SEARCH iJAMMING!
Enter search words here 

COMMENTS ON THIS PAGE OR ANYTHING ELSE IN iJAMMING!?
DISCUSS THEM IN THE PUB


This page last updated
Tue, Feb 8, 2005 12:25 pm


Keep iJamming! Thriving!

Please donate to keep iJamming! independent, active - and free. Every penny helps: just click one of the buttons below.

Amazon Honor System Click Here to PayLearn More

Why donate? Read this.

WHAT'S NEW IN iJAMMING!...

THE FEBRUARY HITLIST:
Chemical Brothers, Lemon Jelly, Slits, Erasure, T.H. White, M83, Tim Booth and more

FEATURED WINES:
AZAGADOR
LA MANCHA, Spain, 2002
HERDADE DO ESPORAÕ
VINHA DE DEFESA
ALENTEJO, Portugal 2002

THE JANUARY HITLIST:
They Almost Got Away: The Best Of The Rest of 2004:

The IJAMMING! Interview:
Matt Friedberger of The Fiery Furnaces on Pete Townshend

MINUTES OF A 'MIRACLE':
The Birth of our baby Noel

2004: THE YEAR IN REVIEW
1) The Best Album & Singles
2) Most Disappointing Albums
3) Best Wines of 2004

THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR:
TED LEO in concert

FEATURED WINE:
ALBA VINEYARDS
Chambourcin 2002
New Jersey, USA

THE DECEMBER HITLIST:
Album reviews of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, John Cale, Nick Cave, The Scumfrog, Freq Nasty, DFA, Grip Weeds, High Dials

THE IJAMMING! INTERVIEW:
Wayne Kramer on Pete Townshend

OLD EUROPE, NEW WINES
Modern treats from Italy, Austria and France

JOHN PEEL: A Tribute

THE OCTOBER HITLIST:
Fiery Furnaces, Green Day, Bowling For Soup, Paul Weller, The Go! Team, Fatboy Slim, R.E.M., Kevin Tihista, Brian Wilson

FESTIVE MEMORIES:
A report from THE V FESTIVAL, Stafford, England, Aug 21-23

ABSOLUTE AFFIRMATION:
A NEW YORK HITLIST
(10 new Albums)

From the Jamming! Archives
THE HOMOSEXUALS, 1979

DVD REVIEW:
JEFF MILLS - EXHIBITIONIST

BOOK REVIEW:
SONGBOOK by NICK HORNBY

HIGHWAY TO UNHEALTHY:
Why Fast Food depends on Cheap Oil

THE CLASH: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THEIR MUSIC
by TONY FLETCHER
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 8 2005
A CHRONOLOGICAL SONG-BY-SONG ACCOMPANIMENT TO THE ENTIRE CLASH CATALOGUE. WITH ADDITIONAL SECTIONS ON COMPILATIONS, FILMS, DVDs AND SOLO CAREERS. Available online through amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and at all good bookstores.

The biggest night out that you'll ever have in." Jockey Slut
"Hedonism will have you gripped from start to finish, guaranteed." International DJ


Tony Fletcher's debut novel HEDONISM is out now. For more information and to read excerpts, click here.


HEDONISM is available mail order in the USA from Barnes&Noble.com. It's available mail order in the UK from amazon.co.uk or musicroom.com.

DEAR BOY The British edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores, amazon.com and amazon co.uk. More info here.

REMARKS REMADE The first ever R.E.M. biography fully updated with ten new chapters covering Reveal and beyond. Available at UK bookstores, amazon.co.uk and musicroom. Available at select stores in the States and through BN.com.

MOON The American edition of the Keith Moon biography is available in paperback at book stores, amazon.com, bn.com and amazon co.uk. More info here

iJAMMING! is a music and lifestyle web site hosted by
author, journalist and dee jay Tony Fletcher.
Click on the buttons above to access the different areas of the site.
For the latest additions, see What's New
To find a specific item, use the search engine
Tony's current musings follow below.
Previous musings are archived here.

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 5

LIFE JUST TAKES YOU TO THE BONE

The last of the major reviews for the January 25 Hitlist.

TIM BOOTH – BONE (Monkey God/Koch/Sanctuary)

Where do we start? With the terrible truth that most British music fans, including those who followed Tim Booth's former band James through football stadiums and amusement parks, don't know this album exists? With the dismissive recent comment from a prominent American music magazine's editor that Booth is a 'has-been'? Or with a general acceptance that the transition from front man to solo artist is more painful than many realize and one from which there are more victims than victors?

No, we start here, with this writer's belief that Bone holds its own with the best James albums. And we continue with this statement of fact: that Bone is not a solo ego trip by a former rock star, but rather a team effort by like-minded individuals assembled around the catalyst's distinctive voice and provocative lyrics. Made in Brighton – where hedonists and anarchists alike mingle in cafes, pubs, dance clubs and on topless beaches - it's an appropriately free-spirited album all about the existence of God, the meaning of life, the power of sex, and the manner in which, to quote the key line from the key song, "Everything's connected."

Musically, Bone covers so much ground it barely has time to find its (sea) legs. While the synthetic textures, sampled sounds and occasional drum loops bring a decidedly post-modern feel to otherwise conventional songwriting and familiar rock instruments, they don't make for an entirely coherent musical statement. Opener 'Wave Hello' is all crunchy guitars and singalong chorus, but the follow-up title track is an immediate about-turn, a haunting trip through the mysteries of the forest. Similarly, 'Monkey God' is something of a dance track, operating in that same sub-house tempo as all the best baggy anthems, but its segue into the lilting folk of 'Redneck' is somewhat awkward. And so it continues: 'Eh Mama' is abrasively cheerful hard rock; 'Down To The Sea' is a stirring ballad worthy of (but absent) full orchestra treatment; and 'Fall In Love' is, indeed, the same song as graced Booth and the Bad Angel, Tim's 1996 sortie with Angelo Badalamenti. Here it's given a more gentle, traditional treatment.

Bone: "An appropriately free-spirited album all aabout the existence of God, the meaning of life, the power of sex, and the manner in which, to quote the key line from the key song, 'Everything's connected.'"

But Bone is not to be judged on music alone. As Booth's voice swings from plaintive to passionate and back again, his lyrics reach beyond the rhythms, climb above the melodies and physically command your attention. Themes – and double meanings - are established immediately: the opener's "Wave Hello, shame we won't stay" line appears to be about a love affair, but viewed with the hindsight of the subsequent title track, which looks at man from the perspective of a 2,000 year old redwood tree, could as easily be about our perilously short lifespan. Or, as 'Monkey God' puts it, "See things from the stratosphere, we're so unimportant here, what's the point in asking why?"

Yes, Booth is still on his spiritual quest. "God’s pitch shift way out of time created an ape, infected with the spark of divine," he sings on 'Monkey God,' managing the minor miracle of sounding both Darwinist and Creationist at the same time. Likewise, 'Down To The Sea' contains the line "Find God, shoot him up, learn how to die"; and the finale 'Careful What You Say' ponders, somewhat cryptically, how "No two people read the same situation, but God God God's got better things to do." It's an obsession, certainly, but unlike certain rock stars we could mention, Booth never supposes to know the answers and therefore never stoops to preaching. Throughout Bone, he seems more determined to draw a correlation between the fragile state of our planet and the inherent contradictions of our belief systems than to sell us his own brand of salvation.

Besides, when Booth is not singing about God, he's infatuated with sex. Booth has an amazing ability to write about our carnal desires with a poet's delicacy: 'In The Darkness' and 'Eh Mama' are possessed by the same lyrical lust that rendered 'How Was It For You' and 'Laid' so effectively erotic.

As stated earlier, this is no solo effort. Enormous credit goes to multi-instrumentalist, producer and co-writer Lee Baker for helping divine Booth's vision, to Kevin Kerrigan for bass and other writing credits, and to Lisa Lindley Jones (aka Xan) for her heavenly vocals – especially on 'Down To The Sea.'

And Bone is not perfect. But then nor is most art of real merit, and any shortcomings are a noble mark of its ambition. At a time when so much music wears the proverbial Emperor's new clothes, Bone proudly displays all the beauty and ugliness of the naked animal body. And stripped to the core like that, it reveals something else, the invisible but audible ingredient in any musical statement of substance: its soul.


Highlight: I was worried you might ask that. Who came up with this sub-header anyway? According to mood, I switch between 'Wave Hello,' the commercial contender; 'Monkey God' and its dance beat; and 'Down To The Sea,' the power ballad to weep for.

Lyric: So many to choose from – several of which I discussed with Tim in our interview. This line from 'In The Darkness' escaped our attention but should not escape yours: "It's only space that separates across the morning train/my silent thoughts can't penetrate your ipod with my foreplay."

Quote: You'll have your fill of them once the interview gets up on the site.

Website: Timbooth.co.uk looks like it was assembled by a couple of Brighton crusties after a night on snakebite. "Tim doesn't read his own press, but we know many of you do," reads the statement in the Press section. "Please let us know if we are missing anything." With only seven articles featured – and just four of those in English – you've got to hope they are missing something, or Tim's in deeper trouble than we thought.

Wine: Booth resides and records in Brighton, Britain's last resort. And though he has a famously weak liver, which means he's not easily predisposed to booze, he's not opposed to the stuff. Why not set him – or yourself – up with a nice English wine from the Sussex and Kent countryside. Ask your BA Stewardess for the Chapel Down Horizon, or visit New Wave Wines and lust from across the 'net.

Buy: If you decide to buy this album online, please consider doing so through either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. iJamming! gets a small referral fee.

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 4

FRIDAY (S)TROLL: THE JAM vs. THE SMITHS vs. THE USA

I interviewed Tim Booth earlier this week for iJamming!. It was a fascinating and extremely entertaining conversation. I had initially intended to conduct our exchange by e-mail, but my questions were so verbose that when Tim received them he insisted we talk by phone! He was right to do so, but it was, I believe, the first time in my 27 years as an interviewer that my subject has had my questions in front of him while we've been talking. I'm looking forward to transcribing our ninety-minute conversation and getting it online for you in the nearest possible future. (Actually, I'm not looking forward to it all; any one in New York willing to transcribe the interview, for free, please get in touch today!) In the meantime, I'll be posting a review of Tim's first post-James album, Bone, which was released last week here in the States.

Bone sadly died a death in the UK, where it has been out since last summer: I think Tim used the phrase "couldn't get arrested" early in our conversation to describe his current commercial standing in his home country. But he readily accepted that these things are cyclical and that an artist has to get on with his work and trust that it will all even out in the end. He cited, as a case in point, Morrissey - back in vogue now after years in the wasteland.

Out of vogue

Back in vogue

Morrissey, of course, was an early champion of James, inviting his then fellow Mancunian celibate vegans to open for The Smiths in 1984 and '85. I saw the bands together at the Oxford Apollo early in 1985; I remember not "getting" James whatsoever, dismissing the then-Factory favourites as a pale imitation of the real thing – and I recall those headliners being absolutely and completely on top of their game, even as they suffered countless stage invasions by over-excited young boys.

As Booth puts it on the song 'Monkey God,' "everything's connected": A year earlier, in January 1984, I had interviewed Morrissey live on The Tube, from The Hacienda, an episode that rates as my most embarrassing two minutes on television. (If you've seen it, you'll know why.) Last week, Granada TV interviewed me about that interview for an upcoming Sky One special about bad predictions. Specifically, they wanted me to comment on Morrissey's statement,

"We really want to bypass the whole video market. I think it's something that's going to die very quickly, and I want to herald the death of that."

My response? That The Smiths' refusal to be part of the pin-up pop parade of storyboard videos was just as important a statement of their outsider status as their vegetarianism or Morrissey's celibacy, and I appreciated them sticking to their guns for as long as they did. So, a couple of years down the line, they succumbed and made a video for 'Panic'. At least they had Derek Jarman direct it. A true fan accepts that those artists he supports (need to) grow and that that sometimes means shifting their values according to changing circumstances.

Certainly, James grew as a band over the years, going on to make some astounding singles and albums that have become an integral part of my permanent record collection. On the other hand, we watched The Clash grow and expand in every respect but for their continued refusal to appear on Top Of The Pops… which reached a ludicrous conclusion of sorts when 'Bank Robber' became a hit, the group still wouldn’t make the short journey down Notting Hill Gate to the BBC Studios, and the show's dancers Pan's People ended up interpreting the song in comically sexist fashion. Was that a victory? Or obstinance to the point of self-defeat?

If The Jam were too British...

...why weren't The Smiths?

I digress. As I love to do. But remember, everything's connected. Listening to The Jam Live Jam CD in the car last Friday night, I was struck more than ever before by Weller's very British lyrics. The vernacular of 'Down In The Tube Station At Midnight'– from song title through phrases like "toffee wrappers," "cutlery," "Wormwood Scrubs," "British Rail," and "awayday," – is such that it almost requires a dictionary for those not raised in England. And 'The Eton Rifles' "Sup up your beer and collect your fags" must surely qualify as the most culturally confusing opening line ever to queer the mind of an American radio station's program director!

So, you say: what's new? Isn't it accepted wisdom that The Jam never broke America beyond its major cities precisely because of their very Britishness? Yes it is, so now I want to know… what was so different about The Smiths? Album titles don't get much more British than The Queen Is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come. And it's hard to imagine songs any more English in content than 'Rusholme Ruffians,' 'The Headmaster Ritual,' or 'Panic.' The Smiths' single and album sleeves were all irrevocable throwbacks to a black and white Britain of the fifties and sixties. And there was no sentiment less American in 1984 than "England is mine, it owes me a living," from 'Still Ill'. Yet at the time they broke up, The Smiths were selling out 5,000-seater concert halls, shifting hundreds of thousands of albums across the States and were, by all accounts, just one step away from arena status.

Why then, I want to know, did The Smiths succeed in America where The Jam failed? Answers in the Pub, please: this one will easily keep us going until closing time.

Everything's connected. I interrupted my son's computer hour the other night to find him dancing round the room (to a drum and bass game soundtrack), celebrating the fact that he'd just "saved New York from The Mad Mod." He'd just done what, I asked? And he called up a Teen Titans game from cartoonnetwork.com, and lo and behold, he was right!

Now we know why The Jam didn't make it in the States. The kids here are brainwashed to defend their culture from mods.


THURSDAY FEBRUARY 3

SMILEY SMILE!

Like clockwork, our baby Noel has started smiling at exactly six weeks of age. A beautiful sight. And like clockwork, he's up every three hours during the night demanding to be fed. I'm not getting the worst of it, but spare a thought for the wife, Posie, who's walking round with matchsticks propping open her eyelids. I have to say: I've found Noel's arrival quite invigorating. I haven't felt so determined and disciplined in a long time. You've probably seen as much from the outpouring of writing here at the site. Today I bring you one more new review from the New Year overflow: More Than Before by talented New York native T.H.White. It's right here.


WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 2

WEB FRIENDS DAY

Hub Moore, once of the band Three Colors, later a solo artist on Slash Records, and a frequent musical contributor to the movies of Hal Hartley, sent me the following missive.

"A movie I scored, "Assisted Living" is opening at the Angelika [in New York] on WEDNESDAY,
FEB 2nd.

It is a subtly comic drama about a pot smoking slacker who works in a
nursing home and the ways in which he deals with the real and imagined
problems that go on there. The film uses a mix of scripted and real footage
to create an authentic feel that is unique for this kind of thing.

You can find out more about it -see trailers etc- at
ASSISTEDLIVINGTHEMOVIE.COM"


Jim Rose – yes, the Jim Rose of the Jim Rose Circus, who famously entertained audiences through some of the first few Lollapalooza Festivals with its extremist take on the beloved American Freak Show – spent an evening devouring the iJamming! web site last week and then sent through this e-mail:

"Have a new book coming out called "Snake Oil". It is an eclectic encyclopedia of all things hustler, ie: how to do mind control, hypnotism, how pimps turn girls into prostitutes, hundreds of bar bets, how to do almost every circus stunts imaginable, along with other cons and scams. You can be dropped off at any city broke and not know anyone and still survive with this underground survival Bible.

Could you give it a plug for me?"

Done.


Snake Oil: find it here

Local DJ: find it here


Peter Cavanaugh, whom Detroit rock fans of a certain age may recall, to quote Dave Marsh, as "one of the true offspring of Alan Freed," published a memoir last year called Local DJ. In it, he claims to have witnessed a certain Who drummer driving a certain car into a certain hotel swimming pool at a certain 21st birthday party. When I contacted him for further details, he was suspiciously vague. In fact, he put me in touch with someone else present at the party who then adamantly, fervently denied that the famed incident took place. Still, Cavanaugh seems like a lovely person – anyone who can get endorsements from Ted Nugent AND Michael Moore for his book must be doing something right – so I'm happy to spread the word that he is reading from Local DJ, in 28 minute segments, on Detroit's WDET-FM Mondays through Fridays, at 7pm EST. (That's midnight in the UK.) The show is streamed online: accessing the station's home page will open up a live feed through your MP3 default player.


Jim Thirlwell, one time Virgin Record Store employee, later Foetus On Your Breath founder and these days a neighbor of mine, has his 10-minute cinematic suite "Anabiosis" premiered this Thursday night at the Merkin Concert Hall on Manhattan's West 67th Street, by The Bang on a Can All-Stars with special guest Philip Glass. For those who don't know, Bang On A Can is a venerable institution round these parts: since its inception in 1987, BOAC "have presented more than one hundred and fifty musical events in New York City… ranging from… an opera accompanied by the Yueh Lun Shadow Puppet Theater, to the presentation of a "comic book opera" based on the cartoons and libretto of comic book artist Ben Katchor, to twelve Bang on a Can Marathons."

Thirwell describes the work as follows:

"Anabiosis means revival after an apparent death, for example
from a coma where vital signs have been lost. But it also means a state of
suspended animation, a kind of biological hibernation where certain aquatic
invertebrates can adapt to survive long periods of drought. I find
this idea uplifting. This piece is cinematic in nature. I leave the narrative
to the listener."

Yes, this is the same Jim Thirlwell who DJs Moog instrumental versions of Suzi Quatro hits in his spare time.


Finally, Paul Dillon, whose bartending services at The Royale helped make Step On such a perfect event, continues with his first-Thursday-of-the-month party Loveless, "Everyone’s favorite Spacerock, Shoegaze and Psychedelia night" at Belly, 155 Rivington Street, between Suffolk and Clinton on the Lower East Side. Admission is free. Party kicks off at 10pm.

And talking of Spacerock, Shoegaze and Psychedelia, you won't find a better new album for a Loveless party than Before The Dawn Heals Us by M83 – yet another great record released during the supposed "lull" of late January. Here's your review.


TUESDAY FEBRUARY 1

GUILTY PLEASURE? OR PERFECT POP?

It's back to the reviews today: too many great albums came out last week, in both the UK and USA, for me to ignore them. Does a love for Erasure qualify as a guilty pleasure? Only if there's anything wrong with perfect pop in the first place. Nightbird review follows below.

The iJAMMING! HITLIST
JANUARY 25 2005
"WEEK OF THE YEAR?"

It is, of course, far too early in the year to talk about the Best Albums of 2005, but let me make this prediction: for iJamming! readers living in the USA, there will surely be no stronger week for new releases all year than this one, January 25. Record companies traditionally unveil their new artists around the third week of January, but this particular early year peak period sees an almost unfathomable number of quality releases, new and old, by both established and unknown artists. We're talking Chemical Brothers, Lemon Jelly, Tim Booth, Willie Hightower, The Slits, Erasure, Low, Bright Eyes, ...Trail of the Dead and Marianne Faithfull - to name just a few that I've been keeping track of. Over the next week or two, I plan to review as many of these as possible. Get your credit cards out: you're going to need them. There's some seriously indispensable music about to hit your stores.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 3

T.H. WHITE - MORE THAN BEFORE (Gammon)

With the New Year seeing such reassuringly superb electronic-based albums emerge from the UK and France (Chemical Brothers, Lemon Jelly and M83, all reviewed on this page), I would love nothing more than to cite an American artist of a similarly genre-busting high standard. T.H. White is as close as I can get – and that's with the caveat that he's more MOR than I would personally prefer. (Lemon Jelly, it should immediately be noted, are yet more brazen in their easy-listening, but they approach their soft-rock samples with such a wicked sense of humor that they get away with it.)

Clearly, the New York-raised White is a prodigious talent. He was learning jazz drums at age 8, touring with Blues Traveler by age 16, and immersed himself in his home city's hip-hop culture during many of the years in-between. On More Than Before, he plays guitar, bass and keyboards, programs all the drum loops from his own created sounds, and more or less produces the package too. His stated determination with this, his debut album, is to emulate nothing less significant than Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon.

But don't expect an epic on the scale of M83's Floyd-esque interstellar overdrive: T.H. White keeps his beats down-tempo, his grooves mellow and his (mainly guest) vocals low-key. At its best – as on the disco-funk opener named, presumably for year of prime influence, '1973,' or with the crisp trip-hop and female vocals of 'Openings' – More Than Before is casually addictive, up there alongside Air and Groove Armada. When Steely Dan's Cornelius Bumpus appears with his flute (which he added to 'Hometown' and the title track shortly before he died in February 2004), things start noodling their way into jam-band territory. And somewhere along that journey, White appears to give up his original desire to make us dance and settles for soothing us instead. On the other hand, the live show is proclaimed to be a cross between The Chemical Brothers and Jimi Hendrix. That sounds more like it.



Highlight: 'Desert Sky' flexes expansively ambient guitars against what sounds like live drums, over which White (?) and guest vocalist Ilana Rosengarten casually sing-rap their way to the club, recalling that utopian feeling that briefly existed around American rave culture of a decade ago.

Buy: If you decide to buy this album online, please consider doing so through either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. (UK Release date is March 14., 2005.) iJamming! gets a small referral fee.

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 2

M83: BEFORE THE DAWN HEALS US (MUTE)

I wrote yesterday about my Guilty Pleasure: a love for Erasure. But I feel guilty even calling it a Guilty Pleasure: look at a list of the earliest Mute releases - The Normal, Fad Gadget, Non, Smegma, and The Silicon Teens – and it's obvious that label founder Daniel Miller never saw a difference between the commercial and the credible. Still, in noting that Erasure's Nightbird on the same day as a new album by acclaimed French act M83, I did admit that, "There's no question which of these two records is more innovative - or simply more interesting." For as always, and even while pushing its pop acts on us, Mute has a new artist straining at the electronic musical envelope.

Named not for a British motorway but a distant galaxy, M83 takes its cue from the Loveless credo: space-rock, shoe-gaze and psychedelia. The French duo of Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau set tongues wagging with their second album Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts which, after gaining a belated release in the States last summer, paved the way for an American tour of considerable acclaim. Fromageau has now jumped (the space) ship, leaving Gonzalez to take M83 off into his own personal universe, and the result is simultaneously more expansive and yet more focused.

Before The Dawn Heals is a remarkable record – sometimes soothing ('Safe'), frequently soaring ('Teen Angst'), often repetitive ('Can't Stop'), occasionally frightening ('Car Chase Terror') and here and there, and in the best way, almost confoundingly challenging ('*'). It presents a galaxy of sound in which bright choral vocals vie with urgent synth-based rhythms against vast walls of keyboards to create something in open thrall to its influences and yet totally new in the process.


Highlight: 'Can't Stop,' with its falsetto repetition of the title, synthetic choral harmonies and pronounced drum rolls, is heavenly hypnotic simplicity. But the finale 'Lower Your Eyelids To Die With The Sun', from its tribute title to its gradual build-up and slow burn-out, evokes nothing less than an electronic Pink Floyd for the new Millennium. Prog-electronica? You betcha.

Lyric: "How fast we burn! How fast we cry! The more we learn, The more we die!" 'Teen Angst.'

Web Site: Listen to M83 Radio here. And check Gonzalez' Top 5 Albums here: not a Mute release among them

Wine? You wouldn't guess it from the music, but Gonzales hails from the decidedly upscale Riviera resort town of Antibes. There, summer months – and they all seem like summer on the Mediterranean (so I hear) – are spent sipping Provencal rosé. Get a taste for the finest pink wines here.

Buy: If you decide to buy this album online, please consider doing so through either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. iJamming! gets a small referral fee.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 1

ERASURE: NIGHTBIRD (MUTE)

The week of January 24, 2005, Mute Records released two albums: one by the label's most consistently successful songwriter, Vince Clarke - who, with vocalist Andy Bell, has spent the last twenty years making sublime synth-pop as Erasure – and the other by a critically acclaimed young Frenchman, Anthony Gonzalez, operating under the name M83. The one act is inherently commercial, the other almost resolutely underground. And if you were to proclaim that the predictable pop songs of Erasure are, come 2005, old news compared to the variable electronic symphonies of M83, I wouldn't disagree. There's no question which of these two records is more innovative - or simply more interesting. (And I'll get to that M83 album tomorrow.)

But, I admit, I've always had a soft spot for Erasure. I trace it back to Vince Clarke's breakthrough single as Depeche Mode's songwriter, 'Just Can't Get Enough,' the most perfect bubblegum pop song of all time. I trace it through his work with Alf Moyet in Yazoo: 'Only You' is surely the greatest synth-pop ballad ever written. And I trace it through the first decade of his productive professional partnership with Andy Bell: any number of Erasure singles – 'Sometimes,' 'Stop!' 'Chorus,' the list is impressively long – qualify as fabulous examples of gay/alternative/modern disco that sounded equally wonderful emanating from the AM radio.

But no act can keep going for twenty years without losing focus, and Erasure's second decade was a difficult one. Disappointing sales of the 1997 album Cowboy meant that 2000's Loveboat was only released in the USA three years later (in Mute's independent stratosphere, whereas previous Erasure albums were through Warner Brothers), and then as a sudden precursor to the dreadful and commercially disastrous covers album Other People's Songs. (Which I slated - I mean, reviewed - here.) With 15 million album sales behind them, they could have called it quits at this point, but it's obvious that they didn't want to end on a low. There was only one option left: return to what they do best.

That's certainly the feeling one gets from Nightbird. There are no great surprises, no grand experiments, just one solid song after another. Though it's all indelibly, unquestionably Erasure, there's musical variety within this recognizable formula: the single 'Breathe' is a lugubrious ballad, 'All This Time Still Falling Out of Love' is blatant Euro-trance and 'Sweet Surrender' a throwback to classic synth-pop such as Clarke helped invent in the first place. Nightbird is not as exuberant as the classic Erasure albums from the first decade, but nor should it be, given that both Clarke and Bell are now in their forties. Besides, with maturity comes a certain subtlety, something to be welcomed when it allows the songs to improve over repeated plays, as proves the case here.


Highlight: More so than any one song, it's the fact that the album was recorded in Brooklyn – and, from what I can ascertain from the info on hand – just round the corner from me, on Union Street. It's also worth noting that Vince Clarke moved to New York after living on Keith Moon's old Tara Estate for many years – having built an equally bizarre mansion over Moon's old one.

Quote: I love Mute Records, but how did this sentence ever make into the official bio? "Their first studio album in seven years…" Just because the public did not buy Loveboat and Other People's Songs in any great numbers doesn't mean they can be uninvented.

Lyric: Andy Bell is so shamelessly obsessed with romance that he announces on the opening 'No Doubt' "I'm dying to show you what love is about" and then dares put the song titles 'Because Our Love Is Real,' 'Don't say You Love Me' and 'All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love' next to each other later on the album. Sadly, you don't listen to Erasure for original comments on the subjects: "We all need someone just to keep hanging on," is a typical example of Bell's formula.

Wine: There's something soft and sweet, warm and reassuring about Erasure. They make a perfect match with Merlot. And despite Paul Giamatti's comment in Sideways, there's plenty good stuff about: I enjoyed the 2000 Merlot from Pindar of Long Island, have good memories of Columbia Crest's inexpensive Merlots from Washington State (their Grand Estates 2001 Merlot just made the Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of 2004) and would happily quaff any number of Vin de Pays d'Oc from Southern France. And of course some of the finest Bordeaux – particularly those from St-Emilion and Pomerol – are predominantly Merlot. Just don't make it Yellowtail. That's stuff the Coca-Cola of wine.

Buy: If you decide to buy this album online, please consider doing so through either amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. iJamming! gets a small referral fee.

THURSDAY JANUARY 27

THE SLITS – CUT (KOCH)

You can tell that an album was ahead of its time when it still sets teeth rattling upon re-release a quarter century later. Continue...

TUESDAY JANUARY 25

LEMON JELLY – '64-'95 (XL)

Flip over the Chemical Brothers and there's Lemon Jelly on the other side. Continue...

MONDAY JANUARY 24

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS: PUSH THE BUTTON (Astralwerks)

Throughout history, there have, typically, been two types of Great Groups: Continue

MONDAY JANUARY 31

A PIECE OF TOAST FROM THE ONE YOU LOVE MOST

I listened to The Jam Live Jam CD – not to be confused with Dig The New Breed – on a long drive Friday night. Funny how I could remember almost every single word of every single song. Or maybe it isn't: I once turned a so-called business dinner with a band manager into a singalong of all the Jam B-sides, in chronological order. But that's another story…

Anyway, while the music does it for me every time – that will never change - I found myself caught in a slightly conflicting reaction to the lyrics. Some of them seem unbelievably crass all these years on ("They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scubs…,") and yet they were perfectly appropriate at the time, especially allowing that Weller was between 18 and 23 when he wrote them. I was particularly taken by the line I've chosen as today's headlines – seems like the ideal title for a fanzine, doesn't it?

Does anyone fancy starting a thread in The Pub? Weller's most unforgettable couplets? They can be poetic or embarrassing, I don't really mind. One that's always seemed to me to fit into both camps – I love it, even though it makes me cringe – is this:

"I know I come from Woking/And you say I'm a fraud/But my heart is in the city where it belongs…"

Last week, The Pub got more hits than the iJamming! front page, for the first time since we established our online meeting place a year and a while ago. Fortunately, traffic at the front page keeps increasing as well, so I'm not complaining. The inevitable effect of all this is the sheer toll it's taking on my limited free time (as in, you get this site for free): if you've sent me a personal e-mail of late and haven't had a reply, I hope you'll bear that in mind.

Of course, it would help if I didn't get distracted surfing the web, wouldn't it? Don't ask how I got to this warped Animation of Duelling Banjos, but I did... It had me laughing out loud, full volume, last night... Can't believe it will have anything but the same effect on your good selves and will surely get your week off to a positive start.


GET OUT YOUR MAT AND PRAY TO THE WEST?

Friday, I expressed my fears about the Iraqi election… Fears I know I shared with just about everybody. Fears of bloodshed terrifying even by the standards of Iraq's unhappy history. As it turns out, about the only bad news to emerge from Iraq's first free elections in a half century (except of course, for the fact that 35 people were killed by terrorists in 9 different suicide bomb attacks) is that President Bush is probably sitting in the White House right now believing his actions have been completely vindicated. (And, God forbid, wondering where next to deliver democracy via the barrel of a tank.) I've never believed that Iraq is a black and white issue, not when you've got Bush on one side, Saddam on the other, and an ineffective United Nations inbetween. But you would think, today – if just for one day – we could all pause and celebrate the fact that Iraqi citizens braved the death threats and the ongoing chaos and turned out to vote in higher numbers than did the populace of the USA last November. The New York Times' John Burns, who has never had a problem identifying evil, certainly believes so:

"At the Darari primary school, east of the Tigris River in central Baghdad, the courtyard teemed with people of all ages, and of all ethnic and religious groups, doing what American military commanders here have urged for so long: standing up for themselves, and laying down a marker, with their votes, that signaled they could not be intimidated into surrendering their rights by the insurgents who have terrorized the country with guns and bombs and butchers' knives.

Unfortunately, it was too much to expect the NY Times' British equivalent, The Guardian, to suspend its cynicism for one day. Here is Brian Whittaker in the paper's lead online dispatch about the elections, unwilling to consider the possibility that things may actually, possibly, turn out for the good:

"If the Iraqis are lucky, they may eventually arrive at the corrupt fig-leaf sort of democracy that flourishes in other Arab states such as Egypt. The sort of democracy where elections change nothing and their results are always a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, they may not be so fortunate."

Iraqis already know what it's like to live in a country where elections are "a foregone conclusion." That was their life under Saddam.

2005 MUSINGS:

Jan 24-30: Chemical Brothers/Lemon Jelly/Slits album reviews. Ted Leo/Benzos live reviews. Gang of Four/Specials/Happy Mondays/Farm/Bureau reunions. Tempranillo wine reviews.
Jan 17-23: The January Hitlist: Those That Almost Got Away, Revolutions, Remixes, Remisses, Justin Timberlake, Fiery Furnaces, Jimmy Edgar live
Jan 10-16: Tsunami observations/relief efforts/fund-raisers, Best Wines of 2004, British vs. American charts, Alba Chambourcin wine review
Jan 3-9: The Best Of 2004 - Albums and Singles; Biggest Disappointments of 2004; Minutes of A Miracle: Our Son Noel; New York Club Nights

2004 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE
2003 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE
2002 MUSINGS ARE LISTED HERE
:


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2004