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

Monday, October 21, 2002

And you must try My House In Montmartre. Already recommended by Ronan Fitzgerald over at ILM, this is a fantastic compilation of – as you might expect – French house. Featuring just about everyone who matters, from Daft Punk, Air, Dimitri, de Crecy, Phoenix and Cassius, to relative unknowns like We In Music, I Cube and DJ Mehdi, it is an ecstatic piece of work to which the only relevant reaction is to dance and be transported.

Beginning with “Music Sounds Better With You,” it continues in much the same vein, going into the brilliant Buffalo Bunch remix of Phoenix’s “If I Ever Feel Better,” Daft Punk’s “High Life,” We in Music’s “Grandlife,” and on and ever escalating on. The most extraordinary moment, however, is the devastating sequence which begins with the Cosmo Vitelli remix of Benjamin Diamond’s “Little Scare.” Into the euphoria there now come intimations of mortality and impermanence as Diamond – Stardust’s vocalist – begins to wonder what music would sound like without you. Then we move into the unbearably poignant “Intro” by Alan Braxe and Fred Falke. Here is used the vocal middle section of the Jets’ near-forgotten 1987 hit “Crush On You” (which also turns up, in a different context, early on in Soulwax’s 2 Many DJs). In isolation, the child vocal harmonies are ethereal and strangely spiritual – the whole effect of this track is like a hopped-up Boards Of Canada. “You Are My High” by Demon vs Heartbreaker (what a punctum of a name!) takes this further; using a Gap Band sample (all these ghosts of ‘80s soul-pop being resuscitated!) over a swelling organ, this is a hymn to life, to ecstasy; and we are now ready for the indefinable joy of the closing sequence of Superfunk’s “Lucky Star” (with its nicely subtle Chris Rea sample), DJ Mehdi’s “Breakaway” and Alex Gopher’s “Party People,” the latter of which again proves that where Gary “Mudbone” Cooper is on vocals, there is by definition a great record. Out now on Virgin France.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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Roy Wood was the British Todd Rundgren…an almost unhealthily profligate sonic architect who at his early-mid ‘70s peak straddled pop and avant with love and disdain, but who subsequently has become undervalued. Time for some re-evaluations.

Were Wizzard the anti-ELO or simply a Bizarro version of ELO? The strangely yearning psychosis of the unmatched debut single by ELO “10538 Overture,” in which both Wood and Jeff Lynne were involved, indicates a future reluctance to be embraced. Indeed, though credited to ELO, only four musicians participated on this recording; Jeff Lynne on vocals and guitar, the inexplicable Bev Bevan on drums, Rick Price on bass, and Wood on everything else (including all string and horn parts). He says that he started mucking about with a cheap Chinese ‘cello he had bought, playing Hendrix riffs on it and thinking that this was damn good heavy metal. At the song’s climax, the increasingly wayward strings threaten to overwhelm the riff (later purloined by Weller for “The Changing Man”) altogether. The first ELO album delved into even murkier waters with various improv players amongst the string section, sounding rather like King Crimson’s Lizard in dub conference with Penderecki.

It didn’t last, of course; Lynne and Wood argued, Lynne decided to give his tunes some tunes, while Wood walked off to set up Wizzard and initially had the greater success with his primary-coloured assault on good old rock and roll, Spectorising its elements to such a magnitude that you could gladly bathe in them. Wood played a lot of the instruments on the Wizzard hits himself, and despite the epic surface of their hits, there was always that home-made, peculiarly British element lurking underneath the whole enterprise – the perfect meeting point, in other words, between Spector and Meek – coupled with a very theatrical pre-postmodern grandiosity which foresees both Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the KLF.

Listen to things like “Ball Park Incident” and “Angel Fingers.” Their sound is intensified to such an extent that you wonder whether these aren’t photocopies of, or blueprints for, “classic” rock and roll songs rather than songs per se. Above all, luxuriate in the five glorious minutes of “See My Baby Jive” which predates and outdoes “Born To Run.” The ornamentation here is so top-heavy that the whole cake threatens to collapse on the flimsiest of bases. No battalion of saxophones is too undermanned; no backing vocalists too propulsive. It is a celebration, an attempt at resuscitation of a dead spirit, a Doppler simulation of “rock and roll history” hurtling past you almost too quickly for you to absorb it. It is amongst the greatest of number one singles.

This was only half the story of Wizzard, however, as anyone who has listened to their albums will testify; elsewhere on tracks like the ELO-baiting “Bend Over Beethoven” we could almost be listening to the Zappa of Grand Wazoo; there is even proto-Ambient to be found in pieces like “Dream of Unwin” and “Nixture.” It didn’t last, of course; their last album, Introducing Eddy and The Falcons, despite siring a final top 10 single in “Are You Ready To Rock,” is essentially back to basics R&R with odd tangents here and there (hear how “Rattlesnake Roll” suddenly devolves into bebop).

(And of course there may even be another half; note the crucial influence of Wood’s Wizzard arrangements and productions on the record which confirmed pop’s renewed supremacy over rock, “Waterloo” by Abba).

But the real genius of Wood is to be found in his solo work of the same period. This latter has now been made available again on the 2CD set Exotic Mixture, though one CD would have more than sufficed – the first, which in itself may well represent, if not the British Smile, then the British Wizard/True Star. Certainly songs like “Wake Up” achieve what Beck can’t quite manage to reach, with its paddling in the water rhythm and the graceful yet surreal backwards sonorities at its close; similarly the astute queasiness of “Nancy Sing Me A Song.” “Dear Elaine” – a post-psychedelic folk ballad - is like Syd Barrett attempting to emulate the Incredible String Band; the lo-fi sung “brass” backing vocals echo into each other disturbingly and in the middle section threaten to drown out the song altogether – it eerily predicts what Robert Wyatt would do on “Sea Song” just a year later. Incredibly, this was a top 20 hit.

The songs then ricochet gleefully between styles – the immaculate Wilson pastiche of “Forever,” the Barry Adamson-outdoing “Premium Bond Theme,” the completely mentalist “Going Down The Road” (subtitled, appropriately, “A Scottish Reggae Song,” and yet another unlikely top 20 hit, with its queasy saxophones, pipe bands and police sirens). “Music To Commit Suicide By” is an MoR waltz which could pass as a sitcom theme tune, were it not for the rasping saxophones and ‘cellos which arrive to cast some darkness in the middle. “Mustard” is a recreation of ‘40s danceband radio.

At this stage, with the hits more or less over, Wood burrowed further into adventure. The 1976 single “Indiana Rainbow”/”The Thing Is This” was credited to Roy Wood’s Wizzard, but represented a quantum step away from Eddy and the Falcons. “Indiana Rainbow” in particular is a racing breeze of Tropicalia; with its knowing female backing vocals, danceband saxophones and determined percussion, it sounds remarkably like a foretaste of what August Darnell would later get up to with Kid Creole and the Coconuts. “The Thing Is This,” meanwhile, is an indescribable melange of Gershwin, Zappa, Varese, King Crimson and Autechre – Wood’s own “George Fell Into His French Horn.”

Which leaves us with Wood’s “Surf’s Up” – “The Rain Came Down On Everything,” the greatest and most moving song Wood ever wrote. Vocals and piano refracted through an icy, fuzzy screen (as though he’s already drowned), MBV meets George Crumb’s “Vox Balaenae” meets Dennis Wilson’s “Thoughts Of You,” it sounds as though Wood is bringing down the curtain on his whole life.

Where could he go from there? The second CD illustrates with great sadness where he actually did go – initially to forming the Wizzo Band, with its 13-piece horn section (though certainly no Arkestra – more like Wood’s Utopia). This specialised in generally mundane and studium-filled jazz-rock, though occasional flashes of his former genius still shone through occasionally; hear the 1977 single “Dancing At The Rainbow’s End,” divine, seductive and knowing AOR which Gregg Alexander would kill to have written, and its B-side “Waiting At The Door,” with its vacillations between AOR and metal culminating in a bizarre C&W fadeout. But after that came desperation, a settling into routine, the ‘80s, occasional cynical attempts to get another hit by deploying children’s choirs (“Green Glass Windows”), horrors like “We Are The Boys (Who Make All The Noise),” a Stars On 45-type R&R medley performed by Wood, Phil Lynott and Chas out of Chas and Dave, and the final humiliation – despite the backwards intro to 1985’s “Under Fire,” Wood had ended up sounding exactly like ELO.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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