The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Sunday, January 27, 2002

It's about time I talked about something recorded this century. I'm not keen on this blog turning into an '80s revival site - although there's a very strong argument for proper critical appraisal of said decade to rescue it from the claws of the Maconie locusts. Something, then, which could only have been recorded this century, could only have been recorded now. Something which is happening as you read.

And that something is "Fuck It - The Official So Solid Crew Mix Compilation." A limited edition, so you need to get it now, preferably out of a grassroots specialist shop (like Streetvibe in Tooting High Street where I got mine; the very kind lady there is a serious contender for the best record shop assistant in the world right now). A wonderful piece of art which transcends the somewhat strained attempt to emboss the music, the culture, with "controversy," extending not only to the title (which is squarely polarised against the sleevenote preaching "community" and "crews standing together") but also the sleeve, displaying as it does various newspaper articles with the phrase "F**K IT" emboldened underneath (the asterisks speak so much louder than the U and C would've done) just like the good old days of the Roxy. (Sub)Conscious of history. But the music on here is so good and, dammit, so celebratory that there really is no need for the subtext, apart possibly from annoying the NME, adopting as they have the usual pretend affront at the failure of the crew to attend King's Reach Tower to grovel on their knees in abject apology at their moral transgressions, an attitude the success of which can be easily gleaned from the astonishing circulation figures which the NME has sustained over the last 20 years or so; or to annoy racist idiots like Decca Aitkenhead, who in the Guardian before Christmas tried manfully to avoid calling the crew "monkeys" while issuing a book full of middle-class slumming over a joke drug, the strength of which hardly compares favourably to that of Lemsip Max Strength.

There is no specific credit for the mix on these 2 CDs, so one presumes that it's a digitally knocked-together job, but the flow is generally so purposeful and exciting that it scarcely matters (how I wish white operatives could have a similar lack of hang-up about auteurs, and that's definitely with a small "a"). Two mixes, each lasting either side of an hour, and full of propulsion and point, as methodical as "Trans-Europe Express" but actually much more involving. Involved are various SSC tracks, including mixes of all the singles plus a couple of new joints, as well as a pick-and-mix from various parallel crews including Pay As You Go Kartel (whose "Know We" is already one of the great pop singles of this century), Corrupted Cru and Geeneus (but, oddly enough, no Genius Kru) as well as the pop-friendly likes of Daniel Bedingfield and Mis-Teeq. Apart from a slight discordant overlap from Jameson's "Slow Jam" to DB's "Gotta Get Thru This" the mix is pretty well seamless and actually works towards a climax of celebration, rather than the apocalypse which I suspect the likes of Aitkenhead are avidly awaiting.

This music is as radical as anything coming from glitchland (and more so, because it is squarely in the field of pop/dance and thus unburdened by manifestos other than the standard hip hop issue type) yet as approachable as a Labrador puppy. Something like "Bodyrock" by Tymes 4 is structured as radically as Matmos but falls right into the classic girl-group lineage known from the Shirelles onwards; avant-garde but emotionally euphoric. The killer sequence which climaxes CD 2 starts with the unpromising name of Beverly Knight, but fear not: "Get Up (SSC Mix)" jerks her real-ale soul vox to 69 rpm, killing soul as surely as Eric B at his peak. Then it's on to "Messin'" by Ladies First (sampling what sounds like the gong intro to Japan's "Ghosts"!) thence to SSC's "Friend of Mine" ("Sexy Boy" dumped in a gutter and rehabilitated with the street) and finally Ratpack's "Get You Rockin' (Synth Vocal Remix)" which, in terms of aesthetics, drive and belief, is right there in spirit with Gene Vincent. This stuff ROCKS.

So give the Strokes/Stripes the evening off and try this. At present I would rate this above SSC's own "They Don't Know" album (although you should still have both) because it's not weighed down by concerns about "respect" or "cred" but sets out to entertain and move and does both (and more) with ebullience and flair. But this is a culture which you need to absorb. Otherwise one might as well give up and go back to the Charley Patton box set. I'm sticking with now because life without significant new discoveries and new realignments of beliefs is, frankly, not worth having, as Phil Larkin would have secretly agreed.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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"The Ninth Wave" sequence which comprises side two of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" must be one of the bravest things ever to be put on a number one album, particularly as this was at the time her first new recording in three years (no one blinks an eyelid at that sort of time lapse now, but in the '80s it was considered unduly lax and symptomatic of artistic difficulties - cf. Human League's "Hysteria"). I'd expect that apart from hardcore Bush fans, most of the casual buyers who made this record her best-selling one worldwide probably stuck to the procession of hits on side one and shrugged off "The Ninth Wave" as an indulgence.

But both sides (and in those still vinyl-dominant days, side breaks still mattered aesthetically) are linked; the second side being a refraction and ultimate confirmation of the first.

More cynical observers have described the album as "Running Up That Hill" plus support act. Certainly it is the key song in view of the concept of doing "a deal with God" and thereby playing around with life and death, simultaneously observing and participating (and who could forget her astonishing performance of the song on TOTP, the band stood in a line, motionless; in an era of Five Star and Live Aid - BE HAPPY, OR ELSE - CARE, OR ELSE - this was, believe me, radical). The euphoria of "Hounds of Love," the song (albeit tempered by the closing refrain "I need love, love, love" - a Dadaist postscript to "Reynard the Fox") is followed by the equally ecstatic "Big Sky." Thereafter, however, a key song "Mother Stands for Comfort" which markedly refers to her mother being able to "hide the murderer," and then the sequence climaxes with "Cloudbursting" - perhaps slightly overwhelmed by the song's Donald Sutherland-assisted visualisation - with the government in a big black car (always the harbinger of death in pop - "Long Black Limousine" etc. etc.) coming for her dad - "a threat to the men in power." The finale is martial and ascending - this could almost have been used for the underrated '70s telefantasy serial "The Changes." It climaxes with the toot and rumble of a steam train - going backwards? Wendy Hiller in "I Know Where I'm Going" off to a prefabricated "Highlands" which was in fact located on the coast of Norfolk.

"The Ninth Wave" is essentially a conceptual sequence of songs about drowning - or about the protagonist drowning (for reasons unstated - accident? suicide attempt?). As with dreams/reveries, a lot of information/insights are compacted into a very brief timescale - the whole sequence may only cover a very few minutes, with the woman drowning and others attempting to save her. A quote from Tennyson's "The Coming of Arthur" on the sleeve makes the title's origins clear - allegorical orgasm ("slowly rose and plunged/Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame")? Exchanging the experience? Swapping places?

And don't forget the transgender subtext - right there in the sequence's first song "And Dream Of Sheep" - "They'll not take me for a buoy" (pun?). "Like poppies, heavy with seed - they take me deeper and deeper" the song closes, Bush sounding very blissful. Oh she's singing about sex! Or is she?

Straight into "Under Ice" ("there's something moving" - "IT'S MEEEEEE..." dying in post-coital rapture) and then "Waking the Witch" where most passers-by gave up. In fact it's astonishingly prescient in its use of actual/sampled voices, breakbeats - would not be at all out of place on the forthcoming Chemical Brothers album, from what little I've heard of the latter thus far. And "Watching You Without Me" anticipates glitch. The drowner imagines, visits, inhabits, COMES and goes. This is radical stuff we're getting here - in 1985 this should have been filed next to things like "The Covenant, The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord" and "Horse Rotorvator." Talk about the first five minutes after death!

(Compare this to the Scriabin-meets-Henry-Miller scenarios in Scott Walker's contemporaneous "Climate of Hunter" - although unlike that flawed record, "Hounds of Love" is free of OTT guitar solos and overly-flanged bass and therefore can still make sense now)

Then to the axis of the side, "Jig of Life" where said life is called for again. Rebirth. Re-baptism - Riverdance! And indeed, directing and arranging the Irish ensemble, there's Bill Whelan, making the whole thing actually sound much more like a 14th-century Italian estampie (Catholic roots!). It climaxes and then it's her (actual) dad back again, quoting Tennyson and urging her to live.

So she does in the melancholy "Hello Earth" as she resurfaces, though remarking that she can still blot "earth" out "with just one hand held up high." Bidding the sailors and fishermen to come home. The storm makes its way towards America. "Out of the cloud burst the head of the Tempest - Murderer, MURDERER of calm!" Thus the murderer (and Eberhard Weber obligingly back on bass) from "Mother Stands for Comfort" - and the Home Service choir (arranged and conducted by Michael Berkeley!) welcoming her back from the darkness.

And, to end, the sudden bright spryness of "The Morning Fog." The melody sounds like "Hounds of Love" played sideways, and she's living but does "love you much better now." A song which could very nicely segue into Mary Margaret O'Hara's "A New Day," the next step in the aesthetic ladder.

A ladder of which Bush had reached the top with this masterpiece. By the time of her next album "The Sensual World" in 1989, Ms O'Hara had arrived, as had Kristin Hersh and Bjork; the Cocteaus (surely her spiritual niece and nephew?) were arriving at their peak; and Polly Harvey and Courtney Love were on the point of arriving. So she could go no further, and while "Sensual" is excellent, it is essentially consolidation and more of the same. Four years thereafter she required her parallel spirit, Prince, to help her out on "The Red Shoes." Since then she has borne, raised and looked after her children. She has said her peace.

Recommended subsidiary listening
Cabaret Voltaire The Covenant, The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord
Cocteau Twins Treasure
Coil Horse Rotorvator
Dufay Collective Johnny Cock Thy Beaver (for more medieval estampies and evidence of the sexual subtext which lurks all the way throughout "Hounds of Love")
Mary Margaret O'Hara Miss America
Prince and The Revolution Around The World In A Day
Keith Tippett's Ark Frames: Music For An Imaginary Film (made in 1978, but the magisterial first half of Part 3 stands as one of the greatest auralisations of a very English awakening - "Black Saint" Mingus filtered through Britten's "Noye's Fludde")
Scott Walker Climate Of Hunter

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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