When you reach a certain stage in your life you can see from here to there. Maybe it’s a road that stretches out in front of you as a straight line, maybe it opens up to you as one of the Great Plains,but there’s no denying it, the horizon, it keeps getting bigger. You can’t fight it nor can you change it. It just is what it is and I know how it goes. There’ll be more phone calls in the middle of the night, there’ll be more goodbyes. There’ll be more tough decisions and more days when you have no idea how you ended up here at all. And when you look back the only thought you have is; What was I thinking? I was so in over my head.
But here we are, there’s nothing to it. Don’t think you’re special, don’t think it hasn’t all happened before. And if I get any notions you know what I do? I crank it up high. I fill it up to the brim. I polish my discarded dancing shoes. It goes something like this: To the left – step one, step two, and together. To the other side, do it with me now…step one, step two and …together. And then I press restart.
It was one of those typically English summer evenings when the air was thick with roses and the sky burnt a pink horizon. There might have even been a fox screeching somewhere. I was sitting in front of the television sipping a gin & tonic as the sun went down over Glastonbury. Or it could have been Reading, hardly matters, I do festivals like most other middle-aged people do. Sitting comfortably. 1975 took to the stage and I remember thinking: Now there’s a band of 4 scrawny kids from Birmingham playing just the kind of infectious rock’n’pop that will end up directly on to the pages of this blog. So here it is, 1975 with their biggest hit “Girls”. That night spent in front of a sea of festival flags coincided with me finishing “31 Songs” by Nick Hornby, a book of essays based on his favourite songs. The book is kind of like this blog, except way better. (National Book Critics Circle Award winning better in fact.) In the beginning of the book he makes it clear he does not want to write about songs as memories. No walks down memory lane about what he was doing when Rod Stewart was asking if he was sexy on the radio. (Kids, look it up, it’s a song. I was in Italy and it was the summer of ’79.) Whereas I definitely don’t filter the songs here through memories either, reading “31 Songs” made me realise I definitely filter a lot of songs through a decade. Ironic as Matt Healy & Co are called 1975 but seriously, does anyone else hear Howard Jones on “Girls?” Or do I have a box of 80s crayons and I just keep colouring in?
London is grey. It’s gritty and grainy and broken windows on tiny alleyways. It’s worn off glamour and better days. But London is also a sound. It’s Sam Smith, John Neman and Disclosure. It’s Rudimental, Dizzy Rascal and Naughty Boy. And coming this November, it’s also Mary J Blige. The queen of R&B has descended. We are not worthy. This past summer Mary spent a month on Abbey Road working with Sam Roman, Sam Smith, Emeli Sande and other London scene luminaries, the result of which is The London Sessions album. To say that I’m waiting for this album like I’m waiting for the moon to rise, is an understatement. Mary J Blige is a diamond.The guest vocals she did on Disclosure’s F for You, were not guest vocals. She owned that song. At 43 and with over a decade of hits behind her, Mary could just sit on her laurels and wave her 9 Grammy Awards at London’s face. Instead she has gleaned on that one thing that makes London special, something us Londoners are very proud of. Our free spirit. “The music (in the UK) is free the way it used to be in the States. Artists are just free to do what they love. Listening to the radio you can hear the freedom.” Therapy, the first release from The London Sessions is co-written by Sam Smith, but the heart of it quite clearly beats to the sound of London’s own lost wild child, Amy Winehouse.
Sometimes first listens are disorientating. Our brains are programmed to fit things into boxes, data flick through past refrences, index categories by source, path and genre. But when none of that applies, its like watching an emperor in his new clothes. He says he is wearing them but your mind is computing… did I just see what I thought I did? That pretty much describes my relationship with Grimes. I admire her for her versatily. I envy her fabulously surreal mind. Yet at the same time, I am baffled by the sonic chaos. The weird and wonderful Claire Elise Boucher, 26 year old artist from Montreal, manages to sound like a Japanese Kabuki singer on Nightmusic and a synthpop engenue on Oblivion. What the mind does not completely understand is completely irresistible. So I go back and take another data hit. And again. And again. Its tickling the brain cells. Sticking onto the white matter, crawling under the skin. There is no straight path from verse bridge to chorus, then repeat. It takes a step, then floats, then body grooves in dark corners. It’s odd. It’s original. And even though “Go” is probably Grimes’s most obviously commercial single to date, (and originally written for and rejected by Rhianna) it does not comfortably fit into high rotation on drivetime. That’s what makes me admire her the most.
I don’t remember most of the episode nor the events leading up to it. All I remember is Adam Driver sitting on a bench somewhere in New York (or was it even him?) as the dusk was settling on the horizon. I was recently binge watching “Girls”, and as much as I liked the series, what I really walked away with was a song. Lena Dunham had asked twin duo Tegan and Sara to cover the Rolling Stones ballad “Fool to Cry” for the show. To be fair, I had no idea it was a Stones cover until I did some digging around. (“Girls” soundtracks are a slam dunk of brilliance by the way with Robyn, Fleet Foxes, Icona Pop, Jake Bugg… all masterminded by music supervisor Manish Ravel who’s a real wizard in setting music to mood.) I don’t know if it says more about Mick & Keith (Fool to Cry was originally recorded for the Rolling Stones 1976 album “Black and Blue”) or the brilliance of Tegan and Sara, but the sweet simple melody fell like soothing rain at the end of quite a heart-rending episode. The melting harmonies, the light guitar, the weary lyrics of apprehension, all end up as a surprisingly consoling piece of music. Like a deep exhale after a long day. Or a warm hug after an even longer year.
I cannot sleep. Kate Bush is wading a dream. Slow motion worlds falling. Transcending. Love floating. Tears hiding. Memories rising. Future shifting. Softly, softly, feet don’t touch the ground. I close my eyes and I keep falling. Falling with the music drifting. I know all about snow. Stinging my face. Out of the grayness. Coming at me as I spin. And my mother is there, waiting. The music repeats in circles. Stirring undercurrents like engines. Repeating like the heart. I almost catch it…and then lose it again. Then I feel it reverberating. Dimming, fading…gone.
Kate Bush cannot be explained. She defies words. Convention does not apply. Tomorrow she returns live on stage after 35 years. This is what happened to me when I plunged in to “Snowflake”, the opening track on 50 Words for Snow. In the middle of the night, I could not sleep. Then I listened. Your words may not be the same as mine. And there lies the beautiful mystery. She always knows where you want to go.
One thing La Roux decidedly isn’t is young, foolish and green (it’s a touching lyric in her new single Let me Down Gently). It was five years ago La Roux won a Grammy, had world-wide hits with In For The Kill and Bulletproof and was a red-headed Annie Lennox re-incarnate with an 80s new wave quiff and a sound to match. Then it all went silent. For f-i-v-e years. It’s a touch of self mocking irony the new album is called Trouble in Paradise. For La Roux it seemed to be a case of be careful what you wish for. After the success of the hit filled debut album, Elly split with her songwriting partner, (the other part of La Roux, Ben Langmaid) suffered debilitating panic attacks and lost her ability to sing. As she says in an interview with the Guardian: “I thought my career was over.” Whatever those troubles were, they seem a long-lost memory now. Elly Jackson is back! And she is just as seductively Annie, although a bit softer in the emotionally charged Let Me Down Gently. The tone is muted, but the spirit is as blazing as the red bullet of hair charging through the foggy moors in the elegant video. I heard someone describe Let me Down gently as forlorn, but I don’t hear the sadness. Only courage in the face of inevitability. He has already decided to leave.