Enough…let us talk about cheery stuff…

Luckily there is more than one hue to the music I’m listening to… I don’t mercilessly torture myself by replaying HitNRun in the hope my teeth stop grinding, my mind stops seething and my ears stop begging for it to stop.

“What have you been listening to then, Simon?”

Well, I’m glad you ask.  Some old, some new.

Sol Invictus by Faith No More is on the receiving end of a lot of love.  It gets out a lovely Mike Patton patterned blanket and wraps it around your shoulders, keeping you warm and delightfully snuggled in.  It has a lovely sense of familiarity about it but isn’t merely retreading old ground.  A sense of communal joy comes out of the speakers; a conviviality at the new-found spark of union and rediscovery of the fun of working and playing together exudes from the music.  To these ears, much like their last studio album Album Of The Year (a real favourite of mine), this works best as a body of work listened to together…unlike, say, Epic or Angel Dust, there are no “singles” here.  You need to have 39 minutes available to listen to the whole album.  And Mike Patton’s voice remains something quite indescribable.  Delicious, but not actually capable of being described as anything other than Mike Patton…which is to say a voice without description.

A long drive saw me dip back in time to 1982 and Prince’s 1999.  A sublime album.  There is a flux about the performances on this double album that really took me aback.  I’ve been listening to this album for a fair few years now, to listen to it the other day was to hear it afresh.  There is a beauty in the juxtaposition of electronica and organic instrumentation that I had forgotten about.  As I put the CD in the player, the musicianship displayed on this album had entirely slipped my mind.  I had prepared myself for the workouts of Let’s Pretend We’re Married, DMSR and Automatic, after the 1-2-3 of 1999, Little Red Corvette and Delirious but had completely forgotten the second half of the album.  There is an argument to be made that this is Prince’s greatest album.  I heartily recommend you going back and listening again.  The lyrics are free of cynicism and (serious) bombast and there is an edge to Prince’s creativity, an edge that had just been midwife to Dirty Mind and Controversy and was about to go into labour with Purple Rain and the rest of the 80s catalog that makes so many musicians sing his praise.

A disciple of Prince’s, Terence Trent D’Arby’s Introducing The Hardline According To sounds as fantastic now as it did back in 1987.  All of his work is worth investigating…man he’s a talent…but this is a helluva first album.  From the monstrous opening of If You All Get To Heaven, through the hit singles to Let’s Go Forward…magnificent…and then, just when you think he’s run out of puff with Rain…Sign Your Name and As Yet Untitled/Who’s Loving You finish the album and you stop sobbing and draw breath.  This is a glorious statement of intent but such a maverick man.  The follow, Neither Fish Nor Flesh, up is superb and his insistence on following all the decent artists by putting unreleased material on his b-sides…oh, how I adore TTD.

And now a double hit…SJD…Sean James Donnelly.  I’ve been revisiting Southern Lights – please treat whatever ears you have and go out and buy this album and listen it on your stereo and then try and fight the smile and the warmth it makes you feel.  There is a little of me that despises the fact that Z have picked up his “from a to b or not to be” as their advertising jingle…but there’s also a part of me that celebrates the fact Sean Donnelly has received a chunk of money which allows him to go back into the studio, financially secure, and create.  Superman, You’re Crying is genius.  The whole album is genius, actually.  I’m lucky to have moved to NZ when there’s such a creative mix releasing music: SJD, The Mint Chicks, The Finns, Kids of 88, UMO to name but 5 of them…obviously Pyjama Club should be mentioned too BECAUSE…

The other album I’m gloriousising (is that a word?  It is now.) is Saint John Divine – SJD’s latest release.  This is a beautiful album, all the more so for (to these ears) the influence of Neil Finn on Mr Donnelly.  Not in a let’s-harmonise-the-bejeesus-out-of-this-song-about-melancholy, but in that this sounds so mature.  It sounds earthy.  It sounds authentic.  The album of a grown-up man.  Just like most of Neil Finn’s (and all the other Finns’, if truth be told) music for some time…I mean…One Nil…what an album…and oh what a man can achieve with a Wendy and a Lisa…(stop it Simon…enough!)…um…sorry…Saint John Divine.  This sounds like the culmination of a journey for Sean Donnelly.  It is such a delight.

So there we are.  Music I’m adoring.  But, before I go…

I’m a lucky man.  Lucky…it appears to be my motif… anyway.  Check this out MUSIC – now…I confess a vested interest: I worked with one and I taught the other… but lord they make music that sends me back to the time when Adam and the Ants actually were and forward in time to a moment when Blur still are.  I know there are a million other influences and the Nielson Brothers are looking in shock at their computers, believing an echo of themselves/not themselves is rebounding and resounding around and about the place.  Godspeeeed, Trendees, godspeeeed.

There.  Music that makes me joy.


I promised myself I wouldn’t do this…

but, here I go.

@prince3EG is posting various reviews and comments about his new album on twitter.  This is fine and good.  I’ve watched a couple and needless to say I disagree with much of the content – then again Prince is hardly about to start posting negative reviews about his work now, is he?  However, I do have a bit of a beef with one of the videos.

There is an online reviewer who styles himself the Nightchild and he has completed an extensive, track by track review of the album.  I’ve listened/watched the first few and, as mentioned, found myself not agreeing with much he has to say.  This video in particular really annoys me: Nightchild review Shut This Down.

In this video, Nightchild makes great play of the song’s lyrics – “It’s Prince being his funkiest…it’s boastful…it’s arrogance…it’s fantastic…it’s..um..brilliant.  The lyrics, as I said, fantastic…”.  Here are the lyrics, judge for yourself.  Nightchild calls this a party song.  He obviously has a frame of reference to work from.  He compares the opening to Slave from Emancipation, he notes the similarities between the delivery of the lyrics to that of My Name Is Prince from the Symbol album, and he links the humour of the end of this song with that on Cloreen Baconskin from Crystal Ball.  What he appears to miss, well at least to these ears, is the manner in which Prince has co-opted the persona of the rap merchants he bagged in Dead On It from The Black Album.  This is shame, because I think this is quite pertinent when discussing much of Prince’s work of late.

Prince’s party songs used to be earnest and then laced with a beautiful self deprecating humour.  He took us from Sexy Dancer to Party Up to, arguably, Sexuality to 1999 to Let’s Go Crazy to New Position to Housequake to, again arguably, Escape to Partyman.  You probably know the lyrics to most of those…I won’t post links. I’m sure I’ve missed a few…odd how I can’t think of a party song from the Around The World In A Day era…hmmm…America?  Surely not?  Even Daddy Pop (just about), My Name Is Prince and Loose! came liberally coated in parody making them acceptable.  And then something appears to have happened to Prince and his sense of self.  The self-deprecation disappears and the “I’m the baddest muddyfunster in the house” appears.  Ok, Prettyman is quite amusing – if looped to death…get a band!…- and Now teeters on the verge of being pompous but manages to pull its head in.  But ever since I Rock, Therefore I Am Prince songs of this ilk have vanished up their own self.

Shut This Down is just another in a line of Life O The Party, Everybody Loves Me, (I Like) Funky Music style shouting match that Prince once would have derided and felt beneath him.  It’s compounded by the fact it’s followed by another in this vein – Ain’t About 2 Stop.  The vanity of the man – he even got Chuck D to tarnish his image by jumping on-board one of these horrible tunes back on Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic – is quite bemusing.  There always used to be a knowing wink.  Behind those thickset sun-glasses, it’s difficult to read the expression.  It’s hard to tell if there is these days.

Some of this goes back to an element that has reappeared on a couple of Prince’s albums of late – equating the quality of this work with that of his older material.  On this album, as with Musicology, snippets of classic Prince material is played to help launch the album.  If you attend a Prince show now, you’re more likely to hear the medley of Take Me With U/Raspberry Beret than you are Play In The Sunshine, or 7 or The Most Beautiful Girl In The World or Anotherloverholenyohead – perhaps better comparisons.  And yet, you will hear “so many hits…” or the equivalent.  Prince doesn’t trust his new material live.  Or seemingly so.  Go back through the most recent tours and there is a solid scaffold of 80s standards augmented by one or two new songs and one or two obscurities/album tracks.  Increasingly there is a reliance on cover material, something which drives me crazy…when you consider just how many hits Prince has recorded.  And yet there is this in-your-face dictate that the songs your are about to hear are the aural equivalent of those I created back in the day.

I previously wrote that I was unlucky to have turned on to Prince in 1988, I’d missed the journey to Lovesexy.  In actual fact, I got into Prince when he was at his zenith.  I got into Prince when he started making questionable artistic decisions and began to challenge his audience and himself – in particular with his quest for some sort of religious identity, which is something I’ve personally found intriguing to follow.  Ultimately, this may have led to some unsatisfactory music being released, but it has been a hell of a ride to have taken.

This is veering off course.

Prince insists on insisting he still has “it”.  Go back and read all the press in the build up to any recent Prince album.  The acolytes he sends out and the journalists he lets in spew the same message about this being the greatest release since…As a consumer of music, and in particular as a dedicated consumer of Prince’s music, he has come close with The Rainbow Children, LotusFlow3r and Art Official Age…and lots of Crystal Ball (obv because it’s mainly vault material…but even the newer stuff stands up) – bearing in mind I think Prince’s genuinely interesting and worthwhile releases occurred up to and including the name change shenanigans (purely because that was an authentically interesting time creatively for him too (Exodus is one of his genius releases)). His albums have largely become throwaway.  In HitNRun’s case, this is fast-food music of the most greasy kind.  Songs like Shut This Down give you indigestion.

Stop insisting you have it, just show us you do.

Nightchild et al are all welcome to laud this work.  It is their opinion, just as this is mine.  And, as someone once said, “words are like shoes: they’re something you stand on.”  Inspired by the opening to HitNRun, playing as I type this is For You.  This is a better album.  The songs are better songs.  The vibrancy and the energy is real.  It is real music by a real musician.

This is, of course, just an opinion.

HitnRun Phase One… Well, at least it’s short.

Oh No!  I’m going to write a blog entry about an album!  How so very teenage!

Anyway.  In 1988 I was exposed properly to Prince.  I was lucky.  I really got into him after I’d bought the album Lovesexy for a then girlfriend.  Being in the 80s, I checked the vinyl for scratches and jumps – I was hooked.  Quickly I bought my own copy and the began a journey back through time to the late-70s, gorging on a back-catalogue the equal of all and better than most.

I was unlucky.  After Lovesexy came a couple of albums that were of questionable quality and then a commercial success built on arseless pants and a couple of catchy hit singles.  The name change and the disputes and the “slave” all followed.  In amongst all this there was still the music.  Some of it sublime, some of it disposable.  And this has been the trend really through til now.  Some brilliant work – Come, The Rainbow Children, most of LotusFlow3r, the first half of 3121 – some not so brilliant work – blocks of Emancipation, Planet Earth, the second half of 3121, MPLSound, etc.  And then we have the “he’s back to form” albums, especially The Gold Experience or Musicology.  Now we have a couple of albums in a couple of years and I’m beginning to wonder at the loyalty I’ve shown this musician over all this time.

Art Official Age is a wonderful album.  Albeit I could do without This Could Be Us and the chipmunk at the end of Breakfast Can Wait [a seemingly terrible attempt to modernise/play with the Camille schtick of the 80s] but it was an album of stone-cold great songs – Clouds, U Know, What It Feels Like, Way Back Home, Time – even the two incarnations of FunkNRoll (the other on PlectrumElectrum).  It seemed to suggest that a consistency or a measure of quality control was back in place at the park that is Paisley.  That plus the continued development of 3rdEyeGirl as a backing band – not to everyone’s taste, admittedly, but at least not quite so stale as the NPG had become – alluded to a new burst of creativity and energy in Prince.  Wonderful…then we had the individual songs released to the net and – whilst Prince seems to seriously want to screw over so many people by setting up and tearing down websites – this genuinely appeared like a new dawn.  Perhaps even a dawn we could be welcomed to.  Then HitNRun appeared.

The bombast of the few interviews given by Joshua Welton may appear at odds with the man’s faith.  The interview given by his wife and the rest of 3rdEyeGirl to the BBC on the eve of the album’s announcement massively overplayed the significance of the album’s content – “It’s phenomenal, there are so many hits on this album. It’s super experimental,” they said.  It isn’t.  There aren’t.  It’s not.

The Beyonce-lite opener is a horrible way to tease and poke fun at Prince fans – especially given the manner of the song’s introduction.  By opening the album with the triple whammy of Prince’s For You, 1999 and Purple Rain segueing together to usher in the bopping beat of a Judith Hill vocal that so insists that “you put a ring on it” it could be argued that Prince may be inclined to get a Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke sweat on…Prince is suggesting that the musical content of this 2015 offering is the equivalent to those earlier in his career – in particular two of heavyweight albums 1999 and Purple Rain.  It is insulting to the man he considers his only competition (“him in the past”) to suggest this.  There is barely a moment on HitNRun that would get off the cutting room floor (or the musician’s studio version of) and make it on to either of these albums.

There is a wonderful bass solo towards the end of Shut This Down.  It sounds like Prince.  Moments of X’s Face and HardRockLover also sound like Prince. A 1000 X’s and O’s suffers from Welton’s noodlings – much like the rest of the album (in particular the execrable new version of This Could Be Us – a throwaway song that got worse) – and June…well, at least it isn’t a song about being the best at being better that all the others.

The best thing to say about this album is that it isn’t long – though unlike Dirty Mind, another short album, this doesn’t make you yearn for more.  Listening to 1999 the other day, I was struck by the strength of the arrangement of this album.  The songs are of length but there’s little meandering.  There is a purpose about the groove on 1999.  There isn’t on HitNRun.  the Prince Twitter feed picked up a quote from someone or other – not sure if they were a journalist – that noted the tracks seem to be sequenced to run together much like the sequencing of Lovesexy.  There was a comment about whether this was significant or not.  Again, Prince equating this content with that of his most important albums.  It isn’t significant.  This album is not substantial.  For a while now, the physical manifestations of Prince’s albums have been in cardboard packaging.  This may sound silly but, there is a little bit of weight about the packaging.  This time, HitNRun is packaged in the standard plastic jewel casing.  This seems appropriate.  It is lightweight, is fragile and bits break off it easily.  It fits this music.

The promotion called this an experimental album – someone elsewhere has written very eloquently that the man who wrote Crystal Ball or All My Dreams or There’s Others Here With Us knows what experimental is.  This isn’t it either.

I suppose, fundamentally, I want Prince to write songs that befit his age and his talent.  The music of the second half of Art Official Age suggested this was occurring.  Prince used to write so beautifully about life and living, about the conflict between desire and faith, about beauty and love.  Increasingly he just seems to write about how loud he is.  I want a more authentic Prince.  Please.

September: the funniest of months

I did a silly thing, the other day.  I emailed someone a question about a decision made over 70 years ago; the answer to which I knew I knew but I suddenly felt the need to ask someone the question and get the answer I knew I’d get.

To elaborate: In September 1944 my uncle was killed in the fighting of Operation Market Garden.  He was killed towards the end of the operation and in a part of the Belgian/Dutch border near the base of the corridor XXX Corps were trying to exploit and get across all those bridges.  On September 17th, every year, Joseph Desmond has seven days to live.  As the men of the airborne divisions begin to fall on the landing sites across The Netherlands, Private Desmond is gearing up for the last seven days of his life.  He doesn’t know it, obviously, but that’s what he is doing.

A number of years ago, I helped my Mum and her sisters find the grave of their brother.  A consequence of this is that come September 17th each year my thoughts now turn to this uncle I never met, my Mum’s youngest brother, and his impending death.  It may seem odd that my focus falls on just the one life lost during this period when so many others died too but, none of those are my relatives.  Selfish?  I don’t think so.

In actual fact, I have been concerned about the thousands of deaths that surround this operation for many years.  Like many of my generation, I am fascinated by World War Two.  One of the many battles that fascinate me in particular is that of Operation Market Garden.  Even now, I re-read the accounts and histories of this battle and wonder how on earth this came to be lost.  This is what led me to ask the question.  For some reason, this year, my attention fell on the air plan and the lack of a coup-de-main force landing on or near the bridge at Arnhem, the wilful dismissal of the fundamental rule of any airborne attack – you land on the target.  So, I emailed one of the airborne museum curators and asked why the chap in charge of the air plan wouldn’t change his mind and allow Urquhart to put men close to/on the bridge?  I knew the answer.  I knew that I would get the response I did – Deelen Airfield, Flak, Danger of Losing Aircraft with the Three Day Lift Schedule in place.  It still baffles me that knowing what they knew about airborne troop attacks – and the intelligence on the ground re the location of a couple of panzer divisions – that nothing was done to change this plan.  I find it difficult to believe that Montgomery – having gone to the lengths he did to secure permission for this mission – would so happily let his carpet of airborne troopers be taken to battle in such a cack-handed fashion.

So, there we are – September is a funny month.  It routinely brings a sense of melancholy and remembrance.  It routinely re-connects me with my Mother and her family.  It routinely locks me into a time and place over 70 years ago.  It is a funny month.