Let’s all meet up in the year 2000. Felt terribly futuristic at the time, what with us all whooshing around on jetpacks, and turning up at the opera tastefully attired in tin foil underwear. The records of this year weren’t bad, either. Take Elastica, for instance – who released one horrifically pedestrian LP back when Britpop was a lad. Hence it was all the more surprising when The Menace hit the record racks; an album loaded with angular, anti-pop rhetoric; messy, sprawling, spiky, and a guest appearance by Mark E Smith – all items that float the LGM flotilla. Internal Wrangler, the first full length Clinic album: also released in this year. The opening track carries the title ‘Voodoo Warp’, which is an apt description of the band itself; there’s something vaguely threatening about a Clinic record. Mysterious. Dangerous, at certain angles (check out ‘The Return Of Evil Bill’ below the words). The kinky 60’s pop references are bountiful, the Philicorda oozing in sultry and oblique patterns, and the entire experience swims in and out of focus in a most delicious fashion.
Having decided that The Cure wouldn’t be reappearing in this Significant Albums series – something based entirely on the view that they should have split after 1989’s Disintegration – I approached Bloodflowers with a degree of trepidation. It lacks the feral intensity that attracts me to so much of the band’s early-80’s output – the dark velocity of Faith or Pornography; So the fire is almost out, and there’s nothing left to burn sings Robert Smith on ’39’, and it’s easy to interpret this as a metaphor for band dynamic. That said, Bloodflowers blossoms when in a certain frame of mind; it’s understated, introspective, an album full of echoes and reflections.
I have a love/hare relationship with Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. I could say the same for the wonderfully foul-mouthed The Teaches Of Peaches as well – ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ having secured Peaches’ place in the pop culture lexicon – but The Dandy Warhols album is so obviously commercial in complexion, it becomes easy to dismiss; I’d happily never listen to ‘Bohemian Like You’ ever again. A far more successful commercial pop album is The Facts Of Life by Black Box Recorder. There are no hard edges to this record; instead, its lustre is derived from the Luke Haines’ lyrics, and how – in the mouth of Sarah Nixey – they’re annunciated with an arch, sexy relevance – very much with one raised eyebrow. You’re quite precocious declares Haines in ‘The Art Of Driving’. I know which buttons should be pressed is Nixey’s sultry retort. Let’s go out driving suggests Haines – I’ll wait until you’ve passed your test comes the reply. Such a saucy record, yet it never feels awkward with it; a Carry On film with warmth and wit.
Elsewhere in 2000: The Great Eastern by The Delgados. Doves – Lost Souls. The New Pornographers, and their Mass Romantic LP. Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series are rightfully lauded, and I have a particular attachment to American III: Solitary Man; his version of Nick Cave’s ‘The Mercy Seat’, whilst lacking the original’s sense of mania, comes across as nuanced – proud yet fragile.
Finally for part one, the bit about Radiohead. Not that it’s easy to write, or something I’ve necessarily been looking forward to. I was propping up the bar of a London drinking hole a day or two after Kid A hit the record stores – the relationship between bar and music, between alcohol and music hewn from complementary notions until the exact moment some force of darkness puts Meatloaf on the jukebox. John – record collection superior to mine; taste far broader than mine – was very much in the pro-Kid A camp. He implicitly understood the experimentation; that this is an album dedicated to subtext. Me – I hated it. Overcome by its coldness, its sterile ambiance. I made derisive comparisons to early Genesis, and proclaimed it a self-indulgent travesty of monumental proportions.
John was far closer to the truth, of course, but it didn’t feel like it at the time. My antipathy wasn’t aided by the fact that my copy was, and still is, a mis-pressing. It kicks off with a sharp, violent shudder, followed by twenty seconds of silence, then a brief spurt of applause (which, as I later discovered, originated from a live Pearl Jam recording). ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ doesn’t begin until nearly a minute in, the tracklisting all skewed so that, when selecting a tune, each one begins half-way through (not something that ever happens with vinyl). “Is this a joke?” was my initial thought. “What the hell are you prattling on about?” said John, owner of a proper copy.
Pressing plant fuck-ups aside, I can still understand my initial reticence. Listening is a challenging experience, the musicality alien, frosty, a proliferation of counter-intuitive reference points. Hell – even after all these years I can’t decide if I genuinely enjoy this. I get its ambition, the single-mindedness behind travelling well beyond the territory of guitar-orientated rock. I like its unpredictability, the haunting beauty behind closing track ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’, and the percussion on ‘Optimistic’ – but is that enough to compensate for the intense cold that this album exudes? Maybe I should ask John again; he’ll have a more robust opinion, and he won’t make ill-considered comments such as:
Ice Age coming, Ice Age coming bemoans Thom Yorke on ‘Idioteque’ – conveniently omitting the fact that it’s Kid A itself that is the primary cause.
Clinic / The Return Of Evil Bill
Black Box Recorder / The Art Of Driving
Johnny Cash / The Mercy Seat
Radiohead / Optimistic