Soggy Swansea Smile
Greg McDonald debut solo album 'Stranger at the Door' (Sugartown) www.myspace.com/gregmcdonalduk
I know I don't normally admit it, and would normally have anyone's knees sliced off with a double bass drum pedal for suggesting it, but sitting in soggy Swansea many miles from Cambridge I feel safe enough to come clean : I do occasionally get things wrong.
I'll pause a while for you to recover from the shock, picking yourself off the floor.
One such instance could be The Dawn Parade. When they first get in touch with me, I wasn't totally convinced - the articulate stadium pretensions of frontman Greg McDonald, talking it like Richey Manic, walking it like Morrissey and producing reams of epic indie rock lyrics that somehow were more Springsteen than banal Brit pop, seemed to sit uneasily with the reality of watching his rattlebag band (then called The Hip Down) play to 6 punters, one soundman and a lost dog in a tiny pub back room.
And then, posthumously, I put out the best of the Dawn Parade album and find, in the ensnaring sweeps and frustrated longings , that it is one of the albums of the decade, and certainly one of the best things ever to be released on R*E*P*E*A*T Records, and I wish I'd cottoned on sooner.
Perhaps the same will be true of 'Stranger at the Door', Greg's first solo release, which, despite his attempts to reinvent himself "via acoustic folk, ambient electro, cuatros and indie guitars", is still defiantly and definitely a Greg McDonald record - those stirring lyrics, that indecipherable pining, that unerring ear for a good tune all remain to charm and tease the great and the good. His subject matter may now range from illegal immigration to Spanish murders, madness and the end of the world, his influences may have grown to include the likes Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, but these are all still songs tackled in what should be hitherto known as GMW, The Greg McDonald Way.
It is a tribute to Greg that his voice is so much his own, that I can say the above of an album that is very different from the Dawn Parade. And when I say his 'voice' I don't mean his singing voice, I mean his way of expressing himself, a way that encapsulates beauty, poetry, wistfulness, tragedy and a tune your mum can whistle along to, all at once. He is one of very few people I know whose artistic interpretation of the world (GMW) is instantly recognisable and easily enjoyable.
Enjoyable yes - and now I might be about to make another error of judgement, or more likely of taste? - although I appreciate the album, enjoy its tunes, applaud the instrumentation and admire the wordsmithery, I don't really feel that I'm ready for its laid back grooves, its Radio 2 friendliness, its general melodic easiness. I'm not ready to be so damned nice
I guess it's just 'not really my thing.' Which is my problem, not its.
And I wouldn't mind betting that in ten years time, I'll perhaps realise I've made another of my rarely admitted mistakes.
I hope so.
Join Greg McDonald for his album launch party at CB2s in Cambridge on October 18th.
Fuck Dress : Suburban Nietzsche Freak (NROne Records)
Occasionally I put bands on. Occasionally they're half decent. And very occasionally they blow me away.
Fuck dress were one such occasion. People ran from the venue with ears bleeding as the band held the rest of us in their steam hammered grip, captivated by the camel crushing mix of melody, noise, energy and attitude pouring from the stage.
But what the fuck (dress) were they on about?
This single begins to explain things. Suburban Nietzsche Freak is a ranting commentary full of Fallesque mannerisms, with freaky neat rhythms and rhymes underpinning the streams of semi-spoken ejaculate. Underpinned by insistent boy/girl vocal trading and interjection, abrasive guitar action and primeval (mostly) stand up drumming, the track seems to attempt to subvert post modern pomposities, complacent consumerist wet dreams and slogans for quietism "God is dead so I listen to Radiohead I know what time the buses run, I know where to go to find my fun "
If anything, the B side 'Sunshine Corporation (Palo Alto)' is even more lyrically unusual and unsettling, seemingly a cut'n'paste aural pastiche of bland phrases from a self help manual "You need to develop self confidence Decide what you want to be and strive towards it Keep a journal for joy Leave the road to solitude and join the family way develop new leadership skills and influence people with the way that you speak in public stop worrying and love yourself."
If all this sounds a bit unlike a rock'n'roll record, fear not. Both tracks are held together by insistently nagging riffs, head pounding drums and a very special combination of male and female voices that linger in the brain long after the ringing in the ears has ebbed away.
OK so the CD isn't quite up to the aural assault of the Fuck Dress live experience, and their radio friendly alto ego of 'Bonk Frock' might actually be a better name than their sweary proper title, but what the hell? This is one fuck (dress) of a record.
I can thoroughly recommend this band, and thoroughly recommend this CD
Single of the month, no question.
Watch the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmLXc9SZ8sU or listen here
The Courteeners - No You Didn't, Know You Don't (A & M)
I was recently persuaded to buy a Courteeners single on the strength of it being available cheaply in HMV on lovely vinyl, by Richard Bull's great review on this website here and by the fact that it's a great 2 chord pop song to teach in my under 11s guitar classes.
Do The Courteeners have it in them to do it again?
No they didn't, no they don't.
The saving grace of this badly written whiney indie by numbers 4 track CD is the acoustic cover of the rather fantastic Sugababes track 'About You Now'.
However Johnny Panic saw it first, and cover it far better.
And, although those ignorant of JP may think it an inspired choice of cover, its brilliance only serves to show up the lack of inspiration in The Courteeners own songs.
Weezer : Pork and Beans (Interscope)
The 'song behind the youtube phenomenon' Pork and Beans will not disappoint Weezer's fans - strong song writing, lots of stop start harmonic action, and some enormous riffs. I particularly love the way the distorted slabs of guitar kick in after the fragile riff of the verse, hanging around in my unconsciousness for days. And the guitar based live cover of Are Friends Electric is pretty impressive too.
Anti Flag : The Bright Lights of America (Hassle)
It's hard for a punk rock band with principles to simultaneously keep
writing agitational spiky songs, keeping the long term fans happy but
also feeling that they are continuing to develop as a band and as writers.
This is even harder when you also factor in trying to keep the (capitalist)
record label happy, a record company who go so far as to include several
explicit threats to your humble reviewer as to what will happen if he/she
tries to copy the album, or even tries to put it on their phone.
So far so good. Where I'd raise a pierced eyebrow as regards this collection is the way that some of the lyrics start to suggest that individual action can be a solution for the ills of the world, that 'individual life style choices' and charity work and the beneficence of right minded punk-pop stars (and their fans) can change the system. Is it a coincidence that I hear a Levellerish folsky twinge in some of the new songs, just as I detect a move into the personal politics of that such bands. Surely a sound, and a philosophy, the younger, angrier Anti Flag, would have sneered at? Surely social change must precede, or perhaps go hand in hand with individual change, and not vice versa?
I was moaning the other day to one of teenage my guitar students that I felt that Nicky Wire had let himself down (or at least, let me down!) by saying that he liked The Klaxons. "Do you mean that just cos he was an angry young punk 15 years ago, he has to continue spitting hatred at other bands now he's 40?" asked my student.
"Absolutely I do", I replied then, as I reply now.
Only time will tell if this still very enjoyable, heart felt and principled record is the first of many sugar coated grenades thrown at the establishment by a still principled and committed guerrilla band, or the cowardly first step of some former rebels into the comfortable big money of the mainstream and respectability.
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