Evan Dando & John Strohm review the week's singles
From Melody Maker 22nd March 1997
KING OF NEW YORK
Cool piano motif underpins
a relaxed, sassy vocal. Funky
wah-wah guitars wail like
we're still in thrall to the
patterns shift and shuffle
along. At least this one
doesn't lift that bleedin'
sample from "Pulp Fiction".
Evan: "This is great! These guys are modern in an un-annoying way. They have a really nice organic sound, although utilising recently developed ... technology.
Digitally-sampled stuff can sound cool! Drum machines can sound cool! This is probably going to be my Single Of The Week. Did this only just come out here?"
John: "I've met these guys. Yes, they're fun lovin'. Yes, they're criminal -criminally suave. The singer looks like Johnny Depp."
Evan: "I've got just three words to say about this song - histrionics."
This Way Up!
EVAN: "Can I sit up here? Yes. Can I smoke pot? Yes. Have you the vodka? Yes. Everyone knows that when Everett chucks you a bottle of vodka, you must drink. It's good straight, isn't it?"
The CD hasn't even been
slotted into the CD-player
before Evan's off and
rhapsodising about the McDonald brothers and
aesthetic. "Mess Around" is more Teenage Fanclub than even Superstar. Fine, if you like that kinda mellow Seventies rock vibe thang. Which The Lemonheads definitely do.
Evan: "I love those guys. First of
all, they made a movie called 'Love
Doll Superstar'. Also, 'Stoned' -their current US single -is the
direct descendent of Jonathan Richman's 'I'm Straight' - that
straight edge Boston vibe. This
sounds just Iike John Lennon."
John: "This is an improvement on their last few records. It's a little more songwriting-orientated and a little less style-orientated, not so full-on metal. Call it The Beatles,
call it Teenage Fanclub, call it what you like. It's the next generation down. It's cool."
Evan: "You can't review songs as you hear them. It's not fair at all to the artist, or the reader, or yourself. There's no time for justice."
MM: "There goes 14 years of reviewing technique out the window..."
The lady from St Etienne makes another antiseptic, vaguely trip hoppy record. Oh, it's pleasant enough - something Madonna might've released as an album filler back when she was cruising. It certainly wouldn't offend your grandmother if she came over and caught you making out to this.
Evan: "St Etienne are journos
turned rockers, right..?"
MM: "Well, sorta. I don't know if I'd use quite that word."
Evan: "... and you went the other way. Like Ralph Traitor and The Barracudas. These guys deserve no breaks. This girl probably reviewed our show at ULU in 1990. Oh, she wasn't a journo? Oh. I was going to lay into her there. Itwas some woman at The Maker, it was one of our first big London shows and she'd seen Fugazi the week before. 'Could've Been Bitter' was the headline. You know how you English like your word play... OK, so we probably weren't as good as f***ing Fugazi."
Evan ceases ranting for a second, and listens closer.
John: "I'd be happy to have that on while I was having breakfast. It wouldn'tdisturb my digestion. You could mop the floor to this."
Evan: "Well, Lord! There's nothing there, is there? I mean, don't get me right, don't get me wrong, don't get me either way... because I love shit like this, but I don't love stuff that has a real bad factor. Like Martika's
'Toy Soldiers'. Remember 'Toy Soldiers'? On first listen, this
doesn't grab me. Maybe after 50, I'll love it. That's my review. That's what music does to you. Look, I'm real un-disposed towards making negative comments about music. There are way worse things to do than put records out."
MM: "Talking of which,
here's the new Alisha's
Attic single... "
EVAN: "You don't really like
these guys, do you?"
MM: "Well, it might be good. Might be."
Evan: "OK. It's just that you looked at the CD like you thought they were really stupid."
MM: "Really?- (Slots CD into case. Presses play. A horribly drippy, sub-Alanis hippychick drone starts up.)
Evan: "Are there girls in the band? Cool. l like them better all the time. This is great! Chairs! I see chairs when I listen to this music. Is that the Cream song? Cos you know The Cardigans covered Black Sabbath's 'Iron
Man'. No? Oh well."
John: "This has the same kind of percussion as Kraftwerk.
And it sounds a little like The Spice Girls."
Evan: "That's such a double-handed stroke of Satan. I want to see more of those English reviews where the guy just talks about how bored he is, and he goes to the bathroom for a while, then he leaves thegig and goes home. Remember those?"
MM: "The record?"
Evan: "Hey, girls? You should listen to some more Sly & The Family Stone and BIack Flag."
John: "That song made me nervous. It made me very aware I was in a small room with a lot of bright lights."
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
YOU AM 1
Australian trio who kick
ass big-time. They also happen
to be The Lemonheads' current UK tour support. Live, You Am 1 are like a cross between prime-time Who (windmill arm movements n'all) and early Saints (intense Aussie mid-Seventies garage/punk band. On record, they're more like Kinks meet Mudhoney. Mod grunge, if you will. Rockin'!
Evan: "They're a real breath of
fresh air on today's music scene.
Like John opening the window
just now, they make the world feel
a whole lot less stuffy. I'd be way
more sad if You Am I didn't exist.
They're one of the main reasons
why this tour is happening. Sure,
I like playing in my band -I like
meeting girls and playing music and trying to find cool clothes and
taking drugs and seeing historical
monuments and stuff- but You
Am I are... one of the many Eighth
Wonders Of The World. I swear
to God, when I'd be feeling my
saddest and lowest on previous
tours, You Am I would make
everything OK. Single Of The
Week, by the way. John?"
John: "I know this'll sound over-the-top and everything, but.. . they're good. Seriously."
Most confusing, creepy trance/spoken word thang from the Scottish band who once got described as being like "Trainspotting", only for real. From over here, "The Clearing" sounds like a low rent, piano-led version of Tricky (with a Glaswegian accent). Nice!
John: "Do you think they think
that by releasing this as a single it's
going to be a big hit? I think they
might be sadly disappointed."
Evan: "It's cool. I think it's really good, but I can't make out what it's about. Is that a hungry lion mix there? Arab Strap's a great name. This is really pretty. It reminds me a little of Spaceman 3 or My Bloody Valentine or The Dark Side Of The Lemonheads. I love it when bands go, 'Krrrrrrhh.' Can I have this? This is so good, I don't even need to say nothing about it. They definitely don't need my stamp of approval - but they got it anyway. Arab Strap. Great name, great band... "
Looks at tape cover.
Evan: "Hey, it's being released the same date as our single - March 24. 'The Alanis Of Coincidence' f***s with us again. You know what 'The Alanis Of Coincidence' is, don't you? It's about how everything ties in with Alanis Morissette."
MM: "I interviewed her one time... "
John: "There are rumours that she's sexually perverted."
Evan: "She just likes to do it a lot with the same guy for 10 hours. What's wrong with that, John?"
John (thoughtfullyl: "You know you're really famous when weird, random people start talking about your sexual perversions."
Yes, it's that ABC. Sliding down the comeback trail once more with a single that sounds precisely like My Life Sto... I mean, ABC. Slick falsetto, sweeping strings and a mannered, early Eighties beat. Cool, if you were ever touched by "Lexicon Of Love" first time round. (I wasn't, particularly.)
Evan: "They're not exactly
trying to change their image,
are they? They sound and look
so Eighties, it's great. ABC. Hmm.
Like their name would imply, this
is just a bit too simplistic. It sounds
like Mazzy Star. I don't know these
guys. What was their big hit?"
MM: "'Poison Arrow'."
Evan: "No way! The Alanis Of Coincidence strikes again! I was going to sing that song karaoke, last night. When was the last time these guys made a record? Was it as long ago as the last Lemonheads record?"
John: "Why've ABC started releasing records again? What's that all about? Are they part of some trend over here? I'd like to thinkthey're doing this because they just can't help themselves, but this CD has no evidence to support that theory at all. It's not good. This whole affair is very suspect."
Evan: "It's only an EP, John. Don't get in a sweat about it."
EVERET TRUE'S SINGLE OF THE WEEK
PET SHOP BOYS
A RED LETTER DAY
Effortessly beautiful. Effortlessly melancholy/wistful/poignant/love-laden/smooth/soaring/ lachrymose (strike out that which does not apply). Effortlessly timeless. Why do critics keep harking back to the "perfect pop" era of the early Eighties when the most quintessentially perfect English pop group of all are still with us, still cruising on easy? Play a Pet Shop Boys song, and even a broken-down, graffitied-over wall in Tulse Hill can look beautiful.
Evan: "I have a certain respect
for Pet Shop Boys, which I don't understand. Maybe it's cos they,
too, are journos turned musos."
MM: "All punk rockers like Pet Shop Boys."
Evan: "There you go. That's the sweeping statement I was expecting from you. Hey, you know that band, Placebo? What are they all about? They've got a song called'Evil Dildo'. That's my nickname. They can't use that. Anyway, Pet Shop Boys. I respect their production values. They have someone who's really on the ball at the mastering lab. Let's check this record out... (listens for a moment or two)... I keep expecting this to go into
'When Will I See You Again?'."
John: "If it did, this'd be Single Of The Week, definitely."
Evan: "OK. It's a wrap. Everyone loves Pet Shop Boys. It glistens, it ambles . .. no, it does not amble. It marches and glistens. Is that enough? It's f***ing timeless dance music, but you might want to categorise it under the heading 1997."
Lemonheads' other tour support. l try to put one across the two musicians by refusing to tell them who the CD's by...
Evan: "What's this? Oh, guitar rock, great. Perhaps it's the
Pumpkins. Or Pavment! I saw
awesome... (listens closer)... I know this. It's all of the above! It's
She! Our tour manager recorded
this song. It's She ripping off the
Smashing Pumpkins song which
rips off Sonic Youth. Whoah. Let
me clear my head. I don't want to
say 'rip off'. 'Influenced by'. You
know The Smashing Pumpkins
got huge? Did you know that?
No, but did you? I danced onstage with Billy Corgan at Madison Square Garden."
MM: "That's it. I'm walking."
Evan: "Are She early in their development? They sound like when, early on in my musical career, ! used to try to write too many parts to one song. My advice to them would be to simplify. Remember how, when you first wrote a song, it'd have 17 parts and still need a bridge? That's She."
John: "Can I just say I think She are a very daring, bold band, because they're English, but they're not taking their cues from British music. That's respectable stubbornness for you. "
MM: "1 don't care. I'm still walking. Billy Corgan - how could you, Evan?"
I try explaining to the 'Heads the whole Michelle Gayle/'EastEnders"-star becomes-respected-soul-singer story, but it seems to pass right over their heads...
Evan: "Is she related to Crystal? I'm not going todiss her, right. Crystal Gayle was pretty big in our country. This is the single? OK, brace yourself, John, here she comes... "
A gospel-tinted, bluesy soul ballad slinks and slithers out the speakers. its gotta be said that Michelle has one cool, sensuous sweep of a voice.
Evan: "I would hope that she's
gonna rhyme 'sensational' with 'inspirational'. All right. Cool. What's that you said, John? 'Is she a white person?"
John: "She doesn't sound white at all."
MM: "She isn't."
Evan: "We prefer black singers. Let's face it, most of the best singers are black. Etta James! Etta James is so awesome! White singers are vocally challenged. Michelle Gayle's got a real pretty voice. She should ditch the production, though."
John: "Yeah. She's way too cool to be white."
Evan and John listen, impressed, as I explain the story behind "Your Woman", surely the coolest, strangest Number One since The Specials "Ghost Town". (All right, l might exaggerate.)
Evan: "Wow! Cool, cool, cool. Don't you love when stuff like that happens? Hey! I'm excited, put it on."
A slinky, laidback dance groove thang slimes and smooches its way out the speakers, topped by a high pitched female voice. This is kinda like "Your Woman", only minus the riveting sample. Expect it to reach Number 23.
Evan: "Digital computer technology art. Cool. Is that him
singing? He doesn't sing, even?
This is confusing the hell out of
me. What is that sample in the
background that's so awesome?
Is it a sample? Do people dance
to this? How? Sitting down? Is
this as deep as it sounds?"
MM: "Hey, don't get in a sweat about it, Evan. It's only a single."
Evan: "It's not something I can judge and process very easily. I'd like to get to the bottom or the top or whatever of who the heck is singing. All I'm saying is, two thumbs, way up! I've got five words for this - White Town are a very subtle band."
MM: "Have you ever dabbled in home recordings, Evan?"
Evan: "Yeah. l think so. l used to as a kid - cardboard boxes, untamed, distorted amplifiers and vocals fuzzy from singing too close to the microphone. It didn't sound like that guy from - who was it? - White Town, though. It was much more organic. I'm hindered by my inability to work a computer. We'll see. We'll see. There's always a future... well, I hope. I'd love to dabble in dance."
SINGLE OF THE WEEK
FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE
Rather dull, mid-American
collegiate jangle which
sounds precisely like the
other 37,301 rather dull,
mid-American bands who
grew up loving Brian Wilson
and (yawn) Alex Chilton.
The Lemonheads seem to dig it the most, though.
Evan: "These guys Fountains Of Wayne are all right with me. They're very clever. This is Beach Boys classic pop. Live, they're even better, because they're less polished. I wouldn't have sex with 'em, but I would smoke dope with 'em. How about you, John?"
John: "This is my vote for Single Of The Week. Nepotism has nothing to do with the music industry. Just because we've toured with both Fountains Of Wayne and You Am I ..."
DAKOTA Suite are a mellow, gentle, Slint-esque US-style band-like we need another one.
Evan: "Christ! What a name! Do they walk the ragged mile? Who was Amos? Wasn't he the stalwart, troublesome Luddite from a cave?"
John: "Or was he a hash brown cookie? This really isn't very good."
MM: "It's certainly nothing to write home about. You can imagine it: 'Dear Grandpa. Heard this slightly kooky band the other day. Name of Dakota Suite. Yeah, I know. They're kinds like a generic, mid-American collegiate post-rock band - sorta like the kinds music we used to be so fond of about five years back. How's Grandma? Hope she's removed those weasels from her butt. Tax inspectors can be bitches, can't they? Yours faithfully, ET'... Nah, it doesn't work."
Evan: "C'mon, you guys, don't be so callous. Remember that band whose lead singer was killed at the top of the Empire State Building last week? Maybe it's these guys... (listens closely for a second) ... I don't like G and C chords so much. I would like to invite these guys to my house right now and teach them a couple of new chords. I'm not too chuffed on this."
I BELIEVE IN YOU AND ME
All right. It's a slow week for singles. So sue me.
Evan: "Whitney's a really
good singer. She has the same
problem as Ms Gayle with the
production being f***ed-up."
John coughs loudly. The journalist smoothers a snicker.
Evan: "Ah, c'mon you guys. She's a damn good singer. Okay, so she shows off a lot, but she's not as bad as Mariah Carey! She makes Mariah Carey look like Michael Bolton (no, hold on), she makes Michael Bolton look like Mariah Carey (no, hold on), Mariah Carey makes Whitney Houston look like Etta James. None of them resemble each other anyway."
MM: "What happened to the idea of conveying emotion with your voice? Y'know, the old gospel tradition - where it doesn't matter whether you hit the notes you're aiming for, what matters is the spirit? Okay, so she's got her warble down pitch perfect, but you might as well be listening to someone practising their scales for all the feeling she conveys."
Evan: "She can't sing out of pitch, man! I'm serious. She's got that kind ofvoice, you can hear it, she can't sing off-key."
MM: "She should go to voice lessons. She oughta get some f***ing alcohol down her."
Evan: "Are you serious, man? She's a f***ing lush! Everyone knows she's a lush!"
MM/John (simultaneously): "We don't."
Evan: "All I know is that she made Nick Lowe a lot of money, so she's my hero. He got a cheque in the mail for a million dollars one day, for his contribution to The Bodyguard soundtrack. Imagine that. I certainly wouldn't hate her if she did that for me. I have Nick Lowe's phone number right here! I totally respect him. Maybe we're going to record together - or else just have dinner - but let's not jinx it bytalking about it, eh?"
NOWHERE TO FIND YOU
Remember New Wave Of New Wave? Mantaray are the runt of the litter. From the sound of this, they've progressed to 3 Colours Red standard - ie: not very far at all.
John: "I've seen this band. At The Beachcomber in Brighton.
I can't remember whether I liked
them or not. You were there.
Whiskey, beer, vodka and Jagermeister. That was just
thefirst five clubs."
MM: "Jesus, l remember that night ... sort of."
Evan: "So it was legendary, even in your life? That's good, because John was worried you did this with all the bands."
John: "Yeah, we were at some club, and I was so drunk I couldn't even get my hand around my glass, and Everett handed me a pint and I dropped the other one, and then you called me a'f***ing wuss' for leaving early-at three am to drive upto London!"
The single starts playing ...
Evan: "This is so five minutes ago!"
John: "I remember them now. These guys were trying to be The Jam, but they couldn't play as well as The Jam. Now, they're trying to be The Charlatans!"
Ms Orton possesses one of the most calming, soothing, cool voices around. Her single is on a funky laidback junglist vibe. I take back everything Isaid about her in my review of her debut single (that she was a hippy, basically). Beth Orton is way cool. Kinds like the female counterpart to someone all dignified and emotional - the bloke from Portishead, say.
Evan: "She opened up for
me at the Mean Fiddler once.
She's such a sweetheart. She
was so disarmingly nervous.
She's a sweet, kind girl - and I'm
just glad that that sweetness is
accompanied by talent. This
sounds like the David Koresh song
which just came out in the States.
It's really cool ... and I mean that
with all due respect. Really cool
can be a horrible insult. I foresee
great things for thiswoman. This
is ethereal, but not completely out of touch. With reality. This is emulsifier-free. She's hanging out with the people Whitney should be hanging out with. Have another hit of pot, man"
John: "Keep this on now. This is great."