Friday, 7 September 2012

Play To Z: Bitter Melon Farm to Chutes Too Narrow

Some Observations

I will always favour the immediacy of the catchy pop hook over the intricacy of the artsy flourish. Well, maybe not always, but listening to Blueberry Boat by The Fiery Furnaces certainly made me feel that way. Any worthwhile melodies they happen to find always collapse quickly into sparse, spasmodic instrumentation and forced rhymes. Give me "Call Me Maybe" any day.

"Naked In The Rain" by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers is about Anthony Kiedis wanting to be able to talk to animals. How have I only just caught this? The chorus is "Doctor Doolittle, what's your secret?"

If you don't like "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn then I will disregard every opinion you ever had or have.

I missed out on a chance to see We Are Scientists at the Norwich Arts Centre last month by essentially being a forgetful goof, and listening to Brain Thrust Mastery makes me really regret that. They're one of those bands who don't do anything extraordinary, but they consistently put out great, danceable rock.

"Biology" by Girls Aloud continues to be the best pop song of the first decade of this millennium. I've written about this before, but if you don't trust me, go have a listen, then come back and try to argue against it.

Doubling Down On Greatness

Listening to my music in such a fixed, rigid order throws up odd patterns and connections. Sometimes the jumps between albums are natural (Milkman's Algorithms into Girl Talk's All Day), sometimes they create odd juxtapositions that work (Japandroids' Celebration Rock into Beastie Boys' Check Your Head) and sometimes they are just flat out jarring (Annie's Anniemal into Gang of Four's Another Day/Another Dollar). However, in the past week of listening, two artists have managed double bills - two albums that happened to sit next to each other alphabetically and compliment each other perfectly. And those two artists just happened to be fucking icons.

Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks come from very different periods in his career, separated by almost 10 years. Blonde on Blonde is part of a trilogy of albums (along with Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) produced in a 14-month period when Dylan had just "gone electric"; a trilogy and period that is viewed as more-or-less unparalleled by modern musical critics.

When I mentioned I was listening to Blonde on Blonde on Twitter, my friend Tom and I got into a discussion where he described the record as Dylan's "lion-with-the-cage-door-open moment, where he realised 'I'm Bob fucking Dylan! I can do what I want!'" I couldn't have put it better myself. There's an ambition to the arrangements and lyrics that shows an artist really reaching for something new and exciting, and pushing at what he was capable of.

Blood on the Tracks, from 1975, is a very different album. Although Dylan denies it, it is universally recognised to chart his divorce from his wife Sara in bittersweet, perfectly-realised detail. From the anger and superiority of "Idiot Wind" to "If You See Her, Say Hello", which positively swims in sadness, it's a portrait of a conflicted, heartbroken couple collapsing in on themselves, and it sets the bar for every confessional singer-songwriter to come.

Born in the USA and Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen are separated by a similar amount of time, and a similar change in sound. While Dylan went from his creative peak to a critical resurgence, Springsteen moved from a breakthrough hit to an era-defining monster. Born To Run finds Springsteen as a young man, his lyrics still preoccupied with adolescent ideas of rebellion and romance. His songs are blue-collar soap operas of wild young racers, wilder first love and shady meetings with dubious characters. However, they're still tinged with sadness and cynicism, and an awareness of the inevitable destinies of his cast of small-town heroes.

Born in the USA was a move towards a more radio-friendly, pop sound for The Boss, and although the title track was adopted as a patriotic anthem, he managed to retain his realist's view of American life, taking in the heartbreak and the tragedy with the triumphs. Even though the album skews more towards universal sentiments and emotions, and less towards his earlier portraits of life, tracks like "My Hometown" and "Downbound Train" bring the album back home. The album works with a bigger palette of sound, introducing synthesised arrangements a world away from previous album Nebraska's stripped down acoustics. However, the young characters of Born to Run are now grown, reminiscing on their earlier days and reflecting on a life filled with hard work and turmoil. For an album making a deliberate attempt at mass commercialism, it manages to retain Springsteen's core themes astonishingly well.

Rediscovered Gem

"Cardiac Arrest" by Teddybears featuring Robyn


  1. The time has come to make an earnest request of you. Blogger to blogger.
    Please kill the dynamic theme thing and bury it in three inches of reinforced concrete.

    (Partially because it's confusing and silly in my browser but MOSTLY because it means I can't read blogs on my phone. Which is especially strange given that my blogspot is wonderfully mobile-optimised, as I recall.)

    Anyway... will you kill it? For me?

  2. Never let it be said that I am not willing to accept feedback. I'll look into a new layout...