World of Twist - The Storm 12" sleeve

‘She’s A Rainbow’ by The Rolling Stones, covered by World of Twist – Magnificent Cover Version No.40

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

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.

World of Twist - Quality Street sleeve

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.

The Storm - World of Twist poster

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.

 

‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’ by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, covered by The Wedding Present – Magnificent Cover Version No.4

‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones covered by Patti Smith – Magnificent Cover Version No.26

‘Lola’ by The Kinks covered by Cud – Magnificent Cover Version No.12

Trashed! ‘Disintegration’ by The Cure

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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

 

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’