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?
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.
If there ever was a band that was born to make the rousing anthem for the London 2012 Olympics, Muse was always going to be it. Stadiums were going to vibrate with their wall of sound, sea of hands was going to reach for the skies in unified rapture of sport, music, love and understanding, voices were going to sing in unison across the globe… and then Muse delivered a rock’s answer to Wagner. A pompous and nebulous piece all about “survival and revealing strength in front of human race”, which made it sound less like a celebration of human spirit and more like some small alien dictator rubbing his tentacles together plotting the earth’s demise. So, not so many sing-a-longs then. To be fair, “Survival” as the track was indeed called, was part of Muse’s 6th album The 2nd Law which according to Matt Bellamy was “Christian gangsta-rap jazz odyssey, with some ambient rebellious dubstep and face-melting metal flamenco cowboy psychedelia”. (Say what now?) Remember when Muse was ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ sexy-sleazy-funky and most of all…fun? The fifth release from The 2nd Law, Panic Station is more like it in my book. I’m glad humour is back on the menu, and I’m not even referring to the monster-mash of a video where Bellamy struts in red feathers on the streets of Tokyo and all sorts of comic book creatures plight the horizon, but the music itself has found its hot slammin’ groove again. In a twitter Q&A to promote The 2nd Law, one owl eared fan ( not a derogatory comment about some poor Muse fan, but owls have the sharpest hearing in the animal kingdom) said Panic Station sounds a bit like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, and the band answered the song was a tribute in some way as it reminded them of their youth, which of course Michael Jackson’s music was a part of. So the eclectic influences and the inter-galactic stadium shattering stomp is still there, only now with a singable chorus. And they brought the sexy back, yeah!
Ahh… the romance. The soft gush of amore in the setting sun, the hum of the languidly crashing waves, the wind tickling your summer skin and a pair of strong shoulders to lean upon. The bittersweet taste of knowing this surely cannot last, making you a bit weepy somewhere inside, a bit nostalgic even though you have only just arrived. And you weren’t even there. You only heard Beach Boys on the radio. In the middle of gridlock, in your car, at the end of the day, hungry, tired and about to cry. It’s 2012 and The Beach Boys are less sun and surf and more law suits and moments of clarity amid confusion. Brian Wilson has been coaxed back to join the rest of The Boys to record a brand new album to celebrate 50 years of rock’n’roll history (Surfin’ Safari came out in 1962) and possibly, to generate rewards from a massive summer tour. The music industry has shifted from music sales to ticket sales; last year *nostalgia* acts revved up guitars on stage to the sweet sound of about $800 million big ones. No wonder they lured Wilson on the road again. Cynical, yes – true, probably, who knows. And I don’t even care. All I want to do is immerse myself in the liquid gold of those four-part harmonies and go back to that beach that never even excisted.
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There are rock stars amongst men. Not always famous, not always nothing but beams of light on basement stages playing to the back rows of stadiums in small empty clubs night after night. Roosters among men, they possess some tragic flaw pulling you in to their magnetic power field, elusive but almost always fragile under the surface. Some become the stuff of legends, repeated for decades, often years after their demise of bottles and powders and the complete freedom of letting go. Others step into their given spotlight, finally wearing the greatness that was theirs, others walk through fame in uncomfortable shoes. But no matter who they are or wherever you saw them first, you look at them and go; I wanna be on that guy’s team, he holds the key. Jay Buchanan is a recent inductee to this hallowed brotherhood of men. His band Rival Sons is one of those bona fide rock bands, stemming from the blues and hours in darkened rooms, just four guys playing simply because they love doing so. There’s a rare and beautiful honesty that flows through “Face of Light” and when Buchanan hits his falsetto and lets it soar, it’s like floating on salvation.
The thing about England, (and there are lots of things about England, this bankrupt hot mess we all in live in), that it still, in my opinion, produces some of the best rock bands in the world. Built on the time honoured tradition of the Beatles, the biggest concentration of modern greats seem to centre around the Northern part of the country, where the industrial “it’s grim up there” image of the region (however false) allows for the music to cut through bullshit the way the chinzy tea dominions of the Cotswalds never could. I Am Kloot, Oasis, The Verve, Delphic and Doves are just some of the greats carrying the Northern flag. The Ting Tings rose from the art house commune of the Islington Mill Studios (so named after the Manchester cotton weaving mill that once occupied the site) with their “We Started Nothing” debut, an aggressive pop stance in 2008 against the traditionally lad oriented rock of the Manchester scene. Their flipping a bird to the establishment singles “That’s Not My Name” and “Shut Up And Let Me Go” have now made way to the funkier Red-Hot-Chilli-Peppers influenced “Hang It Up”, which is ushering in a new rockier Ting Tings vibe. It has more sass and bounce to the dollar and just enough ‘tude to remind us that, behind all this new Cali swagger, it’s still the spikey mancunian hearts that beat in the sound of this band.
Incubus are synonymus with my love affair with the City of Angels. Even today they are the one LA band that can immediately transport me back to the warm Sunset evenings, spent under the butterfly ceiling at Chateau Marmont or sitting at the hallowed bar at Barney’s Beanery, knocking back Coronas with the ghosts of Joplin and Morrison before moving up to the Observatory to admire the Emerald City twinkling infinity right before my eyes. During the day I wear my memories on my sleeve, at night I skywalk to the edge of the ocean. That’s why I fall into “Promises” like to a feathered bed after a long ardous day. Swathed in the blanket of Brandon’s words I wish for my own sleight of hand, then lay my head on the melody and close my eyes for 4 minutes and 25 seconds to time travel the years.
Besides looking like the youngest Gallagher brother or Paul McCartney’s long-lost son, Miles Kane has fronted such cool sounding bands as The Rascals and The Last Shadow Puppets, the latter in which he teamed up with Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. I’m not that familiar with either band (even though for a while in 2008 NME (magazine) was constantly telling me I should really, really, really dig the Last Shadow Puppets) but I seem to remember there were a lot of guitars and floppy indie band hairdos involved. The early reaction to Miles’s solo stuff has been mixed, the shadow of his more famous BFF from the Puppets is difficult to shake, but I like his straightforward indie swagger. I’d quite happily be crammed into some sweaty rock club hollering aah-aaah-aaah to his whoo-oo-whoo-oo whilst trying to detach my heels from the sticky beer sodden floor and dodging the half-hearted moshpit moves of the guy to my right. His solo sound is gutsier and sleazier than the 60s retro rock of The Last Shadow Puppets, the whole vibe is more killer guitar solos, sexy groupies and nights of rock’n’roll debauchery. Rock on my brother, rock on!
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