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

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

"Say You Don't Mind" by Denny Laine's Electric String Band (1967)

Is this the most wasted career in pop music? McCartney's glorified teaboy for a decade followed by 20 years croaking round the German pub circuit? Now Denny Laine produced an awful lot of good work in between the Moody Blues and Wings, not least of which was the still extraordinary "Catherine Wheel" with his demented intervallic leaps (like a slow-motion yodel).

But today I am spotlighting this beautiful record which might have changed Laine's life entirely had its sales been as plentiful as its airplay. Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne dug it enough to become inspired to form ELO.

The song is a plea for the Other to take him back following sundry fuck-ups on his part. It is a humble apology. Light at the treble end with twiddling oboe (is she twiddling her thumbs?) and strings offset by foursquare bass and a strong drum track with its 1-2-3-4 hammering after each chorus exposing the "LET ME BACK IN" subtext of despair below Laine's apparently meek delivery.

Unlike Brian Wilson's self-humbling "You Still Believe In Me," there is no guarantee that the Other will take him back. So Laine also humbles himself with fantastic lyrics such as, "Stupid fish, I drank the pool" and "a doormat has seen better times" (followed by his sardonic ad lib "that's BAD!") but betrays himself at the end: "I've been doing some growing/'Cos I'm scared of you going." Note how his voice trembles at, and pauses immediately after, the word "scared." And then the chorus payoff: "Say you don't'll let me off this time" - implying that this might not be the last time. Psychedelic geezerdom.

Of course the song was eventually covered, stripped down to strings only, by Colin Blunstone on his 1971 album One Year (a gorgeous lament of a record which you MUST have) and as a single finally became a hit in '72. Impossible to imagine Blunstone even being on the same planet as geezerdom. His vocal and the strings-only, rhythmless backing track strips the song of any irony and turns it into a hymn of penitence.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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OK, so Ms Dynamite may one day blow up, but I have to be the Nit Nurse to start off with and pick nits – an introduction to an album is NOT an “interlude,” it is a PRELUDE. It betrays laxity rather than laterality. Particularly when you start off your debut album with a public health announcement.

“Fuck coke fuck ecstasy/fuck powder fuck pills see me” she proclaims in yet another variation of the dispassionate R&B voice in “Natural High,” the PRELUDE to A Little Deeper, her first album. The sleeve is dark – bleaker than that of Original Pirate Material; at least on the latter there is urban life in evidence. On this sleeve, however, Ms D is pictured in a variety of poses wandering round what looks like a deserted set of docks, far further East than anyone would dare to venture – Iain Sinclair’s idea of the East End, where erstwhile gangsters sans rottweilers go to meet their inevitable execution. It looks like the end of the earth, making Roots Manuva’s New Cross/Lewisham interface seem like Hampton Wick in comparison.

And yet – out of the darkness bursts LIGHT! The first song proper, “Dy-na-mit-tee” is fused and explodes with a truly exuberant high voice, fizzing like a newly-opened can of ice-cold Coke (so don’t “fuck coke” with a capital C?), maybe the most enthusiastic, love-me vocal to bless a debut single since Michael J on “I Want You Back.” Even more impressive considering that it is musically set against a minor key, vibes-driven trip hop template – never has trip hop sounded so positive, so un-itself! And upon this Ms D illuminates every corner of potential darkness with her will to live, to BE. Listen to that chorus vocal of “I stay blowin’ up ur stereo/Hear me bussin’ on da radio,” a folk memory of 2-Tone (Specials “Stereotypes Part 2” and Selecter “On My Radio” specifically), a common memory of something which existed just before she did. Yet it is already in her blood. It transposes the wicked playfulness of the original movement and dazzles you with its renewed wonder. That sextuple-stop intro – everyone to order now! What miserable wretches like Nelly Furtado would sell all of their ceilings to achieve! The punctum – the extra “hee” at the end of “Dy-na-mit-tee” and its amiable vibrato wobble. She is LAUGHING and PLAYING with you.

But don’t forget, she has only started, so really she is still at the One In A Million stage, as painfully evidenced by “Anyway U Want It” an utter treadmill of an R&B canal boat with one Keon Bryce on dullard male voice. Ms D runs circles around him and graffitis his torso while she’s at it, cheating the bar lines, snaking her way around the cliches like Aaliyah’s asp. The Art of Noise style human bass line is the only other thing of interest here.

Now it’s time to go fla-blooming-menco again, but the pointillistic pinpricks which punctuate “Put Him Out,” seems to revive Ms D. The voice really slashes its way (even through the AARGH rock guitar, leave it ALONE or get Keith Rowe to play guitar over your beats) through the song. It’s fantastic. You are carried by it, public health announcement # 2 though it may be. She IS the punctum, stretching over the studium with which she has been furnished.

Although sometimes she doesn’t exceed it. Witness the would-be weepie ballad “Brother” which is essentially a cut-price replica of Pink’s “Family Portrait” and wherein, alas, Ms D can only but turn into Ms Flipping Furtado. She talks about depression and wanting to end it all, but unlike Tweet, she cannot make you believe her or emphasise with her. More pranks needed. So we get the hit single “It Takes More” which is the best accordion-sample driven would-be hip hop track since Siouxsie’s “Peek-A-Boo.” Hear how she mangles the final syllables of “ur just a racist man’s PUSSY.” As with the rest of the record, too much of the Peckham Community Centre is in situ, but the “righteousness” is spiced by the restless rhythm and completely compelling groove, even stretching the fact-recycling to the surreal: “Tell me how many Africans died for the baguettes on ur Rolex.” ????!!!??? The sensuality of the repeated “avoiding, adding” mantra.

She once recorded with So Solid Crew but doesn’t subscribe. The inverted Dr Dre groove (“Everything But The G String?”) which powers “Sick ‘n’ Tired,” a fuck off to the other woman song (AGAIN that “take my kindness for weakness” tidemarker). The loving way in which she licks the man between her lips when singing “kitty kitty” is remarkable.

Next is my favourite track on the album, “Afraid 2 Fly.” Sampled waves crash and puncture, sounding like gunfire. Harps and strings dart about her head from all directions, like vultures swooping in for the kill Published by the Art of Noise! Music by one Hernst Bellevue (why isn’t the lead singer of Interpol called Hernst Bellevue, and that’s the most original thing that will EVER be written about them!). “I ain’t ready 2 die/but I ain’t afraid 2 fly” – a revival of the Utopian ideal engineering ‘70s soul at its peak (Mayfield’s “We’ve Got To Have Peace,” Rotary Connection’s “I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun” etc.). Should be listened to while reading the associated (unsung) sleevenote, which includes the words “Never give them the satisfaction of being the reason that you wouldn’t.” It’s the antidote to Rob Dougan’s “Speed Me Towards Death.” In the latter Dougan says you cannot fly until you die. Ms D says if you don’t fly you cannot live. She almost makes you believe it. Time for a wake-up call? “Watch Over Them” is a brief acappella gospel intonation, asking God to look over and protect even the gangsters. In her lower range she can be very dispassionate, centring on one note. It doesn’t make you cry. Similarly “Seed Will Grow” has Kynani Marley sounding remarkably like another Marley but sadly not far enough from worthy.

All albums by law should be obliged to have a song called “Krazy Krush” and this one is an electroclash delight, synths (ever so slightly atonal) flitting from channel to channel in the best Martin Rushent fashion, albeit with a bass line which could only have emanated from 2-step. A song more likely to start revolutions than any amount of by rote Southwark Council lecturing. “Now U Want My Love” is more average but lifted again by the ragga undertow of her vocal delivery: “said u wouldn’t mind getting up between my legs” spat out with genuine venom. “Too Experienced” is a terrific “Sleng Teng”-type romp with discreet occasional dubby piano wandering in and out of the lovely (because underused) electro construct. It is better than all UB40 and Spice Girls records, especially when Barrington Levy’s vocal enters, and the music immediately slows down almost to a standstill, as if in respect. “Too experienced to rock and roll” – the exultation with which Levy ascends to that final “roll” is unearthly. And only 2:56 long, like, ahem, proper singles should be. Number 1 for 18 weeks, would that it were.

Alas, as is also the law of all R&B albums, we have to grind to a dreary halt with the open-the-fridge-door-light-the-candles ballad sequence. Even so, the guitar/bass angles (both played by Van Gibbs) which decorate the verses of the track “All I Know” keep your interest. Actually I like this track a lot; I’m a sucker for seductive Marcus Miller chord changes and it just falls on the right side of the enticing/bland fence, even when the Ronnie Hazlehurst horns and flute come in shortly before the end, just before the two main elements of the song come together and provide a satisfying end. Reminds me a bit of “Flies In The Buttermilk,” which despite its title brought Justin Warfield’s My Field Trip To Planet 8 album to such a succulent close.

We finish with the acoustic ballad title track. The lyrics are pure sub-Halliwell do it for yerself positive thinking garbo (that’s really going to wash down the Sumner Road at 11:30 on a Saturday night) but there’s still enough self-doubt evident in her voice to keep you hooked. Lost love, living her life behind the curtain. “Get a little deeper…if you know what I mean.” No, leave that sort of secondary analysis to smarter folk than me, e.g. Deleuze and Guattari.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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