>Thoughtful sadness

So without boring you with the details I have had a bit of a crappy run of luck over the last couple of weeks culminating in being laid low with a virus today. Dark times, which in turn leads me on to thinking about that type of song which feeds into this mindset. I confess it to be one of my favourite themes so the five songs are a selection I recommend rather than hailing them as the greatest of their kind;


Wedding Bells by Hank Williams
As somebody younger and cooler than me would say, let’s take it old school (actually they would probably drop the apostrophe but I can’t bring myself to commit grammatical larceny). This was a track that I only found a couple of years back as I began to explore the roots of country and it stands out in the way Williams expresses the utter devastation of realising something you felt would happen is never going to. The contrast between the jubilation of the wedding guests and the emptiness of the defeated suitor is stark. The saddest aspect is how the fight has completely left the protagonist who can only lament what might have been.

I planned a little cottage in the valley
I even bought a little band of gold
I thought some day I’d place it on your finger
But now the future looks so dark and cold

The issue of lost love is a well covered topic and it would be remiss of me not to mention ‘She’s out of my life’ which I consider to be Michael Jackson’s most underrated song.

River Man by Nick Drake
Melancholy can be communicated in several different ways. Hank Williams shows us the most common and direct route – narrative. A more difficult yet no less effective method is to create the atmosphere of melancholy through the music and vocal delivery. Drake is the master of this and I could have chosen several other of his tracks but Riverman stood out for me. It appears to be a sad reality that artists capable of producing the finest melancholy must be afflicted by mental torment and Drake was no exception to this rule. Eliot Smith and Jeff Buckley are other wonderful, creative talents who were unable to reconcile their problems. For examples of their brilliance click their names.

Golden Age by Beck
I simply had to include something from the outstanding Sea Change album from 2002. It is common when an artist takes a dramatic change from what they have been known for – in Beck’s case innovative, sample laden, pop-funk – for the results to be less than impressive. Sea Change saw Beck adopt a far more simplistic, stripped down approach as he wrote an entire album about the collapse of his relationship with a long-term girlfriend. Golden Age opens the album and I feel beautifully articulates that borderline moment where you hope the worst might be behind you. It is far from an optimistic song as uncertainty of the future permeates the lyrics.

It’s a treacherous road
With a desolated view
There’s distant lights
But here they’re far and few

Yet the acknowledgement that a dark time has been endured suggests that things might just be looking up.

Not the Girl you think you are by Crowded House
‘Weather with you’ is both a great song and a curse. Great because it is undoubtedly a wonderful pop song that is loved by millions. Curse because it seems to have led millions more to dismiss Crowded House as ‘fun and quirky.’ It might make me sound like Alan Partridge but I genuinely consider Neil Finn to be one of the greatest song-writers of the last thirteen years and this song is a great example of that. The lyrics at first may appear positive yet the dark heart of this song is the dream boyfriend is a fiction to cover up the girl’s feeling of inadequacy. My Dad has always said this sounds like a great lost Lennon and McCartney song and I’m inclined to agree.

Shadowlands by Ryan Adams
This won’t come as any surprise and I will try and set aside the hero worship and focus on the song in question. It comes from the album ‘Love is Hell’ which as you might guess is a collection of songs very firmly in the melancholy category. There are several I could have chosen from this album and in fact many of Ryan’s others but this has a highly personal resonance for me. At the risk of sounding like a therapy session this song essentially soundtracked a very difficult time for my family. In the Summer of 2004 we lost my Uncle. I was not yet 21 and found the whole experience hugely difficult never having gone through bereavement before. I listened to the album a hell of a lot and this song in particular. As a way to try and deal with it as much as anything I decided to accompany my Dad down to the South to help sort out the funeral arrangements. We have a shared love of Ryan so it was natural that it wasn’t long into the journey down that Love is Hell was on the stereo. It was then my Dad revealed that when at the hospital waiting for the inevitable to be confirmed he sat in the car park, in the pissing down rain, and listened to Shadowlands. It seemed oddly fitting that when dealing with such a loss both Dad and I turned to the same song. As fate should have it, we saw Ryan later that year perform in Manchester and I don’t need to tell you the opening track. Suffice to say that the Pattison men had something in both their eyes for a few minutes that night. Apologies if a twee little story like that is pretty self indulgent but I guess writing a blog means I’m already guilty of that charge of intellectual vanity. Anyway, enjoy and absolutely timeless song.

>Come worship at the Church of Dylan.

>I could blog about the great Robert Zimmerman all day but I don’t have all day so instead have a few choice versions of his songs. Enjoy.

Marianne Faithfull covers Visions of Johanna

>Double whammy

>So today I tried a slightly new approach to the blog, rather than being sat on my portentous behind listening and blogging in perfect harmony I decided to get on my bike and ride. As a result this pair of reviews are briefer than recent but that hopefully won’t render them any less interesting.

Eels – Electro-shock Blues

Anyone who knows a bit about Eels frontman Mark Everett (E) won’t be surprised to learn that this album follows some of the darkest themes possible. E should have been on cloud nine following the critical and commercial success of previous album Beautiful Freak (including one of the standout tracks of the decade and as fine an intro as you’ll ever hear in Novocaine for the Soul). Tragically it proved to be a time of unquantifiable loss as he lost his mother to terminal cancer and his sister took her own life. It goes without saying therefore that these events directly influenced Electro-Shock blues. What is surprising perhaps is that it is not as difficult a listen as one might expect. Eels continue to innovate on this album showing a novel aptitude for using strings and jurassic five style beats together to compliment the laid back delivery of the vocal. This works most effectively on ‘My descent into madness’ – a sublime track which sees the subject coming to terms with his own incarceration:

the jacket makes me straight so I can just sit back and bake

you know I think I’m gonna stay

talking very loud but no one hears a word I say

I’m not the first to draw comparison with Odelay era Beck and though this understandably lacks the same pop hooks that pepper the work of Mr Hansen (Beck not Alan). One of my favourite tracks is Hospital Food – a jazz infusion which would not look out of place on a B-52s album. Despite these two wonderful tracks I did find that the experimental style did not always effectively compliment the lyrics. A technique Eels have used to good effect before is the haunting use of childlike instrumentation but on an already bleak affair I found this added little merit to the album. To end on a positive – so does the album. It finishes with the album’s finest moment – PS. I Love You, which is a redemptive song based around the central couplet; ‘Everyone is dying; and maybe it’s time to live’.

In many ways this album flys in the face of normal releases, there is no agenda for commercial success – this is song writing as therapy and I applaud E for doing so. However it is perhaps a reflection on me that I felt at times like I was intruding on private grief.
6 1/2 out of 10 
The Courteeners – Falcon

I have only had two previous experiences of The Courteeners. One was on a weekend in Manchester in an Indie club where I was feeling upsettingly old as all around appeared to be yet to enter their twenties. A song came on that provoked exuberant scenes and I had no idea what it was. I was duly informed it was ‘Not nineteen forever’ by The Courteeners and I was impressed that a song could instigate such a response. The second experience was catching a short snippet of their T in the Park set this year on TV. Again, the crowd were relishing singing along to every word and I can honestly say I paid no attention to the actual music. This turns out to be for the best. On listening to Falcon it appears that the Courteeners have been bottled up from five years ago and let loose on the world today.  Yes there are some clever lines but whereas I imagine the writer thinks he is rivalling the Arctic Monkeys the woeful Wombats would be a more apt comparison. I hope for their sake that they have developed a sterling live reputation as on record they are desperately lacking in any sort of imagination. Musically they are completely unadventurous – settling for plodding, lifeless generic indie background that recalls the barren days where garbage like The Datsuns were considered worthy of airplay. Lyrically the trick seems to be find a rhyming couplet, repeat ad nauseum and chuck in the odd reference to something uniquely English. It is as if they heard Alex Turner use the line ‘Can I buy you a tropical reef?’ and decide that was why the Arctic Monkeys debut was so wonderful. Whatever people say I am… was a dazzling, exhilirating album with Turner’s lyrics masterfully capturing the social context in which they had grown up. By comparison The Courteeners are tired and laboured. The message really hit home on one of the final tracks which declared ‘The good times are calling…’ – so why does the singer sound so unbelievably bored! Oh that’s right he’s read his own lyrics. The good times were calling; the album was coming to a close although not without one final sting in the tail – I got a puncture.

2 out of 10.

Published in: on 03/08/2010 at 9:48 pm  Leave a Comment