The Visions 'Into the Nightlife'
storm the streets of all nations.
They dress the Statue of Liberty in velvet jackets and leather
trousers. They read poetry on tannoy systems in McDonalds. They contemplate
love and tenderness, listen to Dylan, read Kerouac all day, quote Wordsworth
on Oxford Street. They wear scarfs when it's not cold, and shirts and
dinner jackets on informal occasions. They practice random acts of kindness,
struggle to maintain eye contact during conversation, pick up litter
from public parks, and dry their tearful eyes with handkerchiefs, tissues,
'East Anglia's Springsteen' returns with a new, if somewhat familiar, beat combo. Paradoxically the most ignored and most gigged band across these fair isles. If there was any justice in the music industry, they should really be bigger than those U2 cunts by know. But, despite the continual protestations of US dad rock magazine Rolling Stone, they aren't. If I was a rich girl, I'd start a label and happily release their records til the day I die.
Tracks 2 to7 are simply the Dawn Parade's greatest hits (with added strings), veterans of a thousand and one gigs across this land, from here to the Brighton Slug and Lettuce and back via Peel Acres. And what songs they are! Hear the beautiful melodies! The earnest poetry! Swoon as your heart rises and falls as the soundtrack to your youth passes in a blink of an eye! If these songs don't worm their way under your thick teenage skins and into your nicotine stained hearts after one listen, you're mortally dead beyond the resuscitation of modern medicine, let alone modern music. Most modern music is inward looking; and therefore terminally ignorant and arrogant. If you're looking to express the wonders of the world or a spectrum of emotions from within, you're assuming you have a wealth of experience and imagination to draw from. You don't. We're all stuck in a rut in history with no way of escaping, you can't see that far ahead and you can't see far behind, so why write a song attempting it? This is why the Visions are so vital. They simply reflect their reality at you: just simple regrets and simple longings from simple people hoping that maybe just maybe the future could be better than this.
This all sounds too much like depressing teenage poetry, and in a way it is, but it's a testament to Greg McDonald, singer-songwriter, that these feelings are transcribed so genuinely they convey his yearnings deeper and fuller than anyone else today. All songwriters are full of genuine emotion, whether simmering hate or pent up love, but mostly the words dribble from their pathetic mouths, ending up as wet and soppy as a burst balloon. These songs are so good simply because he can articulate his deepest feelings to you in so few words. 'Hole In My Heart' ain't too far from Blunt in sentiment, but a million miles in execution and depth.
Anyway, opener 'Morrissey's Tongue' is a perfect little indie-pop song, and wouldn't sound out of place amongst Dylan and Springsteen on our national airwaves. When you idolize the last generation's role models so heavily, it seems there's little value in perusing any fashionable notions of originality. And when you can produce songs your heroes would happily do an Irish jig for, surely there's little value in worrying about fame or success either. "Naturally I felt a little queer being still so young when Morrissey's tongue slipped into my ear". Want a vulgar picture? By Greg's twisted metaphors and tender poetic nonchalance I would suggest his tongue has happily repeated the favour, albeit in a different hole.
And however dark the driving-all-night Springsteen Stratocasters and however laudable its heroic moral stance, 'Look Ma I'm A Soldier' is too uncomfortable an experience. Of course I believe in the virtuous force of rock and roll as vehicle for broadening modern moral thought. But the Visions attempt one of the many things white middle-class rock and roll simply cannot; portray the life of an African child soldier with real empathy and real compassion. It's an admirable effort at an unreachable goal, but is still, by its nature, cheap exploitative Western entertainment at the expense of the less fortunate (like Little Britain, then).
Of all the newer songs 'Cambridge Girl', which happily paints a picture of romance amongst the dingy backstreets of our fair city, is probably the highlight. In typical McDonald fashion it's over romanticized beyond belief, like covering a yellow toilet cake with chocolate and a cherry and serving it for dessert, and the song wobbles round and round in circles like a lost three wheeler on the Arbury roundabout, but it's got such innate realism it's an emotional knockout. "I don't understand the way I feel" repeats Greg, which is a bit strange, especially as this album continually pins down my, and probably each and every listeners' feelings, beat by beat. Maybe he should try listening to his own records.
For all the romanticism and heart imploding honest, the question this record begs is "will an upcoming songwriter write a 'McDonalds Tongue' in 15 years?". Until they make themselves national heroes usurping U2 (who are essentially heartless, cynical, corporate Visions) it would be a bit of a silly way to end a review, but such is my faith in these songs.
And one reminder for the McDonald fans in the audience. Remember to shout "THIS IS FOR ANYONE WHO EVER WALKED HOME ALONE. THIS IS CALLED THE HOLE IN MY HEART" just before track 2. I'm sure you'll make the Visions very happy men indeed.
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