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

Friday, December 20, 2002

A quick message for all Churchgoers; fear not, The Church Of Me WILL be back after the New Year. At the moment my Belgian guardian angel is heroically and busily transferring the Church archives over to their eventual new home. I will give you details of its new address once everything there is up and running. In the event of any problems I will continue to post here; but hopefully the changeover should be relatively smooth.

Happily the Blogger archives appear to be back up (except for the ones for 18-22 November, which are still missing - namely, the pieces on Casino Versus Japan, Ladytron, George Michael and Bow Wow Wow; happily I did back everything up, so if you want a copy of any of these, email me at and I'll send you one).

I will post the new address here when I return after the New Year; in the meantime, enjoy the writing here, and all good wishes.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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The Church Of Me is now closed for two weeks. I will be returning to my (or someone's) computer on Monday 6 January 2003. Assuming that Blogger don't muck about with the archives (a big assumption) there's a year's worth of writing to view at your leisure, apart for the entries from 18-22 November which are currently reluctant to be posted.

Nathalie Claeys and Mark Sinker for refusing to let me walk away from life. Simon Reynolds, Paul Lester and Chris Bohn for helping me find a new life. RW for she knows what.

And the person, above all others, for whom the writing was intended:
Laura Arlene Gerrard (5 December 1964 - 25 August 2001).

Buffy: The Musical

The year, and The Church Of Me, more or less started by talking about Buffy; and it is fitting that both should finish likewise.

Once More With Feeling: Buffy The Musical played for the first time on UK terrestrial TV yesterday evening, so I am definitely last on the block with it. Needless to say it kicked the behind of Moulin Rouge to an immeasurable extent. Brilliantly conceived and realised, because it managed to remain completely integral to the progression of the series as a whole (in fact, plotwise moved the series/Buffy further), and even found a reason to justify its own post-modern self-referentialism. "Give me something to sing about!" demands Buffy at the musical's climax - not just "song and dance" for their own sake. So we are back to Camus - the meaningless of life unless some meaning is found for it, and the consequent uselessness of art without a prior basis in that meaning which we should already have found for life. For an ostensibly post-modern TV programme, this was a defiant reassumption and reclamation of meaning.

The parodies and pastiches - from Singin' In The Rain via Rocky Horror to Flashdance - were knowingly spot on; miles better than French and Saunders. None of the cast can really "sing," but they are simply asked to do their best - and unlike Woody Allen's far too self-conscious similar exercise in Everyone Knows I Love You, this actually works. The tunes were terrific as well - intelligent post-AOR worthy of Jim Steinman.

And what was the programme fundamentally saying? Buffy's friends refuse to let her die again, to descend into hell. Likewise, Buffy refuses to let Spike "Rest In Peace." He is already dead in the Denis Johnson sense, he cannot be motivated to reconnect with the world, but she will not let him take that easy option. Love is found, of course, and they are consequently both saved. You would have missed all of this if you had stayed dead.

Part Four

Part 2: Numbers 25-1

25 ROB Satyred Love
I think you all know by now that this is a French concept album about a half-man half-faun and his doomed attempts to find love.

24 BOOM BIP & DOSEONE Boom Bip & Doseone
Extraordinarily distended, woozy post-post-hip-trip-Beat-poetry-hop odyssey through the transparent temples of these operatives' Lacanian lives. Pity the Boom Bip album wasn't as good.

23 UNDERWORLD 100 Days Off
Even if they had stayed as Freur for longer, they still would have ended up here. A fantastic reassumption of life and purpose; they still have it.

22 TRINA Diamond Princess
She's sassy and takes no shit and this year was better at doing it than some of the people who guested on this superb guttate orgasm of an R&B record.

21 DANIEL BEDINGFIELD Gotta Get Thru' This
Oh, Will and/or Gareth and/or Darius, this is the record we wanted you to make! The title track does Jacko better than Jacko; "James Dean" is where Nik Kershaw meets Ministry via David Essex; "If You're Not The One" admitted life-or-death doubt about the Other and therefore transcended the inbuilt cliches of all other PopIdols hack balladry; "Inflate My Ego" out-Robbies Robbie. Irresistible.

The best vocal performance of the year was "Don't Go Too Far Away From Yourself" from this unexpected delight of a record; the Willem Brueker Kollektief collides with the Bonzo Dog Band and encounters Milton Nascimiento along the way ("Avant Garde Folk Music" they called it). Profound, playful and peerless.

19 LADYTRON Light & Magic
The best '80s album in the world...ever? Martians rewind that decade's more intelligent and spacious pop, recast it in the wrong order, get some 1965 mixed up in the brew, and this is the result.

The Neptunes/Timbaland as Gil Evans to Justin T's Miles; the Riddle/Jenkins/May to J Timberlake's Sinatra? But neither Miles nor Sinatra were blank spaces; they knew the value of space, which is a different virtue. Look, I was an adult already, says Justin, try and keep up with me because your love feeds me. And I will then turn around and offer you a ride, out of this damned treadmill forever.

17 SUGABABES Angels With Dirty Faces
Oh but they are so blank! Which means you can do anything with them, be you a writer, producer or consumer. A shallow masterpiece - have pop records ever been anything other?

16 CLIPSE Lord Willin'
Do the Neptunes see the Virginia Beach thugs as anything other than blank spaces? It is perhaps wise that they do not. As Simon sez, the Clipse are fundamentally unlovable, which means that the Neptunes can conveniently blot their brags from your receptors and concentrate on luring their music into remote aesthetic corners (is "Grindin'" where hip hop meets Test Dept?), until you turn the corner and realise that you've ended up on the same street.

15 XINLISUPREME Tomorrow Never Comes
In a kinder and fairer year this would have been in the NME's end of year top ten, if they were serious about flying the flag for adventurous guitar music. This record wrests the momentum from the inert clutches of Kevin Shields. Immense but intimate, to here is where MBV should have flown. Quite possibly the most significant and important guitar album of the last ten years; but who apart from you and me were listening?

Yes...BoC's "1969" was my 1969, too - I was five at the time. I do not want to know that this was an ironic idyll in light of Manson, Altamont, etc.; go back and realise that your recollections are the only things which justify the pre-existing reality. A beautiful recycling of things I used to feel many decades ago and now wish I could feel again. And yes, the wow and flutter were intentional, just like MBV.

13 BEENIE MAN Tropical Storm
Dancehall meets the world, and we're all better off for it. A wonderful and life-affirming record; a fitting sequel to Art And Life.

12 SAINT ETIENNE Finisterre
Ha ha, you thought we were finished, drowned like an inadequately swimming rat. Don't you realise; we are history, we can never die. And we now resurface to try to give meaning back to London, to the 21st century, to love and life. Almost the comeback of the year.

Where Saint Etienne could still venture, but only Beth G had the voice and experience to do it. A blissful yet regretful release from the cul-de-sac of Portishead. "Funny Time Of Year" is the best song about mourning this year.

And now for the Top Ten:

10 CASSETTEBOY The Parker Tapes
The best "plunderphonics" record ever. A disaffected man spends seven years cutting up records, TV and radio broadcasts with the pause buttons of sequentially knackered ghetto blasters and here are the results. Often puerile, frequently self-pitying, more frequently very funny indeed (particularly the Jamie Oliver/Tony Blair tracks), sometimes meditative (the occasional instrumental stumbling trip-hop/medium-sixed beat forays) and occasionally frightening ("Fly Me To New York") but never less than compelling.

9 TWEET Southern Hummingbird
Perhaps not the reincarnation of Aaliyah, but as close as anyone's going to get; this girl's life already looks doomed. The emotional boundaries are explored, from the excitabililty at masturbation ("Oops") through to the devastating climax of "Drunk" which is the one song with which you could have closed down the world this year.

8 THE STREETS Original Pirate Material
Top of my provisional list for the first six months of the year, but then sadly moved down to make way for subsequent visionary records, the ubiquity of this record's presence in all other end-of-year polls should not blind us to its originality and quiet power, even though I can think of bugger all else to say about it at this time (read my anonymous quick summary in Uncut's Albums Of The Year list). Did Skinner really have a thing going with Rachel out of S Club 7?

7 ROB DOUGAN Furious Angels
We all have our failures in life. One of many is my failure to convince anyone else of the brilliance of this as yet unacknowledged masterpiece - a ZTT record in all but name. Did the Chris Rea vocals put everyone off? Should "Clubbed To Death," in whatever configuration, have been on the album at all? But no, it is an album about wanting to commit suicide and at the end he opts not to. Gainsbourg, Brel, Waits, Thomas Leer - their spirits are all here. And this is a great, great record which one day will be recognised generally as such.

6 MY COMPUTER Vulnerabilia
The most visionary British pop record of the last decade? I said that in this month's Uncut and I stick by it. The Buckley-esque vocals which I found slightly problematic to begin with now make sense in this utterly alien but strangely familiar environment which brilliantly welds post-Britpop angst with a potted history of the last 15 years of dance music - a life flashing past the eyes of someone about to give up. Bleak and tough listening - but it's worth it.

Like the magician suddenly revealing the strings and pulleys behind his tricks, Bailey here goes back to his roots - a dozen pre-rock standards, all beautifully played and then transformed and transcended by what the guitarist does with them. You see, he is saying, it didn't come from nowhere. Despite his repeated belief in the "nowness" of music and art, at heart he is perhaps as much a traditionalist as his contemporary Dennis Potter. Most other musicians who engage in "noise" don't engage with their history in as deep and loving a way, if at all; and that's why Derek B has the advantage over the lot of them. A beautiful and eternal record.

We end with two sets of two records. One pair accentuates the positive; the other the negative. And pairs cannot be separated. So you could think of the following quartet as =2 and =1. The order is not especially relevant; as with all such summaries, it seems right at this specific time.

4 COMMON Electric Circus
Go back to psychedelia and make it worth singing about again! Sex, cancer, addiction, familial continuity, the divine interventions of Prince and Stereolab, the greatest Hendrix tribute ever - what a record; and one which demands headphone listening, too.

3 THE ROOTS Phrenology
They know their history but want to entertain you in order to educate you. This is the sound of a group who have just been set free, to canter off and go and do absolutely anything they want; including ascending into Throbbing Gristle/Ornette Coleman territory in the shattering "Water." It approaches the godlike antechamber of Escalator Over The Hill. With a further couple of months' absorption, I would have been entirely justified at placing this record right at the top. But there are two other records which must be considered:

2 SUICIDE American Supreme
The undisputed comeback of the year; Rev and Vega's first album in a decade and...their best? It's a toss-up with the '77 debut at the moment, but yes - to hell with Springsteen, this is 9/11 as encapsulated in music. Not even remotely reassuring, this is a hurried franticity through a suddenly unrecognisable landscape - "where's the girl where's the girl is she alive is she dead" - they, literally, rub our faces in it. Electroclash, much as I love it, was so much fairy cake when set beside this blistering demolition job.

1 EL-P Fantastic Damage
The record which stood out above all others this year - unarguably the most avant-garde, arguably the most confrontational, certainly the least comfortable, possibly the best hip-hop record since Fear Of A Black Planet. Tracks like "Truancy" and "Stepfather Factory" are deadly in their absolute aesthetic assurance and clarity of their jumbled visions. How will we remember this year for the world; how will I remember this year for myself? This record is where the two meet.

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