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

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

According to the Mercury panjandrums, Original Pirate Material sums up what it's like to be young and British in 2002. No it doesn't - no more than What's Going On was a Chomsky-esque lecture to the Americans in 1971. It is a depiction of a confused and fucked up individual into whom "society" doesn't quite fit. I do not know whether Mike Skinner is really 42 years old with a DLitt in the Consumptive Poets (1756-1829) from Balliol, and really, would it matter even if he were? I live but a bus ride from where he lives, travel the same routes, know there are more things to consider, know the abyss into which ideals can plunge you.

Despite the Birmingham/Australia pedigree, this is firmly a South London album, a westward reflection of the south-eastern slow decay rendered so well by Roots Manuva on Run Come Save Me. Someone forced into a "third class carriage" where champagne dreams and caviar wishes have to be substituted by "shit in a tray." He is a driven Brummie, just like Kevin Rowland (listen to his "that's it! that's it!" response to the mournful "there's a world out there" on the track "Same Old Thing" - pure Don't Stand Me Down). He wants your vision to mirror his - for "Let's Make This Precious" substitute "Let's Push Things Forward" with its benign but fatal refrain of "you say that everything sounds the same/then you go buy THEM! (the last five notes ascending like a judge's gavel before it is inaudibly hammered)/(and then reproachfully) there's no excuses my friend." An alternative way of expressing the "I hear you..." Greek chorus of the second half of "Losing My Feel." "Geezers Need Excitement" which starts with an atonal chord which could have come straight from Mantler's "Communications # 8" and then proceeds to argue firmly against being a "geezer." Rather like a low-budget Brit answer to Eminem's "Guilty Conscience" except this time Skinner listens to his own "Dr Dre" and advises, more subtly but no less honestly than that former Brummie bishop Cardinal Newman. Then to the consequences of being too much of a geezer and losing love and one's future as a result in "It's Too Late."

Nowhere to go after that except comedy. First "Too Much Brandy," a hilarious tale of inept drunkenness - Charles Bukowski scripted by Eric Sykes. IMPORTANT NOTE: if taping this, omit tracks 9 and 10 (respectively "Don't Mug Yourself" a sort of garage equivalent of Blur's "Bank Holiday" and "Who Got The Funk?" a sequence of somewhat pointless IDs, presumably to give the listener time to boil a kettle) and substitute "All Got Our Runnins" (which is available on the CD single of "Let's Push Things Forward") a fantastic slapstick litany of ways simultaneously in and out of poverty, what happens if you take the Flaming Lips literally and live for all you've got (which is now); can't pay the rent but is wearing £109 trainers. The Terry Hall-esque (it had to come) singsong at the end ("And he said to me wot are you doing you twa-hat?") is the funniest thing I've heard this year, with the possible exception of track 11 "The Irony Of It All" in which Skinner alternates between two characters, Terry the law abiding hooligan (Chingford Tor Ascender if ever there were one) and Tim the morally smug leisured student. Don't know about filing this under garage - this has more to do with Arab Strap than So Solid Crew, what with the endless circular concerns about having no money, getting pissed/stoned, being unable to get a girlfriend. But a damn good track - imagine if Harry Enfield were to write a sketch like this; it would be over-qualified, sarcastic and clumsy.

Then the laughter stops and the man is left alone in the cafe, remembering raving times of five years previously in "Weak Become Heroes." A strangely disjointed recollection, what with its deliberately out-of-step vocal/rhythm/house piano triangle, as if he is recalling it through a much deadlier haze. Was any of it actually real? Hadn't rave already peaked with the geezer contingent a good five years before "five years ago"? The answer is buried deep in the lyric, where Skinner muses on imaging the world leaders on E - "and the next day: don't talk to me I don't know you - but this ain't tomorrow I still love you." So the same conclusion as "Sorted for Es and Whizz" - all a con. With a codicil; awakened from his imagined reverie, he is left to wander grey Stockwell streets in the freezing dark with "no surprises, no treats." Rejected by a society of which he was never really part in the first place.

After that, it's only a short step to the devastating closer "Stay Positive" in which Skinner sounds anything but. The visual resemblance to Ian Curtis has already been noted elsewhere; the musical resemblance to side two of Closer , and specifically "The Eternal," cannot fail to be noted. He tells the listener to keep aiming for their goals and that everyone's climbing their own ladder, but that "if you've got the love of a good girl/your world will be much richer than mine." No way out of the estate, just "stare at the geezers/let them know you're not lightweight" as if that solves anything. "Just try and stay positive" pleads the singing voice, cracked and frail (it could almost be Will Oldham). He tells you to stay alive, but can he? The track finally stutters gently to a halt, the piano loop turning into glitch, the whole thing finally submitting to static - a life system in suspension.

What he sings is an alternative version of "Do You Realise."

Never has "positivity" sounded so negative. Whatever scant meaning there was in the term to begin with has been drained away. It's just a word, put there because it's convenient.

"I am valid," he is saying, "do not kill me while in the act of killing yourself."

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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I heard "I Wish I Didn't Miss You" being raved over by Tony Blackburn on Capital Gold last night, and it made perfect sense in the context of what he was playing - mainly '80s mainstream pop-soul. It was astonishingly refreshing to hear all this stuff again; because it's now so underexposed, it has retained some unexpected brio. "Feel So Real" by Steve Arrington (euphoric!), "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much" by Bobby Womack (deliciously pensive - the only song with the words "business trips" in the lyrics to which I can usefully listen), "Weekend Girl" by the SOS Band (dig that gradual escalation to that sudden vocal dissonance in the middle section before settling down again - Jam & Lewis were architectural geniuses) and the apostolic "Hangin' On A String" by Loose Ends, a multilayered labyrinth of punctum.

And, with that genius of trembling on the brink of non-existence, "The Other Side Of The World" by Luther Vandross. Beautiful but beautiful.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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Why does DJ Shadow, buried deep within his sleevenotes, have a go (under "Implication" alongside "King" George Bush and journalists who "don't make enough effort") at "losers who bootleg the hard work of others"? Indeed, Mr Davis is sipping tea poured from a pot as black as the originally boiled kettle, no? Or does he mean lazy bods who just, say, layer a vocal over another backing track? Imagine, the laziness, the lack of artistry and craftmanship! DJ Shadow as the Greg Lake of trip hop??!!

Or maybe DJ Shadow is the Charles Mingus of trip hop.

Because then you put the record on and it starts with a "(Letter From Home)" (the brackets are significant). A woman who's missing her son or husband? Down in Richmond, California, with other family members, but one key ingredient missing - Lester (Young?). In the background: "Midnight Sun" by Lionel Hampton (and guess who plays bass on that!).

Remembering how that same recording could be heard in the background about a year ago when I received a frantic, screaming telephone call.

I want to get into "Blood on the Motorway." The race is over, there is a fatality. "And now...eternity." An unhurried piano loops over and OVER

and I remember that 12 months have gone by

Quotes. Intonations. Industrial bangs, a steel door sliding shut. A coffin closing. Silence (the opposite of Dougan's "Pause"). An AOR vocal. "You did not betray your ideals! Your ideals betrayed you!" Like the NHS did. "Your tongue barely moves but I can still FEEL YOU!!!!" he screams. Drum track triples up. Any redemption?


A forgotten 1966 voice and guitar echo back: "It's too late - eternity is here."

"You Can't Go Home Again." A Stockholm Monsters backing track. You can't pretend it's 1982 again.

And yet the "(Letter From Home)" comes back. No tears. Just goodwill and warmth. It ends happily. It ends with a future.

I need to absorb this more.


The words "Alan", "Parsons" and "Project" leak back for the first half of this record (not to mention the cover). But then I thought the same of 10,000 Hz Legend for six months, so this is subject to radical change. What I do know is that the extraordinary sequence of songs from "Are You A Hypnotist?", "It's Summertime," "Do You Realise?" and "All We Have Is Now" is tinted with that same autumnal, slightly bleached yellow glow which illuminates a lot of my favourite music.

This will certainly be absorbed more.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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