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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can’t fault charismatic London indie punks the Silverfish for their ambition in covering White Lines (Don’t Do It). They take Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel’s early hip-hop classic and give it an unhinged, noise rock spin. Nobody would seriously claim it improves on the original, but it’s good, raucous fun; like something belted out at the end of a drunken rehearsal, just to amuse the band.
The distinctive bassline is thoroughly distorted but still recognisable somewhere beneath the wailing feedback, rumbling drums and Fuzz Duprey’s squally, phased guitar gibberish. Lesley Rankine delivers the rap in her gruffly aggressive way and most of the lyrics seem to be there. I haven’t checked that, to be honest. That’s not part of the service I’m providing here, which can be summarised as drawing your attention to/reminding you of/making sarcastic comments about this particular cover version. Feel free to compare the two versions for yourself. Here’s the Silverfish.
Silverfish were active between 1988 to 1993 during which time they made quite an impression on anyone who heard them at their thrillingly chaotic live shows or via their various Peel Sessions. Their uncompromising attitude and warped sense of humour secured them plenty of music press coverage too, despite the overriding popularity of baggy, indie-dance and shoegaze bands at the time.
White Lines was one of the highlights on the Silverfish’s first full-length album, Fat Axl, released in 1991, the follow-up to the previous year’s brilliant, 1990 mini-album Cockeye. Like most good things, it was produced by Steve Albini, under the pseudonym of Ding Rollski.
Fat Axl was well-received by critics and fans alike but was too raw, uncompromising and resolutely uncommercial to ride the US grunge wave that was just starting to gather pace – though they did make a memorable appearance in the early afternoon at Reading 1991, sandwiched between Babes In Toyland and Nirvana.
Of course these days the phrase Fat Axl is more closely associated with a series of memes taking the piss out of Axl Rose for being overweight. They’re not that funny – generally featuring painful puns that crowbar junk food items into Guns ‘n’ Roses lyrics – but Axl himself has stepped in to give the situation some humour by demanding that Google removes them from the internet, and seemingly expecting that to happen.
The Silverfish’s next, and last, album Organ Fan (1992) did slightly better commercially than its predecessors, despite a sludgy mix that diluted the band’s attack. It also spawned what may have proved to be their most lasting legacy; the feminist t-shirt slogan ‘Hips, Tits, Lips, Power’ – taken from the chorus of single Big Bad Baby Pig Squeal. This garment quickly became extraordinarily popular with badass indie girls.
That t-shirt and that slogan may have lived long in the mind, but the Silverfish deserve to also be remembered for the brash, witty, aggressive and downright life-affirming majesty of their music.
Whilst ‘researching’ this post I discovered that Duran Duran took a lead from Lesley, Fuzz and the boys and released their own cover version of White Lines in 1995. If you click this link you’ll be taken to the official video for the single. It features Simon Le Bon and whatever the rest of them were called, leaping around, like they’re McBusted or something, despite being immensely old by this time. Probably best if you don’t click the link.
Never Mind The Bollocks is everything a ‘seminal’ album should be – powerful, influential, controversial, timeless. It’s an iconic, genre-defining masterpiece held up as an inspiration for most of the great bands that have followed in the decades since, as well as several of the shit ones.
Forty years on from its release, it’s always included in greatest albums lists for its cultural significance, its furious power and its fearlessly abrasive attitude. It’s also stacked with genuinely great songs. No matter how many times you’ve heard it, you can’t listen to it again without being affected by it one more time.
It goes without saying that Never Mind The Bollocks isn’t meant for everyone. The whole point of the Sex Pistols was to upset and antagonise and their only proper album encapsulates this. It polarised opinion in 1977 and it’s doing the same thing now.
Nowadays those who feel confused or offended by the Sex Pistols have the opportunity to get their opinions out via online reviews. And boy do they take that opportunity!
“TOTAL PISS…..god save my ears”
That’s the title of a review from one anonymous Amazon UK commenter. The review, that’s heavy on anger, but light on punctuation, gives Never Mind The Bollocks the minimum one star, stating:
“the sex pistols the worst band in the world a bunch of spotty bums “playing” instruments they haven’t got a clue how to play and just winging [sic] and making a dreadful sound.”
The review continues (unedited):
“the sex pistols surely did pull the wool over peoples eyes in the late 70’s when real music was happening i bet they thought lets make an album of bollocks say a swear word on television and then we will have huge success… and one other thing jonny rotten can’t sing”
Predictably, the ‘they couldn’t sing or play their instruments’ cliche is a recurring theme from the negative reviewers. JJW is among the most vehement in taking this line:
“I have never accepted “punk” as a form of music because it takes NO TALENT WHATSOEVER to play a generic pair/trio of chords. Just learn to play guitar for a few months and you’ll be able to “play” this garbage effortlessly.”
JJW may not be sure how many chords you’d need to master to play the Sex Pistols’ music, ‘effortlessly’, but he’s absolutely certain that it would take “NO TALENT WHATSOEVER”. Some people call that the democratising power of punk, obviously not JJW.
Over in America, HC isn’t a fan either:
“I hate the Sex Pistols. I bought the album and then sold it the next day.”
This might seem like HC hasn’t given Never Mind the Bollocks the chance to grow on him, but it’s understandable when he explains the peculiar effects it has on him:
“I can’t listen to that annoying whine without gritting my teeth and stabbing my ears.”
Nasty! Considering that, it sounds like getting rid of the album was the only sane course of action for HC. But not only is he unable to appreciate it, he’s unable to appreciate why anyone else would appreciate it:
“You Pistols fans think you’re any better than the 12 year old girl next door with the Sum 41 shirt? They’re a joke and so are you.”
Wait a minute – so is it the Sex Pistols, Sum 41 or the 12 year old girls next door with Sum 41 shirts who are a joke as well as us? And who dragged Sum 41 into this anway? We may never know.
There’s another confusing one-star review from Anonymous in the USA:
“Basically if you think you’re punk cuz you listen to this, well you’re nothing but a stupid trendy poseur who says all the punk things, listen to all the punk things, and conforms to all the punk things.”
Right, so if you listen to punk, speak like a punk and act like a punk, you’re not a punk, you’re a “stupid trendy poseur”. Got it, thanks.
NU is aggrieved that the Pistols released an album at all:
“This band never intended to release an album but sold out and the result is that loads of people were conned into buying an L.P. that had a load of dross plus the singles that they had already bought.”
Before making this shocking admission:
“In the iPod era this album would have died a speedy death as people would only want the three songs and if they flet [sic] the need to have the album for completeness they would just download it for free.”
Now what sort of a comment is this? NU seems to be advocating a sort of Darwinian attitude to musicians and their output, where only those who can muster more than three great singles per album should be allowed to survive. Harsh! And NU gives Never Mind the Bollocks the minimum one star rating as a result.
Other one star reviews come from AML, who adds, oxymoronically that he/she would rather have given it:
“at least minus 10 stars”
…from PV, who inexplicably felt that this insight was worth sharing:
“Deffo not a SP fan,was asked by a bride if I could play SPs at her wedding found this collection all the known numbers are on it.”
…and from TWG, who refuses to let his loose knowledge of the facts stop him from sharing his opinion on the band:
“Johnny Rotton [sic] is a fool of the highest order. He murdered his girlfriend and was always a pathetic washed up junkie.”
As well as getting this completely wrong, TWG also insists on making this dubious claim:
“try playing this in a crowd and everyone will go silent, in an embarressed [sic], awkward way (I have actually seen this happen, even when half of the crowd had an affiliation with punk music).
Really, TWG? Did that happen? Or did you just make it up?
Finally, we come to AKR. AKR seems to be slightly obsessed with the Sex Pistols, having posted at least half-a-dozen reviews of them on the US Amazon. In one of his/her first reviews AKR acknowledges the band’s historical importance:
“Cheers to the band for pretty much starting the punk rock genre…”
But there’s a ‘but’ coming:
“but really at this early stage punk rock is really awful.The Sex Pistols have a really annoying singer, unmemorable songs, and a pretty stupid name too.”
In various later reviews AKR refers to them as “the $hit Pistols”, “the Linkin Park of the 70s”, “manufactured corporate trash”, a “cr@ppy piece of $hit band”, and “a blatent [sic] marketing scam dreamed up by a bunch of fat, balding, cigar smoking record company executives in suits and ties”.
AKR‘s exhaustively explains his/her objections to the band over several reviews. These include “a horribly irritating singer” with a voice that’s “literally painful to listen to”, “absolutely boring and rhthymically corrupt songs”, that they were “utterly hypocritical”and, just to hammer the point home, “IT’S NOT EVEN GOOD MUSIC, FOR GOODNESS SAKE!”With one exception:
“Don’t get the CD, but if possible get their decent hit “Anarchy in the U.K.” I do like that one.”
And if you think that’s giving mixed messages, the last review I can find from AKR finishes with this advice:
“DON’T BUY THIS! If you really must buy it, destroy the CD right afterwards.”
Yeah, good idea AKR, that’ll show those cigar chomping record company execs!
My Bloody Valentine are widely regarded as one of the most original and ground-breaking bands of all time. They inspire rare levels of devotion in their fans and are cited as an influence by thousands of subsequent artists in various genres. Pitchfork names Loveless as the best album of the nineties, Rolling Stone had it at number 219 in its “500 Greatest Albums of all Time” and The Irish Times puts it as number 1 in the “Top 40 Irish Albums of all Time”.
MBV are critically acclaimed and loved intensely for their melodies, musicianship, beauty and phenomenal power and Loveless is viewed by many as their timeless masterpiece.
But of course, not everybody likes it. 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 experience in online reviews over the years.
LE heads his/her one-star review of Loveless “A new definition for ‘terrible'”and speculates that “This has to be one of the worst albums ever recorded in the history of time”.
Anon, is of a similar opinion, also giving Loveless the minimum one star and a review entitled “A very bad album”, which concludes by comparing it to “a load of poop on a chair”.LB’s 2009 review states that the album is “The worst crap ever”.
HHB, continues the ‘crap’ theme with this considered, if grammatically suspect, advice:
“really really crappy don’t do this to yourself forget this crap and this stupid type of music”
Fair enough, HHB, doesn’t like it. This was flagged up in the title of the review (HHB‘s capitals) – “STUPID CRAP FROM THE DUMB BORING EARLY 90S” – but of more interest than that is this fascinating simile from the beginning of the review:
“This music is so stupid and weird not in a good unique way but just an uncomfortable way like when you are at someone’s house and you don’t like them and want to go home but you can’t and you probably have to spend the night in their living room…”
Huh? Does this happen to anyone else? HHB uses this as an example of something that’s “stupid”, “weird” and not “unique”, so it seems to be a regular occurrence for him/her. HHB doesn’t expand on this in the course of the review, which is a shame because it seems like he/she has a story to tell.
NS also has a story to tell and isn’t as shy as HHB. His/her review takes in Mozart, acid house and the Berlin Wall. Here’s a (small) excerpt:
“All notion of talent is historical, but some people certainly rely much more on contextual receptivity than voluntaristic [sic] genius. MBV are the former. Just like Mozart’s 2nd rate elevator work hypnotized his contemporaries who basically wanted music to sound pretty and dainty while they ate bonbons and powdered their wigs, MBV released a record during an age where, mindbogglingly people were willing to hear anything that sounded like apathy, but loud.”
Phew! NS is quite the iconoclast. Not content with having a pop at My Bloody Valentine and the early-nineties (again!), he/she has dragged Mozart into it as well. The review continues at length in the same vain – including the descriptions “passive-aggressive neuroticism” and “formally formless” – before concluding:
“Some people think this is the apex of music: music as music, pure music, a religious experience, the sublime that blows you away. Others like me simply keep powdering their wigs and eating bonbons.”
By the time I’d read the whole review I felt like I’d been forced to spend the night in the living room of someone I don’t like.
Predictably, NS’s gibberish provoked some reactions.
MF wrote, “I thought Pitchfork wrote impenetrable, dull reviews that manage to say little to nothing about the music. But this review…Jesus Christ.”
While B hit back with, “The powdered wig may be interfering with your hearing”. AM replied simply, “Are they particularly sour bonbons?”
NS may be wordy, but he/she has nothing on an anonymous review of Loveless from 2004 entitled “Quite possibly the worst album I’ve ever heard”. It goes on for more than 700 words. What’s wrong with succinctly comparing it to “poop on a chair” if that’s how you feel? Some of the highlights of the review include:
“just because something is unique doesn’t make that thing good”
“the most gut-wrenching horrific unattractive pile of terrible sounds that I have ever experienced”
“I cannot physically stand to listen to this album.”
Finally, if you feel like that last reviewer made a misstep in purchasing Loveless, wait until you hear from TM.
TM‘s 2010 review includes this line:
“I thought from the band name that they’d sound like My Chemical Romance, how wrong I was!”
A good thing, surely? But no! On closer inspection TM is disappointed by this, and has given Loveless two stars.
C responds to TM, asking:
“What on Earth possessed you to think it might sound like My Chemical Romance? Just because both bands have names that start with ‘My’?”
It’s a fair question and nicely put. But sadly it’s now seven years since C asked it and TM is yet to reply. Fortunately, My Bloody Valentine fans are a patient bunch.