Love

poster

This week I thought I’d pick the Lana Del Rey song, Video Games, off the pending pile but, after some background listening, I’ve realised that just about any Lana Del Rey song will do. That’s the thing with this singer; all her songs are gorgeous but they all sound much the same. So, for my Track of the Week, I’ve plumped for a recent single with a rather nice video instead. It’s called Love.

According to the ‘Net Love was originally going to be called Young And In Love which, surely, would have been a better title. Have you tried searching a music catalogue for songs by putting “love” into the search box? Actually, you might be surprised to know that the top hit on iTunes and Spotify right now is this Lana Del Rey song. Although I don’t suppose that will be the case in a year’s time.

Love was released on 18th February ahead of the new album which is due sometime later this year. Musically it falls into the ‘baroque pop’ category: a lush backing track behind a soulful singer. In overall feel Love reminds me of Don’t Stop Believin’, the Journey song that tells of ‘a singer in a smoky room’. And that seems appropriate because ‘smoky’ describes Lana’s rich low voice really well.

Love‘s lyrics hark back to 50’s and 60’s America when the Dukes of Hazzard would go cruising in a beat up Dodge Charger getting into all sorts of scrapes and having the time of their lives. There’s a whole new generation of young bucks (and does) out there today but they’re still just cruising aimlessly and looking for fun. The present day Dukes are listening to sixties vintage songs on the car stereo, too, but now those songs are beamed down from satellites. That, for Lana Del Rey, is all rather confusing but in the end she concludes that it doesn’t matter because

… its enough to be young and in love.

in a hat

Lana Del Rey

I may be a Crotchety Old Man now but I can still remember being young and in love. And that should be enough for anyone. In fact, I’d settle for just being young again. (I’ll pause here for everybody to say a sympathetic ‘Ah’.) If you like sixties music and are fortunate to be young and in love Lana Del Rey’s current single will surely resonate with you. If you remember times like that Love will take you back to those happy times. And if you haven’t found love yet you can still enjoy the Marilyn Monroe of singing voices and that song called, simply, Love.

Aviation

Aviation - beach

So far this year there have been about 40 posts on the Crotchety Man blog. Of those only six have carried the 2010s tag and one of them was an appreciation of that great old campaigner Bob Dylan – not exactly up-to-the-minute news. I felt I was in a temporal rut. It was time to break out, to find something new, push the boundaries a little. That’s what artists do, isn’t it? And blogging is, after all, a form of art.

So I browsed Spotify’s New Releases playlist. In many cases I did not recognise either the artist name or the track title. There were, of course, a lot of hip-hop artists and dance tracks that I could skip over – those genres may be popular now but they have never been Crotchety Man’s cup of tea. Then there were some unnecessarily obnoxious titles, depressingly uninspiring thumbnail pictures and a worryingly over-promoted pretty girl band. I did find a new release by indie rock band Two Door Cinema Club but it turned out to be nothing special. I toyed with listening to offerings from Bastille or CHVCHES. But, in the end, using the most technologically advanced selection gadget known to man (the spinning beer bottle) I chose something by The Last Shadow Puppets.

Aviation - turner and kane

TLSP, as they are known to the cognoscenti, is a baroque pop band formed by Alex Turner (of the Arctic Monkeys) and Miles Kane in 2007. That needs some qualification. There’s not much ‘baroque’ in the music of The Last Shadow Puppets. There’s a definite pop throwback feel to most of the tracks on their latest album, Everything You’ve Come To Expect (released April 2016), in which orchestral string and brass sections feature fairly prominently, but it’s a long way from Bach or Vivaldi. And there are a couple of rockier tracks on that album, too, notably the single, Bad Habits, which has had a lot of airplay on BBC 6 Music recently.

The production on some of the tracks on the recent album strikes me as rather corny – too many violins, the horns too subdued, an all too predictable prelude to an action scene in a James Bond movie. So for my Track of the Week I’ve chosen one of the livelier songs: Aviation. This one is neither pop nor baroque; it’s what I would call indie rock. And it rocks like a roller coaster car lurching crazily around a tight twisting track. Yes, there are strings and they do add a candy floss sweetness to the sound, but the crisp pounding beat of the bass and drums never let’s up, propelling us forward over the heads of the timid onlookers below, as we roll on to an unseen destination.

It’s impossible to do justice to The Last Shadow Puppets without mentioning their lyrics. They have a knack of finding a new twist on an old phrase. For example, here’s a line from the title track of the Everything You’ve Come To Expect album:

As I walk through the chalet of the shadow of Death

No, that’s not a misprint, the vocalist really does sing ‘chalet’. And then there’s this amusing couplet from The Element of Surprise:

I thought they were kisses but apparently not,
Do you end all your messages with an X marks the spot?

Aviation - eye

The words are often intriguing and occasionally obscure but always thought provoking. Unfortunately, though, the lyrics to Aviation fall into the ‘obscure’ category. I think it’s about a flight of fantasy triggered by gazing into a pair of beautiful eyes. How else can you explain the phrase “sectoral heterochromia” in the first verse? (To save you looking it up that’s a medical condition in which one sector of the iris is a different colour from the rest and it can be quite delightful.)

On the other hand, the Aviation video tells a very different and completely unfathomable story: a distraught bride watches as two men (TLSP’s Turner and Kane) dig a large pit in the sand on a beach watched over by armed men from the mob. Whatever is about to happen it doesn’t involve aeroplanes and it isn’t going to be pretty. Let’s hope it’s just a fantasy.

Golden Brown

Golden Brown - seventies

The Stranglers were formed when punk was sweeping away the bland and sickly sweet pop groups of the early seventies. They toured with the American punk band, The Ramones, and regarded themselves as part of the punk scene. But they were never a punk band.

Originally called The Guildford Stranglers the band was assembled in 1974 by Jet Black (real name Brian Duffy), a successful business man and jazz drummer. Unlike many of the punk bands The Stranglers were all accomplished musicians. Jean-Jaques Burnel moved to bass after learning classical guitar. Hugh Cornwell started as a blues guitarist and switched back to the guitar after playing bass with folk guitarist Richard Thompson. Dave Greenfield, who joined them in 1975, was a pianist with a progressive rock band.

Let’s pause for a moment here. That last paragraph mentions jazz, punk, classical, blues, folk and progressive rock. With all those obvious influences The Stranglers was never going to be just another punk band. A betting man would have put good money on a short life and a spectacular firework finale for that band as artistic tension mounted to an explosive climax. But they would have lost their stake. The Stranglers are still going. Hugh Cornwell left in 1990 to pursue a solo career; Jet Black, now 77 years old, is not well enough to perform at live events; but the band is touring the UK this summer and also has a couple of gigs scheduled in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The secret to The Stranglers longevity, I suspect, is that the band members have unusually broad tastes and an easy, laissez-faire attitude to life. Their music evolved over the years from strident, intelligent rock delivered with a punkish sneer to more refined and more melodic songs straddling the boundary between rock and pop.

Golden Brown - noughties

Golden Brown is a fine example of those more mellow, less aggressive compositions. It grabs your attention immediately with its lilting waltz-time harpsichord and synthesiser introduction and then slaps you in the face with a 4-beat bar. “Listen up!”, it seems to say, “I’ve got something to tell you”. And then Hugh Cornwell’s storyteller voice comes in with a soothing vision of suntanned skin and soft pillows.

Golden brown, texture like sun,
Lays me down, with my mind she runs

Never a frown with golden brown.

The tale unfolds in a steady 3-time, allowing the listener to slide back into a comfortable sleepiness before the second verse introduces a sense of pleasurable entrapment.

On her ship, tied to the mast,
To distant lands,
Takes both my hands,
Never a frown with golden brown.

She is taking us on a journey. We are powerless. And it’s wonderful. The jolt of the 4-beat bar rouses us again before another verse. Then a melodic guitar break adds the music of the spheres for our listening pleasure. We have arrived in a golden honey heaven, a caramel taste on my tongue, a chocolate glaze on her soft sweet lips. For a few moments Shangri-La is real but it soon begins to fade away. As the scene dissolves and vanishes the angel choir sings softly …

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

 Golden Brown - beyonce