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.
The game’s on tonight. I love taking three or four hours to watch baseball — the pace of it, the grace and the subtlety. I am having so much fun watching The Rockies’ brand of baseball – it’s young and hardworking and fun, and it’s all coming together for them into a very very likely World Series run (becoming more likely after that 4th inning tonight)! It’s a fun time to live in Colorado. They need to win just one more against the Diamondbacks to go to the Series, and this Giants fan is cheering for them without qualms.
The Feeding Of The 5000 Ian Brown There’s a Matt Nathanson song called “Everything You Say It Sounds Like Gospel,” a sentiment that also applies to much of what former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown has been putting out lately. In addition to a storyline here straight out of The Good Book, Brown is drawn to using these dramatic orchestral foundations that make it all seem even more epic and important. But I don’t find it pretentious; I get into the way the strings combine with cool electronic flourishes and his effortlessly swank vocals. His new album The World Is Yours is out now in the UK, not in the U.S. yet.
The Hustle Marah This came on my shuffle on my iPod at the gym while I was trying to top my personal best at sit-ups (oh, like 33. Something mindblowing), and it gave me an instant rush of energy. This is a Marah tune that has comfortably been living on my iPod for a good two years or so without receiving my full unabashed love — until now. Without reading the shuffle display, at first I thought this urgent, perfectly ebullient song was maybe Westerberg because of the yowly crack to Dave Bielanko’s voice, with delightfully jangly rock guitars. I now love this song, it’s my new favorite — off their 2005 album If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry. This Philadelphia-based, brother-helmed band has got a lot of cool stuff going on now, including a new EP/10″ vinyl this month (Can’t Take It With You) and a forthcoming album called Angels of Destruction.
Needles Lisa Hannigan I wrote about the Cake Sale compilation last year when the Oxfam benefit album featuring the talents of lots of good folks (Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan, Josh Ritter, Glen Hansard, Gemma Hayes, etc) was released in Ireland. At the time, it was a UK-only release, and for those of us on this side of the pond not hardy enough to weather the pounds-to-dollars conversion, it’s finally gained a U.S. release tomorrow on Yep Roc. This particular song (written by Damien Rice) is as haunting and lovely as everything Hannigan loans her vocals to. Allow me to repeat at this point that it’s truly a crying shame that things didn’t work out musically with her and Damien Rice; I can’t get enough of the way she sings.
The Way I Am Ingrid Michaelson I’ve mentioned my love/hate relationship with Old Navy music and also lately their ’80s carnival of wide-necked, very long, big-buttoned, “they-think-I-am-11″ items. However, this song which they tapped for their latest sweater commercial is a nice home run for deserving songwriter Ingrid Michaelson from Staten Island. Despite her being my MySpace friend for, like, ever — somehow this infectiously cheery, handclappy sweet ditty slipped my notice. Okay, it’s a bit syrupy, but you know when the girl-group harmonies of that chorus hit, you kinda like the sugar rush. Her new album Girls and Boys is out now.
Avril 14th Aphex Twin Since we’re already talkin’ TV, here’s one other one on the airwaves lately. I’d never listened to ambient musician Aphex Twin (born Richard David James) until I started seeing articles about the licensing flap about the sampling of this song in the recent hi-larious Samberg digital short on SNL, “I Ran.” This original is a lush, gorgeous piano song from the 2001 Aphex Twin album drukqs, and count me as a new fan . . . but I can’t really listen to it purely without thinking of lines like, “You ain’t wrong to me, so strong to me, you belong to me . . . like a very hairy Jake Gyllenhaal to me” (which, incidentally, may be one of the best rhymes ever written). If you haven’t seen it:
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?
Two nights ago I watched the 2003 Britpop documentary Live Forever (more on that later), which begins by laying a foundation of the music scene in Nineties England from the initial impact of the Stone Roses — so I smiled today when this fantastic cover version came up on a mix I’d made.
Yorn: “So like I said, this is hot shit for us to be over here at Glastonbury. We come from the U.S. of A and this is a very exotic festival that we love and we’re happy to be here and we’re huge fans of the music over here and blah blah blah . . . This is from Manchester, okay?“
She Bangs The Drums (Stone Roses cover, live at Glastonbury 2003) – Pete Yorn (apparently this is encoded at a rate that streaming doesn’t agree with. Until I can fix it, if you download it, it sounds fine; if you click the blue arrow, you get Alvin & The Chipmunks singing the Stone Roses, which is actually a whole different kind of interesting)
Speaking of she bangs the drum, I could not stop my own personal rhythm section pattered out onto my legs last night at the screening of the Pearl Jam documentary. Seeing and hearing Immagine in Cornice on the big screen with all the glorious surround-sound was an immense experience of live PJ fabulousness. My personal highlights were the renditions of Blood (ugh, love that song), Come Back (sheerly absurdly gorgeous), and a compelling ending of Rockin’ In The Free World with every single Italian audience member’s hands raised in the air, clapping along in unison.
In addition to the beautifully-done cinematic treatment of their live shows, the documentary also offered some very interesting behind-the-scenes glimpses: the urgent reorganization of the encore setlist backstage while the crowd screams for more, Jeff skateboarding at some deserted Italian skatepark, Ed and his daughter Olivia talking on the tour bus (and how cute is she?), a bunch of Italian kids sitting on the street belting out a passionate acoustic rendition of Porch. Stone barely made an appearance (it’s all Stone’s fault) and not surprisingly I would have liked for it to be longer so they could have shown more of what goes on that we don’t see onstage. But overall, solid A. If I can’t see PJ live this year, heck I’ll settle for last night. Thanks to all who came out for an awesome experience, it was moltissimo fun.
I am in love with a pocket-sized novella. We don’t know yet where we’ll live but we are sure that we will be very happy together.
Several months back I received a copy of Alex Green’s contribution to The 33 1/3 Series, The Stone Roses. For those uninitiated into this fantastic little series, it is essentially the zenith of musical dorkitude: entire books that look song-by-song at a seminal album. I had not yet found spare time to crack open Green’s mini-tome on the messiahs from Manchester, but finally when I settled into my seat on the airplane to go to San Francisco (very close to a large neighbor in 12E who was seat-dancing to Arabic music, complete with hand motions) I pulled it out of my bag and settled in.
By the third paragraph, I was hooked — already laughing out loud at the flawless way that Green captures the everyday and crystallizes it into something fabulous. His ardor and undying passion for The Stone Roses and their 1989 self-titled debut album is evident in each chapter, on every page.
With his permission, here is the first few pages of introduction. And it only gets better from here, folks. This is an absolute must-read (even if you have no idea who The Stone Roses were or why they were important):
When I was in seventh grade, my favorite conversations came at the bus stop. While my friends and I waited for the bus, which was driven by a drowsy-looking guy named Lenny who would only play Styx’s Paradise Theatre, we would energetically cover a range of topics: which girls were hot, what the best song was on Def Leppard’s Pyromania, or how Han Solo could still be alive after being submerged in such a deep and heartbreaking freeze for all that time.
But what we were best at were pop culture hypotheticals, wildly imagined scenarios whose possibilities were so intriguing that the next day we’d continue the conversation right where we left off without missing a beat, without even first saying hello. We’d wonder who would win if Bruce Lee fought Heavyweight champ Larry Holmes; what would happen if the shark from Jaws somehow got in the community swimming pool through the metal drain at the bottom of the deep end; how awesome it would be if Christie Brinkley was our babysitter; or if the rumor was true that Bon Scott was not dead at all, but bearded and sad and rotting away in a Mexican prison, and if it was, maybe we should head down there and do something about it.
The bus stop was like a bar but without any of the drinks, though conversations we had did prefigure the kind of drunken musings we would have years later as college students. Of course we knew our endless combinations of preposterous pop culture pairings and bizarre, almost supernatural wishes (“And then Jim Morrison would jump down from the sky right on stage with wings made of snakes and be like, ‘I was never dead’”) were never going to come true, but they were so inspired, so sublimely hallucinogenic, they made us glow with excitement because they felt like the newest and best ideas on the planet. And as outrageous and illogical as they were, they felt real enough to happen and that’s what made them so seductive.
But the fact was, Bruce Lee was dead, and even if he wasn’t, it was doubtful he’d come out of retirement and jump both sports and weight classes to fight Larry Holmes; the metal drain at the bottom of the pool was too small for even a baby barracuda to get in; my babysitter was Lisa Gates, a girl who didn’t even look to be in the same species as Christie Brinkley; and if Bon Scott really was in a Mexican prison, and five seventh graders from California somehow slipped under the parental radar and made their way down to Tijuana on a school day, what could they really do once they got there?
Reality, however, has not dampened my desire, even into my thirties, to think of the world in the same terms I did when I was a kid at the bus stop. But instead of dreaming up things that fancifully mutate reality, I have now become obsessed with reality itself, and what might have happened if it hadn’t gotten in the way. For example, if River Phoenix hadn’t died of a drug overdose; if the Smiths hadn’t broken up; or if BjÃ¶rn Berg hadn’t retired from tennis at twenty-six. Of course these are all great artists and athletes who left their marks with deep indentations on popular culture, but the mind just takes off when it thinks about what more they could have done: Phoenix was deepening as an actor and his body of work seemed to only scratch the surface of what he was really capable of; the Smiths’ last studio album Strangeways Here We Come was their most accessible yet; and Borg had eleven Grand Slam titles when he walked away from the sport, which at the time was only two shy of Roy Emerson’s record.
As for me, an ardent music addict with far too many arcane facts easily accessed by the right question and with a music collection so absurdly sizable I can listen to a different album every day for the next fifty-five years, for me what hurts most is the story of the Stone Roses [footnote 1: I'm still waiting for a party where the beautiful girl asks me the name of the drummer on Jazz Butcher Conspiracy's Distressed Gentlefolk. I've rehearsed this so much that if I'm sure if it ever happens I'll blow it and instead of saying, "Kevin Haskins," I'll say the name of the guy who played keyboards in Curiosity Killed The Cat.]
On the strength of their self-titled debut album, the Stone Roses should not only have ruled the world, they should still be ruling it. Shrugging off time and history and the constantly evolving musical curves of the pop universe, the Stone Roses’ harmonious blend of melodic six-string pop and psychedelic rock and roll still remains, after all these years, both fresh and vital. Whether it’s the slithering, narcissistic arrogance of “I Wanna Be Adored,” the soaring chorus of “She Bangs The Drums,” or the funky workout of “Elephant Stone,” The Stone Roses has more highlights than a David Beckham career retrospective. But more than that, it’s a cohesive album, an album not Frankensteined together with one hit single and an array of scraps disguised as songs, but an album whose seamlessly sequenced song cycle begins by devilishly taunting, “I don’t have to sell my soul / He’s already in me,” and then nervily ends with the self-obsessed and deliciously arrogant declaration, “I am the Resurrection and I am the Light.” True to the words of its bookends, the entire album is pompous and defiant, each song crackling with ambition and hunger.
The Stone Roses’ debut finds that lone, peerless groove occupied in temporary installments by precious few superstars, that groove where everything clicks and hums and snaps into place, and even the mistakes look good. In other words, when you’ve got it, you’ve got it big and it was here that the Stone Roses had it.
Thanks to my astute listeners out there, now we know that not only does Noel Gallagher play lead guitar on the Ian Brown song “Keep What Ya Got” (which I love), but also that it is a re-working of a song that Noel wrote for the X-Files movie called “Teotihuacan.”
According to the NME, former Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown has recorded material with a 30-piece orchestra for his forthcoming 5th album The World Is Yours, a follow-up to 2004′s Solarized, which I quite enjoyed.
“I started thinking about which songs I’d used in February to April last year, then I started on writing the music and working with my producers Black Ox, working on it all July, August,” said Brown. “By October/November, I had a clear idea of what songs I wanted to do and then we went into the studio in December, so I’ve done a month now. I recorded with a 30-piece orchestra last week. It’s going to sound amazing!”
Brown has been working with bassists Andy Rourke (Smiths) and Paul Ryder (Happy Mondays) for the album, and has been “chasing” Paul McCartney to help out as well. It’s due out later this year.
Check out these two songs from Solarized which I love — a dense, stylish and fascinating album. Brown has long been interested in classical sounds incorporated into modern songs, as evidenced by the looped strings & clanging piano notes mixed with taut beats on tunes such as this one (from Solarized):
Man I love that song. I’ve always smiled at the tongue-in-cheek lyric about fame, “When your halo slips for good you’ll have to wear your hood.” Then this tune, “Sweet Fantastic” (which is indeed both), starts with a brass band bit that lapses into sleek downtempo goodness. It’s lovely and sexy.
Finally, check out the brand new instrumental from Ian Brown called “On Track” just added to his MySpace page, written for the Russian movie Paragraf 78. I have no idea how that collaboration came about, and clicking unknown links on the apocalyptic Russian page freaked me out (you likedownld virus? okay!), so I have nothing more to report on the movie itself.
Acoustic, 1986 “She Bangs The Drums” “Waterfall” Bredbury, Manchester, 1986 “The Hardest Thing In The World” Chorlton, Manchester, 12th December 1986 “Elephant Stone” “The Sun Still Shines” “Going Down” “Sugar Spun Sister” Manchester, Early 1988 “Shoot You Down” Suite-16 Studios, Manchester, May 1988 “She Bangs The Drums” “Waterfall” “Made Of Stone” “This Is The One” Battery Studios, London, January 1989 “Elizabeth My Dear”
So, that’s what they were doing in 1986, and it doesn’t sound half bad. In 1986, I was an elf in a Christmas play called “Shaping Up Santa,” with a ROCKING theme song that I can still sing for you. Also, I was in “50 Nifty United States” where I learned to sing the states in alphabetical order. It comes in handy.
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
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