New York experimentalists TV on the Radio released their cover of the Pixies’ Mr Grieves as the fifth track of five on their 2003 debut EP, Young Liars. While the Pixies’ original begins as a sloppy reggae number before morphing into an aggressive, jittery, Latin-tinged indie rock number, TV on the Radio’s cover is this mesmerising, low tempo a cappella track.
TV on the Radio are well known for pushing boundaries and mixing up genres in their eclectic output, but assembling a male voice choir for a recording still seems like an odd move even for them. And in truth, they didn’t. Technically, this is a solo track from founder member Tunde Adebimpe. He painstakingly performed and recorded the vocal parts and finger clicks himself multiple times, multi-tracking them into a stunningly effective three-part harmony. Having gone to so much effort and achieved such a stunning result, the oddest thing of all is that the track is given so little prominence.
Mr Grieves of course contains the lyric which gave the Pixies album Doolittle its name:
Pray for a man in the middle One that talks like Doolittle
I’m on record as saying Doolittle is the Pixies’ best album and, I don’t know, probably that’s true. But you could make an argument for any of their original output. Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa are the most obvious contenders but you could make an argument for any of their original output. I’ll always have a soft spot for Bossanova as the first vinyl album I ever bought and Trompe le Monde has some brilliant songs as well. So, as this is completely subjective anyway, I reserve the right to change this decision at will.
TV on the Radio were chosen to support the Pixies for the eight consecutive gigs they performed at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York as part of the latter’s 2004 reunion tour. The Pixies played Mr Grieves at those shows, TVOTR, understandably, didn’t. Probably the younger band’s hipness was more of a factor for them being picked for this honour than their reimagining of Mr Grieves. But Black Francis has since described their haunting, a capella take on it as ‘awesome’. He’s right too.
This cover of The Rolling Stones’ psychedelic pop masterpiece She’s A Rainbow was the B-side to The Storm, the tempestuous debut single of the much-missed World of Twist. It’s a slightly unusual cover version in that – aside from a beefed up rhythm section and a different vocalist – it’s virtually indistinguishable from the original. You can play them simultaneously if you like. I don’t care though, because it was one of the first records I ever bought. It was the 12″ with photos of kettles on the sleeve. I played it over and over too, flipping from side A, The Storm (12” Version) followed by She’s A Rainbow, to side B, She’s A Rainbow (12” Version) followed by The Storm. God it was great.
The Storm itself is an atmospheric and invigorating blast of acid-house/indie-glam with personality to spare and more hooks than a Philadelphia meat locker. Hippyish and ultra-danceable, The Storm is driven along by a hyperactive rhythm section and accented with psychedelic synthesizer sounds, squally guitar licks, thunder samples and Tony Ogden’s breathless vocals.
World of Twist was one of those bands that really should have been huge. They seemed to have everything they needed to go stellar; the talent, the tunes and a strong, distinctive image. Even their timing seemed to be perfect, arriving with their floor-filling sound in 1990, just as indie-dance and techno was invading the mainstream.
But it didn’t quite happen for them. So, rather than reaching their potential and entering a wider public consciousness, they had to settle for making a deep and lasting impression on a small number of people.
The story of World of Twist can be roughly divided into two halves – the first, when they did absolutely everything right and the second….not so much.
By the time they released The Storm, World of Twist had established an original and exhilarating sound, fusing progressive rock, indie-pop and acid house. They built a reputation for being great live and erudite, entertaining and quotable in person. Consequently, the music press loved them too. So much so that for a time one particular music paper pushed to introduce a new subgenre to define them – kitschedelia.
The kitsch part of this was down to the strong, art school aesthetic that World of Twist cultivated – a kind of enigmatic, Python-esque, very British, retro imagery that infused their record sleeves, promotional materials and band photos. There aren’t many snaps of World of Twist wearing jeans and trying to look surly in a dingy alley; not when they could be shot in full Victorian military regalia instead. (The fantastic World of Twist online library is highly recommended for more on the band’s aesthetics.)
World of Twist photo by Paul Morgan
The band got lots of airplay, TV slots and radio sessions – including an enduringly excellent one with John Peel – and released a couple more singles as good as The Storm, including Sons of the Stage, another psychedelic, indie-dance monster with a killer bassline at the bottom, a charismatic Tony Ogden vocal on the surface, and swirling depths of sound in between.
Their debut album was hotly anticipated and they’re reputed to have spent £250,000 of record company money recording it. They’d done everything right up to that point. If the album was up to the standard they’d set with their singles they were going to be huge.
Sadly, the release of their debut album marked the beginning of the end for World of Twist. The LP, Quality Street, was a huge disappointment; to critics, to fans – me included – and to the band themselves. Aside from the singles, the songs were a little lacklustre, but the big problem was the production – the hugely expensive production. It was awful. The intricate depths of instrumentation were buried and Tony Ogden’s vocal was pushed too high in the mix. Ogden wasn’t a strong singer in the traditional sense, but his enigmatic vocals were perfect as an equal component of a song. On Quality Street, his voice was up on a pedestal and expected to carry several cuts. The rhythm section that had provided the engine for singles like Sons of the Stage and The Storm sounded weedy and weak. In short, it just didn’t sound good.
In 2005, Tony Ogden gave his honest appraisal of the album experience:
“We had an amazing time. We wanted to make the greatest psychedelic dance rock album ever and there was a lot of coke and E in the studio. But the album came out at half normal volume. We’d spent £250,000 making an album with the smallest bollocks in pop history! The band just fell apart. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast and that led to communication problems. I didn’t wanna sing, the guitarist didn’t wanna play. When the company didn’t get a hit they threw us in the bin. I was devastated – I spent four years on smack watching Third Reich movies because the good guys always win. I’m really sorry for letting our fans down. But I’d ask anyone to play that World of Twist album 20 times with every dial on full. If it doesn’t rock, come and smash it over my head.”
Quality Street didn’t even make the Top 40 and World of Twist were swiftly dropped from their label. What happened next is hard to definitively say. It depends on which band member you believe, and sometimes, on which version of what that band member says in contradicting quotes. Either they were set to be picked up by Creation Records and either refused to sign or gambled on asking for an exorbitant advance, not caring whether they won or lost. Or World of Twist was only ever meant to be a temporary art project and the album was the pre-planned conclusion of this project. Or Tony Ogden suddenly lost all his confidence and tried to take a less prominent role in the band with either another band member or a new recruit taking over as frontman. Whatever the truth, Quality Street was their first and last album. World of Twist had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and were finished.
A lot of love remained for the band, even as it became increasingly obvious that they weren’t ever coming back. After the split, Tony Ogden continued making music for his own pleasure and rebuilt his self-belief away from the spotlight. He’d been making tentative steps towards a return to the industry when he died suddenly in 2006, aged just 44.
World of Twist made some brilliant music but never achieved the level of success they deserved or attained the riches that so many less original bands did during the ‘90s. But like a brilliant young footballer who wows their home crowd for a couple of seasons before injuries and alcoholism derail the career everyone had anticipated for them, they made a deep and lasting impression on everyone they reached and their legend only grows as the years pass.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Pavement ripped off The Fall for their sound. Okay, it may not be universally acknowledged, but plenty of people have commented on the similarities over the years, including the late, great Mark E. Smith himself. Here’s what he told Melody Maker in 1993:
“People were coming up to me saying ‘listen to this’, and playing me Pavement records on a Walkman, and I just asked, ‘What live tape is that of ours? Is that from Holland in 1987 or something? That’s a fucking drum riff I wrote. The cheek!'”
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has always been happy to confirm The Fall’s influence on his music, while always stopping short of admitting outright plagiarism. The point is, it’s hardly a surprise that Pavement eventually released a Fall cover. And when they did, they chose one of their most exuberant and bombastic tunes – The Classical.
The Fall’s 1982 original of The Classical opens their album Hex Enduction Hour and it’s a joyous six minutes of cacophonous glory from a line up featuring Craig Scanlon, Marc Riley and two drummers. It’s full of classic Smith lyrics including:
“Made with the highest British attention, to the wrong detail”
“I have never felt better in my life”
and, of course:
“Hey there, fuckface”
There was always a lot of humour in The Fall’s music, but it seems like it was a more fundamental part of their appeal during the first half of their existence. There was a playfulness to them which was more prominent back then.
Pavement’s rendition of The Classical is reverentially faithful – albeit, they sensibly drop the ‘N’ word from the opening of the song. It’s the sort of loving treatment you’d expect from avowed fans.
Pavement’s cover was released on their 1999 Major Leagues EP but was originally recorded for a Peel Session. This is highly appropriate since John Peel, as The Fall’s most notable champion, is the man responsible for introducing them to most of the world, including me. Having found The Fall through Peel in the early-’90s and randomly dipped into their already extensive discography since then, it was only when listening to the 2004, career-spanning collection 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong, and playing 25 years worth of their material in chronological order that their influence became clear to me. l kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of, “Everyone sounded like this in 1991”, only to then see that the track in question to was from 1986. They were always well ahead of their time. So when MES said of Pavement after they first appeared on the scene:
“It’s just The Fall in 1985, isn’t it? They haven’t got an original idea in their heads.”
…he was being (characteristically) harsh. That was true of a lot of bands, it’s just that Malkmus and his buddies didn’t bother to hide it.
Following Smith’s death, Stephen Malkmus was asked explicitly about his influence by Pitchfork. He said:
“I wasn’t like the Fall fan compared to a lot of my friends, but I certainly thought Mark was cool, and one of our albums, Slanted and Enchanted, has three or four songs that totally mess with his way of doing stuff. I never denied it—I’ve never been one to deny ideas I’ve taken. They always come out through a prism of me.”
Seems fair enough. And Slanted and Enchanted is a very fine album too. Presumably, this is one of the ‘three or four songs’ referenced above:
This would be the first time someone had pointed out the similarity of Conduit for Sale! to A New Face In Hell.
Apparently, Malkmus never got to meet Mark E Smith. He had the opportunity once at a reunion gig but was too shy. It’s probably just as well. Chances are it wouldn’t have gone well. Here’s the hip priest’s reaction to being appreciated by Fall fans, Fat White Family backstage at Glastonbury, as told to The Guardian shortly before his death:
“They got a bit cheeky so they were taught a lesson, I don’t think they’re fans anymore. They came and sat next to us and thought they were it. Big mistake. I was giving a glass of champagne to the lads before we went on and one of them just walks up and I just threw it in his face. He was showing off and there was a bit of a standoff. I like the stuff of theirs I’ve heard though. It was a pretty weird day that, the Dalai Lama was there.”
Of course there are a million MES stories like this. The man was a true original. Maybe that’s why he found it so uncomfortable and lashed out if he felt he was being copied. Maybe his Fat White Family story tells us that he never lost his playfulness after all. Whatever it tells us, he’ll be missed.
The Doors are countercultural icons with record sales measured in the tens of millions. They espoused an epicurean approach to life while representing the sharp edge of hippie culture, calling for revolution and the destruction of taboos. Their iconic music and outright charisma has seen them gather devotees from each generation that has followed theirs.
But of course, not everybody likes The Doors. Some people just don’t see the appeal. And some of those that have remained unimpressed have been good enough to share the benefit of their opinion in reasoned and well-argued online reviews over the years.
An anonymous 2004 reviewer uses laser-like wit to shatter any illusions about The Doors’ qualities:
“The Doors? They should be called The Bores”
Ouch! And that’s just the title. Here’s the full review, comprehensively covering every aspect of Waiting For The Sun (note: the capitals are the reviewer’s):
“UGLY UGLY UGLY UGLY THIS IS ABSOLUTELY THE UGLIEST MUSIC I EVER HEARD. THE INSTRUMENTS ARE UGLY AND BAD THE VOCALS ARE UGLY AND BAD THE LYRICS ARE UGLY AND BAD EVEN THE COVERS ARE UGLY AND BAD. NOT GOOD, AS IN BAD!!! BETTER BUY GOOD MUSIC!”
Incredibly, in the years since this review was posted, only one person has found it useful. Yet this reviewer is not the only one to describe The Doors as boring. Here’s one from an anonymous US reviewer, who occupies the other end of the capital letter usage spectrum:
“the album pretty much will bore anyone who wasn’t around in the ’60’s (i wasn’t hence why i said that)
i used to be a really big doors fan until i found out this band was just making me into something i wasn’t and that was someone boring!”
WGD also finds The Doors “incredibly boring and predictable”, although, unlike the previous reviewer, he never liked them in the first place:
“I never got the Doors- to me they always sounded like a bad pub band fronted by an unbelievably pretentious narcissist. I’ve met people who firmly believe Morrison was their soulmate despite the fact they were born 20 years after he died- It’s vomit inducing.”
It seems Jim Morrison is a bit of a polarising figure for a lot of reviewers. Here’s the opinion of MB, another stranger to the shift key:
“there has never been a more overrated performer in the history of rock music than jimbo (more like jumbo towards the end) morrison. any rock musician who considers him or herself a poet is not only wrong but a buffoon (outside of dylan and cohen, but just barely) you can be shakespeare with a pen, but without TUNES you dont need to be recording.”
If you can decipher the meaning of that last sentence, I applaud you. AB, meanwhile, has no problem getting his point across:
Jim Morrison was such a weenie and a blowhard…
AB has left several reviews of The Doors, for some reason. Usually with a title like “I really loathe the Doors”, and usually taking pot shots at Jim Morrison, who really seems to rile AB up, despite having been dead since 1971. Here’s another extract:
“I am SO HEARTILY SICK OF JIM MORRISON AND THE DOORS. The guy was such a total weenie. Since when is getting so drunk that you fall of the stage a great moral virtue? And what a preening, self-centered gasbag!”
He’s dead, AB! What more do you want? AB also likens the promise of extra tracks on a Doors re-release to “the dentist offering to pull a few extra teeth… for free!”
Anyway, back to ‘The Lizard King’.
JJ refers to him as “perhaps the most pretentious person ever to have lived”, “an almost talentless lyricist and a very limited vocalist to say the least”. Before inexplicably describing The Doors as “A sort of sixties Duran Duran”. But that’s mild compared to CB’s considered opinion:
“Jim Morrison’ imbecilic drivel belongs scrawled in the margins of a seventh grader’s composition notebook, not on a major studio release. His nameless backing band, likely on loan from the nearest methadone clinic, tries relentlessly and fruitlessly to find a cohesive groove, melody, or theme. Throughout the album you can hear Mr. Morrison’s dunce cap bumping into the vocal microphone as he bends over yet again to pick up the dropped goblet of his drink of choice, which from the sounds of this album is probably Thompson’s Water Seal.”
CB also offers helpful advice to those considering buying part of The Doors’ discography:
“For the same price, you could purchase the New Radicals album that has “You Get What You Give” on it. Now that’s a quality tune from a talented band.”
Keep in mind, CB left his review in 2017 – 18 years after the New Radicals had split up having released one album. I’m not about to criticise them, each to their own and I’m sure they were brilliant, but a sample lyric from the song CB quotes goes like this:
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson You’re all fakes Run to your mansions Come around We’ll kick your ass in
Seemingly CB find this acceptable “on a major studio release”, while Jim Morrison’s lyrics are “imbecilic drivel”. I don’t know. Maybe his endorsement was sarcastic? But, serious or not, at least CB’s offering an alternative. Some folks just want to badmouth a legendary band. Like this anonymous reviewer, who just wants to tell you what not to listen to:
“If you are looking for great music from rock’s beginning, skip this group, because the Doors are all reputation and no follow-through. If Jim Morrison hadn’t been such a head case they would have been forgotten by now.”
…or TT, who said wrote this in 2009:
“If we examine some of the Doors most prominent and unfortunately least appealing features, we will find a very bland, monotonous, predictable, and last but not least, pretentious band. The excessive feature of the organ often sounds like an underpaid Church accompanist finally reaching breakdown and leading a mutiny of one against the house of God.”
…or C79, who said:
“Forget St Anger, Van Halen III or other “infamous” albums. Waiting For The Sun is truly the worst album by a major band!”
…or poor FT who found a lot to criticise in his one-star review of The Doors’ self-titled debut LP but was specifically offended by one track in particular:
“Break on through is a bit too noisy and sure a rock n roll track can be noisy but it needs to have some feeling to it. This track is for me very annoying with its screaming still tired and sad sounding vocals and a high sounding very annoying organ.”
SVV also focuses his one-star review on one song:
“”Runnin Blue” is the worst song they ever recorded, especially the chorus where Kreiger takes a hand at singing and sounds like a nasal Bob Dylan”
A nasal Bob Dylan? Can you imagine such a thing? If that doesn’t make much sense, at least SVV redeems himself in his review of Soft Parade with one of those delicious puns we all love.
“I could sum up this cd in two words: Awful Parade.”
He may have a point with this one, but still, D-minus for effort on the wordplay front, SVV.“Awful Parade” just doesn’t cut it when there’s people coming out with clever stuff like, “The Doors? They should be called The Bores”.
JS meanwhile is against the whole psychedelia thing, while also being something of a snob, judging by the opening words of his one-star review of The Doors – “…this album demonstrates what happens when a public school education meets hallucinogens [sic].” Additionally, he has a grudge against an entire decade:
“The ‘60s were a whacked-out era, and this piece of solid gold crap is a time-machine to the scene of the crime.”
Finally, an anonymous reviewer in 2007 came out with this gem, which is clearly based on their own bitter personal experience:
“Whatever you do…NEVER PLAY THIS AT A PARTY..ALL YOUR FRIENDS WILL THINK YOURE A DORK, AND NEVER RETURN YOUR CALLS!”
Don’t worry about it, Anon, they can’t have been proper friends in the first place. And your mum doesn’t think you’re dork. Probably.
Pioneering hip-hop legends Public Enemy always could divide opinion. Back in 1990, at the height of their popularity, they celebrated this fact on their third album, Fear of a Black Planet. The track Incident At 66.6 FM, which samples a radio phone-in during which the presenter cheerfully laughs off one caller who invites the band to “go back to Africa” while another refers to their fans as “scum”.
Nearly three decades on from that, they’re the uber-influential elder statesmen of rap, continuing to inspire musicians working across genres. Their material is considered uplifting enough to be chosen as theme music for British Paralympic coverage, they’re well enough established to have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and they’re popular enough to have sold millions of records worldwide.
Doesn’t mean everyone likes them though. Opinion is still divided, as these ruminative and considered one-star Amazon reviews show.
“dull, dreary, repetitive dribble”
That’s the title an anonymous UK reviewer give to his/her review of PE’s debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show. This seems pretty decisive, but he/she immediately gets oxymoronic:
“Never have i had to endure such a droll album.”
So either they don’t like their albums amusing or entertaining, or they don’t know what droll means. Undaunted, they go on to fall back on their maturity to emphasise their credibility:
“at 29 yrs old i really am past this rubbish with a more mature ear able to appreciate a far greater spectrum of contempary [sic] sounds”
Ooh, so close to pulling it back there. Drat! RH has better luck using good old-fashioned sarcasm and irrelevant references:
“Why have I been wasting my time listening to Charlie Parker and Claude Debussy all these years? What ever made me think that Aretha Franklin and Gundula Janowitz could actually sing? I must have been high. THIS is the great work of true musical genius that all mankind has been waiting for.”
Gunula Janowitz, as we all know without resorting to Google, is one of the highest regarded opera singers of all time. RH is on safe ground suggesting that she (and Aretha) can sing, so that proves Public Enemy are shit.
VV is another grown-up who disapproves of PE. Admittedly, his 2003 review of It Takes a Nation of Millions… gets off to a dodgy start with the title, “You call this music? Maybe on Planet Suck-ville”, which could have been written by a six-year old, but VV soon more than redeems himself. He takes maturity to new levels with this statement:
“Bashing the government is not cool, I don’t think George Bush is listening to this record right now. And if our president can’t listen to it, who should be allowed to? Certainly not you.”
No, you’re right, VV, bashing the government is not cool. Conformity, compliance and respect for authority are what’s cool. That real rock and roll. What was Chuck D thinking of? Leave that nice Mr Bush alone. And he’s not even listening anyway, so there!
At the other end of the maturity spectrum is J, reviewing Fear of a Black Planet in 2010. He’s just desperate to hear naughty words being uttered:
“Funny that there’s an advisory label on the cover but they beep out the cuss words on Fight the Power. Wish I knew this before I bought the CD.”
He feels so cheated he awards the album the lowest, one-star rating. J would appreciate HJ’s review and the way it cleverly hints at a swear word:
“Anybody who likes this type of music should see a psychiatrist… when they called it rap they left off the C”
See what he did there? Not everyone goes to the trouble of using such ingenious wordplay in their negative reviews. KR just says Public Enemy are “Not a patch on NWA. Lyrically or musically”, an anonymousNation of Millions reviewer in 1999 says it’s “just plain bland” and MS went full street in 2005:
“This album is WACK and BORING! BORING! BORING! BORRRRRING!”
At least KR got his point across with his crazy urban slang. Not everyone manages that trick. Here’s TA‘s review of Black Planet in its confusing entirety:
“Head Cruncher by TA, February 15, 2005
“I wish I could put into words the disdain I have for RAP. But I can’t so all you get is the title. Music????? Don’t make me laugh.”
“All you get is the title” – Does anybody have any idea what that means? And what about the last bit? “Music????? Don’t make me laugh.” Maybe TA finds it all a bit too droll as well? Maybe they should take a leaf out of that 29 year-old anonymous UK reviewer from earlier and try something else from the “spectrum of contempary sounds”
Finally, here are two conflicting but equally scornful reviews of PE’s peak output. First up, DW on Nation of Millions:
“Let’s not beat about the bush. This album is a pile of tripe. Some prat with a silly watch and some other guy are angry and shout a lot instead of inspiring people to change things for the better. Maybe I’m too white and middle class to get what they are trying to say but whatever my social and economic background I just couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in this album.”
While AKR says, of Black Planet:
“The irony being that P.E.’s core audience were white suburban kids (remember John Connor from Terminator 2?), not angry urban black youths.”
Now I don’t know who to believe here – DK or AKR. Sure, you have to admire DW’s withering description of Flavor Flav as “some prat with a silly watch”, but AKR has cold hard facts on his side; young John Connor from Terminator 2was a white kid and he did wear a Public Enemy t-shirt. You just can’t argue with that. And that means Public Enemy are sell-outs! Don’t believe the hype!
In a 1995 interview, Devo founder Gerald Casale was asked to name the ultimate rock and roll song. Afer giving this due consideration for several moments he gave the perfect answer – Sympathy For The Devil by The Rolling Stones.
With this in mind, it’s worth reconsidering Devo’s quirky, ironic and iconoclastic take down of The Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. It may be a barely recognisable reconstruction of the original, but it’s not a piss-take. It’s not a rejection of a classic, it’s an update. They even had to play it for Mick Jagger in person before they could release it as a single. He loved it.
Devo leave out the song’s central component, Keith Richards’ legendary riff, and replace it with bent guitar strings, jerky rhythm, stop/start beat and that agitated bassline. The vocal line is close enough to hint at the original but other than that it’s a complete reimagining of Satisfaction for a new era.
Resolutely looking to the future was part of the Devo philosophy. It was also part of part of what separated them from their punk contemporaries. Devo didn’t like to be associated with the punk scene which they saw as musically and aesthetically backward looking. Their refusal to adhere to these accepted norms sometimes led to conflict, notably with The Dead Boys who attacked them onstage at CBGB. Devo’s beliefs were absolutely central to them and dated back to the inception of Devo as an abstract concept, long before they began dabbling in music.
As a student in 1970, Casale had witnessed the Kent State shootings and subsequent media reaction first-hand. Profoundly affected, he changed overnight from a pot-smoking hippie into an angry, politicised individual. It wasn’t until seeing David Bowie on his 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour that things began to make sense again for him and Devo was the result. In partnership with Mark Mothersbaugh they founded the artistic movement with the plan of combining the high ideas of classical art and literature with the crassest and most absurd elements of popular culture. This was a comment on what they saw as the de-evolution of mankind – the species having peaked, some way short of perfection and now heading steadily backwards – with the exception of themselves of course.
Casale and Mothersbaugh developed the idea in their physical art, short films and what would now be termed performance art. All the time they would consciously tread a fine line between appearing smart and stupid. They termed this ‘Ironic Idiocy’.
Both Casale and Mothersbaugh played music as a hobby – blues and hard rock, respectively. Eventually they began to think about what Devo music would sound like. Continuing with their commitment to ‘Ironic Idiocy’, they took their influences from Bowie, early Roxy Music and ‘bad TV and movie soundtracks’. A line-up which eventually included each of their brothers began playing music in a basement and recording it on four-tracks. It was several years before they performed live, by which time they had a large repertoire of original songs down, as well as their cover of Satisfaction.
Eventually, one of their short films won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which brought them to the attention of Bowie himself, who tipped off Brian Eno. While in New York, Eno took himself to Max’s Kansas City to see Devo performing their inimitable brand of high/low brow pop while dressed in matching janitor overalls, clear face masks and toy hard hats. Plans were made for Eno to produce their first album.
Devo flew to Cologne for the sessions with Eno. It was the first time they’d been recorded professionally. When they heard the tapes back they were appalled to hear themselves sounding like a real band, having spent so long trying to undermine real bands. Regardless, the result of this was their debut LP Q: Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!, a record which perfectly captures their obsessions and brought the band to the world’s attention.
For my money, the band peaked a couple of albums later with Freedom Of Choice, a masterpiece which featured the classic Whip It and the even more fantastic work of genius, Girl U Want. But Are We Not Men was a great LP in its own right and the cover of (I Cant’ Get No) Satisfaction became a minor hit single in the UK. In addition, Freedom Of Choice introduced their highly original sound and their unique viewpoint; knowingly merging the cerebral with the trivial and always looking forward. It took the astute and fertile minds of Casale and Mothersbaugh many years to fully develop this attitude and their idiosyncratic update of Satisfaction was a pretty good expression of it.
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).
The Clawfist Singles Club ran for around five years from 1990 and also featured acts like Cud, The Family Cat, BMX Bandits, Bevis Frond and The Mekons.
This is all pretty exhaustingly obscure now, and probably the only reason I remember anything about any of 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 and this 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.
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 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 of rarities, including both the original Everybody’s Goin’ Triple Bad Acid, Yeah and the Membranes 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 Decisionwas 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.
Arctic Monkeys’ 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, was and remains the fasted 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 that Voice! All the charm of syphilis straight from the back streets of some Yorkshire town.”
“It’s so forced and contrived, it screams ‘middle class boys overcompensating’ or should I say ‘MIDDLE CLASS BOYS OVER COMPENSAATIN”
“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.”
“Not that it matters but they’re horrible people, arrogant, mysoginistic, homophobic, unintellegent, illiterate morons who would probably call Liam Gallagher ‘ded braaineh’.”
“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.”
“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 F24is 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.
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.
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.
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: