‘Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah’ by Membranes covered by That Petrol Emotion – Magnificent Cover Version No.37

That Petrol Emotion’s cover of the Membranes’ Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah was released as a limited edition single as part of the Clawfist Records Singles Club in 1991. For the flip side, the Membranes reciprocated with a cover of That Petrol Emotion’s Big Decision (Slight Return). Clawfist Records was an offshoot of the Vinyl Solution label which in turn was a subsidiary of the independent London record shop of the same name (though now called Intoxica).

This is all pretty exhaustingly obscure now, and probably the only reason I remember anything about it is that TPE’s cover of Everybody’s Going’… was on a tape I compiled while listening to John Peel back then. The recording included a little bit of Peel’s introduction, which mentioned Clawfist, which stuck in my mind because I listened to that tape a lot. That’s mainly down to how great this song is.

After a suitably trippy sample from one of those earnest, vintage American documentaries about the dangers of drugs, Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah gives you a joyful, high-velocity, pop-punk blast through a catalogue of ways to alter your consciousness:

Alcohol and pills,
Sex, TV,
Coffee, dope,
Nicotine

It’s a gloriously naïve celebration of the good bits about getting fucked up – including using the ‘plastic skin on a garden hose’, which is a new one on me – building to the climactic chorus consisting of a few repetitions of the song’s brilliantly daft title.

I’d never heard anything by either That Petrol Emotion or the Membranes before Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah, but back in 1991, this song put both of them on to my ever growing mental list of bands to be looked into.

Strangely enough, that split single was the last release the Membranes would have for 26 years.

Membranes Big Decision

That Petrol Emotion were also on a downward trajectory by that time. The band had been formed by John and Damian O’Neill in the mid-’80s after their previous band, The Undertones had split up. They relocated from Derry to London and recruited American singer Steve Mack who added his charismatic vocals to their melodic sound. TPE built up a loyal following playing small venues around the capital and their debut album Manic Pop Thrill was excitedly reviewed by the music press and went to number one on the indie charts.

Major labels came in for the band and they signed for Polydor and later Virgin. With great songs that seemed bang inline with the zeitgeist, bags of personality, a healthy fan base and the guarantee of John Peel’s patronage thanks to their Undertones connections, it seemed inevitable that they’d become hugely successful. They even had a singer from Seattle.

In the end though,  they fizzled out. The eclectic nature of their releases kept sales figures down and this, coupled with their tendency toward being politically outspoken on the subject of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ meant that they were just too much trouble for their labels and they were dropped and split up for good in 1994. Despite all their promise, they’d  never got closer to cracking the Top 40 as they had in 1987 with Big Decision (Slight Return) – the one covered by the Membranes – which peaked at 42.

the-membranes-big-decision-slight-return-1991-4

The Membranes of course never got anywhere near as close to the pop charts as that. They were a resolutely underground band. After they split, frontman John Robb found far more fame as a music journalist and commentator than he ever had as a musician.

But in 2015, taking unlikely inspiration from the work of the CERN Project and the vaguely sinister Large Hadron Collider, he reformed the band to record a concept album about space and the universe. I was asked to review this for an online magazine, so finally got around to checking the Membranes out.

The resulting record, Dark Matter/Dark Energy is a superb album which surprised everyone by becoming their biggest-selling record to date. This in turn lead to an increased interest in the band and the release in 2017 of a 5-CD collection of everything they’d released last century. The title of this release?  Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah.

Membranes records had become hard to find by the early-’90s, so this collection was a treasure trove including both the original Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah and the cover of Big Decision. 

The original Everybody’s Goin’… is rather less celebratory than That Petrol Emotion’s cover. It’s all queasily atonal guitar riffs and disorientating rhythms and vocals. It’s similarly adrenalized but there’s definitely a noticeable nod toward the downside of drugs in this version. You get the feeling it’s gone too far.

For the cover, TPE had sifted through the manic, hardcore punk and filtered out a thrilling little pop song that bares little resemblance to the original. There’s no naivety in the Membranes version. It’s out of control.

So then there’s their cover of That Petrol Emotion’s Big Decision. The original Big Decision was a gleefully jumpy indie-pop cracker that would’ve justifiably sailed into the Top 10 in the Britpop era had it been released a few years later. The Membranes cover isn’t like that at all. Robb and the band turn it into a driving, threateningly melancholy, psychedelic epic. Again, it’s nothing like the original but it’s highly listenable and strangely beautiful, actually quite like a track from Dark Matter/Dark Energy. It’s not on YouTube so you’ll have to take my word for it. Better still, buy the boxset.


See, this is the kind of thing John Peel did all the time. He brought life-enhancing music to everybody’s attention constantly. Fourteen years after his death, and 27 years after that particular broadcast, an obscure, limited edition record he played at fuck knows what time at night opened up a world of fascination that’s sustained to the present day and is still bringing artists to listeners’ attention. It’s easier than ever to access new music these days, but I’m not sure that sort of thing happens any more.

‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk covered by Big Black – Magnificent Cover Version No.17

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Millhouse – Indie Music Mentor

‘Different Drum’ by Linda Ronstadt, covered by The Lemonheads – Magnificent Cover Version No. 27

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Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not Sleeve

Trashed! Arctic Monkeys – ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not’

Arctic Monkeys’ 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was and remains the fasting selling debut album in British music history. On its release it was rapturously received by the music press and won the 2006 Mercury Music Prize for Best Album, among many, many other accolades. It has gone quintuple platinum for sales in the UK and has sold more than three million copies worldwide.

Naturally, a bunch of whippersnappers with regional British accents having success like this was always going to annoy people of a certain mind-set, and some of these reactionaries have taken to the reviews section of everybody’s favourite online retail giant to vent their fury. And please note, there are A LOT of these reviews and some of them get VERY angry!

For example, here’s RW having his say on Whatever People Say… in a review from 2006 entitled “Look who escaped from the zoo!”:

“Arctic monkeys is an apt name for this band of slouching, knuckle dragging, ‘pop-punk’ apes. They certain [sic] sound as if they are stuck somewhere prior to evolution, strumming on bananas and hurling their own ‘shit’ (the music) everywhere!”

It was nice of RW to explain his ‘shit’ metaphor for us there. He obviously felt that the meaning of ‘strumming on bananas’ was self-explanatory though. RW continues:

“This is undoubtably [sic] the worst album i have heard this year and ranks in my top 3 worst ever. I know that everyone has their own opinion but honestly, if you’ve got half a musical brain you should be able to see the artic [sic] monkeys for what they really are.”

What’s that then, RW?

“The Arctic Monkeys aren’t musicians, they are bullshit-merchants… delivering easy listening music for the affluent hip”

Ah, OK. Fair enough. Thanks.

SS seems to agree with him anyway. His 2006, one-star review is titled “The media say this is good, So thats why I buy it”, to make sure everyone knows that he’s immune to the hype surrounding it.

“I feel shame and pity for all you people going out to buy this album! I am very bitter! All the good bands before the monkeys who received little to no recognition must be turning in their graves!”

This kind of assumes that everyone who was ever in an underappreciated band before the Arctic Monkey, died prior to 2006, which seems unlikely to me. Anyway, SS is our trusted and impartial arbiter, unimpressed by hype and able to focus on the music itself with searing, brutal honesty. He continues:

“Don’t get me wrong I like what I have heard of the songs”

Huh? You like the songs? What was all that “I feel shame and pity” talk about then? Why the one-star rating?

Maybe it’ll become clear as the review continues (spoiler: it won’t):

“I cannot understand why it is going to be the fastest selling debut album ever beating Definitely Maybe (what is going on?). The monkeys are overrated beyond belief a good band yes but why so big I’m sure they even have to ask why themselves that.”

Still, overhyped and overrated are recurring themes in the one-star reviews, as if they’re the fault of the band.

“The most over-hyped band that I can ever remember. Arctic Monkeys – see Roget’s thesaurus for drivel, pants, mince, torture, white noise.”

Says KP, whose thesaurus seems to be broken. Ch meanwhile says:

“IT IS NOT BETTER THAN THE BEATLES”

Which may be true, but seems like a slightly unfair standard to be setting. JA is similarly furious at not having his high expectations met:

“Lyrics? You can barely hear them and they’re hardly Larkin or Plath.”

I don’t know, you get yourself a few thumbs-ups from the NME and all of a sudden you’re asked to hold your own against two of the 20th Century’s greatest poets and the most popular band of all time. Doesn’t that seem a little harsh? It gets worse too. An anonymous review from 2006 says:

“The hype for this album is quite shocking, because it is not the best album ever nor ever will be!”

Now I get this sort of cynicism, I really do. Hype can be very off-putting to a certain sort of music fan! By 2006 I too was already old enough and cynical enough to be unimpressed by this sort of hysteria and to have heard it all before. I might never have bothered with Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not if one friend in particular hadn’t kept bugging me to give the album a chance. But to dock an album points just because other people like it seems perverse!

For instance, this is how DFAW closes his 2006 review:

“2 stars rather than 3 to balance the hype”

Anyone see the irony here? If that’s not allowing yourself to be affected by hype, I’m not sure what is.

Aside from those reviewers queueing up to trash the Arctic Monkeys for not having created the greatest album of all time, you also get some downright weird reviews. Like BJ, a 2007 American reviewer who wrote:

“Wow, I was appalled and ashamed. These songs, besides all sounding alike, sound like they’re written and performed by a group of hooligans who can’t strum their wee wees.”

Or CS who dredges up this little yarn from his limited imagination:

“It’s your girlfriend’s best friend’s sister’s wedding, the dj turns off spandau ballet for a short interlude- a few lads who the bride used to go to school with have formed a band and are going to play a few numbers. The dj calls everyone to attention and the band run us through ‘fake tales of san francisco’, ‘When the sun goes down’ and ‘I bet you look good on the dancefloor’ (Aunty Maud particularly liked this one- ‘But’, she added, ‘why does he sing in such a funny voice?’. The crowd applaud generously and scuttle off in search of sausage rolls, champagne and a dance with a bride’s maid, while the dj puts spandau back on- right from the point where he left it.”

OK, mate! Or finally, and weirdest of all, F24 who was so utterly furious about the Arctic Monkeys back in 2006, he left a 571 WORD, one-star review/rant about their debut album entitled, a tad melodramatically, “I have stared directly into the void of the human soul”. It’s almost all wrong too, and here are some of the highlights:

“The Arctic Monkeys are a Frankenstein’s monkster [sic] of record Company cynicism. They seem like the product of market research, focus groups, bar charts, pie charts and a few too many listens of ‘Up The Bracket’.”

And…

“And that Voice! All the charm of syphilis straight from the back streets of some Yorkshire town.”

And…

“It’s so forced and contrived, it screams ‘middle class boys overcompensating’ or should I say ‘MIDDLE CLASS BOYS OVER COMPENSAATIN”

And…

“So not only is it irritating, it fails to connect on any sort of emotional level. Of course, emotions are for ‘gurls’. These guys probably worked in coal mines before they got signed, and you don’t talk about your feelings down there.”

And…

“Not that it matters but they’re horrible people, arrogant, mysoginistic, homophobic, unintellegent, illiterate morons who would probably call Liam Gallagher ‘ded braaineh’.”

And…

“This album is the lowest common denominator of 21st Century culture. It may not seem like it but it’s afraid. It’s afraid of it’s own feelings, it’s afraid of alienating people by talking about something that no one knows about.”

And…

“Yes, everyone has fallen out with a bouncer, everyone has had a bigger guy push them around. Everyone has also eaten muffins, tripped on a loose paving flag, drank water, watched adverts for shampoo and tied their shoe laces. It does not mean that songs about such things are an incicive comment on modern life. May their fall from grace be quick and painful. Whenever it is I hope I’m still alive.”

Phew! Such anger! 12 years, five further Arctic Monkeys albums on and still no sign of that “quick and painful fall from grace”, I wonder if F24 is still alive and waiting for it. If he/she’s got that wound up back then about an indie album that no one forced him to listen to, considering the shit that’s gone down since, my guess is sadly, probably not.

This blog post is dedicated to his memory.

 

Trashed! ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Monster Magnet band shot 1995

‘I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time’ by The Third Bardo covered by Monster Magnet – Magnificent Cover Version No. 36

Monster Magnet - Dopes to Infinity sleeve

Stoner rock legends Monster Magnet paying tribute to the trippy, hippy-era classic. Makes sense.

The Third Bardo were a psychedelic garage rock band from New York who were active in the late ‘60s and distinguished themselves from their contemporaries with their prominent Eastern influence. This infiltrated both the band’s name – a reference to Bardo Thodol; popularly known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead – and their sound. You can hear this influence in the mind-expanding minor chords of I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time and in its searing, needle-sharp guitar solo.

During the couple of years that The Third Bardo were active they managed the sum total of one recording session. Out of this session came six tracks, including I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time, and its B-side Rainbow Life, which is considerably further out there than Five Years… and no better for it. Apart from having a Spinal Tap Stonehenge vibe about it, it lacks the grit and vehemence of the main track. A lot of the harshness and attitude on the A-side came from the ultra-confident lyrics, vehement delivery and sandpaper vocal chords of singer Jeff Monn.

I’m living somewhere in a new dimension,
I’m leaving everyone so far behind
Don’t waste any time girl, step inside my mind
I’m five years ahead of my time
Look into my mind, look ahead, don’t look behind
I’m five years ahead of my time

The song stopped getting radio play when someone looked at these lyrics and leapt to the conclusion that they could be construed as drug-related.

This proved to be The Third Bardo’s one and only single release. Jeff Monn went on to release music as a solo artist, toning down the garage and psychedelia in favour of a more accessible, straightforward hippy sound, before re-emerging later with an album of entertaining blues rock under the stage name of Chris Moon with The Chris Moon Group.

The Third Bardo were in danger of being completely forgotten, but fortunately I’m Five Years Ahead Of My Time made it on to a 1979 Pebbles compilation of psych/garage rock and several such subsequent collections, which may or may not be where Monster Magnet got to hear it.

Monster Magnet – spaced out, Sabbath riffing

It’s a mystery to me why Monster Magnet never became huge in the ’90s. At that time their spaced-out, Sabbath riffing, supernatural and intergalactic obsessions and ‘shroom-inspired lyrics were instrumental in pioneering the stoner rock genre. They not only rocked, they were funny and clever at the same time. Seemingly they fell just the wrong side of fashion and the all-important arbiters of taste in the music press at the time with their retro leanings and image, despite a guitar sound that many Sub Pop bands would have killed for. Maybe it had something to do with Dave Wyndorf’s moustache?

For me, their 1995 third album Dopes To Infinity was their peak – it doesn’t have a weak track on it and is one to go back to again and again. The trippy title track is a prime example of the band’s psychedelic grunge, and the Monster Magnet cover of Five Years Ahead Of My Time was a B-side to the Dopes To Infinity single. Other than infusing the song with a crunching, precise, dials-up power, they didn’t change it a whole lot. There was no need to – it could easily have been a MM original and Dave Wyndorf and Jeff Monn sing from the same place. The cover is a worthy and fitting homage that helped to preserve the legend of a great, almost lost song through yet another decade.


Monster Magnet is still going with Dave Wyndorf as the only original member. He claims to no longer use psychedelics and, for reasons I don’t fully understand, that makes me feel slightly sad.

Dopes to Infinity

 

Beck live 2018 Bournemouth

Beck – Live @ BIC, Bournemouth

There aren’t many acts that will encourage me to make a 350-mile round trip from the lightning-struck and flash-flooded industrial heart of England to its sun-kissed and gentrified south coast. Beck’s one of them. He doesn’t visit these shores often, and Bournemouth was as close to home as he got, so it was close enough. Anyway, it was a Bank Holiday and they have hotels down there.

Beck’s in Europe to give a live airing to some of the songs from his latest album, Colors. From the bouncy Charlie Brown piano chops of Dear Life, to the joyful, spectral, ambient pop of Wow and the pan pipe funk riffs of the title track, Colors could be the best Beck album since Odelay.

But before all that, there was Sparks. Sparks! The Mael brothers et al, 44 years on from This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, playing their battily idiosyncratic brand of synth-pop, with falsetto and moustache still intact, after all this time. They’d won the crowd over with their energy, humour and stage presence, even before eternally deadpan, 72 year-old Ron dramatically stripped off his pink tie, threw it into the pit and threatened to get yet more informal. How could you not love them?

Luckily, Beck also knows how to put on a show. Primarily renowned for his song writing and musicianship, it’s easy to forget what a great performer Beck is. Once his seven-strong backing band had assembled over the two tier stage, silhouetted against a giant screen of rolling trippy visuals, his slight frame entered the arena to the clanging bassline of Devil’s Haircut.

Beck live 2018 Bournemouth

The man was obviously out to enjoy himself in an infectious way. And, if at any point he got uncomfortable wearing his fedora and suit for a kinetic performance on a hot, muggy evening, he didn’t let it show. Nor did he resort to low-level strip tease like Sparks.

For two hours he was animated, enthusiastic, engaging and funny, speaking about his particular pleasure and pride at performing those blissful newest compositions of his.

“Just wanna stay up all night with you”

Plenty of older favourites made the set too – four or five from Guero, couple from Midnite Vultures, couple from Odelay, Blue Moon from Morning Phase, Loser, obviously. It’s testament to his spectacular touring band that they nailed everything they played from this famously eclectic back catalogue.

This was Beck’s only UK headlining show this year too. Why Bournemouth? I don’t know. Maybe it’s got something to do with Edgar Wright. He’s a Poole lad and Beck namechecked him before and during his solo performance of Debra, a track the director used in Baby Driver.

The solo spot – just the singer and an acoustic guitar – also took in Hank Williams’ Lovesick Blues and a version of Raspberry Beret. Stripping it back to basics brought an unfamiliar dimension to a song most of us grew up with, underlining the quality of Prince’s writing and making for a touching and celebratory tribute.

The band re-joined Beck for the show’s climax, taking in Blue Moon, Dreams, Girl and a singalong of the Mellow Gold slacker classic, Loser. After the languidly upbeat grunge/hip-hop of E-Pro, the encore took in the futuristic disco of Colors, extended introductions to the fantastic musicians up on stage and a long, long rendition of Where It’s At to finish a breathless, life-affirming and relentlessly excellent gig.


It was a new experience for me to leave a sweaty music venue and step straight onto a humid, moonlit seaside promenade, rather than a shitty city backstreet. It was late, but plenty of people were still around – mountain bikers; old and young couples walking arm in arm; families treating the kids to a late night on their holidays; teenagers gathered round fires on the sand and spilling out of beach huts. A hot day had given way to a warm, still evening and it was one of those days nobody wanted to end. As the man said:

“Just wanna stay up all night with you.”

Beck band

Trashed! ‘Odelay’ by Beck

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

Deodato’s jazz/funk version of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (2001) – Magnificent Cover Version No.28

Trashed! L7 – ‘Bricks Are Heavy’

For a brief period in the early-nineties, L7’s abrasive, metallic, punk-rock sound crossed over into the mainstream. They’d already released two albums of their ferocious grunge before they recorded Bricks Are Heavy with Butch Vig. That LP, and in particular, its lead single, the slacker anthem Pretend We’re Dead chimed with the zeitgeist, got a lot of airplay, caught imaginations and become a surprise global hit.

No one would claim that L7 achieved universal popularity, but they were loud, brash, self-deprecating and funny and they put out some of the most memorable tracks of the brief period when grunge was everywhere. L7’s contribution to that particular phenomenon is often overlooked these days but Bricks Are Heavy is an essential album of the genre; solid quality from start to finish and with some moments of real inspiration.

However, that’s not enough for some folks. And some of them have registered their displeasure via the medium of the Amazon review.

Some reviewers, like N in 2018, get straight to the point

“I HATE IT”

That’s the title and those are her capitals. The entire review reads:

“Wasn’t the music I thought it would be. Please take it back.”

No explanation of what she was expecting or why she bought it in the first place, but she gets across her opinion pretty succinctly. As does S, who dismisses Bricks Are Heavy, with the exception of Pretend We’re Dead, as “90s dirge”.

SBS employs a different tactic, lulling the reader in with a little praise to reassure everyone that he’s a considered and reasonable person:

“I respect that this band was an innovator in the grunge movement”

It’s a two-star review, so you know there’s a ‘but’ coming:

“But the songs are not that strong making this more form over substance.”

There it is! In fact SBS is so reasonable that he offers L7 some useful retrospective career advice:

“This band would have been better off steering towards a more melodic direction (the naysayers will call that going “pop”, “selling out”, “going commercial”). When you are a band, a good band, it’s not because you’re in a certain genre, or you are a pioneering feminist movement or anything else. Good songs/musicianship/arrangement are just that. Grunge is fine music but there’s only so much that you can do with it. This band should have taken a hint from what Joan Jett did and sprout some wings and develop and progress. They should have pursued the nuances of the bandmates and pulled from the grunge.”

No doubt L7 will be kicking themselves for not having received the benefit of SBS’s wisdom back in the ‘90s and transformed themselves into a completely band. Too late now, sadly.

CW is also dishing out free advice; this time to potential buyers:

“Save your money and down load from I TUNES”

As is an anonymous reviewer from 2000:

“Save your pennies… you will be bored with the CD within a few spins.”

That review finishes with this cryptic sentence:

“Courtney Love is still the girl with the most cake.”

Now that’s one to ponder. CLD is also pretty thought-provoking in her review from 2003.

“Feminism is more than just tampons and big boots…”.

And that’s just the title. CLD goes on to credit herself with having her finger squarely on the pulse:

“British fans of the feminist Riot Grrrl movement will, or indeed, should know that it’s taken a good while for this pretty underground phenomenon to reach our shores and get anywhere near the level of recognition it should. L7, along with the likes of Bikini Kill, Babes In Toyland, Luna Chicks have been battering away at their guitars and rambling into mic’s about the life of your average everyday riot grrrl for a good few years with only a few of us finely tuned individuals paying much attention.”

Just to reiterate, this was written in 2003, several years after every single one of the bands CLD lists had split up and more than a decade after Riot Grrrl movement peaked. Truly CLD is a “finely tuned individual”. She reckons that “L7 had all the balls but not much originality”, gives Bricks Are Heavy zero stars and recommends that “beginners to the scene” look elsewhere because “the joy is found more in the message than the musical content here and we wouldn’t want to put you off!”

But if you thought CLD was patronising, B’s 2013 review takes condescension to a new level. Look away Riot Grrrls, here’s the title:

“There’s a reason why women and conventional anger is a difficult combination”

Ouch! The review itself says:

“The songs on “Bricks are Heavy” are not genuinely hard or even remotely emotional or “beautiful”; rather they are extremely conventional hard rock with a different lyrical attitude.”

“The vocals of Donita Sparks, Suzi Gardner and Jennifer Finch are extremely bland and lacking in any sort of feeling whatsoever.”

And:

“the moodiness is so superficial”

Before this knockout closer:

“Women singing with an angry tone is awkward for biological reasons, and Sparks, Finch and Gardner do not even since [sic] with an “angry” tone here, rather L7 offer ordinary hard rock songs devoid even of hooks.”

B is all over the place here and leaves a lot of questions hanging. Are L7 attempting to sing in an “angry tone” or not? What’s so different about their “lyrical attitude”? And, most importantly, what are these “biological reasons”? We may never know, but it’s safe to conclude that B is just the sort of clueless, misogynistic dipshit that L7 would’ve really enjoyed eating alive.

l7-banner

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

‘Fuel My Fire’ by L7 covered by The Prodigy – Magnificent Cover Version No.18

 

‘Transmission’ by Joy Division covered by Hot Chip – Magnificent Cover Version No. 35

Transmission comes as close to being archetypal Joy Division as any track in their incredibly strong but tragically brief discography. Released as a single between their two albums, Unknown Pleasures in 1979 and Closer in 1980, it’s intense, captivating, claustrophobic and with the palpable sense of threat that this unique band were capable of conjuring up at will.

Like all Joy Division songs, it’s haunted by the ghost of Ian Curtis. The depth of his lyrics is matched by the sincerity and desperation in his voice. He was just 22 when Transmission was recorded, but he sounds much older. Much wearier.

And we would go on as though nothing was wrong
And hide from these days we remained all alone
Staying in the same place, just staying out the time
Touching from a distance
Further all the time

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio

It’s affecting, unsettling, electrifying and beautiful. It’s perfection.

So why would anyone cover it? What would make an indie, electro-pop band like Hot Chip dip into Joy Division’s iconic legacy and tackle a cover version of Transmission? The answer is that Joy Division asked them to, as part of the 2009 compilation War Child Heroes

The concept behind this charity release was for music legends to pick one of their own songs and nominate a contemporary artist to cover it. Bob Dylan nominated Beck to do Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, Paul McCartney picked Duffy to play Live And Let Die and surviving members of Joy Division chose Transmission and Hot Chip.

Hot Chip had the good taste both to be reluctant to accept the invitation – “we didn’t want to piss off any die-hard fans” – and to make the cover their own. They took the eerie paranoia of the original and replaced it with a laid back, sleazy, ’80s cocktail lounge vibe.

The opening is reminiscent of Talk Talk’s It’s My Life the it fades out at the end rather than building to a climax like the original. In between it settles into a Kraftwerk-like rendition with scribbly guitar motifs, robotic voices and synthesized steel drum sounds. It’s definitely Transmission and it’s definitely Hot Chip too. Peter Hook felt able to endorse it, “They seem to be having fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously. I like that.”

Someone who does take himself too seriously is Billy Corgan. It would be interesting to hear Peter Hook’s opinion on Smashing Pumpkins’ overblown, 13 minute long 1998 cover of Transmission. I don’t know what Hooky’s opinion is but I can give you mine – it’s shit.

 

The Dead Kennedys covering ‘Viva Las Vegas’ by Elvis Presley – Magnificent Cover Version No.31

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ by The Beatles, covered by The Breeders – Magnificent Cover Version No. 2

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

Trashed! The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & Nico is undoubtedly one of the most influential LPs of all time. Released in 1967 as the band’s debut album, it launched the long careers of Lou Reed, John Cale and Moe Tucker.

It has become an enduring icon and a phenomenon. It initially sold only 30,000 copies, but has been certified platinum in the UK since. Brian Eno famously said that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”.

The Velvet Underground & Nico is the 13th best album of all time, according to Rolling Stone Magazine, behind only artists like The Beatles, Stones, The Beach Boys, Elvis, Miles Davis and Dylan. Pitchfork rates it as the best album of the 60s. NME puts it third. The Observer rated it at number one in a list of albums that changed music and everyone, EVERYONE since has cited it as an influence.

But of course, not everyone likes it. And some of those who don’t have kindly spent some time providing considered and informed counter-arguments to all the glowing reviews on Amazon.

In fact there are A LOT of negative reviews. They can be roughly divided into three categories:

  1. Reviews by The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed fans who don’t rate this album
  2. Reviews by people who dislike the Velvet Underground.
  3. Reviews by people who hate The Velvet Underground and refuse to believe that anyone else really likes them either

Velvet Underground.jpg

So, let’s have a quick scoot through categories 1 and 2 before we get to the one that’s the most fun – category 3.

1. Reviews by VU/Lou Reed fans who don’t rate this album

PP considers Lou Reed’s Transformer to be a “masterpiece” while The Velvet Underground & Nico is mainly dreadful”, virtually tuneless rubbish and, in a meaningless reference to the album’s sleeve art, “definitely a banana skin”.

BBB5 also reckons Reed is a brilliant solo artist”, but just can’t see many people, in the 21st century, listening to this album and finding it a pleasurable experience”, because it’s “a pile of junk” and “nothing more than Andy Warhol’s joke, and he’s laughing at us all from beyond the grave!”.

Another, Anonymous reviewer reaches a similar conclusion. He/she grudgingly concedes that Lou Reed’s “talent developed gradually and is only slightly in evidence here” and that TVU&N is influential, but suggests that that’s the only reason people own it.

He/she then ponders:

“How much owners of this formerly obscure artifact from an excessive era really do listen to it? I mean even those owners who profess to be passionately devoted to it. I doubt very often.”

Any idea? Don’t worry, Anonymous isn’t going to leave that question hanging:

“I doubt very often. I imagine very seldom.”

So now you know.

2. Reviews by people who dislike The Velvet Underground

Typical for this category is this Anonymous reviewer:

“A good example of an album which is overrated to a degree that is surreal. One suspects that this has little to do with the music, and more to do with the mind set of the overrater [sic] on first hearing it.”

He/she doesn’t bother to explain what he/she meant by that second sentence before going on to criticise the singing, musicianship and compositions. But then, judging by the fact that the review is nonsensically titled “overrated overhyped overhere [sic]”, this reviewer just likes putting words together without worrying too much about what they mean.

JF describes it as “Tedious and limited” and ponders, “How this ever achieved cult status is a miracle”. For B, it’s “more about the cover than the music”.

WW is also unimpressed:

“After reading reviews in Amazon and references in Rolling Stone, I was sure I was going to love this album. I didn’t. It was poorly engineered, consisted mostly of disorganized sounds and didn’t seem to have any redeeming features.”

…but philosophical:

“On the bright side, it wasn’t very inexpensive, so my experience didn’t cost much.”

For AFABR, writing in 2005, it’s just too damn old:

“This was a classic in its day. Listning [sic] to this album in 2005 is truly painfull [sic]..it’s almost 40 years old. You do the rest of the math…..”

Meanwhile, PP doesn’t care about its age, just that it’s “virtually tuneless rubbish”. DB calls it “dated”, another Anonymous reviewer says “musically it is not up to scratch” and PM confesses to finding it “interesting but not my cup of tea”, which is fair and reasonable, but not as much fun as those in the next category…

3. Reviews by people who hate The Velvet Underground and refuse to believe that anyone else really likes them either

In his review of TVU&N, titled “The most over rated band/album of all time”, JC explains:

“This is the most self-indulgent of all albums.”

Before taking a deep breath and blurting out:

“It just has enough pretentiousness about it to be one of those things that people who want to appear cool and ‘with it’ will band about in conversations like they have this hidden knowledge of music and that these awful bunch of albums in some way define them as being more music obsessed more music knowledgeable and more ‘cool’ than you.”

Picture poor JC, constantly put down by pretentious Velvet Underground fans. He can’t take it anymore! He snaps:

“The only reason any C thinks it is a classic is because when your [sic] stoned off your Ts it probably does sound profane and remarkable but otherwise in the real world with a cup of tea maybe it just doesn’t have the same impact.”

No doubt he means profound rather than profane, but you’ll have to guess what he means by ‘C’ and ‘Ts’. He concludes his ranted review by saying “I’ve got proper music to be listening to”. Let’s hope he had that cup of tea and calmed himself down after writing this.

But there’s certainly no shortage of reviewers who agree with him. Like BD, who wrote this one-star review in 2007:

“VU remain amongst the darlings of the average bo-bo pseudo-intellectual, an acquired taste handed down from generation to generation.”

Not sure what he means by “bo-bo”? But BD obviously believes he’s seen through the hype. As does this Anonymous reviewer in 2001:

“This album is one of those records that is bought by sophomores in college who want to look cool. It is soooo avant-garde and so hip to buy an album all the other cool people say that you should have.”

Along the same lines is EF, ranting in 2006:

“I don’t understand why this band is so revered, and why it’s almost a necessity in certain social circles to pretend you like this band if you really don’t. This is not for listening to, this is for displaying on your shelf so you can look cool in front of your hipster doofus friends.”

SW, writing in 2004 is similarly nonplussed:

“For all of the hushed, awed appraisals of the 1967 VU release “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” I really doubt that anyone truly enjoys this album–those who claim to are simply falling victim to “Well-I-guess-I’m-supposed-to-like-this” syndrome.”

Finally, there’s SMR’s review, and subsequent debacle, which might shed some light on this whole ‘pretentiousness’ issue. In 2014, SMR wrote:

“There’s nothing in the world worse than people striving to be “avant-garde” It invariably leads to suffocating pretentiousness (like this junk). I truly believe that deep-down many of those who praise this album to the high-heavens are doing so to be “fashionable” and “more sophisticated”—it makes them somehow “superior” to us average bourgeois slobs with no “taste”—-YUCK…BARF!!”

This prompted RH to step in and take issue. He replied to SMR’s comment to point out:

“The Velvets practically created so many genres that it’s unbelievable. The Doors wouldn’t exist without them, nor would a good majority of the bands that have come out since.”

Predictably, SMR doesn’t like The Doors either. He replied that “the ‘mythologizing’ of Jim Morrison and The Doors has gone beyond the absurd”, but concedes that “they had a unique dramatic quality”.

Then comes a twist, with a third participant, G, coming out of nowhere to stick his oar in. He takes issue with both SMR’s dislike for The Velvet Underground and any tolerance for The Doors, replying to these comments with this pompous and ridiculously optimistic plea:

“But you do understand that the Doors suck, right? By all means like their music but at the same time wrap your mind around the fact that they are a pretty terrible group. I hope you do the opposite of that with VU. While understanding the music is not to your taste realize that they made great music and were one of the few truly watershed artists of the 1960s.”

Got that? So G will condescendingly allow you to enjoy The Doors, but insists that you must acknowledge that they’re shit. You must also concede that The Velvet Underground’s music was objectively great, whether you like it or not. G, who let’s remember, no one was talking to in the first place, has come blundering on to the scene to declare himself the unarguable arbiter of good musical taste.

Maybe it’s people like G that are the problem? Maybe all these negative reviewers are lashing out at the Velvet Underground because they’re sick of being lectured on them by dicks like G. If so, I can’t say I blame them.

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

Trashed! The Pixies

Trashed! ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’

‘Like A Virgin’ by Madonna covered by Teenage Fanclub – Magnificent Cover Version No.34

Teenage Fanclub’s goofy cover of Like A Virgin is a joy. The sunny pop of this classic from Madonna’s early-period fits in perfectly with TFC’s own brand of uplifting love songs. Naturally, they play it with a fuzzed-up, shambolic, jangle but otherwise it’s pretty faithful. Weirdly, this quintessential Madonna track could be mistaken for a Teenage Fanclub composition, if only there was anyone on the planet who hadn’t heard the original.

Like A Virgin is the clear highlight on Teenage Fanclub’s understandably maligned 1991 album The King. There were rumours that The King was a quick way for the band to  fulfil a contract obligation with the label Matador, but the truth is it was a youthful joke that got out of hand. Norman Blake remembers the band saying, “Let’s make a LP overnight. We’ll just improvise some songs and do some covers and cobble it all together”. Creation boss Alan McGee liked the idea and his label pressed 20,000 copies of it before deleting it the same day. Truthfully, it’s one for big Fannies fans only.

Of course one of the main reasons there are plenty of big Fannies fans around is their next album, Bandwagonesque, released later the same year. It was a great record and a huge hit for the band. It became one of the essential albums of 1991, a year that saw more than its fair share of essential albums, with Nevermind, Loveless and Screamadelica among the other timeless classics to come out.

BandwagonesqueCoverArt

I have a confession. I didn’t buy Bandwagonesque until a few years after it came out. This is because I was still at school in 1991 and had a limited budget for record purchases. Consequently my record collection at that time was made up of a few, carefully selected full-price purchases, birthday/Christmas presents, occasional finds from second hand shops and stuff from out of sale bins in Woolworths, HMV and Our Price, supplemented with tapes recorded from friends. It was more a cobbled together mish-mash of gems and disappointments than a carefully curated expression of my musical self, but I loved it and cherished it. Much as I liked Teenage Fanclub, I had to wait to acquire their breakthrough album.

I waited a lot longer to acquire a Madonna album. I got The Immaculate Collection on CD around 2000 – looking over my shoulder furtively on the way to the checkout for fear of being spotted by anyone I knew. I bought it for reasons of nostalgia and also for having something I could stick on if my sister ever visited me. I quite like Into The Groove and Like A Prayer. Much prefer the Teenage Fanclub version of Like A Virgin though.


Teenage Fanclub have released quite a few other covers. These include versions of some of my favourite songs of all time; The Velvet Underground’s Who Loves The Sun, Pixies’ Here Comes Your Man, The Beatles’ The Ballad of John and Yoko and Nirvana’s About A Girl, which is particular excellent. The other cover on The King is Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive. It’s not great.

‘Love Buzz’ by Shocking Blue covered by Nirvana – Magnificent Cover Version No.11

‘Judgment Night’ Soundtrack – Rap Rock’s last stand

‘Different Drum’ by Linda Ronstadt, covered by The Lemonheads – Magnificent Cover Version No. 27

 

 

Trashed! ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure

Disintegration is The Cure’s highest-selling album and the one that saw them cement their place as an arena rock band, in the UK, Europe, America and Japan, at a time when that was still a huge achievement for an ‘alternative’ rock band. In terms of popularity, the album represents the peak of The Cure’s career, after more than a decade and seven previous albums of atmospheric, bittersweet, dark and joyous music.

In addition to its commercial success Disintegration was ecstatically received by critics. It was Melody Maker’s ‘Album of the Year’ in 1989, while Q listed it as the 17th best album of the ’80s. It made it on to both the US and German editions of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. Pitchfork says that “Disintegration stands unquestionably as Robert Smith’s magnum opus”.

The 3 million+ copies of Disintegration sold worldwide mean that it’s certified ‘Gold’ across Europe and ‘Platinum’ in America. It also spawned four successful singles – Lullaby, Lovesong, Pictures of You and Fascination Street – which brought the band unprecedented levels of airplay and attention.

With Disintegration The Cure pulled off that rarest of tricks; producing an album that finds huge mainstream, commercial and critical success without alienating their original fans.

But of course, not everybody likes it. And some of those who don’t have been good enough to write Amazon reviews warning potential buyers to tread carefully before spending £5.32 on a CD.

There are not enough words to describe how awful the complete waste of time called “Disintegration” really is. Horrible, disgusting, nasty, wretched, and atrocious doesn’t even begin to describe the listening experience.”

That’s the considered opinion of JX, as expressed in a 2004 review titled “An Epic Pity Party”JX continues:

“Asking me to listen to the Cure or U2 is like asking me whether I would like to be shot in the gut or kneecaps.”

JX also reckons:

“They add complex melodies just to show how pretentious they are.”

Really? Is that why those melodies are there? To show how pretentious they are? I’d always thought they were part of the music in some way.

DPG is also unimpressed, heading his/her review “Garbage” before explaining:

“The Cure were best when they did fun pop songs, like in the 80s and early 90s!”

Fair enough…

“Pop songs are what gets played on radio, and the radio is the only sure sign of what’s good in music.”

Wait. What? “The only sure sign”? That doesn’t seem right. I heard Nickelback on the radio once…

“Obviously this album doesn’t get played on the radio.”

Ah, OK. DPG has subtly implied that Disintegration is no good because it doesn’t get played on the radio. This seems like a flawed argument, because a) “what’s good in music” is entirely subjective, b) it fails to take into account the commercial pressures on radio stations which restrict the variety of music that they are able to broadcast, and c) the singles from Disintegration got a shitload of airplay.

So DPG fluffed that argument. Maybe he/she will have more luck when discussing mental health issues:

“Smith’s mopey vocals sound so much better when he’s in a good mood. And why wouldn’t the guy be in a good mood? HE MAKES MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!”

Nope, DPG fluffed that argument too.

Despite awarding Disintegration three stars, JM also finds the album a bit of a downer:

“so depressing it’s hard to take for more than 20 minutes.”

Conversely, MDG describes the album as “Carnival Music”, adding that in his opinion it “Sounds like a carousel; droning around and around”.

Meanwhile, BS calls the album “puzzlingly popular” and says that on it Robert Smith’s songwriting is “at an all-time low”. The review concludes with the statement, “Smith never had the juice for a long term career in my opinion”. Now, BS wrote this is May 2000, by which time Smith had released 11 studio albums with The Cure over the course of nearly a quarter of a century. Eighteen years later, The Cure are still going, and have slipped out another couple of well-received albums, so maybe Bob did have the “juice” after all.

BS gives his review the title “Overlong and dull”, and he’s not the only reviewer to criticise Disintegration for being too long. None is more vehement in this criticism than CS who, somewhat ironically, drones on for fully 400 words about how long it is. The review, titled “Slow, Boring And Long”, includes a description of each song – “Fascination Street: Not ‘fascinating’ at all!!”.

BS gives Pictures of You and Lullaby four stars and Love Song and Disintegration five stars, but the album itself receives a disappointing two stars overall. “Moodiness is not what I expected from The Cure!”, she says.

So to recap, contrary to popular opinion, the album described by Kyle Broflovski from South Park as ‘the best album ever’ is actually a “disgusting, nasty listening experience”, “pretentious”, unworthy of radio play (the only real mark of quality music), “depressing”, “carnival music” with “mopey vocals”, substandard songs and way too long. Probably not worth £5.32, in that case.

Interestingly, none of the negative reviewers I’ve found have picked up on my main criticism I have of Disintegration – that synthesizer sound always, always reminds me of the original theme music from Casualty.

 

 

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure covered by Dinosaur Jr – Magnificent Cover Version No. 10

Trashed! The Pixies

‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel covered by Silverfish – Magnificent Cover Version No. 33

You can’t fault charismatic London indie punks the Silverfish for their ambition in covering White Lines (Don’t Do It). They take Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s early hip-hop classic and give it an unhinged, noise rock spin. Nobody would seriously claim it improves on the original, but it’s good, raucous fun; like something belted out at the end of a drunken rehearsal, just to amuse the band.

The distinctive bassline is thoroughly distorted but still recognisable somewhere beneath the wailing feedback, rumbling drums and Fuzz Duprey’s squally, phased guitar gibberish. Lesley Rankine delivers the rap in her gruffly aggressive way and most of the lyrics seem to be there. I haven’t checked that, to be honest. That’s not part of the service I’m providing here, which can be summarised as drawing your attention to/reminding you of/making sarcastic comments about this particular cover version. Feel free to compare the two versions for yourself. Here’s the Silverfish.

Silverfish were active between 1988 to 1993 during which time they made quite an impression on anyone who heard them at their thrillingly chaotic live shows or via their various Peel Sessions. Their uncompromising attitude and warped sense of humour secured them plenty of music press coverage too, despite the overriding popularity of baggy, indie-dance and shoegaze bands at the time.

White Lines was one of the highlights on the Silverfish’s first full-length album, Fat Axl, released in 1991, the follow-up to the previous year’s brilliant, 1990 mini-album Cockeye. Like most good things, it was produced by Steve Albini, under the pseudonym of Ding Rollski.

Silverfish Fat Axl

Fat Axl was well-received by critics and fans alike but was too raw, uncompromising and resolutely uncommercial to ride the US grunge wave that was just starting to gather pace –  though they did make a memorable appearance in the early afternoon at Reading 1991, sandwiched between Babes In Toyland and Nirvana.

Of course these days the phrase Fat Axl is more closely associated with a series of memes taking the piss out of Axl Rose for being overweight. They’re not that funny – generally featuring painful puns that crowbar junk food items into Guns ‘n’ Roses lyrics – but Axl himself has stepped in to give the situation some humour by demanding that Google removes them from the internet, and seemingly expecting that to happen.

The Silverfish’s next, and last, album Organ Fan (1992) did slightly better commercially than its predecessors, despite a sludgy mix that diluted the band’s attack. It also spawned what may have proved to be their most lasting legacy; the feminist t-shirt slogan ‘Hips, Tits, Lips, Power’ – taken from the chorus of single Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal. This garment quickly became extraordinarily popular with badass indie girls.

That t-shirt and that slogan may have lived long in the mind, but the Silverfish deserve to also be remembered for the brash, witty, aggressive and downright life-affirming majesty of their music.


Whilst ‘researching’ this post I discovered that Duran Duran took a lead from Lesley, Fuzz and the boys and released their own cover version of White Lines in 1995. If you click this link you’ll be taken to the official video for the single. It features Simon Le Bon and whatever the rest of them were called, leaping around, like they’re McBusted or something, despite being immensely old by this time. Probably best if you don’t click the link.

Silverfish

‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk covered by Big Black – Magnificent Cover Version No.17

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

1000 Homo DJs covering ‘Supernaut’ by Black Sabbath – Magnificent Cover Version No.32