113. ORANGE JUICE – TEXAS FEVER (1984)

I could begin with a sad lament about how Orange Juice should have been the greatest pop group of the early ’80s. But I’ll leave that ’til the end.

So let me tell you instead about ‘The Bridge’. Who, but Orange Juice, could so naturally calibrate a perfect synthesis of Chic and The Velvet Underground, blending them together with such effortless joi de vivre, then, as if playing ‘keepy-uppy’ with a 5-0 advantage, leavening into the mix some owlish ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ ooh-ooh-oohs, not to mention having the downright audacity to be the only band in history to reference Isambard Kingdom Brunel in popular song? PS. This is a rhetorical question.

Or I could have begun by arguing that You Cant Hide Your Love Forever, more than any other single LP, invented ‘indie’ music, and taken my cue from there. No OJ, then no Smiths, no Pastels etc etc.

But instead I’d rather ask you a question about ‘Craziest Feeling’. Did you know that Malcolm Ross could play guitar with the same shrapnel spraying agitation and wit (yes, guitars can be witty too) as John McGeoch, or that Edwyn Collins, while unashamedly a savant, had a huge passion for the bubblegum trash culture of 50s America and a devilish sense of humour to boot? Or that he really just dressed up some good old-fashioned love songs in a modernist post-punk garb and a pair of dark shades? Or had you forgotten about all that? Then either you are too young or have a short memory.

Now why didn’t I start by eliciting readers’ nostalgia through fondly recalling some happening nights at ‘Texas Fever’ (or ’46 West George St’ to us Glasgow folk), the indie disco named in honour of this very record? That would have made sense.

But at this point I am half way through listening to the record again – wait a minute, no, I am half way through Remain In Light, or am I? – and in the midst of Edwyn’s sudden despair: “And I can feel the black lies fly/They’re in my sleep, they’re in my eyes/I hate this head, these feet and hands/I’m tired of being a man”, he exclaims on the scything dark bubble-funk of ‘Punch Drunk’, probably the best Josef K record that Orange Juice ever made. That’s because it was written by Malcolm Ross. It might be a million miles from the positivity and innocence of YCHYLF, but that’s because Edwyn knows what it means to be happy and to be sad. Sometimes all at the same time. 

I should have set out some context and told you how 1984 was a dreadfully difficult year for Orange Juice. It undoubtedly was. Four would soon become two. And not long after, none. But you can read about that elsewhere. 

The real truth of the matter is that David McClymont’s fingers fell off playing bass on ‘The Day I Went Down To Texas’. Yes sir, they fell right clean off. He and Zeke had to work their goddam socks off to put ’em back on. Son of a gun.

Surely it would have been prudent and fitting to acknowledge Edwyn’s heroic and courageous battle in his recovery from a dual cerebral haemorrhage? Heartbreakingly sad. 

But I think Edwyn would be happier knowing that his songs – songs I’ve lived with and grown up with and played air guitar to and danced along to and thought about and cried over (“There’s a place in my heart/I wish that your eyes could see/And there’ s no one on earth/Who loves you as much as me”) and laughed about (“Glory hallelujah, gonna sock it to ya!” – both from the same song people!) – are loved very dearly indeed, almost none more so than ‘A Place In My Heart’ with those little Buffalo Springfield guitar licks gilding a sublime slice of blue eyed soul.

Let’s talk about whether or not Texas Fever is an album or a mini-album or an EP? On second thoughts, let’s not bother. Who the hell cares?

I keep thinking as that bass intro steadies it’s nerves at the beginning of ‘A Sad Lament’ that we’re heading into ‘Sister Ray’ and while I adore ‘Sister Ray’ it’s hard not to feel an overwhelming sense of relief and then joy, yes joy – a goosepimply shivery crying and laughing at the same time kind of joy – when that organ arrives to elevate it and save it from the devil’s clutches. Why is it when Edwyn sings: “You came exactly on the hour/Such precision worries me” that I want to punch the air with delight? Or that today ‘A Sad Lament’ sounds not only like Orange Juice’s greatest ever moment, but the finest pop moment of the ’80s? If I could tell you why I surely would. 

I was going to begin with a sad lament about how Orange Juice should have been the greatest pop group of the early ’80s. But then I remembered that they were. (JJ)

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107. HÜSKER DÜ – CANDY APPLE GREY (1986)

By the time they had signed a lucrative contract with Warner Bros in early 1986, Hüsker Dü’s implosion was well underway. Tracked by the label for the previous twelve months, the band had opted to remain with indie label SST until the completion of their fourth album Flip Your Wig. Hüsker Dü had outgrown SST, but the move to Warners didn’t go down well, and as a consequence, any objective critical analysis of their first album for them, Candy Apple Grey, has been rare. In an otherwise formidable canon, it is almost universally regarded as the runt in the litter, falling way short of masterworks such as Zen Arcade. It is time for a reappraisal.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that the major label debut album of the beloved independent band almost invariably elicits a hostile response from the hardcore fan. After all, he was there when it all began. He can vividly recall his idols heaving their own gear into some piss-stinking dungeon of a venue where they performed before an audience whose animosity could not have been greater had you announced you’d had intimate liaisons with their mothers the night before. But he was instantly hooked. He bought their first record on the day of its release at the little backstreet indie store, the only one with guts enough to stock it, and he has followed them ever since. Until now that is. Because now they are working for the man. Look at those Johnny-come-latelys wearing those t-shirts emblazoned with the new album sleeve. Where were they three years ago?! You can’t call them real music fans. They are living proof that the incorruptibles have become corrupted. If the only thing Warners are interested in is product and shifting units, it follows logically that the band have the same aspirations. To hell with those corporate whores, and their fawning new legions of gullible lemmings.

It is a peculiar relationship the one between pop star and fan. Many of us at sometime or another, may have borne this conceit. It is a well-worn cliche that rock stars, simply by virtue of their status, have realised their dreams and fantasies. But it is equally true to say that pop fans often inhabit a fantasy world of their own making. It is all inside their heads. Songs and albums may well seem very personal to the listener, a unique meeting of souls. But they are not. They are simply recognisable expressions of one particular aspect of the human condition. A coalescence of timing and circumstance might propel them deep into our subconscious. What might mean nothing to one person, could be the only thing preventing another person from putting an end to it all. Because of that, music can assume a gravitas beyond its rather humble ingredients. But to believe a rock band is one’s own private possession is both extraordinarily deluded and somewhat infantile.

It was to precisely this type of indignant response I first declared my fondness for Hüsker Dü. Occupying one half of an old C90 cassette was a recording of their penultimate album Candy Apple Grey. It was summer 1987, a few months after the release of their heroic double swansong Warehouse: Songs & Stories. The tape had been handed to me by a fellow student – being students we had little money to buy the records themselves – but the scorn he reserved for the album was merciless. In fact he’d only given it to me so I could hear Side Two (if I recall correctly the Homestead compilation, Wailing Ultimate!) “Ignore the other side” he warned. I could not.

The album was created in the most challenging of circumstances. A home movie style video for the Grant Hart penned 45 ‘Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely’ may have reflected the searing intensity of the band’s live performances, but it was captured at a time when relationships between the trio had broken down irreparably. Personal differences had been growing; Hart’s drug abuse accelerating. At the time Mould was quoted as saying that none of the three wanted to continue, but ironically, the band had reached their commercial zenith. That sense of confusion and disintegration permeates an album often labelled a sell out. But any doubts of musical compromise should have been dispelled for good on the album’s opening track, the finger-shreddingly ferocious ‘Crystal’, where Mould, hoarse with fury, rages at the chaos surrounding him (“When civilization falls in its grave/Technology throws on the dirt/You realize the finest things in life/Are the ones that can never be hurt”). Meanwhile, the guitars in time honoured tradition explode like a coalition of cheetahs leaping through an avenue’s worth of shop windows.

The communication breakdown, which Hart accepts ultimately led to the suicide of the band’s manager David Savoy a year later, allowed greater room for the expression of each individual’s musical and emotional idiosyncrasies, and Candy Apple Grey undoubtedly displays the greatest musical variety of any Hüsker Dü album. In Mould’s case at least, the ensuing turmoil led to the more introverted songwriting style he would follow into his solo career. It is undeniably true that on Candy Apple Grey he frequently sounds in despair, bereft. His energies were at an all time low, but this was misconstrued by fans as a mellowing out. His solo acoustic venture ‘Too Far Down’ (“I’m too far down/I couldn’t begin to smile/Because I can’t even laugh or cry/Because I just can’t do it”) is hardly the product of a singer seeking a wider audience. If Hüsker Dü had always struck a fine balance between melody and discord – it was the tempo which was unrelenting – they also possessed a more sensitive melancholic dimension to their sound. Consider ‘Perfect Example’ and ‘Celebrated Summer’ from New Day Rising, or even ‘Diane’ way back on the Metal Circus EP. No, these slower songs are the sound of people having to get to grips with the very real challenges of life, the turgid reality of having to work alongside people you once loved but can no longer look in the eye, and even, no matter how banal it sounds, with the life-work balance. The band’s output had been prolific, they had become exhausted by an unforgiving touring schedule. And their personal lives were unravelling. On ‘Hardly Getting Over It’, a song he continues to perform today, Mould reflected upon his awareness of the impact of loss and bereavement in his own life. “My parents didn’t even mention my grandfather’s passing to me for months, for whatever reason. Presumably it would upset me.” It was a heartfelt confessional, but all people heard was the volume reduction. The sound may indeed have been quieter, but the message sang loud and clear .

The band’s bastardisation of The Byrds’ folk-rock is most obvious on Hart’s ‘Dead Set On Destruction’, while his ‘Sorry Somehow’, the album’s second 45 is much more immediate, belying its author’s fragile psychological state. While the bitterness in the sentiment is acute (“There’s no need to talk to you, well to know what’s on your mind/There’s no need to see you either, no, I’m just being kind/You want me to beg forgiveness, tender an apology/It’s not my fault and you’re not getting one from me”), it’s infectious and muscular Hammond-driven riff seems perfectly tailored for alt-college radio. It is interesting to note that college rock darlings, fellow Minneapolitans The Replacements, had signed to a major label (Sire – also distributed by Warners) shortly before Hüsker Dü, yet there has never been any charge of ‘sell out’ levelled at The ‘Mats’ first major offering, Tim.

On ‘No Promise Have I Made’ Hart was accused of sailing perilously close to the bombastic coastline -over a skin of shivering cymbals and an automotive synth sounding like a multi-tracked vocal, its epic piano motif builds to an ecstatic climax powered by Greg Norton’s Herculean bass riff while at the finale Hart thrillingly hammers home the point orally as well as physically with emphatic angst.

Out of chaos occasionally emerges something beautiful, honest and true. If songs like ‘Crystal’, ‘Eiffel Tower High’ and ‘All This I’ve Done For You’ would have fit comfortably onto New Day Rising, Candy Apple Grey delivers a broader palette, reflecting a depth of emotional involvement unmatched elsewhere on any other HD album. As individuals they were suffering but growing up too, perhaps against their will. The case for the album being a sell out simply doesn’t hold water. It is a wounded bewildered beast, certainly without thematic unity, but made entirely without compromise. It is the album Hüsker Dü would have delivered no matter which label was pressing the vinyl. Time has been kind to its shortcomings. So should you. (JJ)

102. THE BLUE ORCHIDS – THE GREATEST HIT (MONEY MOUNTAIN) (1982)

From its taut rectangular opening riff, a delirious organ suddenly escapes like a rabbit from a trap, and we’re immersed in a swirling hypnodelic soup. The sound is fresh and yet strangely familiar, the melody whimsical, capricious, pulling in a multitude of directions. When my needle first dropped on ‘Sun Connection’, the opening track of The Blue Orchids’ debut album, The Greatest Hit (Money Mountain), I instantly succumbed to its spell. 

Martin Bramah had waited patiently for this moment. As founding members of The Fall, he and Una Baines had watched as MES tightened an iron grip he would never relinquish. Una had been first to depart. When Martin joined her in early ’79, it felt like something of an artistic liberation. 
Bramah would briefly reunite with Smith & co. in 1989, leaving after the rather splendid Extricate album. But after his first exit a decade earlier, the overwhelming feeling was one of relief: he now had the freedom to indulge his creative capacities in something which would manifest itself in the purest form of self-expression – music made by its makers, for its makers, “for the love and glory of it” as Bramah attests. His new project had originally been baptised The Blessed Orchids by Manc’s favourite punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. The band released two 45s on Rough Trade before producing one of post-punk’s greatest – and unfairly overlooked – albums.

It was a chaotic period, but one Bramah remembers with great fondness. Into the intoxicating mix were slung liberal portions of the Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and illusive hints of The Velvets, Syd Barrett and The Doors, but if truth be told, it was difficult to neatly pin down the broad spectrum of influences at work. 

The guitars on ‘A Year With No Head’ are brilliant, at first possessing the wiry rhythmic algebra of Talking Heads, before they tiptoe gingerly across constellations of stars recalling the somnolent intricacies of Tom Verlaine’s quieter moments. ‘Hanging Man’ takes the TH a step further, pillaging the riff and the über neurosis from ‘Psycho Killer’ along its topsyturvy trajectory.
On the seething speed-fuelled pulse of ‘Dumb Magician’, it sounds like Michael Karoli’s guitar is lassoing the rings of Saturn, while ‘Tighten My Belt’ is a curious slice of dub-inflected No Wave funk which sounds like it’s migrated here from the Ottoman Empire. Musically this was a far more radical era. There was much more risk-taking and adventurousness, and space where this kind of bizarre melange sounded de rigeur.
As for influence, well how much UK indie music from the mid to late 80s was lifted from ‘Bad Education’ and ‘No Looking Back’? The latter is superb – like several other tracks here it sounds about 20 years ahead of its time, outflanking Interpol and The Strokes in as much the same way as the guitar at the finale briefly threatens to outpace its own feedback. The album closes with ‘Mad As The Mist And Snow’ which conjures a similarly portentous olde folke aura as ‘Space Odyssey’ – the closer on The Byrds’ Notorious Byrd Bros classic. It may feel like an incongruous finale, but adds an even denser layer of mystery to proceedings.

It sounds almost as if the band existed in their own little bubble, oblivious to the ’82 zeitgeist. Comparisons with contemporaries such as The Teardrop Explodes, Swell Maps and The Soft Boys persist, perhaps because those bands had a similar genius for harnessing the energy of punk and marrying that to a looser (consciously or subconsciously retro) psychedelic approach. Relations between punk’s primal itch and psychedelia’s improvisational aesthetic were in the hands of Bramah & company, unusually cordial.
 
The album shipped 10,000 copies, peaking at #5 on the UK Indie Charts, but the momentum would be short-lived. Ultimately for Bramah, it would be more important to remain true to his principles than to achieve any significant commercial success. An opportunity to work with Nico was beckoning, but things would not work out quite as planned, and the band temporarily lost their way. But despite a few leaner periods, they are still going strong today, and released a fine record this year with The Once And Future Thing. (JJ)

_________________________
Interview with Martin Bramah

 On reflection, was your first departure from The Fall more an artistic liberation than a cruel setback?

• Yes, you could call it an artistic liberation – I had proved myself as a composer/arranger in The Fall and I wanted the freedom to play with words too.

I have never thought of my departure as a cruel setback – I’ve always done things my own way in my own time. I left because I’d had enough of the situation at Fall HQ: Mark begged me to stay but I was determined to jump ship. It had been an intense two years and things were getting claustrophobic – plus Mark took it upon himself to decide what I had and hadn’t written without consulting me. You really can’t trust the writing credits on Fall albums – everything ex-members say is true in that regard.

> I think I read once that you had said those two Fall spells were distinguished by the shifting power dynamic – and that your second spell was characterised by an employer/employee relationship with Mark whereas in the beginning you had just been friends. Do you think when Una and yourself left in ’79, that marked the end of democracy and the beginning of Mark’s totalitarian leadership?

• First of all, Una left The Fall in December ’77, not long after Tony Friel – I mention this because people tend to forget Yvonne Pawlett’s great contribution to the band in ’78/’79. 

The ‘totalitarian’ thing had been there from the start; it’s in Mark’s nature. At first it was Una who helped Mark hold the upper hand, as they were the only couple in the band and the ‘universe of two’ as they liked to refer to themselves. Then when they began to drift apart in the fall of ’77 Mark brought Kay Carroll in as his new manager/live-in-lover. Kay’s arrival was the real reason for the original band members leaving one by one because she always fought Mark’s corner and encouraged him to think of himself as a lone genius.

> What do you recall about the recording sessions for the album? Did you have much of a budget? Was it yourself or Tony Roberts who engineered/oversaw the final mix?

• Recording ‘The Greatest Hit’ was a blast from start to finish: a drug driven couple of weeks (mainly speed, weed n poppers at that point) in a converted warehouse on Blossom St. in Ancoats, Manchester. It was Tony Robert’s eight-track studio (he’d had the honour of playing drums on the classic ‘Gordon Is A Moron’ by Jilted John). Geoff Travis at Rough Trade figured Blue Orchids needed the good old-fashioned restriction of an eight-track tape machine, so we booked Tony’s place.

We didn’t have much of a budget really, but Geoff did hire the guy who had just produced ‘Ghost Town’ for The Specials to produce our album – well this producer (I forget his name) sat there for the first week, appalled at our antics and contributed very little. We finished all the recording in the first week and our Rough Trade paid for producer took the tapes home with him to do some rough mixes (he was famous in Birmingham for his ‘Lovers Rock’ mixes). When we heard the results we were not happy and so we went back into Tony’s place to mix the album ourselves, which took up the second week. Tony Roberts engineered the recording and I oversaw the final mix.

> I’m hearing the pulsing Krautrock rhythms of Can and Neu! and even Michael Karoli’s guitar landscapes on ‘Dumb Magician’. Elsewhere, traces of The Velvets, Syd Barrett here and there, and The Doors. What else do you remember listening to around that time?

• I love Michael Karoli’s guitar playing, he’s definitely in my top ten guitarists list. I was listening to all the above-mentioned artists of course – plus maybe Donovan, Richard Hell, Iggy Pop, The Modern Lovers and The Kinks.

> On ‘Sun Connection’ as well as elsewhere, the sound is warm and infectious. I’ve heard Una’s playing come in for a bit of criticism, as if she was using a different music sheet, but I love the way the instruments move away from one another to create this loose swirling hypnotic sound. Was there a bit of freedom to improvise there, or were the individual parts written that way?

• Sun Connection is a fusion of three musical ideas into one concept piece. I wrote all the guitar and bass parts with quite a rigid arrangement from start to finish. But with the keyboards I just told Una what key the various sections were in, and let her improvise, so the keyboards seem to flow through a structure, like light through stained glass. I think it works really well and no criticism has ever reached my ears.

> As a document, how far is The Greatest Hit the missing link between the frenetic post-punk of The Fall, Wire & Swell Maps and the jangling indie guitar sound of Felt and The Weather Prophets, which looked back to ’67 as much as to ’77?

• I am not qualified to answer this question, as I was not trying to be the missing link between anything. My main intention was to create something ‘in the now’ something modern but quite plain in a way. I was trying to drop all the baggage of rock cliché and say ‘Here I stand today – a young man in the city – this is how I feel – this is what I think – this is my spirituality – these are my aims.’ and so on. It is for others to decide where the album fits into the scheme of things.

> Was the album title a drug reference or a commentary on capitalist greed – it was recorded just as the impact of Thatcherism was leading to strife in the inner cities – as otherwise the lyrics don’t strike me as political, more personal. Who/what were the major influences on your lyric writing?

• The title of the album played on both those ideas, obviously, that’s what made it interesting, but it was taken from a line in Sun Connection: ‘Think I’ll go out, buy myself a soul – the greatest hit in the world.’ So getting a soul is the ultimate hit! Also there were so many ‘greatest hits’ albums out there in every bargain bin that I thought it would be funny to use ‘The Greatest Hit’ singular as it had never been done – again it appealed to my sense of the title being something plain. 

As to the major influences on my writing, that’s hard to say as I pull the germs of ideas from all over the place; books, movies, folk music, but as far as rock writing goes I was very influenced in my early efforts by the ideas that Bowie and Eno laid out in the late ’70s, like a lot of other young budding writers from that era. Ideas of deconstruction and abstraction, fragmentation and getting the essence of things – but I always put my own original spin on the things I write – I have studied the content, but I don’t imitate the style.

> The Greatest Hit sounds incredibly fresh today, almost as if the band existed in a bubble, insulating yourselves from the ’81/’82 zeitgeist. It sold pretty well. Are you frustrated that at the time, you didn’t really build on that momentum?

• Frustrated? No. Momentum can be a dangerous thing for an artist who wants to stay in control of the creative process – momentum means commercial pressures come into play that most artists find hard to combat – the daily drip, drip of sound business advice from those with a stake in your success. Momentum and Hype, I always run a mile when I see them coming! 

I make the music I want to make when I want to make it and I trust in it to work its way into the world by a kind of osmosis. I have never made music to make a living. I am that rare breed: The Great British Amateur – always much better than the professional because we do it for the love and glory of it.

But to answer your question: Yes, I suppose life did throw a couple of spanners into the works which stopped us conquering the world in the mid-eighties.

> How did the partnership with Nico come about? Where ultimately did it lead you?

• I was a teenage Nico fan. I had all her records. The last thing I ever expected was that she would turn up in Manchester – why would she? But one day she did.

Alan Wise my manager at the time called round to my place and asked me if I’d ever heard of this singer, a German woman called Nico… I said, ‘Yes of course,why?’ ‘Because she’s staying down the road at the Polex Hotel – do you want to come and meet her?’

It turned out Nico was staying at this cheap hotel in Whalley Range and she was looking for some musicians to back her. So we drove over there and I was ushered into her presence like she was some kind of guru cult leader. We talked about what I don’t remember but it must have gone well because we agreed to work togetheron her upcoming live shows, which I was obviously thrilled about. That led to a busy year of touring the UK and Europe acting as her backing band and support act, doing two sets a night. I learned a lot during my time with Nico for which I’ll always be grateful. However, the time came when I felt it we should draw a line under our work with Nico – we had our first album out and I didn’t want to become branded as being just her backing band. The trouble was that our rhythm section had slipped into heroin addiction, due to its availability around the Nicocrowd, and so they wanted to stay put on the gravy train.

This led to a split in the band, with our manager, bass player, drummer and crew all carrying on touring with Nico and her ‘Blue Orchids’ – while I put together a new line-up but lost some of the ‘momentum’ we had gathered up to that point.

> You’ve been making records to a smallish but loyal fan base ever since. What would you say have been the main developments in your music between the first album and The Once And Future Thing?

• No developments – every recording is different from the last – but has me at the core reacting to the times I’m in – making my ‘in the now’ statements with ‘style and flair’ as everything changes around me but stays the same! I have fun making records and I try and go deep into myself and the music but always putting the listener first – that is, always keeping the ‘layman’s ear’ (an idea I coined in the early Fall).

> The Awefull compilation gathers together the Rough Trade singles – and hopefully will open up your music to a new audience. You’ve been gigging too – notice any younger faces in the crowd?

• Yes, of course – the kids love this shit. lol

101. CHRIS COHEN – OVERGROWN PATH (2012) Guest Contributor: Gerry Love (Teenage Fanclub)

Recently TNPC celebrated the career of Scotland’s finest with a twin take on two Teenage Fanclub classics (TNPC #96). For that feature, Gerry Love kindly agreed to share his thoughts on A Catholic Education and Songs From Northern Britain. We invited him to select a favourite album of his own and to say a few words about it…


If I was going to make use of hyperbole, I might say that Overgrown Path is my Odessey & Oracle of the 21st century, but I’m not going to say that, I’m just going to say that it’s a brilliant record full of brilliant songs, and if you don’t know it you should spend some time with it. A modern DIY masterpiece, perfect in its construction, with beautiful melodic twists and turns and unpredictable, evolving, almost architectural arrangements, played and recorded entirely by its creator, Chris Cohen, it is one of the truly great records of the last decade.

If I was to describe it in terms of known landmarks I would say it’s somewhere in the direction of Broadcast, Mayo Thompson, Chet Baker, High Llamas, Raymond Scott, Alex Chilton, Stereolab, but Overgrown Path undoubtedly inhabits its own magical environment and is very much in the present tense. The song that pulled me in was ‘Monad’. No great story behind the discovery: out of curiosity I click play on the video one afternoon on youtube in late 2012 and as the suspended eerie intro holds and then switches and transforms into the ascending guitar line, I find myself already drawn in, optimistically engaged – I had heard great things about this guy – and as the cool melancholic vocal picks up the guitar melody and the song begins to unfold, ascending and descending, amongst those loose drums, smart bass lines, sharp guitars and warm keyboards, all perfectly weighted and measured, it was clear to me that I was listening to something truly special.

‘Monad’ is the type of song that appeals as much to your intellect as it does your emotions with its fluent complex patterns and deep chord progressions masked by the beautiful simplicity of the melody. I must have played it thirty times in a row. The following day I took a train into town and bought the album and it has been a regular soundtrack in my life ever since. Over nine songs, Overgrown Path presents a unique soft personal psychedelia, a highly evolved collection of cascading melodies, asymmetrical time signatures and grainy cinematic ever-changing arrangements. As the work of one musician, Overgrown Path’s artistic strength undoubtedly lies in its closeness to the original ideas, its undiluted, fully realised, creatively pure conception. Its musical strength lies in its blend of killer melodies and highly sophisticated atmospheric arrangements. Check out : ‘Monad’, ‘Caller No 9’, ‘Rollercoaster Ride’, ‘Optimist High’. (Gerry Love)

96. TEENAGE FANCLUB – A CATHOLIC EDUCATION (1990) / (A) SONGS FROM NORTHERN BRITAIN (1997)

Teenage Fanclub are a Scottish institution. Many of us have grown up with them. TNPC speaks to Gerry Love and selects two albums often unfairly overlooked from an impressive career.

  
A Catholic Education (1990)

The inclusion of Teenage Fanclub in The New Perfect Collection was always an easy decision. Not so easy was narrowing it down to a single choice. Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix tend to get the plaudits, even making some of those Best Albums charts which were a reason for starting this blog. That still left me with 5 albums which were all candidates for inclusion (even Thirteen which Norman Blake recently rated as his least favourite but which includes personal highlights ‘Norman 3’, ‘Gene Clark’ and ‘120 Mins’, classics all). 

But the inclusion of A Catholic Education may not be as obvious a choice. In a lot of ways it is the least Teenage Fanclub sounding album. Its true it is sonically different to the TFC we now know. This is TFC before they were fully formed, recorded before they had played live. A noisier, more raucous confection, less obviously in thrall to Beach Boys/Beatles/Big Star/Byrds/Orange Juice. The sound here is closer to a loose Crazy Horse meets the Stones filtering through the myriad of changes affecting American post punk and hardcore. The early hazy melodicism of R.EM., the fuzzy power of Husker Du, the ear bleeding folk rock of Dinosaur Jr. Most of all I thought of them as a stoned (more Stoned?) Replacements, a similarly Alex Chilton-obsessed band with a reputation for riotous early gigs. 
Formed from the ashes of The Boy Hairdressers, a group was assembled to record an album written by Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley before they had ever played live. Initial recordings made in Glasgow were supplanted by a re-recording of four songs at Peter Hooks studio in Rochdale in the second half of 1989. This is the Fannies before they discovered those daydreaming harmonies, before those jangling chiming guitars. The guitars, for reasons that now seem lost to time are down-tuned two semi-tones, giving them a thicker sludgier sound, a sound they would move away from even as it became more popular in the early nineties. It has a style of guitar playing that had all but gone by the time they recorded Thirteen.
Some will dismiss it as an album overshadowed by one killer song, filled out with instrumentals and two versions of the title track. While true that the heart melting surge of ‘Everything Flows’ is possibly the standout track on the album, and is the only track from the LP still performed live, it fits the flow (ahem) of the album perfectly. Starting each side with an instrumental I always thought was a supremely confident move, ‘Heavy Metal II’ in particular sounding like Crazy Horse jamming on the Pastels’ ‘Ditch The Fool’ and I wouldn’t trade a second of either. The inclusion of both versions of ‘A Catholic Education’ was down to indecision over the best version (version 2 adds a chord and ups the tempo), and manages to sum up a youthful nihilism in about 10 words, played with a suitably ‘Rip This Joint’ looseness. Skill.

For me, however, its the rest of the songs that are the heart of the album. Early live favourite ‘Too Involved’ is a withering attack (“You’re just nothing”) on a slacker. ‘Don’t Need A Drum’ pitches itself somewhere between a shuffle and a boogie, with a lead guitar higher than the vocal. The vocals on the album are generally deep in the mix, unusually for a band with such good singers. their records would rarely be this unbalanced again. Side one closes with ‘Critical Mass’, a bittersweet love song in true Fannies style (“You’re in my heart, but its the feeling that all fell apart”)
‘Eternal Light’ is such sunny sing-a-long tune I wish I knew what the lyrics were so I could join in, and is graced by one of Raymond’s finest guitar solos. At various times ‘Every Picture I Paint’ has been my favourite song on the album, a love song to rival TV Personalities finest. Another of the reasons that A Catholic Education feels different to almost every other TFC album is the lack of Gerry Love songs, and perhaps this is the strongest reason for not including it. Indeed the only writing credit he received is on the scathingly funny album closer ‘Everybody’s Fool’. A friend once called this (not entirely tongue in cheek) our generations ‘You’re So Vain’. Whether or not it is about a specific person or not, I’m sure most people will have come across someone like this at one time or another. It dishes out some brilliant Glaswegian sarcasm, before building to a delightfully dismissive sweary chorus. They always seem to know when best to deploy the F-bomb (‘Verisimilitude’, ‘Some People Try To Fuck With You’)

I admit that some of my affection for this album is tied up in nostalgia for the period it was released. I saw them at (I think) their second gig supporting Primal Scream at the Glasgow Tech. They seemed to crop up regularly on support slots around that time and they were always a joy to behold. But that does not take away from this record. They would release better collections of songs in the future, their new album has all the makings of a masterpiece. But whenever I haven’t listed to them in a while, A Catholic Education is always the first one that I reach for, and it invariably leads me to working my way through the entire catalogue. It has been 10 albums and 26 years since A Catholic Education was released. Listening to it now, the distance from there to Here doesn’t seem so far. (TT)

Gerry Speaks…

The guitars are all down tuned a whole tone (I think) for this album. Was that a nod to The Velvet Underground/Sonic Youth, or was it the result of experimentation that worked for these songs? 
“Looking back, I don’t actually know why the guitars were tuned down two semitones. I asked Norman and Raymond the other day and they can’t remember exactly why. Our only guess is that there might have been a change of key in a couple of the songs, if the original key was proving a more difficult range to sing, and tuning down would allow the chords to be played in the original shapes; having the same open strings ring out in the same way instead of placing a capo higher up the neck or trying to find a jazzier way of playing it and losing the open strings. Tuning down definitely made for a more resonant sludgy sound, especially on open strings, and maybe they just decided to record everything that way instead of tuning up then tuning down. There was probably no real reason why the bass should have been tuned down too but I had just joined the group and I just did what they did, I wasn’t going to rock the boat.”
I read that the band were not happy with the initial recordings made in Glasgow and it was re-recorded in Rochdale. Does the album include recordings from both sessions?
“The first session was recorded in Pet Sounds, Maryhill, with Francis Macdonald on drums. In the following months, Brendan O’Hare joined the group and the decision was made to re-record four of the songs which we thought could be improved, maybe the tempos were slightly wrong or maybe we decided to try a different feel. We recorded the four songs and then mixed the entire album at Suite 16 in Rochdale – but i could be wrong, it’s all a bit blurry, maybe mixes from Maryhill made the final cut, but I think it was all Suite 16. The album contains the four songs recorded with Brendan and seven songs from the Maryhill session, with Francis. The song ‘A Catholic Education’ appears twice as we couldn’t decide which one was best.”
Was anything recorded at the time not used?
“No, everything was used. The whole point of the session was to record an album that Norman and Raymond had written. We hadn’t played live at this point, we weren’t really a band as such, we were a means to an end. We didn’t even have a name when we first turned up in Maryhill. The first album was the absolute beginning of the band; apart from a few rehearsals, there was nothing before that.”
You, Norman and Raymond are all credited with writing ‘Everybody’s Fool’. Was it written with someone specific in mind? (someone recently called this our generation’s ‘You’re So Vain’).
“I have to say I don’t know if the song was about anyone in particular but we all knew characters who tried too hard to be cool, who would try to put you in your place, and I always regarded the song as a counter to that type of character. As far as I remember, this was the only lyric that Norman didn’t have finished. He may have had a few lines here and there and I remember us sitting about suggesting possible rhymes to finish off the verses, but It’s all a bit hazy. It was predominantly Norman’s song, myself and Raymond might have come up with a line each and so we shouldn’t really have had any significant songwriting credit.”
Had you played in any bands prior to TFC?
I played bass guitar in a live incarnation of Joe McAlinden’s Groovy Little Numbers. I’d messed about with pals before that but nothing had ever come of it. The Groovy Little Numbers was the first time I had ever played bass and the first time I had ever played live on a stage. I knew Joe and Catherine from school, and I knew a couple of the other guys in the band, including Francis Macdonald. They were a nice bunch of people, with a few patter merchants – it was a good laugh.”
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  (A) Songs From Northern Britain (1997)

If they have stayed true to that cautionary maxim not to become too big for their boots, then Teenage Fanclub have done so virtually unselfconsciously. In itself, commercial success was never something they strove to achieve. If it came along, then sure it would be welcomed; if not, then too bad. It would be futile, dishonest, to chase after it. It is that very groundedness as human beings – the stubbornly democratic creative principle within, the unassuming personalities outwith – which is a turn off for some. This is rock’n’roll after all. Where’s the glam, the swagger, the smashed up hotel rooms, the foul mouthed tirades? 
It’s a rhetorical question of course. Cliched rock’n’roll behaviour was never really their thing. Instead, they excel at making brilliant records. Their collective artistic output during the ’90s compares favourably with any other band I can think of. Usually however, it is Bandwagonesque and Grand Prix which battle it out for the accolade of best album, but our second Fannies’ pick is Songs From Northern Britain, coincidentally the band’s highest charting release (#3, August 1997).

“Here is a sunrise/ain’t that enough?/True as a clear sky/ain’t that enough?”

Sometimes chastised as the blander, ‘mature’ album, a pale regression following the dazzling cocksureness of Grand Prix, it was a record that saw a conscious shift in approach. Gerry Love explains: “I think we decided, after making the Have Lost It EP, that we may as well do our own thing from then on, please ourselves and just follow our own instincts…we had done noisier stuff but we didn’t want to get stuck there, we were into all sorts of music and I guess we wanted to express ourselves in a slightly different manner.”
And the results were fresher than a fridge full of fruit smoothies. Blake, recently married and a new father, was in fine optimistic fettle on ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You’ an ethical, nay equitable, adult love song with majestic group harmonising, and is at his yearning poetic best on ‘Planets’ a romantic ode to seeking out nature’s solitude, which as well as conjuring images of chilly autumnal evenings in the West Highlands, is also one of three songs to experiment with the Mini Moog the band had acquired relatively inexpensively in Boston six years earlier. “I guess we used it because we had it there in the studio, but also the musical territory of that album provided a perfect context” recalls Love. “[It] sat really well amongst the strings in the song ‘Planets’, it was Norman’s idea to arrange it that way…it provided a good counter-texture to the more scratchy rhythmic elements.” The string accompaniment was added at Abbey Road.

Raymond sounds equally ‘loved up’ hitting peak form on what I understand to have been the last song recorded for the album, ‘Can’t Feel My Soul’. A stinging lead intensified by some seriously twisted whammy-bar pummelling recalls the axe sound on those early fuzzmungous Buffalo Springfield records. Meanwhile the ghost of ‘Eight Miles High’ wanders the corridors of his equally splendid ‘Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From’.  
Gerry’s Zuma-flavoured desert foraging on ‘Mount Everest’ sounds bruising, possibly even rather solemn, whereas his ‘Take The Long Way Round’ and in particular ‘Ain’t That Enough’ are unashamedly ebullient slices of pure pop, as indebted to The Archies or The Monkees as to Big Star and The Byrds.
I have always found the lyrics to the closer, Gerry’s ‘Speed Of Light’, to be a little cryptic. If they communicate positivity, still I’ve struggled to deconstruct them. Perhaps it’s pointless to try – I suppose we construct our own meanings from our favourite songs – but under minimal duress, their intrepid author was happy to explain (spoiler alert*): “Firstly I need to describe the context: I was in a marijuana phase at the time, we were on the verge of a new century and I guess I was trying to write some type of futuristic pop song. It’s not a short story or a cohesive narrative in the traditional sense, it’s more like a slide show of related images…Lyrically, I would classify it as an advice song. I’m from a big family and I have a lot of younger brothers and sisters, and at that time a couple of them were still teenagers. It wasn’t intended as an instruction manual for them, or for anyone for that matter, it was only intended as a vehicle for the melody, under the guise of bubblegum philosophy. It’s certainly no big hitter, nothing there that I’m particularly proud of. I was just looking for a lyrical possibility, a means to an end, and this was it, this was the breakthrough. In the first verse, “ Drive an easy road, if you’re looking for direction”, “Take an easy load, all you need is information” – pretty straightforward, be smart and value knowledge over materialism. “Only you and me add up” – together we’re stronger. “The speed of light and stars have planned it” – it’s simply a law of the universe, how it is and how it will always be. Second verse “Need a changing face when the wind around is blowing” – A clunky way of saying if the wind changes direction your face will stay like that, which was the type of advice I received when I was a teenager, which I would guess translates as roll with the punches and don’t get too hung up. “Waste in space, if you’re looking for persuasion, everything you need can grow” – back up in outer space, I can see space junk and fruitless searches for meaningful life and I’m saying forget that – all we need is right here on earth. And there you have it, ‘Speed of Light’, a lyrical deconstruction twenty years later!”
Rather than being a watered down version of what came before, here we see our four friends finally finding their places in a world of adult responsibility. Through their lens, this grown up graduation was not as unwelcome as it is for many. Liberated from the burden of having to make any kind of statement, musically or politically, they simply let their own optimism and enthusiasm spill over naturally into what I would regard as their finest set of songs. It’s more them than Bandwagonesque (indisputably marvellous but sooooo Big Star) and the songs, performances and production (if not the volume) are ratched up a notch or two from Grand Prix. It’s unfairly maligned and is deserving of greater acclaim. I often think of it as their Notorious Byrd Bros, their Loaded. With characteristic understatement Love recalls the album fondly. “I think we achieved good results everywhere, everything sounded really nice, we were working with good equipment and good people.” TFC have the knack of making everything sound effortlessly joyful and uncomplicated. Northern Britain is proud of you. (JJ)

(*Gerry’s emphasis)

95. ATLAS SOUND – LOGOS (2009)

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Bradford Cox often seems completely baked. When he sings, it sounds like he’s sucking a tin of spaghetti hoops through his front teeth. He remains an enigma: interviews are relatively rare and he doesn’t really do social media (his blog seemed to dry up around three years ago). His band Deerhunter are indie big hitters: prolific, consistently remarkable. His solo project Atlas Sound has remained in the band’s shadow, despite yielding three fine albums, the second of which, Logos, was released during a genuinely purple patch of creativity, sandwiched between Deerhunter’s two best albums Microcastle/Weird Era and Halcyon Digest. And I think it could very well be the best thing Cox has ever done.

The sleeve, a bleached flashlight image of a skeletal torso turned inside out must surely be Cox? He suffers from Marfan Syndrome – but here it looks as if someone has reached in and pulled his heart from his chest. It can sound that way too at times. Cox plays around with different styles and genres. He is clearly someone who lives and breathes music. His songs are readily identifiable – drifting shells of wasted reverie with ghostly voices (‘The Light That Failed’, ‘An Orchid’…) irresistibly infectious slices of dislocated rhythmic pop (‘Shelia’, ‘Logos’, ‘Quick Canal’ – a lengthy motorik thang featuring Letitia Sadler), malformed garage sludge (‘Kid Klimax’), cryptic psych-collages full of electro-magnetic signals (‘Washington School’) and retro doo-wop’n’roll delivered by Cox like a faded angel through a couloir of cracked reverb (‘My Halo’).

And then there’s ‘Walkabout’ the album’s showpiece, made in collaboration with Noah Lennox  – a genius take on The Dovers’ obscure 1965 garage track ‘What Am I Going To Do?’ Mr. Panda Bear, as ever, sounds like he’s singing underwater, but like everything else on here the guiding hand is Cox’s. Ecce homo. Bradford Cox is the man and Logos his eternal word. (JJ)                               

91. DISCO INFERNO – THE 5 EPs (2011*)

Disco Inferno: A Sense Of Otherness  Somehow I contrived to miss Disco Inferno. They arrived either ten years too early or ten too late, it’s hard to tell, but by the time they had established themselves, popular music’s few remaining visionaries were retreating into hibernation. 1991 proved a pivotal year. It was the year of Laughingstock and Loveless, as well as the last significant records by Public Enemy and The Young Gods. And then, suddenly, as those few flickering wicks burnt out, indie music was plunged into its Dark Ages. The air was thick with the stench of grunge and grebo – Neds Atomic Dustbin and their ugly ilk – while the nightmare of Britpop hovered vulture-like, ready to strip its rotting carcass. Britpop would become a model of retro complacency, mostly underwhelming, largely uninspired. Many of us felt queasy and headed for the dancefloor. I had a pretty good time there. The one regret I have is that I missed Disco Inferno. 

DI were, on the surface, a conventional post-punk (guitar/bass/drums) trio – Ian Crause, Paul Wilmott & Rob Whatley – with a penchant for early Joy Division and Wire. They began to suffuse those primary influences with the spirit of ’88 (AR Kane, Public Enemy, Young Gods, My Bloody Valentine), and then, following the release of their first album Open Doors Closed Windows in 1991, they stretched out into genuinely new and uncharted territory augmenting their sound with sampling technology alongside a proliferation of inspirational ideas. Crause recalls: “I had been at home with my guitar synth and sampler since late ’91. We came back in to rehearse again with the sampler and what I had written on it in about April or May ’92, not really knowing how it would all piece together as a band. We had a whole week of rehearsals booked and by the end of the week we were kind of stunned at ourselves ‘cos none of us had ever heard anything like it before, not even stuff like Public Enemy or the Young Gods. It just sounded so fucking odd…all of us were completely thrown by the noise in that room.”
A succession of spellbinding EPs followed between 1992-94, gathered together here on this 5 EPs compilation. And they are brilliant. At the time, those critics in the know wilted, quickly running out of fresh superlatives with which to embroider their reviews. Crause knew the band possessed something very special indeed, but the public wasn’t ready. And there was nobody else doing what they were doing. “Oh we were in the middle of fucking nowhere from the start of using samplers ’til we split.” Despite that, by the time Britpop hijacked the airwaves, DI were continuing to make authentically original music, uncompromising, challenging, visceral and at times breathtakingly beautiful. “When we were recording ‘DI Go Pop’ and ‘Summer’s Last Sound’, Charlie, our producer, did say he was finding it hard going as we had chosen the sounds for their narrative and not musical qualities.” Lyrically, Crause steered an uneven path from (poetically) documenting existential crises (“All the joy in my life had rotted away/I saw a vision in blue and my blues flew away/And just for a second I truly believed/Though I don’t know what in” – from ‘Second Language’) to caustic social commentary. It was often dark stuff.
“And the gulls are coming in off the coast/the smell of corpses pour from in/mass graves uncovered/must be abroad, it can’t be here/I can sense your violence, but I still don’t understand/the way the past looks dead when you’ve got the future in the palm of your hand.” And so begins ‘Summers Last Sound’ a magnificently unsettling fanfare to this most fertile of periods. 
Shrill screams undercut a naggingly insistent guitar riff on ‘A Rock To Cling To’ while ‘The Last Dance’ & ‘The Long Dance’ (from ‘The Last Dance’ EP) are poppier, more infectious, almost straying into mid-period New Order territory. But it is the more experimental tracks which sound positively scintillating. Crause has expressed his distaste for ‘Scattered Showers’ mainly due to what he regards as its lyrical deficiencies (“they really let the thing down. I was so far off the mark with it.”) but I can’t help but hear The Velvet Underground’s ‘The Murder Mystery’ being leaked through a distorted PA system at Brands Hatch. Here and elsewhere, the band utilise their Foley’s Sound Effects toolbox to its full potential, yielding extraordinary results.
Then there are the glistening guitar lines of the aforementioned ‘Second Language’, which alongside those on ‘At The End Of The Line’ recall Vini Reilly’s wonderfully inventive work with The Durutti Column. In actual fact, as Crause explains, those songs bore a more surprising influence: “The original guitar sound I had, with a lot of delay lines, was inspired by a German guy I saw on telly called Eberhardt Weber. He put his cello through massive delay lines and I was stunned by it. I liked Durutti Column what I heard, but I didn’t hear an awful lot to be honest…I realise it can sound very similar sometimes.”

There is huge variety here, a veritable smorgasbord of sonic adventurousness. Best of of all is ‘Love Stepping Out’ which sounds like Kraftwerk’s ‘Europe Endless’ playing as the wedding guests spill out into an old English churchyard. It is simultaneously naturalistic and disorientating, and crucially, entirely devoid of rock cliche. “Punching women, kicking men/Five on one, one on ten/These fuckers getting all that they deserve/It’s just tricks with mirrors/that makes them think they’re in the right.” There is so much going on here musically and lyrically, it needs a dozen listens to unmask its own face. What was the aim behind it? “To try to create a sonic environment where the real world conducts itself like music but stays psychoacoustically in situ so it feels like the world is playing itself like a composition.” Crause wrote it on his electric guitar, “but I ripped the pickup off so had to use the nylon acoustic guitar sample which came on a floppy with my sampler to replace it. That just went through a delay like the original guitar had done.” Suffice to say, like everything else on here, it is bloody magnificent.
Disco Inferno may now be considered a seminal influence on ‘post-rock’ while Crause has continued to make stunning music of his own. Despite their inability to make any commercial breakthrough, he continues to be much respected “by the same people who were well receiving the Disco Inferno records in ’92 and ’93 like Stubbs, Reynolds, Kulkarni, etc, who understood what we were doing and what I do.” And rightly so. If I missed Disco Inferno the first time round, then it has been a fascinating late discovery. Sometimes one can have the most bewilderingly thrilling time catching up. (JJ)