Tag: roxy music

My tribute to Mark E Smith

By Daniel Margrain

  • CAKE POLICE: WHY <b>MARK</b> <b>E</b>. <b>SMITH</b> IS COOLER THAN KURT COBAIN

Yesterday (January 24, 2018) the music world lost one of it’s most prolific, inimitable, distinctive and impenetrable characters. I first saw The Fall at Totnes Civic Hall in 1981. It was one of the greatest gigs I have ever seen – the best stay with you. Uncompromising to the last, the bands front man, Mark E Smith, was a much maligned and misunderstood artist and poet who maintained an aura that exuded menace combined with a characteristic dry and dark acerbic wit.

The Fall created a musical language that echoed the anti-conformism of the punks but was far more radical and authentic rooted in England’s northern suburban streets and smoke-filled pubs. The bands raw sound, and Smiths maniacal, unorthodox delivery and scowling on-stage presence, was indicative of the alienation felt by suburban youth of the period.

The Fall re-invented the anti-establishment language of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band for a post-industrial generation of music fans who had grown up with the likes of Roxy Music, Lou Reed and the Stooges. Unlike many of their respective contemporaries, both Beefheart and Smith were genuine outsiders.

Whereas the musical aesthetic of the former closely resembled the marginal aspects of Freak Culture, The Fall faithfully expressed the anxieties of the punks. Both had a desecrating vision of the world, and both were not averse to intellectualism. Smith’s adoption of the famous Albert Camus novel, for example, was a deliberate invocation to something more profound than just music intended for estranged kids.

Smith emphasized that the underlying philosophy of the groups music was far closer to the aesthetic of the garage bands of the 1960s than it was to the simplistic profanity of the ’70s punks. Mark E Smith’s art can essentially be construed as a cryptic game imbued with pathos and humour but at the same time, darkly sinister.

Audience and band members alike were rarely able to relax during a Fall performance. As with Zappa and Beefheart – his key mentors – Smith had a clear artistic vision that required a musical discipline and devotion to the craft necessary to pull off the level of sustained musical repetition often associated with The Fall.

A self-confessed non-musician, Smith would sometimes berate his band when he felt the vision slipping. He knew what he wanted musically, and artistically, and pushed the band hard because he felt he had a certain responsibility to the public. He almost certainly wasn’t the kind of pathological dictator many have claimed.

Luke Turner on Twitter put it well when he said, “Smith didn’t rule The Fall, he wasn’t the dictator of cliché. He saw it as an entity outside of himself, of which he was the curator, the caretaker, the hip priest.”

Smith’s ability to play tricks on the public and his band is what kept both on their toes. His playful characteristic cackle and biting wit often underpinned a more serious side. He seemed to have an incredible ability to be able to tap into the psyche of people and displayed an innate sense of when he felt they were going too far, reining them in with apparent consummate ease. He appeared to understand what passes for human nature more than most people. If he hadn’t succeeded as a “musician”, Smith could of been a professional street hustler.

Indeed, the sound of the early Fall has more in common with the rambling street lo-fi music of David Peel than it does with any of the music trends of the period. Smith’s often deadpan and ironic lyrics were delivered in a manner that merged Iggy Pop with William Burroughs. The result was often primitive and tribal, but also Swiftian in terms of its intellectual endeavor.

The real critical successes of this early period, were the albums ‘Live at the Witch Trials’ (1979), the humorous singles, ‘Totally Wired’ (1980), ‘Elastic Man’ (1981) and the EP ‘Slates’ (1981). It was slightly later when the band first grabbed my attention.

The groups third session for the John Peel show – recorded on September 16, 1980 (first broadcast on the 24 September 1980) – was when the band really began to leave their mark. With the classic line up of Smith on vocals, Marc Riley (guitar), Craig Scanlon (guitar), Steve Hanley (bass) and Paul Hanley (drums), the band excelled with rockabilly infused tracks like ‘New Puritan’ and ‘New Face in Hell’.

But it wasn’t until March 21, 1983 that Smith and the group would produce their tour de force session for Peel – a cacophonous tribal rock masterpiece. The seminal ‘Smile’ from the session, later to appear on ‘Perverted By Language’ (1983), was performed live on Channel 4s ‘Tube’ show and to this day remains one of the greatest  performances by any British group seen on TV.

Other outstanding works include ‘Hex Enduction Hour’ (1982) and ‘This Nations Saving Grace’ (1985). The latter contains the muscular ‘Gut of the Quantifier’, the voodoobilly infused ‘Cruisers Creek’ and ‘Spoilt Victorian Child’. Of the bands later works, ‘The Real New Fall LP’ (2003) and ‘Your Future, Our Clutter’ (2010) stand out. The latter contains three Fall classics – ‘OFYC Showcase’, ‘Cowboy George’ and ‘YFOC Slippy Floor’.

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Review of Fiende Fatale live at The Horn, St. Albans

By Daniel Margrain

In Steven Shea’s 2013 cult horror-adventure parody, Fiende Fatale, an assortment of DNA-cloned monsters and weirdos reconfigured from the carcasses of vampires, zombies, demons and others, find themselves confronting government and terrorist forces in a dystopian world devoid of meaning whose citizens are out of control.

As well as working at the level of a spoof, the short film mainly succeeds as a metaphor for a world spiraling ever-deeper, both spiritually and figuratively, into decay. With the enemy as much internalized as a result of the tactics of divide and rule, and brute force increasingly becoming the norm, the urban proletariat see violence as their only form of salvation against the tyranny of government – a kind of subterranean ‘fight club’ for lost souls.

The dark and claustrophobic venue, ‘The Horn’ in St. Albans fits neatly into this cinematic narrative. When headline band, Fiende Fatale, took to the venues small stage last Saturday evening, against a backdrop of the ever-present sight of ghouls, vampires and zombies in the run up to Halloween, the scene was set perfectly.

From two songs in, it was clear that the band are not easy to pigeon-hole. This is a testament to their creative and musical flair. Attending the same school, the north London ensemble have clearly imbued a multitude of influences – Lou Reed, Stooges, Sex Pistols, Roxy Music – among them.

The groups defining aesthetic is nevertheless one that is reminiscent of the art-rock and post-punk scenes of the early 1970s and early 1980s respectively. Indeed, the manner with which the group merge these influences seamlessly into their work is extremely impressive.

From the opening chords, the bands music, to this critics ears, doesn’t sound derivative, contrived or forced but rather discombobulating which is a mark of their distinctive musicality and artistic creative impulses.

Underneath the clever and often witty lyrics given free expressive reign by lead singer and guitarist, Matthew Magee – whose intensity is equal to Ian Curtis, and whose theatrics are reminiscent of Dave Vanian – is a band that musically, as a unit, are as tight as The Fall without Mark E Smith.

All the while, guitarist, Rolph Edwards regularly skews the formal structure of the groups sound to the point of cacophonous informality rooted in Captain Beefheart and the post-punk of say, the Gang of Four, while Alex Wright’s meaty bass and Dom Bowmans manic but disciplined drumming ensures that the spine of the sound remains intact.

Unfortunately my close friend and me had to leave during the bands rendition of the catchy ‘My Own Worst Enemy’ in order to catch the last train back to London so we missed all of the set. My one criticism is that the group do perhaps veer at times too much towards pop for my taste, but regardless they are talented musician’s who are keeping the spirit of rock and roll very much alive.

Fiende Fatale play The Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, Thursday, 30th November.

 

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Neil Young: Contrarian & genius

By Daniel Margrain
Photo (c) Joel Bernstein 1970.Rarely seen original uncropped photo of the front cover of Neil Young’s classic album, After The Gold Rush sent to PopSpots from Joel Bernstein – which includes Graham Nash.

Emerging from the idealism of the 1960s, Neil Young’s 1975 solemn and meditative masterpiece, ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is a work of immense, but at the same time, subtle beauty borne out of a sense of loss and redemption. The warmth, humour and overriding sense of raw humanity and vulnerability depicted by Young’s rich lyricism, crackling vocals and the all-round brilliant but understated musicianship, touches the deep recesses of the psyche in a very profound way. This is arguably Neil Young’s most solidly consistent and most timeless work from his most creatively fertile period.

This is not to say that for every Tonight’s The Night or Rust Never Sleeps there are not an equal amount of duds among his prolific body of work. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of brilliant songs that he has crafted over a fifty year period welded to his astounding musicianship and incredible insights and intuitions, means that Neil Young ranks among the greatest and most influential of singer-songwriters and artists in all of rock. Certainly, in my view, Neil can be added to an esteemed list that includes Bob Dylan, Lou Reed & the Velvet’s, The Doors, The Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Roxy Music, Kevin Ayers and Pink Floyd.

In my opinion, rarely do journalists and critics satisfactorily capture the essence of Neil Young’s art in all its contrarian complexity. 

Aliens land. They’ve traveled from some distant planet with a specific mission: to find out what this ‘rock and roll’ stuff is all about. Through some curious coincidence, they find you. “What is rock and roll?” they demand, rayguns drawn. You begin to sweat. Still, there is really only one question you need to ask yourself:

“Which Neil Young album do I play them first?”

This is no hyperbole; Neil Young is the personification of rock and roll in human form. From his humble beginnings as a surf rocker in the Squires to his tenure in Hall Of Fame acts Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, to his most recent blitzkrieg Psychedelic Pill, Neil has spent a career as the embodiment of artistry despite fierce resistance. This iron-willed devotion to the Muse has not come without a price, however: While Neil’s successes have mostly flown in the face of prevailing music biz wisdom, his uncompromising nature has earned him almost as many failures, failures that should have sunk him several times over. His unpredictability and star-chamber business practices have often made him a pariah; his impulsive spirit and mood swings would frequently estrange his fellow musicians and most ardent supporters. Even more than Dylan, Neil Young has made a career of being consistently inconsistent.

As an architect of what we now consider ‘underground music’ there is no peer: For every Great Indie Moment of the past thirty years, there is a Neil Young song correlative. Wanna hear ground zero for Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs? See “Journey Through The Past.” The raw-nerve humanity in the songs of Jason Molina? Check out “On The Beach.” The primary influence on J Mascis’s wild, feedback-laden guitar playing, or his reedy, cracked vocal style? That’d be “Cortez The Killer” and “Mellow My Mind,” respectively. Alt country? “Harvest.” I could do this all day. Of course, it works both ways: Neil Young’s decision to release 1991’s Arc, a 35-minute collage of feedback and noise, seems directly inspired by his run-ins with Sonic Youth, while the Pearl Jam-assisted Mirror Ball would find the newly-sired Godfather Of Grunge an awestruck but reluctant don of the alternative rock revolution.

Neil Young has never lent his music to a commercial. He was the Canadian hippie that publicly supported Reagan (despite the fact that he was not eligible to vote), only to record an entire album arguing for the impeachment of George W. Bush. He vainly made movies that made Cocksucker Blues look like Double Indemnity. His autobiography depicts a man more interested in model trains, vintage cars, and cutting-edge technology than his legacy as a rock star, which seems to bore and trouble him.

This, at least, is consistent: As early as 1966, the reluctant star penned “Out Of My Mind” for Buffalo Springfield’s debut album, a song containing the lyrics “All I hear are screams/ from outside the limousines/ that are taking me out of my mind.” He introduced himself to the world with songs about epileptic seizures, tormented small-town girls, and the rent that always seems to be due. His peers may have been enjoying the nectar of flower power, but Neil’s acute perception allowed him to see the darkness just below the surface.

It is easy to view Neil as a cranky contrarian who takes his gifts and fortunes for granted, but this is an oversimplification. It is equally tempting to define him alongside similarly protean artists from Bowie to Gaga, but this, too, is specious. The genre experiments of other artists often indicate an identity crisis, or an attempt to recreate oneself in the hopes of appealing to increasingly fickle market forces. It could be argued that Neil’s shape-shifting is motivated by the exact opposite reasons: trends, expectations, and market forces be damned, he doesn’t feel like making another country-rock record right now. Whether his imagination leads him to Greendale or to Goldrush, it’s all the same to Neil Young. This is why even his most seemingly impersonal, comically overambitious leaps of faith contain, at their core, an honesty — a humanity.

His music may be frequently peevish and outwardly rebellious, but at heart, Neil’s a moralist. His fierce loyalty to talented-but-toxic characters like Bruce Palmer, Rusty Kershaw and Danny Whitten is an example of a probity that undermines a reputation for hardness. Other examples can be found within the songs themselves, full of lessons: Sooner or later it all gets real. Only love can break your heart. Don’t be denied. Don’t wait till the break of day. Time fades away. I feel I must disclose that Neil Young has created some of the most important music of my life. A tattoo on my right wrist reads ‘WWNYD,’ elevating Neil to the status of Jesus Christ, and a promotional poster of Neil at Massey Hall hangs over my writing desk. In some ways, this makes me both the best and worst person for the job of ranking Neil’s albums; I am, and shall always be, a Neil Young apologist. 

Piero Scaruffi wrote this insightful analysis about Neil:

Perhaps no other artist in the history of rock music has produced so many distinguished works in so many different styles and over so many years as Neil Young. The spectral landscape of Last Trip To Tulsa, off his debut album, Neil Young (1968) Introduced a minstrel lost in an unexplored moral universe. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969) elaborated on that theme and achieved a formidable synthesis of “voices “in stately, extended, psychedelic, hard-folk ballads such as Cowgirl In The Sand and Down By The River.

The mellow and melodic folk-rock and country-rock of After The Gold Rush (1970) and Harvest (1972) lent musical credibility to the apocalyptic angst of Tonight’s the Night (1975), recorded in 1973 and On The Beach (1974). The former, perhaps his masterpiece, was the ultimate testament of the post-hippy depression, an elegiac concept that sounded like a mass for the dead. The electrifying lyricism of Zuma (1975) and Like A Hurricane (1977), the anthemic hysteria of Rust Never Sleeps (1979), the company fresh collapsing values ​​of Freedom (1989) and the obscure meditation of Sleeps With Angels (1994) continued his life-long moral crusade.

Neil Young constitutes with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen the great triad of “moral” voices of American popular music. As is the case with the other two, Young’s art is, first and foremost, a fusion of music and words that identifies with his era’s zeitgeist. Unlike the others, though, Young is unique in targeting the inner chaos of the individual that followed the outer chaos of society [My emphasis]. While Dylan “transfers” his era’s events into a metaphysical universe, and Springsteen relates the epic sense of ordinary life, Young carries out through more complex psychological operations that, basically, bridges the idealism of the hippy communes and the neuroses of the urban population.

His voice, lyrics, melodies and his guitar style, compose a message of suffering and redemption that, at its best, transcends in hallucination, mystical vision, philosophical enlightenment, while still grounded in a context that is fundamentally a hell on earth [My emphasis]. The various aspects of Young’s career (the bucolic folk-singer, the liberal militant, the post-hippie moralist, the apocalyptic guru, the universal pessimist, the melancholy loner, the alienated rocker) are merely stages of a long calvary, which is both individual and collective. Young did to the lyrical song what Dylan did to the protest song. Just like Dylan wed the emphasis of Whitman’s poetry and the optimism of Kennedy’s era with the themes of public life, Young wed Emerson’s humanism and the pessimism of the post Kennedy era with the themes of private life.

On top of this, Young invented the distorted, cacophonous, nightmarish style of guitar playing that would influence the grunge generation. Young’s angst is unique in his schizophrenia, which runs at several levels. First and foremost, one has to deal with the live / studio dichotomy of his career.

Charged with the sonic equivalent of a nuclear reaction, the “live” Young albums seem to come from a different artist, a musical terrorist, a true punk. Within the studio albums, one has to deal with another dichotomy: the pretty, linear, smooth country-inspired ballad, and the ugly, noisy, acid-inspired jam. These two modes rarely coexist: they alternate, they compete for control of Young’s career (and mind?), Each studio album being dominated by either of the two.

What’s So Great About ‘Roxy Music’?

The first of Roxy Music’s opening trilogy of masterpieces sounds as original and fresh today as it did on its release back in 1972. Comprising Bryan Ferry on vocals and piano, Graham Simpson on bass, Andrew Mackay on oboe and sax, Paul Thompson on drums, Phil Manzanera on guitar and Brian Eno on tapes and synths, the sound on the album is simultaneously futuristic, conceptual and mannered.

The album opens with Re-make/Re-model which is probably their archetype sound comprising hypnotic sax riffs, frantic, cacophonous dissonance and  abstract effects. Ladytron is an electronic psychedelic overture sang by a baritone Ferry complete with sax riffs, distorted guitars and rhythmic synths. 2 H.B is a kind of decadent serenade and one of the trademarks of Ferry’s vocal deliveries.

Roxy Music-Roxy Music.jpg

If There Is Something  is a combination of a jazz-rock jam and chamber music, whilst the catchy hit single Virginia Plain (not originally included in the album) is one of the greatest masterpieces of all rock. Here, Eno’s pulsating but methodical synths that embellish the fractured sound of clarinet, guitars and honky tonk piano, steal the show.

The Bob (Medley) is more avante-garde and abstract, whilst Chance Meeting is basically a free-jazz psychodrama-based chamber music. No less chameleon, is the rock and roll of Would You Believe that encompasses pounding piano boogie, wild sax and guitar solos.

Sea Breezes is a bleak and melancholic merging of neoclassical elements and distorted keyboards, sax and guitar. In the finale, Bitters End, Ferry sings in the languid crooning style that was later to become his trademark against a backdrop of flamenco rhythms and doo-wop.

Merging King Crimson-style pathos, jazz-rock and electronic elements, Roxy Music revolutionized prog rock by linking it to both the punk rock and new wave movements of the late 1970s and the post-punk and synthpop of the 1980s. Roxy Music are one of Britain’s greatest and most influential bands, and their self-titled debut is, in my view, their best album.