The Obscurer

Category: Music

No Wonder

I think it’s great that David Cameron is a “man with a plan” just now; I only wish he wasn’t being so coy about telling us what it is. Why the secret? Why so hush-hush? If I had a plan right now then believe me I’d be boring the pants off everybody by spelling out exactly what it entails; you wouldn’t be able to shut me up! So come on David; spill the beans! Great as this plan of yours undoubtedly is, it won’t do us any good locked up inside your head.

Justin “can’t think of a single thing to say” about Cameron’s speech. I can’t do much better. The only thing I took away from his performance is that neither he nor his speechwriters can own Stevie Wonder’s finest, seminal LP Innervisions. Or else they haven’t played it all the way through. Or if they have then they can’t have listened very closely to the lyrics. Anyway, I’ve had “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” buzzing around in my head since Cameron made his speech, so here are a few choice lines from the song.

  • He’s a man / With a plan / Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
  • Makes a deal / With a smile / Knowin’ all the time that his lie’s a mile
  • Must be seen / There’s no doubt / He’s the coolest one with the biggest mouth
  • Any place / He will play / His only concern is how much you’ll pay
  • If he shakes / On a bet / He’s the kind of dude that won’t pay his debt
  • Take my word / Please beware / Of a man that just don’t give a care
  • If we had less of him / Don’t you know we’d have a better land
  • He’s Misstra Know-It-All (Look out he’s coming)

I find that last line quite chilling. Is this really what Cameron wants to be associated with? Was this done my accident or design? Let’s just hope that Cameron’s team are unaware of this song, since the alternative is that they know what they’re doing and they are giving themselves an option so that at some point in the future, as Cameron’s premiership dissolves in a solution of derision and resentment, they can turn around, refer us to that famous phrase from his historic 2008 conference speech, and say “well the clues were all there; don’t say we never warned you”.

Now, you may violently disagree with the conclusion that I have drawn here. If so then I respect that and I will know what you’re thinking; that this is just lazy blogging, that I’m being unfair and dismissive. Fair enough; but all I will say is that in all honesty, while I agree that both Talking Book and Songs In The Key Of Life are excellent works in their own right, I genuinely think that Innervisions just about has the edge.

Press Release

Nonplussed Records is proud to announce the release next week of the eagerly anticipated second album from multi-platinum singer/songwriter James Bland.
Two years ago James rocked the world of music public relations when his debut album – eponymously titled, so exhibiting a level of imagination and originality for which he would rightly become renowned – was released in a unique and ground-breaking flurry of promotion utilising unsolicited SMS messages, viral marketing through videos on YouTube, an interview on BBC Breakfast, and the inclusion of certain key songs in the soundtracks of romantic comedies. Some in the music press quite inappropriately mentioned him in the same breath as Jeff Buckley, and his music enjoyed massive word-of-mouth popularity through being played in the background at countless parties, where it succeeded in neither disturbing the flow of conversation, nor causing anything beyond the very mildest of interest during the small talk sometimes required to fill one of those awkward, pregnant pauses you get.

James’ brand new album, “More Of The Same”, doesn’t so much build on the winning formula of his debut as simply cut and paste it. Of the sixteen tracks only eleven sound the same; existing fans will thrill to the inoffensive nothingness of the new songs that will steadfastly refuse to threaten or challenge preconceptions, while the very best his critics will manage is a lazy, world-weary shrug. Many of the tracks are guaranteed to be instantly forgotten the moment they are heard, and in the highly unlikely event that they don’t all just blur into one another it is probable that they will only be referred to, if ever, as simply “track four”, “the new single”, “that one they use on the Halifax advert” and “the last song on the CD, you know, the long boring one that goes on forever, that feels as if it will never finish, and then has a false ending”, rather than by their actual titles.

The album is preceded by the release of the single “This Year’s Dido”, which music scholars will instantly notice is in the same key and features an identical chord progression to all of James’ previous songs; his fans won’t notice this but they will still find the new song delightfully “hummy”. Hastily remixed with the addition of some jingle bells, and released not at all coincidently just before Christmas so as to maximise its potential to be purchased as an unwanted present by the sort of thoughtless buyer who is unaware of their friends’ musical taste and who forgets to keep receipts and so cannot return the CD but may instead buy a different recording by another Nonplussed artist to placate the original disgruntled recipient, “This Year’s Dido” is being released in as many formats as we think we can get away with.

Both “More Of The Same” and “This Year’s Dido” are available though Amazon, HMV and all good record shops, but for some strange reason not via the very poorly laid-out record company website, which concentrates on lots of flash animation at the expense of usability, and also features all sorts of pointless JavaScript gubbins that means each page takes an absolute age to load, resulting in a website that is actually completely useless in any practical sense.

I Want A Rainbow Nation

I didn’t pre-order my download of Radiohead’s new album In Rainbows because I didn’t want the frustration of receiving my username and passcode weeks before just to be frustrated on the day when the website inevitably crashed under the weight of so many hits and downloads. So as it was I just popped along yesterday morning on the off chance, swiped my credit card through the honesty box, and a few moments later I was listening to my favourite band’s seventh studio album. And a good job I did it that way too; when I checked the website later in the afternoon it was running as slow as a pig. By nighttime it was down completely.

And? Well on first listening In Rainbows is just fantastic. It kicks off with the sort of scattergun staccato drumbeat intro that tells us we’re in welcome and familiar territory, before settling down into an opening track that at times sounds like Doves, at other times seems reminiscent of late Talk Talk (which can be no bad thing) and that soon had me jigging around my kitchen (not what one expects from Radiohead. Or from me for that matter.) From there on in it seems quite the most instantly likeable Radiohead album since OK Computer, which may or may not be a good thing; with Kid A it took me a while to work out what the hell was going on, but it is now probably my favourite Radiohead album, while Hail To The Thief was more immediately accessible, but repeated listening revealed that after a great start it sags at about the quarter-way point, before picking up majestically towards the end. Overall, though, and interestingly considering the unconventional way it has been released, In Rainbows sounds more like one complete, flowing album rather than just a collection of individual songs bunged together as Amnesiac and (to a lesser extent) Hail To The Thief seemed to me. Often sounding pared down and minimalistic, and with more use of acoustic instruments than I rememeber previously, In Rainbows is not a radical shift or quantum leap as Kid A or OK Computer were, but it is rather a wonderful continuation of the unique brand of music Radiohead have been exploring down the years. Best of all, there appears no equivalent of “Treefingers” or “Fitter Happier” present to make you leap instantly for the skip button.

As is often the case with a brand new album it can be difficult to pick out your favourite songs at first, it can take time to isolate the individual standouts track from the album as a whole, not least of all because being without a CD cover to peer at and pore over while listening makes is harder to associate each song with its title at first; squinting at the LCD display on my MP3 player without the backlight doesn’t really do it. But perhaps it’s just me; I still find it takes me longer to become familiar with CDs today when compared with the old vinyl LPs of my youth, where you could play side one to death before gradually discovering and falling in love with the second side. Ah, the ceremony of easing the precious record out of the paper inner sleeve you have been studying on the bus all the way back from Woolworths, holding the delicate black vinyl horizontally between your fingertips, carefully reaching forward while blindly trying to locate the pin in the centre of the turntable and placing the album flat down, then gently resting the stylus on the spinning disc, the buzz and crackle as the needle seeks the groove, then the anticipation, the waiting for the new sounds the pristine recording will reveal. I miss it all, I really do.

Much has been made of the unusual way this album has been made available, for people to pay as much or as little as they like for it, and I think it could make an interesting study for a psychologist or perhaps a sociologist (I don’t really know the difference) to question what motivated each individual to pay what they did; as you have to provide your contact details prior to downloading I’m sure it could be arranged quite easily. Take Justin’s embarrassment in saying that after listening to it he is “now quite ashamed at the piffling amount I paid for it” while Swiss Toni excuses paying nowt because he felt he was owed after shelling out £30 for a crap Radiohead gig a few years ago; “debt paid, I would say” he concludes. I imagine an erring on the side of caution instinct predominates; better to pay too little and feel guilty than too much and feel like a fool (and where because you have chosen the price yourself you can’t even displace your grievance by complaining that you’ve been ripped off.) For myself, I paid a rather insulting £1, that with the 45p admin charge means it cost me about as much as my first 7” singles when I was a kid. My motivation was simply that, as I still like to own the tangible product, I reckoned I would eventually want to buy In Rainbows when it comes out on CD, and I’m damned if I’m going to pay full price twice for something I could get for free; at the same time I wasn’t sure I would like the album enough to stretch to the £40 being charged for the special discbox set. £1.45 seemed a fair down payment to sample what was on offer.

And so what was the upshot? Well after listening to the album several times I liked it so much that I went back onto the website (hence how I know it started running slow and finally crashed later in the day) and eventually, this morning, I went and ordered the £40 box set anyway. So I’ll get my 2 sides of vinyl after all (well, 4 sides actually) and another collectors’ item to continue my run of Kid A (with the hidden pamphlet in the box) Amnesiac (which came in the form of a “damaged” library book; even more damaged now after my young son ripped off the front page a few years back) and Hail To The Thief (packaged to resemble a town plan map). This means that it will be the third consecutive Radiohead album I possess that won’t fit in my CD rack. Hoorah! Is it sad to still be a bit of a record collector at my age? I think so, but at least The Boo Radleys have split up, so that particular pressure to purchase everything they ever released in every possible format has eased.

If you haven’t already downloaded In Rainbows, then I do recommend it. Sure, as a fan I’m biased, but this time what have you got to lose? Even if you don’t trust me, when was the last time you could guarantee value for money when buying a brand new album, or indeed anything? If in doubt just get it for free; go on, I’m sure they won’t mind.

Gift-Wrapped

And a Happy New Year. If I know you like I think I do then you’re no doubt anxiously awaiting the latest instalment in The Obscurer Awards; so worry not, they’ll be along here soon enough. Just be patient, give me a chance, and I’ll drag some opinions out from somewhere in the next week or so.

In the meantime here is my gift to you; undoubtedly the best band of the year performing a cover version of surely one of the finest pop songs in recent years.

I shit you not.

PostScript: Coming soon…a post that is more than a photo or video clip. Perhaps.

Outstanding

Paul never wrote a blog – I’m not sure he knew what one was, and I never told him about this thing – but if he had done I think you would have liked it. I suppose the nearest he got to it was writing an album review of Kenny Thomas’ The Best on Amazon a few years ago.

It was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek review; Mr Thomas blighted an otherwise merely shit night for everyone in Stockport’s legendary Coco Savannah Night Club a good few years ago when he appeared on stage unadvertised to sing three tunes, one of which was merely a reprise of his first song. Now called Heaven And Hell, Coco’s is but a stone’s throw from where Paul chose to take his life.

Anyway, I loved Paul’s review, so here it is in its entirety, and for posterity. Just see what you make of it, and see what we are all missing.

What KT Did

This Best Of compilation serves as a timely reminder to fans of why Kenny was such a musical force and gives non-devotees a chance to sample his gloriously soulful vocal talents.

Of the 16 tracks here only 11 sound the same and KT still manages to infuse each one with passion, wit and meaning ( and dare I suggest magic as well? ) He is by turns smooth balladeer, playful seducter and even raucous groove-meister.

“Tender Love” sees our Kenny at his most visionary. I wonder just how many couples have fallen in or out of love to this haunting number? I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom this song holds precious memories. Kenny’s touching delivery will always remind me of that special weekend in Runcorn.

In the hands of a lesser talent ( Michael Bolton, Marvin Gaye etc ) “Trippin’ on your love” could be bland and forgettable drivel but Kenny lifts the song (and our spirits) with his stirring performance. As my parents generation used to say he truly does have “the groove” going on.

KT answers any suggestion that his sound is nothing more than watered down imagination-free pap with the sublime “Stay”, the delightful “Best of You” and the club party within a song that is “De Grooveski”.

All this plus the opening track- “Outstanding”- the hit that first brought KT to the attention of a grateful public. How many superlatives can be hurled at this great number?Any description I could think of would barely do it justice – suffice it to say it simply remains the glittering crown in Kenny’s family jewels, the creme de menthe of his blistering career.

I urge everyone to buy this CD or one quite like it. Let’s hope “Best Of” returns Kenny Thomas to the forefront of pop/soul/disco/karaoke – where he rightly belongs.

Here’s looking at you, our kid.