And following some silence, some talk about music.
The Beatles back catalogue has been re-released, and in a move that is typical of me, funky packaging and ludicrously priced box-sets suddenly start getting me going “Ooooh…” I don’t think I’ve ever qualified as a Beatles fan – in the same way that I have a huge fondness for Star Wars and can acknowledge it as a hugely influential bit of SF cinema, but if you gave me a choice I’d pick the colourful camp nonsense of the 1982 version of Flash Gordon every time. They’re one of those bands who had such an absurdly gigantic effect and whose music at various points has been so bloody omnipresent that you can almost forget that they were just a band. And so, despite the hilariously expensive box-sets eyeballing me (especially the collectors-only ‘Beatles in Mono’ set – £200 is a ridiculous price, and yet there’s a tiny, very silly bit of me that covets it…) I decided to dip my toe in the water. Beatles-wise, I’ve always been more interested in listening to their later, experimental phase, so I went for Revolver, which is now looked on as the actual barnstorming classic that’s overtaken the ever-so-slightly overrated (but still revolutionary) Sgt. Pepper. And, I have to admit that I liked what I heard. The quality on the remastering is great, with an awesome level of clarity, and it’s good to be able to actually sit back and realise that these really are excellent songs – you can listen to tracks like Taxman, Eleanor Rigby or Got To Get You Into My Life and hear the level of artistry at work in them, the way they still sound modern and adventurous even now (and not simply because so many bands have ripped them off). It’s bonkers and psychedelic in a whole number of ways, from the full-on sitar action of ‘Love To You’ to the absolutely mind-blowing galaxy warp of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, which basically sounds like a Chemical Brothers track done in 1967. You can argue about exactly how much they did and didn’t do, but it simply isn’t possible to listen to Revolver and not be slightly in awe of what the Beatles acheived.
A side-effect of my current life is that I’m kind of isolated from new pop music. I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t have access to any music TV channels (which I used to watch a ridiculous amount, so maybe part of that is a good thing), so it’s very easy for things to pass me by. This is why, essentially, I hadn’t heard a single track by eighties-throwback-synth band La Roux, despite the fact that I was aware they were doing the kind of synthy-electro pop that would distinctly float my boat. I was aware they were around, I was aware that the front girl (it’s actually a two-person set-up, although the vocalist is the ‘face’ – like Goldfrapp, but without the bloke occasionally lurking in the background while Alison Goldfrapp does her spookily sexy thang) had a fantastically stylised and ever-so-slightly ridiculous scarlet Eighties quiff, and I was aware their album got nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, but I hadn’t actually heard any of their stuff. It was a mash-up that did it – I listened through to a track, and I can’t recall what it was mixed with, but the instrumental (along with a bit of the chorus) was ‘Bulletproof’ by La Roux. I liked what I heard – not in a “I must purchase that at once!” manner, but enough to file it away for further reference. And then, I was scrolling along through Youtube – there was a long period where various music companies got snooty about the idea of music videos being on Youtube and either pulled them or flagged them with a ‘not available in the UK’ tag, and about three weeks ago, purely by accident, I discovered that this was no longer the case. So, searching around on the various pages and channels, I happenned upon a link to the video of ‘Bulletproof’:
At that point, my brain went “Ooh!” It’s partly the groovy CG work (which heavily reminds me of the computer game Portal – I love it when CG really isn’t meant to look realistic), it’s partly the fact that it’s like having the Eighties surgically injected into your eyeballs, and it’s partly the fact that I’ve always had a liking for odd female vocalists who are very determinedly doing their own thing (even if it’s being a bequiffed Eighties tomboy with Toyah-esque make-up that at various points in the video has me shrieking “Tone down the eyeshadow! TONE DOWN THE EYESHADOW!!!”) It’s a great song, there’s certain bits in the video that I adore, there’s a whole selection of eye-searing fashions of the kind that have me filing concepts and looks away for further reference, and I found myself playing it quite a few times.
Then, I found the video to their previous single, Quicksand:
And at this point, my brain went “Ooh!” even more, and also went “Find the make-up artist and/or stylist on the Bulletproof video, and KILL THEM!” Maybe that’s a slight exagerration, but I can’t think of the last time when I saw make-up and a slightly different hairstyle making such a difference – I mean, if anything, it’s just a very good example of the kind of change that can happen just if you shoot someone a different way. I mean, aside from the slightly-less kooky hair, I don’t know that I would have even known it was the same girl on the first watch – again, she’s still slightly odd and tomboyish here, but in the kind of way which, back in the late eighties, would have completely bowled me over and had me nursing a completely unrequited crush. Bizarre, but true.
After this, it wasn’t long before I tracked the video for ‘In For The Kill’ (which I can’t find an embed for, so click here), which I liked even more, if only for the fact that it’s so completely retro and Eighties. Even the video is retro – aside from the slick photography and the occasional bursts of funky digital effects, it’s exactly the kind of oddly stylised nonsense that was being pulled back on Top of the Pops circa 1981 (hell, shoot it on video and it’d be a dead ringer for a Toyah video, especially thanks to her willfully eccentric hair).
The practical upshot of this is that I spent the next few days regularly watching all three of the above tracks to an extent where it was getting slightly ridiculous, and I essentially had to order myself to get the hell down to either Fopp or HMV and actually buy the album. (Yes, there are times when the Youtube media model actually works). So, I did, and I’ve been listening the hell out of it ever since I got it. She’s an interesting and slightly odd vocalist – I get the feeling that for some people she’ll be the audio equivalent of Marmite, as there’s a spiky sharpness to her voice on some tracks, which is kind of increased by the deliberately treble-heavy and extremely Eighties-style production (Apparently the technical term for this is ‘gakky’, if you needed to know…) – there are occasional points where it borders on too much, but it’s a great album that doesn’t comit the sin of going on too long (slice the bonus track off and it’s barely 40 minutes), and it’s the exact perfect mix of beats, synths, attitude and occasional melancholy for my current mood.
It’s also an album I can easily listen to all the way through – something that isn’t quite the case with the debut album of Ladyhawke. Also very eighties-orientated, she’s slightly more of the rock persuasion, and her self-titled debut does have some very good tracks on it, although it’s one of those albums where certain tracks tend to blend together, and you can’t help feeling they could have lost at least a third of the whole album without making too much difference. However, one of my favourite tracks on the album is the opening track ‘Magic’ – it was what made me want to get the album in the first place, regularly listening to it on one of the listening posts at HMV in Picadilly last October, while I was suffering through the trauma that was my final London Film Festival. It’s a brilliant, storming piece of pop, and I was kind of amazed on one of my Youtube searches to see that it was actually being released as a single, and had acquired a video. “Great!” I thought.
Then… however… I actually watched it:
Oh. My. God. Can’t quite believe it, and can’t think of another example of a song I like matched to an absolutely bloody terrible video. I mean, conceptually it could have been okay – kooky silent movie Georges Melies-style melodrama can be incredibly effective – but there’s so much in this that just makes me want to hunt down the director and do something exceptionally painful to them. With hammers. If it isn’t the grinning tribal maniac, it’s the fact that the whole rambling quest seems to revolve around rescuing a very bored looking Puerto-Rican sailor, who doesn’t even seem that excited to be rescued. Hell, all they needed to do is go watch some Guy Maddin movies to find out how you do that kind of thing right, but they didn’t. A brilliant song, an absolute bloody mess of a video.
So, to cheer myself up and stop myself growling in the corner, here’s something that’s much, much, MUCH better – the Georges Melies-inspired video to ‘Tonight Tonight’ by the Smashing Pumpkins.