When It Hits You Feel No Pain (Best of 2014)

 

Two years ago I spent a memorable evening watching the Wilko Johnson Band do that thing that only they do. Wilko & I were friends from back then, the Dr Feelgood days. Seeing those 4 good guys move from pub gigs to Top of the Pops was a very pleasant experience. I went backstage to see Wilko for the first time in a long time. We were both happy to see each other, hugged, spoke of then & now (while my nephew waited to ask about “Game of Thrones”). Just weeks later Wilko was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was told he had 9 or 10 months to live…so it goes. He refused chemotherapy & set off on a farewell tour. I was distressed by the news but pleased that there had been one more good memory of him. The appreciation for his music & the support for his bravery was unanimous. His adoption as a National Treasure ? Well, it should not have been a matter of his mortality, Wilko had been one for a long time.

In March 2014 Wilko released an LP with Roger Daltrey off of the ‘Oo, “the last thing  I ever did” he thought. A surgeon friend, Charlie Chan, surprised that Wilko was still standing, organised extensive tests & in April he underwent radical surgery. Now Wilko is cancer-free, planning a future that he didn’t think he had & still doing that thing that only he does. “Going Back Home”, 10 of Wilko’s songs & a great cover of Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”, is an LP that should not have happened but praise Jah that it did. It stands as testament to the indomitability of a fine man and to the good news story of 2014.

 

 

“Beauty & Ruin” – Bob Mould. 2014 saw the release of “Workbook 25”, the expanded silver anniversary edition of Bob’s debut solo LP after the break up of Hüsker Dü. I’ve sometimes lost touch with Bob Mould’s music but “Beauty & Ruin”, along with 2012’s “Silver Age”, returns to the power trio, the scything chords that he does better than anyone. This record is like a visit from an old friend. There’s some new news & it’s still told with the passion, the authority which attracted you all those years ago. There is a sense of familiarity but another episode of Bob’s glorious, melodic headlong charge is OK by me. Play Loud !

 

 

“The Man Upstairs” – Robyn Hitchcock. Way, way back in 1991 Robyn Hitchcock made the best pop record of the year. “So You Think You’re In Love” was from a shiny LP “Perspex Island”, a bid for mainstream attention lacking some of the randomness & individuality which had attracted a devoted following. Since then Hitchcock has followed his own path, combining a dry wit with melodic psychedelia (If Syd Barrett had joined the Beatles…now there’s a thought). His LPs with the Venus 3 are good things.

This year, in collaboration with veteran producer Joe Boyd, he has made his folk LP, a “Judy Collins record”. Half of the songs are covers, including the Doors, Roxy Music & this effective version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You”. The LP is an atmospheric piece, his best, I think, since 2006’s “Ole Tarantula”. For decades, my Sunday mornings began with a Nick Drake record, a beautiful suffusion to settle the morning after the night before. Currently “The Man Upstairs” is setting up the day of rest just right.

Advertisements

Three From 2012

I am not that guy who listens to pop music anymore. I did hear 30 seconds of the Korean dance phenom once, 15 seconds of that I was searching for my radio remote. Mr & Mrs Jepson and their sweet daughter Carly Rae could live down the street for all I know, with Beyonce’s little sister, Solange, hanging out and having slumber parties. It’s getting to the end of the year & time to look back over 2012 and wonder if any of this new shit that has come to light has made an impression.

I do have a tendency to stick with the tried and tested. New music needs a little time to make its mark. That way you don’t have too many MGMT albums on your shelf (and one is too many). I was looking at Uncut magazine’s list of the best LPs of 2012 and 3 of the top 4 are by men in their 70s ! So, these first three are by artists who know their way around and don’t need help to get there.

The Original and the Best. The King of roaring, melodic guitar music reclaims his crown. Bob Mould’s “Silver Age” LP takes the classic “Copper Blue” noise as its starting point but this is no retrospect revival. It is Mould re-stating his primacy in a field where he has been much imitated but never bettered. He sings of his descent over ringing ascending chords and I give thanks to Jah that music can still affect me like this does.This is music for bouncing off the walls to. Single of the Year.

“Come On You Lot” is a football anthem of a song, Chicory Tip meets Mario Kart 64. It is from “On The Hot Dog Streets” the first LP by Go-Kart Mozart for 8 years. G-K M are Lawrence, off of 80s indie-rockers Felt and then the brilliantly caustic Denim, along with probably the few people he still talks to. Lawrence has never been shy of voicing his distaste for the many things he finds irksome. He has had some trying times, he’s over 50 now and there is not a great deal in 21st century Britain he finds positive. I love his sardonic take on our world and have plenty of time for his music, “novelty rock” or not. This song, remembering the England World Cup win of 1966 and casting a more than jaundiced eye on 2012 is the Xmas #1 round here.

For more than I want to say about “On The Hot Dog Streets” click this. http://thequietus.com/articles/09403-go-kart-mozart-on-the-hot-dog-streets-review. There will be more here on Denim soon.

The Drive-By Truckers lost bassist Shona Tucker at the end of last year and this will make the band less easy on the eye. No matter, the D-B Ts, along with Wilco are the best bands in the US of A. And don’t be giving me any old flannel about any of those college graduates growing beards and pretending to live in log cabins while channeling the parents’ Crosby, Stills & Nash records (there I’ve said it). Patterson Hood, as befitting a scion of fine southern music, has always respected its legacy and reflected it in his songs.

From his solo LP “Heat Lightning Rumbles In The Distance”, “Come Back Little Star” is a beautiful tribute to his friend Vic Chesnutt. Vic, partially paralyzed and wheelchair bound at 18 made some wonderful and challenging music before he died in 2009. I once sat at the front of the stage and saw Vic just pour it all out until we were all wrung out. This song is a fitting remembrance. I like the Truckers, especially when they have that touch of Warren Zevon nihilism. I like it too when Patterson Hood just sits and plays his songs.

Husker Du (Bob Mould part one)

In 1984 three of the best records of the year came out of Minneapolis. Prince hit the mainstream & started his purple reign (ouch !). The Replacements confirmed their rep in the UK, as the best band even your friends had not heard &  Husker Du released “Zen Arcade” a hardcore concept album.

I would be a liar if I said that I listened to “Zen Arcade” as much as those other two LPs. In 1984 the Smiths and R.E.M. carried the swing round our yard. We were spending our weekends at clubs which played dance music. “Slippery People” by the Staples Singers was our record of the year. We heard Mtume more than Husker Du that year. It was not until 1987’s “Warehouse: Songs & Stories” that I got the band properly. It was the songs of Bob Mould, an irresistable combo of power and melody which did the trick.I know the, possibly, more cryptic songs of Grant Hart have their champions but it was Mould’s tunes which put me on to the back catalogue. I was just in time.

“Warehouse..”  is a double album full of short, sharp blasts of adrenaline. This pop-punk power trio made the music I carried everywhere in 1987. It was a charge of energy for me. Let other people chill, Husker Du kept me on it. One memorable journey on an overnight ferry to Holland (anticipating an exciting week’s stay with our friends in Amsterdam) I race-paced the decks as the other passengers slept. The charge in the music matching and abetting my most excellent middle of the night mood. The personal stereo, the Walkman, was invented for times like these.

For the Summer Solstice that year we made our now annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury. One of my closest friends had turned up unexpectedly at our front door two days before the festival. I looked forward to sharing the weekend with him. By this time the music was becoming the centre of the festival. On the Saturday night the three closing acts were Richard Thompson, Los Lobos & Elvis Costello. It was that good. The music started on the Friday. Husker Du were on early, it was a good time to head down to the Pyramid and to get the party started.

Carl, my friend, had seen some good music played live in his time. We had seen the Stones, Captain Beefheart, Lou Reed & many others together. He had seen Bowie, the Pistols, Clash, Ramones & every other punk who got on a stage between 76 & 79. I left him to it as Husker Du went into a coruscating set, scorching through a set of songs mainly from the “Warehouse”. This was a  big deal for me to hear this band play live. I only acknowledged my friend to pass around the good stuff, let him make his own mind up. After around 30 minutes I asked him “Whaddya think ?”. He said “if they keep this up they are the best band I have ever seen”. High praise from a man with very good taste.

He could be right too. After years of playing together the three piece had such a full sound and an effortless energy. I ain’t no critic, it was great. 20 seconds ago I found this clip. The opening track of “Warehouse”, the opening track of the set, from a festival just 14 days before we saw them. I love the internet.

This was to be the band’s last tour. A clash of egos, drug problems, the suicide of their manager, it all went a bit wrong. Mould & Hart, the songwriters, were no longer working in tandem &  it was time to stop. Two years later Nirvana released “Bleach” and started the groundwork which led to grunge dominating the rock scene. A power trio with songs from the melodic side of punkiness…Mmmm. In my opinion if Bob Mould had not been a big, balding, gay bear of a guy but could have been marketed, like Cobain, as a young pop prince then rock history may have been different. It does not matter. Bob went on to make some brilliant music. I will be listening to it this weekend because I love his stuff & this music is worth a couple more of these things.