Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Lowest Common Denominator

First things first - yes, I deleted a post with some videos from the weekend. I got mad that despite initially allowing me to embed their videos, then decided that they didn't like that and converted my post into a content free plug for their website. And seeing as the only reason I used them was because, inexplicably, there is no promo video for Countdown by Lindsay Buckingham available on YouTube, I pulled the whole thing.

So now I'll turn to the question that's been at the back of my mind for a while, and which was raised by The Vinyl Villain recently who was also quoting from To Die By Your Side - namely where on earth is this ringtone/mp3/USB disposa-pop ADHD lowest-common-denominator music thing going? Let me explain.

I am passionate about music. By that I mean I am passionate about the form of music I have gotten used to over the years, which includes concepts such as a silver platter, a case, and inserts and artwork. Oh, and a quality album worth keeping for many years is a plus. Over the last few years, I have felt like shouting out loud, "Hey people, mp3's are not the same thing as a CD. It's not even close. It's comparing a New York strip steak to a Sonic Burger. So how can you charge the same price for either and talk about phasing out CD's altogether?" What it comes down to is this: for me, music is not, has not ever been, and must never be, disposable. I was on i-Tunes yesterday and chose to delete a music file I had gotten for free as a Single of the Week promo - a decision which, oddly enough, hurt a little bit. Frankly, because I don't like the idea of throwing music away. If I don't like something, I will sell it, trade it, give it to the library or charity. I can't bear the thought of CD's ending up in the trash. It's like finding a body in the river - seemingly obscene or unnatural. So to imagine that the predominant means of listening to music in the 21st century is by downloading a ten second tinny ringtone that lasts a week or two is really a problem to me.
I'm proud of the fact that deserving artists now have an additional revenue source which hopefully will encourage them to continue to make music. But, as the bloggers I mentioned above both ponder, what happens to quality control? It brings up an interesting concept that I've been chewing over for the past few days in an abstract way - namely, that the demise of major label record companies may not be so much the tearing down of the Berlin wall but more like the Russian revolution. When all the barriers have been removed, are we entering some form of musical communism? There are opportunities for everyone, but what if mediocrity becomes the norm? Will all our musicians be wearing gray?

For all their faults, the major labels did do one thing, and that was to filter out a lot of average music. And while musicians can upload music to MySpace at no cost, no-one has the leverage to produce a well-co-ordinated advertising campaign, or produce a promo video that takes the music to a new dimension. Where would Rio be without the yachts, where would Vienna be without the snow, and where would Nothing Compares To You be without some tears, to name just three examples? And if there are no videos on MTV or elsewhere, and satellite radio is a jumbled mess, and magazines have no hope of keeping up with the sheer volume of new releases, how are we supposed to fall in love with music any more? What is going to demand our attention, capture our hearts, and keep us coming back for me? Can you imagine that Madonna or Michael Jackson would break through in the same way today?

Here's what I've noticed, and see if this makes sense to you. I was flipping through a music magazine recently and saw an ad for a band called Wire Daisies. Sounded interesting, I thought. Checked out the MySpace page, heard a track I quite liked. Next, I'm looking for a Vegas CD on eBay (Vegas being the Terry Hall/David A. Stewart collaboration from 1992) and instead I find a CD by Leeds band Your Vegas, go to Rhapsody, check them out, quite like that as well. Look back at the various new music I have discovered in 2008. Lots of things I quite like. Either I am getting easier to please in middle age (which I will concede is possible) or bands these days seem to be able to punch certain buttons that produce likeable music without challenging or producing the jaw-dropping effect of bands like Joy Division, The Stone Roses or even - I can't believe I'm saying this - Oasis. Where's the revolution at? We are living in an age where the most radical music is determined by the delivery method (i.e. In Rainbows). Shouldn't I be scratching my head, stroking my chin and complaining that I have no clue what kids are listening to today?

I've been getting into Britpop in the last week or two, and I have to say that by comparison, a lot of that music still jumps out at me today. I'd forgotten what a good band Suede were. I've had the Sleeper track "Sale of the Century" in my head all week. I've started listening to Gene, and Dodgy and a lot of bands I never had time for back in the 90's. As I'm writing this I'm watching the Britpop documentary Live Forever. So am I just a nostalgia buff? Maybe. But here's the question. How will this decade be remembered? Which bands will stand tall? When music becomes disposable, why should anyone remember anything at all?

Incidentally, Louise Wener is still fine, and "Bittersweet Symphony" is still awesome.

Gene - Speak To Me Someone
Morgan - Miss Parker (Dust Brothers Remix)
The Hollow Men - Pink Panther

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nostalgia Trip: The X-Files

I wasn't born yet when JFK was assassinated, but I can tell you exactly where I was on January 12, 1997 when I saw my first episode of The X-Files. I was at a Holiday Inn in Seattle, on my very first USA trip, when I saw the Season 4 episode El Mundo Gira, about a mythical mexican beast. I then started following the adventures of FBI agents Mulder and Scully with keen interest.

Now you may get the impression that, yet again, I was showing up late to what had been something of a TV phenomenon for several years. In my defence, this was at a time when most houses in the UK had no access to satellite TV, and the terrestrial station, the BBC, was currently running episodes from the series about two years behind the US schedule. It's hard to believe now, just ten years later, that we used to have to wait so long to see the programs. This was also before TV on DVD became popular, so the best you could get was a VHS tape with two or three episodes, and even then, the options were limited.

It's also true that to an extent I was guilty of dismissing a show that had a central premise of aliens existing, governments involved in shadowy conspiracies, and the weird and horrific were part of everyday life. But by the end of 1996 I was disillusioned enough with life to begin to enjoy the more sinister aspects of these kinds of shows.

What attracted me initially to the series was the production values. Each episode screened like a short movie. It was also the first show I had seen in a long time where you had to see the opening scene, and watch the mystery unfolding. It was like a magic trick.

As a twenty-something, I have to say I also had a fanboy crush on Gillian Anderson, whose character Scully was so measured, so scientific, and yet also quite feminine, with that gorgeous hair. I liked the fact that she was short ( in one episode Mulder sarcastically tells her, "I'm surprised your feet reach the pedals!") but always seemed to handle the weirdest situations.

Like a lot of other people, I think the show peaked in seasons 3 and 4 and never really cared for the ongoing conspiracy plot. I kept thinking that there was no good way to resolve the ever-increasingly convoluted threads that would make sense and be a satisfactory payoff - and so it proved. I did like the Cigarette Smoking Man, though.

Now of course, the new movie is about to be released, which I'm sure will renew interest in the show again.

How about a couple of related mp3's?

Catatonia - Mulder & Scully
Mike Oldfield - Tubular X
Mark Snow - The X-Files Theme

I was going to post Gillian Anderson's CD Single until I remembered I had already posted it here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random 90's Wednesday

Animals That Swim - The Longest Road (from I Was The King, I Really Was The King, 1996)
Voice of the Beehive - Perfect Place (from Honey Lingers, 1991)
Frazier Chorus - Cloud 8 (from Ray, 1991)
Betsy Cook - Love Is The Groove (from The Girl Who Ate Herself, 1994)
Katydids - The Boy Who's Never Found (from Shangi-La, 1991)
Cause & Effect - Nothing Comes To Mind (from Another Minute, 1991)

Darden Smith - Midnight Train (1991)

This is for whiteray at Echoes In The Wind.

This is a promotional CD, featuring the Texas singer-songwriter Darden Smith being interviewed by his frequent collaborator, former The Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine. An entertaining listen.

Darden Smith - Midnight Train (1991)
1. Midnight Train (Album Version)
2. Theory of life and the lord of the flies
3. Trouble No More *
4. Playing live and best/worst gig
5. Frankie & Sue *
6. A bridge in Tahiti
7. Love Left Town *
8. Toes tapping all across America
9. All I Want (Is Everything) *
10. The Bible and Marvin Gaye
11. Abraham, Martin and John *
12. Where did you get your name?
13. Evidence *
14. Story telling and songwriting
15. Listen to My Own Voice *
16. First song written/favorite songs
17. Midnight Train *

* Live, in-studio acoustic performance by Darden Smith and Boo Hewerdine

Nothing Serious (Just Blogging)

As regular blog readers will know, I've chosen to dedicate July to the music and pop culture of the 1990's. This has been a harder task than I thought - not because there isn't good material to be found, but because it is so diverse. Judging by my download streams, the most popular posts are albums from the early 80's, and generally if you like the new wave sound, you will like music from that era. But the 90's is so fragmented that an album that I like may have very limited appeal to others, so I have found it harder to balance stuff I like with stuff that people might be interested in or looking for.

The positive side is that if you do find something you connect with, then the availability is much better. Amazon has streams of 90's albums available through third party sellers for under a dollar. For example, I found a terrific album by the group SYN called A Matter Of Time, which cost about 90 cents and was still in the wrapper with the original Best Buy price tag of $11.99.

Random 90's Wednesday has been interesting to me because I have no idea until five minutes before posting what tracks I am going to put up. There's a lot of difference, sonically, between something from 1991 and 1998. But it's all stuff I like, and I'm enjoying putting it out there. I have to mention one track in particular. I featured it on my other blog Left A Bit and it had no hits, so I reposted it here. The track is a pop tune called "Anyway" by a power pop outfit called Poole. It wasn't a single and wasn't one of the tracks recommended for radio play on my promo CD, but I just think it's a fantastic song, so if you haven't checked it out yet, here it is again:

Poole - Anyway

BTW, my Fileden bandwidth got sucked up again. I'm not mad, because I'm pretty sure it was due to a glowing recommendation from Halfhearted Dude on his blog, so I appreciate the extra traffic. In the meantime, I'm using Mediafire.

You might notice some new links in my blogroll. Several site I have been following have become inactive, but while researching my 1990's material, several blogs appeared that cover the Britpop era very comprehensively. Now I came very late to the Britpop party, in 1996 just when the scene was starting to slow down. So I appreciate sites like Moody Places, that posts a myriad of CD singles from the early to mid 90's, and Dirk Wears White Socks, that does something similar but also throws in an album or two. My perennial favorite Box Set Go is another good source for "baggy" material, as is Madchester Rave On. Frankly, I have found so much unfamiliar material on these sites that it's going to take a while to absorb it all. I'm thinking I may produce some compilations of tracks that stood out to me.

Other more general sites I have added are the excellent Castles In Space and Echoes In The Wind, both well worth checking out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Beloved - Conscience (1993)

In which we imagine a world where madchester, grunge and britpop took a backseat to music that meant something...

One of my favorite pop acts of the early 90's was The Beloved. After commercial and critical success with the album Happiness and the singles "Hello" and "The Sun Rising" expectations for the follow-up were high. The lead single from Conscience was the laid back "Sweet Harmony" and while it was decent (reaching the Top Ten in the UK), it was clear that the music scene had moved on from the rave/dance culture the band embraced. The album, and subsequent singles, failed to replicate earlier success, and some of the blame was (unfairly, I think) directed at Helena Marsh, who replaced Steve Waddington in the band and happened to be the wife of Jon Marsh, the other remaining member.

As is the case with a lot of the music I like, it's the less commercial stuff that holds my interest. Second single "You've Got Me Thinking" remains an all-time favorite due to the beautiful interplay between acoustic guitar and an electronic beat - while it may not be my favorite track of all time (step forward, "Blue Monday"!) it is probably the best track I can point to as an example of the type of music that I will always prefer. Other standout tracks include the trippy "Outerspace Girl" and the slightly ironic "Rock To The Rhythm of Love".

The video for "Sweet Harmony" is worth mentioning, as it features lots of tasteful nakedness, and I tracked down a "making of" segment that discusses the video and is quite interesting I think.

The Beloved - Conscience (1993)
  1. Spirit
  2. Sweet Harmony
  3. Outerspace Girl
  4. Lose Yourself In Me
  5. Paradise Found
  6. You've Got Me Thinking
  7. Celebrate Your Life
  8. Rock To The Rhythm Of Love
  9. Let The Music Take You
  10. 1000 Years From Today
  11. Dream On

The Beloved - Sweet Harmony CD Single

  1. Sweet Harmony
  2. Sweet Harmony (Live The Dream Mix)
  3. Motivation (Exercised)
  4. Sweet Harmony (Love The Dub Mix)

Official Website - includes an extensive downloads section
Wikipedia entry

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lauren Christy - Lauren Christy (1994)

In which we imagine a world where madchester, grunge and britpop took a backseat to music that meant something...

Lauren Christy's debut album is chock full of ballads that are too smart for adult contemporary audiences, but not edgy enough for listeners of independent music. Her follow-up, 1997's Breed, was more along the lines of a riot grrl and came along the time Alanis Morissette, Tracy Bonham, and other female singer/songwriters were really taking over the charts, and it makes you wonder which is really the path Christy wanted to pursue, or if both are different aspects of her. Though she wrote or co-wrote each of the songs on this album, there's a blandness to most of them that doesn't warrant repeated listens. On the other hand, "Steep" could be the gentlest, most real, most moving breakup song ever recorded, and "Vanessa's Father," about a girl falling in love with one of her friends' fathers, is so deftly worded and produced that there is nothing icky about the subject matter. Unfortunately, most of the songs just don't stand out at all. (

Well, I didn't think it was that bad. And who can't love a song called "My Jeans I Want Them Back"? Relatively unknown in her own right, Lauren is now one third of the songwriting juggernaut The Matrix.

Lauren Christy - Lauren Christy (1994)
  1. Rain
  2. You Read Me Wrong
  3. Steep
  4. The Rumour
  5. River of Time
  6. Vanessa's Father
  7. My Jeans I Want Them Back
  8. Adult Afraid of the Light
  9. Meet Me In America
  10. Woman's Song
  11. Take Me To The Church

Bonus track: "Anywhere The Wind Blows" from the movie Seven Girlfriends

MySpace Page
Wikipedia Entry

Friday, July 11, 2008

J.J. - Intro (1991)

In which we imagine a world where madchester, grunge and britpop took a backseat to music that meant something...

Causing barely a ripple at the time, and another example of talented musicians that got lost in the shuffle when the world went baggy, was the duo J.J., consisting of vocalist Jan Johnston and instrumentalist/studio whizz/tea boy Tony Kirkham. They released three singles ("Crying Over You", "Slide Away" and "If This Is Love") and a single album, and then (presumably) got dropped by the record company because Bez wasn't shaking his maracas in the background and none of the songs were about hedonistic lifestyle choices. Today, they would make a killing, because what the world needs now is more coffee-shop music with a little spirit. Hey, it worked for Colbie Caillat. My memory might be hazy, but I think that "Denim And Blue" was on a Select cover tape once, and that was the only time I heard them back in the day.

Jan Johnston went on to release a solo album Naked But For The Lillies, and then become a noted trance vocalist, working with DJ Tiesto and appearing on the Swordfish soundtrack with Paul Oakenfold among many other projects. Tony Kirkham went on to, well, making the tea presumably. Tony, if you're out there, fill us in!

J.J. - Intro (1991)
  1. Denim And Blue
  2. If This Is Love
  3. Come Back Baby
  4. Going Nowhere
  5. Silver
  6. Lovers Do
  7. Slide Away
  8. Does Anybody Know
  9. Crying Over You
  10. Anyway The Wind Blows
  11. Success

You can get a good look at Jan's impressive career resume at her website. It's often updated and informative. The latest update is this picture of Jan relaxing in the USA - still looking good, Jan!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nicky Holland - Nicky Holland (1991)

In which we imagine a world where madchester, grunge and britpop took a backseat to music that meant something...

On her eponymous debut, Nicky Holland performs U.K. flavored smooth pop in a similar vein to the music of Sade, Basia, and Swing Out Sister. This is one of those releases that is very enjoyable to listen to, but the material doesn't stick with the listener. Ms. Holland has an adequate voice and the production and musicianship are fine, but the music is not memorable. A sign of a great album is that it haunts the listener between listens, which compels them to return for more listens. This is not a great album; but for those in-the-moment listens, it's good. (

Nicky Holland - Nicky Holland (1991)
  1. Prelude
  2. Ladykiller
  3. Tongue Tied And Twisted
  4. Colouring Blue
  5. Independence Days
  6. This Town
  7. Box of Rain
  8. Face of the Moon
  9. Running Around Again
  10. The Night We Never Met
  11. On the Stairs

[Update - Album has been reposted by request!! October 2013]

Charming old school Nicky Holland web page

[This website is now defunct]

Aztec Camera - The Crying Scene (1990)

[REPOSTED BY REQUEST] I mentioned the other day that I bought a couple of CD singles from Aztec Camera. The Crying Scene is exactly what a CD single should aspire to be: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. These are the tracks:
  1. The Crying Scene (a well known track from the album, Stray) Here's the video
  2. True Colors (a pleasant cover version of the Cyndi Lauper song)
  3. Salvation (a song not included on the album)
  4. I Threw It All Away (a live version of a Bob Dylan song)

All in all a nice set of songs. I hadn't heard the single in about 16 years. Might have to track down the album now. (Update - I got the album, and didn't like it at all. A bizarre mix of styles and no other stand out tracks)

Wikipedia entry
Buy Deep and Wide and Tall - The Best of Aztec Camera

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Video Vault - 1990's Edition

Pet Shop Boys - Being Boring (1990)

Seal - Crazy (1991)

Tasmin Archer - Sleeping Satellite (1992)

World Party - Is It Like Today? (1993)

Pink Floyd - High Hopes (1994)

Marillion - Beautiful (1995)

Suede - Trash (1996)

Erasure - Don't Say Your Love Is Killing Me (1997)

Manic Street Preachers - The Everlasting (1998)

Travis - Driftwood (1999)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July is official 1990's Month!

I've decided to shake things up a bit (again) and I am dedicating the month of July to the music, movies and other pop trivia of the 1990's.

This radical turn of events was after discovering - very much to my surprise - that the 1990's didn't completely suck.

I lost interest in music and other things during that flatulent decade due to other more pressing personal events. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I am able to revisit some of the better legacies to emerge. Therefore, please feel free to let me have your comments, requests and suggestions for what promises to be an eye-opening month of posting. No grunge, please.

As a trailer of sorts, some of the topics I am contemplating include: The Big Lebowski, Marillion, Pink Floyd, Cast, The Matrix, Jonathan Creek, Father Ted, The Ocean Blue, Darden Smith, Boo Hewerdine, William Topley, The Best of Britpop, Manic Street Preachers, Pulp Fiction, Travis, One Hit Wonders, The X-Files, Chris Rea, Third Rock From The Sun, and lime green shirts.

Don't say you haven't been warned!!