Saturday, 11 October 2008

Tiger Lily

Dawn has come and you still haven’t been kissed. You’re wrapped in someone’s words but want to be wrapped in their arms. Whatever happens it’s worth the wait.

“Tiger Lily” is one of the very best examples of the fantastic results of Science & Nature’s expansion of the band’s sound and range. Its tale of repeated, lengthy 4am phone calls from the title character is at heart a little slight. Given a more typical treatment it could easily have slipped into the ‘fun but inessential’ column, although it does contain the most fantastically bitchy throwaway line of their whole career (‘Take a look at your peers/Stretching out all their half-arsed ideas/Into half-arsed careers’, where the ‘your’ is surely ‘our’!).

The jazzy, double bass shuffle that underpins the whole song instead gives it a buzzing nervous energy, furtively looking for an escape route the whole time while resignedly pretending to listen to insults and irrelevancies. The biggest wonder, though, is the instrumental flight of fancy that divides the song in two. As the previously almost unnoticeable organ hum of the mundane slowly fades away, the newly bare and cavernous bass is like a reminder of how things are always a bit stranger in the dark, half awake world. It’s joined by spaced out (in both senses) guitar licks and then overtaken by a brisk harpsichord that takes us to a whole different place than unremembered, dutiful phone calls before being abruptly snapped back to reality with a conclusive, echoing crash.

It’s difficult to reconcile the two, but the inlay song-key (see top of this entry and here, does suggest that magical diversion and the wistful sigh of ‘love can change, maybe today’ that drifts over the end of each section do hint that there is some hidden devotion there too. There must be a reason to keep picking up the phone.

Thursday, 2 October 2008


For what was likely a contractually obligated compilation, it's amazing how much fun the 'tones sound like they're having on the quartet of new songs on 2002's The Singles. Even more impressive is that they try on a new identity for each of them, and all of the four are broadly successes.

We've already discussed the wide open Americana of "The Bluetones Big Score". Persuasion has the same production gloss and tight harmonies, but leans instead to vampy new wave. It also features a ridiculously jaunty middle eight with some kind of synth-accordion, and outro with oscillating beeps in the finest fifties-vision-of-the-future tradition. Although I've not really noticed those before, camoflaged as they are by the robotic distorted guitars that 'woh-woh-woh' all over the track.

It's creative, it's a lot of fun, and it's all tied together by a clever narrative that sees a relationship in turmoil (as represented by Mark's powerfully drawn out vowels of the verses) being offered a glint of hope of reconciliation, albeit one where 'my envoys' do the talking. Only, it turns out via that middle eight, they actually aren't fighting because there's real conflict but just for the hell of it, like much else of what's enjoyable here.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Slight Return

At this point, it had to be really.
For those who don't already know, "Slight Return" was The Bluetones' biggest hit. Only Babylon Zoo kept it off the number one spot back in 1996, and it played a large part in Expecting to Fly briefly interrupting a very long Oasis run at number one in the album charts. It also still gets regular-ish airings on alternative leaning radio station, in common with precisely none of their other songs.

What with never having heard of The Bluetones before 2000, I didn't know any of this at the time, so I'm missing out on a big wave of nostalgia and as a result at a certain remove from this song as it's widely treated. There are certainly other singles of theirs that would cheer me up more with (hypothetical) radio plays as a result, but there's no way I'm going to begrudge "Slight Return" its status.

In some ways it's actually not the most obvious hit. The chorus is catchy, but no more so than "Bluetonic" and "Cut Some Rug", whose tunes are a lot more forceful and instant. Lyrically it is relatable but remarkably low key - never has an anthem been so careful and qualified from the title on downwards. 'I'm coming home'... '(but just for a short while)'. In the long run it's actually the thoughtful realism behind its gentle reassurance that makes it work, a friendly hand on the shoulder that recognises that there are problems but takes them down in size. That takes a good few listens to sink in though.

What makes all the difference immediately is that none of those other songs featured the sunniest, jangliest guitar tone ever, or made use of it so fantastically. From the single bright, expectant opening chord that hangs in space for just long enough onwards, it provides all the hook you need and more. They know it, too. That's made clearest is how they brilliantly end the thing - there's no drawn out repetition of the song's lyrical refrain to finish, but instead a return to riffing on its guitar patterns, turning at last into a completely unqualified celebration.

Finally, it's probably sensible to mention that other band whose ghost occasionally looms over us at this point, as the only song that comes close to sounding like this, and just possibly an influence, is The Stone Roses' "Waterfall" (The La's or Delays being close but a juncture further away in style). Now, Ian Brown's voice got to be the butt of way more jokes than it deserved, especially coming from people who would laud the Gallaghers, but for all its other strengths it's fair to say that he could never have done justice to a "Slight Return" however good a backing he was given.

Video: "Slight Return"

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Serenity Now

As long as it isn't a forgone conclusion for the chorus repeat, there's always something quite satisfying about the moment when a song's title comes up in its lyrics. It can be like a really small but clever puzzle being solved, the more unlikely the better.

Take the Seinfeld-referencing "Serenity Now", which eventually pops up at the end of the chorus:

'Deep down, everybody you meet wants to knock your teeth out,
Cos you're an ally of corruption and obscenity,
You're an enemy of reason and serenity now'

The moment isn't much in itself, but lends a certain closing ring to a memorable chorus (and song) that harks back all the way to "Marblehead Johnson" in its tense rumble. And small but perfectly formed sums up "Serenity Now" rather well.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

I ♥ The City

First of all, sorry about recent sporadic posts. Working full time now does give me a lot less time but the plan/hope is to write at least one thing for somewhere every weekday, be it here, Delete As Appropriate or the Jukebox, so there shouldn't be gaps longer than a few days.

"I ♥ The City" occupies somwhat of a halfway house between sincerity and satire. Its bounding energy, punctuated by eager bursts of wailing harmonica, lends it the character of someone excitedly holding forth on a favourite subject, and it begins with (albeit sort of denied) boasts about the superiority of city dwellers. The chorus, though, is lyrically nothing but poking fun at the same:

'Many people like open space,
But give me a perfumed alleyway,
Give me crowds and give me buildings,
Give me rotting vegetation,
Give me concrete give me ceilings,
Give me overpopulation,
I love the city'

I can't think of that last line as sarcasm though. The earlier throwaway that 'You've got to love it anyway' is probably key - this really is love, but it's love out of obligation rather than any kind of thought process. You can see all of the city's faults but you love it because, well, it's home, and you can't imagine being anywhere else even when breathing in pollution or pinned to the wall of the tube by a mass of commuters. I hope, given the band's roots, that I'm not just projecting when I assume that we are both talking about London here, and even though I didn't grow up here I can still relate to the feeling a lot. Perhaps that's why the sometimes clunky lyrics and its being one of the weaker tracks on Luxembourg musically don't stop me from really enjoying the song.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Glad To See Y'Back Again?

Or, as the back of the BBC Radio Sessions case has it, "Glod To See Y'Back Again?", reflecting all of the care and attention going into ex-label Mercury's Bluetones repackaging.

To be fair, that question mark is there for a reason, and this is a song that doesn't sound at all glad of anything. Frustration is the dominant emotion, with a side order of depressed resignation, and so in one of the Tones' cleverer early breaks with traditional structure they chase their own tail round a series of progressively small and disaffected circles. They stick to the same basic groove all the way through, but just flexibily and ponderously enough that when they pause on the verge of another return, you feel like this time they might just escape. The lyrics flag up the same dissatisfied inertia, wryly commenting 'hello again' and 'here we go again' at new turns.

Then about two thirds of the way through the escape finally does happen, when the loosely circular structure is broken with barely a teasing pause to herald it, in favour of a mini, Talking To Clarry style psychadelic guitar blowout. It's a bit of an awkward conclusion to a song whose contained nature is its main strength.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?

A mischievous title for the band's debut single proper, a number 31 hit in 1995 which wasn't included on debut Expecting To Fly, possibly seen as too throwaway to fit. It's throwaway in the best possible sense, though, a burst of instant, sunshiney pop that comes rushing out the blocks, never lets up in energy ends perfectly in under three minutes, job done. Along the way we get even more great backing vocals than usual, an incredibly confident call and response chorus and a singalong 'ba ba ba ba' or twenty.

For such an early and deceptively simple appearing song there are a lot of clever touches within, too. The way that its rattling guitar riff pinballs back and forth between speakers behind the second verse is addictively unusual, and the verses especially deal in splashes of colour and mood at the expense of narrative in a way that's engagingly at odds with its agressively direct tune. It's not quite the complete article, and I'm not sure that I'd take this version of the band over the more emotional and complex one that emerged afterwards, but the pop thrill of "Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?" is certainly a great thing to find in the depths of a discography.