Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New : Cult of Luna - 'Vertikal'

Winter hasn't quite relinquished its grip on the weather which means although March is just round the corner we're still faced with dark evenings and harsh temperatures. I personally am pretty much done with this whole cold season business and can't wait for some proper T-shirt weather - plus they close the bloody park early so if I want to get a run in I've got to rush home. BOOOO. On the upside, meteorological grimness and months of infinite darkness are the ideal breeding environment for some fine slabs of bleak, punishing metal to guide you through the coruscating emptiness and Swedish hardcore hippies Cult of Luna have brewed up one staggering avant garde stormblast with their first LP of the decade. If you think it blows watching the sun go down at 7pm in Paris or Leeds then spare a thought for these dudes from Northern Sweden who probably get about fifteen seconds sunshine a day round this time of year, although by all accounts they've been staying in a bit recently working on this deeply complex beast of an album. Luna were one of the best post-metal groups to emerge in the noughties and for my money their 2004 LP 'Salvation' is one of the  most indispensable listens of the decade but they'd kinda strayed from my radar over recent years and seemed to be going round in circles - 'Vertikal' sees them relocate from the vegan hippie countryside of Umea to one of Sweden's relative metropoles (I say relative because that whole country is so scrubbed clean everything looks like some kind of Nordic Disneyland to me) and the move seems to have instilled a bit of welcome big city paranoia and noise-addled sleepless nights into the mix to devastating effect. Where their previous pastoral efforts recreated the feeling of watching from the shore as a tornado bore down on you, the thunderous waves of sound here are sprinkled with nervous electronic interjections and industrial creaks and spasms - instead of watching the rural landscape lurch into seismic eruption this is more like seeing an asteroid land on your neighbour's house and listening to the cacophony of sproings and clanks as their flatscreen shatters and their garage door buckles under meteoric lava. Opener 'The One' hums into earshot like ELP's 'Fanfare for the Common Man' resonating from inside a hollowed-out planet before 'I : The Weapon' slow boils like foaming mercury over nine minutes of jagged, tremulous riffs dragged across a cold synthetic landscape. 'Synchronicity' sounds studio-sheened yet resolutely human and 'Mute Departure' channels the looming urban menace of Ridley Scott's 'Blade Runner' through another epic symphony of anaesthetised electronics and rampaging hardcore onslaught (if you like the sound of this then check out Axis of Perdition from the mid 00s for more of the same). All this is merely a casual aperitif compared to the eighteen gargantuan minutes of 'Vicarious Redemption' which threaten to create a black hole from which you're not even certain to emerge, expanding beyond earshot like a solar system collapsing on itself and then being reborn as something even more immense. This is heady, vital shit that demands your full attention but won't disappoint once you grant it - I can get a bit dismissive over modern metal these days but 'Vertikal' hit me like a shotgun blasting the T-1000's head apart in 'Terminator 2', leaving my warped mind struggling to morph back into its normal shape for long enough to fully appreciate the scale of what I'd witnessed. Don't pull the old 'I don't like it when the singer screams' shit with me, there is no reason whatsoever for you not to bathe in the transgressive delights of 'Vertikal' without further ado and marvel at the what these guys have come up with. Luna, I wrote you off at my peril - thank you for proving me wrong.

Check out : let's not beat around the fucking bush here people : VICARIOUS REDEMPTION!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Retroactive : 1987

1987 : The Year In Music

1987 was a tale of two extremes - on the one hand music was more diverse and innovative than ever before but on the other the stuff at the top of the commercial chain had never been more sterile and formulaic. Pop pretty much took the year off with a glut of persil-washed soul pop (Living In A Box, Wet Wet Wet, Swing Out Sister) and the even less palatable production line pop of Stock, Aitken and Waterman spearheaded by the ubiquitous Rick Astley whose 'Never Gonna Give You Up' was the year's best-selling song. Things were even worse in the States where pop albums had basically become business plans aimed at coining it in with predictable tosh devoid of any artistic merit whatsoever - planetary megastars like George Michael, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Richard Marx all released platinum-plated LPs each boasting a run of chart-topping singles on the back of soft drink sponsors, globetrotting promo tours and expensive video clips but it was hard to find anything to love below the surface. Even rock sold out with flamboyant poodle metal becoming synonymous with big bucks and sold-out arena shows prompting stalwarts of the 1970s like Aerosmith, Kiss, Whitesnake and Heart to all return for a newly lucrative second spell in the limelight - the year also saw the birth of a younger, sleazier take on the genre spearheaded by Zodiac Mindwarp, Faster Pussycat and a bratty young bunch called Guns 'n' Roses but ultimately it was the old timers that made all the money. Things looked pretty grim at the top of the tree but this was perhaps not such a bad thing as it only exacerbated the differences between underground acts and their chart counterparts resulting in some fascinating forays into transgressive and exciting new styles of music. The indie scene diversified even further to incorporate acts as unusual as Iceland's The Sugarcubes and Slovenia's Laibach whilst the myriad American indie bands who'd spent much of the decade touring in smelly vans finally garnered some deserved success in Europe and metal ploughed new depths of sonic depravity with embryonic forms of grindcore (Napalm Death's 'Scum'), death metal (Death's 'Scream Bloody Gore') and black metal (Mayhem's 'Deathcrush') all soiling ear canals across the underground. However it was electronic music's conquest of the mainstream that proved the most satisfying with Chicago House breaking overground in a massive way and flooding the charts with fresh new sounds straight out of the clubs, setting in motion a wave of upward mobility that would see dance music dominate the singles charts for years to come. 1987 can therefore be chalked up as a victory for both the conservative and the creator, allowing both to celebrate their relative triumphs in total isolation and leaving the rest of us with a musical landscape that was broader, deeper and infinitely more complex and fascinating than ever before. Check out my playlist for the year and brace yourself for a run through its musical highlights......

Albums of the Year

1. Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite for Destruction
It's a no-brainer. There are very few records that unite public opinion across the board, and even fewer that you could stick on in any bar around the world and get a good reaction. 'Appetite for Destruction' is one of those - nobody's left cold by this, the only reason you could have for disliking it is a (perfectly understandable) objection to the band themselves. It's easy for guys like me who remember the band's heyday to harp on about how timeless it is, but I'm waiting to be proved wrong - stick this on at a party of whatever age range you like, heads will be banged, drinks will be spilt and the spirit of rock 'n' roll abandon will fill the air. Whether or not rock is your musical preference, chances are you have a copy of this album somewhere - even the hippest techno or rap acolyte will admit to playing 'Sweet Child o'mine' on the air guitar from time to time. Perhaps the strongest proof that the album has stood the test of time is the fact that liking it has never become post-modern and clever - unlike many of their 80s contempories, Guns 'n' Roses never fell into the 'cheesy' bracket, their music stays fresh, lively and potent enough to allow each new generation of fans to claim their debut as their own.

Which perhaps leads us to the question of what makes this album so broadly appealing? If 'Never mind the Bollocks' had landed a decade earlier to announce a seismic shift in the music industry, 'Appetite' heralded no such change - the band's amped up glam racket upstaged the likes of Poison and Bon Jovi, but they were merely tinkering with the formula rather than doing anything revolutionary. What linked them with the Sex Pistols was the streak of pure venom that underpinned their music - and whilst the Pistols had John Lydon, an intelligent and heavily politicised threat to the establishment, Guns had Axl Rose, an ill-tempered redneck with a grudge against humanity and a piercing shriek to match it. 'Appetite for Destruction' chronicles his ascent from Bible-belt smalltown America to the sleazy, salacious world of 80s Los Angeles - ever the underdog, he rails against everyone who gets in his way and unlike Lydon, he doesn't stop at the establishment (the following year's 'One in a Million' added several none-too-PC targets to his shitlist.) The rest of the record catalogues the band's lifestyle as they struggled for success - wanton drug abuse, womanizing and a relentless barrage of drinking, fighting and fucking provide the lyrical backdrop whilst the band (made up of LA's most fearsome characters, musically and otherwise) crank out a noxious cocktail of glam, punk and R'n'R to soundtrack the chaos. As with the lyrics, the music took things up a notch compared to the sanitized MTV version doing the rounds at the time - the rollicking 'You're Crazy' and the whirlwind ending to 'Paradise City' showed how heavy these guys could get. Having a guitar God in the ranks didn't hurt either, with Slash peeling off one of the world's most recognisable riffs to underpin 'Sweet Child o'Mine', proof that the band could also turn their hand to a power ballad or two when they felt like it (not a bad move it turns out, with 'Sweet Child' and 'Rocket Queen' pulling in female listeners who might have been put off by lines like 'Turn around bitch, I've got a use for you').

'Appetite for Destruction' still stands as the irresistable soundtrack to a bunch of ragtag misfits fighting their way up the ladder, even with the benefit of hindsight - by the end of the 80s Guns 'n' Roses had taken on the world and won. The fighting continued of course, against their contempories, against each other and ultimately against their own audience, Axl Rose in particular seemingly incapable of going a whole show without launching into a tirade against the crowd because someone threw a plastic beer glass at him or something daft like that. A self indulgent yet still fantastic double album followed in 1991, then they threw out a punk covers album and promptly fell apart. Despite the growing trend for every frazzled rock star of yesteryear reconvening their 'classic line-up' to pay off their tax debt, the chances of any of us seeing GNR's original configuration playing this stuff again anytime soon are fairly slim and that's probably a good thing. The string of hamfisted nostalgia projects à la Velvet Revolver, Duff and Slash's solo stuff as well as Axl's own circus performances at present day festivals stand as proof that GNR are an irresistible draw even when watered down - shockwaves that still emanate from the bombshell that was 'Appetite for Destruction' when it first hit.

Check out : the complete set from NYC's The Ritz back in 1988, shortly before they took over the world.

2. Sonic Youth - Sister
It took me a while to acknowledge Sonic Youth, they're a band whose back catalogue rightly deserves much of the critical hype it has garnered over the years yet there's also no shortage of things to dislike about them. Described by one onlooker as 'the reason record collectors shouldn't form bands', they're the band of the music critic and record store clerk, often lauded by snobs who look on anything mainstream with utter contempt and paraded around as the rock music equivalent of complex modern art or expensive wine. Like Radiohead, Pavement and Joy Division they're a band whose output often features in the record collections of people who otherwise avoid rock music like the plague, perennially championed by media retrospectives and art gallery tributes to their innovation and experimentation. But once you get past the stuffy arthouse connotations there's a wealth of indie folklore and sonic sorcery to be discovered in their music and tracing their curve back to its origins in the US indie scene of the early 1980s only highlights how key they were to the development of the national indie rock scene as well as being a major influence on the alternative rock boom of the 1990s. Whilst their peers were pedalling abrasive hardcore punk or experimenting with stylistic variations on indie guitar rock, Sonic Youth were out in their own universe crafting a leftfield retooling of the genre with their own weird guitar tunings and inventive effects to sire a complex, fascinating sound that has remained their own ever since. Like fellow post punks The Fall they adhere to a template that allows them to splurge off in any direction they choose whilst remaining instantly recognisable yet whilst Mark E. Smith's band of minstrels carry around the shambling menace of Northern England as part of their aura, Sonic Youth exist in a perpetual cloud of nonchalant New York cool that has made them all the more appealing to the casual listener. Their forays into sonic invention had been gathering steam throughout the 80s and 'Sister' was their breakthrough record in Europe, propelling them to new audiences at the vanguard of the Yank indie movement of which they were by far the most well-respected and critically acclaimed and launching them into a creative run of form which went on well into the following decade. The debate rages on amongst record nerds whether this one or follow-up 'Daydream Nation' is their best effort but I'm gonna nail my colours to the mast and plump for 'Sister' as the Youth's most palatable platter.

It's worth keeping in mind that grunge didn't exist when this record came out - some of the lurching guitar riffs and rattling percussion may sound familiar to modern ears but much of what was going on took place in a vacuum back in '87 when even the Pixies were only just getting off the blocks. The band put their foot down on raucous tracks like 'Catholic Block' and set-closer 'White Cross' but they don't sacrifice the upper edge of their sound to rough-edged volume blast and their scratchy, erratic guitar lines are just as audible as their low-end rhythmic chug giving the listener a choice of where to focus. Other tunes showcase their talent for packing their diverse arsenal of noise into what could pass for reluctant pop songs - the freight train shudder of 'Stereo Sanctity' is only two steps away from a dancefloor gem, the high-end riff of 'Tuff Gnarl' could elevate it to college radio crossover territory if the band didn't insist on roughing it up with such discordant scraping and the positively virile 'Hotwire My Heart' packs enough subdued sleaze to give the era's glam metal nerks a run for their money. The Youth are perhaps at their most effective when they kick back and lean into lilting, anaesthetised indie rock on the strung out beauty of 'Cotton Crown' and the mellow drivetime cruise of opener 'Schizophrenia', building up and peeling back layer upon layer of discordant guitar noise to mesmeric effect as the songs ebb and flow throughout swathes of gorgeous noise. Sonic Youth don't flood the speakers the same way My Bloody Valentine did a year or so later with 'Isn't Anything', they leave enough space inside their songs for all the ingredients to be picked out in their own right - one approach isn't necessarily weaker than the other, they're both great bands but they approach experimental guitar music from completely different directions, crossing each other somewhere in the middle and ending up with two equally fascinating end products. Purists will probably pick something even further back into their history as the ideal entry point for Sonic Youth's back catalogue but for me 'Sister' is the most complete set of their early years and acts as a convenient drop off point for a string of decent records that would see them stay at the front of the pack as indie broke big in the late 80s before giving way to the planetary success of grunge in the early 90s - each time Sonic Youth were there just off camera, close enough to imitate but never enough to capture entirely. They're still knocking around now (although the 'Youth' tag might be stretching it a bit these days) and have remained reassuringly faithful to the DIY indie circuit that spawned them some three decades ago so you have to doff your cap to them for their longstanding promotion of indie guitar rock even if their output isn't really your cup of tea. Getting past the tiresome hipster connotations and completist indie obsessive stigma is the hard part but once you've shrugged all that off, bag yourself a copy of 'Sister' and some headphones and you'll find falling in love with this lot remarkably easy.

Check out : 'Stereo Sanctity' live back in '87 - check out the raging nerdpit down the front!

3. Prince - Sign O' The Times
Picking which Prince records to include in these lists has been a tall order for two very valid reasons ; firstly because he threw out at least one record a year from 'Dirty Mind' in 1980 to his self-titled squiggly thing album at the start of his bust up with Sony in 1992 and secondly because pretty much all of them are cracking albums in their own right. The vinyl decapitation scene in 'Shawn of the Dead' highlights the wall to wall quality on show even with the qualifier that some of his weaker stuff ended up on the soundtrack albums (not that they were all bad mind, 'Parade' and 'Purple Rain' were soundtrack records and they both ruled and I will even admit to a weakness for the period charms of the Batman soundtrack) and it's difficult to think of any other 80s artist that produced such a consistent stream of quality throughout their different stylistic shifts whilst still banging out hits like nobody's business. Madonna managed to rack up a comparable tally of stereotype-challenging hit singles but more often than not the albums backing them up were padded out with filler and doyens of the previous decade like Bowie, the Stones and Stevie Wonder had all thrown out fascinating and innovative records every year against the artistically liberated backdrop of the 1970s but all of them had signed their butts over to the establishment by the 80s and ended up sullying their legacies with commercial slop that's dated incredibly badly. Prince's longstanding appeal stems from the fact that he rose to prominence in an all too different time, one that promoted playing it safe in a drive for commercial success over artistic experimentation and transgressive statements within popular music which in turn left the mainstream charts full of persil-washed soundalike crap whilst 'serious artists' clung devotedly to the underground. Many others would have used all this as an excuse to forsake radio appeal on the grounds that they were aiming for the wrong audience but Prince's philosophy was to do his own thing on his own terms safe in the knowledge that his material would remain appealing to the mainstream regardless of the lurid subject matter and it paid off throughout the 1980s as he straddled commercial and critical success with almost every record. 

'Sign O' The Times' isn't necessarily the best record from that era - it's tough to pick a favourite against such stiff competition - but it's certainly the most ambitious and provides the best exhibition of his multi-tasking approach to pop music. Mixing genres on a pop record is a good idea on paper but once you get into the studio it takes real talent to transform such intentions into a genuine treat for the ears and Prince's success has always hinged on his ability to give the listener what they want, whatever their taste in music may be. 'Sign' is his 'London Calling', the crest of his creative wave made possible by the commercial success that came before it, the output of a brain so over-brimming with ideas that you feel he probably had to trim quite a few off to fit them all onto a double album - like The Clash's masterpiece it functions more as a compilation record of the different musical styles doing the rounds at the time all channelled through the same mouthpiece, far from disjointed as a consequence and instead simply displaying the creative spectrum of an artist interested in every type of music. Pranging 80s radio funk pops up on 'Hot Thing' whilst luscious soul pop runs through 'Slow Love' and delectable set closer 'Adore' but things get more organic on the funky slap round the chops of 'Housequake' and the nine-minute 'It's Gonna Be A Beautiful Night' which switches to the live setting for a full-band encore wig-out that acts as a reminder that Prince's main role is as bandleader rather than hitmaker. Not that those after catchy radio hits will go wanting here - Sheena Easton duet 'U Got The Look' and the storming 'I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man' are solid gold chart fodder whilst the title track acts as a late 80s update on 'What's Going On?', a musical snapshot of period fears and threats that bypasses Marvin Gaye's plea for better times in favour of a cold, hard reality check.  He forsakes novelty shag anthems for some more considered takes on sensuality like 'Strange Relationship' and enduring classic 'If I Was Your Girlfriend', a twist on boy/girl dynamics that was way beyond the repertoire of most of his peers. He even succeeds against the odds in making religion seem almost cool on the mesmeric 'The Cross' and the album's thank you list is trimmed to a succinct 'All praise and glory 2 God' in the liner notes as perhaps a hint towards the churchy direction he'd take further down the line. Most artists fleshing out a double LP would need some sort of cheesy concept album plot to build the songs around but Prince succeeds simply because he has enough quality material to cover all possible angles, allowing for some freeform tangents over the album's longer tracks but ensuring that you're never too far away from a potential radio anthem. 'Sign' catches him at the peak of his powers and ticks all the boxes for punter approval - the critics can lavish over it as rock masterpiece, the funk 'n' soul students amongst us can scrutinise the band dynamics and casual radio fans can dip in for easy access thrills anywhere in the mix. Like I said, picking Prince favourites is a tough job from a period when the Purple One could pen killer tunes in less time than it takes the average person to take a dump but the stiff competition from his own back catalogue shouldn't detract from 'Sign's status as a universally acknowledged milestone in forward-thinking pop music.

Check out : 'It's gonna be a beautiful night' live with the full band.....follow that!

4. Napalm Death - Scum
The industrial heartland of the British midlands has been responsible for some of metal's most vital forays into sonic extremity - from Black Sabbath's lurching menace to the deafening bombast of Led Zeppelin (Page and Jones were London art school blues enthusiasts but it was the Midlands duo of Plant and Bonham that blew the drink out of your hand) through the steam-hammer rivet rock of Judas Priest to modern day sickos like Anaal Nathrakh and Mistress, the belching clouds of industry that hang over that cultural black hole of British music have been the breeding ground for some of the most punishing material ever recorded. Sunk into a sonic landfill benefiting from neither the cocksure swagger of the North nor the diverse sophistication of the capital, the Midlands represent a swamp left to marinate in its own grime from which grotesquely mutated musical hybrids crawl forth like unwitting victims of some nuclear experiment gone wrong - the epicentre of this murky breeding ground in the mid 1980s was the Mermaid pub in Birmingham, a fittingly grizzled meeting point for the area's aspiring musicians hooked on anarcho-punk and the global cult of extreme metal flourishing on the underground tape-trading scene. It was from this melting pot of sonic scuzz that Napalm Death emerged in the mid 1980s, more as the by-product of their environment than a clearly-defined whole - the entity that became Napalm seems to have lurked in the walls and ventilation shafts of the Mermaid like some asbestos-esque rogue virus that infiltrated all that passed through her rooms and blossomed like bacteria throughout those who contributed to 'Scum' alongside the myriad other bands that splundered forth from that festering scab of extreme art. The record acts as a sonic snapshot of the scrofulous environment from which it was drawn, incorporating two virtually indistinguishable line-ups and production forms over its two sides - the first was originally intended to form part of a split LP and was recorded six months prior to the second with only drummer Mick Harris present on both, resulting in a somewhat incongruous end product that unwittingly ropes in the talents of some of British metal's most eminent talents (Scorn's Nic Bullen, Godflesh's Justin Broadrick, Cathedral's Lee Dorrian and Carcass' Bill Steer along with Harris' piloting of early Napalm). The fact that virtually everyone involved with 'Scum' went on to carve their own niche in extreme music makes it virtually unique amongst metal albums - like some sort of inverted supergroup album, the record captures its creators' pulse at a vital moment when a shared musical outlook had brought them together with total disregard for commercial success (kinda like the anti-Chickenfoot if you like) and acts as ground zero for much of the heavy music that would emerge from the British Isles and further afield over the course of each new shift in sonic extremity. Rather than being simply a groundbreaking debut, 'Scum' acts as a political summit where the only item on the agenda was creating the ugliest, most confrontational music known to man and the longstanding support Napalm enjoy to this day tends to suggest that they succeeded in their endeavours.

The vastly influential bootmark left by 'Scum' wasn't immediately visible but what it did represent was a new breed of British musicians floating to the surface of heavy metal culture - despite the surfeit of massively influential bands that emerged from Britain over the 70s and early 80s, most of the foreshadowing decade had seen Blightly relegated to the sidelines as the emergent scenes in Scandinavia, Germany and North America dwarfed the comparitively  pedestrian output from the UK as the 80s wore on. 'Scum' brought extremity back into the mix but bolstered its delivery with a historic debt to political punk that allowed the rough-edged blend to flourish in the provincial backwaters that provided its breeding ground and it wasn't long before local scene vibrancy alerted DJs like John Peel to the seismic activity taking place around the Mermaid and the Radio 1 stalwart duly embrace Napalm as he had The Fall, Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain as part of the rich legacy of mould-splintering sonic experimentation that the fragmented nature of British music has always allowed to flourish between the cracks in the pavement. The riffs draw on the rough-edged sound of early 80s punk for inspiration but the band take things up several notches with the edge of sanity percussive levels that made you worry that the LP would literally fly off the turntable along with the dog rough vocal assault that sounded like a grizzled factory foreman attempting to bellow instructions over the din of heavy machinery. Lyrical inspiration is split between rage against the limits imposed by aggressive displays of capitalist greed and despondent frustration at one's own impotence against such a system, resulting in a nuclear explosion of outward/inward rage and violence that at first seems totally freeform and rudderless but over repeated listens begins to sink into a recognisable furrow of scrofulous sensory intimidation. We're all familiar with the globally recognised death metal and grindcore scenes these days but it's worth remembering that no such framework existed when 'Scum' first landed and the boys did their best to destroy any existing rules before a list could even be compiled for their new take on audioviolence - even the most transgressive elements of anarcho-punk were stretched to breaking point and the basic framework of a rock LP was thrown into question with format inversions such as the revolving door line-up and the all-or-nothing dynamics of tracks like the record-breaking 1.3 second blast of 'You Suffer'. The 28 tracks on offer are unlikely to yield 'White Album' style segmented revisits - 'Scum' is a record best appreciated as one compound art product from beginning to end, a flag planted in the landscape of sonic extremity and a testament to the anti-establishment vein of British music as it stood in the Thatcherite heartland of 1987. British music has always benefited from a boot to the gonads whenever things began to drift into complacency - Lord knows we could do with something like that right now - and 'Scum' provided a homegrown injection of raw, primitive energy into a domestic music scene that was becoming far too comfy on its metal laurels. Napalm Death would continue as a concept to which various entities would be irrepressibly drawn from all over the world and are never more than a month or two away from rolling through town and playing some small venue near you so make sure you catch a facefull of their splunderous dirge metal next time they're around - if you want to trace the disease back to the cell cluster that spawned it then 'Scum' remains the hive from whence all manner of horrors have crawled and it remains a shrine for transgressive sonic brutality worth a visit from anyone drawn to music's murkier depths.

Check out : 'Life/The Kill' live with the 90s line-up - the best of both worlds!

5. The Wedding Present - George Best
Those of us who were too young to remember the 1980s as discerning adults are often led to idealise certain elements of the decade, our memories of cartoons, computer games and childhood viewings of colour-saturated editions of Top of the Pops masking the mundane everyday reality of awful clothes, shitty weather and a cultural vanguard that consisted of Rick Astley miming on TVAM. The Smiths' output chronicled the dreary trappings of the era with enough dramatic flourish to make it seem real to those who had never experienced it firsthand and notched a string of moderate hit singles to export their worldview into the mainstream but I've got a feeling that their material is probable better known now than it was at the time - they never experienced the crossover commercial success that their civic cousins Oasis, Stone Roses and even New Order experienced and would have been easily for their mainstream peers to dismiss, especially when their stellar career ended prematurely when their swansong 'Strangeways, Here We Come' emerged in late 1987 amongst rumours of band rifts that would go on to prove fatally accurate shortly after its release. The band that arguably took their place as stalwarts of the British indie scene for the next five or so years shared several of their characteristics yet for many remain the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the genre until the Baggy and Britpop booms brought it back to life. The Wedding Present had been clattering around the provincial UK indie scene for a good 18 months before finally releasing their debut LP 'George Best' within weeks of 'Strangeways' on the back of several breakthrough singles and would go on to rise through the ranks and bag themselves a run of hits to rival that of the Smiths over the late 80s and early 90s but you'd be hard pressed to find someone that can remember even one of them and even a record-breaking singles campaign in 1992 that saw them equal Elvis' record of a dozen top 30 hits in one calendar year went down as a quickly forgotten footnote of British music history. Music rag Melody Maker published a long-running feature depicting the band's singer David Gedge as the long-suffering manservant to their fictional critic Mr Agreeable and the band came to embody the perpetual underachievement and mundane lack of ambition that characterised the British indie scene prior to the commercial breakthrough of Suede and later Oasis - even the Stone Roses' commercial peak lasted barely a year and their much-publicised implosion just as they were poised to take over left their reign as one that most mainstream acts of the era barely even remember. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s British indie amounted to little more than a never-ending trudge around student unions and upstairs-at-the-local-pub venues in front of sparse crowds whilst yuppietastic commercial slop like Simply Red and Level 42 dominated the charts and the relative successes of the indie scene went largely unnoticed. The Weddoes weren't responsible for any of this of course and the passing of time has given their material a fair run free of the negative stereotypes they were saddled with back in their prime so it's about time that 'George Best' was granted the milestone status it has long deserved.

First let's get the Smiths comparisons out of the way - though they share Morrissey's liking for long, conversational song titles and lyrical focus on emotional frustration along with a musical aesthetic rooted in the self-consciously drab framework of Northern England, the Weddoes have enough of their own trademarks to set them apart as a band to be appreciated in an entirely separate frame. Personally I think a lot of it comes down to their origins in my own hometown of Leeds, a Northern metropolis on a par with Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield yet one that has perpetually underachieved in the music sphere - whilst we've seen individual bands notch success and longstanding critical praise for their material rooted in the city's mindset (Gang of Four, Soft Cell, Chumbawamba, Sisters of Mercy), they've all done so on their own without the backing of a civic music scene or an easily-exportable cultural identity and their music has remained the output of everyday England for most listeners as opposed to another entry in a city's rich musical legacy. Gedge's delivery is that of a downtrodden cynic attempting to craft poetry around life's disappointments, eschewing theatrics for the monotone drawl of the bloke at the bus stop and the band shy away from displays of flamboyant musicianship in favour of an endless barrage of scratchy guitar lines and rapid-fire percussion that functions as an update on post-punk rather than a chart-friendly take on indie rock. It's not that every song on 'George Best' sounds the same - there are no standout tracks simply because the band's sound suits a consistent stream rather than a peaks and troughs run of singles and B-sides. The band were stylistically far removed from their Stateside peers of the 80s indie scene but embodied the same musical outlook - tour as much as possible, rely on cheap short releases and stick to your DIY guns rather than pandering to mainstream sensibilities. It's not insignificant that the Weddoes put in a good two years of subsisting on stand-alone singles before finally committing 'George Best' to tape and batted back a number of major label offers to instead record the set in the same scratchy, dissonant manner they'd used for their early releases - this is bedsit indie in all its ugly beauty, tailor made to soundtrack specky students and dole mole losers drinking 20p a pint brown ale and thrashing around their local smelly indie venue. The band's muscular bass and breakneck rhythms made for uncharacteristically volatile live performances too - take Gedge's placid vocals out of the mix and the Wedding Present are a pretty aggressive musical proposition. Typically, 'George Best' features zero references to the footballer or his achievements (though he did apparently agree to appear in the band's promo material) but does feature a number of the band's most recognisable tunes; riff-led bedsit anthems 'My Favourite Dress' and 'A Million Miles', rampaging indie thrashalongs like 'Getting Nowhere Fast' and 'Shatner' and shambling dissections of everyday life like opener 'Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft' although picking highlights seems pointless when the band's distinctive sound favours appreciation of the whole set as one continuous splurge of dissonant indie rock. Alongside fellow Northerners The Fall, The Wedding Present are the closest thing we Brits had to Yank indie scene-leaders Sonic Youth and Pavement, although the absence of MTV and the parochial attitude of British indie has seen to it that neither band has ever approached anything like a major breakthrough and they both remain endearing constants in the musical output of our beleaguered, self-effacing island. It may have set in motion a period that many have come to regard as indie's least appealing cultural spell but 'George Best' stands as a great example of a band picking a direction and pursuing it with total disregard for passing trends, one that paradoxically saw them weather a couple of decades of musical shifts whilst retaining a characteristically loyal fanbase. After all these years it's perhaps time we all realised they were maybe doing something right after all.

Check out : 'My Favourite Dress' - the ugly twin sister of 'This Charming Man'.

6. Joe Satriani - Surfing with the alien
Back in the 80s, the depiction of your average metal-loving longhair in popular culture revolved around low IQ, lack of satorial elegance and a boundless enthusiasm for guitar gymnastics. Devout worship of your chosen six-string deity was considered par for the course for the type of nerks incarnated by Bill and Ted, Waynes World etc, although by the time those films hit cinema screens they had already fallen behind with the times a little. 1982's classic 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' shows Sean Penn's surfslacker as a die-hard Eddie Van Halen fan which fit the atmosphere of sleeveless vests and tube socks of early 80s USA pretty nicely but by the time the late 80s rolled around film scriptwriters were still using Eddie VH as the archetypal guitar God for their metal-loving main characters despite the fact that by then his band were purveying the kind of corporate burger rock that had long since traded youthful rebellion for sweaty stadium capitulation to the mainstream.

If you want a better idea of what guitar dorks saw as the Holy Grail of six-string virtuosity circa 1987, look no further than Joe Satriani. Fresher, younger and more studio-savvy than his early 80s predecessors, Satch was also given free reign to noodle away without the confines of a singer-fronted 'band' in the traditional sense and the results are as pompous and self-congratulatory as you'd expect from such a set-up. But this was the late 80s remember - standing legs apart facing a wind machine and widdling orgasmically whilst you squinted skywards was considered very much as a mark of professionalism. Whilst Satriani descended into muso instrumentalist tedium later in his career, 'Surfing with the Alien' catches him young and full of ideas and the album manages to show what he's good (great infact) at without labouring the point or veering off into twelve minute symphonies about dragons and snotlings and stuff like that. The million-notes-per-minute side of things is kept within acceptable boundaries, just enough to thrill but not enough to bore the listener and the record's true appeal lies in the guitar sound - for those of you whose childhood memories stem from 80s cartoons and video games, listening to this will raise a nostalgic grin or two. Years before Dragonforce seized on the concept, Satriani successfully creates the sonic equivalent of superhero cartoons, Hollywood kid adventure flicks and sense-battering Nintendo sessions fueled by Hubba Bubba and bright green Panda Pop. Even the record cover places the album in the fantasy realms of action comics rather than the over-inflated guitar histrionics of stadium metal. Everything about this record makes me nostalgic for a time when you could pull off this sort of shit without it being strenously post-modern - take Satriani as an example, once he'd established himself as a guitar legend his musical output rapidly descended into bog-tedious technical noodling and touring with Yngwie fucking Malmsteen (Wanna hear Tchiakovsky played at 10000mph on the electric widdlestick? Let me think....). 'Surfing' is therefore exaxctly the sort of record that belongs on this list - a pure entertainment product of its time, and all the better for it.

Check out : 'Crushing Day' - now throw some shapes in your bedroom junior!

7. King Diamond - Abigail
Metal, despite its perennial status as music for the outsider, has always had a fiercely populist streak that had led its pioneers to seek inspiration in other well known cultural oeuvres, nominally because such works mirror the aesthetic they are attempting to create but more often than not because they secretly desire to siphon off some that success for themselves. This is no bad thing - Black Sabbath made no bones about incorporating lyrics based on horror movies into their material in an attempt to capitalise on the cinematic  success of such works, Led Zeppelin plundered Tolkien for their mass-appeal mysticism and Iron Maiden's Steve Harris was so brazen in his re-appropriation of the plotlines of popular novels for his own lyrics that he generally nicked the books' titles for good measure. By the late 1980s the horror genre had became massive in literary form and cinematic adaptations of the biggest selling stories were emerging at a frantic rate to similar success. Metal seemed the ideal musical accompaniment to such unseemly oeuvres and the soundtracks to shlock horror films invariably included contributions from lurid metal bands like WASP and Alice Cooper to enhance the menace but the music was generally employed as simply another sales gimmick rather than as a means to explore the sonic possibilities for mirroring the horrors taking place onscreen. A couple of metal bands had ventured forth into the treacherous realms of the concept album but to no great success - you needed label backing and a heightened sense of self worth to even bother so it was generally only pompous dorks like Dio and Manowar who gave it a shot and the results were rarely worth repeated listens. However there was still a gap in the market for an exploration of the horror genre via the canon of modern metal and the man to fill it was ex-Mercyful Fate vocalist King Diamond who re-emerged in the mid 80s following the collapse of his previous outfit to patent the formula for 'horror metal', a sinister cocktail that satisfied the musical appetite of your average denim-clad metalhead whilst successfully recreating the menace, suspense and tangible moments of outright terror found in any half decent horror film or novel. 

Diamond was comfortable taking centre stage in Mercyful Fate and provided the dramatic gravitas to front their morbidly theatrical take on extreme metal but often had to concede stage space to his bandmates as their rampaging musical delivery fought for attention with his creepy lyrical tangents - jacking in the band and going solo therefore made perfect sense and afforded him the opportunity to flesh out his morbid fantasies over entire albums instead of individual songs. Whilst he'd been a formidable frontman in Fate, as a solo artist Diamond stepped into the role of author, narrator and sinister master of ceremonies for the dark tales of witchcraft, demonic possession and haunted mansions that made up the subject matter of his records - each album was crafted around a horror story penned by the King himself which unravelled over the course of the record in bite size chunks soundtracked by the metallic noodlings over his new backing band. Ace guitarist Andy LaRocque had some pretty big shoes to fill stepping in to replace the Maidenesque twin-lead set up in Mercyful Fate but he passes with flying colours, each solo twirling off into the moonlight like the intricate spells of a demonic sorcerer whilst the dynamic engine room (featuring future Motorhead drummer Mickey Dee) pilot the labyrinthine passages through each musical shift. The plot revolves around a haunted mansion inhabited by the ghost of the title character who gradually emerges as the main lyrical focus as the grizzly story slowly unfolds and each track forms a new chapter in the sinister tale. The proceedings kick off with the spooktastic voice-over of 'Funeral' before scene-setting vignettes recount each new twist over a backdrop of thunderous melodic metal culminating in the stunning central piece 'The 7th Day of July 1777' - Iron Maiden would do something very similar the following year on 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' to unprecedented commercial success, again without fully acknowledging their sources. The rest of the record is devoted to a dazzling struggle between good and evil before closer 'Black Horsemen' leaves us with somewhat of a cliffhanger as sinister acoustic passages slowly lower the curtain - mark my words, you'll find yourself jumping at every shadow or creaking stair once this has all drawn to a close. 'Abigail' will make your hair stand up through sheer theatrical tension alone but musically the band manage to combine the dark atmospherics of the noodly technical passages of 'Puppets'-era Metallica with the more immediate thrills of Maiden's fantasy metal to create a genuinely original and thoroughly intoxicating cocktail - having patented the formula so early in his career it came as no surprise that King continued much in the same vein for years to come, always staying one step away from commercial excess but remaining a private pleasure for the discerning metal listener thirsty for a musical trip into the darker recesses of the imagination. I've often wondered why King Diamond missed out on the planetary success that his peers enjoyed as metal peaked commercially in the late 80s and early 90s - perhaps his album-based approach lacked the cutthroat approach needed to fill arenas or maybe his material is just best consumed sat in your bedroom with the lights turned off. Either way 'Abigail' is one delightfully sinister listen and potentially the window into a whole hidden universe for those of you partial to a spot of the dark stuff - if you'd ever wondered what the musical equivalent of the 'Hellraiser' movie franchise would sound like, King Diamond has the answer.

Check out : 'The 7th Day of July 1777', spookier than a castle full of headless warlocks.

8. Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Butthole Surfers! Stateside underground indie had started to cross over to Europe in a big way by '87 giving many of the scene's best bands some key media focus just as they hit their stride - REM may have hit pay dirt back home with the pedestrian indie of 'Document' but their wilder and weirder cousins like Sonic Youth and Big Black were notching breakthrough successes in the European market (particularly in the UK)  as misshapen oddities from the American underground finally allowed foreign fans to revel in the misfit subculture from across the pond. Many of the Yank bands had evolved in relative isolation allowing their sound to develop in unique and new environments which made for some pretty interesting listening but no group offered such a glimpse into the topsy-turvy fucked up beyond comprehension realm of underground America as The Butthole Surfers, a rag-tag bunch of borderline psychotic nutjobs from Texas who played the ugliest music known to man and boasted a live show so ludicrously transgressive that it threatened long-term psychological damage to anyone of a vaguely sensitive disposition. These guys weren't just weird for weird's sake, they were the sort of people you'd run into staggering around shopping malls butt naked on the tail end of a three-day acid bender painting slogans in their own faeces and yowling prophecies of the great plague at passing schoolchildren. Their music had none of the self-important bile of standard hardcore nor the art-house experimentation of post-punk, it pretty much evolved in total isolation from anything else going on in the States at that time but boasted a strangeness that was all too familiar to most people with a passing interest in underground music. Picture the weird kid you knew at school who'd snort lab gas and eat pencils put into a recording studio with several like-minded individuals, a surfeit of psychedelic drugs and free reign to do whatever they want and you've probably got a good idea of what 'Locust Abortion Technician' sounds like - it wasn't the soundtrack to a conscious refusal of traditional American values, it was more like a borderline incoherent audio belch from the freakish ranks of twisted misfits across the country who were physically incapable of socialising in anything resembling an everyday scenario and would rather spend all day watching day-glo splatter videos and huffing paint. We all claim to root for the oddballs out there and want to believe we'd reserve a spot for them on the couch if they can knocking but the Buttholes were the acid test for such resolve - they remind me of fellow Texan Bill Hicks' Goatboy sketch, a routine that begins as a crude, surreal joke but goes on to evolve into something altogether more complex and disturbing to the point where his audience are often too uncomfortable for him to continue. If you are one of the people who couldn't wait for him to stop that particular vignette then I wouldn't even bother with the first 30 seconds of 'Locust...' but for those of you with a taste for the bizarre and unseemly, this might just be the band you've been waiting for all your life.

The Buttholes had been touring and releasing records for a few years prior to 'Locust...' but hadn't quite managed to produce a sonic mix that captured the cataclysmic insanity of their live shows which at the time were augmented by nude stage dancers, thunderous percussion and video projections of delightful scenes like medical footage of penile reconstructive surgery. They often didn't just rely on their music and imagery to unsettle people either - track down if you can the written account of their 1986 European tour for an evocative depiction of why it's a bad idea to eat four tabs of acid and chug an entire bottle of Bourbon before you've even bothered sound-checking. 'Locust....' goes one step closer to packaging the unbridled lunacy of their touring alter-egos into the LP format, filling out the bottom end with heavy bass and drums and slowing the pace on many songs to give it a Melvins-style lurch that proved more unsettling than the shambolic indie flailings of their earlier recordings. This may have something to do with the fact that they recorded it in their own studio for the first time, a technological step forward the band were apparently pleased with as it allowed them more time to do drugs without the pressure of other artists banging on the door. Opener 'Sweet Loaf' is an acid-warped tribute to Black Sabbath's 'Sweet Leaf' but channels the track's riff through a swimming pool of distortion overlaid with a chorus of Gibby Hayne's freakish vocal effects - the spoken word sample at the beginning would be sampled by Orbital on their track 'Satan' a few years later as one of the nods to indie that would see them conquer Glastonbury years before other electronic acts. The tracks generally eschew traditional song format in favour of tossing an idea around for a couple of minutes before they get bored of it like kids flitting between toys - mid-album cut 'Human Cannonball' is the only tune with any vague radio potential but the rest of the record is enough to clear the room within seconds, lining up lurching squalls of inhuman noise and ululating vocals that would give kids nightmares. 'Pittsburgh to Lebanon' sounds like ZZ Top thrown into a vat of whisky and peyote before being left to wander in the desert for hours, 'Kuntz' is basically a bunch of snippets of Thai monk chants re-stiched together to obscene effect, the two-part 'Graveyard' mines the lowest depth of sonic detritus with vocals that sound like a demonic succubus put through a voice disorter and closer '22 going on 23' loops a rather unsettling vocal sample from a pathological liar who would ring radio stations claiming to have been sexually assaulted over a riff so impossibly drawn out that it sounds like your stereo is about to fall apart before dissolving into a bunch of cattle noises - the track proved a curiosity in the UK and gave the band a breakthrough placing on the year's Festive Fifty, paving their way for incursions into the British music press. 'Locust Abortion Technician' isn't the sort of music to put on for a romantic evening in and will probably alienate many more listeners than it will win over with its nightmarish update of psychedelic rock but there's a world on sensory excitement going on here if you can hold you brain together while it's all unfolding. Goatboy himself would surely approve - if ever a band trademarked the art of going several steps further than is strictly necessary, it could only have been this merry band of Buttholes.

Check out : '22 going on 23' if you're feeling brave, 'Human Cannonball' if you aren't.

9. Sisters of Mercy - Floodland
Goth, as a general concept, sucked ass. And I say that having unwittingly grown up at the epicentre of it in Headingley, Leeds during the 1980s. Though its global influence on music and fashion is undeniable, for me it will always be synonymous with terrible black dye jobs, excessive use of dry ice and people dancing back and forth waving their frilly shirt cuffs around like they're try to cast a fucking spell. Most of what morphed from post-punk into the more recognisable goth rock scene of the mid 1980s sounded horrifically out of date even by the start of the 1990s and hasn't benefited from the nostalgic reappraisal many of the 80s trends have over recent years, its general production sounding much like a faded black T-shirt from 1983 with the sleeves cut off and rock burns around the navel area. I'll spare the Sisters their place within that definition for two reasons : firstly, one of their roadies once gave my mum festival tickets on my behalf (FACT - she had no idea who they were but I was very grateful) and, secondly, none of their peers could have carried off something like 'Floodland' back in the day. Having cut their chops as a guitar-based live act on début 'First and Last and Always' two years earlier, mainman Andrew Eldritch basically declared himself the centre of the universe and binned his bandmates (who went on to form the vastly inferior The Mission) to develop Sisters as a solo project with cinematic pretensions. Bizarrely, it worked - Eldritch decided to strip the music back to synths, hypnotic basslines and his own sinister narration and roped in Meatloaf producer Jim Steinman to inject a bit of Hollywood pomp and cirumstance into his dark, epic soundscapes. What must have sounded like a dreadful idea on paper actually turned out to be the step up the band needed to really start making waves - the preposterously operatic lead single 'This Corrosion' went top ten in '87 to begin a series of hits, all backed by equally cinematic big budget promo vids that saw Eldritch parading menacingly through exotic landscapes like some Satanic Indiana Jones alongside The Gun Club's Patricia Morrison who he'd basically hired on the strength of her image regardless of the fact that she didn't make any musical contribution whatsoever. Eldritch comes across as a little silly in some sequences but these are some of my favourite promo clips of all time - alongside David Coverdale, Johnny Borrell and a host of other dramatic frontmen, he's so totally convinced of his own genius that it totally works. Musically the sound is better suited to the big screen that the concert stage (so it's not surprising they didn't tour it) but the dark seductive bass of 'Lucretia My Reflection' is tailor made for Goth dancefloors and the more subtle cuts like atmospheric closer 'Neverland' or piano ballad '1959' were doubtless playing in the background whilst many a corset was unlaced in black-curtained bedrooms back in the late 80s. By the time they'd finishing promotional duties for 'Floodland' Eldritch had reached minor celebrity status beyond the Goth genre and could have gone on to be the evil counterpart to Robert Smith's loveable clown in the 1990s. Ultimately that didn't happen though - reverting to a heavier sound back by a full live band for 1990's half decent follow-up 'Vision Thing', he promptly became embroiled with a venomous dispute with his record label that saw him retreat from the limelight and stop releasing music altogether (his label rather cheekily thought otherwise and re-released much of the Sister's back catalogue in the early 1990s, ironically providing the band with their highest chart placings). Since then he's maintained a fairly low profile, surfacing for festival appearances in Eastern Europe and seemingly playing gigs in Leeds every other week but seems otherwise happy to stay in the shadows like your average vampire. 'Floodland' remains his finest hour for me, a sinister swathe of cinematic Goth pomp from an age when you could get away with that sort of thing. He may be a fat, bald fifty-something these days but back in '87 Eldritch was the musical counterpart to Robert DeNiro's Louis Cyphre in 'Angel Heart', a villainous mastermind set on stealing souls and seducing the innocent. He succeeded, if only for a while, and 'Floodland' catches the dark superstar at the peak of his powers.

Check out : the promos for 'Dominion' and 'Lucretia My Reflection', both of which rule.

10. Faster Pussycat - s/t
Glam was pretty much everywhere in 1987 - if you were a young band aiming to break through into the American mainstream then the aquanet and cowboy boots method was the safest bet for success and there were a zillion bands out there trying to cash in on the fad. Penelope Spheeris' documentary series 'The Decline of Western Civilisation' had already done a good job of chronicling the nascent LA punk scene of the early 1980s but a second instalment several years later on the Sunset Strip glam phenomenon shone a light on glut of pouting poodle rock outfits scrapping for attention as the movement spiralled out of creative control. One of the only featured bands to come out of the film with any semblance of dignity intact were Faster Pussycat, a dog rough cocktail of idiotic glam racket and trashy sleaze rock that put their limited talent to impressive use on their satisfyingly scummy début back in '87. The band had none of the studio finesse of their platinum-plated peers but more than made up for it with unbridled enthusiasm, a good ear for a riff and lyrical subject matter focussed on the sleazy underbelly of LA life. They were musically limited and frontman Taime Downe couldn't sing for shite but it didn't particularly matter - their charm was that of a bunch of loveable idiots that found themselves in the right place at the right time and had one decent album in them to mark the moment. Their slot in the Spheeris documentary came about due to Downe's status as co-owner of the notorious Cathouse nightclub, the backdrop to the decadent nocturnal activities of pretty much every hair metal band of the period and therefore somewhat of a cultural landmark in the LA metal scene (the other half of the management team was future MTV metal VJ Ricki Rachtman). Whilst the band don't come off as particularly intellectual they at least appear genuine enough compared to the deluge of hapless twerps padding out the rest of the film with their fuck awful attempts at writing stadium metal - Pussycat keep the formula simple : throw together a few catchy Twister Sister riffs and solos, pen some lascivious lyrics about snorting PCP out of a stripper's buttcrack and belt it out full whack with all the subtlety of a rhinoceros humping a fire hydrant. They didn't aim particularly high but that probably helped them out in the end - their mob-handed sleaze rock was always going to be good for one album and this was it.

Things get off to a rollicking start with minor hit single 'Don't Change That Song' but they hit their stride with signature tune 'Bathroom Wall', an ode to whirlwind romance initiated by (you've guessed it!) calling a phone number copied from the wall of a toilet cubicle. The sleazier side of LA living comes in for further appraisal on the rollicking 'Smash Alley' and the thumping piano R'n'R of 'Cathouse', itself an unofficial anthem to their nightspot of choice. 'City Has No Heart' drips with amoral menace in the same way as 'Shout At The Devil' era Crüe, 'Babylon' splices in turntable scratch breaks à la Anthrax on 'I'm the man' but to much better end results and they even nail a decent Stones rip-off on the surprisingly honest 'Room For Emotion'. Ballads were probably beyond them at this point but the means things remain reassuringly acerbic throughout and by the time closer 'Bottle In Front Of Me' rolls around they sound like a ramshackle mess only steps away from total collapse yet stacked against the laser-tracked pop metal of Whitesnake and Kiss doing the rounds at a times (GNR weren't big enough to be seen as a genuine rival back in '87) it sounds positively life affirming, a molten mix of heavy metal piss and vinegar and glam sleaze rock with a cheap 'n' nasty bite to it. The trick wasn't one they could pull off more than once of course and follow-up 'Wake Me When It's Over' saw them finally capitulate to the metal ballad trend when radio hit 'House Of Pain' brought them moderate chart success in 1989 but by then a scene saturated with crap bands saw the hair metal bubble finally burst and 1992's patchy 'Whipped' proved the band's tombstone. They were wise enough to stay off the radar for the rest of the 90s with Taime Downe reinventing himself as an industrial rock frontman with atonal din overlords Pigface whilst the rest of the band disappeared completely until Mötley Crüe's 'The Dirt' prompted a post-millennial re-appraisal of the hair metal scene and paved the way for an inevitable reunion. Pussycat's raggedy-assed début won't make any 'best album' polls but it remains a vivid snapshot of 1987 in all its lurid, moronic glory - if Sam Beckett found himself on a Quantum Leap to a nightclub in late 80s LA, chances are this would be playing as strippers gyrated on a Jack Daniels-stained stage whilst Slash pissed his leather trousers in the corner. Cheap, tacky, transitory in every sense yet strangely satisfying, 'Faster Pussycat' is a period piece no glamhead should be without.

Check out : that reassuringly witless 'Western Civilisation' segment. 

Tune of the Year

M/A/R/R/S - 'Pump Up The Volume'

This wasn't an easy choice to make. 1987 was the landmark year many of the Chicago House classics that had been bothering clubland for the last couple of years crossed over into the UK charts and before you knew it there were numerous records with the word 'House' in the title clogging up the upper reaches of the singles charts. Several stonewall classics from the American underground could easily have provided a worthy choice here; Ce Ce Rogers' piano classic 'Someday', Raze's sensually smooth 'Break For Love' or Phuture's nob-twiddling anthem 'Acid Trax' but finally I decided to go for a track that wasn't even from the States. 'Pump Up The Volume' infamously came about as part of a double A-side collaboration between two low profile 4AD artists who were interested in making a British electronic record in the same vein as the Yank House music popular in the clubs - the end product mixed an assortment of hip-hop samples and scratches with guitar riffs and the sort of warm house pulse that had brought many of the Chicago tracks to the fore. Like many of the early house tracks it didn't have a hook that jumped out and bit your nose off but the overall effect was one of a piece of music that was constantly evolving and the mixture of old and new samples used made it instantly accessible to a wide audience, classic and contemporary at the same time. It also proved to be another example of Brits picking up something the Yanks have started and tailoring it to the more flexible chart mindset in the UK  where in duly topped the charts in late 1987 and became Acid House's genuine smash hit - it wasn't the first House track to hit no.1, that honour went to Chicago stalwart Steve 'Silk' Hurley with 'Jack Your Body' in January of the same year but 'Pump...' was the first tune to fully enter the public mindset and spawn its own wave of imitations and parodies. If you want an idea of what it was up against, consider this - with the track at no.2 in the charts and threatening the supremacy of Rick Astley's ubiquitous 'Never Gonna Give You Up', mercenary Yuppie businessman Pete Waterman launched legal action against M/A/R/R/S for unauthorised use of a barely audible snippet of S.A.W's own 'Roadblock' tune from earlier in the year in full knowledge that the record's creators couldn't afford to challenge him in court. The offending sample was removed for the Stateside release of the track but Waterman failed to stop in on its upward trajectory and it knocked Rick off the top anyway to signal a poignant changing of the guard with one of the most forward-looking tracks of the time replacing one of the most sterile and formulaic. Acid House would go on to dominate popular culture for the rest of the decade despite Waterman's best efforts to fill the charts with unlistenable garbage and it stands as one of the watershed moments from a decade that saw electronic music emerge as an unstoppable creative force (it also gives its name to this splendid documentary on the evolution of House which is well worth two hours of your time).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New : FIDLAR - s/t + live

What the fucking FUCK happened in February? I turn my back for five minutes and suddenly 2013 starts spewing out bitchin' new records like a tidal wave of platinum-plated WIN! I was expecting some pretty exciting discoveries as the year got properly underway but there have simply been too many to get my poor head round over the last couple of weeks - between smokin' new platters from Foals and Nick Cave, a return to form from Sweden's Cult of Luna that blew the hairs off my arse and the small matter of the first new My Bloody Valentine LP in over two decades I haven't been able to work out where to get started but the most logical place seems to be with the band I saw last night whose music is still ringing in my ears as I write this. FIDLAR are a bunch of irresponsible beach slackers from L.A. who play life-affirming slob punk and their self-titled debut LP is so good it's impossible to describe with anything other than a string of swearwords and guttural noises, so here goes : ShitfuckballsarsebagofshiteHEEEEEUUURRRGHHH!!!! If that isn't enough to convince you, let's just say that these guys crank out lo-fi punk hymns to the pleasures of drink, drugs and partying that succeed in their total simplicity where zillions of other bands trip up over their own art-school cleverness and navel-gazing Joy Division tributes. Their sound packs a recognisable hint of the Black Lips' 'Waaaaaah!' vocal tirades and shambolic punk racket but FIDLAR succeed as a pure party band where the Lips could often come across as conniving hipsters - better sonic points of references are perhaps the bezerk debut platters from Andrew W.K. and The 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster from a decade ago, both breakneck stampedes through the bonkers universe inhabited by their creators. FIDLAR's world basically revolves around inexpensive beer, low quality narcotics and a leisurely calendar split between surfing, skating and partying their collective arses off - not a bad gameplan you have to admit and one whose thrills and energy they've succeeded in capturing over thirteen tracks of squalling garage punk. Opener 'Cheap Beer' boasts the unbeatable chorus 'I Drink/Cheap Beer/So What?/Fuck You!' and they proceed to bang out anthem after anthem without slowing the pace or repeating their tricks - 'Stoned and Broke' sounds like Poison's 'Look What The Cat Dragged In' relocated to grot-punk modern-day L.A., 'Whore' is a refreshingly uplifting take on betrayal, 'Wake Bake Skate' is the sort of infectiously barbaric stuff that Cerebral Ballzy would have come up with if they had the talent and 'Max Can't Surf' turns their drummer's sporting ineptitude into a thing of rare beauty. This is all killer and absolutely no filler, the lads channel the most vital components of garage rock along with a hearty dose of their Cali punk heritage (they covered Fear's 'I don't care about you' and the Descendants' 'Suburban Homes' when I saw them last night) alongside older surf rock influences like the Trashmen resulting in a sun-soaked run of party anthems that will surely soundtrack the opening of beercans and the firing up of barbecues once the weather warms up. Live they were just as good as the record suggests if not better, it was heads down for total mayhem from the first note and I managed to lose my house keys in the moshpit (although fortunately I got them back later) as carnage reigned from beginning to end and the band thrashed through the entire record whilst actively encouraging people to join them on stage and piling into the crowd themselves for the final sweaty climax to their show. We came out comparing bruises and trying to retrieve the possessions we'd become separated from in the mix and there was a discernible feeling that we'd witnessed musical highs that would be difficult to top for the rest of the year. 'FIDLAR' is already my favourite record of 2013 and I greatly look forward to hearing anything that can come close to topping it. 

Check out : 'Wake Bake Skate' - who knew the Grim Reaper was a Suicidal Tendencies fan?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Alternative Valentine's Day Playlist

Hi there chums!!

You'll note I'm a chirpy mood today because - you've guessed it - Valentine's Day is upon us once again! Woo hoo!! What a great time to tell that special someone just how much you care about them, preferably with a humorous greetings card, some overpriced flowers you ordered online and maybe even a bit of James Blunt thrown in for good measure. Alternatively if you're seeing this one in all on your lonesome then why not slap on a fake grin whilst every other smug fucker out there walks hand in hand with their lover before going home on your own to drink vodka, listen to The Smiths and drunkenly phone up all your exes to fling incoherent abuse at them at half three in the morning. Think I covered all possible bases there? Good - in anticipation of the standard gag-reflex radio specials playing the same old trite bullshit that makes you want to rush out and kick old ladies off their mobility scooters I've taken it upon myself to craft and alternative playlist of odes to love in all its different varieties. Drink deep and enjoy dear friends!

Scooter - Let me be your Valentine

Nothing says romance like a bit of Scooter. Perhaps unsurprisingly my favourite memory of Valentine's Day isn't date-related but instead harks back to my adolescence and the annual Valentine's Fair in Leeds City Centre which saw an assortment of bright fairground rides erected in the rain for thrillseekers to enjoy to a soundtrack of the kind of vibrant Europop typically played in Mr Craig's nightclub or at excessive volume over headphones on the top deck of your local bus. Aaaaah them were the days. Scooter would have been at their mid 90s peak by then, flinging out stonking hardcore anthems at a feverish rate and 'Let me be your Valentine' is a fine example of what they do best, combining robust synth riffs with thudding clubland beats and lyrics that sound like a German motivational speech put through Google Translate. The video is also typically Scooteresque, featuring the band quite literally conquering the heart of their beloved - those Germans eh? So why not whack this one on at top volume before dressing up in garish sportswear, dying your hair platinum blond and barking incoherent nonsense at your lover to show them how much you care?

Heart - All I wanna do is make love to you

Love's not always for a lifetime, sometimes it can be merely a ship passing in the night, a brief moment of passion that burns brightly before disappearing forever. Heart tackled the subject matter of a one night love affair on this rather unique gem, throwing in an extra twist to the formula with a rare bit of inverse exploitation. That's right folks, the protagonist isn't just looking to get her rocks off for a bit of whirlwind romance, she's looking to get knocked up because her boyfriend is firing blanks! I'm doing the band a bit of an injustice by including this as the Wilson sisters quickly disowned it after they released it back in 1990 at the absolute nadir of the hair metal era (see Poison's 'Unskinny Bop', Warrant's 'Cherry Pie' and anything by Tigertailz for other examples) and it's a considerable blot on an otherwise pretty decent copybook - the lyrics are toecurlingly awful ('I am the flower, you are the seed/We walked in the garden, we planted a tree') and the whole idea is handled with such cackhanded clumsiness that you almost have to hide behind the sofa in terror. Future releases sadly failed to continue the saga so we never got to hear follow-ups like 'Paternity Suit Blues' or 'My son refuses to speak to me' but 'All I wanna do' lives on as a touching ode to ill-advised casual sex with a mercenary bunny boiler.

Kennedy - Your Mama

Lovers will come and go but nobody's ever gonna love you like your momma are they? But what if momma needs some lovin' all for herself? Enter Kennedy who provided us with a spot of flash in the pan lasciviousness a few years back with this rather catchy ode to milf-slaying - his chosen technique seems to be hovering round primary schools in search of single mothers, not one I've tried personally but based on the results in this video it might be worth a go after all. I actually saw this dude live back when he was served up as an appetiser prior to a storming Happy Mondays/Bonde do Role/New Young Pony Club triple-header at La Cigale - he came onstage in an ironic skintight Slayer T-shirt which made me want to get up onstage and kick his teeth in but I have to admit he won me over through sheer charm and 'Your Mama' is about as brazen as it gets. Boffing single mothers might seem like the work of a shameless skirt-chaser but Kennedy tackles the theme with such panache that you have to take your hat off to him and by the looks of things his conquests in the video are willing to part company with pretty much everything else to boot. Result!

Bjork and Tony Ferrino - Short Term Affair

Crass tales of sexual predators aside, some us can think of more romantic things to do than banging single mums for fun - why not go even closer to home and pork the babysitter! Tony Ferrino was one of Steve Coogan's less celebrated characters but I thought he was pretty funny, a fictitious cabaret singer from Portugal who specialised in the kind of cocktail-bar schmaltz typically employed to woo British housewives on holiday in the Algarve. Kinda like a younger, shittier Julio Iglesias if you like (no, wait, that's Enrique Iglesias....). I was gonna include his adulterous anthem 'Other Men's Wives' on here but I couldn't find a video for it so instead I've gone for this touching duet with Bjork back when she was cool/hot/relevant (delete as appropriate) which chronicles a wealthy gentleman's tryst with his kids' au-pair. It's actually a pretty infectious tune and Coogan acquits himself admirably whilst Bjork is her usual shrieking self - he put out a whole album of this stuff in the late 1990s which was pretty good, my personal favourites from it being a Broadway-style revisit of The Silence of the Lambs and windswept ballad 'Valley of our Souls' (think about it.....). Coogan's put in better turns since as Tony Wilson, Alan Partridge or even himself in 'The Trip' but Tony Ferrino deserves a bit of revivalist loving for this track alone.

The Wildhearts - Loveshit

Feeling lonely and unloved whilst everyone else is getting their snuggle on? Well you could sit at home listening to 'I know it's over' for the umpteenth time and wallowing in your own wretchedness but since when was that a fun way to spend the evening? My advice if you're seeing this one through on your lonesome is to stack the fridge with Newcastle Brown Ale and crank up the Wildhearts to soundtrack you through a swift trip to inebriation station deep in the heart of could-not-give-a-tossland where you can cast aside the shackles of solitude and shake a leg to this glam rock celebration of the joys of being single. 'Loveshit' is about as subtle as its title suggests, basically surmising that relationships are a waste of time and generally doomed to begin with so you might as well go out on the lash and enjoy your freedom instead of making yourself miserable over what might have been - not an entirely bad philosophy if you think about it, although bear in mind this was from a band of Georgie bikers whose idea of fun was to stub cigarettes out on each other's limbs and smash up the Kerrang offices after a bad review. The Wildhearts were a volatile mix of hedonism and nihilism that would either make your life a better place or cast you deep into the murky waters of cynicism, much like affairs of the heart in fact. They are truly the perfect Valentine's band.

Ice T - Let's get butt naked and f*ck

The art of seduction is a complex one and can allow for many different approaches to talking your way into your lover's underwear. LL Cool J kept it smooth and sensual with his 1987 breakthrough hit 'I Need Love', laying bare his feelings and emotions to show that even the toughest rappers yearn for some tender loving behind all that machismo. Ice T, ever the contrarian, responded with the rather more succinct 'Let's get butt naked and fuck' on his album 'Power' the following year on which he perfected the art of getting straight to the point - after all, if loving's on the menu then why not just order it up straight from the start? Ice has never been one to mince his words mind, laying down some of rap's most controversial verses in the late 80s before founding Body Count and taking on pretty much every sacred cow he could get within poking distance of over the early 1990s. I was watching one of the latter day Body Count shows online the other day - did you know that three guys from their original line-up are dead? That's over half the fucking band! You'd normally need a plane crash or some sort of suicide pact to wipe out musicians so quickly. My advice is that if BC roll through town then you should get down there quickly before one of them gets hit by an asteroid or something- as regards Ice T, his romantic delivery may be somewhat cavalier for your tastes but you can't fault the guy for making his intentions clear from the very beginning.

Divinyls - I touch myself

Of course nudity and fornication aren't always on the menu - some of us have to be self sufficient in that regard so where else to turn next than to this international hymn to onanism from Australia's Divinyls. Writing a song about cracking one off could have easily turned into something crass and unseemly if left in the wrong hands but this lot managed to craft a massive radio hit out of a subject hardly tailor made for the singles charts and did so without resorting to cheap humour or shock tactics. By the time 'I touch myself' went top ten back in 1991 pretty much everyone was trying their hand at crossover records about shagging ranging from Color Me Badd's 'I wanna sex you up' to Salt 'n' Pepa's 'Let's talk about sex' along with pretty much everything Madonna or Prince turned their hand to resulting in radio playlists positively brimming with lurid material and sleazy innuendo. The track fit right into all that but plays it slightly more coy and evasive over what they're actually singing about - it took my innocent mind years to realise quite what was at the heart of the song's lyrics, by which time the aforementioned subject matter had coincidentally become one of my favourite pastimes! Don't let the absence of someone special prevent you from enjoying yourself this Valentine's Day, there's often a lot to be said for having a quiet night in on your own....

Guns 'n' Roses - I used to love her

Love is a wonderful thing and all that, spurring many of us on to shack up with that special someone and settle down for life as a couple. But what if the practical reality of the situation doesn't live up to your expectations? GNR were fortunately on hand to tackle such a problem on this track from their stop-gap album 'Lies' that padded out the four years between 'Appetite for Destruction' and the double-album 'Illusions' cycle, the sum conclusion of their reflections being that murdering your estranged lover and burying them in the back garden is probably the best course of action. It's all quite a light-hearted affair of course but you never knew how seriously to take Axl with all this stuff, his attitude towards the fairer sex varying drastically from the tender heartfelt content of 'Don't Cry' and 'Sweet Child O'Mine' to the somewhat less chivalrous likes of 'Pretty Tied Up' and 'Back Off Bitch'. I suppose he just likes to keep people guessing, that being the only explanation to hand for his fifteen year lapse between albums and perennial stage entrances several hours later than scheduled. This was filmed back in '88 when Guns were still young, sexy and slightly dangerous, a look they've never quite captured since and only they could carry off something quite so venomous yet endearingly cheeky as this jaunty little ode to murdering your significant other.

Ride - Vapour Trail

Alright let's get soppy for a minute. Everyone has their end of the night song that sends shivers down their spine and makes them go all gooey and sentimental and this is one of mine, the closing number from the original version of Ride's shit-your-pants-fantastic debut LP 'Nowhere'. Much of the rest of that album is devoted to cascading noise pop and downered catharsis which is probably what makes 'Vapour Trail' stands out all the more vividly - the album's centrepiece 'Dreams Burn Down' is another favourite of mine but is essentially an anthem to frustration and disappointment which is why the inclusion of a lush string-laden set closer is all the more redemptive. I always felt that Oasis hi-jacked the intro of this track for 'Whatever', itself an epic romantic flourish recorded to conquer the Xmas charts having turned British indie upside down in 1994 - The Verve based some of their later material around a similar model but for my money neither of them got close to this tune in all its majesty. I pretty much deem it a prerequisite that any girl I date has to like this band or at least to have heard their music and that's acted as a pretty decent filter over the years - if you're not into your Ride then we just weren't meant to be together.

Frankie Knuckles - Your Love

And to finish let's have ourselves a bit of classic Chicago House from back in the day courtesy of the Godfather himself Frankie Knuckles. Nothing says love better than a spot of euphoric dance music and this tune was one of the very first crossover hits to emerge from the underground American club scene in the mid 1980s where the crowds would dissolve into a loved-up euphoric trance every time it was aired (I'm reliably informed that some of them may even have been imparting in chemical refreshment!). 'Your Love' ushered in the first wave of crossover house tunes in '87 and opened the door for the acid house revolution that provided us all with numerous hands in the air classics and saw a whole new generation find love on the dance floor. If you're having trouble finding love out there in harsh reality then remember there's always tunes like this to give you a blissful rush that'll make it all OK again. Thanks Frankie :)