December 27, 2007

I wanna be adored

Last night I sat down on the couch with the new Rolling Stone (and their interview with my thoroughly-beloved Cormac McCarthy) and watched two very interesting BBC America documentaries. The first was called My Small Breasts and I, followed by My Big Breasts and Me. Yep, boobs. Both of them were fascinating inquiries into how a) we always want what we ain’t got and b) bigger is not always better (I must say, I ran with a new sense of gratitude at the gym today).

I mention breasts not only to watch all the interesting Google results that will now bring people here on my statcounter, but because when Small Breast British Girl #2 was walking down the cobbled streets of her quaint town, giving her new sample boobs a test drive and judging the reaction of men passing by, the song playing in the background was The Stone Roses “I Wanna Be Adored.” This made my ears perk up because that’s certainly a slinky fantastic song normally absent from American TV, and I felt the need to officially give props to those cool BBC music producers. Then, as my brain is wont to do, I ADHDed my way across synapses to think upon this cool documentary that I had recently seen on VH1 about the Stone Roses and meant to mention. See, it connects.

VH1 Classic is schooling us all with an enjoyable series on The Seven Ages of Rock, including one about What The World’s Been Waiting For: Brit Pop. If The Man is forcing you to work today, this is a superb way to kill time which is already essentially grey, lifeless, and dead in these waning hours of 2007 when no one wants to be at work.

You can watch the entire feature online, and it’s nicely broken up into segments on The Smiths, the Manchester scene, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Suede, Blur, The Libertines, etc. While I almost prefer the gentle British lull of the female narrator talking about breasts to Dennis Hopper’s sharp delivery here, you know that I love this era of music, and this series (which was originally assembled for the BBC) unearths some pretty cool live footage and has ace interviews with all the biggies.

I Wanna Be Adored – Stone Roses
I Wanna Be Adored (early version) – Stone Roses

P.S. If you haven’t read Alex Green’s wildly enjoyable take on the Stone Roses yet, why not?!

November 18, 2007

Win a new Brit Box compilation, and listen to the re-formed Verve in Blackpool

New contest! This one tails nicely on the heels of my anglophile’s paradise post last month about the Britpop movement. If you find yourself with some UK-centric leanings in your musical selections, here’s a new box set you might wanna throw down for.

The Brit Box: U.K. Indie, Shoegaze And Brit-Pop Gems Of The Last Millenium is out this week on Rhino Records, collecting 78 songs out of Britain from 1984 to present that celebrate “the essence of cool.”

I have one box set to give away! In rad packaging, you’ll get:

-DISC ONE: 1984-1990. Early modern British influencers like Stones Roses, Happy Mondays, Jesus & Mary Chain, The Smiths, Primal Scream
-DISC TWO: 1990-1993. The hazy shimmer of the shoegaze movement is traced through acts like Ride, My Bloody Valentine, and The Telescopes
-DISC THREE: 1994-1995. Britpop explodes in a crushing supernova. Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Elastica etc.
-DISC FOUR: 1995-present. Where we’re going – Ash, The Verve, Super Furry Animals, Mansun, Placebo and more

The 80-page liner note booklet comes with with interviews, memories and essays from Creation Records founder Alan McGee, seminal producers Stephen Street and Alan Moulder and an assortment of artists. Full tracklist here.

To celebrate the release of this box set, vLES (a “virtual Lower East Side” web community set up by MTV) has some special programming this week. Brett Anderson of Suede will be on MTV’s Subterranean tonight to talk about the Brit Box, and on Monday vLES will have an online “Britpop Round Table” streaming from the Bowery Ballroom with Rob Sheffield from Rolling Stone (who wrote this excellent ‘lil book), Rob Dickinson of Catherine Wheel (who I tragically omitted from my last Britpop post) and John Hagelston from Rhino Records. Check here for a full list of the other Brit-centric programming this week.

So, they offered me one box set to either keep, or for contesting. Do not ever say I don’t love you: leave me a comment to win my promo copy of the Brit Box set!

And to wrap up the last contest before we move it along: Aikin from Licorice Pizza was picked as the random winner of the NYC DVD set. Thanks for all the wonderful stories.

* * * * * * *

Speaking of awesome music wafting from across the Atlantic, how ’bout that re-formed Verve? They’ve now hit the road, back together in the original lineup, and just completed six shows earlier this month in the UK.

Since the odds of them coming through the U.S. seem to be about the same odds I get on a Stereophonics tour, I have to satisfy myself with reading what folks said about the experience, and trolling YouTube for hazy cellphone video clips. From the moment they first took the stage on Night One in Glasgow, they’ve been playing some seriously rad sets. This vantage point makes me tingle (from the second night in Glasgow):

And listening to this boot from a few nights later at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool does nothing short of give me little frissons of excitement up and down my spine – hear the crowd sing along with Sonnet, or the wild roar that greets Bittersweet Symphony.


[Thanks to taper: Pete Bullock]

This Is Music
Space and Time
Gravity Grave
Weeping Willow
Life’s An Ocean
Sit And Wonder (new song)
Velvet Morning
Already There
Stormy Clouds
Let The Damage Begin (b-side)
On Your Own
The Rolling People
The Drugs Don’t Work
Bittersweet Symphony
A Man Called Sun
Lucky Man
Come On


And a bit of scene-setting from someone lucky enough to be there:

I was at [the Blackpool show] – arrived just in time to hear ‘Mad Richard’ announce ‘This Is Music’… It was great to finally see the band in their original conception- no extra guitarist, no string section.

What was even more impressive was the fact that so much 1st & 2nd album stuff was on the set…even ON YOUR OWN & MAN CALLED SUN (personal faves). One could argue that a mediocre, crowd satisfying ‘last album’ set would have been enough. But could you really have seen Nick McCabe agreeing to re-form for that kinda live package???!!

Must say [the Empress is] the best venue for this type of gig. Ok the acoustics are not entirely set out for rock bands but the surroundings always make gigs at the Empress very unique. There’s also that ‘outta town’ mentality where a band has purposely avoided the more suitable venues within the vicinity (Manchester Apollo/Uni, Liverpool Uni) and gone with the face of Seasides past ‘Blackpool’-not to mention the sprung floor!…magical!

Overall a grand night had by all…now lets see how the bigger gigs go next year!

October 6, 2007

Live Forever & the Britpop explosion (“I’ve been on the shelf too long / now it’s time to hear my song”)

Britain in the mid-90s was a chaotic, creative, music-centric place to be. As Thatcher’s tenure as PM ended and a fresh start began under Tony Blair and the New Labour party, there was a simultaneous crackle and thrum of musical vibrancy that is explored in the 2003 documentary Live Forever (by filmmaker John Dower). On the surface it’s the story of the music, the “Britpop sound” and those who made it, but it also tries to get deeper underneath to look at the society at that moment and what fed this burgeoning supernova.

As a complete outsider to this specific moment in world history myself, but a fan of the music that ended up on my plate because of it, I thought it was fascinating to see one view of the context behind it. As Louise Wener from the band Sleeper says of those days, “There was a sense of a kind of excitement that something was changing — perhaps this music was foreshadowing something else.” The documentary undertakes the Herculean task of trying to examine the music through the social and political context of the mid-90s, teasing out its larger implications to the fabric of a generation. This is always tricky.

The story is mostly told through first person interviews from those who were there. You’ve got the big three represented in Oasis, Blur and Pulp, but also a number of other musicians and commentators. These conversations were illuminating and entertaining — not counting a few statements of general unfair snobbery related to my own culture, like “Americans have tremendous confidence, but not much talent,” and one remark that I obviously vehemently disagreed with regarding Seattle music of the time: “The only really decent group were Nirvana” (I said “Unh!” to myself and looked around at no one else sitting there with me, in indignation).

Along with snippets of music videos, concerts, newsclips and articles, the interviews carry the bulk of the story. Damon Albarn seems to have grown up quite a bit, his segments were pensive and thoughtful, accompanied by his strumming on a ukulele. Jarvis Cocker had some fantastic stories of those years and I enjoyed hearing his articulate reflection (but really, whatever he says, I just love his voice – deliciously smarmy and all rich velvet molasses). Liam was a complete wanker for most of his bits –so secure in his obvious awesomeness, relentlessly turning questions back around on the filmmakers, giving evasive answers, sitting there with that haircut and those mirrored shades sounding like he’s got a mouthful of marbles– but Noel was hilarious and awesome. Example: Towards the end, Noel’s talking about how they were in a studio one day next door to the prepubescent dance-pop of S Club 7, and how he seriously thought they were “special needs kids” there for a tour of the studios and for the free food. Touche.

The film goes through the peak years of the Britpop sound, which were right smack in the middle of my high school years — a time when pretty much every single act coming out of Britain making pop/rock music was tagged part of “The Britpop Movement.” As surely as so-called “grunge bands” of ’90s Seattle shrugged away from the label, many of these Britpop bands weren’t thrilled with the simplistic categorization, but it did create a crackling excitement and level of buzz for their music that took them places they otherwise wouldn’t have gone just a decade prior.

So which Britain was it?

Is it the carefree abandonment of youth epitomized by Supergrass frolicking on the beach, singing lines like:

We are young, we run green, keep our teeth, nice and clean
see our friends, see the sights, feel alright

We wake up, we go out, smoke a fag, put it out
see our friends, see the sights, feel alright

But we are young, we get by, can’t go mad, ain’t got time
Sleep around, if we like, but we’re alright

The disaffected uncertainty (yet faith in music) of The Verve in “This Is Music”?

I stand accused, just like you
for being born without a silver spoon
Stood at the top of a hill
Over my town I was found

I’ve been on the shelf too long
Sitting at home on my bed too long
Got my things and now I’m gone
How’s the world gonna take me?

. . . Well music is my life and loved by me
I’m gonna move on the floor with my sweet young thing
Down down down, down we go
till I reach the bottom of my soul
This is music

Blur’s cocky questioning of having it all in “Parklife”?
The paranoia and ‘the sound of loneliness turned up to ten’ of Pulp’s “Fear”?
The indomitable conviction that you and I are gonna live forever?

Listening to the variety of sounds coming out of Britain at the time –all classified by someone or another as Britpop– shows you a bit of how meaningless the term really was. In the film, an interviewer asks Jarvis Cocker of Pulp as he sits on his bed by an open window, curtain fluttering in the breeze, about how his song Common People was called by one reviewer, “the perfect encapsulation of the Britpop aesthetic.” Jarvis just shakes his head, sighs a little, and says, “Oh no.”

Regardless of what it all means (and really, who knows what it all means), this is good music, and the film is 86 minutes well spent.

I had a lot of fun putting this mix together after watching the documentary, combining songs I remember liking the first time around with new discoveries and recommendations from friends on that side of the Pond. According to the film, the Britpop sound inhabited a relatively ephemeral period of time, starting ’round 1992, hitting boiling point in April ’94 with the release of Blur’s Parklife, followed in August by Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. In a similar scene that echoes the film Hype!, bands were getting signed at the height of the frenzy after having played together for mere weeks, with only a handful of songs written.

Some say that the death of the era came with a resounding thud in August ’97 with the release of the cocaine haze manifesto Be Here Now by Oasis. Other say it ended more around the time that footballer Gareth Southgate missed a penalty kick in the Euro ’96 semifinals against Germany. Come on. Is an era that exact? Go ahead and argue either way, influences started before then and the sound carried on after, but I’ve tried to mostly focus my own little mix in the thick of things, from ’94-’97.

And as with any label, you can debate it til the cows come home who fits into the category or not, so some of these may not gel in your mind as Britpop. I lack the immediate expert knowledge in this area, being more of a “grunge rock” girl myself when this was all going down (I shudder at that term, see?!). Snag the whole zip, enjoy the flow for some perfect weekend listening. In general, these make me feel a jaunty sense of optimism — and maybe slightly disaffected, but such were the Nineties, right?

Waterfall – The Stone Roses
Alright – Supergrass
God! Show Me Magic – Super Furry Animals
This Is Music – Verve
Parklife – Blur
Kelly’s Heroes – Black Grape
Common People (live at Melkweg 1995) – Pulp
Interview clip from Knebworth ’96 – Noel Gallagher

(discussing Kula Shaker & Liam’s Musical Tastes)
Hey Dude – Kula Shaker
Alright (live at Glastonbury) – Cast
Change – The Lightning Seeds
Faster – Manic Street Preachers
Wake Up Boo – The Boo Radleys
Lenny Valentino – The Auteurs
Line Up – Elastica
Step Into My World – Hurricane #1
Animal Nitrate – Suede
Hundred Mile City – Ocean Colour Scene
Getting Better – Shed Seven
She Makes My Nose Bleed – Mansun
Girl From Mars – Ash
Be My Light, Be My Guide (live) – Gene
The Fear – Pulp
The Only One I Know – The Charlatans
Live Forever (live at Glastonbury) – Oasis


It’s worth noting that although some of these groups didn’t survive the end of the decade, many of them have gone on continue recording music that is just as good (and in may cases better) than their mid-Nineties output. Verve is reuniting and touring, Jarvis Cocker has a swanky euro-cool solo album out now, I rather liked Ocean Colour Scene’s last one, and Ash just rocked my world with their newest single. Media frenzy or no, the talent lasts.

It’s as James (the band from Manchester) said in the fantastic smack of their 1998 song “Destiny Calling”:

So we may be gorgeous, so we may be famous —
come back when we’re getting old.”

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →