you could enjoy hanging out with. Thirdly, Ozzy Osbourne, by then known as a reality TV freakshow, and on the evidence of these shows barely able to perambulate about the stage effectively, is one hell of a frontman.

So I bought a ‘Best Of…’ and then a while later I bought ‘Paranoid’ and I came to realise that much of the music I have loved or been intrigued by, can be found somewhere downstream from Sabbath, drinking from this dark wellspring.

‘Paranoid’, released in 1970, is Black Sabbath’s second album. It’s everything it’s reputed to be but not at all what you might expect. Perhaps the reason I get along so well with it is that unlike so very much of the music it inspired, it is unpretentious, direct, humane and, frankly, charmingly shoddy in parts. Spot the times Ozzy has to stretch a syllable to cover the space of two because the lyrics just don’t scan to the music. Accept that the opening lines of ‘War Pigs’, easily among the finest, most evocative in rock history, JUST REPEAT THE SAME WORD instead of finding a rhyme: “Generals gather in their masses/Just like witches at black masses”.

Nonetheless, ‘Paranoid’ succeeds through the sheer blunt force of its intention. ‘War Pigs’ is amazing, ‘Iron Man’ a spiralling riff-fest and ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ boogies and rolls irresistibly. And amongst this, none of the high-school satanism we’ve been conditioned to expect from the band. Instead they deliver forceful social commentary, chilling portraits of mental illness and disintegration and oppressive nuclear paranoia. ‘War Pigs’ is as powerful an anti-war song as I know, at least the equal of, if not better than, ‘Masters of War’. ‘Hand of Doom’ is a genuinely frightening warning about where drug abuse would lead you. Nowhere are we invited to take Lucifer’s hand and skip off to Hades for a tea party.

Critics were snooty about ‘Paranoid’ on its release and sure, it had little of the sophistication the early Seventies may have revered. But it smashed a sledgehammer through a wall no-one never suspected was there and music has not been the same since.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Pw83GXdDvfI%5D

Tom Listened: Of all the genres of music, ‘heavy metal’ (not sure this fully qualifies) is the one I find the hardest to appreciate – I have never found anything remotely pleasurable or interesting in anything I have heard that would fall under that banner. I am intrigued about why this would be, what it is about the music that causes this aversion but have always come up short.

I was delighted that Rob took Paranoid because so often the motherlode sounds so much better than what it spawned – DRC has exploded so many misconceptions for me that I was fully expecting a similar reaction to this….but, alas, I didn’t get it, and now I doubt I ever will. My loss I suppose.

(Really like the album cover though).

Nick listened: The vicissitudes of cultural memory being what they are, I’m more familiar with Ozzy Osborne’s wife and children than I am with him, except as a bat-eating, delirium-tremor riddled caricature. And part of the soundtrack to a Robert Downey Jr superhero movie. I’ve always avoided metal for myriad reasons, from heavy to black to doom to nu to hair, but it is sometimes worth going back to the progenitors: I quite like some Led Zep, if you strip away the lyrics about hobbits. So this was actually really good, but in an “I’m glad I’ve heard that” rather than an “I must own this” way; the riffs were awesome, the rhythm section brilliantly unsophisticated (but not hidden in the mix), and Ozzy, well… he wasn’t batshit, he was really good.

ABC – The Lexicon of Love: Round 51 – Tom’s Selection

lexicon-of-loveUnless you’ve been living in a cave for the last couple of months you’ll be well aware that recent shenanigans at DRC have featured our Singles World Cup.  According to our extensive survey and sophisticated statistical analysis, Massive Attack’s Unfinished Sympathy is the best single of all time, confirming in the process what Graham and myself had long suspected…our musical tastes are just a cut above (we both happened to choose this track as one of our top 8). Yet in the aftermath, I found myself anguishing over some of my choices wondering what might have been, especially in light of a few howling omissions. Omissions such as:

  • No Witchita Lineman as I assumed Rob and Nick would both choose this.
  • No song by Nile Rogers – in fact nothing remotely disco at all.
  • No Say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin.
  • Nothing from one of the finest pop albums ever: The Lexicon of Love by ABC – an album so filled with gleaming pop perfection that any one of its 9 tracks could have been submitted (as they all must have been released as singles somewhere in the world at some point in time…I’m sure I remember Many Happy Returns reaching number 1 in Guinea Bissau in 1995).

The least I could do was to take this to our first bona fide meeting since Singles World Cup.

Lexicon of Love is one of those albums (like Steve McQueen and London Calling and Tonight’s the Night and Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and…) that I bought out of a sense of obligation to its classic status, having never really been drawn to its songs whenever I heard them on the radio. But really a tinny old transistor could never do justice to such complex, orchestrated magnificence. So whilst I entered into my Lexicon of Love experience with low expectations, it wasn’t long before I began to see what all those fawning critics were on about. I was hooked, lined and sinkered!

Although most definitely pop music, The Lexicon of Love offers so much more than this might suggest and hence stands proud at the top of that shiny, synthesized pop edifice that existed in the early to mid 80s. So many bands tried to run with this baton only to trip up within a few steps, missing the point that hidden within these nine pop jewels is a subtlety and sophistication that rewards repeated listens and works on so many levels that even after hundreds of listens it reveals new twists, sounds and atmospheres. Although a completely different beast, maybe the next record to come along that managed to repeat this trick so successfully was Portishead’s Dummy – I can’t think of many records in between these two that could claim to balance accessibility, sophistication and innovation quite so adeptly.

Yet despite having such riches in abundance, Lexicon of Love is defined by its two chart smashes – let’s face it, everyone of a certain age can sing along to Poison Arrow and The Look of Love. But to suggest that these two tracks are the album’s crowning glories is just plain stupid….they are all crowning glories. Tears Are Not Enough and All of My Heart were also released as singles and are every bit as good (in fact I prefer them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them better) and my favourite track of all varies with each listen although I always find the majestic and ominous Valentine’s Day to be absolutely breathtaking.

Although ABC went on to release a string of well enough regarded albums after the Lexicon of Love, they were always chasing their tails and their latter day output has always been (perhaps inevitably) overshadowed by this gargantuan debut album of pure pop perfection..after all, when you’re at the top, the only way is down!

Rob listened: Well, I don’t think ‘Lexicon of Love’ has anything in common with ‘Dummy’, but I do think that it sits squarely in the middle of Tom’s sweet spot, nestling in amongst other sophisticated 80s pop suites like ‘The Dreaming’, ‘Sulk’ and ‘Spirit of Eden’. I do remember the singles making quite an impression over a crackly AM radio, but I never went back to ‘Lexicon’ after I started buying records of my own, so tonight was my first time hearing it through. I loved it, predictably. I’ve been back to it four of fives times in the ten days since we met and have had ‘All Of My Heart’ in constant Head Music rotation. There must be pop music as head-spinning as this being made right now. I wish I had the time to open my ears to it, but first of all I think perhaps I’ll spend a couple of decades mining all the stuff like this I missed first time around.

Nick listened: I’m aware of the esteem that this is held in, but aside from a couple of snatches of choruses to the singles, I’m just a little too young to have felt its initial impact or to have been swept up in the resultant ripples later on. As a result, most of this was pretty much brand new to me, which seems nuts given the way the other guys enthusiastically talked about it, even if they hadn’t been into it at the time. 80s sophistipop is a rich seam, and this has nudged its way onto my longlist of stuff to explore further, the way Prefab Sprout did when Tom brought that.

Big Audio Dynamite – This is Big Audio Dynamite– Round 51 – Graham’ s Choice

As Alan Partridge might say, MI0000605246 “B.A.D., the band the Clash could have been”.

Well at least against to Partridge’s original comparison of the Beatles and Wings, B.A.D. never recorded ‘Mull o’F***intyre’ so we can start on a positive note, but I expect the odd Wings apologist out there may have something to say.

On a warm summer’s evening on the night before DRC, I plonked this on and sat in the garden with the windows wide open ‘Medicine Show’  just floated outside and wrapped me up in a warm glow of 1985 nostalgia. It fitted the mood perfectly, though it was a shame it was gloomy and raining by the time we got to Rob’s the following night. A little bit of the magic from the previous night’s listen was missing in the process.

Mick Jones harnesses all of the ideas on this debut album that finally got him thrown out of the Clash a couple of years before. I’m currently on the search for his original mixes of ‘Combat Rock’ to see exactly what he had planned.

It’s ironic that an album which was so groundbreaking with its use of samples, drum machines, hip-hop rap, etc. can now sound so stuck in its time as a result of all that came along behind. I’m not sure how far they were influenced by B.A.D.’s rock/dance crossover but would we (should we) had to have put up with Jesus Jones, EMF, PWEI etc, etc….

Side one on this album is so strong with all the singles, ‘Medicine Show’, ‘E=MC2 and ‘The Bottom Line’. The 12inch remixes of all 3 are hiding in somewhere in my loft and I remember the last one being the most improved by the process, whereas the other 2 were just great in their original form. With reference to ‘The Bottom Line’, nearly 30 years later there is some irony we should still be boppin’ along to;

 A dance to the tune of economic decline, is when you do the bottom line, nagging questions always remain, why did it happen and who was to blame?

Side 2 would always struggle with such a front loaded side 1, but it seemed to just about keep hold of everyone’s attention. ‘Sudden Impact’ has still got a pretty good groove all these years later.

After all these years this album sounds very much of its time, but there is still enough to enjoy and mull (back to Wings again) over its later influence.

Rob Listened: I never saw the point of Big Audio Dynamite. I could hear that using samples and what we were encouraged to refer to back then as ‘beat boxes’ was unlike a lot of other stuff, but when ‘E=MC2’ was doing the rounds in 1985, I thought it was a little hokey. I’d already worn out my 7″ of ‘Hey You, The Rock Steady Crew’, spent a couple of years puzzling over the lyrics of ‘White Lines’ and within 12 months of B.A.D.’s debut, my brother was using my Grandad’s unwanted phonogram to play ‘Raising Hell’, ‘Licensed To Ill’ and ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’. So, I never saw the point. Plus, Mick Jones has an annoying voice.

I liked bits of this though, particularly the second side. I’d have to listen again to verify, but I suspect that when the songs were more groove-based, more genuinely sound system influenced, I preferred them. They should have let Don Letts sing.

Tom Listened: Having come late to the Clash party, steadfastly holding out for many years on the assumption that they were rubbish (based pretty much solely on my hatred of Should I Stay or Should I Go – a staple of indie rock discos in the early 90s and such a terrible song on so many levels…one of which is that it is crap to dance to!), my expectations of This is B.A.D were less than favourable as Graham set it to play. I remember some of my friends at school liking the album at the time of its release but I always found the singles somewhat leaden and melodically underdeveloped.

So I was pleasantly surprised hearing this almost 30 years later and finding there was much more to it than E=mc^2 and Medicine Show. Like Rob, I preferred side 2 but I found all of it much less annoying than: a) I expected to and b) Graham expected me to. Good choice Graham!

Nick listened: I’m only aware of “E=MC^2”, which is one of those singles that I find almost unbearably catchy whilst I’m listening to it, but that I can only remember the name of and who it’s by once it’s finished (the opposite of my usual problem, where I can remember a chorus or hook but not what it’s called of who it’s by. None of the rest of this album struck me as being quite as naggingly earwormy as that, but it was all, at the very least, interesting on a technical level for how it was put together.

Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down: Round 51, Nick’s choice

mydAnd so back to normal proceedings, and Rob’s house, where we haven’t been for a while due to babies and things.

Sans theme I thought I’d take along something new from 2013 – it’s been a pretty good year thus far, with plenty of records I’ve really enjoyed, but I feel like I’ve barely played anything from the current crop at Record Club. Most of them are quite long though – These New Puritans is 53 minutes, Holden is 75, John Hopkins is 60, Boards Of Canada is 62 – and with all four of us bringing albums again, and a baby in the house, I wanted to take something relatively brief. Luckily the debut album by Melt Yourself Down is only 36 minutes… (Even if those minutes are extraordinarily rambunctious.)

I reviewed this record for The Quietus the other week, so I shan’t repeat myself too much by going into the make-up of the band or how individual songs work; suffice to say that Melt Yourself Down is, at heart, a dance record, a party record – despite liking a lot of ‘dance’ records this year (like the aforementioned Hopkins and Holden), it’s this group of live-action (if you will) postpunk afrobeat jazzers who make me want to dance the most, who seem to have the most physically compelling batch of beats.

Good as those beats are, they’re not quite the stars of the show. Partly this is because Pete Wareham is in this band, and thus hyperactive, riffing-not-soloing saxophone is upfront and centre, twisting down audaciously catchy routes, and partly it’s because of Kushal Gaya’s frankly nuts vocals, which take in French, English, Creole, and made-up-stuff. But mostly it’s because of Ruth Goller’s outrageous basslines, which drive Melt Yourself Down with irresistible momentum, oftentimes forcing Wareham’s saxophone to merely mimic their own rhythmic patterns.

You can hear all sorts in Melt Yourself Down’s DNA – no-wave sax punk, Morphine, Acoustic Ladyland, Mulatu Astatke, Fela Kuti, electric Miles, and far more besides – so much that one could almost dismiss them as just being an amalgamation of their (admittedly myriad, and awesome) influences. Except that Melt Yourself Down also have the tunes. Boy, have they got the tunes. Amazing fun.

Graham listened: I must admit the first few minutes of this had me wondering if Nick had come across an album from the CIA’s Psycholigical Warfare program, as it sounded frenetic, to say the least. But it must have made an impression as it is now the only album released this year that I have bought for myself. The wife doesn’t seem to like it which is generally a sign that it is good. There are moments when it does sound like a Moroccan wedding band (if such exists?), a Madness tribute band and a hip-hop outfit have all booked the same rehearsal room, and that’s what makes it great!

Tom Listened: A new one to me, somehow Melt Yourself Down slipped under my radar and I had never heard of it (or them) before Nick played it to us. I liked Melt Yourself Down well enough and sensed that it is one of those records that would benefit from familiarity as it is so busy and energetic. However, after one listen it gave me the impression that it would be one of those albums that, should I ever own it, would rarely find its way onto my turntable despite being a perfectly enjoyable listen once there.