Monday, 29 June 2015

500 Words

Back in March I was one of the judges for the BBC's 500 Words competition. I was assigned fiction from the 5-9 year old category, so I read lots of stories about guinea pigs and pets, dragons and witches, dinosaurs, magical food, making wishes, siblings and teachers and parents, superheroes, and accounts of last night's dreams. I also read stories that were incredibly sad when you read between the lines, stories focussing on being brave, ways to overcome bullies, or children finding gold so they were not poor any more. Stories that said a lot about the child's real life, yet also made me smile at times, such as this:
"One upon a time there lived a very lonely girl called Sarah. She lived with her mum but she had no dad because they had got divorced. Her mum’s a lovely lady except she made horrible food and the worst puddings ever that tasted of gung and smelt horrible."

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Love Spreads

Band: The Stone Roses
Album: Second Coming
Year: 1994
Label: Geffen
Status: Still going
Love Spreads was the first release from Second Coming, the Stone Roses’ long-awaited second album. It’s famed for its virtuoso John Squire power guitar: from the distinctive opening notes to the solos, the guitar can barely be controlled, like it wants to bust out. Bends stretch the sounds out, sounds you can ride. It’s not all his show though: the whole band come together in something timeless and perfect. There’s pace. A journey. Believe, and see the light.

Love Spreads is about Jesus as a black woman. About female strength, female power to save, about love and forgiveness. Their previous single had been I Am The Resurrection, also about the depiction of Jesus. Second Coming indeed. The album’s opening track is Breaking Into Heaven. A statement of intent? Or because we all dream of meeting the dead again, those we’ve lost, as referenced in How Do You Sleep? Is it all just about having a second chance?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over

Band: The Charlatans
Album: The Charlatans
Year: 1995
Label: Beggars Banquet Records
Status: Still going
This song, recorded in Wales and released the same week as the Blur vs Oasis Britpop nonsense, was The Charlatans’ biggest hit since The Only One I Know. Its upbeat hummable tune and nice Rob Collins piano work has an echo of the Rolling Stones.

What’s it about? A difficult time, the sun going down, needing something to cling to – but there’s nothing there. A song to someone sun-connected who doesn’t follow the line, someone in the only place that can be a home. Burn everything down and go there.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Life Is Sweet

Band: Chemical Brothers
Album: Exit Planet Dust
Year: 1995
Label: Junior Boy’s Own
Status: Still going
The Chemical Brothers are big beat specialists and masters of psychedelic electronic dance. This song is a collaboration with their friend Tim Burgess from The Charlatans. The muffled bassline is joined by their usual kicking dance beats, and holds its own; but coupled with Tim Burgess’ distorted voice we get something otherworldly, spacey, an aural trip punctuated by the band’s usual “Yeah!” and shriek samples. Madness, but it works. Oh boy, does it ever.

More madness in the video, where the Brothers run some kind of mental asylum and control people with music, making the unfortunates smile, shake, and bounce to the band’s will (just as the Chems do with us on the dancefloor). An institutionalised Tim Burgess is also trapped in their claustrophobic nightmare and the confusion of cables controlling things illustrates the bureaucratic truth of places of confinement: so complex they are untameable, errors inevitable, programming can break.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Blinded By The Sun

Band: The Seahorses
Album: Do It Yourself
Year: 1997
Label: Geffen Records
Status: Disbanded 1999
John Squire had played guitar in The Stone Roses (we saw how that ended earlier, on page 87). He isn’t just a musician though, he’s also an artist, and it was his work that adorned the covers of most Stone Roses singles and both their albums (the dolphin cover for Fools Gold and the lemons cover for their first album being the most famous). It’s no surprise that a talented creator wouldn’t give up. He formed The Seahorses. Do It Yourself was their debut album, and was a platinum hit, launching them into space just like in Blinded By The Sun’s video.

This song has a slow pace but power behind it, rotating around Chris Helme’s focussed delivery of the northern lyrics (the echoes of “Don’t get clever with me, lad!” will be familiar to every Mancunian boy). As we’d expect with Squire there’s justifiably attention-seeking guitar work throughout. Stabbing orchestral strings occasionally punctuate the tune, adding to the high production value feel. Even in zero gravity there’s something weighty enough to sustain itself here.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Go Home

I like games which tell stories. Recently I have been enjoying a computer game genre sometimes described as "walking simulators" - games which aren't based on fast action, shooting, jumping and so on, but are instead more introspective affairs utilising exploration and story as their main elements, occasionally with a few puzzles. Last night I played Gone Home and recommend it if you're interested in this genre.

The setting:
June 7, 1995. 1:15 AM.
You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something's not right. Where is everyone? And what's happened here?
Gone home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family's lives by investigating what they've left behind.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Drugs Don’t Work

Band: The Verve
Album: Urban Hymns
Year: 1997
Label: Hut
Status: Disbanded 2009
There’s usually a comedown after a high. And so we come to this haunting and heartfelt track, beautifully played and sung, yet with the most horrible imagery of foreboding ever heard in a popular song: “Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown.” Shudder. The stripped-back guitar, pained singing and slow orchestral notes all emphasise a hurt, downbeat experience.

The bleakness continues. Drugs here are a doomed attempt to escape, instead just leading to an even darker place, new walls of confinement. They don’t ease pain. The only thing that would help is knowing someone else is thinking of you, that you’ll see them again. Without that there’s nothing else in life, a losing streak with no end but death.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Band: New Order
Album: Low-Life
Year: 1985
Label: Factory Records
Status: Still going
Despite the optimism of a new day and all the possibilities it holds, this is a song of despair and cynicism. Are its accusations aimed at God? The insubstantial? Ian Curtis? A lover? New Order are as ambiguous as ever. But it’s clear this song (which, appropriately, follows This Time Of Night) shows New Order totally in control of rising mood and power, from the ominous funereal opening chords to the classic catchy guitar riffs.

Just as sunrise separates night from day, this, their third album, is seen as their transition into a mature form of their sound with more electronic synth and dance built into their tracks. Transitions are always worth exploring, those times when something changes forever. Maybe that’s why this is the only New Order album with photos of the band members – in the CD version you can swap photos and choose which band member graces the cover.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Make It Happen

Band: Electronic
Album: Twisted Tenderness
Year: 1999
Label: Parlophone
Status: Disbanded 1999
We’ve met this supergroup already, so by now we should have got the message about how they formed: this is how Electronic ended.

Their third and last album. A sign off, a tactic to finish something on a high. Twisted Tenderness represents how potentially good things get destroyed if you’re not careful. The murdered Russian mystic Rasputin raises a hand on the cover.