The "New" Perfect Collection

THE NEW PERFECT COLLECTION Follow @terrytochel @tnpcollection @PgallagheretgGg

Greatest Records, Psychedelia, Punk Rock, Rock Music

The Perfect Collection was published in 1982. Subtitled “The Rock Albums everybody should have and why”, editor Tom Hibbert and his contributors selected 200+ albums, which would give you, if you bought them all, a “broad, balanced, lively, collection of all thats best in rock music”.

When this book appeared in our local library it consumed and obsessed us. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t inspire us to track down all of the records like some other lists of the “greatest records ever made” (I’ve still not heard some of them). It included Vanilla Fudge’s The Beat Goes On which it claims is probably the worst album ever made. It included Pat Boone, Cliff Richard and Gary Glitter and omitted Howlin’ Wolf, Link Wray, T Rex and Can.

Where the book got it right was the inclusion of some records which I have never seen included in any other best of lists. It turned us on to records like The Standells’ Try It, The Seeds’ Raw & Alive and The Flaming Groovies’ Teenage Head which remain firm favourites thirty plus years after first reading about them. It included Gene Clark’s No Other and Big Star’s Radio City which were not acknowledged as classics for another decade or two.

While it included many of the big hitters and acknowledged classics, what was clear was that the rest of these albums were the real personal favourites of the contributors, the ones that you would fight for.

What we intend to do is write about the 200 or so albums that we would include in our perfect collection. While it would be tempting to only include records recorded since the books publication, it may include what we would consider glaring omissions from the original book. Like the book, if an artist has two albums of equal artistic merit, an alternative  choice will be denoted with an ‘a’. Various artist compilation were not included in the book, and will not be included here (sorry Nuggets et al) We have tried to avoid the bigger names and shine a light on those names that don’t usually figure in best of lists.

Dedicated to

Tom Hibbert, Andy Schwartz, Brian Hogg, Bill Knight, Chris Charlesworth, C. P. Lee, Chris Welch, Fran Kershner, Giovanni Dadomo, Harry, Shapiro, Ian Birch, John Tobler, Kerry King, Michael Heatley, Mike McDowell, Martin Plimmer, Mark Williams, Nigel Cross, Neville Wiggins, Peter Clark, Patrick Humphries, Paddy Poltock, Paul Whitcombe, Stephen Lee, Sally Payne.

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133. SETTING SONS – THE JAM (1979)

Greatest Records

SETTING SONS – THE JAM (1979)
We’ve heard a lot in recent years about the prescience of Radiohead’s OK Computer. It captured a very precise pre-millennial moment, released right at the, as yet unsullied by military action, start of the Blair era, immediately before Diana’s death and the referendums that brought devolution to Scotland and Wales. But it also cast an unwavering retina on the burgeoning expansion of the internet; if Harold Wilson proclaimed a technological revolution of “white heat” before he reached Downing Street, the one at the time of his successor’s
arrival would soon be something akin to the surface of the sun.

As musicians often admit, sometimes ruefully, once a record is out, it ceases to be their property and how it is perceived and deployed passes far beyond their control, and so it was that OK Computer became not just a soundtrack but an accessory to, and commodity of, the lifestyle lampooned in the speak-your-salary Fitter Happier. But – to the point – while the technology-induced paranoia, dependency and delusion depicted by the album has made more  sense in each of the 22 (how?!) years since it emerged, its prescience doesn’t begin to come close to Setting Sons, a record whose time has, after 40 years, come again in the 2010s.
Regrettably.

Agonisingly, frustratingly, tragically regrettably.

Paul Weller’s idea of an album based around the theme of friends ending up on opposite sides of a civil war seemed fanciful in 1979 – but not that much, particularly as it’s also a starting point for broader themes of growing apart, shifting priorities, transformed ideals. The incipient Thatcher era was already unleashing its defining themes of industrial attrition, atomised communities and fiscal despair, while extremism as insidious as dry rot and ten times as pernicious was making its beery, bilious countenance known on marches, on football terrace, at gigs; the Jam seem to have escaped the worst but many of their contemporaries and successors – from the Specials to Madness to Sham 69 – saw the pantomime of bigotry performed below them in their audience, even though, despite appearances in some cases, it wasn’t something any of them actively courted.

Such was the clenched, touchpaper-ready environment Setting Sons entered in November 1979. Around half of the songs were migrants from Weller’s storyboard (not for the first time, but possibly the last, there was a parallel with the Who; Who’s Next was partly made up of excerpts from Pete Townshend’s internet-prophesying song cycle Lifehouse). Some of the rest didn’t feed into the story but are still yeast-smeared slices of life that act as a sub-plot and add further frames to the album’s depiction, not so much of the state of the nation as a nation in a state.

Thick As Thieves reflects on friends – maybe two, maybe more – who might not be literally light-fingered but, in the true meaning of the simile, are closely bonded – and pilfering from the unlikeliest of targets, from “the drink that made us sick,” “autumn leaves and summer showers” “the burning sun in the open sky” but at every turn, with every new theft on an even grander scale, “it wasn’t enough/and now we’ve gone and spoiled everything.” The approach is typically muscular and visceral Jam – thanks in no small part to the adroit, thoroughgoing and to this day undervalued rhythm section of Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler – but this only partially disguises the rueful lyric and an emotive melody, which breaks cover when Weller stays his guitar hand and delivers one of his most poignant lines: “We stole the silent wind that says you are free.” Then the commotion resumes and the parting is complete: “We’re no longer as thick as thieves, no/We’re not as thick as we used to be.” Conclusion is reached with a three-chord figure repeated twice; a lesser band would have bludgeoned us with it another four times to make sure we got the point but the Jam had an economy and lightness of touch that their legions of imitators would still be attempting to figure out today.

The original story emerges more explicitly on Little Boy Soldiers, a compressed epic in approximately four movements which owes a good deal less to Bohemian Rhapsody than to Buffalo Springfield’s Broken Arrow. The comparison would probably have found little favour with Weller – and most Jam fans –  at the time (Neil Young? That fa’in’ hippy?! Don’t think so, mate) but the way his narrator berates the politicians who have summoned him to do their bidding (“Why the attention now you want my assistance?/What have you done for me?/You’ve gone and got yourself in trouble/And now you want me to help you out”) could have come from any number of ‘Nam-damning diatribes of a decade earlier.
But a (very British?) resignation prevails and battle commences – it could be any battle, any war, the vicious quagmire that the ‘big picnic’ of the first world war proved to be, the imperial death rattle of the Boer War (as depicted on the label on the vinyl album’s side two), even the Crimea or Waterloo. There, we hear cannon fire, Buckler’s military tattoo and Weller strumming hastily as if he really were in a trench and it really could be the last thing he does, as he presents the officer class’ side of the story: “Think of honour, queen and country/You’re a blessed son of the British Empire/God’s on our side and so is Washington.” Cut to, for the first and only time on the album, an acoustic guitar, and Weller whispering to a future generation “a tale of how goodness prevailed” before he’s cut short by Foxton’s bass volley and a heads-down charge to the cruel, if inevitable conclusion, set to another throat-blocking melody: “They’ll send you home in a pine overcoat/With a letter to your mum/ Saying: Find enclosed one son, one medal and a note to say he won.” There were innumerable letters; this is just one of them.

Woodwind has always had a needlessly fraught relationship with rock music. The oboe gets a pass, through the collective endeavours of Andy Mackay, Amanda Brown and Kate St John but consider the ocarina in Wild Thing, the recorder in Satellite of Love and the flute in Moonage Daydream, all of which don’t so much intrude as squat in the songs, gambolling tweely and frivolously as if a maypole had been installed. The strife continues on Setting Sons’ Wasteland, which used to close side one of Setting Sons, and it undermines almost fatally a desperate sketch of friends meeting at a tip which seems barely distinguishable from its surroundings. Weller recounts a polluted Kim’s Game, a grotesque Generation Game conveyor belt of detritus jettisoned from innocent lives: “The dirty linen, the holy Coca-Cola tins, the punctured footballs/The ragged dolls, the rusting bicycles.” Mostly items of play but that innocence has been banished: “We’ll smile but only for seconds/For to be caught smiling is to acknowledge life/A brave but useless show of compassion/And that is forbidden in this drab and colourless world.” It barely matters that these elegant, almost formal lines sit alongside the trite clunkers of: “Watch the rain fall/tumble and fall/like our lives/just like our lives.” The title inevitably invokes TS Eliot and, while the song’s spiritual reach is nowhere near the poem’s, it still achieves a touching resolution through a gently but assertively seesawing melody and the notion of holding hands which escalates swiftly but subtly and emotively from “maybe” to “probably” to “we’ll have to” – the type of almost imperceptible shift which doesn’t become apparent until after several listens.
Burning Sky is bookended by a couple of marginally corny bursts of cod-Eastern exoticism, perhaps alluding to the runaway success of  the Japanese economy, but in between it looks to the shorter-term future. It recounts, in the form of a letter, the misplaced pragmatism and condescension towards an estranged friend of what would soon be known as a yuppie. The blue serge glints and the Moet dribbles with each line as he offers his apologies for his social absence: “In any case, it wouldn’t be the same/’Cos we’ve all grown up and we’ve got our own lives/And the values we had once upon a time/Seem stupid now, ‘cos the rent must be paid/And some bonds severed and others made.” But that mention of rent, and the lament that, “the taxman’s shouting ‘cos he wants his dough/And the wheels of finance won’t begin to slow” suggest a doubt, a fragility, a sense that whatever the width of the lapel or the value in today’s money, this In The City slicker dwells in a castle built on sand that would subside time and time again – on Black Monday, on Black Wednesday, in the puncturing of the dotcom bubble and the crunching of the credit. A couple of years earlier, Burning Sky had, give or take a rock ‘n’ roll apostrophe, been the title of a Bad Company album; here it’s evidently a metaphor for a capitalist system that gives light and heat but takes far more and ultimately only scorches. Weller’s suit, for all his bravado, is plainly being ground down by it, one minute offering worship but the next lambasting it as “the greedy bastard who won’t give up.” The bluster of the verses is matched for lucidity by the chorus, which runs: “doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo/doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-oo-oo.” Musically, it’s as dextrous and granite-hewn on an album where these qualities abound but, once again, lets a chink of pathos through with the cadences on the closing line: “Then we’ll all be happy and we’ll all be wise/And together we will live beneath the burning sky.” A promise of happiness, wisdom, harmony  -things we’d all covet – but on the condition that we throw in our lot with the rat race.
Eton Rifles, then. By far their biggest hit to date, it made number three, after three consecutive singles (a mighty run of Down In The Tube Station At Midnight, Strange Town and When You’re Young) stalled in the mid-teens but the combined forces of Dr Hook and Queen barred its way to pole position. As the now told to death anecdote has it, Weller wrote this story of literal class warfare after hearing of Etonians braying at a Right To Work march as it passed their school; David Cameron, a pupil there at the time, would choose it among his Desert Island Discs while he was still leader of the opposition and before he took a short-term measure for the sake of his party which would have permanent consequences for his country. Weller, naturally, was incredulous and incadescent: “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?” “I’d prefer the plague to the Eton Rifles.” Contrary to some evidence, a good deal of intelligence is required to make it to Downing Street yet somehow these sentiments sailed over Cameron’s straw-boatered bonce as he mourned that the left’s privilege of having all the best tunes. This particular one seethes with discontent and injustice, Foxton discharging single-note cannons throughout a coda which has a good crack at simulating the perilous disorder of battle, while the organ of Merton Parka Mick Talbot – Weller’s future Style Council adjunct – takes flight from enemy fire. As we’re often reminded, the new wave’s commercial impact was largely marginal; only a handful – the Pistols, Blondie, Costello and, at a push, the Police and Gary Numan –  had by this point invited themselves to the very highest reaches. Sales, of course, were not the point but they do go a long way towards helping to communicate a message and by now the Jam were, with the Clash and the Specials, the foremost chroniclers of an Albion getting more perfidious with each passing hour.
Those sub-plot songs are the equal of their counterparts for incision and empathy. The plight of women trapped in domesticity (I refuse to use the pernicious term “housewife”) has long been as much a stock subject for rock songs as touring or the socialite on their uppers (the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper, the Kinks’ Two Sisters, Squeeze’s Woman’s World). There’s always an uneasy air of incomprehension and condescension – how much insight could Mick Jagger really have into the life of a struggling mother? – but Weller achieves real empathy and compassion on Private Hell. “The fingers feel the lines, they prod the space, your aging face/The face that once was so beautiful/Is still there but unrecognisable” may seem unflattering but her husband hardly comes off much better (“The man that you once loved/Is bald and fat/And seldom in/Working late as usual”) and there’s a genuine pathos in the depiction of her isolation even from her family (“Think of Edward, who’s still at college/You send him letters which he doesn’t acknowledge), excursions away from home which bring not freedom but exposure and agarophobia (“The shop windows reflect, play a nameless host to a closet ghost”) and the, literally, breaking point when, “alone at six o’clock,” she drops and smashes a cup, the small, isolated incident which brings the threat of the precipice. All to the most abrasive music on a record where pugnacity isn’t in short supply.
Smithers-Jones is convincingly Foxton’s best song and, as a study of Home Counties white collar misfortune, takes its place alongside the best not only of Weller but also Ray Davies. It could even be a sequel to Mr Clean, the further adventures of the very same prim-on-the-surface-nothing-close-below city drone ridiculed and threatened by Weller in that song on the previous year’s All Mod Cons. Foxton has a shade more empathy as he follows Smithers-Jones at the eager start of the working week (“Here we go again, it’s Monday at last”), diligent, at least outwardly respectable, politely rebuffing the advances of an unidentified evangelist and arriving in the offices just before the clock strikes nine – to be told he’s out on his ear. The last verse suggests his reaction is to make the most of it and keep a lid on the despair (“It’s time to relax now  you’ve worked your arse off/But the only one smiling is the suntanned boss”) but tellingly, it’s sung by Weller rather than Foxton, making it seem like a well-intentioned but crass, worse-things-happen-at-sea gee-up from a drinking mate. The song performs a quick-change artist’s routine three months on from its first appearance as the B-side of When You’re Young; there, it’s a fine, agile barnstorming band performance, like so many other Jam songs. On Setting Sons, with strings reigning supreme, it’s unlike anything they or practically any other new wave band had done up to this point. They took a step which had been unconscionable ever since Joey Ramone derided any notion of “flugelhorns and strings” a couple of years earlier (of course, the Ramones were about to issue End of the Century which, Spector-helmed as it was, had strings to spare). By issuing two diametrically opposed versions, they even did what the Beatles couldn’t or wouldn’t with Strawberry Fields Forever; with Lennon unable to choose between band and orchestral versions, George Martin was compelled to pull off one of his most extraordinary feats of studio derring-do by splicing the two together, despite them being at different tempos and in different keys. For the Jam and producer Vic (Copper) Smith (Heaven) to have done the same would have run the risk of mirroring Little Boy Soldiers too closely and anyway, traumatic as it can be, Waterloo station stands little comparison with the events at its battlefield namesake in 1815.

This leaves us with Saturday’s Kids, a musically slight but lyrically rich, almost Hogarth-like  tableau of small-town weekends which are unremarkable in themselves but incalculably essential to the sanity and survival of those involved, those who”live life with insults.” The vanished period detail tumbles like an off-balance Spacehopper rider – Lite-a-Bite, Woolworths, Babycham, Capstan Non-filters, Cortinas with fur-trimmed dashboards, baggy trousers – but this isn’t a Peter Kay stand-up show; for all its wit and good-natured delivery, it’s much more World In Action or Nationwide probing the lives of “the real creatures that time has forgot,” as Weller calls them at the one moment he lets anger into the song.  They would remain forgotten, their votes would be taken for granted, they would by extension be taken for granted themselves. Many would then choose to vote differently – and here we are in 2019.

The two least distinguished songs open and close the album, which at least brings a sense of unity to  the songs in between. Girl on the Phone could have been an opportunity to get into the mind of a stalker but Weller, a little worryingly, seems flattered by her unrelenting attention and the music is perfunctory. Only the closing couplet (“The girl on the phone keeps ringing back/She’s telling me this and she’s telling me that”) appears on the lyric sheet, underlining the song’s apparent status as an afterthought. The same applies to the cover of the Vandellas’ Heatwave – or, more precisely, the cover of the Who’s cover, which closes the album in a fit of bathos. It’s not bad, exactly, but it is almost completely pointless – there’s little of the verve and gusto they brought to their version of the Kinks’ David Watts a year earlier and, like much of Motown’s ’60s output, the Vandellas’ version is close to unimprovable, so why the Who, let alone the Jam,  attempted it is unclear, even as an undoubtedly sincere homage. Furthermore,  it’s a retrograde step – with the Jam scaling towerblock-high peaks of their own, you’d have thought they’d finally have got out of their system the youthful fixation which even led them to do the Batman theme on their 1977 debut In The City – Just Like The ‘Oo Once Did. Instead, they sound like they’re back at the Red Cow in Hammersmith, pulling out an incongrous and surely unnecessary filler to get the album over the half-hour line.

But quibbles be silenced. Setting Sons caught the Jam in the very middle of their time of magic, a patch as purple as any, heightened a few months later when Going Underground pulled off the then-rare feat of entering at number one. For a year and a half, like many British youths, I had been  scribbling down the top 40 when Paul Burnett announced it at Tuesday lunchtimes on Radio 1; having decided some time earlier that I would retire when my spiral notebook was full, it was a glorious moment to be signing off: 1. Going Underground – The Jam (-) and to editorialise with a parenthetical ‘yeees’ while Liquid Gold and Rainbow languished  far below.

I’ve always felt that the Jam and two of my other favourite bands, the Velvet Underground and Echo and the Bunnymen, followed similar trajectories. Each followed a dense, complex, unimpeachable masterpiece (All Mod Cons, Banana, Heaven Up Here) with a record of overpowering intensity (Setting Sons, White Light/White Heat, Porcupine) and then something much calmer and more reflective, like a cooling  rain shower (Sound Affects, Third, Ocean Rain). Finally came albums which had some of each band’s strongest individual moments but which lacked real cohesion and would prove to be, temporarily at least, swansongs, (The Gift, Loaded, ‘Grey album’). Weller has since, with the Style Council and solo but, laudably, never with a reformed Jam, followed a path that has been capricious, often obdurate, as predictable on some occasions as unpredictable on others, sometimes tedious but rarely without value.

He’s always been least interesting when, paradoxically, he’s been most and least politically engaged. The well-intentioned but ill-fated Red Wedge venture of the mid-’80s was explicitly, capital P Political, at least as much specifically opposed to one party as in support of another, and proved that, while it can be pulled off, something as unregulated and ungovernable as popular music at its best isn’t necessarily the best platform for inherently compromise-driven and inconsistent party politics. Within a decade, his music was almost entirely inward-looking, an understandable reaction to just how far those political compromises and inconsistencies had taken hold, but what was left was a philosophy which appeared to amount pretty much to “I just believe in me, man” and the sound of barbecue-and-cider personal contentment which is a fine state to aspire to but seldom makes for gripping music.

A reawakened musical curiosity and a set of external circumstances impossible not to respond to have rekindled a good deal of his musical and political ardour in recent years but it’s never been more eloquent, more discerningly furious or more torrentialy compassionate than on Setting Sons, a record that’s relevant today as at any time in the past 40 years. I wish it wasn’t, though (PG).

132. THE VERY SPECIAL WORLD OF LEE HAZLEWOOD (1966)

Greatest Records

I think it was Charles Shaar Murray who once penned a pithy one word ‘review’ of Lee Hazlewood’s 1974 album Poet Fool Or Bum. I suppose the content of that review is hardly a mystery and it’s fair to say that at times Hazlewood cultivated that aspect of his character to his own advantage.

Take for instance ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ an exquisitely supine moment from his fourth solo outing The Very Special World Of Lee Hazlewood. Not yet half way through his life, here was a man whose body appeared filled with lead, and whose mind, reeking of Chivas Regal and Marlboro, was wasting away endless days on a hammock. “Kiss all the pretty ones goodbye / Give everyone a penny that cry / You can throw all my tranquil’ pills away / Let my blood pressure go on its way / For my autumn’s done come.” Nothing to do, nothing to live for. It’s certainly an evocative piece. One can imagine him relinquishing those loaded heels onto the earth, the dustcloud wafting skywards the perfect companion to the glorious weightlessness of the melody. Bum.

A leathery baritone with neither the luxurious glaze of Sinatra nor the passion, poise or gravitas of Scott Walker – but a match for Cohen or Cash in its lugubrious familiarity – Hazlewood was busier than it might have seemed. Indeed, by 1966 he was undoubtedly a veteran of the music business. From his early collaborations with Duane Eddy in the mid-‘50s, he had composed dozens of songs – some for movies – and had made a penny or two writing hits for the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. He had recorded three solo albums of unremarkable country music. Each had bombed. But it was his partnership with Sinatra’s daughter Nancy which brought him to international prominence, and his authorship of their runaway smash ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which yielded more tantalising opportunities: first of all it sealed him a contract with MGM, but it also ultimately enabled him to establish his own label, Lee Hazlewood Industries. At LHI he oversaw the emergence of Gram Parsons’ fledgling International Submarine Band as well as producing dozens of records for up and coming younger artists, few of which were, by then, as successful as those under his name. After three LPs with MGM, his later ‘60s albums would appear on his own label, two of which, the soundtrack to the surreal dreamlike television special Cowboy In Sweden and the stark and mournful (or completely self-indulgent, depending upon one’s mood) Requiem For An Almost Lady would have been be equally worthy inclusions in TNPC. 

The case for choosing Very Special World over the others seems straightforward enough. Many of the songs, such as the dizzily hysterical opener ‘For One Moment’ benefit from Billy Strange’s superb orchestral accompaniment, the big sound one might have expected to hear on contemporaneous records by Gene Pitney or The Righteous Brothers, and which here provides the perfect antithesis to Lee’s deadpan miserabilism. “Big expensive demos”‘ Hazlewood called them. He had something of a way with words. How about about that for an opening couplet?: “The hurt I hurt is nothing like the hurts I’ve hurt before/ The things I feel do not feel like things I’ve felt before.” Poet.

In stark contrast, while the heartbreak stories continue on ‘When A Fool Loves A Fool’, on this occasion the emotional rupture is paralleled by a comedically jaunty melody (as if Herb Alpert has knocked up some gag accompaniment for The Benny Hill Show) racing furiously in the opposite direction from the solemn sentiment.

Here as elsewhere on the album, Hazlewood is ably abetted by incredibly versatile playing from the Wrecking Crew (Knetchel, Kaye, Blaine et al), and there are marvellous moments aplenty. The ticklish Jobim-like bossa nova of ‘Not The Lovin’ Kind’ is barely whispered, and this time reveals a man in total control, effortlessly keeping the feminine interest at arms length. And if his own version of ‘Boots’ turns into a self-congratulatory smugfest, he makes amends with the wandering travelogue ‘I Move Around’ and the epic smouldering ‘Sand’, adopting the slightly camp persona of guitar-slinging outlaw – here the vocal accompaniment provided by the woman who would break his heart, the muse for many of his most forlorn moments, Suzi Jane Hokom. The song – like many on the album – would be made more famous by others: this one appeared as a 45 with Nancy Sinatra and featured on the ’68 Nancy & Lee album, the knowing innocence of Nancy’s delivery making Suzi’s contribution sound matronly but simultaneously majestic.

Strange’s string arrangements are drowning in opulence on the marvellous redemptive ballad ‘Your Sweet Love’, but instead of roses and love letters it’s broken hearts which are being bartered on ‘My Baby Cried All Night Long’, which resurrects the avenging karma of ‘Boots’, loaded once again with Lee’s boozy barfly humour: “And the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t be caught messin’ / Where you shouldn’t been messin’ or you’ll end up cryin’ all night long.” Fool.

Hazlewood succumbed to renal cancer in 2007. He leaves behind a superb body of work, which despite his unapologetic claim (“The only thing I listen to is my bank account”), has entertained and influenced generations of musicians, and a biography written by longtime confidante Wyndham Wallace, Lee, Myself & I, which Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce declares to be one of only two books he’s ever read from cover to cover. Look up maverick in the dictionary- and there’ll be a photo of Lee there. Lee Hazlewood – Poet, Fool or Bum? I’d simply suggest ‘Very Special’

Running order:

The 1969 reissue, the sleeve of which us pictured above, contains a slightly different running order from the original issue, with ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ closing the album out. Somehow I feel it suits being there a little better. (JJ)

131. JOE GIBBS & THE PROFESSIONALS – AFRICAN DUB ALL-MIGHTY CHAPTER 3 (1978)

Dub, Greatest Records, Reggae

Gibbs had been active in the JA music scene from the early ‘60s, working alongside Lee Perry and Bunny Lee as well as producing rocksteady hits for the likes of The Pioneers, The Heptones and The Ethiopians, but rose to international prominence with his production job on Nicky Thomas’ 1970 global top ten smash ‘Love Of The Common People’. An impressive résumé certainly, but one undoubtedly overshadowed by his ’70s partnership with engineer Errol (ET) Thompson (aka ‘The Mighty Two’) which – with the help of a crack team of session musicians aka The Professionals (Sly & Robbie & co) – delivered over 100 Jamaican chart toppers for a host of singers and DJs including Big Youth, Dennis Brown, Prince Far-I and Black Uhuru. Some of reggae’s most enduring albums such as Two Sevens Clash by Culture also bore his fingerprints, and along with Coxsone and Scratch he rightly competes for the title of greatest reggae producer of all.

However it is his groundbreaking ‘70s experiments in dub which lend his claim to that accolade the greatest weight. In particular his four volume African Dub Almighty series represents dub music at its most revelatory, with the third of those Chapters the pick of the bunch, a rival to King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown, Blackboard Jungle Dub and Pick A Dub as perhaps the key album of the genre.

The first two Chapters (from 1973 and 1974 respectively) were pioneering for the time, yet offered little clue as to what would come next. But four years was a long time during what was the most fertile period in reggae’s history, as Kingston rocked to the roots train, basked in the glory the Wailers’ international success, sweltered while DJs competed for dominance on the street corner sound systems and observed dreadlocks disappear into clouds of ganja smoke as the culture of Rastafari grew more fervent in the wake of Haile Sellassie’s removal as Emperor of Ethiopia.

By the mid-’70s dub had surged forward in its sonic development from the kind of primitive instrumental remixes and edits knocked out by Coxsone and Tubby initially as the most economical way of filling the B-Side of a 45, becoming latterly, far more experimental sonic excursions for increasingly enthusiastic audiences on club nights. Crucially for Gibbs however, in the intervening period (between Chapters Two and Three) he acquired a new 16-track recording studio and record pressing plant at Retirement Crescent. Tubbys by contrast had a mere four tracks and Thompson must have felt like a four year old let loose in a sweetie shop, although the first LP released after the move, State of Emergency, was not an especially significant step forward from Chapter Two – perhaps instead it merely served the purpose of allowing the duo to get their bearings and prepare for what was to come.

Some of the sounds and samples on Chapter Three will be familiar to you if you have at least some interest in reggae and dub music. For instance, the backing track to Jacob Miller’s ‘Baby I Love You So’ has been a much sampled dub staple and along with the echoed skanking guitar, provides the raw material for the album’s title track ‘Chapter Three’. But others almost defy description, so it is vital you give it a proper listen from beginning to end. There’s crazy stuff happening all over the place, not least on the aforementioned title track, where at one point it sounds as if a large grate has been removed from the earth, only to reveal a yawning pelagic catacomb; later in the same track, could that be a double decker bus or another HGV grinding abruptly to a halt?

Lloyd Bradley in his superb history of the genre, Bass Culture, devotes a few pages to ‘Tribesman Rockers’ an otherworldly borrowing of ‘Why Do Birds Follow Spring’ by Alton Ellis, where channels shift and screech over horns, flutes and digital bleeps and squeals which sound like they’ve come from some futuristic arcade game.

For good measure, leavened into the mix on ‘Freedom Call Dub’ are some Clangers-style recorder and insanely distorted UFO sound effects, while the guitar groove on ‘Jubilation Dub’ seems to tailspin off the edge of a cliff beneath some seriously phat bass, the whole thing descending into anarchy, the dial grips on that mixing desk having a house party to themselves. Elsewhere, door bells ring, sirens blare and water pools bubble and froth. One’s head begins to melt.

Best of all is ‘Angolian Chant’ – a heavyweight twist on Dennis Brown’s gorgeous ‘Love Me Always’ reinterpreted as “I wanna dub you, dub you always” – with the sustain on Brown’s “wooh-ooh-ooh-ooh” a stroke of genius, the work of a master engineer, one who understands how to fasten divergent musical fragments together, drape silent shrouds over familiar rhythms and brush and polish others until they gleam anew, radically reinventing with echo, splice and overdub.

Lloyd Bradley identifies parallels between dub and the African beliefs and practices which migrated to Jamaica known as obeah, which divides the body into seven centres or selves (eg digestive system, respiratory system, the brain) and prescribes herbs and potions in order to bring forward, push back or heal and realign those different aspects. Bradley noted how the best dub contains those medicinal even magical qualities, excavating, transfiguring, purifying, shredding, even amputating where necessary. African Dub All-Mighty Chapter Three delivers on all of those fronts, in addition to being one of the most authentically psychedelic records ever created. The likes of Scientist, Dub Syndicate and African Head Charge would rewrite the dub rule book, psyching into the FX and detaching it more and more from its roots. By contrast, the music of Gibbs, Thompson and the Professionals was steeped in reggae’s rich heritage. It holds body and soul, past and future, earth and the cosmos in perfect balance. (JJ)

130. THE ROLLING STONES – BETWEEN THE BUTTONS (1967)

Baroque Pop, Greatest Records, Psychedelia, Rock Music

For me, the best Stones album by some distance is Beggars Banquet. Although Brian Jones played a more peripheral part than usual in its creation, it was the last and greatest LP to feature the original five. By the following year the band’s sound, as well as its understanding of itself, had altered irrevocably. After Beggars Banquet, while the highs were often ecstatic ones, much of their music became progressively more hackneyed over time, and while some of their records (particularly those made between 1969 and 1972) are amongst the best and most confident they would ever make, never again would they sound so natural nor exuberant as they did in ’68.

The two albums which preceded BB offer a glimpse into the Stones’ orbit before they became self-proclaimed ‘greatest rock and roll band in the world’. The dayglo psychedelic experiment Their Satanic Majesties Request has undergone something of a critical reappraisal in recent years, its excesses (of the sonically adventurous kind) perhaps easier to stomach than those (of the dead-eyed smacked out type) of the ‘70s, so candidly chronicled by Nick Kent in Apathy For The Devil.

But TSMR‘s predecessor Between The Buttons is better still, an effervescent pop potpourri which saw them step outside of their R&B roots to incorporate elements of country and western (‘Who’s Been Sleeping Here?’), baroque (‘Yesterday’s Papers’) and Kinks-ish music hall (‘Cool, Calm & Collected’,’ Something Happened To Me Yesterday’) alongside their first organically psychedelic inflections.

’67 was the strangest year for the Stones. They would make newspaper headlines for the wrong reasons (the famous drug bust at Redlands) and Between The Buttons – while it performed fairly well in the charts (although not as well as Aftermath) – was somewhat overshadowed by the subsequent court case. A shame, because it’s one of the very best albums they ever made.

On January 15th they ‘spent some time together’ performing their new AA-sided 45 on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan censored the lyric while Jagger rolled his eyes and deliberately fluffed his lines. As was oft the case, the single cuts (‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ / ‘Ruby Tuesday’) were included on the US version of the LP which would be released in February. The UK version, released on 20th January, omitted both. Curiously, when I began building my Stones collection, the US version was more widely available and therefore I didn’t hear the album in the form it was originally intended to be heard, for many years. And when I did, the album finally began to make perfect sense.

The first of the two tracks to make way for the hits on the US version of the LP, contains the kind of embellishments which would remain absent throughout their ’70s oeuvre. ‘Back Street Girl’ sees Jagger lampoon the hypocrisy of the aristocracy, it’s ‘lord of the manor and his mistress’ lyric stapled to one of the Stones’ gentlest melodies, a waltzing companion piece to ‘Lady Jane’, featuring Brian on vibes, Jack Nitzsche on harpsichord with Nick de Caro lending some Gallic charm on accordion. “I wrote this in some weird place which I can’t remember. It’s got the feeling of a French cafe about it” Jagger explained to Keith Altham of the NME. Years later, he suggested it was the only song on the album he was happy with. It’s an album he sorely underestimates.

Brian’s fingerprints meanwhile, are everywhere in evidence, pulling the strings and twiddling the knobs on the second of those tracks, the Bo Diddley on (a)steroids runout ‘Please Go Home’. Jones had big plans then, and his interviews always made good copy. “I believe we are moving toward a new age in ideas and events. Astrologically we are at the end of the age called the Pisces age…We are soon to begin the age of Aquarius. There is a young revolution in thought and manner about to take place”, he told Keith Altham shortly after the album’s release. Maybe one eye was already on the band’s next more explicitly psychedelic project, but those roots were sewn on BTB not only through Brian’s dilettantish peppering of the material with sitars, oscillators and flutes, but also with Keith’s heavily distorted reverb on ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ and the menacing ‘My Obsession’. Sessions were engineered by Dave Hassinger and the hovering dynamics here recall his similarly impressive synchronous work with The Electric Prunes.

On ‘Yesterday’s Papers’ the miraculous interplay between Nitzche’s harpsichord and Jones’ vibraphone hangs like draped finery over Keith’s pulsating generator. Jagger had envisaged the song entirely differently. “It was going to be very straight but it’s ended up donging about all over the place. All tinkling and weird. Charlie said he wanted to think up a weird drum rhythm for it and brought about two dozen different drums into the studio for it, then he asked me if I thought he was getting contrived?” he told the NME at the time. Contrived or not, it is a hugely undervalued gem and for many, the album’s defining moment.

The Stones hadn’t forgotten how to rip it up as evidenced by the delightfully rambunctious ‘Miss Amanda Jones’. ‘All Sold Out’ and ‘Connection’ are feisty little rockers too, the latter’s irresistible staccato guitar riff and prescient lyric anticipating the personal problems to come (“The bags, they get a very close inspection/I wonder why it is that they suspect ’em?”), while the former is ’embellished’ with more superb guitar work alongside Jones’ tone deaf recorder. The mid tempo ballad ‘She Smiled Sweetly’ is less successful, possibly the album’s weakest track, and despite Keith’s versatility his efforts to edify the thing with solemn church organ – Jagger claimed the track was “quasi-religious” – are in vain. Even his bass part is bewildering, as if he’s playing on one string, and a broken one at that. One might guess they ran out of time and everyone else had disappeared for the evening.

‘Who’s Been Sleeping Here?’, a kind of countrified Dylan pastiche, is a peculiar marriage of his mournfully melancholic ‘She Belongs To Me’ with the bawdy ‘Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35′, but against the odds it works splendidly well, with particular credit to Jones’ understated harp playing. It’s also interesting to note the progression from here to ‘No Expectations’ from the following year’s Beggars Banquet. As for the closer, ‘Something Happened To Me Yesterday’, it is one of the oddest songs in the Stones’ canon, and musically at least sounds like an out-take from The Kinks’ Face To Face. As for the subject matter, Jagger was somewhat cryptic: “I leave it to the individual imagination as to what happened. The ending is something I remember hearing on the BBC as the bombs dropped.” A red herring probably – it is more likely to be about his first encounter with LSD. And that experience would of course lead them to unexplored pastures.

It is often overlooked, but Between The Buttons is quirky and ingenious, and if at times a little too polite for some tastes, reassuringly devoid of the rawk posturing to come. It is the Stones’ brightest album, and also their most English – their very own Village Green. (JJ)

129. JOHN & BEVERLEY MARTYN – STORMBRINGER! (1970)

Folk/ Folk-Rock, Greatest Records, Singer-Songwriter

I was three years old in 1970, so, unsurprisingly, I have little recollection of the time, although vividly etched in my memory are pictures of those Brazilian shirts from the Mexico World Cup which looked like they were about to burst into flames on our television screens. Perhaps the only other thing I remember watching on TV at the time is Mary Mungo & Midge, always at lunchtimes. But despite those tender memories, I usually think of 1970 as the bleakest of years. A more enduring image might be that of those beleaguered festival-goers trudging forlornly along the endless back roads of the Isle Of Wight, their mood darkening by the second. Most of all though I tend to think of long-haired yellow-fingered hippies rolling up on Astral Weeks album sleeves in gloomy bedsits, the curtains drawn tightly together. Perhaps that image has been perpetuated through repeated viewings of Bruce Robinson’s razor sharp study of the time Withnail & I (set in late ‘69), but there was certainly something more somber about the mood of 1970 – and the music often reflected that. The year would witness the disintegration of The Beatles, the emergence of doom-metal lords Black Sabbath, and the release of Bowie’s heaviest and most disturbing album, so that retrospectively, those twelve months feel like a solemn requiem for the optimism of the ‘60s. The Beatles’ split in April – though protracted and long expected – must in itself have procured an outpouring of national grief, soon to be compounded by Lennon hissing venomous derision upon their legacy, and upon the ‘60s as a whole.

All the same, 1970 yielded an abundance of terrific LPs, even if the mood was decidedly more despondent: Bryter Layter, After The Gold Rush, Fun House, Bitches Brew, Watertown, Loaded, The Madcap Laughs to name a few. But two of the very best albums of the year were made by Glasgow folkie John Martyn and his wife Beverley. By the end of the ‘60s Martyn’s reputation had been growing steadily, and his music evolving from traditional folk to incorporate a more distinctive jazzy experimental style. In ‘69 he got himself hitched to singer-songwriter Beverley Kutner and together the pair immediately relocated to Woodstock to begin recording the songs that would make up Stormbringer! and its follow up, the equally impressive Road To Ruin.

I’ve always found Stormbringer! a terribly sad record, riddled with an aching melancholia, a perfect mirror image of the painful comedown from the ‘60s. And while the Martyns would have yet been in the honeymoon period of their relationship, the songs struggle to communicate any marital bliss. One might have expected the first fruits of their creative partnership to be populated with odes to Eros and hymns to nature, but although the songs are richly textured, the lyrics betray their authors’ own fragility and uncertainty. A sign of things to come – there would be an intensity to their relationship which made it a tempestuous, at times even violent one, and the wheels would come off spectacularly, but grey clouds were already gathering at the beginning.

It is hard not to imagine Nick Drake being the subject of ‘Go Out And Get It’, the album’s blistering opening track. Martyn would later pen ‘Solid Air’ about his doomed friend, but the lyrics here (“I know a man, six feet tall…educated well / And he keeps his mind within a padded shell / Behind the curtain, upon the shelf / Lives a man living with himself / Behind his eyes, behind his smile / What is going on, nobody in the world can tell”) seem to tell Drake’s story equally well, and it certainly sets a solemn tone for the album. Musically however, it represents a huge leap forward, the fuller band sound bolstered by Mother of Invention Billy Mundi on the sticks with Martyn’s shrieking slide oscillating through the rhythm.

Back in Blighty, there had been tension between Martyn and Witchseason’s Joe Boyd (“he didn’t really like me, thought I was vulgar”, Martyn claimed), and Boyd sent the pair across the Atlantic where they teamed up with several seasoned players such as Levon Helm, Harvey Brooks and John Simon. It is unclear how much of the production credit should lie with Boyd or keyboard player Paul Harris. But whatever the case, the new album was a significantly different proposition from The Tumbler, Martyn’s preceding album from ‘68. The title track and the closer ‘Would You Believe’ offer the best illustration of that transformation, with newly expansive playing and exquisite embellishments, the former’s descending string sequence towards the end and the latter’s hypnotic shimmering reverb the equal of anything in Martyn’s canon, whilst pointing the way forward to his more celebrated mid-‘70s work. Despite the musical progression, ‘Stormbringer!’ (“She never looked around to see me / She never looked around at all / All I saw was shadows on the wall”) and ‘Would You Believe’ (“Would you believe me if I told you / That I didn’t want to lose you? / That’s why I had to bruise you so sadly…”) reflect the prevailing sense of unease. Under record company pressure, Martyn would soon be recording solo once again, but perhaps there was an inevitability about this development. There are some lighter moments – the pretty paean to ‘Woodstock’ for instance – but these are pushed aside by more sinister rumblings. Even the more explicitly romantic lyrics have a darker underbellly (“I’m John the Baptist and this is my friend Salome / And you can bet it’s my head she wants and not my heart only.”)

Meanwhile Beverley’s compositions possess an almost purgatorial character – elusive almost painful melodies, always on the verge of some ecstatic moment, the euphoria stifled by sone maudlin huskily delivered line or a slightly off-kilter note on the piano. On ‘Can’t Get The One I Want’ she laments “I can’t get the one I want to love / So I’m just biding my time / Drunk is drunk / The wine is just fine”. In contrast she comes over like a narcoticized Julie Driscoll on ‘Sweet Honesty’ – its seven minutes of sultry funk perhaps outstays its welcome a little; but it does feature some strong harmonica playing. Beverley’s songs are the equal of John’s throughout and one regrets their collaboration wasn’t to stretch beyond the end of the year. But that makes the music even more evocative of time and place.

The further removed we become from a particular moment in time, the more we allow our consciousness – our memories, our imagination – to bottle it like a commodity to be recalled and, once savoured, returned – untainted – to the shelf of history. The filtering of memories can be a peculiar thing, but often with hindsight we seem somehow better able to understand the past, and our own place in it. Stormbringer! – despite its almost timeless production – makes me think 1970 in a way no other record does. It’s the sort of record that is best appreciated during an intense bout of nostalgia, but that’s what makes it so special. And tonight, as I observe grey clouds gathering outside, it may just be the time to draw those curtains once again. (JJ)

128. MILTON NASCIMENTO / LO BORGES – CLUBE DA ESQUINA (1972)

Brazilian, Exotica, Greatest Records, Samba

Exile On Main Street is often regarded as the greatest double album of all time, but there is another twin set recorded in the same year on the other side of the world, to which I turn far more frequently for joy and inspiration. Clube da Esquina is an album which infuriatingly never graces any of those Greatest Albums lists. Brazilian records never do. Even their most internationally renowned artists (Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso, Elis Regina, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Joyce) are mysteriously overlooked. And yet from bossa nova and samba, through the Tropicalia movement of the late ’60s, onto the exotic synthesis of MPB with Western sounds in the early ’70s there are such rich seams to explore in Brazilian popular music.

It probably helps if one has first undergone some conditioning. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve me playing with my Airfix soldiers on the living room carpet, my mother zipping round me doing the housework whilst blasting the music of Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendes and Maria Bethania from the hi-fi. Those soldiers were better equipped to do the samba than to engage in battle. I meanwhile would grow up with bossa nova in my blood.

Amongst all of that wonderful music, the mystical Clube da Esquina stands at the zenith. It’s title (‘The Corner Club’) was the name given to a collective of musicians from the state of Minas Gerais, but for this album, their debut offering, the reins were effectively yielded to Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges.

At over an hour in length, it remains a sprawling and highly ambitious fusion of styles. Nascimento had already made a name for himself in Brazilian music, and his ’68 album Courage is a classic of orchestral pop, while the younger Borges (a mere nineteen at the time) brought with him a more traditional roots sensibility. People presumed the picture on the album’s sleeve to be a photograph taken of the two friends during their childhood. Not so. The iconic image was actually snapped by Carlos da Silva Assunção Filho and perfectly captured the spirit of the favela, the ‘face of Brazil’ at a time of brutal political oppression by the military regime. Amidst such poverty and injustice, one might have expected the music to be rustic, a Brazilian variation of the protest song, but instead the songs were painstakingly constructed and richly textured, the arrangements often luxurious.

Is it possible to be in love with Nascimento’s voice without recognising a word it utters? I barely know two words of Portuguese, but it barely matters. For my heart discerns the purest of connections with this music and with its creators and this is an album to be enjoyed as much for its subtle inflections, celestial sparkle, twisting irresistible rhythms and piercing melancholia as for its social commentary.

It is a constantly surprising record; from the very first listen one’s attention is seized by the seesawing guitar lines of ‘O Trem Azul’ and ‘Nuvem Cigana’ as well as Nascimento’s hysterical wailing outro on the opening track, Borges’ ‘Tudo Que Você Podia Ser’. That in itself is a revelation – a traditional Brazilian folk tune ambushed by a contagious cockeyed samba. Then there is the meandering staccato piano fade into nothingness of Milton’s gorgeous introspective ballad ‘Cais’.

But what is most striking is the sheer extravagance of melodious inventiveness. The record has such a warm sound too – there are songs which subtly provide a counter cultural critique, some document an emotional catharsis, while others are clearly more celebratory, but one senses musicians completely in tune with one another, suffused with the sheer joy of making music together. There are little recurrent interludes (‘Saidas E Bandeiras Nos. 1 & 2’) and songs (‘Cravo E Canela’) which miraculously keep in balance some impressively dexterous whistling and the itchy ecstasy of bossa nova with the glitter and fizz of the carnival. Then hear how the laborious picking on ‘Dos Cruces’ cedes into an almost maniacal tango with a spitfire fuzz wigout at the fade. That is followed by the swooning intro to ‘Um Girassol Da Cor Do Seu Cabelo’ (when I first acquired the album in 1997, I managed to convince my younger brother this was the beginning of the brand new single by Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci) before a suspenseful cinematographic episode is blown apart by guitars quickly accelerating towards the finale. And if you fail to immediately press repeat after hearing the little six-string melodic miracles knitted together as ‘Estrelas’ and ‘Clube da Esquina No. 2’, then it is reasonable to assume your soul died a long time ago.

In amongst Nascimento’s ghostly sighs and shrieks (“If God had a voice he would sound like Milton Nascimento”, famously quipped Elis Regina), there is an outstanding vocal from Alaide Costa on ‘Me Deixa Em Pas’. Then there’s the darkly delicious psychedelia of ‘Pelo Amor de Deus’ with atmospheric autoharp, deranged keyboard and Beto Guedes’ crazed Strawberry Alarm Clock fuzz. But I’m barely scratching the surface here. There is such a proliferation of ideas and styles it is little wonder Clube da Esquina has often been referred to as the ‘Brazilian White Album’. And yet it is so much more than that. Let’s be clear, there is nothing that smacks of imitation here. If the Western influence has been accommodated, nevertheless these are quintessentially Brazilian rhythms and melodies. And this record represents Brazilian popular music at its finest.

As I write it is summertime in Brazil and Clube da Esquina is a record perhaps best appreciated amid the sweltering humidity of a long hot summer. But here in Glasgow the daylight is sparse and good cheer in short supply. There is no better time to let this winter warmer beckon swiftly the sun’s return. (JJ)

127. POSITION NORMAL- STOP YOUR NONSENSE (1999)

Electronic, Greatest Records, Indie / Alternative, Indietronica

By 1999, I had completely lost interest in new music. There was one aberration from this disconcertingly reactionary development: my obsession with an album by a ‘band’ called Position Normal. I knew nothing about them except that the album was entitled Stop Your Nonsense.

I later discovered that Position Normal was a guy called Chris Baliff who had been experimenting with tape-to-tape multi-tracking since his early teens, using his family’s Amstrad hi-fi and an SK1 drum machine. At college he borrowed a Marantz tape recorder to do a project on ice cream vans, and from there began utilising guitars and other instruments. In the guise of Position Normal, with help from John Cushway, Baliff inhabits a discomfiting subconscious world of nonsensical gibberish, dreams and nightmares, delirium and hysteria. All conventional ideas about how music should sound have been abandoned, liberating him to create discombobulated aural collages which – depending upon the listener’s own psychological state – have the capacity to amuse excite and disturb in equal measure. If he has cultivatied his own mystique over the years (sporting faceless masks for example), resolutely maintaining a deliberately low profile, there is certainly nothing taciturn in his willingness to completely mess with your head.

Stop Your Nonsense is one of the most fearless records I’ve ever heard, made without the remotest concern for commercial viability. That is fairly unusual in itself, but what makes the album even stranger is that it is constructed almost exclusively from obscure samples of found sound. [‘Plunderphonics’, according to at least one website] In sharp contrast to DJ Shadow’s painstakingly seamless reconstructions on Endtroducing however, Position Normal layer the samples on top of one another in the most anarchic way imaginable: visualise a Banksy mural stencilled over a fresco by Botticelli or custard being thrown over a plate of sausages. Take ‘The Blank’ for instance, where a mechanical clang of Beefheartian guitar locks horns with what sounds like some syrupy children’s (loonee) tune knocked out on a xylophone. Meanwhile, vocal samples from a television quiz show (“What is the blank?”), manic bouts of laughter, and an obscure loop of eveningwear jazz arrive to gatecrash the party. It’s all utterly disorientating, rather marvellous and somehow makes perfect sense.

Everything sounds fractious, frenetic, desperate not to outstay it’s welcome, as much the perfect recipe for those suffering from attention deficit disorder as once was Pink Flag. Things move quickly here. You might struggle to keep up. Perhaps the strangest juxtaposition of styles is on ‘Rabies’ where the lyric (“Missing her like I miss rabies”) read by the narrator in a ludicrously accelerated tempo, fades into a devastatingly poignant moment from some ultra-solemn piano sonata. ‘Undada Sea’ likewise begins with looped varispeed voices before a playbarn bossa nova party is bashed out on flutes, tin cans and glass bottles.

‘Drishnun’ could be Broadcast or Stereolab on downer acid. Then there is ‘German’, where a strident rendition of what sounds like some theatrical composition by Kurt Weill (perhaps sung by his wife Lotte Lenya?) dissolves away through the addition of some sumptuous sonic phasing. Despite this Teutonic phonic interlude, the sounds Baliff harnesses together are typically unmistakably English, from the lumpen cockney accents on ‘Whoppeas’ and ‘Jimmy Had Jane’ (“Pickled egg, pickled egg, pickled egg eyes…”, which could be Derek & Clive or the Monty Python team reworking Rock Bottom) to taped telephone calls and source material extracted from UK children’s television and radio shows of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Simon Reynolds has detected elsewhere the same spirit of adventure characteristic of the UK post-punk scene of the early ‘80s, even comparing some of the eerily disembodied guitar to the work of Vini Reilly (check ‘Pepe Pepaymemimo’ or the haunting and genuinely hypnotic closer ‘Bedside Manners’), as well as citing other reference points as diverse as St. Etienne, Nurse With Wound and De La Soul. Perhaps another might be The Residents or early Matt Johnson (check the heavily reverbed guitar on ‘Bucket Wipe’)

It’s all defiantly lo-fi, at times making The Fall’s Dragnet sound as smooth as late period Steely Dan. Mind you, there are so many snippets and samples it becomes a challenge in itself to discern which sounds are authentically original. In the end, that doesn’t really matter, for in the early years of the noughties, when I like many others, had been left utterly unmoved by Coldplay, The Strokes, Primal Scream et al, this beautifully unhinged little gem contrived to keep my sanity intact. (JJ)