I even went to Port Talbot for them

Last week, I attended my thirteenth Manics concert. Even I had started to wonder if I might actually get bored of them at some point and yet they proved once again why I adore them quite so much. The three of them truly love being in that band. They love being on stage with each other, they love playing those songs for these people and James seems to have really grown into the role of all-conquering showman. On this recent tour, they played the whole of the new album, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, took a ten minute break and then belted out an hour of classics. It’s hard to pick fault with a second of it.

‘JFPL’ is a monstrously great rock album. It’s been called The Holy Bible’s second coming and, to be fair, there are some similarities but I’m still not sure that that’s the best way to approach this album. If anything, it’s the perfect blend of the Manics just prior to Richey’s disappearance and the Manics not long thereafter. The quite beautiful arrangements on ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ and ‘William’s Last Words’ are pure ‘late period Manics’, while the splendidly shouty chorus of ‘All Is Vanity’ and  the terrifying propulsion of ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ come straight from the military era of 1994. It’s a truly fabulous album and a likely contender for my album of the year. That said, if you’ve never liked the Manics, this isn’t going to change your mind.

The rapturous response to pretty much every song in the classics set further reinforced my belief that I will never tire of this band. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is one of the best songs of all time to witness live and the ferocity of this latest rendition was probably the best performance of it I’ve ever witnessed. Even early b-side, ‘Sorrow 16’ (great chorus, forgettable verse), prompted plenty of cheers and by the time we were all haplessly singing along to ‘A Design For Life’ the world had been put to rights and James, Nicky and Sean had triumphed once again. God, I love this band.

I spent much of last night gazing out of the window at perpetual drizzle whilst listening to a selection of Manics b-sides from across the years, although I seemed to alight on the ‘Everything Must Go’ era. (Yes, I am sad enough to have all of the b-sides categorised by album on the iPod.) Now, I know that my love of these tracks come from my fanboy-ish desire to hoover up every last note whenever possible and thus, with familiarity, so often a liking grows, but I genuinely believe that there is some outrageously good songwriting tucked away on numerous Manics b-sides. If I were to pick three, just from that era, for you to track down, I’d send you off to hear ‘No One Knows What It Feels Like To Be Me’, ‘Mr Carbohydrate‘ and ‘First Republic’. Go on, treat yourself. And if you can’t, there’s an email address in the previous post, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you, er, find the songs.

***

As for albums of the year, if I had to pick my top 5 right now, it’d be these…

5. Super Furry AnimalsDark Days / Light Years

4. Trashcan SinatrasIn The Music

3. Graham CoxonThe Spinning Top

2. Manic Street PreachersJournal For Plague Lovers

1. DovesKingdom Of Rust

It’ll all change, of course, but there have been some truly wonderful albums already this year. Bubbling under for that list are Grizzly Bear, Lily Allen, Jarvis, Madness, Duckworth Lewis Method, Moz and the new Magnolia Electric Co album, ‘Josephine‘, which is the best thing Jason Molina’s ever done. I’ve not had it that long, so it’s not in the top 5 just yet, but I suspect it may get there.

A nice little shuffle

It’s the question that music obsessives hate even more than, "do you really need a fifth copy of that?" It’s the moment when the brain melts and it becomes impossible to act rationally. It’s the moment when somebody says, "so, what are your top three songs of all time."

How are you supposed to be able to answer that off the top of your head? It depends on the weather, time of year, the bloody time of day on some occasions. You can’t just nail three songs on, can you? Or can you? I try from time to time and get abso-bloody-lutely nowhere. I keep using bloody today. I’m trying to avoid too much fucking near the start of the piece. Ah well, not to worry.

Anyway, the good lady wanted her mp3 player filling up prior to a long journey and was sat alongside me as we scrolled through a quite disturbing number of tracks in iTunes. Now, I still don’t find this anywhere near as satisfying as rummaging through the racks for hours on end, but it offers a different perspective on the collection. What it’s really good at is throwing up odd songs that you’d pretty much forgotten about. 4 Non Blondes anyone? Clarence Carter’s ‘Patches’? Oh yes, just two of the delights I heard again this afternoon.

As these long-ignored tracks blare out, you suddenly find yourself thinking how good they are. Before long you’re vowing to listen to them regularly, only for them to slip into oblivion as quickly as they came forth.

So, rather than do a ‘my favourite tunes’ piece, I thought I’d embark on a shuffling project. I know it’s not a new idea, just look at most music based message boards right now and you’ll see this topic with umpteen replies. But, as I find it makes me dig out old records and influences my listening habits for the week, it might make interesting reading. Where possible, I’ll include the opportunity to hear the songs I refer to. Right then, let’s get this going with…

1. Maximo Park – Nosebleed

Loved ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ more than I could ever have imagined. I’d written Maximo Park off as another one of those ‘famous for fifteen’ indie types. I was, quite unreservedly, wide of the mark on that one. Both of their albums to date have the feel of a ‘Greatest Hits’ collection about them, and this is a fine example of why. Any album that can overlook this, and yet still release four singles as fan-fucking-tastic as ‘Our Velocity’, ‘Books From Boxes’, ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ and ‘Karaoke Plays’ must be doing something right. Can’t recommend them enough, and from what I’ve witnessed of them on telly and in print they seem like truly splendid chaps.

This performance of the track is from the Glasto 2007 footage that convinced me of their genius once and for all. Enjoy.

2. Super Furry Animals – Y Gwyneb Iau

I have to be honest about this one. When it first started I couldn’t be absolutely certain what it was. It is, it transpires, a lovely little tune. I’m accustomed to taking ‘Mwng’, the album from which this is taken, in one sitting as a result of having little understanding of the song titles, and thus the lyrics. Any Super Furries fans reading this who don’t have this little gem of a record should set about rectifying that oversight. It catches Gruff et al just before everything had to be quite so BIG. As close to a bare bones record as they’ve ever done, it contains some splendid moments, in particular Ysbeidiau Heulog. Listen here.

3. Bill Wells and Isobel Campbell – Somebody’s On My Mind

A recent addition to the collection, this one. Weirdly, the death of Kevin Greening over Christmas (see my other, more specialist, blog) brought about my interest in pretty much everything Bill Wells has ever done. I was listening back to a tape of Kevin filling in on Xfm’s ‘X-Posure’ show and he used a track from ‘Also In White’, Wells’ 2002 album in the background. Further exploration of his back catalogue led me to this little beauty. Combining minimalist beats and ethereal bleeps, the mini-album from which this comes, ‘Ghost Of Yesterday’ is a slow-burning collection of rather fragile pieces of music that serve to underline Isobel Campbell’s quite magnificent talent as a singer. Recommended, although nab Bill Wells’ ‘Also In White’ first. Listen here.

4. Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – Eleanor Rigby

Hmm. Not sure about the origins of this one. It’s labelled as ‘A Royal Performance’, although that could mean anything. It’s rather nice, in the sense that pretty much anything with The Brodsky Quartet involved tends to be. It’s a little bit ponderous, and the presence of Sir Thumbsaloft ensures the usual amount of teeth-itching. In fact, Costello doesn’t appear to be on the bloody thing at all. It’s sparse and beautiful thanks to the Brodskys, but I’d rather have heard Costello having a go at it. If you wish to subject yourself.

5. The Innocence Mission – Now The Day Is Over

This band came to my attention as a result of that lovely, lovely man, Richard Hawley. He has quite a regular presence on his own forums over at his website, and in amongst many other topics he’ll occasionally mention music he’s enjoying. He refered to the heartbreakingly delicate, ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’ by this band last year and over time I’ve added a number of their albums to my collection. This is the title track of one of their latter day albums. It’s not their best, but it’s still pretty decent. Karen Peris’ lead vocals remain as eerie and slightly juvenile in their delivery but the overall sense that you’re hearing something special remains throughout. Go get ‘Tomorrow On The Runway’. This, on the other hand, is here.

No more than seven years behind the times

Musical Revelations Of The Week:

Paul Weller – ‘Heliocentric‘ – Yup, finger on the pulse of yoof music, once again. As I said a week ago, I’ve finally picked up the two Weller solo albums that were missing from my collection, this one and ‘Heavy Soul.’ I won’t go over the reasons for the delay again, but suffice to say I’ve been proved wrong. Somebody I work with is absolutely obsessive about Weller and recently attempted to persuade me that this album was far better than critics judged it on release. I allowed him to blather on for a little while, before dismissing such fanciful notions with but a waft of my eyelashes. However, I think he might actually be right. I’ve been playing it quite a lot this week – that and ‘Lady’s Bridge‘ – and it’s really starting to win me over. It’s not so much individual songs that stand out, but the overall mood that it creates. It’s soulful, it’s got that earthy-rock sound that has more than a little blues in there and his singing is marvellous. There is, however, one tune that does stand out, and that’s the closer, ‘Love-less.’ One of Weller’s heart-breaking, piano-led ballads that just floors me. A delight, not to mention a surprise. The spiffing chap himself was in the Sunday Times magazine today which I happened upon as a result of switching from the Sindy as a result of the free World Cup guide. I’m such an oval-ball whore. That seems so much worse written down than it did in my head.
Booker T. & The MGs – Picked up the ‘Stax Profiles‘ CD from Fopp the other day because a) it was £4 b) it’s compiled by Elvis Costello. I’ve always been quite fond of BT&MGs, but the ‘Complete Stax/Volt Singles‘ and their ‘Green Onions‘ album had always seemed to suffice. This album was something of a revelation and Costello must take some of the credit for his wonderfully enthusiastic sleevenotes. Sitting between the speakers and giving it my full attention I realised that I’d done this lot a disservice in the past. Don’t just judge them on ‘Green Onions‘ and don’t write them of as background music. At this price, you can just buy it rather than have me try and capture the raw power of these tracks on a blog on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Super Furry Animals – ‘Hey Venus!‘ – I was convinced that, having waited an extra week for it, the vinyl edition was going to be a shit pressing that sounded like somebody was eating a bag of salt and vinegar throughout, but no, the LP of this quite marvellous record sounds ace. In addition to that, you’ve really got to get it just to see that artwork in its 12″x12″ glory.
Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:
The Smoking Room – Got series two on DVD this week and it reignited my love affair with this programme. The laws of the land ensure that a third series would be highly improbable, but that doesn’t stop the two that exist being laugh-out-loud funny throughout. A beautifully observed bunch of regular characters reaching into double figures spend each episode doing little more than talking. This would be shit, but for the perfectly crafted dialogue and the meticulous performances from the cast. Video samples from here.
The Likely Lads – It’s my firmly-held belief that ‘Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?’ is one of the all time great comedy shows but I’d never got round to buying the DVD of the surviving episodes of the original, black and white series from the sixties. The Beeb, back in the days before archive material was the never-ending source of money, had wiped a great deal of legendary material – Pete and Dud and Dad’s Army suffered similarly cruel fates, but these seven episodes remain. They’re bloody funny. To be fair, it’s the later episodes that stand up the most, but still, I remain hugely jealous of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers of not only this, but the follow-up series and another of the greatest shows of all time, Porridge and its follow-up, Going Straight. The Likely Lads owes a great deal of its entertainment value to the performances of Rodney Bewes and James Bolam who are superb throughout. Their entirely believeable relationship adds a dramatic elements to events, as well ensuring that every gag is milked to its full potential. Wonderful stuff, and currently going rather cheap. (You can get the surviving episodes of this series, plus both series of ‘WHTTLL?’ in a box for £17.99 here)
Gideon Coe on 6music moving – I was rather dismayed to learn that one of the most under-rated presenters on British radio is being moved from his morning slot to the equivalent show at the other end of the day. From 22nd October, Gid will be hosting 10pm-1am, while shouty E4 tyke, George Lamb will do a straight swap into the mid-morning show. Is it a genius move to provide music lovers with an excellent late night listening experience now that Radcliffe’s been moved up the schedule or is it yet more dumbing down of 6music to the point that intelligent presenters can no longer be heard during daylight hours?

Is ‘The Men Don’t Give A…’ too obvious?

That logo is a little off-centre. Might even sort that out soon. What is going on in Neighbours these days? Just watched today’s episode and for once I couldn’t pick it up. What is Karl doing? Who are most of these people? Why is Steph with Toadie? Anybody think I need more to fill my days with? Ah well, I’m in a good mood today after finally getting hold of my Rugby World Cup tickets that have been floating somewhere between here and France for sometime. All is well.
So, music. Received a signed copy of ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck‘ by the Super Furries in the post this morning, after a winning bid on eBay. Listening to the two remixes included on the CD reminded me of the golden era of pointless alternative versions.
When I rummage through my pile of CD singles I can find any numer of truly terrible remixes that do nothing but add a tacky beat to a tune and remove most of the vocals. I could understand your average pop tune having six different remixes to get played in the ‘clubs’ (in inverted commas because, for some reason, I feel rather old writing that sentence, not sure why), but why did SFA need bizarre mixes from Howard Marks (!?!) and Matthew Herbert. Did the Manics benefit from their association with the Chemical Brothers? As much as I love to hear all the different versions of songs I’m hugely fond of, is there any need for the six minute plus reworkings that take small bits of the song and create something else, something not altogether worth listening to?
My single buying years are behind me – much like every person in the world, seemingly – but I still encounter these mixes via bonus discs with albums and downloads. I can’t remember the last great remix I heard. Which brings me back round to the Super Furries. I frequently discuss this band with a mate who’s also a fan, and his theory is that, rather than tarting up half-decent songs with good production like most bands do, they make pristine pop gems and then deconstruct them for the sheer hell of it. I think he might well have a point. ‘Hey Venus!‘ is the purest pop thing they’ve ever done, and while I’d not really thought of them as particularly contrary, I was listening to ‘Hermann Loves Pauline‘ this morning and the ‘Marie Curie was French bred’ line, which is followed by Gruff shouting ‘French Bread’ and a manic laugh and was suddenly struck by the fact that this was a Top 40 hit ten years ago. I’ve always loved them, and so I’ve never had to find a way through their ‘weirdness’, but listening back I can now vaguely understand why they’ve never quite cracked through to the mainstream. They deconstruct at will, twist songs out of shape and add noises and in-jokes because they want to. Their attitude is ‘why not?’ Working on the theory that Rough Trade, their new label, are aware of this, I can’t see any reason to change this approach and I hope they don’t.
My point? God knows? And who’s that woman Boyd’s with?

Get Mildly Chirpy!

Here’s a classic bit of Costello to enjoy, continuing the theme from yesterday:

And now, to continue the other theme, here’s a live performance of ‘Demons‘ by the Super Furries from the 1998 NME awards:

To conclude, another SFA live performance, this time from Glastonbury 2007. They decided to redo ‘Northern Lites‘ in a Teenage Fanclub stylee:

I lied. Not on purpose like.

Ok, so I never got around to writing anything about the Magnolia Electric Co box. I will, eventually. It’s not like I haven’t written loads recently though, is it? Feel free to chime in on any of the topics using the comments buttons, although it would seem that the ever-increasing band of readers prefer to simply read and mull in the private domain of their own minds. And why not?
Bought a cheap copy of the new Shellac album today. My first Shellac album. Whatthefuckisallthataboutthen? Yikes. Good fun though. And fair play to the Super Furries for surpassing themselves with the cover of their new single. It’s late. Til tomorrow…

Hands on the table, please

An early post today because I can. Just a brief one to remind you to buy the Super Furry Animals‘ new single, ‘Show Your Hand‘ today. It’s on CD and 7″ picture disc and the usual download outlets, although those are naturally not as good as a spiffing picture disc. I wanted to put the video in the post too, but I can’t actually find one. I did find the weirdest clip of them miming to it on GMTV, but I’m not sure they’d ever want to relive it, and I’m sure it was just a bizarre blip whereby an alternative universe opened up and SFA are suitable for people who can barely find their own arse whilst waiting for Jeremy Kyle to start. So, instead, here’s a slightly shoddy audience recording from their album-taster shows in Cardiff a few months back.
Time to buy now…
CD/7″/Download bundle from recordstore.co.uk (search Super Furry)