Friday, 8 March 2013

RW/FF With Ben P Scott #8

A lot of stuff to get through this week. I visit HMV in Swindon for the final time and welcome the opening of a brand new independent shop in Bath. The lead singer from The Vaccines reveals himself to be a money-grabbing fraud, and the Stereophonics return with their 8th album. 

Plus new music from Empty Paintings, The Daturas, Black Reindeer, Public Service Broadcasting, Iggy And The Stooges and The Leisure Society. Oh, and an album by some bloke called David Bowie... There are also a couple more memories from 1994, the year that I discovered the brilliant and truly rousing music of The Pogues...

So after HMV's administrators announced a list of stores marked for closure, I prematurely stated that none of my local HMV shops would be disappearing. Well since then they've announced another lot of store closures, which includes the HMV in Swindon. This was where I bought a lot of the dance 12"s that I'd spin as a (very young) club DJ during the mid to late 90's, and in particular I can remember buying the bright pink 7" copy of Bowie's 'Hallo Spaceboy' from the singles department on the top floor, which is now where all the shop's CDs have been shoved. I also have clear memories of buying Spiritualized's 'Live At The Royal Albert Hall' album from there back in 1998.


So on Saturday I was told that the store was having a closing down sale with a whopping 80% off their stock. So over to Swindon I went, only to find that it was in fact (in tiny writing) "up to" (in big writing) 80% OFF (in small writing again) "of selected items". I didn't find ONE thing in the entire store with 80% off, although the CD shelves looked so bare that it's possible that all the major bargains had already been snapped up. Most of their stock was in fact 20 to 30% off, which in most cases meant still having to pay more than what you would online or in some independent record shops. I left without a single purchase, knowing that my money would be better spent on CDs that weren't stocked there, or vinyl, which they also don't stock. And as I made my way downstairs to the exit I caught the sad, tragic sight of kids gathered round a cardboard stand of tacky One Direction merchandise. And that could be my last memory of HMV Swindon. It sums up why music lovers don't like giving their money to a store that turned its back on their needs, and why people like me would rather give our custom to independent record shops, where the worthless boyband pencil cases and posters are replaced with shelf upon shelf of glorious music. If HMV want to survive in their future streamlined incarnation, then they'd be wise to follow their example.


So for any other readers in Wiltshire who think they're going to miss Swindon's HMV, get yourself over to Frome, Warminster or Bath and pay a visit to Raves From The Grave, the finest music retailer in the region. Their selection of vinyl and the passionate knowledge of their staff puts any branch of HMV to shame. Their Bath shop has been open on a part-time basis since last year, but will be expanding and opening properly later this month. Since the glorious Replay closed, Bath has been in desperate need of a shop like this. I'm also thrilled to hear that this brilliant new shop will be taking part in Record Store Day on April 20th, and today the Frome branch of the shop hosts a free gig from The DB Band, led by ex Supergrass bassist Micky Quinn. The future is bright, the future is independent.

So Justin Young from The Vaccines is writing songs "with" (or more accurately "for") the most hideously tacky and appalingly shit pop act on the planet. The same act with their punchable faces on those pencil cases HMV were flogging. Boybands and other manufactured pop acts are traditionally awful, but sometimes you get a bunch of easily manipulated and fame-hungry wannabe celebrities that are so useless that they need a great deal of extra marketing behind them to possibly become commercially successful. Not to mention weeks and weeks of exposure on prime time saturday night telly. And when this non-stop promotion goes into overdrive, the constant exposure to the public is what sells their product. With publicity like that, they don't need to produce anything good for it to sell. It's money paying for promotion, which pays for success, which makes more money. So it's just an investment and subsequent profit for the puppet masters behind this completely hollow, unnecessary reality show pop act. It's absolutely nothing to do with music and everything to do with money making and attention seeking.

The worthless talent-free fuckwits are now using the cause of Comic Relief to flog their latest piece of shit. If they really want to help Comic Relief, then perhaps next time they could take part in a sponsored silence. No disgusting karaoke covers, no telly appearances or their faces in magazines all the time. I'm sure there are many people who would gladly pay money for them to shut up.

Justin Young should be ashamed of himself. He's in a guitar band who have received plenty of support from the music scene (as opposed to the manufactured trash scene) and he's decided to help the men in suits carry on keeping real musicians away from radio playlists. His integrity is clearly non existent. Maybe Young sees all these pop stars who are famous despite doing nothing to deserve it, and realises that it's harder work trying to succeed by doing it the honest way. Instead of having to put real thought into some truly great music and struggling to get heard on the radio, he's opted for the easier option of being able to write any old poor quality shit, because it'll still sell as long as he's got the heavily marketed boy "band" to guarantee it exposure. If he wants to swap respect and acclaim for money and talentless celebrity pals, then it's his loss. There's only 'one direction' his credibity is going, and that's down the shitter. Watch his band's audience begin to dwindle.


People like him look even more ridiculous in the wake of David Bowie's triumphant return. Up until a few months back, no one could have believed that we'd actually be listening to this now. But here it is, the new album 'The Next Day'. This is not the sound of a frail old man with nothing left to say. In fact the 66 year old Bowie has more to say than the vast majority of artists many years younger. Immediately it feels a lot more vital from the beginning, like Bowie's decided that he only wants to be heard when he has something truly outstanding to offer. And this is it. Not only the album Bowie fans have been awaiting for a decade, but the return to form that a lot of people thought would never happen. 

It's more adventurous than the three previous albums he made since the 90's, but his ideas sound more fully formed and carefully thought out this time round. In fact this could very well be his most diverse collection of songs. Sometimes you have to look below the surface to understand the genius of this record, and trying to get your head around the lyrics is like venturing into a mental minefield. His words are cryptic and fascinating, often inviting the listener's own interpretation. But it's not just his words that make you wonder, it's the various musical references to his past and what they could mean in this new context. It's the sound of an artist aware of the influence he has had over the years, and 'The Next Day' brilliantly represents the way that his past haunts the present. But this album's revisiting of his past is not about nostalgia, it's about placing references to previous works in the fresh context of new songs.


It somehow bridges many styles that are completely at odds with each other, adding a new ingredient to gel them together. That new ingredient is the present day. Despite revisiting many eras of his past, he doesn't ever fall into the trap of self parody and certainly doesn't sound like he's running out of new ideas. He's challenging himself again, not wishing to end his career with the comfort and steadiness of the previous three LPs. No one else could have made a record like this but Bowie, in fact it's only now that he himself is capable of doing so. Just like no-one could have made an album like 'Station To Station' except for the 1976 Bowie. His output is so wide ranging and diverse that none of his albums come close to defining him, because each era saw a different Bowie. But this is a case of looking back while moving forwards.

He doesn't ever sound like a "museum piece" over the course of these 14 tracks, in fact he sounds more hungry and more relevant than he has done for decades. To say it's a pleasure to have him back would be an understatement. Read my full review of 'The Next Day' HERE and go HERE to join God Is In The TV's month-long celebration of all things Bowie.


As well as Bowie returning, his old pal Iggy is back too. 'Ready To Die' is the new album from Iggy And The Stooges, released April 30th and preceded by the hard rocking single 'Burn' which you can listen to HERE. One of my favourite new acts Public Service Broadcasting also have a new single out, and as well as providing some helpful road safety advice, it's pretty awesome too. It's called 'Signal 30', and you can listen to it HERE. Debut album 'Inform - Educate - Entertain' is out on May 6th. Someone that I know recently said that the new single from The Leisure Society sounded like Darwin Deez covering Mumford And Sons. My predictive text keeps suggesting I spell that as Mundane And Sons. Let's get this straight, the new Leisure Society track doesn't match the previously mentioned description, because it is rather wonderful. It's certainly a departure from their previous work, in fact 'Fight For Everyone''s subtle light electronic arrangement is quite a surprise for those expecting more ukelele and brass. Listen to it HERE.

Can you believe it's 30 years since New Order released the seminal 'Blue Monday'? It actually shares its birthday with our GIITTV editor Bill! You can read a great feature written by @cristinarocks on this classic and still sounding fresh single HERE.


Empty Paintings are a duo consisting of Colin Foreman and Nigel Clark, also the frontman of much-loved power pop trio Dodgy. Clark seems to be in the richest vein of form of his life, and little over a year on from Dodgy's magnificent comeback LP 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place', he's got so much quality music flowing out of him that he needs more than one outlet for it. I asked Nigel to explain a bit more about Empty Paintings. "It's a song writing partnership between myself and Colin Foreman. We started working on this project in 2010 and the idea was to write and record songs for an album. Colin writes the lyrics and I then write, perform, record and produce the music." So almost a solo project, but with some extra collaborative input. The fact that Clark writes the music is very much evident from the brilliant new track 'Empty Painting', which seems to retain those wonderful haunting melodies Dodgy's more reflective moments are known for. In fact it wouldn't sound out of place on the 1994 album 'Homegrown'. The Empty Paintings Facebook page is HERE and you can hear the excellent debut track on Soundcloud HERE.

I'm beginning to lose count of the number of albums Stephen Jones has released over the last five months or so. Best known as the genius behind Babybird, Jones has written some of the cleverest, most twisted pop songs in history, and his back catalogue is one that NEEDS to be investigated by EVERY single one of you reading this. His latest project is Black Reindeer, creating atmospheric works of beauty, sadness and eerieness. It's largely instrumental and rather filmic in character, but the recent third album introduced occasional vocals and more varied elements. Today (March 8th) should see the release of the fourth Black Reindeer album, but I'll have to tell you what it's like when I've actually heard it, since this column is written every Thursday for publishing the next day. You can listen to the new album at his Bandcamp page HERE.

Back in 1997 I was quite a fan of the Stereophonics. I still think highly of the first album's catchy tunes and insightful small-town storytelling, but it didn't take long for them to mature into something that could often be rather boring. Sure, over the course of the six albums since the debut, there have been occasional impressive moments, but they're the kind of group that seems to exist solely for the enjoyment of Absolute Radio listeners. Not that it's a bad station, they play some of the finest bands around. Problem is they don't seem to play anything those bands have made in recent times, and as for new artists, there's not much chance of hearing any of them.


But back to the Stereophonics, because I've had a few listens to their new 'Graffiti On The Train' LP. It sounded quite good at first, less coffee table rock, and slightly more raw and tortured. But Kelly Jones is hardly Ian Curtis or Richey Edwards. And after a couple more plays, the raw and tortured became miserable and grey. It certainly takes on a darker tone throughout, maybe effected by the death of former drummer Stuart Cable, whose presence hangs over this record. They do seem to be stepping out of their MOR comfort zone a little bit, aiming for something with a bleaker and rather bruised feel to it. It begins well with the excellent 'We Share The Same Sun', which resonates with a downbeat power, and comes with one of Jones's strongest melodies. The title track is another highlight, where the desolate mood is embellished by haunting strings, while 'Stuck In A Moment' may be the standout track, delivering a bleak but infectious chorus, and odd funk rhythms. Lyrically, it almost sounds like Jones looking for inspiration in his own fear of failure.

But like most of their albums, there's a few highlights surrounded by tiresome filler and potentially good songs that could have done with a bit more in the way of songwriting. The lyrics are often a bit of a problem across the record too. After a couple of plays, much of 'Graffiti On The Train' reveals itself to be just another annoyingly inconsistent Stereophonics album. Read my full review of the album HERE.


The Daturas are a four piece outfit based around Bath, who I discovered last year at a local gig. Since then it seems that some other people have been discovering them too, as they've been going from strength to strength. Singer Joe Chowles is a barge-dwelling "water gypsy" who has just the right sort of voice to bring these songs to life. Their new EP 'Overlooked By The End' was produced by Ian Grimble, known for previously working with the Manics and The Libertines.

The mellifluous lead track 'When' is a gloriously melodic burst of sunshine, where the band's influences are pieced together in a most enjoyable way, and 'Kangaroo' is a fine example of their psychedelic folk sound, where beautiful pedal steel mixes with acoustic guitars, a touch of organ, bright rhythms and bewitching 3 part harmonies to create their own blend of natural sounding bliss. Hints of Crosby, Stills And Nash and Cat Stevens are evident, but there are also touches of more contemporary artists like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear, as demonstrated by the addictive and hugely infectious 'This Ain't A Proper Lullaby'. This exhuberently melodic moment and the gorgeous closer 'Congratulations' make you realise that this is one of those rare EPs where you'll find that every track is as good as the last. Keen for people to hear their music, the band have released the EP as a free or pay-as-you-like download which you can get HERE, before they release it on CD in April. Their website is HERE.


More vitriolic opinions and awesome new music next week. Now I continue my nostalgic glance back at 1994 by remembering the arrival of another very important group into my life. Only a short "rewind" this week, due to me having hardly any spare time. Busy, busy, busy...


From what I can remember, 1994 was the year I first encountered the music of The Pogues. My Dad had been to a gig at The Bear in Melksham, which back then used to host gigs by local bands, and seemed somewhat overwhelmed by a band called The Boys From County Hell who he'd seen that night. Attempting to describe their sound to me he explained that they were heavily influenced by The Pogues. Being unaware of this band's music I soon bought a cassette copy of their 'Best Of' album, and became immediately engrossed in the songs. Lyrically this stuff was rawer and darker than anything I had heard before, and I was somewhat surprised my parents let me listen to songs about some poor soul getting pissed and ending up being "spat on and shat on, and raped and abused" while having to sleep rough. 

But my parents knew the songs were amazing, and knew that one day I'd be mature enough to fully understand the meanings of Shane MacGowan's lyrics. But I certainly enjoyed those words back then, particularly the brilliant 'Rain Street', which had a verse that ran: "I gave my love a late night kiss, I tried to take a late night piss, but the toilet moved so again I missed...". Genius. There was also something extremely appealing about the rough edged and enjoyably shambolic vocals. It was far, far away from being squeaky clean, that's for sure. But as well as the dark, raucous and dirty side of their music, there were more reflective moments blessed with humble romance and an enchanting melodic magic, such as the outstanding and truly moving 'A Rainy Night In Soho'. The slow songs were ideal for mass singalongs and so were the uptempo numbers, but one thing was also certain: all these songs were perfect for pub jukeboxes and getting pissed seemed to go hand in hand with the music. Of course being 10 years old, I didn't yet know what being under the influence of alcohol was like. But I had a feeling that when I was old enough to be getting drunk, I'd probably be doing it while listening to The Pogues. And I was right. 

But mind you, one of the things that prevented me from ever being an alcoholic was seeing the state MacGowan got himself into and deciding that it probably wasn't a good way to be. At that point in 1994 The Pogues were without MacGowan, who had been sacked for his constant drunken misbehaviour and was now releasing solo records with his backing band The Popes. It would be many years before I'd see a reunited classic Pogues line-up play live, but that Boys From County Hell group would soon be providing me with a more than satisfactory alternative. More about that next week....



Written by Ben P Scott for God Is In The TV




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