Showing 30 posts tagged Closing Time
Wire - 12XU
Final track from “Pink Flag” (1977)
There are so many problems with saying that Wire’s debut album Pink Flag is the greatest rock album of all-time. It’s always hyperbolic. I always change my mind. The claim is even controverted by my own stupid list. Still, whenever I actually listen to Pink Flag — rather than just think about it, say — I get the immediate and unshakeable idea that it’s the greatest rock album of all-time. The album lends itself to hyperbolic thinking, even though it’s not the sort of shiny, conceptual edifice that’s commonly used to construct interesting aesthetic arguments. And maybe that’s why, in fact, it strokes the passions so hot.
I am not wired to resist a good passionate aesthetic argument, though. My mind flies from Pink Flag’s first song — which disconcerts the listener by drawing out the word “rape” over several bars as it peters out — to its last song, “12XU”, which famously begins with Colin Newman counting the band in, “All right. Here it is, again, and it’s called ‘12XU’!” It might be obvious, but “1, 2, X, U” cleans up the dirtier “1, 2, fuck you”. Could the band not swear in 1978? On an album full of sexual innuendo and violence? From a band with a song called “Marry Is A Dyke”? The count in is something of a mystery to me. Time for research?
In the amount of time it’s taken me to go back over the song in Wilson Neate’s excellent 33 1/3 book on the album, I could have listened to it eight times. (In fact, I did.) At nearly two minutes, “12XU” one of the longer — and more complex — songs on the album.
Pink Flag is the sort of album that’s not very complex, unless you think about it too much.
The bit in the book about “12XU” focuses on the count in. The reason Newman says, “Here it is, again” is because the recorded version is like the hundredth take. In between takes, he’d slug Souther Comfort. He was blasted on record. Mike Thorne, the album’s producer, recalled sitting at the mixing desk.
I think it was five or six takes of this intensity before they got it spectacularly. They didn’t stop. It’s clinically precise, but had to complement the original feeling of people hanging on for dear life. That’s a feeling you strive for in music, that things might fall apart at any moment but marvelously, when you hit the the heights, they don’t.
From listening to Pink Flag, it’s perhaps impossible to tell that the band was actually not very talented. Wire was an idea band. The beautiful tube crunch and crisp percussion they managed to get on record were intellectual fruit. You begin by thinking to yourself that the thing about Wire is that Wire is tight. The band itself ended up at tight because that was the only technical virtue in reach. Tightness is merely a manifestation of will. Tightness is its own sort of virtuosity. Crunch is a technical genius. Rhythmic swing is an accidental gift. “12XU” has all that — a doy — since it’s on Pink Flag.
“12XU” is idiomatically speaking one of the album’s heights. It doesn’t have the sexy exuberance of “Strange” or the majesty of “Ex Lion Tamer”. It’s not as effortless as “Fragile”, or as funny as “Start To Move”. What it is is a strangely thrilling distillation of an already heavily distilled musical experience. The snatches of lyrics — “Saw in you in a mag / Kissing a man” and “I got you in a corner / I got you in a corner / I got you in a corner” — sound somewhat political, somewhat aggressive, and somewhat sinister all at once. Musically, as the book points out, the song doesn’t really use traditional chords, though it sounds like it’s using truncated power chords: the root and the fifth. I’m pretty sure most songs on Pink Flag don’t really use complicated chords, so this isn’t a big deal. The bigger musical deal is that on “12XU”, Wire has provided the template for all manner of hell raising, from the noxious punk a few years down the road, to the indie rock of a few years after that, all the way to the sort of aimless, bridgeless guitar skronk that’s been able to subsist, nowadays, against the more immediate and visceral allure of dance-infused (and xstep) rap-pop that marks the point of popular and critical convergence. It’s a wonder anyone uses guitars at all.
Another thing is, though, that I’ve never listened to Pink Flag without wanting immediately to pick up a guitar and play.
This has been a terrible year for guitar rock. Even if you don’t go as far as Jon Caramanica (“at this point rock is becoming a graveyard of aesthetic innovation and creativity, a lie perpetrated by major labels, radio conglomerates and touring concerns”), it’s pretty clear that the most exciting thing to happen to rock was for it to just fucking relax for a minute.
Wire — authors of perhaps the best rock album of all-time, remember — couldn’t even sustain the unbelievably high energy level (and savant-like puissance) of Pink Flag. They’d take an already artistic take on punk and sublime it more and more over two subsequent albums. For chrissake, the credits to 154 list players for alto flute, electric viola, synthesizer, and cor anglais. It took less than two years (and exactly 154 gigs) for Wire to burn bright and then undergo that drastic chemical process that leaves you with something, well, else.
Every song on Pink Flag is timeless. It sort of seems like that descriptor gets tossed without concern for safety all around the critical landscape. More than a few critics have suffered some gristly lawn darts-esque injuries to their credibility by using the term indiscriminately. Still, I’d place a wager of all my critical capital on Pink Flag sounding as fresh and exciting today, right this moment, as it did when it was created. If you got the Jonas Brothers to re-release Pink Flag, it would immediately become the most popular rock album of the nascent decade. (Not a high bar, I understand.) The album is fucking fresh. On those terms, any song on the album — even its last one — is going to be a doozy. So it’s cool that “12XU” rises above its legacy status and grabs the brass ring on its own merits. Its most notable aspect, at times for me, is its almost demure self-censorship. Wire wrote an album in the grand English tradition of hating virtually everything about England, but it couldn’t say “fuck” on the count in. When it came time to write a chorus, they didn’t. When they were only half way done with writing the words, they stopped. Like a lot of Pink Flag’s songs, it’s a song entirely marked off by negative space. But at the same time, “12XU” sounds as present as a pie in the face. Even at less than two minutes, it’s twice as long as many of its cohorts. To slip into useful cliche, there’s a lot of there there. It’s a sonically intriguing song that’s never not muscular. A fitting eulogy for the end of the band’s first, best act. Again, if you think about it, Pink Flag is intellectual enough. Politics and ideas aside, it’s an aesthetically challenge; at the same time, it rots the sweet tooth of any rock fan. I could listen to any of its songs on one-track repeat all day, and at this point I’ve listened to “12XU” about twenty times. I’ll never tire of hearing it. It marks the instant, frozen in time and encoded forever (one hopes) in ones and zeroes, where one of the brightest bands burned brightest.
It's All Gonna BreakArtist
Broken Social SceneAlbum
Broken Social Scene
Warren Zevon - Desperados Under the Eaves
Final track from “Warren Zevon” (1976)
“Desperados Under the Eaves” is the song that closed Warren Zevon’s first album for Asylum records. The album—titled just Warren Zevon—was released in 1976. It was Zevon’s first major release and probably his best record. Most of the album is filled with images of failure in L.A., the city Zevon had recently returned to when he recorded the album and where he would spend most of his life.
“Desperados Under the Eaves” has its own self-contained character, something that is true of many of Zevon’s best songs. It’s a bleak short story—songs like this indeed do feel like short stories—and one that is laid out with a sort of humorous care. The “Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel” itself is a nice touch, laughably alliterative and evocative of the bleached squalor of Southern California at its most forgettable. Its unnamed narrator sits here listening to the sound of the air-conditioner and regarding his own unpromising prospects, alone. The song’s exposition is perfect, within less that five minutes it places the narrator in his both in the hotel restaurant, contemplating the bottom of a coffee cup and his descent into booze. From there the story spreads out around him in both space and time, rifling through the boredom of his life and the desert landscape around him, transformed when he looks at it into a weirdly biblical scene, the palm trees “like crucified thieves” on the horizon.
But all this takes place within the song—which as a song, and not just as a story, is the most perfectly, cleanly put together thing you could imagine. Zevon was a master at writing pop songs, even if his lyrics tended to be too smart, or just plain disturbing, to allow any of them to be marketable as more than novelties. “Desperados Under the Eaves,” from its opening strings to its long fade out at the end, announces itself as an album-closer. It is quiet, melancholic and almost chilling in its craft. The choruses are announced with swelling drumming and backing vocals, which with perfect timing step back at the return to the verse. It is this tension though—the song’s musical status as pop-perfect musical artifact and its lyrical content as bleak, smart narrative—that makes it work. Heard within the context of the album it’s also a conclusion to the story that the album it has had running through it from the start. Warren Zevon starts with an image from a Western and then moves on through romantic disappointment and perverse humor and the unloveliness of L.A., yet there is a thread of emotion and musical craft that holds it together. “Desperados Under the Eaves” leaves you with a kind of summing up: the loneliness of a life lived out with increasing emptiness on the fringes of the world that made its name manufacturing the dream life of America.
The Moody Blues - Nights In White Satin
Final track from “Days of Future Passed” (1967)
My first awareness of “Nights In White Satin,” the seven-minute ballad that concludes the Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed album, was via a TV commercial for an oldies compilation that used to air regularly in 1989 or so. I remember that the decade-spanning set included “Duke of Earl,” “Blue Moon,” and that one Three Dog Night song about how the ink is black and the page is white. Over the course of thirty or maybe sixty seconds, you heard snippets of each song just long enough for the artist to sing the song’s title, and then you were told to call an 800 number to order the set.
The first time I fully heard “Nights In White Satin,” though, it was maybe fifteen years later, when I was in the car with some friends and flipping through radio stations. By the time the first burst of I love you’s hit, I was completely won over by its ostentatious brilliance. “This song is so good!,” I said to my friends, both of whom were too amused by my sudden excitement to say anything. “Do you know what this is?”
(My knowledge of popular music is good, I think, but there are many gaps, mostly in the Classic Rock category. I still have to ask what “Dust In The Wind” is when it comes on, and only recently was I able to correctly identify “Freebird” for the first time. While lots of boys my age spent their high school nights at home smoking pot and listening to Quadrophenia, I sat around soberly reading Alice Hoffman novels and listening to Sarah McLachlan. It happens.)
Days of Future Passed, technically credited to The Moody Blues with the London Festival Orchestra conducted by Peter Knight,* was the quintet’s second album and a far cry from their early hit single “Go Now.” But also it was London in 1967, and this album is as much an artifact of the Summer of Love’s trippy decadance as Sgt. Pepper’s is, what with its orchestral interludes and a number of earnestly recited poems written by the drummer. Oh, and it’s also a concept album about a day in the life of an Everyman, with song titles like “Dawn Is A Feeling,” “Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?),” and “Twilight Time.”
It sounds terrible.
It’s not, though, which is the odd thing. Unlike a lot of drug-addled nonsense from that era it’s really quite listenable. The songs, aided by that great new invention the Mellotron, are clearly LSD-inspired and basically ridiculous, but there’s a level of songwriting craft there that needn’t turn off casual, clean listeners who aren’t too embarrassed to buy into the drama.
The album version of “Nights In White Satin” is nearly eight minutes long. Frankly, seven minutes and forty-one seconds is a lot of time to dedicate to a nineteen-year old emoting about how he can’t get laid, which is to say nothing about the over-the-top orchestrations (flute solo and all!) underscoring the mastubatory lyrics and sad-sack delivery. Even the single version, at four-and-a-half minutes, sounds twice as long as it actually is.
But the song’s swooning seriousness is also a large part of what makes it so completely lovable. It’s certainly popular; while it didn’t become an American hit until 1972, five years after it was first released, it’s basically a standard now, having been covered by everyone from Giorgio Moroder to Dalida to a latter-day Nancy Sinatra. That’s pretty good, for a lengthy song about loneliness with hardly any vocal melody.
I bought Days Of Future Passed for the first time less than a year ago, and while the album as a whole is probably not ideal for every day listening it can, on the right day, be completely sublime.
[*In reality the five Moodies recorded their parts and then later sent them to Peter Knight, who separately wrote and recorded the classical bits with some studio musicians that the record company decided to call the London Festival Orchestra, in order to make it all sound more serious.]
End of the EndArtist
Excepter - “Back Me Up” (Show)
Final track from “Alternation” (2006)
So Hendrik mentioned this end-of-year thing to me, and I really wanted to participate and told him so, I was going to write about Spiritualized’s “Cop Shoot Cop…”, and then I felt guilty when I was busy all week with family/holiday stuff, and I tried to write it at home but I can’t use my parents’ various computers to write on, because I am apparently getting precious in my old age, and I’ve got this other thing taking up a lot of my time and attention, but I refuse to write anything really personal here, for various reasons, but mostly because my brain doesn’t want to, and I’m not going to have time to write it, and I can’t seem to gather my thoughts, and it’s the winter holidays so I’m eating way too much and sleeping way too little, which means I keep passing out in cars and on couches and I always feel a little too heavy, a little unwieldy, and I feel like something’s reached in and turned my brain off, and then trying to write about “Cop Shoot Cop…” but also I’m explaining to the person who’s made this holiday season, like, pretty much the best one of my life (maybe some of the years when I still had the “little kid at Christmas” thing going were better, except no, you know what, they weren’t; this has been the best one), who’s responsible for a lot of the passing-out-in-cars-and-on-couches part happen, a bit about Excepter and sending her the video for “The “Rock” Stepper” and unlike pretty much everyone else I know except for maybe some other music critics she doesn’t think it’s pointless bullshit, which, I mean, for some definition Excepter’s music probably IS ‘bullshit,’ but that’s not really a bad thing, and I think I’ve said this elsewhere, that their music is such a fine parsing of the line between human and inhuman, and it’s the kind of idiot-savant thing that’s neither idiot nor savant, and when John Fell Ryan says “We play electronic instruments because they’re harder to see. So people have to use their ears, not their eyes, to listen” you either get that or you think you do but you’re wrong, and they’re my favourite band, no, the only band about 5% of the time, and I guess I’m uploading Alternation for her, and you shouldn’t do that, you should probably give Excepter all of your money because they are the Future, or they were, and I’m hearing this buzzing in my ears and some other things are happening, and I still can’t think enough to put together an entry on “Cop Shoot Cop…” for Hendrik, and anyway Excepter closing tracks are just as arbitrary as anything else about their music, because picking an ending is just absurd, and like a lot of other things that are absurd that we never think about Excepter is just about the only band that makes me realize the absurdity, and things never seem to stop, and the beeps and the drones and the percussion and the other sounds start mimicking your internal biological rhythms, or maybe it’s the other way around, and on another song that precedes this track (but is also the same thing as this track, indexes are kind of there for our convenience) John Fell Ryan says “I’d like to introduce our machines to you, but i forgot their names. I’d like to shake hands with each and every one of you, but I’m on stage,” and that’s all you need to know about Excepter, but all you have to feel about Excepter is the way the electronics always sound kind of queasy and you can never quite dance to it, and after a dozen listens you think the melodies kind of make sense, and you realize that Excepter are the perfect/only band to listen to when you feel like things have got your brain totally shut off and you’re pretty much down to nerves and blood vessels, or maybe that’s “I,” not you, and you could probably loop “”Back Me Up” (Show)” infinitely and after a while you might stop noticing when it repeats, and maybe sometimes you want to just stop thinking for a fucking minute and go, hey, here’s this thing I like, maybe it’s weird, maybe you will like it, I want to share it with you. Brush the hair out of your eyes for a minute. Let’s go watch Party Down and eat snacks in bed forever together. I forget what I was writing about. I don’t care. I like you. I like you so much.