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Wed, Mar 23, 2005 12:37 pm


THE CLASH: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THEIR MUSIC 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.


HEDONISM Tony Fletcher's debut novel 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.
More info on Hedonism 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

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.

Limited hardback editions of Dear Boy/Moon remain available through amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and barnes&noble.com.


Never Stop: The Echo & The Bunnyment Story is out of print.

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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.

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.

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?
M83 is a dark, feral, broody and bloody anomaly to the Provencal postcard image of sun-kissed beaches and rosé wines. So, for that matter, is the appellation of Bandol, from just west of M83's native Antibes. Listen to Before The Dawn Heals Us with a glass of Domaine La Suffrene or Chateau Pradeaux Bandol in your hand and get away from the tourists of all stripes.

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. (Cut has been available on CD in the UK since 2000; it is only now being released in the States.) Recorded in 1979, as the British new wave exploded in an orgy of experimentation, Cut was no less revolutionary than PiL's Metal Box: a furiously emotive and gleefully undisciplined blend of punk attitude, reggae rhythms and the kind of guitar riffs – sharp shards cutting in from unpredictable angles – that has since been termed punk-funk (or even post-punk), but back in the day was a sound with no name.

The Slits were the first all-girl punk group, which makes their originality all the more profound, but they refused to tow the then-prevalent feminist party line. As photographed by Pennie Smith, they posed naked on Cut's cover, wearing loin cloths, wrapped in mud and looking for all the world like primitive jungle girls who would cut off your balls as soon as look at you. My reaction as a 15-year old boy was equal parts terror and turn-on. Then again, vocalist Ari Up was 17 at the time. As their 'theme' song noted, these were not exactly your typical girls.

And yet, perhaps because they were among the first girls on the punk scene, The Slits were intrinsically bound with the movement's most prominent boys. Guitarist Viv Albertine went out with Mick Jones (he wrote 'I'm Not Down' about their break-up); Spanish-born drummer Palmolive had a long relationship with Joe Strummer, influencing the song 'Spanish Bombs' among others. Ari Up's mother, Norah, dated and later wed Johnny Rotten.

While these relationships must have played their musical part, the girls themselves credited Roxy DJ and Old Tenisonian Don Letts for turning them on to reggae, which became their musical bedrock. With Palmolive purposefully speeding up and slowing down, Tessa Pollitt laying down some heavy reggae bass lines, and Viv Albertine distributing that scratchy guitar left right and center, Ari Up screamed, spoke and occasionally sang as she ridiculed sexual mores ('Love And Romance'), the capitalist agenda (''Spend Spend Spend') and failed socialist ideals ('Newtown'). Those who first heard any these songs on The Slits' breathtaking John Peel sessions from 1977 and 1978 know that things were never quite the same again.

"They were feminist, they were feisty, and they were fun; they gave not a damn for political correctness, they wrote lyrics of sharp value – and you could dance to them all night long." Cut is reissued in the States on CD.


By the time The Slits came to record Cut for Island Records, Palmolive had bailed out, following her feminist politics to a logical home in The Raincoats. She was replaced by future Banshee Budgie, who waited until he paired up with Siouxsie as The Creatures before appearing with topless females on any record covers! His drumming proved perfect for the trio, and along with UK reggae producer Dennis Bovell's input, helped cement Cut's distinct sound. It was not Budgie, howver, but a dread from Ladbroke Grove who played on the Slits' monumental cover of 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'; issued as the B-side to 'Typical Girls', it sounded no less groundbreaking than The Clash's version of 'Police & Thieves.' It is included on this CD, as is an entirely gratuitous remix of 'Love And Romance.'

The Slits did not become superstars; they broke after one more album released on a different label some two years later. And if there was no Slits, there would probably still have been a Raincoats and an Au Pairs: feminist independent music was an inevitable element of the new wave agenda. Still, almost every female performer operating anywhere within the alternative/modern/independent stratosphere owes a daily debt to The Slits for forging such a wide, uncompromising path into the 1980s. They were feminist, they were feisty, and they were fun; they gave not a damn for political correctness, they wrote lyrics of sharp value – and you could dance to them all night long. After several years living in Jamaica, Ari Up now resides in New York, where she regularly performs live – and in a similar style to The Slits. Finally she can walk into her local Megastore and see the influential album she made in her teens in something other than the import bins.


Highlight: Much of The Slits' music was purposefully uncommercial. But they couldn't help themselves with 'Typical Girls': aided by a four-four rhythm, a tinkling piano line, masterful production - and a wry lyric that declared The Slits' outsider status – 'Typical Girls' still sets the hair up on edge all these years later.

Lyric: "Ten quid for the lot, we pay fuck all." ('Shoplifting.')

Quote: "We didn't want to follow male rhythms and structures. We consciously thought about getting girl rhythms in to music and concluded that female rhythms were probably not as steady, structured or as contained as male rhythms." Viv Albertine, from the sleeve notes (written by Mark Paytress for the UK release in 2000).

Wine: Like Marvin Gaye, they heard it through the grapevine. Which grape has never been determined. But the Slits were free spirits, and – perhaps because of Palmolive's influence - I can easily imagine them at home on the plain in Spain, where time is an abstract and where wine, music, dancing and sex are all wrapped up in an everyday celebration of life. Pair Cut up with some warm, fruity, spicy Tempranillo.

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 JANUARY 25

LEMON JELLY – '64-'95 (XL)

Flip over the Chemical Brothers and there's Lemon Jelly on the other side. By which I mean the two acts represent different sides of the same coin. Both are British duos fascinated by the concept of making new music out of old sounds, both operate within the realms of dance music but have an encyclopedic knowledge of pop, rock, soul, folk and all points in-between - and both are releasing superb new albums this January 25, 2005. But whereas The Brothers have built a substantial can(n)on of voluminous sonic assaults for the dance floor, Lemon Jelly's music is mostly designed to chill out with at sunset. (Think Groove Armada during creative peak Vertigo period as a jump-off point.) And of course, the Chemical Brothers have a following stretching into the millions, while Lemon Jelly are still merely a cult.

That could all change with the brilliant '64-'95, but it probably won't. For all their clever ideas, beautiful packaging, savvy marketing and commercial compositions, there's something so purposefully anonymous about Lemon Jelly that I can't imagine them becoming – or wanting to become – superstar(DJ)s any time soon.

For example, I have no idea what Lemon Jelly's Fred Deakin and Nick Franglen look like. I know they're a couple of ex-punks who went their separate ways for 15 years and returned suitably overloaded on ideas to strike up this vibrant creative partnership. And I know that their rare concerts are usually some form of spectacle - like the time they issued tickets in the form of a t-shirt, which you had to wear to gain entry.

But now I know this too: that, after alerting my musical antenna with Lost Horizons, their laid-back (but somewhat stilted) 2002 full-length debut "informal concept record about travel," the duo have delivered a stunningly original and ambitious audio-visual epic with '64-'95. Every 'song' samples a source 'song' from a year within the album title's time frame – and every one of these sampled songs comes from a different musical genre. We hear Masters Of Reality ranting on ''88 aka Come Down On Me,' Gallagher and Lyle softly singing ''75 aka Stay With You,' Monica adapted into 'Make Things Right' and William Shatner elucidating ''64 aka Go' – and yet such is the cohesive nature of Fred and Nick's textural frameworks that if you don't know already how broad a part of the musical spectrum these sampled acts represent, you need never be any the wiser.


As an audio album, '64-'95 is one of the most vividly distinctive records you could hope for in the year 2005. But this time round, Lemon Jelly go one better: the entire record comes (should you want it, and for less than $20) as a DVD, which can best be described as your Private Psychedelic Reel. The nine computerized animations – all courtesy of a team called Airside - sidle up to the songs in question and render them even more distinctive, more humorous… and more human too. Whether it's the pencil-drawn figures headbanging during 'The Shouty Song, or the frog running through ladies' legs on the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-originated 'A Man Like Me', the designs imaginatively interpret the songs while still leaving any number of meanings up to the individual. These are the type of interpretive "videos" that your kids, should you have them, will find purposefully hilarious and accidentally inspiring; they’re also the kind that, should you have time to absorb them on your own, will surely prove hallucinogenic.

(An important aside: when I was about 15, I smoked some very strong hash courtesy of a corrupting school-friend, went home and listened to the Yello album Solid Pleasure. As I lay on the floor, eyes closed, more stoned than I'd ever been, I viewed entire animated, rhythmic cartoons against the back of my eyelids. The DVD for '64-'95 is the closest I've come to seeing those cartoons actualized in 25 years... without the need for stimulants other than the music itself. Isn't technology a beautiful thing?)

Animation from The Scars-sampled 'The Shouty Track'....

...and from 'A Man Like Me.' Both are on the '64-'95 DVD

'64-'95 is pushing, then, and in every direction, the boundaries of what we consider "original" art and music in the 21st Century. Still, I get the feeling that Nick and Fred are so surprised to be doing this for a living that they flatly refuse to take it seriously. This might explain their anonymity, which extends to a sleeve design that neglects to include the band name and barely visualizes the album title. Or it may just be that, unlike many of the other electronic post-rave duos, Lemon Jelly really don't give a toss for credibility, let alone visibility. This is a duo, after all, which once played a show purely for kids (as opposed to "The kids") dressed as The Flintstones.

Far be it from me to suggest that if you only had the money for one British post-rave dance duo's superb new album released on January 25, you should spend it on Lemon Jelly and not on The Chemical Brothers. These acts are part of the same coinage, after all. Let me just say this: those who decry the state of the contemporary electronic dance music scene (and that's included me in recent times), those who think all these studio duos are too serious by half, those who believe modern dance music can't rock and conventional pop music can't dance, those who claim that anything said in samples is instantly rendered redundant… those people really need to hear – and watch - this album. It's the rare kind of album of which can be said: everything old is new again.


Quote: "We used to have a rule that if anything made us laugh in the studio it had to go on the record. That doesn't always make it cool but it always makes it interesting."

Highlight: Long before I sought out the sample sources – printed in such minute type on the CD sleeve you need a magnifying glass to read them anyway – I fell for 'The Shouty Song,' with its caustic guitar creating a delirious mid-tempo rock'n'roll dance groove. Then I discovered it was sampled from The Scars, the only one of Lemon Jelly's many source artists I ever saw perform in the flesh. Coincidence? I doubt it.

Web Site: Typifying their contradictory nature, the technology freaks Lemon Jelly neglect to print a URL on their sleeve. (Though the quality of the paper more than makes up for it.) However, you can watch a hilarious trailer for the '64-'95 DVD here, and the whole of 'The Shouty Track' here. (And the band web site exists here.)

Lyric: "Don't Stop Now." ('93 aka Don't Stop Now.') This song came my way while I was working on a decade older Apocalypse track of shorter title ('Don't Stop') though far many more words. It was reassuring to have the sentiment reinforced from another source..

Wine: Lemon Jelly are a hybrid act – merging past and present to create something new for the future. This album comes in hybrid formats: if, like me, you listen to much of your music on your computer, I recommend getting the DVD which, if you need to work undistracted by the stunning visuals, will play the audio tracks on their own. However you choose to enjoy '64-'95, it surely makes sense to do so with a hybrid wine. Americans and Australians should head for the nearest Chambourcin, a grape that belies its hybrid roots. (The Alba Vineyards Chambourcin 2002 is a sterling example from New Jersey.) Brits should march to the nearest supermarket and demand, in a proud voice, a fine British white wine – or even a bubbly - made from the equally impressive hybrid Seyval Blanc. Try Chapel Down. Or, if you like 'The Shouty Track' as much as I do, visit Kent's New Wave Wines.

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.

MONDAY JANUARY 24

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS: PUSH THE BUTTON (Astralwerks)

Throughout history, there have, typically, been two types of Great Groups:
1) Those that relentlessly, unapologetically repeat a proven formula (e.g. The Rolling Stones).
2) Those that constantly reinvent themselves (e.g. The Beatles).

The Chemical Brothers may be among the founding members of a third type of Great Group: the act that reinvents music – but then relentlessly and unapologetically repeats its proven formula. Ever since the duo's debut album Exit Planet Dust – or, more precisely, ever since their breakthrough follow-up Dig Your Own Hole – fans and pundits alike have been waiting for Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons to panic at the prospect of impending irrelevance and, if not necessarily to adapt their sound to the latest trend, then, at the very least, to change for change's sake. And across four studio albums – make it five, now, with the astoundingly familiar Push The Button – Tom and Ed have steadfastly refused to meet those expectations. Is it not enough, you can almost hear them say between the grooves (I still believe albums have grooves, even when they're in digital formats), that we reinvented the wheel? Can't we just claim this corner of music – this enormous, expansive corner of music where everything comes together in peace and harmony, if not exactly in quiet and solitude – for ourselves, then just have fun redecorating the place every couple of years?

My response: sure you can. The mark of a great music act is, when you come down to it, neither repetition nor originality, but self-assurance. And The Chemical Brothers have that in spades. In fact, they appear to have more – or at least a more defiant – self-assurance in 2005 than back in 1995.


Why The Chemical Brothers if not the other superstar(DJ)s of the late Twentieth Century, those who have fallen now upon hard times and appear to be dragging the entire, once fertile genre of electronic rock'n'roll down with them? Here's my theory:

Unlike Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers have never been so shamelessly commercial as to block off their exits back to credibility; unlike Daft Punk, they've never switched sounds on a dime and pretended to 'discover' disco; unlike Underworld, they're still young enough to be ambitious; unlike Orbital, they're not actually brothers and therefore aren't bogged down by sibling issues; unlike The Prodigy, they never copped to metal or threatened to quit while at the top; and unlike every one of these acts, all of whom have earned their individual places in the post-rave hall of fame, they have been profoundly prolific.

Push The Button is the Brothers' fifth studio album in a decade, a rate of output that, of all the above acts, only Orbital equaled - back in their original, equally vibrant heyday. Add in, over this period, Tom and Ed's groundbreaking remixes, a benchmark DJ mix album, and a double CD retrospective whose B-sides bonus was better than most band's Greatest Hits, and it's apparent that the Chemical Brothers remain on top of their game because they've never stopped for long enough to question themselves. If that makes them more Rolling Stones at this point than The Beatles, so be it, because they will still be remembered as the dance group that dared cover the Fab Four in concert – merging 'Chemical Beats' with 'Tomorrow Never Knows' – and pulling it off.


So, I've been living with Push The Button for a couple of months now, and while I may be among a minority that believes The Chemical Brothers have never made a bad album, I'm also hopefully part of a majority that believes this is as good as they've got. From the opening block-rocking hip-hop of 'Galvanize' to the closing indie-rock/synth-pop of 'Surface To Air,' Push The Button is the sound of a Great Group at the peak of its game, knowing that the sound within – that vast corner continent where everyone's welcome as long as they agree to assimilate – is unmistakably their own.

Who's come to join the party this time round? There's Q-Tip on 'Galvanize' (where he sounds better, well, assimilated than on the last R.E.M. album), Bloc Party's Kele Okereke on 'Believe,' The Charlatans' Tim Burgess on 'The Boxer' (as one of their first guest vocalists, Burgess' return can be taken as another mark of The Brothers' defiance), vocalist Anna-Lynne Williams on 'Hold Tight London', rapper Anwar on the angry (and cliched) rap 'Left Right' and new Heavenly signings The Magic Numbers on 'Close Your Eyes.' A special mention, too, to under-rated Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes, who brightens 'Hold Tight London.'

These, then, are the 'songs' with 'vocals.' But many of us have also, always, loved the Chemical tracks without. Of those that inventively sample from other sources, 'Come Inside' and 'Shake Break Bounce' are so classically Chemical you could be forgiven for thinking you've heard them before. Similarly, among the purely instrumental, 'Marvo Ging' resurrects the ghost of 'The Private Psychedelic Reel' and dares you to question them for stealing from their own epic; the aforementioned 'Surface To Air' steals from New Order (whose Bernard Sumner sung on the Chemicals' Surrender album's 'Out Of Control') and dares you to question them likewise for not crediting such an obvious influence.

But that's the Chemical Brothers for you: a place in space where meets all the music that's fit to be heard, some of which is acknowledged, some of which is instead just absorbed. In that place in space inside Tom and Ed's heads (and studio), there are no such thing as trends, fashions, or perhaps, even, formulas. There is only good music and bad music. They know which camp they belong in. And on the evidence of this contagiously confident fifth album, so should we.

The Chemical Brothers' sop to fashion: Tom cuts his hair.


Highlight: For those who believe 'The Private Psychedelic Reel' to be the Chemicals' pinnacle, 'Marvo Ging' – albeit without quite so much euphoria – will be the most welcome.

Quote: You may know I've stopped reading record company bios until I've fully absorbed an album. I'm extra glad to have followed my proven formula this time around. Having reached my own conclusions that The Chemicals have made iush The Button as a defiant refusal to change for change's sake, I find a 4,000 word essay that says essentially the same. You would do well to read the whole thing: it's one of those rare record company bios from which you learn something about music in general as well as the artist in question. (I wrote the preceding paragraph before discovering the essay in question was written by Paul Morley: who knew he was such a beat-head?) But, to be honest, the opening sentence says it all:

Q: How is it now?
A: The new Chemical Brothers album Push The Button is, as it should be, the same as all their others, and totally different.

Web Site: Go to the www.astralwerks.com web site, click on 'Chemical Brothers' and then 'Bio' and you can read Morley's essay in full. It's well worth it.

Wine: You need a big, bruising – and, yes, block-rockin' - red to fully appreciate Push The Button, especially given its mid-winter release. I'm following the Chemical Brothers' non-lead and sticking to my proven formulas. Americans, pick up a solid spicy Zinfandel: the 2002 Seghesio Sonoma County has had even better marks than the previous years. (I just bought one for $18. I'll let you know how it pairs, but I can't imagine it not being perfect.) Europeans, yes, it's Rhône time once again: I can't think of a better accompaniment to Push The Button than an intoxicating young Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueryas, Lirac or one of the better Côtes du Rhône-Villages wines. (Just remember to skip the 2002 vintage.) And Aussies and fellow down-unders, break out your boldest Shiraz. This is a heady album. It deserves a heady wine.

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

The following capsule reviews were all posted Monday February 7. These albums were also released on January 25....

GRAHAM COXON – LIFE IN MAGAZINES (Astralwerks)

Does Coxon regret leaving Blur? He says not, but based on this solo album – his fifth, and the first to sound like he means it - maybe his old band will be begging for his re-enlistment. Because, now that he's enlisted producer Stephen Street to help him leave his Lo-Fi imagein the dust, it's apparent that Coxon, as well as being a masterful guitarist, was Blur's core song-writer. On tracks like 'No Good Time' (a rightfully disdainful look at Hoxton hipsters and cocaine addicts) and 'Bitter Sweet Bundle Of Misery,' he not only writes like Blur at their best, he even sings like Damon Albarn. Life In Magazines has the occasional self-indulgency - and the U.S. bonus track 'Right To Pop' suggests that Coxon has never fully gotten over his fall from public idolatry - but it easily qualifies as the best Blur-like album since Coxon quit the band.

WILLIE HIGHTOWER – WILLIE HIGHTOWER (Honest Jons)

At least Damon Albarn has spread his future options way beyond Blur. The Candi Staton retrospective CD launched his Honest Jons reissue imprint in essential style; consider this compilation of Willie Hightower's career the male equivalent. (An interim Bettye Swann CD was less impressive.) In his Sixties heyday, Hightower was so evidently continually in thrall - vocally, lyrically and musically - to Sam Cooke, that he was not always viewed as his own man. Now that the decades have passed and we can hear the two artists side by side, it's clear that Hightower was a tall talent in his own right. His searing ballad 'Time Has Brought about A Change,' for example, should be viewed less as an imitation of Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come' than a compliment/compliment. That single was released on Harlem entrepreneur Bobby Robinson's label Enjoy, (later the home to Grandmaster Flash and The Treacherous Three, believe it or not); following a stint on Capitol, Willie was bounced down to Muscle Shoals label Fame (home to Candi Staton, more plausibly), where, in 1969, he recorded a sterling version of Joe South's 'Walk A Mile In Your Shoes.' Those two and sixteen other (mostly self-composed) songs that make this album a Southern Soul essential – and indicate that the Honest Jons label may just be carving out a niche as the 21st Century Kent.

MARIANNE FAITHFULL: BEFORE THE POISON (Anti)

Since launching her second comeback in 1995, Marianne Faithfull has released albums at a rate to shame those half her age, which means they won't, inevitably, all be corkers. Before The Poison was written largely by PJ Harvey, partially by Nick Cave and, in one place, by that musical everyman, Damon Albarn; each tries to tailor their talents to the singer's (Harvey and Cave producing their respective tracks), but none is able to extract a vocal performance to rival those on 1999's Vagabond Ways or 2002's Kissing Time. The peak comes mid-album, with Albarn's impressive ballad 'Last Song' leading into Harvey's emotionally deep, musically sincere 'No Child Of Mine.' Things don't stay so strong however, and the chorus to the penultimate 'Desperanto' is so patently a Bad Seeds composition that it sounds jarringly out of place - proof, perhaps, that a singer, however distinctive, is only as unique as the songs she's served.

VARIOUS ARTISTS – NEW YORK ROCKS: ORIGINAL PUNK CLASSICS OF THE 70's (Koch)

Most discerning iJamming! readers will own these tracks already – perhaps, like me, on the 'Blank Generation' CD from the venerable Rhino 9-CD 'DIY' box set of 1993. A few songs are dropped from that compilation, and two have been added: The Velvet Underground's 'Rock & Roll,' which serves as an apt introduction , and Johnny Thunders' solo cut 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory.' Neither quite qualifies as "punk," even by the loose standards of the New York scene, but they do pass as 'classics.' So too do the other dozen songs presented here, including 'X Offender' by Blondie, 'Cars & Girls' by The Dictators, 'See No Evil' by Television, the ever-jarring 'Cheree' by Suicide and 'Sonic Reducer' by The Dead Boys… Not to forget a truly punk classic by a certain band whose founding members have passed on to the Blitzkreig Bop in the sky. Where the Rhino DIY album put Wayne County's 'Max's Kansas City 1976' in the middle of its running order, New York Rocks holds it rightly until the end. Then you can hear Wayne (now Jayne) offering a marvelous snapshot of a magical moment in time, name-checking in just one prescient verse (among many), Blondie, Dee Dee Ramone, The Heartbreakers, the New York Dolls and his own Back Street Boys – proving that you can't put your arms around a decent band name (unless you own the copyright), but you can be considered a "classic" long after boy bands have passed into irrelevance.


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