tv on the radio - young liars ep sleeve

‘Mr Grieves’ by the Pixies covered by TV on the Radio – Magnificent Cover Version No.41

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.

Pixies - Doolittle sleeve

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.

 

‘Head On’ by The Jesus & Mary Chain covered by Pixies – Magnificent Cover Version No.16

Trashed! The Pixies

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

 

 

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Pavement - Major Leagues EP cover

‘The Classical’ by The Fall covered by Pavement – Magnificent Cover Version No. 39

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.

The Fall - Hex Enduction Hour cover

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.

 

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

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

Trashed! ‘Loveless’ by My Bloody Valentine

 

 

‘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).

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.

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 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 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

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

‘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’

‘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

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

1000 Homo DJs was one of Al Jourgensen’s many short-lived side projects, which amounted to two 12″ releases in total – Apathy in 1988 and Supernaut in 1990. The latter saw Jourgensen and other members of Ministry collaborating with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails to cover the 1972 Black Sabbath delight Supernaut.

Al Jourgensen has been synonymous with industrial metal for so long now that it’s hard to believe Ministry started off doing a kind of OMD-style synth-pop in early-’80s Chicago. Steve Albini – who was developing both Big Black and his witty sourpuss persona in Chicago at that time – was so outraged at the suggestion that Ministry might produce a band he did appreciate that he came out with this famous barb:

“If you do, and you make them one-tenth as wimpy as Ministry, I’ll cut your balls off and sew them shut in your mouth.”

Nice!

By 1990 Ministry were fully converted to high-tempo, drum machine-driven, sample-heavy, thrashy metal and Jourgensen was collaborating with Jello Biafra (in Lard), Ian MacKaye (in Pailhead) and Richard 23 (in Revolting Cocks). The most lucrative link-up would come in 1991 when Butthole Surfer Gibby Haynes provided gibberish guest vocals on Jesus Built My Hotrod, leading to heavy airplay on MTV and platinum sales figures. But Supernaut is pretty great too. Of course it is – it’s by Black Sabbath.

Black_Sabbath_Vol._4

Not just Black Sabbath, but early, original line-up Black Sabbath – Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill. Peak Sabbath.

Name a four-album run better than Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Masters of Reality and Volume 4 – you can’t, can you?

It was Millhouse who introduced me to Sabbath. Growing up in the Midlands in the ’80s I would see loads of old rockers with long, stringy hair, in Black Sabbath leather jackets, stinking of patchouli oil and I wasn’t impressed with them or their metal aesthetic. Plus, metal at that time, to me meant hair metal – Poison, Motely Crue and the like – and that repelled me even more.

So when my music taste was developing as a ’90s teenager, I took some persuading that that wasn’t what Sabbath were about. It helped when Melody Maker referred to them as part of the unholy trinity of punk touchstones – Black Sabbath, Black Flag, Big Black.

So, starting with Masters of Reality, I got my Sabbath on and never looked back. Genius songs, an incomparable rhythm section and the insane charisma of Ozzy are all big factors in their enduring appeal. But it’s Tony Iommi’s riffs that define them isn’t it? On Sweet Leaf, War Pigs, Paranoid, Children of the Grave and Sabbra Caddabra; lip-curling, head-banging, ear-thumping riffs. Supernaut is one of their best. Apparently it’s also a favourite of Beck’s and John Bonham and Frank Zappa were fans too.

So for their cover, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor wisely decided not to change much when playing Supernaut as 1000 Homo DJs. Because this was the ’90s, there’s a fun, paranoid sample before it starts:

Practically every one of the top 40 records being played on every radio station in the United States is a communication to the children to take a trip, to cop out, to groove. The psychedelic jackets on the record albums have their own hidden symbols and messages as well as all the lyrics of all the top rock songs, and they all sing the same refrain, ‘it’s fun to take a trip, put acid in your veins’.

But from then on it’s a straight ahead, appropriately respectful cover. The only real differences are the driving, industrial drum beat and the distortion on Reznor’s voice, apparently added to disguise the fact that he’d done them at all, since his record label had denied permission for him to appear.

So Jourgensen and Reznor’s Supernaut is highly enjoyable without adding anything much to the original. Maybe it did help introduce a new generation to the mighty Black Sabbath and to the brilliance of Tony Iommi’s riffery and it was guaranteed to fill the dance floor at indie clubs for a time. Plus, it got me writing this; which isn’t saying much in itself but has led directly to me learning that Ozzy’s first name is actually John and Geezer’s is Terrence, which is, y’know, vaguely interesting.

1000 Homo DJs

‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath, covered by Alice Donut – Magnificent Cover Version No.13

‘Kick Out The Jams’ by MC5 covered by Rage Against The Machine – Magnificent Cover Version No.25

 

Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

Shellac have a casual attitude to playing live. This is from their page on the Touch & Go Website:

Band information: While there is no specific coordination between Shellac’s record releases and touring schedules, you can expect the band to tour at its usual sporadic and relaxed pace.

They’re busy men, but they’ll get together and play when they can, and when they do, they’ll enjoy it.

Seeing them live, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy it. The chemistry between Todd Trainer (drums), Bob Weston (bass/vocals) and Steve Albini (guitar/vocals/living legend) is stupefying. Each element is completely locked in to the others; each one equally important.

Of course they shouldn’t be equally important, because the fact is that’s Steve Albini over there on the left. Even if you’re the biggest Shellac fan in the world, chances are that you only started listening to them in the first place because you love something he’s been involved with previously – be that Big Black, Rapeman, Surfer RosaSeamonsters, PodIn Utero, or, or, or, take your pick; you’re spoilt for choice.

But after two songs it’s obvious that the Shellac machine has three cogs and each of them is vital. They blast through the intricate, angular, stop/start hardcore with total precision and power; split-second perfect on every weird time signature, start and restart. I assumed this was purely down to practise, but they play a different set every night so it can only be telepathy.

They blast through their set – Squirrel Song, Dude Incredible, A Minute, Prayer To God. People say he’s mellowed since his Big Black days, but even after all this time making punishing music, Steve continues to find new ways of wringing abrasive noise from an electric guitar, can still be incredibly intense and can still scream till his jugular bulges. Bob, on bass, takes turns on vocal duties too. Often they’ll take turns to play rhythm, while the other handles lead, regardless of the instrument. Todd occupies centre-stage – skinny and exhausted-looking – he almost looks like he’s there against his will, such is the strained look on his gaunt face as he holds everything together with his shamanic drumming.

They have an understanding and collective force that can only come from musicians who really care about and love what they’re doing and have been doing it for more than two decades.

They complement each other as personalities as well. Bob is approachable and funny and does most of the talking, fielding the regular Q&A questions from the audience, covering a variety of subjects – haircuts, trousers, Dinosaur Jr vs Sebadoh. Steve is happy to stay on the sidelines for this but chips in occasionally with a witty remark – insisting that no one should feel obliged to buy a t-shirt because ‘you’ve done enough’. Todd stays silent, but gets involved from time to time to give a comic shrug or to give a twirl when Bob confirms him as the ‘sexy one’ in the band.

They’re playful during the songs too. One (incredibly loud) bar into their opening song they stop and freeze, apart from Todd twirling a drumstick in slow motion, for close to a minute before resuming in unison as if nothing had happened. During the drum break on Steady As She Goes, Bob and Steve run and hide behind amps at the side of the stage, leaving Todd on his own. And as the last song – the awesome Spoke – closes, Steve and Bob dismantle Todd’s kit, piece by piece until he’s left just hitting a snare. Then they wave goodbye.

It’s great when you come away from seeing a band a bigger fan than you were before. They put on a tight, loud and intense show while giving a new dimension to familiar songs, having a blast themselves and being genuinely funny. Albini got the biggest laugh of the night, telling the Birmingham crowd, ‘You have a beautiful city’. But he went on to explain:

“Beauty is only skin-deep. Think what you’ve given to the world. I’m talking about Black Sabbath.”

That got an appreciative cheer. Most people there weren’t born when Sabbath were at their height, but still, it was heart-warming to hear one legend paying genuine respect to another. In fact that’s what the whole night was – heart-warming – which I wouldn’t have expected beforehand. So yeah, maybe Albini has mellowed.

Shellac band shot large

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

‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds, covered by Husker Du – Magnificent Cover Version No.21