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

Thursday, December 12, 2002
ROCK MUSIC

WITH GUITARS IN THEM

RECORDED IN THE 21st CENTURY


Am I actually qualified to talk about it? I'm not sure that I am. All this year I hear the return of rock, the fuzz of guitars, the lack of prisoners taken. All these to-the-point bands with five letters in their name. And to me it's becoming rather like watching a Dutch comedian when you don't speak Dutch. The language does not appear to fit onto my personal palette, no matter how much I try to extend the range of colours thereon. It is something from which I am moving away, a distant light on the shore which I once inhabited. So I perhaps shouldn't say anything about it, not even in "My Cons of 2002." I'm wondering whether end-of-year summaries are constructive in the Church Of Me. Perhaps they are, but not in overly easily definable "musical" terms. I need to talk about the pros and cons of life in 2002 far more urgently than those of music, except where the two intertwine.

I do still listen to some of it, but appraising it here seems a little...unfocused. So what am I to say about Songs For The Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age, which I have avoided talking about on CoM, even though it's been out for six months? Is my enjoyment of it a guilty pleasure - not aesthetically, but ethically, in that the only rock which seems to penetrate my fortress is that played by, shall we say, mature people? Both Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri have long form, in Kyuss and elsewhere, while Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan probably do qualify as senior practitioners. There isn't a note on SFTD which, in itself, couldn't have been recorded in 1972, except perhaps for the ballad reading of "Porpoise Song" which sounds like Radiohead. Certainly the spoof radio links (KLON "Clone" Radio, WOMB Radio, etc.) could have stemmed from a more acidic Carpenters (cf. Tony Peluso's mentalist DJ spiel which links the oldies medley on side two of Now And Then) and Homme's vocals remind me of a less strained Jack Bruce. In "The Sky Is Fallin'" or the quasi-title track "A Song For The Deaf" you could be listening to Mountain; on "Hangin' Tree" or "First It Giveth," Blue Oyster Cult (N.B.: I consider both of these to be positive references). But crucially they don't stick there. "No One Knows" is one of 2002's very finest singles; it runs a parallel harmonic course to Foreigner/MOP's "Cold As Ice" but its architecture is ingenious - hear how, before the final verse, the synths and guitars suddenly appear in focus, reach a rapid crescendo and then abruptly vanish, just like the instrumental break in World of Twist's "The Storm." There are even homages to glam rock with the Glitterstomp of "Gonna Leave You" and "Do It Again" - the instrumental track of the latter would do for Denim - while on "Another Love Song" we get a '60s psych-garage workout which would comfortably fit onto any volume of Nuggets. "Everybody's Gonna Be Happy" ("that just leaves you and me") fuses the Dave Clark Five with the Contortions.

So what's to say? I like it because QOSA know how to construct an album, know where to peak and where to rest, and - copyright Record Mirror circa 1982 - they don't half have some bloody good chord changes. Terrific riffs, great purpose; it's a fine listen, and like 2 Many DJs, should be jumped around to rather than analysed.

Something from these sessions must have stayed with Dave Grohl, because there is a definite feedback from SFTD to the new Foo Fighters album One By One, which is by a country mile their best since Grohl's one-man-band debut in 1995. Lyrical analysis? We don't need to spend too long on that (and there are no lyrics on the sleeve) - suffice it to say that it plays like an extended, angstier equivalent of George Michael's "Fastlove," the efforts of a man to find a relationship which will destroy neither him nor the Other, despite his own self-destructive tendencies and short span of tolerance - "I feel it come alive when I see your ghost...then I'm done and on to the next one" as the opening track and top five single "All My Life" puts it. This latter is another of the year's best - there is an urgency and emotion about it which grabs you from the rapid guitar strokes in the intro, regardless of genre - although a lot of this album sounds like a beefed-up Police (again, I consider this a good thing) with tantra replaced by tantrums. Grohl's vocals - and this is something he has in common with Metallica's James Hetfield - for me irresistibly recall a hopped-up Midge Ure (listen to some of the Rich Kids' stuff and you'll see what I mean). The album does slightly tail off towards the end, but again there are divine chord changes ("Low," "Have It All"), space for reflection ("Disenchanted Lullaby") and, its highlight, the Foos' best ballad, "Tired Of You." Quiet in its desperate self-denial, it also features restrained and appropriate guitar contributions from an aurally near-unrecognisable Brian May - imagine the bit at the end of "Bohemian Rhapsody" where his guitar quietens down and becomes pensive, and imagine him continuing like that for a little while.

Both of these are superb records. And strangely enough, I do not feel that philosophical armoury is needed for either of them. They are, in a strictly non-Baudrillardian sense, hyperreal or superreal. Sometimes music which does exactly what it says on the tin does have its advantages.

(And an early warning, by the way, about the ASTONISHING upcoming album by the Faint, Danse Macabre - it's the album you wish Duran Duran had made. 35 minutes long and not a second wasted. More about this very soon indeed)


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