Pain Killer (Summer Rain)

umbrella

It’s been a typical British summer this year. Anchored in the Atlantic Ocean just off the western edge of mainland Europe these islands get weather that is politely called ‘changeable’. In Ireland they have a saying: if you can see the hills, rain is coming; if not … it’s raining already.

A little farther east, in England, we tend to be plagued with showers. No matter how bright and sunny it is when you wake up in the morning by the time you’ve got dressed, had breakfast and stepped outside your front door the clouds are gathering. And if you are fool enough to pack a picnic and drive out into the countryside you can be sure the heavens will open just as you take the first bite of Mama’s delicious home-baked pork pie. Nothing dampens the spirits quite like eating soggy pastry and limp lettuce in the back seat of the car while peering through rain-spattered, steamed up windows, believe me.

Of course, to experience the full horror of the British weather you need to go camping. Just booking for a three-day music festival puts cloudy skies in the calendar and packing the tent guarantees a downpour on day one. The Glastonbury festival is renowned for muddy fields, but the show does (usually) go on¹. The recent Y Not festival, however, was curtailed for safety reasons because of what the organisers termed “exceptionally bad weather” – as if heavy rain is unusual in that part of the country².

While Crotchety Man waits for the increasingly rare warm, dry summer day he is reminded that Turin Brakes found the answer to inclement weather back in 2003.

Take the pain killer, cycle on your bicycle, leave all this misery behind.

Quite how they thought getting on a bike would let you outrun the storm clouds I’m not sure but at least a large dose of analgesic pills would counteract the ache in the legs as you struggle up those endless English hills.

Pain Killer (Summer Rain) was a single from Turin Brakes‘ 2003 album Ether Song. The single reached number 5 on the UK chart and the album was certified gold four days after its release.

band

Turin Brakes – Olly, Gale, Rob, Eddie

Turin Brakes was founded in 1999 by two guitarists whose names have quintessential English connotations. Oliver (Olly) Knights’ name takes us into the world of Arthur King of Camelot, Merlin the wizard, and a band of noble swordsmen pledged to fight for the king³. His partner in song has Iranian/Armenian ancestry, which accounts for the very un-English surname of Paridjanian, but his first name is perfect for a music festival in the green and pleasant lands of England: it is (hang on to your hats) Gale.

These days Turin Brakes has four members: in addition to Olly and Gale there’s Rob Allum (drums) and Eddie Myer (bass). They play a kind of folk/rock/indie blend that falls easy on the ear. It’s not the most exciting of sounds but it’s pleasant enough to engage casual listeners right across the popular music spectrum. Try it. Take the pain killer they offer and enjoy the summer. And, remember, you can go dri-cycling even in the rain.

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Notes

  1. As far as I know Glastonbury has never been cancelled because of rain. It does have fallow years, though, when no festival is organised.
  2. It isn’t.
  3. What’s the collective noun for a group of knights? A round? A table? A Keira?

Hall of Fame

museum

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio

Delving blindfold into the laundry basket of titles earmarked for Track of the Week today the hand of fate picked out Hall of Fame by The Script. Sometimes choosing a song is the difficult bit; this time it’s what to write. You see, there’s not much to say about this single except that it’s a straightforward pop/rock song with a catchy tune, a lively beat and a light seasoning of rap. So let’s just listen …

Here’s the official video:

The message, of course, is that anyone and everyone can be great if they want it enough. Dedication and hard work will, eventually, get you to the top. That’s an inspiring idea, but (spoiler alert) it’s a lie. How many names are there in the Hall of Fame? Only a few. And there are many, many more wannabes out there. The numbers don’t lie. It’s not just lack of ambition that keeps us from becoming the greatest, it’s a weakness of mind or body that no amount of blood, sweat and tears can fix.

But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. Crotchety Man will never play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix or Segovia, nor will he ever find words as moving and poetic as Shakespeare no matter how many blog posts he writes. But we can all make our own contributions to this world and, if we keep working at it, we can almost always get better at whatever we choose to do.

Sometimes the guitarist’s fingers stumble on the frets or the writer’s well of words runs dry. That’s when a song like Hall of Fame becomes invaluable. It lifts the spirits, injects fresh energy into the limbs and provides a new impetus for living life. We may not all have a place in a Hall of Fame but there is always something worth doing. So let’s do it!

the band

The Script – Mark Sheehan, Danny O’Donoghue, Glen Power

A Few Dry Facts

  • The Script are an Irish band, formed in 2001. They are: Danny O’Donoghue (vocals, keyboards), Mark Sheehan (guitar) and Glen Power (drums).
  • Hall of Fame is a single taken from their third album, #3, released in 2012. It reached no. 1 on the pop charts in Ireland, in the UK and on the Billboard Euro Digital Songs chart in the US.
  • The latest album by The Script is No Sound Without Silence (2014).

Oczy Mlody

eyes

The title of this post is not quite gibberish. The words are Polish. Individually they mean ‘eyes’ and ‘young’. Unfortunately, ‘oczy’ is feminine plural and ‘mlody’ is masculine singular. And, to make matters worse, the words are in the wrong order for the phrase ‘young eyes’. Not that this bothers The Flaming Lips who chose this as the title of their latest album more for the sound of the words than their meaning. Whether they had an English or Polish pronunciation in mind, though, I cannot say.¹

The Crotchety brain cells contain very little information on The Flaming Lips; all factual statements here are taken from their Wikipedia page. (You have been warned.) The Old Man’s ears, though, have met one or two of The Flaming Lips‘ tracks on the BBC 6 Music radio station and the Music Appreciation Meter has swung over into the light green section: pleasing, interesting, different.

A quick exploration of the band’s recent body of work looked very promising and caused the oxytocin² level in old Crotchety’s blood to rise far enough to trigger the purchase of Oczy Mlody, my Album of the Month for June 2017.

band

So who, then, are The Flaming Lips? They were formed in Oklahoma in 1983. Wikipedia doesn’t say what kind of music they played in those days, just that they were Wayne Coyne (guitar), his brother Mark (lead vocals), Michael Ivins (bass) and Dave Kotska (drums). That seems all very ordinary but there was probably more to it than that. By the time of their fourth album, In A Priest Driven Ambulance (1989), Wikipedia notes that “their previous experiments in tape loops and effects were given a more prominent role”.

Wayne Coyne and Michael Ivins have remained with the band since its inception but on Oczy Mlody keyboards and electronic effects dominate the sound. Coyne himself is credited with contributing vocals, keyboards, theremin and guitar; Ivins has added keyboards and vocals to his bass playing; Stephen Drozd, who joined in 1991, supplies guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and vocals. Recent albums also feature Derek Brown, Jake Ingalls and Matt Duckworth who all tickle the mock ivory keys from time to time. And Nick Ley provides percussion and samples. If you’ve been counting that means that six of the seven band members play keyboards and the seventh augments the mix with sampled sounds.

lips aflame

And that’s not all that’s weird about The Flaming Lips. You may have noticed already a certain tongue-tingling piquancy in the album titles. Of their fourteen main studio albums only Embryonic has a fairly predictable title. The others include things like Hit To Death In The Future Head and Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Then there are collaborations that have produced The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins and Peaches Doing The Dark Side of the Moon, which is a cover of the famous Pink Floyd album.

But there’s yet more weirdness. In 2011 The Flaming Lips announced that they would be releasing a new song every month of the year. The first of these was released that February as 12 separate YouTube clips that had to be played simultaneously; it was called Two Blobs Fucking. In March they released the Gummy Song Skull EP, “a seven-pound skull made of gummy bear material with a gummy brain, which contained a flashdrive with 4 songs on them”. They went one better in June by releasing “a live-in-studio recording of the band’s 1999 album The Soft Bulletin which was on a flash drive embedded in a marijuana-flavored brain inside a strawberry flavored gummy skull”. Then, in September, they released a six-hour song in a special package and at midnight on the last day of October a 24-hour song, 7 Skies H3, was made available on a special website.

That’s enough weirdness to fry the internal organs of the more squeamish listeners out there. 7 Skies H3 exists as a standard-length album on Spotify but I haven’t listened to it and I have no intention of hunting down those flash-drive packages. So I can’t offer much comfort if you’ve been subjected to any of those and you’re feeling a little nauseous now. But there is comfort in the more conventional Oczy Mlody.

album banner

There are twelve tracks on the Oczy Mlody album:

  1. Oczy Mlody
  2. How??
  3. There Should Be Unicorns
  4. Sunrise (Eyes of the Young)
  5. Nigdy Nie (Never No)
  6. Galaxy I Sink
  7. One Night While Hunting for Faeries and Witches and Wizards to Kill
  8. Do Glowy
  9. Listening to the Frogs with Demon Eyes
  10. The Castle
  11. Almost Home (Blisko Domu)
  12. We A Family

Several of those titles were inspired by a Polish translation of Erskine Caldwell’s Close to Home, titled Blisko Domu. Track 4 suggests that the album title was intended to mean “Eyes of the Young” (which Wikipedia says would be “Oczy młodych” in grammatically correct Polish). For completeness, track 8’s title translates back to English as “To Head”.

We can see in those track titles a playfulness bordering on the psychotic but fear not – if there is a theme it is one of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Yes, there really should be unicorns, ones with purple eyes … if you’re a child. And who hasn’t been out hunting for faeries and witches and wizards to kill in the dark woods where you played as a small boy?³

unicorn

The title track is an instrumental that takes us into the play den with a simple melody and the deep rumbling sounds of quaking hills. A strange beast lets out a cry but it is far away and we are safe in here for now.

Then comes a remembered warning, a warning that came too late or wasn’t listened to. How could I make you see what was happening? How could I make you understand? I was just a kid with a toy gun.

Back when we were young,
we killed everyone
if they fucked with us.

We were young with a ray gun.

I tried to tell you but I don’t know how.

Look! There’s a unicorn. I told you they exist. It has purple eyes just like I said, not green eyes. Mama says they shit everywhere. And the moon. The moon is in a very red orange state. Let’s leave it like that for at least three hours hovering just above the horizon. Oh, but I’m so sleepy now …

Sunrise brings a light and joyful tune shot through with deep ripples of sadness. “The sun rises and sets on a world full of gladness, but how can I be glad when my father is dead?”, the singer asks. How? Just look at the sun on the water, look at the pretty flowers, look at all those people having fun. No matter how bad things get the sunshine will soon wash away your tears. That’s what the music says. And the singer wants to believe it.

It’s time for a break. Nigdy Nie is an 80’s-style synthesiser, fuzzy bass and drum machine instrumental with caramel vocals. It sounds a little dated but a change of atmosphere helps the lungs to breathe and refreshes us before a scheduled trip to a galaxy far far away.

The journey is accompanied by disembodied voices singing to a bolero beat. Some slack strings pling unmusically. An orchestral interlude brings relief from the tedium for a while before sinking away down a black hole, leaving us moving tunelessly onward again through the vastness of space. The galaxy called I Sink is a god-forsaken place.

The next stop is a dramatic world with the sound of erupting volcanoes and bubbling mud geysers. This is our hunting ground. Faeries and witches and wizards beware! You can’t hide in these forests. Orion is coming for you. Alien sounds are all around but the hunter whistles nonchalantly as he prowls through the starlit night.

In a clearing a native girl dances. The moon is up now, glowing bright. A spider drops from a silver willow tree and the girl, still prancing, shakes it off her hair. A dozen eyes watch from the shadows. Bells chime. The dance ends and ghostly voices announce the approach of a burning dawn sun.

As the orange sun pumps heat into the land the plants begin to sweat, warm steam rising from their pores. A chorus of demon frogs croak at each other in the half-light. Why do their eyes bulge so alarmingly? Have they seen the shadow of death in the eyes of the hunted? Or is it their own peril that they fear?

The morning mist clears slowly to reveal a fairy castle floating like a ship in the low cloud. And above it flies a dragon carrying a beautiful princess. But the castle is in ruins and the princess mourns her love who is buried beneath the fallen stones.

Her eyes were butterflies.
Her smile was a rainbow.
Her hair was sunbeam waves.
Her face was a fairy tale.

Now, our journey is nearly at an end. We are almost home. We sing as our horse gallops across familiar meadows. The song is ancient, the words are mysterious, but the tune spurs us on. “The word has become the deed. The insect crawls out on the leaf. The leaf falls into the fire.” Perhaps a student of myths and legends can interpret those lyrics but that will keep for another day.

Finally, we are reunited with our loved ones. We are a family again and we gather round the open fire to drink a toast or two, swap stories and sing old songs. This is a neat and fitting end to the Oczy Mlody album.

dark side

Overall The Flaming Lips have given us an album notable more for its tones and textures than its melodies, harmonies or rhythms. They make good use of the electric and electronic instruments at their disposal and, seen through the eyes of the young, it works well. This old gentleman, though, may be a little harder to please. I’ll give it a rating of 3.9  out of 5 (worth buying but doesn’t quite deliver all that it could).

Notes

  1. Google translate will speak the Polish for you. To me it sounds like someone saying “orcher morder” with a mouthful of gobstoppers.
  2. Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone”.
  3. Girls can join in, too. Just don’t get all soppy and sentimental, that’s all!

Oh Woman, Oh Man

tryptich

Dan Rothman, Hannah Reid, Dominic Major

Inspiration comes from many places, some familiar, others less so. It lurks in bushes where it can’t be seen and it hides in plain sight among the ordinary, every day objects of our humdrum lives. We may have passed this way many times before but our blinkered eyes missed the beauty of the city park and gazed past the crowd of jostling commuters never seeing the grace in their movements or the kindness in their faces. Then, one day, quite unexpectedly, we see it and it brings joy to our hearts.

So it was on Tuesday, 2nd May as the Crotchety Couple sat watching the TV show Later… With Jools Holland. We had watched his live show many times before. It is the very definition of eclectic, featuring bands and solo artists from right across the modern music spectrum. Indeed, its span is so broad that you’d think no viewer could possibly like more than one or two of the songs in any given episode. And yet almost every performance has something to offer: a beautiful voice, perhaps, or stunning instrumental skills. That, of course, is why we and many other music fans watch it.

The set list for that early May broadcast went like this: Blondie (still making good pop/rock songs), Future Islands (distinctive indie pop from Baltimore), Mabel (Londoner singing RnB-tinged pop), Orchestra Baobab (Afro-Cuban band from Senegal), London Grammar (indie pop trio), Binker and Moses (sax and drums jazz duo). As usual every one of those acts was worth listening to but the one that crept out from behind the bushes to surprise us and, ultimately, inspired this post was London Grammar‘s. Here is their live rendition of Big Picture from their new album Truth Is A Beautiful Thing which is due for release on 9th June.

London Grammar may be new to Crotchety Man readers. They are Hannah Reid (vocals), Dan Rothman (guitar) and Dominic “Dot” Major (keyboards, drums).

Hannah and Dan met at Nottingham university in 2009; the following year Dot joined them and the band was christened “London Grammar”. After completing their university courses in 2011 the trio moved to London and started playing in local bars. It wasn’t long before they came to the attention of the record companies and by the end of 2012 they were ready to launch their careers as professional musicians. They posted their song Hey Now on YouTube in December 2012, released the EP Metal & Dust in February 2013 and followed it with their first full album, If You Wait, in September that same year. The album reached no. 2 on both the UK and Aussie album charts.

London Grammar‘s music is ethereal, melancholy, beguiling indie pop. Hannah’s voice has been accurately described as ‘brooding’, ’emotive’ and ‘folky’. Or, as one reviewer put it, “as if she honed her craft singing amidst the gardens of Lothlorien”. Dan’s guitar and Dot’s keyboards & drums build a foundation of understated electronic sounds that both complement Hannah’s voice and add subtle decorative features in a way that only modern electronic instruments can. To see what I mean listen to my Track of the Week, Oh Woman, Oh Man, another song from Truth Is A Beautiful Thing.

For those of you in the UK the episode of Jools’ TV programme featuring London Grammar is available on the BBC’s iPlayer service for another 18 days. You might like to root around in it for your own inspiration. And if your good lady steals the remote and switches over to the Eurovision Song Contest I’ll forgive you for an exasperated, “Oh Woman! Oh, Man!”.

Little Fictions

album artwork

There has been a lot of talk recently about “fake news” and its equally alarming cousin, “alternative facts”. Some say those alternative facts are nothing to worry about; they are just white lies, little fictions that reveal a deeper truth.

Pictures of the crowd at Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration may have shown fewer people than at Barack Obama’s but the new president is (obviously) more popular than his predecessor. News stories that suggest otherwise must be politically motivated and, clearly, constitute an attempt to stand in the way of the yellow mop-top’s urgently needed program of reforms that will make America great again. And that’s sad.

the quartet

I don’t know if Elbow were thinking of those sorts of alternative facts when they chose to call their latest album Little Fictions. The lyrics of the title track suggest otherwise because they are about the prickly words exchanged across the kitchen table between the “pair of boozy bowerbirds” that live together in what we must assume is an ordinary suburban house somewhere in the North West of England.

We protect our little fictions like it’s all we are

Arguments, it seems to say, can only burn while we deceive ourselves.

It’s you who’s being intransigent, not me. But while I cling to that violet falsehood my every utterance is a muffled battle cry that ricochets back to condemn me, to flay me until all I can do is hold on tight, waiting for the original miracle – the blood red miracle of life, the rose red miracle of love – to heal the wounds and soothe away the pain.

There is an aching truth in those verses, but there is salvation, too.

Little Fictions, the album, was released on the 3rd February 2017 and one week later it stood at number 1 on the UK album chart. It opens with Magnificent (She Says), a wonderfully uplifting song destined to become an Elbow classic and the first single to be taken from the album. This one song tells you all you need to know about the whole album. Even after Richard Jupp’s departure last year Elbow remain at the peak of their astonishing creativity.

In Magnificent we have Guy Garvey’s evocative lyrics showing us how a piece of sea-worn glass can be a sapphire in a small girl’s eye and how immensely important that sense of wonder and excitement is to every one of us. The instruments dance with that little girl on the sand as she throws her arms wide to embrace the shore, the sea, the sky and the whole wide world. Yes, this song is magnificent in every way.

firebrand angel

The lyrics of Firebrand and Angel are more difficult to interpret. It seems to be one of Guy’s love poems in which he tells of the “terror sublime” that comes from being in love with an unpredictable, headstrong woman – both firebrand and angel. More than that I can not say. Musically, though, this is another one of those songs with Elbow‘s inventive mix of rhythm and instrumentation – clapping, percussion and a stroll over the lower register of the piano lead on to the vocals and a mellifluent electric guitar before an ending with soothing backing vocals. It all adds up to a tone poem to rival anything the pop/rock world has to offer.

I’ve mentioned three of the ten tracks on Little Fictions so far. All I’m going to say about the others is that every one of them effortlessly reaches the exceptional standards of Elbow‘s other recent recordings. Individually they are a joy, collected on the album they are a treasure chest of pleasures. And, for once, the record-buying public agrees with old Crotchety Man. I hope that’s because they know the difference between alternative facts (which are bad) and Little Fictions (which is very, very good).

Little Fictions (Full Album) on YouTube

Annie, Let’s Not Wait

Annie, Let's Not Wait - wet platform

There’s a big difference between ‘awesome’ and ‘awful’. And that’s strange. Both words derive from ‘awe’, which originally just meant ‘fear’. So ‘awesome’ should mean ‘instils a certain trepidation’ while ‘awful’ should have the more emphatic meaning, ‘terrifying’.

The use of ‘awe’ in the Bible to describe the mortal response to God’s presence is thought to have imbued the word with its modern sense of wonder and veneration, and in recent times the fear element has faded away so that ‘awesome’ is now synonymous with ‘wondrous’ or ‘amazing’. ‘Awful’ has also been losing the ‘fear’ factor but, in contrast, it has acquired wholly negative connotations so that it now just means ‘very unpleasant’ or ‘disgusting’.

There have been some awful things happening recently. There are dreadful wars in Syria and Iraq. There have been devastating earthquakes in Italy and New Zealand. The British people voted to pull up the drawbridge and leave the European Union. And, most disturbing of all, America has decided that their next president will be Donald Trump, a loathsome man whose policies will likely increase social division, worsen global warming and have who knows what effect on the economies of the U.S. and the wider world.

I needed something to counter the dispiriting effect of these awful things. The best antidote to depression and despair that I know is a favourite old song and the most rejuvenating and life-affirming one that I can think of is the awesome Annie, Let’s Not Wait by Guillemots.

Annie was a track from Guillemots‘ first album, Through the Windowpane, that was later re-recorded and released as a single. The single version has some nice backing vocals but, for me, the album track is the more invigorating pick-me-up. It limbers up with a few electric piano chords as if a sprinter is running on the spot to relieve the tension before a big race. As we watch from the stadium the athletes are called to the start line by what sounds like a giant pigeon coo-cooing “on your marks” over the tannoy.

And then they’re off. Lean muscular legs strain out of the blocks and go scuttling down the track. But we are watching in slow motion and with each thud of a shoe on the pink running surface a string bass thumps a characteristic rising Boom! The piano tinkles rhythmically, drums and percussion synchronise a swaying beat with the athletes’ feet, synthesiser tones warble in and out, and Fyfe Dangerfield’s voice provides a melodious commentary.

The words do not describe the race; they tell, I imagine, of the motivation of the winning athlete. His soul was crying until he met Annie. His friends told him not to rush into another relationship but he was impatient. There was a new life waiting for them on the other side of the river if he could just prove himself as a runner and she had the courage to go with him.

Annie, let’s not wait. Let’s cross the river now.
We could sit for years staring at our fears.

The sound subsides as the competitors go through the half-way point and then picks up again with female backing singers and tinkling guitar adding to the unquenchable exuberance of the keyboards and electronic effects. As the winner crosses the line there is a startling change of rhythm and in that moment of triumph all gloom and despondency is dispelled.

Yes, Annie, you are just awesome!

Miss Fortune

Miss Fortune - roulette wheel

A friend of mine went to a posh party recently – dinner, dancing and hobnobbing with the great and the good. You could tell it was a really posh occasion because the guests were being formally announced. There was an aristocratic middle-aged couple and a young woman in the entrance when my friend arrived. “The Lord and Lady Luck and their daughter, Miss Fortune”, cried the doorman.

My friend then stepped forwarded and the doorman scrutinised his invitation. “I’m sorry, sir”, he said in a loud clear voice, “you have come to the wrong place. This is the debutante ball for Lady Penelope Fortescue-Chance. I think you will find the Waifs and Strays Orphanage Benefit Dance is in the East Wing”.

That introductory vignette is, of course, entirely fictitious. The real Miss Fortune is a single taken from The Coral‘s latest album, Distance Inbetween. Crotchety Man thinks of The Coral  as an indie rock band with pop and psychedelia influences. Some analysts would add folk, country and dub to the list but that suggests a wider range of styles than I can detect and hints at a level of originality that isn’t really there. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that The Coral write straight up, honest-to-goodness indie rock songs that deserve to feature on radio stations and playlists in every respectable corner of cyberspace. And Miss Fortune is an excellent example of their work. It rolls along happily like a bright steel ball on a roulette wheel, skipping and jumping from one number to another oblivious to the fervent prayers of the punters. When the ball finally comes to rest the roulette players may go away with a small fortune or take nothing home but tales of outrageous misfortune. It’s all the same to the wheel.