Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"My Iron lung"

I'm obsessed with this song. From the very moment the eastern-influenced guitar leads you into a swirling George Harrison moment, to the whiny, moaning voice of Thom Yorke, to the cataclysmic (and I do use that word in the fullest sense) guitar wig-out that draws the song towards its close, this is an addictive, seductive song about frailty. Be it mental, physical or spiritual, we are all frail in some way, and we all need an iron lung sometimes, a device to help us out, to take over for a little while. And sometimes this need to release our hold on responsibility angers us, makes us frustrated and bitter, and that's exactly where I think this song is coming from.
Towards the end Thom Yorke sings "And if you're frightened/You can be frightened/You can be, it's OK." And it comes like a release, an exhalation, the realisation that we are all just dumb animals sometimes and we can give in to our instinct.

"Physical (You're So)"

A Big Day here a SongsWithoutWhich, folks. Break out the milk, let joy be unconfined. According to the technologists at Sitemeter, this blog has racked up 5,000 visitors and 10,000 page views. Sadly, the lucky persons who took us over the line didn't stop to say hi or anything, so I don't know where to send the money, but in any case I've a hot tune to share with y'all in celebration.
Adam Ant always seemed to me to be some sort of confection for the girls, a sort of tasty morsel they could consume and sigh over while waiting for a regular boy to prance up to their door wearing warpaint and tight trousers. As history recalls, that fashion came and went in a hurry, so a lot of us boys never quite got round to the make-up. Shame.
But if you care to delve a little deeper than the patented Adam & the Ants tribal drums and the ooh-matron videos, you come across some real gems. I've already been through the "Deutscher Girls" earlier, but recently I came across this track again and it really knocked me out.
For a start, any song title with the word "physical" makes me think of Olivia Newton-John, for some vague reason which we shouldn't go into here. But then I wonder what it would sound like if Olivia were to sing this song: "I want the touch of your charms/The heat of your breath/I want to say all those things (those dirty things)/That would be better unsaid." Songs about sex is a recurring theme through SongsWithoutWhich, I know, but then music is often just the tonal expression of a horizontal desire; something like this: "I want you hard in my arms/So soft in my bed", as Adam sings.
This is just a terrific piece of raw, throbbing desire, and when you listen to the song you'll agree, I hope, that the word "throbbing" is pretty accurate. Marco Pirroni makes his guitar grind like a good old fashioned eight-cylinder engine, the feedback fades in and out like your senses when you're in the grip of something animal, and the steady, pounding rhythm suggests more than dirty dancing. It's half-way between Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and something Black Sabbath might have knocked together when they were taking downers. A real treat.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


We don't always have enough time in our lives to sit back, empty our heads and just drink in the moment - whether it's a sunlit field a million miles from anywhere, a dark rainy evening at home, or standing still in the midst of a sea of hurrying, hassled people. We all seem to have too much to do, too many tasks to complete before the day ends. Or, as the saying goes, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
Here's a song that can stop you dead in your tracks, bring your senses down from their constantly-heightened state of alert, a song that just says "repose". Listening to this is like pressing the "pause" button. From the moment the lazy beat gently gives way to Liz Fraser's gorgeous folksy voice, and the gentle chord progression wraps you up in a blanket of calm, you're in another place.
This isn't the sort of peace you find when you're lying in the arms of a loved one, or the sort of peace that comes from comfort and safety. This is the peace that comes from the lifting of a heavy burden, the loss of the hundred little stresses that make up each day, when you leave this world behind for just a few moments. The music is simple and minimal enough to let you wander off; it doesn't demand your full attention - instead, it's a gentle spell, cast upon a furrowed brow. And that's just about the most precious thing we can ask for sometimes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How perfect is this. Stately, elegant and achingly gorgeous all at once yet there's hurt, I mean real wide-eyed pain, beneath everything. If you listen to this and Johnny Cash's "Hurt" together you're going to need therapy, but I recommend the experience. A big shout-out to Neil Young for his songwriting genius and his backing vocal. Just shows how the old folks can still teach the young dogs a thing or two.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

"Joining a Fan Club"

"She turned the nightlight on and blew him a kiss/He stared back through his green Crayola eyes/She traced his likeness from off the back of a disc/Next to the boxtop promise of the biggest prize."
Hero worship...we've all been there. At that certain age, music becomes an all-consuming religion. We've paid for the records, posters, magazines, so we pray, we wait for the song to come on the radio, we literally consume our heroes like little pieces of popcorn... "Shake that woody/Shake it for me Saint Pinocchio/We've paid our money, now watch that money grow."
Eventually, we move on. It's a wrench, turning our back on that piece of innocent heaven, but we're older, wiser, more sophisticated, and we don't "do" posters and hot longing glances any more. Now we're more cynical, hard-bitten, and we expect our heroes to really put out for us, not just promise it.
"Joining a fan club, big mistake/I still get heartburn when I think about all of the stamps I ate/I wished I'd loved him before fate crashed his car/Say a prayer for the fallen star."
But it's still a piece of innocent pleasure to pull out that old record, see that faded, much-thumbed cover and remember how our entire life revolved around it for such a long time, such a long time ago.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"I Feel Love"

I've got two things to say about this song.
From time to time I listen to drum 'n bass music, that frantic thudding stuff you can often hear emanating from low-rider cars with blacked-out windows. The car slowly cruises by andd you stare at it, wondering how the occupants can hear themselves think, talk, shout with that killing beat shaking their innards and those of anyone nearby. To quote Garry Trudeau, this is music that "could sterilise tree frogs at a hundred paces." What I get out of it is the utter relentlessness, the constant wash of air over you as the speakers judder in and out at something like four hundred beats per minute. Once in a while it's fun to get yourself pressed up against the wall by sheer volume and physics.
Think back, oh, thirty odd years to the late 70s and the summer of disco, when this piece of heaven came bursting out of the ground like a Jules Verne mining machine. It's drum 'n bass! It's Donna Summer! Immediately you're whisked into an alternate universe with this song, somewhere where spaceships, silk capes, platform heels, glitter balls, strobes and ecstasy all seem to come together for a moment when you're lifted out of your body. It's breathless, heady stuff.
And then, on another level, this song is pure unadulterated erotic science-fantasy. It's speaking to your hands, lips, fingers, throwing your body onto an enormous bed where the rest of the world disappears and you're left, two of you, together in some sort of timeless moment of discovery. It's laughter, silence, roaring noises in your head as you are taken from one world to another. And all the time, Donna Summer, the high priestess of music-as-sex, stands over you with an arm raised in benediction, urging you on to higher planes of knowledge. Or, as you might say as the song winds down after its interminable journey, "fuck".