I’ve been completely derelict in my Listening Post entries over the last few months. I have a folder full of partial entries. Seems I get inspired when on a plane and listening to my MP3 player, start an entry, then lose focus. I’ve got ten projects in some state of progress, and I hope to begin knocking some out again soon. Or maybe start ten others and ignore the backlog. (Hopefully I’ll do better once the basketball season ends and I’m focusing on this blog more.)
In the interim (and again started on a plane), some quick shots. Largely current/recent songs that may not be worthy of 2000 words, but have been on my mind enough to offer a blurb on each.
Joe Strummer, “Coma Girl”: The first single of Joe’s final album. An airy, confident look towards the future. Any fan of the Clash will instantly get a mental image of Strummer pounding away at his guitar during the chorus. While the album is still full of classic Strummer apocalypse scenes, this time the new world is full of hope and promise. As a whole, the album is a little uneven, as is to be expected since many tracks were completed after Joe’s death. But “Coma Girl” is a glorious final statement by a musician who was entering middle age full of confidence and vigor.
Pearl Jam, “Hold On”: One of my favorite tunes off of the Lost Dogs collection. It was recorded way back in 1992/3, even featuring Dave Krusen on drums (He was the first official PJ drummer). Probably too close in subject matter to “Rearviewmirror” to make that album, but from the opening chord you’re immediately transported back to the early days of the grunge era. Gigantic, crunching layers of guitars. Bombastic vocals designed to fill an arena. Huge drums that reach genius level in the closing 30 seconds. Those were good times, the early 90s (more on that subject in the near future).
Manic Street Preachers, “If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next”: Completely over-the-top pretentious (the title should be an indication of that), but equally lush, beautiful, and brilliant. While the Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” was more of a period memoir of the Spanish Civil War, the Manics turned the same subject matter into a gorgeous anti-war statement. From the soaring vocals, to the layered strings with an angry lead guitar cutting through the final chorus, it’s a total sonic assault. The Manics aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when they’re good, they’re very good. “So if I can shoot rabbits, I can shoot fascists.”
Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”: I’m a repeat listener. When I love a song, I’ll listen to it over and over again in a single sitting. It’s tends to be an exercise in futility, because after the second listening, I generally lose my focus. For whatever reason, despite loving The Bends when it released in 1995, I never got into this song. That changed one night last fall on a flight from Dallas to Indy. Something clicked and I listened to it at least six times in a row. This is the musical equivalent of Tom Wolfe and Brett Easton Ellis’ scathing social critique novels of the modern era. Blur said modern life is rubbish. Radiohead properly pointed out that everything in the modern world is fake. The third verse, with its furious lead guitar (I always imagine Johnny Greenwood absolutely attacking his guitar in the final measure of the second chorus), soaring second guitar (Ed O’Brien playing out in the stratosphere, somewhere so far away you barely notice it at first), and amazing lyrics is one of the great musical moments of the 90s. “He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties, but gravity always wins.”
Outkast, “Hey Ya!”: I’ve mentioned it several times, but it warrants an entry here. There are three kinds of catchy songs. 1) The catchy songs you like, but after about six weeks you’ll be happy not to hear them again for a year. A year later, when you hear them at a wedding, you like them, but once is enough. 2) The catchy songs that the first time you hear you know you’re going to hate. Eight weeks later when the local pop station still plays them every 90 minutes, you want to stuff sharp objects into your ears to stop the pain. 3) The rarest of rare, the catchy pop song that ages like wine or scotch, it just keeps getting better. “Hey Ya!” is the first song since Chumbuwumba’s “Tubthumping” to qualify as #3 for me. It just never gets old, and I doubt it ever will. To slip into Dick Vitale mode, it’s a PPPer! Pure pop perfection, baby! As I drove through Arizona last week, I stuck my hands out and wiggled my fingers at approaching drivers, a la the video. This promises to be an instant wedding classic, although it may be too funky to play at predominantly white weddings. Then again, about three songs before the end of the night, when everyone is good and liquored, it won’t really matter.
Hall & Oates, “Say It Isn’t So”. An odd choice, I realize. But two weeks ago we were at the grocery store and the piped in music featured this H&O classic. For some reason the wife wasn’t all that impressed when I started humming it to her. She was busy trying to find Snackwells Chocolate Brownie Cookies. It certainly made me happy, as it does whenever the MP3 player spits it out at me. The obligatory new song on a late career greatest hits package, this was one of the blue eyed soulsters’ last high points, and I would even argue it was perhaps their finest moment.