January 7, 2014

The Glove - Blue Sunshine (1983/2006)

The process of recording and touring for their fourth and darkest album, Pornography (1982), took a huge toll on The Cure. The band's increasing drug abuse and in-fighting led bassist Simon Gallup to quit outright (although he would return 18 months later) and Robert Smith to jump ship temporarily in order to moonlight as a guitarist for Siouxsie and The Banshees (a job he had held briefly in 1979) after the brilliant John McGeoch was jettisoned due to severe alcohol abuse. Robert Smith: "The Cure disintegrated in its entirety. Concerts became nothing but an excuse to drink ourselves senseless. Inevitably it meant the end of all my ideals. During the Pornography tour I realized The Cure weren't any better than any other band on tour. I was actually doing everything I swore once I wouldn't. We even had rows back stage; it was horrible really! We were all stuck in a crazed trip, and I really wanted to get away from all that! Especially Simon threw himself into it, and eventually I became some sort of father telling him not to, you know? I just wanted to stop. I had to stop! Simon quit, and I got away. I didn't touch a guitar for 4 months. I had to become sane again. In interviews I was always talking about how The Cure were different from other bands; we weren't though. There was never enough time to really be different from other bands. We traveled all around the world and as soon as we got back there was another album that had to be recorded! During Pornography, I realized we had to break that cycle. I got to the point where I could only see myself as someone who was in The Cure; I stopped seeing me being myself actually!" In many ways, taking over lead guitar duties in The Banshees was an ideal remedy to Robert Smith's growing discontent with the direction of The Cure. Signing on for the second leg of the Kiss the Dreamhouse tour, Smith was able to retreat from the pressures of fronting his own band by embracing a supporting role for one of the few figures in post-punk who could outshine him at the time: Siouxsie Sioux. It was during a break between legs of this tour at the beginning of 1983 that Smith and Banshee bassist Steve Severin hatched the idea to write and record a single as a one-off collaboration, but five months later, this idea had escalated into a full-fledged side-project with the goal of producing an album.

Smith & Severin decided to name their project The Glove, after a giant flying glove called the "murder mitten," which belonged to a corrupt policeman called the "Blue Meany" in The Beatles' 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine. However, just as the recording sessions began, things took a surreal turn when it was revealed that Smith's recording contract with The Cure prevented him from singing on any non-Cure releases, so in a pinch, Jeanette Landray, the girlfriend of Banshee drummer Budgie and a dancer on Top of the Pops who had no previous singing experience, was recruited to provide the lion's share of the vocals. Steve Severin: "Robert was prevented from singing on any of the Glove material by Chris Parry (Head of Fiction records) although we eventually struck a deal were he could sing two tracks under the proviso that they weren’t to be released as singles. Therefore we had to audition for a singer. Neither of us wanted another male involved and after some aborted sessions I was pestered by Budgie’s then girlfriend, Landray into giving her a go. As she says herself she was in a strange position because it was clearly our project. She did a good job under awkward conditions, really." Jeanette Landray on her experience in The Glove: "Basically, because it was so clearly Robert and Steve's project I had a strange role, involved but not with any real say in the way things turned out, almost like a session musician really. I don't know what I'd actually expected but if I was offered something similar again I'd have a much clearer idea of the problems involved. I'm not bitter about it, but I have had to fight to get this far and it did get me some very useful exposure but I just underestimated how little expression I'd have in the promotion of the album. I still feel like a faceless voice to some extent."   By most accounts, the sessions were a hedonistic affair, with everyone involved ingesting copious amounts of LSD and speed, and watching film after film with the purpose of capturing "after-images" in the music itself. One of these films was Blue Sunshine, a 1978 cult film about a new form of LSD that causes baldness and homicidal behavior, whose title Smith and Severin would re-purpose for the title of their album.

Not surprisingly, the sound of Blue Sunshine is a volatile cocktail of goth, neo-psychedelia, and eccentric pop, which Smith variously described at the time as "cultivated madness" and "a mental assault course." And while it is certainly hard to deny that Smith's distinctive vocals are missed throughout most of the album, Landray does do a respectable job, though it's hard to overlook her similarity in tone to Siouxsie Sioux, a comparison in which Landray comes up considerably short. On "Like an Animal," one of Landray's best performances, Steve Severin's bass takes the lead to great effect, as cheesy keyboard washes and frenetic percussion keep the song from moving too far into darker territory. Where Blue Sunshine gets really interesting is on songs such as "Orgy" with its Middle-Eastern aesthetic and quirky twists and turns. It's all so vaguely Cure, but ultimately unlike anything else in Smith's considerable discography or The Banshees' for that matter. Severin: "The idea that The Glove could get away with anything vanished very quickly because it became a real responsibility to get it to sound not indulgent. I think what I wanted was for it to have more of a specific personality than, say, The Banshees or The Cure. I mean, The Banshees have a set, almost concrete image that, no matter what we do, we're kind of stuck with on a very superficial daily paper 'ice-queen and doom and gloom' level."

The Glove - "Punish Me with Kisses" (1983)

A taste of things to come....

January 4, 2014

Roxy Music - "Ladytron" (1972) Old Grey Whistle Test

Does it get any better than Ferry/Eno-era Roxy?

Mazzy Star- "Into Dust" (1993)

It's been a somber morning that only Mazzy Star can begin to explain.  
Here's something I wrote a while back that tragically resonates with me now.  
"This is Where I'll Be"
As the blood recedes from my veins,

And begins to pool around my brain,
I think of a boundless future.
As my teeth grace the pavement,
And my heart turns frigid,
I think of endless possibilities.
Useless among these warm bodies.
Infinitude found only amidst the clouds.
Remember, the music will always save us.

Oh, Sweet Nothin'

"I'm searching for my mainline,
I said I couldn't hit it sideways,
I said I couldn't hit it sideways,
it's just like Sister Ray says"

"And say a word for Joana Love,
she ain't got nothin' at all,
with every day she falls in love
and every night she falls,
and when she does, she says,

Oh! Sweet nuthin'
You know she ain't got nuthin' at all,
Oh! Sweet nuthin'
You know I ain't got nuthin' at all"

The Cure - "10:15 Saturday Night" (1979)

I know this feeling only too well lately

January 3, 2014

Scars - "Leave Me in Autumn" (1981) Old Grey Whistle Test

Another great Scottish post-punk band that appeared at the dawn of the 1980s, Edinburgh's the Scars only released one album, and in my estimation, it deserves far more recognition than it gets- love the bass playing on this...

January 2, 2014

David Bowie - Space Oddity (1969/2009)

David Bowie (aka David Jones) had been struggling for years to achieve some semblance of commercial and artistic success as a musician, a journey that included stints as a blues-singer for mod-rock groups such as The King Bees and The Mannish Boys, a campy dance-hall dandy with a taste for Anthony Newley, and a Dylan-esque folksinger. While all of these musical incarnations failed miserably, it was, strangely enough, Bowie's participation in an avante-garde mime troupe that put him on the pathway to the kind of success he so badly craved. In 1968, now a solo mime artist, Bowie opened a show for Marc Bolan's Tyrannosaurus Rex, and in the process, ended up crossing paths with Bolan's producer Tony Visconti. Visconti's account of their initial meeting: "I met David about a month after Marc [Bolan] and I remember the weather. It was a nice day, I was in David Platz’s office at 68 Oxford Street and he played me Bowie’s first Deram album, saying, 'What do you think of this kid?' I said, 'he’s all over the map.' You know that album, 'Uncle Arthur,' 'Mr Gravedigger' and so on, crazy songs, 'Laughing Gnome'? I said, 'he’s great but so unfocused.' And he said, 'Come and meet him, he’s in the next room.' David was about 19 at the time, very nervous sitting there. He knew he was going to meet me, it had all been set up, and David Platz left us after five minutes. We got on very well, we shared a love of Andy Warhol, underground music, a group called The Fugs, which few British people were aware of. He was obviously in love with American music and I loved him, he was a singer songwriter, had this great English accent and now we were going to work together. So we took a long walk down Oxford Street, on this nice day, we continued to talk the whole day and about three hours later ended up on King’s Road near a film theatre where Roman Polanski’s Knife In The Water was playing. We’d been talking about foreign films and Truffaut, specifically black and white and scratchy films, so we went in there and we said goodbye at about 7 in the evening. We’d struck up a great friendship."

To say this was a fortuitous encounter would be a vast understatement because Visconti proved to be instrumental in shaping the careers of both Bolan and Bowie, as well as helping to foster the birth of the glam-rock movement that would make them both superstars by 1972. At the time of their meeting in 1968, Bowie had managed to record an album for Deram the previous year, but it had failed to chart. As Visconti noted when he first heard the LP, David Bowie is an unfocused pastiche of an album, touching on dancehall numbers, show tunes, British invasion and even novelty songs. What was conspicuously absent was any significant reference to rock music, a much better forum for Bowie's growing avant-garde inclinations. This and the inconsistent songwriting all but sealed its fate with the public. As a result, his days at the label were numbered, and he was unceremoniously dropped in early 1968. However, just before his exit from Deram, Bowie had composed and recorded "Space Oddity," a song destined to eventually bring him his first taste of commercial success, and he had collaborated on a song with Visconti, "Let Me Sleep Beside You," which is arguably his first successful attempt at writing a rock song and a harbinger of what was to come next. Bowie had written a good deal of new material by the time he entered the studio again in 1969, this time on the dime of Mercury Records, to record his second album, now with Visconti as his producer. Among the songs to be recorded was a new version of "Space Oddity," which was obviously influenced by the Stanley Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the impending Apollo 11 moon landing. Bowie had originally written and recorded the song for a promotional film for Deram called Love You Till Tuesday, which ended up staying in the can until 1984.

Reportedly, Mercury's willingness to fund the recording sessions for Bowie's second album was contingent on re-recording "Space Oddity" and releasing it as a lead single in time to capitalize on the upcoming moon landing, which was to happen roughly a month later. Visconti hated this idea as well as the song and had no interest in producing it, which is why his assistant, Gus Dudgeon, who would later become Elton John's producer, was pressed into service. Visconti: I turned it down. I thought it was a novelty song. I respected him for the folk rock songs he gave me, with great depth in the lyrics, a real underground writer. But then he hands me this Space Oddity song, which was topical to the point of novelty. To this day I regret not doing it, it’s a great song, people remember it more than Young Americans or Let’s Dance. I offered it to Gus Dudgeon in the next office, he said, 'You don’t want to record this? You’re crazy!' And he did a great job. Then David came back to me. His record company would not let him make the album unless he recorded Space Oddity. ‘Now that we’ve got that out of the way,’ these were his exact words, ‘let’s get on with the album.’ It took a long time for that record to chart. He never did write a follow-up to Space Oddity. His next single was The Prettiest Star, which I got Marc Bolan to play on. But really nothing happened until he conceived of Ziggy Stardust a couple of years later." The Dudgeon-produced version of "Space Oddity" is a dark, lush, and dramatic epic that quickly transcended the initial impression by critics that it was little more than a novelty song. Central to the song's success are the haunting "space" effects provided by a mellotron and a pocket electronic organ called a stylophone, Bowie's now-iconic vocal performance, and the distinctive prog-folk arrangement. The song also featured a compelling narrative. Bowie discussing the lyrics in 1980: "Here we have the great blast of American technological know-how shoving this guy up into space, and once he gets there he's not quite sure why he's there. And that's where I left him." Not only was "Space Oddity" Bowie's first hit (top five in the U.K.), but it also, in many ways, provided the blueprint for his Ziggy Stardust persona and his ongoing thematic preoccupation with social outcasts and aliens. Originally titled David Bowie in the U.K. (inviting confusion with his identically-titled Deram debut), Man of Words / Man of Music in the U.S. and renamed Space Oddity for its re-issue in 1972, Bowie's second album is an edgy dystopian artistic breakthrough, which, though suffering a bit from a lack of stylistic cohesion, offers several glimpses of the genius he would demonstrate in his work throughout the 1970s.

The approach to recording the album was a bit haphazard, but proved to be a valuable learning experience for all involved; as Visconti recalls, "Well, Bowie and I finished the Space Oddity album and we looked at each other and realized it wasn't a rock album - we wanted to make a rock album. We respected the rock groups around at the time like Cream and such like, but we didn't have it in us! We needed someone to be [that] important element, and that somebody we were introduced to was Mick Ronson [....]  So we got Mick down [from Hull], actually while we were in the last stages of finishing the Space Oddity album, and Mick actually played a little bit of guitar, and he clapped, on 'Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud.' So he's on that album!  But then we started jamming with him, and we got him to play on a John Peel show, doing a little bit of guitar for us. John Peel knew Mick from some work he did with a folk singer - I forget the name - and so he was known to John Peel, who totally approved of Mick [playing] with us. So we got down to the nitty gritty part of putting the band together, and Mick turned to me and he said, 'You have to listen to Jack Bruce' [bass,vocals, Cream]. He had advice like that for every one of us. He wasn't outspoken - he was very shy and all that, but if you asked him a direct question he would give you a direct answer. So he said, 'you have to listen to Jack Bruce,' and he made me get a short scale EB3 Bass, the one that Jack Bruce played. I was already a guitarist/ bassist, and it was basically Jack Bruce that played lead bass - it was like a second guitar to Eric Clapton. I was bending strings and slapping it - getting distortion - and we have Mick to thank for that. If it wasn't for Mick… ? Who knows? There might have been no Ziggy Stardust. And I hate to say things like that because nobody really knows, but he was so important."