Saturday, 16 August 2008

dexys week: new material

last year, kevin posted a demo of a new song, 'it's OK joanna' on his myspace. it's brilliant. who knows what'll come of it? watch his space ...

in the meantime, looks like he's keeping busy. children, avert your eyes:

dexys week: the 2003 comeback

in 2003, dexys returned to the stage. GMS caught them in sunny basingstoke, and it was fine as fuck, if you'll pardon the expression. kevin's voice wasn't what it once was, but he was ably backed up by pete williams, re-creating billy adams' side-man role from don't stand me down. the lounge sound and theatrical interludes had a lot of the audience heading for the doors. for my money, it was the best reunion gig i've ever seen.

you don't see my bloody valentine or the pixies in pinstripe suits, after all.

'c'mon eileen'


Friday, 15 August 2008

dexys week: reanimation

a new century saw a new generation of british tv comedians finding humour in dexys. this is from series two of the underrated big train. that's simon pegg as igor, and 'the artist' kevin eldon as kevin rowland. and here's the mighty boosh, doing what they do:

dexys week: thong edition

in 1996 kevin signed with creation records. three years later, he released the lush covers album my beauty. that year, the open-minded reading festival crowd bottled off our kev and his cross-dressing strippers. funnily enough, they seemed to dislike rowland's gender-bending karaoke even more than they disliked 50 cent's commercially-oriented homophobia.

readers are a tolerant bunch, or at least i hope so. here's the thong-tastic video for his cover of unit 4+2's 'concrete and clay'.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

service announcement

GMS interrupts dexys week to direct you to the consistently high-quality mixing desk blog, who have a dutch bootleg (so to speak), of dexys from 1981.

it's mostly young soul rebels-era high-octane northern soul, with a couple of handy non-album songs - 'breaking down the walls of heartache' and 'show me'. but the inclusion of 'soon' and 'plan b' shows the way to the incredible five-songs-in-one second side of too rye ay.

while i'm at it, here's a clean-shaven dexys performing the irish-american traditional 'kathleen mavourneen'. this sort of thing used to happen on telly, you know.

dexys week: the four-minute comeback

in 1993, an ill-looking kevin re-surfaced with a new dexys song, 'if i ever', on jonathan woss' saturday zoo. and, just like that, he was gone again.

dexys week: kevin goes solo, re-grows moustache

kevin's 1988 solo album the wanderer wasn't as passionate as searching for the young soul rebels, as accessible as too-rye-aye, or as imaginative as don't stand me down. its dabbling in lounge pop and country was deliberately anti-fashion, as was kevin's new look, which fans of the league of gentlemen will recognise as the model for embittered businessman geoff tipps.

the video for 'young man' embraces the unfashionable aspects of british working class popular entertainment in a manner recently revived by GMS-favourite richard hawley.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

dexys week: another comedy connection

following the disastrous reception of don't stand me down, dexys tasted one last piece of commercial success: a top-twenty hit with 'because of you', a mediocre theme tune for the unfunny window-cleaning sitcom brush strokes. hey - another comedy connection! 'becuase of you' (1986)

dexys week: pre-empting the pogues

like kevin rowland, shane macgowan is a displaced irishman with a background in punk who found success in the eighties playing big-band folk-influenced barnstormers, until addiction caught up with him and clouded his muse. macgowan's biggest hit, 'fairytale of new york', is as ubiquitous on both sides of the atlantic as dexys' celtic-influenced 'c'mon eileen'. but rowland was the first to try the anglo-irishman-in-new-york idea with 'this is what she's like' from the final dexys album, 1985's don't stand me down.

a critical and commercial disaster, don't stand me down mixed marvin gaye, 70s AM rock, conversational interludes and preppy clobber. the accompanying live show, 'coming to town ... park street south', interspersed songs with dramatic set pieces. the full version of 'this is what she's like' features a rambling monologue about the italian word for 'thunderbolt', a spectacular beach boys-style middle section, and a cagey, nonchalant chat between kevin and billy adams. the hostility with which this record was received is baffling. look out for the hipster on drums.

'this is what she's like' (1985)

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

dexys week: merry xmas everybody!

dexys were to the eighties what slade were to the seventies: eccentrically-attired top of the pops mainstays singing oddball pop masterpieces in thick regional accents. in both cases, their reputation as novelty acts, but their albums revealed much greater depth. both bands made minor inroads into the US, but remained essentially, parochially, defiantly, british. here's the sort of thing that doesn't happen any more: dexys covering slade's inescapable 'merry xmas everybody', beamed into millions of living rooms on christmas day, 1982.

dexys week: featuring darts legend jockie wilson

dexys are easy to lampoon, but GMS suspects they were usually in on the joke. here's their classic top of the pops performance of 'jackie wilson said' in front of a picture of diminutive scotish darts legend jocky wilson.

Monday, 11 August 2008

dexys week: the young ones

moving on to the raggle-taggle armpit-bearing dungaree-sporting fiddling-gypsy celtic-soul schtick of too-rye-aye, dexys' second album. for all their pretension, passion and sentimentality, dexys have always had a broader streak of humour than most bands. here we have them setting up shop in the young ones' bathroom, to perform van morrison's 'jackie wilson said (i'm in heaven when you smile)'.

dexys week: 'i couldn't help it if i tried'

searching for the young soul rebels was sold on its succession of up-tempo foot-stomping soul-shouters. but it's the slow-burning centrepieces, 'keep it' and 'i couldn't help it if i tried', which deserve as much attention, coming closer to edwin starr than to geno washington.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

dexys week: "welcome the new soul vision"

sticking with dexys in their projected passion revue rabble-rousing punk-soul ram-jam irish-literature-loving, clean-living, master-tape-stealing, manifesto-spluttering, marching-on-the-spot docker-chic phase, here we have 'there there my dear', released as a single in 1980. unlike its predecessor, 'geno', it didn't reach number one. but then, it was up against 'xanadu' by olivia newton-john and the electric light orchestra. don't f- with qubla khan, kevin. 'there there my dear' olivia newton-john & elo 'xanadu'

the bomb

GMS takes a break from dexys week to point you in the direction of this excellent observer article on british protest music and the anti-nuclear campaign - featuring, among others, michael foot, tony benn, peggy seeger, billy bragg and GMS-favourite Martin Carthy.

CND is fifty this year, and this weekend sees the anniversary of the nagasaki bombing. music, maestro:

uncle tupelo - 'atomic power' (louvin brothers cover, live, 1992)

yo la tengo - 'nuclear war' (sun ra cover, from prisoners of love)

nation of ulysses - 'atomic bomb' (from 13-point program to destroy america)

the crystals - 'little boy' (from back to mono)

derrick harriott - 'fat man' (from trojan - jamaican hits)

george clinton - 'atomic dog' (from computer games)

rivers cuomo - 'the bomb' (ice cube cover, from alone)

Saturday, 9 August 2008

dexys midnight runners week

hello readers! it's dexys midnight runners week all week here on GMS.

over the next seven days, we'll be revisiting the peaks and troughs of kevin rowland's brilliant, eccentric career. by re-visiting, i expect i mean posting some youtube videos. we'll also be exploring dexys' intriguing relationship with UK tv comedy. by exploring, i expect i mean posting some youtube videos.

we'll start at the beginning, with 'dance stance (burn it down)' from 1979 - one of the greatest opening tracks, from one of the greatest debut albums, from the greatest british band evarr. except maybe pulp. play it loud. "jimmy? yeah! sal? yeah! for god's sake burn it down..."

Monday, 4 August 2008

Raekwon goes to the cinema (erm, in a time machine)

...after a quick stop at the bodega.

Raekwon has always been one of the Wu's most perverse characters - sullen and belligerent where most of his fellow MCs are playful and nerdy, insular and defensive where his long-time foil, Ghostface, plays the ebullient, effusive, eccentric extrovert.

Raekwon's debut album, Only Built For Cuban Linx, is an undisputed classic - groundbreaking and sumptuous, consistently ambitious in its widescreen mafia fantasies, yet endlessly rich in its vivid details, classy production and impenetrable slang. His decision to follow it by replacing producer RZA with a string of no-name, low-rent New York beat-makers, and to swap Ghostface for his clumsy, embarrassing posses, American Cream Team and Ice Water, resulted in one of the most dramatic creative down-turns in rap history. Can he rescue his career with the long-threatened Cuban Linx II?

Raekwon and his third-favourite producer

Raekwon's performance at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival offered few clues. The rapper recreated his debut song-for-song, assisted by Ghostface and Theodore Unit, adding a few classic Wu verses here and there (mostly the same ones Ghostface had performed the previous evening). There was no new material and little showmanship, beyond some ostentatious cognac-drinking and a rather fetching beard. GMS is partial to the sight of muscular chaps lumbering around a stage, shouting in unison into microphones while a DJ makes gunshot noises, but many people weren't. The crowd thinned, more rapidly than Ghostface's audience, and more rapidly still once Broken Social Scene brought their Fleetwood Mac-style communal indie drivel to the main stage.

Raekwon may not know much about entertaining ambivalent hipsters, employing handy weed-carriers or beat selection, but he sure knows his way around a dense crime narrative. Not content with re-hashing 'Scarface', Scorsese and John Woo, 'Musketeers of Pig Alley', the best track from his middling third album, The Lex Diamond Story, takes inspiration from D.W. Griffith's pioneering 1912 short noir of the same name. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, the whole film is below, and comes highly recommended by yours truly, and, erm, Raekwon.

raekwon (feat. masta killa & inspectah deck) - 'musketeers of pig alley' (from the lex diamond story , 2003)

'musketeers of pig alley' (1912)

More D.W.? 'The Reformers', from the following year, is a priceless skewering of moralising interventionist liberals, as 'Dickensian' in its way as 'Musketeers'. Word to Scott Templeton. The League of Civic Purity - now there's a posse.

'the reformers' (1913)

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Pop Just Ate Itself: Clipse release a turd

Every year, come December, bloggers compile lists of their favourite albums of the past twelve months. And every year, without fail, rap-loving bloggers start to argue about whether mixtapes count as albums.

Those who would exclude mixtapes from their imaginary competition insist on the need for a level playing field. They find one in the legal and commercial constraints governing the creation of albums. Mixtapes' illegal use of un-cleared samples, borrowed beats and previously-available songs, they argue, makes it impossible to judge them on equal terms with commercial releases. Defenders of mixtapes argue that market forces and intellectual property rights provide an arbitrary and unhelpful framework by which to judge works of art. Mixtapes, they argue, offer artists freedom to express themselves without the need to gratify record company marketing departments; they also allow the use of samples that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive.

An aesthetic argument runs in parallel. Critics argue that mixtapes are often uneven, hastily thrown together, and poorly-mastered, and that they offer instant gratification rather than anything of lasting value. Supporters counter that, originality notwithstanding, mixtapes are frequently more coherent and satisfying than albums. Why bar Wale's excellent Mixtape About Nothing from an end-of-year list on the grounds that it was given away for free? Why make apologies for Nas' patchy Untitled when his N****r Tape stands as one of the best releases of his career?

After all, the idea of an album as a 'statement' or free-standing original work of art only developed in the mid-sixties: its gold standard has always been a certain type of predominantly male, white rock music. Hip hop, with its traditions of freestyling and DJing, has more in common with folk music, where performers constantly adapt, re-interpret and add to existing tunes and lyrics. Using the idea of the 'album' to judge rap distorts our appreciation of the art-form: for instance, many consider Kool G Rap one of the all-time great MCs, but he rarely appears on lists of great rap albums, let alone great albums.

None of this matters, of course. Artists will continue to make music, and will, on the whole, struggle to make a living doing so. Bloggers will continue to bicker and list. My opinion? Of course mixtapes aren't albums. They're mixtapes. The clue's in the name.

None of which makes me any the wiser about what the hell's gone on with the new Clipse album, The Clipse present the Re-Up Gang. Is it a mixtape? Is it an album? One thing's for sure: it's bloody awful.

The Virginia duo's series of mixtapes, We Got It 4 Cheap vols. 1-3, saw them adding vocals to familiar beats, frequently improving upon the originals. On Present the Re-Up Gang, they reverse the formula, recycling verses from Volume 3 that originally accompanied tracks by the likes of Shawty Lo and B.G., fitting them instead with original beats. If new rhymes over old beats makes a mixtape, what about new beats under old rhymes? Further muddying the waters, Present appears to have secured a commercial release, via Koch Records - a label that operates in a grey area between albums and mixtapes, offering artists one-off album deals, together with an unusual degree of creative control, low overheads, fast turnarounds, competitive royalty rates and an allegedly relaxed approach to sample clearance. Finally, the logic of claiming to 'present' the Re-Up Gang is baffling. The Gang is made up of the Clipse plus Philadelphia rappers Ab-Liva and Sandman, who featured heavily on all three mixtape volumes, and were given equal billing with the Clipse on the third. What is the point of this album?

None of this would be a concern if Clipse's round-about manner of creating original music was at all successful. Instead, the recycling process has diluted any distinctive qualities the group ever possessed. Fulfilling the dictum that a free market tends towards homogeneity and mediocrity, Clipse have hit the golden mean of turgid drugs-and-money-rap: something like a G-Unit album, but with slightly sharper metaphors and less memorable beats.

When not damping their once-chilling drug-talk with dead-eyed celebrations of wealth, Clipse use the album to air rap's dullest and most self-indulgent theme: record label politics. This mind-numbing tendency, a favourite of the world's most boring rapper, 'Regular' Joe Budden, has become so prevalent that prissy complaints about altered release dates and threadbare promotion budgets have even tainted the latest album by the Roots - an otherwise creative and intelligent group. Clipse's attempt to make a fast buck by recycling lyrics and rush-releasing a sub-par album renders such complaints insincere. The apparent ease with which they reconcile money-talk and self-pity while expecting fans to pay for work vastly inferior to that given away for free six months ago raises questions about their integrity and judgement.

It's interesting that one of the album's recycled verses features threats against Lil' Wayne, another successful mixtape rapper. Where the Clipse's heavy release-schedule has seen them creeping steadily towards mediocrity, Wayne's constant output has seen him embrace eccentricity. The resulting commercial album - though entirely uneven - has already sold over two million copies. Clipse Present the Re-Up Gang would do well to equal G-Unit's Terminate On Sight, which has yet to sell a tenth of that.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

homunculus wingding

good news from freak-folk-land, readers!

had long considered devendra banhart a respectable tyrannosaurus rex tribute act who would never raise his game and pen 'ride a white swan'; always destined to be indie-rock's second-best r. kelly fan.

but here's his new video, for the tropicalia-style 'carmensita'. it brings back memories of watching the mahabharat on saturday afternoons in the early 90s. the BBC needs to bring that back - it was like the wire, only in 9th-century-BC India, and with cardboard weaponry.

'carmensita' also contains mention of a homunculus. uncle lawrence would be proud.

more fun:

tyrannosaurus - 'deborah' (live at kempton park, 1968)