Wednesday, June 29, 2005

"Lazy Sunday"

Listen to this song and you'll understand where Britpop came from. Instead of the standard trans-Atlantic vocal mannerisms, Steve Marriott unleashes the full force of Cockney cheekiness and turns this into Parklife: the Prequel. For much of the 60s a Cockney accent wasn't at all what you wanted to hear from a popular beat combo; you wanted cool, leather-tainted American-ness. After the Beatles, though, a British accent was de rigeur. To be fair though, Steve's taking it a bit far on this track, playing it up like Phil Daniels does on "Parklife". And the vocal works, the cheeky delivery matching the lyrics perfectly: "'Ere we all are, sitting in a rainbow/Cor blimey hallo Mrs Jones, 'ow's your Bert's lumbago? (mustn't grumble)." The Small Faces were perhaps one of the greatest missed opportunities of the 60s, and everything that was good about them is on this song.

"How Soon Is Now?"

There's something vaguely hypnotic about this - the phased guitars in the background, the whining guitar upfront that roars by from fore to aft like a sports car beneath a bridge, yet all the time there is the monotone air of a song that's not interested in harmony, but rather its own deadpan path. This is an anti-song, and it's fantastic. Morrissey goes off on a tangent about self-absorption, desire and the search for love, while the rest create a whirling, pulsing platform, a solid wall of driving rain. It's loose, floppy in a teenage-hair sort of way, totally wrapped up in itself and probably very very honest.

Monday, June 27, 2005

"Perfect Day"

I was a fan of this when Lou Reed wrote it but for some reason, when the BBC commissioned a special "various artists" version to coincide with a fundraising campaign, the song took on a whole new dimension. On the surface, this is so simple, so beautiful, so elegant. A paean to the joys of summer, a quiet day when the noise and the immenseness of the city roll away from you like an ebb tide, and you create a world, a moment, a day that's just for you. Magically, life contracts to a small space inhabited just by you, your dreams, the sensations of warm grass on bare feet, the slow burn of hot sun on your back, the prickle of sweat and the occasional noise of passing children. And all the time, the song reminds you of what you're enjoying until, as if too much of a good thing tips the scales, it gently points out that this perfection doesn't come for free.
At one or two points, the song strikes a darker note: "Just a perfect day/You made me forget myself/I thought I was someone else/Someone good", and the refrain "You just keep me hanging on." Hanging on where? Why? Maybe it doesn't matter. There's a sense of wonder, of bewilderment at the construction of such a wondrous moment and perhaps, just perhaps the fear that it might not come your way again. Perhaps the best moment of all is Courtney Pine's extraordinary sax solo, that lends the song that sense of wonder, of reaching out behind us to grasp and hold onto the moment. But by the end, we're reminded of the aching sense of joy the day brought, and we decide to count our blessings.
A song for summer, a song for love.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

"Prelude/Angry Young Man"

For a start, you're not going to hear much better pop piano than "Prelude", which is dizzyingly fast at one moment, then beautifully restrained the next. But this is just a taster, an intro to the main thing, which is another one of Billy Joel's character songs, in this case, the angry young man of the title. It's not the James Dean or Marlon Brando type, but the urban political warrior: "There's a place in the world for the Angry Young Man/With his working class ties and his radical plans/He refuses to bend, he refuses to crawl/And he's always at home with his back to the wall." The sly digs start later: he "likes to be known as the angry young man", he never learns from his mistakes, he'll "go to the grave as an angry old man" while the rest of us have "passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage". Basically, we've found found "that just surviving is a noble fight." And eventually, the Angry Young Man has become a bore.... All of this wondrous story-telling is wrapped up in a skittish, go-faster rhythm that drives onwards to the end, when the Prelude reappears and gives that Angry Old Man his send-off. Try not to think of Billy Joel as the purveyor of sugary slush but rather, like Elton John, as someone who really had "it".

"The Dean & I"

Sometimes you run into a band that's just fizzing with ideas, with creativity and with the sheer ability to do just about anything. That's 10cc. These guys could do anything, absolutely anything. The wonder of it all is that they actually managed to make coherent records at all. Listen to this song: there are about fifteen different, brilliant ideas all fighting for space within three and a half minutes of song. They've thrown in a bagful of fantastic hooks and some clever and amusing lyrics: "In the eyes of the Dean his daughter/Was doing what she shouldn't oughta/But a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do/The consequence should be/Church bells, three swells, the Dean, his daughter and me." The styles shift at a dizzying pace, drifting from one pop orthodoxy to another in the blink of an eye, so that by the end you feel as if you've just got up from a twelve-course banquet. Very filling, very satisfying.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Couple Days Off"

Why doesn't anyone complain about their job when they're skipping out of the office at 6 pm? Easy; they're listening to this. Huey Lewis never pretended to be pushing the boundaries of music in any direction; his gig was just good-time music, preferably accompanying a few beers at the end of a blue-collar day. There's a lot of love in songs like this - the sheer joy of making a fantastic noise, harnessing a driving beat, every musician perfectly in sync - that make them such a pleasure to listen to. This is your standard work-related complaint song - like Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It" - matched to an absolutely unstoppable tune, driving beat, rock-solid guitars, the works. I defy you to hear this and not start to sway in time on the bus home.

"Step On"

We're loving this. It's got that lazy, shuffling, swaggering beat, you know, the kind you can only achieve when your jeans are so baggy and loose that they impede your movement. It's not so much a song as one long cruise down the street on a Saturday afternoon, high-fiving your friends, giving some cheeky chat to the girls in the Top Shop, talking in code, impromptu dancing on the corner by the off-licence, sharing some skunk, necking an alco-pop and generally not giving a flying fuck. This is a lazy, saggy, seriously casual song for a seriously loose moment. It drifts in and out of focus beautifully, just like the Happy Mondays did.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

"Perfect 10"

In praise of normal women.

Let's not get into a debate about the merits of stick-thin bodies versus the average, more generous figure. I think we can safely leave that to the Beautiful South. Or, as they put it, "I like to hold something I can see". This is all hip-swaying, earthy rhythm, it's sex by music, the shock of surprise when you see a girl dancing in just such a way that makes you react in just such a way. "She's a perfect ten/But she wears a twelve/Baby keep a little two for me/She could be sweet sixteen/Busting out at the seams/It's still love in the first degree." There's liberation here, relief and a sense of freedom, like a belt being loosened. The song tells us to lose our own inhibitions and preconceptions and frankly, when the beat's this good, you'll get no argument from me.

"She Knows"

A breathless Goth love song, if there could be such a thing. Balaam & the Angel were a brief glimmer at the tail-end of the black-clad 80s; they barely rippled the charts and before I could blink they were gone, it seemed. But this pearl of a song fell out of the murk and rolled to my feet, and it's been with me ever since. It's got the kind of guitar sound the Cure would have killed for, like water running off your face as you stand in a waterfall, and the vocal is strained, uncertain yet happy in its precarious position. After all the games, the toying, the teasing, the songs says: "She knows/Just what to say/She knows/Why I feel this way." There's celebration, wonder, joy, a healthy dose of bewilderment and the hint of something a little darker; it's as if he's saying "you're taking me outside my comfort zone, but it's OK." After all, love involves risk as well as security, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Top Jimmy"

...meanwhile, on the other side of town, where the heavy metal kids hang out, Van Halen is in the house. This is emphatically NOT your average turn-it-up-to-11 crunch-a-rama. It's a shuffle, dammit, a relatively underplayed dose of rhythm and a shedload of talent at work. The guitar is mostly clear as a bell - which is rare for Edward v. H. - and the drumming is just fantastic, a splashy-cymbal, chugging, totally unstoppable twelve-cylinder affair. Yes, there's the obligatory guitar solo, but admirably restrained, which is not something you'd associate with these guys. Van Halen in blues shuffle shock!

"Wherever God Shines His Light"

This has long been a favourite of mine. The plain, simple, piano figure that drives the song is just fantastic, the beat is infectious in a quiet, shimmying sort of way, a pulse of air that gets your hips twitching gently, and the voices - Van Morrison and (gasp) Cliff Richard - work really well together; Van is reaching out for those extra notes, those little jazzy, shouty flourishes, while Cliff is as straight and un-souly as.....well, as Cliff Richard. It's a simple, elegant song, worth enjoying.

"Fooled Again (I Don't Like It)"

Once again, a song from the other perspective. There's no end of songs about your cheatin' man, the double-dealing no-goodnik from the other side of town who's been stringing a girl along, while all the time he has a girl at home. This time, Tom Petty's been on the receiving end: "Strange voice on the telephone/Telling me I'd better leave you 'lone/Why don't somebody say what's going on/Uh-oh I think I've been through this before/Looks like I'm the fool again/I don't like it." From a guy's point of view, though, this is about anger. When a woman sings about this, it's all about heartbreak and disappointment. Tom's voice is all broken and busted here - he's bitter, and his hoarse cry of "I don't like it" can only have come after some serious howling at the moon.
Let's not get into a debate here - this sort of thing cuts both ways, but Tom's in a real state here. His line "It's good to see you think so much of me" cuts very, very deep.
Once again, at the outset of his career, Tom and the Heartbreakers were such a stripped-down, spare sounding band, but the addition of a wash of strings in the background steers this song straight out onto the Ventura Highway, driving very very fast indeed despite the song's medium pace, as if the song has to run away from someone for their own sanity.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"Don't Touch Me There"

Whatever happened to the archetypal Phil Spector wall-of-sound? All those sweet-singing soul groups who bravely stood out in front of his rolling, all-devouring monolith of sound have gone, the producers who engineered the miracle aren't working any more, and so an entire genre of candyfloss drama has gone by the board. Happily, The Tubes remembered the sound, the operatic vastness of it. They took it out of mothballs, opened up their high school yearbooks and created this duet, a satirical masterpiece: "Ooh baby, you give me the chills/Whisper low in my ear/Let me know how it feels/Just to know you are near." This is all about heavy breathing, hands shaking, foreheads popping with sweat, until.... until..."The smell of burning leather/As we hold each other tight/Our rivets rub together/Flashing sparks into the night/At this moment of surrender, darling/If you really care/Don't touch me there." This is so perfect, the younger, nastier sibling to all those pure, virginal Ronettes songs: "I love your sweet, sweet lips/I love your salty taste/I love your fingertips/But when I reach for your waist/Oh no....."

"Sorry Mr Harris"

Tom Robinson must have been a particularly difficult guy to have a quiet drink with in the 70s. He'd have arrived at the pub wearing a long coat, collar up, a hat pulled way down over his face. He'd have wanted to sit way at the back of the pub, next to the jukebox, back to the wall, and he'd have jumped every time the door slammed. Maybe that's what being an agit-prop singer did to you. In any case, after the youthful anarchy of his first album, the second one was a dark, paranoid affair, no more so than here. He sings in character, as a friendly policeman in charge of interrogations, so that's got to be unique for a start. His jolly, Oxford-educated sounding officer clearly has a distaste for the work: "I'm sorry if the soldiers had to hurt you Mr Harris/You haven't really left them any choice/This must be quite a trial, not having eaten for a while/I wonder what's the matter with your voice." But as time goes by, the persuasion gets ratcheted up: "That fellow Charlie Jones you were detained with Mr Harris/I'm afraid we found him hanging in his cell/So we've asked your little brother to assist with our enquiries/I hope he won't be difficult as well." Beyond the lyric, there was never a huge amount to recommend Tom's work, but he did have the great luck to have a terrific guitarist - Danny Kustow - who really did know how to tear it up. It's a nostalgic pleasure to come back to this once in a while, to remember the whole era and wonder how the guys at Guantanamo Bay are doing.


This is quite possibly the most pompous, ridiculous, over-the-top piece of self-indulgence it's been my pleasure to listen to. Start with a band that was the ultimate in overblown pomp-rock - Emerson, Lake and Palmer - and then fill their heads with ideas of being proper "artistes" with Things To Say. Give them every noise-making implement known to man and lock them in a studio, and boy, do they deliver. Trying to do justice to one of the most famous hymns ever written, the music is completely massive, suitably martial; the band throws everything at you, all manner of twiddly bits, fills and runs. It's as if they're competing with a particularly impressive church organ and they know they're losing. And, in a strange sort of way, it actually works. What doesn't sadly, is Greg Lake's voice. While he sounds great on tracks like "Karn Evil No 9", on this he's just not up to the bombastic, full-on production and his voice just gets lost.
Having said all that, I have a huge soft spot for ELP, and I can't help but like this. One of those moments in music where the band fell just a smidgen short of the job.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

"Dream Police"

Cheap Trick may not have invented "power pop" but by God they define it. There's such a fine line between power pop and proper rock that you blink and you've gone from Cheap Trick to Boston. Cheap Trick's art was to know how to ride that line. Sure, they played rock too, but they knew how to keep it under control. And you just couldn't take seriously someone who played a six-neck guitar. Rick Nielson couldn't write a duff song if he tried (but don't test me on that), he just ladles on the gorgeous hooks, aching harmonies, steamhammer beats and rabble-rousing choruses and cooks up fantastic tunes. "Dream Police" was probably their last truly great album, jam-packed with hummable songs, arena-sized singalongs that you could play just about anywhere.

"I Try"

How good is Macy Gray's voice on this? It's a husky, breathy, rough-edged smoker's voice that slowly wraps you up and refuses to let go. A proper 60s soul diva voice with just the merest hint of anger behind it. "I Try" is a proper torch song, all desperation and need, vulnerability and surrender: "I may appear to be free/But I’m just a prisoner of your love/And I may seem all right and smile when you leave/But my smiles are just a front/Just a front, hey/I play it off, but I’m dreaming of you/And I’ll try to keep my cool, but I’m feenin."

"Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)?"

There's no messing around here. From the moment the song just materialises at full speed until the final note, this is a jittery, straight-ahead, clattering pop-punk classic. in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to call it a punk record at all: the pop sensibilities are too good, the harmonies (harmonies? on a punk song?) are terrific and the lyric is just perfect: "You spurn my natural emotions/You make me feel like dirt/And that hurts/And if I cause a commotion/I run the risk of losing you/And that's worse." And ever since this song, the boys-needs-girl thing has been a rich vein for writers to tap. Pete Shelley's voice is completely non-punk. It isn't a pop voice at all, in fact, but the beauty of punk was that you didn't have to have any kind of voice to sing. It's a vulnerable, whiny, needy kind of voice which means it fits the song like a glove. Two minutes and forty-three seconds of bliss.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

"You've Got My Number"

Just to let the world know that The Undertones didn't just write one perfect three-minute rock song; they went and did it again, just to prove "Teenage Kicks" was no fluke. This is sharper and more polished, but there's no mistaking the same inspiration. Fantastic drumming, a great chorus and an inspired ending.

"Rock and Roll Music"

There are probably about twenty songs that just about every band in the world started out with in their repertoire. You know the sort of thing: three chords, easy choruses and a heavy beat. This is probably one of those twenty, but when a really great band get their teeth into it, like the Manic Street Preachers, the song just takes flight and becomes something bigger, better. The Manics' version has just about the greatest guitar sound I've heard - a great, big, fat chewy wall of sound - and fantastic vocals, the sort you get when the singer doesn't care that he's shredding his vocal chords - think John Lennon in "Helter Skelter". Throw in some proper biff-bang-pow drums and two perfect rock 'n roll screams and you have a perfect package. This is for raising your heartrate, feeling the rush run up and down your spine and throwing yourself around a padded room.

"Who Are You"

After blogging The Clash yesterday, I happened to listen to The Who and realised that here, possibly, were the roots of punk. Four guys with serious attitude -- and The Who were about nothing if not attitude in their youth -- and a catalogue of dizzyingly varied songs. Listen to "Pictures of Lily", "I'm a Boy", "My Generation" and you get a complete picture of angst-ridden teenage confusion and alienation. To see them in their time would have been as electrifying as to have been at the 100 Club to see the Sex Pistols in 1976.
Skip forward twenty years and The Who have gone from sulky teenagers to grumpy old men, a whole lot wiser but still angry, still brash. This track proves it. There's an menace to Pete Townshend's guitar, as there always has been, and Roger Daltrey summons up a hard-edged roar that hasn't been heard since he was stuttering on "My Generation". And the lyric... maybe the preoccupations have changed with time, but the alienation, the rage is still there: "I stretched back and I hiccupped/And looked back on my busy day/Eleven hours in the Tin Pan/God, there's got to be another way/I spit out like a sewer hole/Yet still recieve your kiss/How can I measure up to anyone now/After such a love as this?" This is snarling, spitting, swearing, proper vitriol, which just goes to show that we don't always grow old - we just pick our fights better.

Monday, June 13, 2005

"I Love L.A."

Only Randy Newman could write a song called "I Love L.A." and turn it into a stinging rebuke on yuppies and the whole Californian 80s age-of-excess thing: "Hate New York City/It's cold and it's damp/And all the people dress like monkeys/Let's leave Chicago to the eskimos/That town's a little bit too rugged for you and me." Instead, he prefers to drive the Pearl Highway, soak up the hedonism and revel in the mindlessness of cheap thrills and perfection. But then, there's a sting in the tale: "Look at that mountain/Look at those trees/Look at that bum over there, man he's down on his knees/Look at these women, ain't nothing like them nowhere" as if to say "Sorry, no time to stop and think about important things, I have a lifestyle to complete." Just wonderful.

"Police On My Back"

Ask anyone who was around in the late 1970s who was the most influential punk band and eight times out of ten they'll say The Clash were. While it may have been the Sex Pistols who crashed through the door and did the donkey work of raising expectations and outraging the bourgeoisie, it was The Clash that documented the fizzing, heady, anything-is-possible firework mood. Unlike the Pistols, who lived the punk ethos every waking hour of their life, The Clash watched all, saw all, took themselves off to the studio and created the soundtrack: all of the anger, frustration, paranoia and outrage that punk threw up is there in every Clash song. This comes from their fourth album "Sandinista!", a sprawling record that heads off in all directions. "Police" was originally a reggae tune written by Eddy Grant, but The Clash do something extraordinary to it by yanking out any trace of reggae and crash-landing a squad of guitars on top instead. The main guitar figure is the siren, the drumming is the footsteps running, it's tight, sharp and encapsulates the whole period perfectly. The Clash were sharp operators, having experienced and understood the power of reggae in the cities, but this goes beyond simple appropriation - they pick the original apart like an old car and rebuild it as a hot rod.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

"The Rain Song"

After the party's over, after the tumult and the excitement has ended, we all need time to sit back, take stock, remember and reflect. This is Led Zep's morning-after song, their moment of calm amid the storm that was the velvet-clad fist of their "Houses of the Holy" album. Of course, it's not a totally laid-back song, it swells and grows, ebbs and flows, borne on waves of strings, a lovely melody and the eternally amazing musicianship. Even on a song as pensive as this, John Bonham's drums still sound like tree trunks being laid against brick walls, and Jimmy Page's guitar grows from the gentlest strumming to properly electric howls. While yet again, Robert Plant reaches into his grab-bag of mysticism and comes out with something that makes more than a little sense: "These are the seasons of emotion and like the winds they rise and fall/This is the wonder of devotion - I see the torch we all must hold/This is the mystery of the quotient - Upon us all a little rain must fall."

"This Is the Sea"

This song has "rites of passage" written all over it. I'm still trying to work out just how many different ways you could apply this song to life in general: coming of age, leaving home, getting married, getting divorced, giving it all up and running away to Thailand, having children, retirement, getting out of jail... the list goes on. The Waterboys were very, very good at this kind of sense of yearning and ambition. Every song I hear seems to be packed full of cheap 'n easy metaphors for both students and lateral-thinking middle-aged ponderers. Yet for all that, this is a song of empathy, a song of understanding. It rattles along at a stately pace, driven by what seems like an orchestra of acoustic guitars, woodwinds and Mike Scott's folk-gypsy voice cruises through the middle of it all, burning with conviction and the urgent need to persuade us all that everything's all right: "Now if you’re feelin’ weary/If you’ve been alone too long/Maybe you’ve been suffering from/A few too many/Plans that have gone wrong/And you’re trying to remember/How fine your life used to be/Running around banging your drum/Like it’s 1973/Well that was the river/This is the sea!"

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"It's About Time"

I love this. It's quirky, charming, interesting and off-the-wall enough to make me stop and listen to it every time I hear it. The Lemonheads didn't cross my radar an awful lot, apart from their excellent cover of "Mrs Robinson", but when I heard the off-beat lyric, the 60s vaguely Beach Boys influence, I was hooked. I would almost call this the California version of Britpop, a gentle, late afternoon kind of song with something not quite normal going on way down underneath.

"Funny How"

I just googled the chorus for this song. Judging by the number of times it's been written about, there's something universally appealing about a song that lays out the basic rules for going about finding yourself a girlfriend: "It's funny how the girls you fall in love with never fancy you/Funny how the ones you don't, do/It's a pity how pretty girls don't take the time to talk to me/Just walk away whatever I do." Now that I think about it, I can't remember hearing a song that dealt with the disappointment, the insecurity, the crushing humiliation of it all quite as well as this. Most songs in this genre tend to focus on a single rejection, a particular person, rather than a syndrome that seems to accompany us boys in our breathless, anxiety-riddled teenage years.
I never did hear another song by Airhead, but looking at Google, I'd say their immortality was assured in a hundred million teenage bedrooms.


The explosion that was Britpop was one of the most enjoyable phenomena since the boil-lancing that was punk. All of a sudden the air was full of canny, sharp, intelligent music, drawing heavily on the late 60s influences of bands like the Kinks, the Small Faces, new wave groups like the Jam and giving the occasional nod to the Beatles as well. It was such a pleasure to hear guitars again in all their glory, harmony choruses, from the light-as-air "There She Goes" to the wall of rumble that was anything by Oasis. And in between, with a cheery wink, throwing shapes like a ducking-and-diving wide boy, were Blur. Perhaps "Parklife" is a bit of a cartoon, but it's a perfect picture, drawn in wonderful shades of attitude and thumping East-End charm, a little like a Chas & Dave singalong down the pub. I like that they brought in Phil Daniels to do the vocal, slightly weary yet optimistic, cynical yet fresh-faced. You can see a hundred faces in his voice as he brings the song to life: "I get up when I want/Except on Wednesdays when I get rudely awakened by the dustmen/I put my trousers on/Have a cup of tea/And I think about leaving the house/I feed the pigeons/I sometimes feed the sparrows too/It gives me a sense of enormous well-being/And then I'm happy for the rest of the day/Safe in the knowledge/There will always be/A bit of my heart devoted to it."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

"Synchronicity II"

This is a bit spooky. Towards the end of their active career, the Police were getting into some pretty off-the-wall stuff. Think of Stewart Copeland's "Miss Gradenko" or Andy Summers' "Mother", but for some reason Sting's oddness never made itself felt in the music. The words were pretty thought-provoking, though: "Another working day has ended/Only the rush hour hell to face/Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes/Contestants in a suicidal race/Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance/He knows that something somewhere has to break/He sees the family home now looming in the headlights/The pain upstairs that makes his eyeballs ache." How dysfunctional do you want life to be? The gimmick here is the split-screen vision of the gradual descent into chaos and madness of the average family, while far away a primordial monster is coming alive and getting set to wreak havoc. Clever writing, a properly chilling image...

"No Sell Out"

This is a little like "found art" - someone's trawled through the archives for recordings of Malcolm X's speeches and chopped and edited excerpts over a fairly lean dance track. Think of Paul Hardcastle's "19" or Les Patriotes' "C'est La Vie Charlie" - great fun to dance to and with crunchy, nourishing content too! Malcolm X, for you young 'uns out there, wasn't the star of a film by Spike Lee, but rather a passionate equal rights activist in the US who broke from Martin Luther King and took the principle of resistance to extremes and paid the price for it. As he says "I was in a house last night that was bombed - my own. It isn't something that made me lose confidence in what I'm doing." Belief in a cause like that deserves to be celebrated, even though we sometimes might wince at the methods that are used.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

"Heart As Big as Liverpool"

There must be thousands of songs written to celebrate a hometown: think of "New York State of Mind" or "Welcome to the Jungle", "Sweet Home Chicago", "Dirty Water"... thousands of them. These are not quite love songs, because they're not writing just from the heart, but from the gut and the head as well. You can lose a girlfriend but you can't lose your hometown.
There are so many other things wrapped up in this song as well. Pete Wylie is one of rock's harder-luck stories: shedloads of talent but awful, awful luck. But he's bounced back every time, fresh, optimistic and refusing to be cowed by the slings and arrows. That refusal to lay down shines through brightly here, in the great surging chorus that proclaims his allegiance, his pride in himself as well as in his town: "When all the lights go out forever/Somewhere near the end of time/The noise will pass and the dust will settle/And you'll be on my mind."
Pete's always known how to build a song that will stand the test of time, and this is no different. "Heart" clocks in at a good eight minutes, building and swelling like an opera, bathed in sympathetic strings, absolutely chock-full of hooks and fist-raising, arm-pumping moments: it's no surprise that this song gets a lot of airtime at Anfield whenever Liverpool are playing at home. After some of his kitchen-sink overkill productions like "Come Back", "Heart" is mellower, older and wiser but no less passionate, and it's all the better for it. There are songs made to be remembered, and this will probably be one of them.

Friday, June 03, 2005

"Here Comes the Flood"

Peter Gabriel seems to get a mixed press. To half of us he's an eccentric, mumbling mad-professor type with a penchant for world music and we vaguely remember he had a couple of off-beat hits and did a wicked video. To others, though, he's a miraculous songwriter on his day. A lot of other folks will remember him for "In Your Eyes" with its soaring, epic guest vocal from Youssou N'Dour, or his gentle, dramatic duet with Kate Bush, "Don't Give Up". But this song, this song, comes from somewhere only he's been to. There are two particular versions that I enjoy; the first, from his first solo album gets the full, intense epic treatment, with a chorus that reaches up to his personal muse and tries desperately hard to leave this world. The second, a blindingly personal, vulnerable rendition with just his voice and a piano at the forefront: a stately, low-key but painfully powerful version that completely eclipses the original in many ways: "When the flood calls, you have no home, you have no walls/In the thunder crash, you're a thousand minds, within a flash/Don't be afraid to cry at what you see/The actors gone, there's only you and me/And if we break before the dawn/They'll use up what we used to be."