Monday, September 12, 2005

Womb and gloom

In Utero may well be the scariest number 1 album ever made, but the atmosphere during recording was anything but miserable. For instance, to pass the time between rehearsals, they'd set fire to each other. Trust me, it's a lot more fun than it sounds. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here. In Utero was the less popular follow-up to Nevermind. By Nirvana. That said, popularity doesn't count for much in music, and In Utero is definitely better than Nevermind. It saw them getting back to their roots, back to the self-hate that fuelled Bleach. And thank gods they didn't take the easy way out.
From the offset, In Utero doesn't sound like a radical departure from the radio friendly sounds of Nevermind, with Serve the Servants sounding even poppier than most of Nevermind, as well as the trademark dark lyrics. However, things go awfully bad after that. Well, bad if you're not into the 'heavy' stuff. Scentless Apprentice introduces itself with Dave Grohl's best (ever) drum motif, a simple piece of streamlined percussion with a downstated cymbal throughout, before launching into a riff not unlike Negative Creep's in terms of blunt ferocity. The subject of the song is Patrick Suskind's fantastical novel, Perfume, which tells the life story of a boy with a disturbing affinity for scents and disturbing misanthropy. This is handled in the classic Nirvana way - screamed lyrics about semen and flowers, as well as Cobain's take on the central character's apathy to pain - 'throw me in the fire and I won't throw a fit', and a succinct summary of the chapters that chronicle the character's descent into isolation and madness. Heart Shaped Box is perhaps Nirvana's greatest artistic achievement, and certainly one of In Utero's best tracks. A disturbing love song for Courtney Love that inverts the standard formula for love songs by using surreal and often grotesque imagery to convey the message - 'I wish I could eat your cancer', 'meat eating orchids' and 'throw down your umbilical noose'. The original version (now on the box-set) was even worse, pitching Courtney's affection (one of her first gifts for him was a heart shaped box containing various stuff) as something to dread, as he sang about being 'locked in heart shaped coffins'. Rape Me is the one that old people don't like. Aping the famous ...Teen Spirit riff before catapulting into impassioned howls about the figurative rape that the media had performed on Cobain and Courtney ('my favourite inside source' was a reference to a Christmas card sent from the couple to then-Soundgarden manager Susan Silvers, after they (wrongly) believed her to have informed Vanity Fair that Courtney was taking heroin whilst pregnant (something she has always passionately denied)). Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle is one of Cobain's more flamboyant moments. He envisions the Seattle-born actress returning in spirit as the volcanic Mount Rainier to kill those who were so cruel to her. Dumb is perhaps the gentlest moment Nirvana ever had. A sorrowful track about how heroin was destroying him, it casts him as a person who desperately wanted help but was beyond independence, 'my heart is broke/but I have some glue/help me inhale/and mend it with you'. Very Ape then proceeds to destroy the serenity created in a little under two minutes. A scathing attack at the grunge pretenders who had sprung up following the success of Nevermind (Pearl Jam, anyone?) by being boldly immature, 'if you ever need anything please don't/hesitate to ask someone else first/I'm too busy acting like I'm not naive/I've seen it all, I was here first', and showing them up as little more than throwaway bands who merely rode the bandwagon. Milk It takes the old 'quiet, loud, quiet, louder' shtick and runs with it, as the skewed verses with whispered lyrics (a continuation of Heart Shaped Box's musings of love as a parasite) give way to brutal noise rock and supreme anger. It also has another section of the war waged in Very Ape, as Cobain tells us that 'my shit is eternal'. Pennyroyal Tea is another beautiful moment as Cobain reflects on his childhood ('I'm on oatmeal and laxatives') and laments on the affects of fame and his stomach condition ('I'm aneamic royalty'). Opening with wailing feedback, Radio Friendly Unit Shifter is an attack on the music industry ('use just once and then destroy'), on himself ('what is wrong with me') and on the pressures of fame ('did not want what I have got'). Tourette's is simple catharsis as all three members of the band just go crazy with their chosen instrument, in particular Kurt's voice, which sounds like he's having his leg sawn off. Trying to figure out what it's about is pretty pointless, although it does seem to have something to do with Kurt becoming paranoid and his inability to eat without being in agony taking it's toll on his body. Lastly, it's All Apologies. The highlight of the album (and the band's recorded output), it's a song about depression and how he regretted everything he'd done. Particularly painful is the chorus' latter part, 'I'm married/Buried', a remarkably simple refrain on the effect Courtney had on him. It's a beautiful song, and one that handles the sensitive issue of it's subject matter with so much more grace than can be wielded by the likes of Maroon 5 (who did a song about a depressed girl) or Mcfly (who's new album contains a song about a girl who killed herself - why's it always girls, anyway?), who simply trundle along with seemingly no grasp of imagery (or music, for that matter). Criticised by many as being unlistenable, selling only a quarter of what Nevermind managed, never being recognised as classic. Despite all this, it still manages to kick the asses of anything in the chart twelve years after it’s release. Especially if that something is Mcfly.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

ROOOOOAAAAAAR!

It's 1985. This year, the Deep Six compilation is released. Of the six bands on that compilation, three of them went on to define the 'Seattle sound'. Soundgarden got big via a record deal with A&M and the hugely successful Superunknown. Green River's singer, Mark Arm, became Mudhoney's frontman, and they became one of Sub Pop's biggest acts. The Melvins remain strictly underground, despite being one of the most prominent influences on Nirvana (Melvins drummer Dale Crover played drums on the versions of Floyd The Barber and Paper Cuts that appeared on Bleach) right up until the end (Scentless Apprentice, anyone?). That said, the latter two, having never achieved mainstream success, are still going today. Another important thing happened in December of '85 - the recording of the Fecal Matter tapes. Ask your parents. One of the most important things to happen, however, was the signing of Dinosaur Jr to SST, thus rounding off the holy triangle of power. That is to say, having three of the biggest underground bands (Sonic Youth, Big Black and Dinosaur Jr) signed to SST. SST's founder loved Dinosaur Jr, and let them know. He also let them know that he'd happily release anything Dino recorded, so they set to work recording Dinosaur. It didn't do too good. Sure, it was good (better than Bug in my opinion), what with it's folk melodies and metal riffage, but it wasn't particularly successful. Still, it was good, certainly good enough to warrant a follow-up, so they made one. They could have just made Dinosaur II, but instead they spent two years perfecting their sound. And boy, did they perfect it. This is basically the whole point of this post. To talk about You're Living All Over Me. Why? Because someone has to. The original having been out of print for, maybe, sixteen years, the only real option is the reissue. All the songs are amazing (even Poledo), and each one is reason enough to buy You're Living... Little Fury Things is genius, with it's lyrics that, on one level, are whole and require nothing of the listener to make it enjoyable, and yet on another level, the listener has to bring some meaning to it, making it a deeply personal experience for some people, and just a great song for others. There are epic solos too, take Kracked and Sludgefeast, as J Mascis inbues them with a violent yet heartfelt passion, channeled through his beloved Jaguar. There's pop, too, as The Lung and In a Jar drift along on bubblegum riffs and bizarre, beautiful messages. Tarpit is a Smashing Pumpkins-esque anthem, Raisans is molten rock, Lose is incendiary, Poledo is dark and Just Like Heaven is The Cure and Sonic Youth's secret lovechild! Your life is poorer without You're Living... and I really mean that! There was another album, a few years after You're Living... that also showed a remarkable leap in ability from the debut, and the only thing that lets that album down is the production (can you guess what the album is?). There is no such problem here. J Mascis may have complained that the production was substandard, but his remastering of the original renders his ire neutral. The production values are neither nonexistant, nor do they render the power of the recordings limply through an unnatural sheen. Perfick, then.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Lukewarmplay

I listened to a bit of X&Y. That's right, I was lucky enough to sample the only album since the Beatles' 1 to enter the UK and US charts at #1 simultaneously. The album that had sold over a million copies in those two countries alone as week one faded into week two. Nevermind managed half that in the same amount of time. Sonic Youth's masterpiece, Daydream Nation, is a Hell of a lot better than X&Y. And yet, since it's 1989 release, it's shifted less than a tenth of what Coldplay have managed in a week. And, as I've already said, that's only counting two countries. The point of this is that Nevermind was Nirvana's commercial album. They never bettered it in terms of sales, and yet this relatively new band is set to out-do it in less than half the time. Daydream Nation isn't Sonic Youth's big-seller, that comes with the 200,000 copies of Goo and however many Dirty sold, but it is definitely their high-point creatively. Can anything touch Coldplay? Well, X&Y will probably outsell Thriller, along the way taking out classic rock like Led Zeppelin IV and Dark Side of The Moon. This represents one serious dilemma. Most people will adore Coldplay if that happens. And it means that 'Coldplay beating Jacko's record' will be the stuff of legend. Everyone will forget about Nirvana were the first to land a blow to Jacko's credibility, as they knocked him off the top of the US billboard charts with Nevermind. Sure, they couldn't outsell him in the long run, but it's been downhill for him ever since. Coincidence? I think not. What's more, this remarkable feat of flogging a record to the masses isn't even that good. X&Y is a pretty bland attempt at meaning. Some stupid magazine said it 'takes on big subjects such as life, death, love and loss'. Well, yes, but it doesn't handle it's subject matter with as much strength as, say, Superfuzz Bigmuff by Mudhoney, which deals with pretty similar themes but with the additional help of effects pedals and beer. Which really goes some way to explaining why it's such a tepid affair. The musicians obviously didn't bother listening to even the corner-stones of rock music; The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, they don't even sound like they've listened to The Beatles, which is a pretty basic place to start if you want to start a guitar band. And Chris adopts a voice that'll have you destroying the stereo. If you aren't already asleep.

The first post is always the hardest

No inspiration, nothing to really say, it has to get better. Buh-bye.