Burn it all Down

Lyrics

Setting a fire to the bones of the town
Sometimes she feels she could burn it all down
And just leave here
They don’t believe her

Watching the flames reflect in her eyes
Burning the truth along with the lies
Is this feeling
Really freedom?

Shatter the windows
Flatten the doors
She doesn’t care what happens here any more

Tomorrow the sun will rise
Over smouldering ruins
It doesn’t matter at all to her
Cos tomorrow’s another day
And she won’t even see it

Watching her eyes in glittering gold
She looks so young but her soul is so old
And she’s leaving
Always leaving

Taking her hand in the charcoal glass
She’s burning the future along with the past
So lonely
Oh so lonely

Tomorrow the sun will rise
Over smouldering ruins
It doesn’t matter at all to her
Cos tomorrow’s another day
And she won’t even see it

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Pulp: Different Class (1995)


Pulp_-_Different_ClassNote:
 this post is part of the Britpop Album Showdown 
series.

If you were a reader of the music press in the early 90s, you probably already knew the name of Pulp or had absorbed it by osmosis. Long before Britpop was conceived, they’d been a staple of the indie scene. In fact, they’d been hanging around the place since 1978 without ever causing too many waves – their first three albums failing to gain them anything more than sympathetic coverage in the alternative press.

1994’s His ‘n’ Hers was their breakout record – with ‘Babies’ becoming an early Britpop classic single – but it was with Different Class that Pulp really hit the big leagues, supplanting Suede as one of the big three of the scene, along with Oasis and Blur. This album spawned three or four singles that still help to define the era, and made frontman Jarvis Cocker an awkward, gangly (and much parodied) icon.

Hailing from Sheffield – with its long tradition of being fashionably unfashionable – Cocker and Pulp added some earthy spice to the sometimes bland stew of Britpop.

In 1996 it was Cocker who invaded the stage during Michael Jackson’s messianic, overwrought performance of ‘Earth Song’ at the Brit Awards and mooned the audience. Those few seconds became the perfect distillation of the times, and reflected Pulp themselves – who even at the peak of their phenomenal success seemed to retain outsider status. If Blur could be adopted by the art crowd, and Oasis by football hooligans, then Pulp were harder to pigeonhole. Cocker’s appearance – artfully nerdy, wilfully cobbled together from second-hand boutiques from ironic fabrics – were the ne plus ultra of a certain brand of indie chic that eventually birthed the adoption of ‘nerd’ as a badge of honour rather than an unhappy epithet.

But enough! We’re not here to talk about Pulp’s long and storied career, we’re hear from the music. So let’s hop in.

1. Mis-Shapes

“Mis-shapes, mistakes, misfits – raised on a diet of broken biscuits…”

To anyone raised in the North – or possibly anywhere poor enough – during the 80s, broken biscuits were a staple feature of life (in fact, you can still get them now if you know where to look in the markets). The various local biscuit factories would bundle their broken products and wastage up into largish, unbranded bags and you could buy the equivalent of 4-5 packets of biscuits for a few pence. A perfect metaphor for the themes of the album to come is harder to imagine.

With these opening lines, Cocker makes it clear who this album is for and about: those who don’t easily fit into society, for whatever reason. His own concern – intimated in the album title, and writ large throughout the songs therein – is with social class, but the triumphant, revengeful chorus could stand for anything: gender. Sexuality. Race. Political affiliation.

The world is run by people “too bleeding thick” to know what to do with their own success and money, and one day the outsiders will come. The world is changing – the old tools of violence and physical strength being supplanted by intellect.

“We want your homes, we want your lives
We want the things you won’t allow us
We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombs
We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of, that’s our minds”

Musically, it deploys a few tricks that will run through this album. While the chords sequences are fairly classic, it is the arrangement and production that elevates the material. Chords stab. Guitars blare. Quiet verses contrast with loud, triumphant choruses.

By no means the strongest song on the album, it is a great appetiser for what’s to come.

2. Pencil Skirt

Class and outsider status is one of two themes seared into the heart of Different Class. The other?

Sex.

Wanting it. Having it. Not having it. Those who fuck, and those who do not.

Or, in this case, using it as a kind of vicarious revenge. If Mis-shapes sold the idea of an intellectual overthrow of bland normality, Pencil Skirt paints of a scene of something older, more sordid. Sex as power. In hushed tones, Cocker paints the scene and invites us in.

Initially, the lifting of a skirt ‘like a veil’ suggests that the female has the upper hand in terms of agency, but the mood quickly turns darker. She’s engaged, but the protagonist promises to come around whenever her fiance is out of town to show her how she’s “doing it wrong.” Not only that, he’s turned on when she tells him to stop.

In the context of today’s moral panic about sexual licence, that probably reads as very problematic (to use the argot of the times) and in all honesty it’s hard not to read the song through that lens when looking at the last verse.

“I only come here cause I know it makes you sad yeah.
I only do it cause I know you know it’s bad.
Oh yes I know that it’s ugly and it shouldn’t be like that.
Oh but oh it’s turning me on.”

There is little here that is wholesome or uplifting. There are creepy hints that the woman in question is merely part of a power play (after all he’s also kissed her mother and is ‘working’ on her dad) but it also reads as real. Is she enjoying it despite herself? Is he genuinely coercing into something she doesn’t want? We never know. There is a creepy ambiguity behind those questions that the song never addresses. This is the viewpoint of the protagonist, and he is getting exactly what he wants, and she is merely the subject of his whims.

3. Common People

It would be impossible to talk about either Britpop or Pulp without this – one of the totemic musical outputs of the decade. As ‘Wonderwall’ was to Oasis and ‘Parklife’ to Blur, so Common People is the song for which Pulp will always be known. And with good justification, for this is a rare example of a ‘perfect’ pop song: lyrics that are both cute and clever, somehow brimming with depth while remaining accessible enough for people to shout in unison at parties. Behind it all, a narrative storyline delivered via an indelible melody. Put simply, if you don’t like this song you should be rounded up and sent to be worked to death in the salt mines.

It almost seems redundant to review, such is the ubiquity of the song, but a quick recap for those at the back.

It takes the form of a semi-autobiographical story in which Cocker is a working class lad who falls in with a rich girl at college who romanticises working class life and longs to break away from her indulgent lifestyle to experience things like shopping in a supermarket, smoking fags, getting a job. But of course, she never really can know what that is like. It is a sort of social safari for her.

Protected by the aura of privilege, she will never really understand what it is like to see her life spiral out of control. There will always be a backstop. A rescue only ever a phone call away. She can enjoy the thrill of living with cockroaches for a week, but could

Of course, there is huge amounts to enjoy in the trashing of this girl’s worldview. Who doesn’t want to see a pampered Princess get her comeuppance from a solid, working lad?

But, peel away the corner and there’s a hint again of moral ambiguity. He may well be ‘poor’ in the context of the story, but he is still attending St. Martin’s College. And there is nothing in her behaviour that is actually worthy of condemnation. Yes, she is slumming it while at college, but is that worthy of such vitriol? Should she be laughed at for the ‘stupid things’ she does because she is the fish out of water in this tale?

Imagine the reverse – a rich girl singing about how hilarious it is to see a working class lad trying to act properly at a fancy society ball – and the vicious, mean spirit of the song is laid bare. And yet? You sing along triumphantly, swept along by that chorus and the gradual acceleration of tempo (which I’ve never timed). Cocker goads us into hating this girl who has done nothing more than be born wealthy and tried to mix in with the people on her course.

The theme of revenge is now three songs old, and if you thought Pulp were fluffy and lightweight hopefully you’re becoming disabused of that idea. These are resentful, troubling topics.

If there is a criticim in context of this review, it’s that the single version is far superior to the album cut. The final verse is too on-the-nose (“everybody hates a tourist,
Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh”), largely extraneous and deprives the song of its relentless push towards its climax by pausing for a needless breath.

Nonetheless a triumph of misanthropy, richly deserving its place in the pantheon of Great British Pop Singles.

4. I Spy

Were we just talking about the theme of revenge? Well… about that.

“I’ve been sleeping with your wife for the past sixteen weeks
Smoking your cigarettes
Drinking your brandy
Messing up the bed that you chose together
And in all that time I just wanted you to come home unexpectedly one afternoon
And catch us at it in the front room
You see I spy for a living
And I specialize in revenge”

It doesn’t come much more explicit and vicious than that. It is the fantasy of a man done down by the world – imagining scenarios in which he is the victor over those that have done him down. Sleeping with their wives as a final, contemptuous flourish and…

…remember me mentioning ‘problematical’ a thousand words or so ago? What do you think now? Is Jarvis Cocker the friendly nerd as presented in his videos – merely playing a role, or is there actually a genuine undercurrent to all this? When I was reviewing Parklife, I started to feel that Damon Albarn was almost snide in his mockery of the ordinary lives he depicted in his songs. Is Cocker above that criticism because he mooned Michael Jackson?

I love this album – probably more than any other album of the time – and I’ve always enjoyed the misanthropy that’s apparent throughout – but really thinking about these lyrics as part of an extended exercise, do I feel a little unease about them? Yes? Maybe? I guess. The woman here is presented as another challenge for Cocker to overcome as part of his hatred of those who ‘made it out’ of the ‘worst place in the world’ – where he is still trapped.

Not to overstate things, but is there undercurrent of the ‘incel’ running through this? Just a thought.

5. Disco 2000

Probably the second most popular of Pulp’s hits, Disco 2000 is a narrative tale, building on much the same theme as I Spy (“I never knew that you’d get married… I would be living down here on my own”). Cocker’s character’s love for a girl from his childhood never abated. She has moved away, got married. Had kids. And he? Still living in the same area, obsessing about their shared adolescence – apparently unable to move on from his feelings for her.

You see, this song on the surface is very relatable: who doesn’t have a person from school that they always wanted and never got, and who even now creeps into their thoughts from time to time? Our first passions are often the strongest – and linger long in the memory. In a sense, we are all still able to slip back to our first kiss. Our first sex. The first face that made our hearts thump in that way.

But again, dig a little deeper into those lyrics. Obviously now the year 2000 is long behind us, but it’s clear that Cocker grew up in a time where the year 2000 was the distant future. And even as a lovelorn teenager, he was envisioning a time when he and his muse would meet there. If he never managed to win her heart at 14, perhaps things will be different when they meet up in their 30s.

So, underneath the nostalgic imagery of ‘woodchip on the walls’ and being ‘the first girl at school to get breasts’ there is deep, unsettling sickness. Unlike the preceding songs, however, Cocker gets it: it is he who is sad. She has gone on from the streets they used to walk together and found purpose and fulfillment, while he is trapped by himself, longing for somone who no longer exists.

Underneath that chipper, blandly nostalgic disco riffing is a bewildered sadness. That it is only truly apparent when you stop to really think about the lyrics is testament to the way Cocker is constantly blindsiding you. Clever – if unsettling – stuff.

A brilliant song.

6. Live Bed Show

In this dark, dramatic-sounding slice of realism is buried a thoughtful lyric, full of the power that regret and loss can exert over our lives.

The songs to date have all been from the first person – with Cocker acting as narrator of his own story – but here he steps outside a woman’s life to examine her story with a tenderness and empathy that was barely hinted at in the album so far.

The bed is a brilliant extended metaphor for her life. At first, it saw action every night – the headboard banging on the wall as she and her lover had passionate sex. But now – 7 years later – it bears witness to the ‘silences of now’. She doesn’t have to leave bed for any reason, but she can’t bear to be in it – as it is haunted by the presence of someone who is no longer there, and the memories that were made between its sheets.

Perhaps the most brilliant of lines in the song is Cocker’s observation that:

“If this show was televised
No one would watch it”

Unlike the other songs to press, there is no triumphant chorus to lend an upbeat air. It’s still a beautiful melody, but feel of sighing, descending notes. A perfect match for the lyrics, and songwriting of the first order.

7. Something Changed

Hard to be objective about this. It’s a song so close to musical perfection, yet crouched in a lyrical conceit that is almost beyond rationality – but that rings true all the more for it. The closest analogy for it I can think of is the line “what do you see when you turn out the light? I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine” from The Beatles’ With a Little Help from my Friends. It makes perfect sense, but also defies easy explanation.

Back to the song then. It is the most beautifully delivered song on the album, with none of the archness with which some of the other words are sung elsewhere. No histrionics – just a carefully sung, beautiful phrase paean to the power of love that has lasted (again a dramatic change in tone from the opening few numbers). Deceptively simple, it achieves a graceful ‘lift’ in the chorus with a slightly unusual progression (C – D – Bm – E) that is swept along by strings towards a climax that never quite arrives, but instead is undercut with the bathetic observation that ‘something changed‘.

The lyric itself defies easy categorisation, and is structured like an M.C. Esher painting. The opening line alone should tell you why that is. “I wrote this song two hours before we met.” He is addressing someone in the present tense, yet in a song that was written before they’d ever met. It is almost impossible to make rational sense of it, but it is this uncertainty that so brilliantly informs the rest of the lyric.

If he’d stayed at home, or she’d changed her mind, the pair would never have met. But they did. Cocker muses about the chance that ‘someone up above’ could be directing affairs – that, in effect, they were fated to be together. A more stark contrast the vindictiveness of the first couple of songs is harder to imagine.

Cocker wonders about other fates. Perhaps if things had panned out differently, he would be singing this song to another person. That again suggests that the song pre-existed the love it describes. If you were going to be boring about it, you might think that perhaps the melody existed before the words, and it is only now that the full song comes together. This could be allegorical of the way we imagine love before we ever experience it.

However you choose to approach the song, nothing can detract from it. To me, this is simply unimpeachable songwriting at a level that very few artists ever attain, and one of the crowning moments in British pop writing.

8. Sorted For E’s and Wizz

Given the last song’s bewildering and bewildered construction, it is apt that this song deals with the discombobulation associated with drugs. Briefly excoriated by the tabloids for glorifying drug use, it is in fact an almost finger-wagging excoriation of the rave culture (ask your mum) that still permeated the British music scene into the 90s following the ‘Second Summer of Love (ask your grandma).

At the time, the celebratory aspect of Britpop was already spilling over into the scene in general. Oasis revelled in their drug consumption, and paraded it as part of their identity as hedonists. The likes of the Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers clearly sprang from a dance scene that had always been closely associated with drugs. Meanwhile, Blur and Suede alike were dabbling with cocaine and even heroin, either for artistic exploration or wilful self-indulgence depending on your viewpoint.

Cocker clearly looked askance at this and asked the question that many people have asked: are those drug-fuelled experiences ‘real’?

Of course, that begs a question in turn first asked by the psychedelic bands of the 60s and 70s which, boiled down is: “who knows – or cares?”

For a band normally considered subversive on other grounds, it’s perhaps surprising to find Cocker quietly aligning himself against this particular branch of hedonism. Whether through genuine fear of the potential side effects (“what if you never come down?”) or just the general milieu of the drugs scene (“I seem to have left an important part of my brain somewhere…. Somewhere in a field in Hampshire”) it’s clear that Cocker sees artifice in drug taking that minimises actual human emotion.

All of this quiet moralising is, however, delivered with a gentle touch and a humourous eye for detail (buying tickets from some fucked up bloke and only then realising you don’t even know where the event is). Despite this preaching, the song was taken to heart by a whole generation of festival goers. They either didn’t see the irony, or simply enjoyed its tune.

9. F.E.E.L.I.N.G. C.A.L.L.E.D. L.O.V.E.

At this point, Different Class makes a sudden leftward turn from the natural ‘warmth’ of to a sonic landscape of icy, dramatic synths that has more in common with the abstract cool of David Bowie’s Berlin than the sprightly pop that most people probably associate with Pulp. In fact, Sheffield has a long tradition of electronic synth music – and it is little wonder that this seeped through into Pulp’s music throughout their career: it’s just a lot more explicit here than anywhere else on the album.

If the musical setting is very different to Something Changed, it should be no surprise that the lyric too is almost diametrically opposed to that song’s swooping, irrational romanticism. Here, ‘love’ is viewed sceptically. It’s an inconvenience. A man trapped in a room, beyond which everything suddenly feels distant, unfamiliar. As if he’s groping to connect with a world that no longer makes sense, because love – it transpires – is all consuming and painful. It is something he physically feels: cold. Slightly sick in the stomach.

There is a creeping claustrophobic helplessness near. And this is a very different exploration of what love can be. It can lift, but it can also destroy. This song’s tonal and lyrical ambiguity is beguiling strange – especially set against its predecessor, which as we have seen is concerned with the dehumanising aspect of drug use.

It’s a point I’ve made before in these pages, but this really serves to highlight how the death of the album as a format affects the way you hear a song. On ‘shuffle’, or randomly stumbled upon, this could be enjoyed or not just at random. But in the context of this album, in this running order it makes sense. A narrative theme has emerged – an overarching sense of time and place that is lost entirely when not played in order.

That’s an aside to the main theme of this write up, which is: this is album is fucking great, and should be listened to as its makers intended.

10. Underwear

An oft-quoted line from this sticks in my head from the 90s: “if fashion is your trade, then when you’re naked I guess you must be unemployed.” It’s a great little throwaway line from a song that serves nicely to lighten the mood after Feeling Called Love (you see? Albums are designed).

Musically, this is almost parodic of Pulp’s own oeuvre: a rollicking step up for the chorus, and a return to the themes of the earliest songs on the album: slightly illicit sex in emotionally confusing circumstances. It’s sex that is both wanted but also unexpected.

There’s a subtle inversion of Pencil Skirt here, in that the protagonist literally couldn’t stop it now, even as they wonder how the hell they ended up in a stranger’s room. As Cocker observes here, sometimes our need for sex overcomes our common sense, and we are oftentimes at the mercy of our biological urges – even when we know or suspect we shouldn’t be doing what we are doing.

11. Monday Morning

A great number that dwells on a themes already touched on earlier, while changing up the musical style to incorporate dramatic rock flourishes, ska, and a grand, sweeping chorus. In a way, not only do the lyrics act as a kind of shorthand for the rest of the album, but the music itself is also a kind of summation.

“There’s nothing to do so you just stay in bed,
Oh poor thing,
Why live in the world when you can live in your head?”

Those words could easily apply to the characters inhabiting Sorted for E’s and Wizz or Live Bed Show, and throughout the song, we are almost taken on a whistle stop tour of what’s gone before.

Cocker self-knowingly references the lyrical themes from earlier songs, acknowledging that he is trapped by the past.

I just can’t seem to spend a night at home,
’cause my friends left town,
And I’m here all alone

Before exhorting himself to change and to move. The moment when Cocker practically shouts ‘go!’ in this moment is perhaps the most exciting musical segment on the album – something in the timing is always surprising – a little like when Ben Gardener’s severed head falls out of the hole in the boat in Jaws. Great stuff.

Stomach in,
Chest out,
On your marks,
Get set, go.
Now, now that you’re free,
What are you going to be?

12. Bar Italia

Confession: I’ve never quite warmed to this song. I’ll try to explain why. Firstly, the lyrical theme seems to tread very closely on the heels of Monday Morning – which has only just finished. Like that song, the protagonist is urging someone to move on from a night out… and that’s actually a metophor for life… and which frankly seems kind of redundant given the content of the previous song.

Of course, lyrics are only one part of the story, but the song itself feels… slight to me. I mentioned earlier that Underwear is almost self-parodic of the Pulp sound, but Bar Italia practically taps its nose at you, and I’ve always thought it was a bit of a shame for the album to close in this way.

I can’t help but feel that both songs were in the running to close the album, the band were unable to decide, and almost flipped a coin to see which one would close proceedings. It’s an odd bum note on which to finish the album for me, given that Monday Morning is more musically alert and lyrically satisfying.

When I get around to reviewing Black Grape’s It’s Great When You’re Straight, Yeah you’ll find that I am similarly irrationally irritated by the closing song. I guess it’s because I feel so strongly about these albums that ending them on a slightly undercooked song seems to be a bit of a betrayal.

This isn’t to see this track is bad, or undermines the magnificence of the achievement of the album as a whole, just that it’s a little underwhelming and feels more of an afterthought than a triumphant exit.

In conclusion….

It’s hard for me to judge this album objectively. I regularly dust it off and revisit it – more than any other album of the era really – so clearly by this stage I find it hard to put any distance between myself and it.

That being said, as an album it is a triumph. If Oasis relished their life as hedonistic working class lads, and Blur cocked a snook at the same, then Pulp occupied the complicated middle ground between. Jarvis Cocker’s writing is full of both darkness and light, misanthropy and hope. Sometimes, the misanthropy threatens to overwhelm all else, but you are never more than a couple of minutes away from some delightful couplet, hilarious line, or moment of self-mockery. It is this mix of archness and sincerity that makes Different Class such a deep and resilient work of art. But even putting the lyrics to one side, it is packed with musical adventure, and a rich sonic palette that is always at the service of the underlying song, rather than being a self-conscious display as you sometimes feel listening to Blur.

A triumph.

Would You Just Walk Away?

I’ve got nothing to venture
I’ve got nothing to gain
From looking for pleasure
While I’m drowning in pain

They say I’m not sorry
And I won’t shoulder the blame
But my burden’s a bucket
Brimful of shame
I can’t even say how much it weighs

And if I told you my secret
Would you stay? Would you just walk away?
And then I look in your eyes
And I tell you a lie
‘Cos if I told you the truth
I’m scared that you’d just say goodbye

I hide behind smiles
That I don’t really feel
Half of my feelings
Aren’t even real
I can’t even tell which ones are me

So if I told you my secret
Would you stay? Would you just walk away?
So then I look in your eyes
And I tell you a lie
‘Cos if I told you the truth
I’m scared that you’d just say goodbye

Goodbye….

Still writing, shipmates.

Despite despising country music as a concept – and being appalled by most of its leading practitioners – it sometimes comes out as a sonic aesthetic when I’m writing. Years of listening to the Stones will do that to a man. So much so, in fact, that I’ve amassed enough songs at this end of the pitch to contemplate it as the tonal pallet for my third album. Christ alone knows I’m sad enough at the moment to pump out a dozen such maudlin songs without breaking a sweat.

Perhaps, subconsciously I feel more at home in the genre than I do in the blues because I am a lardy white Yorkshireman, it seems less… fraudulent to play with the genre a bit. It’s hard to sing the Chicago blues while looking out of your conservatory window at a trampoline, for example.

Like all singers, I hate my voice, and this early version exposes it quite a lot – it’s very ‘naked’ but on the other hand, the feelings of the lyric are very naked too. It’s just an honest recording.

Now, there are still gaps to be filled – particularly the instrumental passage (for which I have no answers, despite hours fruitlessly noodling on guitar and piano) but there’s enough about this unadorned, roughish take that I thought I’d preserve it before it ends up having more polish. A little glimpse into the process, if you like.

And that concludes this week’s episode of What The Fuck Am I Doing?

Infra Dig

Well it’s here, I guess. Not that you should write home about it or anything – I’m not Radiohead; just a prick with a couple of guitars and an iPad. As befits my crippling lack of self-belief, I’m half proud and half appalled by it. Whatever I feel about it though, it will soon be available on your favourite online music store or streaming service and I guess I’m proud of the fact that I’ve made it that far.

I learnt a lot making Up on the Downside (buy your copy today! Home taping is killing music!) and this second album has, not surprisingly, come a lot quicker as a result. Now I know where the knobs are I’ve found it a lot easier to turn something round from a half-strummed idea into a relatively finished product. When I released that album, I was hoping to have this one done by Easter, so I wasn’t even that far out with my guesstimate. In fact, had I not wanted a competent guitarist to play a few solos here and there it’d probably have been done earlier.

Christ this is dull already isn’t it? Soz. The truth is that I’ve talked the individual tracks to death as and then they’ve been completed, so I don’t really want to go over all that old shit again. One thing I will note though, is that this time round there are two instrumental tracks (conveniently obviating the need to write lyrics) and a couple of songs that date back a few years and thus were more about the mechanics of recording than the act of creation.

Nonetheless, even though I’m a flaming shitpile of a person with a sense of self-worth somewhere next to zero, having two albums to my name feels like…. something. I’ve never managed to finish writing a book, or do a decent painting, but this is a thing I’ve actually managed to do in snatched hours here and there, and with little to no formal skill or training.

Next up? Well. I have THREE potential works in the pipeline:

  • “Fallen Women” – an EP of half a dozen or so songs I’ve written over the years about tragic women. That’s not a purposeful thing, but it’s occurred to me while I’ve been cataloguing my songs recently. In fact, the first fruit of this endeavour is Florence Rey, which I finished just this weekend.
  • A ‘country’ album (I KNOW) – over the years I’ve written a fair few songs at the country/blues/folk end of the pitch and that seem like they might fit together to create a sort of relaxed, easy going album of sorts. I’ve already partially done a few of them, so it seems likely that this will be my next stop on the journey. If you want a sense of what it might sound like, have a listen to this.
  • And what I am (no joke) titling “Generic Indie Album” – which is/will be comprised of a number of songs I’ve written that may or may not be any good (depending on your taste) but I’ve always felt to be a bit… well… generic indie. Here‘s a preview of what that will sound like. I’ve even got some suitably generic indie cover art. In a way, you might consider it to be a concept album of sorts.

So that’s my 2018 sorted then.

Florence Rey

Exactly how Britpop Anthem do you wanna get? Because I got you covered.

1994 (is it really that long ago?) I am flicking through the Sunday Times, when a story from France catches my eye. A young woman and her lover, Audry Maupin, had embarked on an inexplicable murder spree – leaving five people dead including Maupin himself. The woman’s name? Florence Rey.

 

Something about the story must have struck a chord with me, because this song tumbled out in response. After twenty four years, it’s hard to say what attracted me to the subject material. I guess it was probably the weirdly romantic nature of the couple’s relationship and their apparent determination to die together, chasing some kind of unknowable personal release. Around the same time, films like Natural Born Killers and Heavenly Creatures were exploring themes (fictional and real respectively) about doomed couples drawn to commit murder, so there was a brief moment of cultural resonance.

Anyway, we never recorded this song at the time, but it was one of two self-consciously ‘anthemic’ songs we deployed at gigs to close out the set, or to create a break from the breakneck lighthearted pop we were peddling at the time.

As such, it bears all the hallmarks of the kind of thing I was writing during this era: a very ‘classic’ set of chord changes that are fairly predictable with no twists or turns – just a very straightforward song, aimed directly at the football crowds.

At the time, I very much thought we had a crack at actually making it as a genuine band (we had little nibbles of interest from labels – including the fabled Creation Records) so I think I subconsciously wrote a lot of stuff with commercial appeal in mind. This would eventually drive the band to distraction because they wanted to be some kind of quirky experimental psychedelic act like The Beta Band, and all the while I was pumping out pop music in my own personal war against Cast and Embrace or whoever.

But – but! – there’s enough to this song for it to have remained in my heart ever since. Maybe every year or two I pick my way through it, and feel happy that I wrote it.

So when my cousin recently had a baby girl and told me he had chosen the name Florence Rae for her, it gave me the sudden impetus to put it down as a proper recording. Given its genesis in the mid 90s, it’s probably no surprise to find that the arrangement sounds very much of that era. I’m pleased as punch with it though – rolling bassline, flanged guitar, slide solo, close harmonies, generous lashings of reverb and all.

As an aside, I also have a plan to do an E.P. called “fallen women” – which conceptually this will fit very nicely into.

 

Everything I Want

Lyrics

I got everything I could
When the gettin’ was good
I had something on the side
I had a dirty, sweet ride

I had the world on a string (when you weren’t getting jack)
I took everything I want (you ain’t getting it back)
You bet the house on red when it came up on black
(Just like I knew that it would)

Now you watch me disappear
Every time that you get near
When you think I’m over there
When I’m really over here

I had the world on a string (when you weren’t getting jack)
I took everything I want (you ain’t getting it back)
You bet the house on red when it came up on black
(Just like I knew that it would)

I had everything I need
When I saw you on your knees
I had something on the side
I had a dirty, sweet ride

I had the world on a string (when you weren’t getting jack)
I took everything I want (you ain’t getting it back)
You bet the house on red when it came up on black
(Just like I knew that it would)

Now you watch me disappear
Every time that you get near
When you think I’m over there
When I’m really over here

I had the world on a string (when you weren’t getting jack)
I took everything I want (you ain’t getting it back)
You bet the house on red when it came up on black
(Just like I knew that it would)

Thoughts

One of my rare forays into the blues idiom, this song is – I guess – about what we call ‘The Rich’. Most blues songs are, of course, sung from the perspective of the poor man, so I flipped that idea on its head to write a sort of rich man’s blues.

And it’s actually pretty fucking mean-spirited: about a point of view that exults in the damage resulting from the general strip mining of the population that seems to have happened over the last 20 years. Power and wealth accumulates into a steadily smaller set of hands, and those hands seemingly belong to people who have little empathy for the people on whose wealth their own depends: potentates, oligarchs, the unaccountable gods of the tech sector – the people who offshore their money, hide their incomes, and enjoy ostentatious displays of their wealth and power in their playgrounds around the world (looking at you, London, for example).

I’m probably projecting a lot here: I imagine that the majority of the super wealthy probably pay their taxes, and do more good than they ever get credit for in terms of job creation, charity and so on, but at the same time – and I’m not exactly a fucking communist – the disparity of riches seems sometimes dizzying and bewildering.

Should someone who effectively runs a website – however efficiently – really be earning a million times what a cleaner, nurse, or optician does? You can make theoretical or moral arguments either way, but the last decade since the Great Financial Crisis (to which the song openly alludes) has seen, if anything, an acceleration towards a complete division between ‘the few’ and ‘the many’. It’s all part of the simmering ocean of bile that constitutes our popular culture, and yet there are no easy answers other than to beat on the door in rage until your fists are bloody.

So, I guess you’d say this song really comes from a place of misanthropy: another unhappy song about an unhappy subject.

Musically, it is more or less a minor twelve bar blues, enlivened by two double time instrumental interludes and some coruscating guitars that I didn’t play. I sort of like and hate this song at the same time – primarily because of the nastiness of the lyrics, which both appeals to and appalls me.

I’m ambivalent about my talents at the best of times, and this is the song of my output that troubles me: part idiomatic musical exercise, part incoherent screed, and part playfully groovy song.

I should probably get some sun, is what I’m saying.

 

Too Much to Take

Lyrics

There’s bound to be another little hole in the fence
Where the outside keeps getting in
I tried to patch it up with a wad of chewing gum
But they just keep clambering over

Too much to take
So many different colours
That it makes my head ache
All I want’s a slightly bigger piece of the cake
But they don’t seem to notice
‘Cos they’re all on the make
At least that’s what it said on my TV

But still they’re closing in
And I hear it every day
They just get closer and closer
I don’t say it for myself – just the state of all our health
Won’t somebody think of the children?

Too much to take
So many different colours
That it makes my head ache
All I want’s a slightly bigger piece of the cake
But they don’t seem to notice
‘Cos they’re all on the make
At least that’s what it said
At least that’s what I read
It’s not just in my head
It’s on TV!

Thoughts

I wrote this song in the early noughties (musically, you’d probably say it feels very much like a late ‘Britpop’ era track), when the BNP were enjoying a brief moment in the sun with an anti-immigration message that seemed wildly out of kilter with the general tenor of the times. With Labour seemingly set for an eternity in power, and a youthful acceptance that ‘British’ was a malleable construct that could now cheerfully include people of other races and religions the BNP looked like a last dying breath of ethno-nationalism that would soon vanish into the ether.

Well.

With a Labour leadership now bizarrely finding itself in lockstep with a ragged bunch of open anti-semites, Holocaust-deniers and conspiracy-peddlars, and the Tories unsurprisingly trapped by the increasingly-strident nationalist fantasies of their own lunatic racist wing (plus ca change...), I’m almost beyond despair to find myself disinterring this song after 15+ years and finding that it still has some resonance.

The lyrics are about the paranoia and fear that I think really exist at the back of every racist’s cupboard – when other, different people become an undifferentiated ‘they’, that’s when the field is open for people to lash out because of failings in their own life.

Not wealthy? It’s THEM. Your voice isn’t heard in the political discourse? It’s THEM. Your cultural reference points receding into the past to be replaced by alien concepts, unfamiliar faces and words? It’s THEM.

And so this song is basically an expression of that sort of mindset. The kicker? It’s been seen “on TV.” At the time I wrote this, I think the BNP had maybe just been on Question Time so this was on my mind, and whereas TV itself has become a much more diverse and inclusive medium, it’s hard not to think that the inflammatory nature of Nigel Farage’s constant appearances on Question Time, and his elevation to national status was a big contributory factor to the fractious tenor of debate and the emboldening of those with racist thoughts to ‘just speak their minds’. TV in a modern setting if, of course, a cipher for all mass media – social media…. the dreaded comments section….

It is all desperately, desperately sad.

I’ve tried to make the music fit the creeping paranoia of the lyrics, with atonal guitars, odd keyboard parts etc. and an outro that slides up through the relatively odd-sequence of F#, A, C, D underneath a mad guitar solo (not played by me played through an FX pedal I don’t even know the name).

So, an unhappy song in a lot of ways, and if you don’t find it particularly enjoyable it’s probably because it comes from an unenjoyable place. Soz.