tremble clef

Friday, September 30, 2005

Alpinestars, "77 Sunset Strip" (2000)

It's the new Goldfrapp single, "Number 1"!

Okay, it's not really.

Well, it is, but DIY-style. The effect will be the same, I swear. Just follow these eight simple steps:

1. "Download" the "file."

2. Print out the Goldfrapp lyric on a piece of paper, cut around the edges.

3. Use a hot glue gun, some string, eyes of newt, a squirrel's tail, and this image to fashion an Alison fright mask.

4. Wear mask. (But don't let it wear you.)

5. Play the file on a media player of your choice.

6. Treating the Alpinestars electro song as a backing track, sing. Make sure that the main keyboard riff shines through.

7. Subtract 76 from the whole shebang.

8. "Presto."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Faye Wong (王菲), "Wrong Number (打錯了)" (2001)

It's a bit perverse of me to post this. Not because it's a Chinese pop song, but because it's a Chinese pop song that I like mostly for the lyric. But why make my blogging life easy? Sure, I could post a choon where the words don't matter that much, and the tune is "universal." And it wouldn't be hard to find something like that from Faye Wong, (snotty ice) queen of Chinese pop who has unfortunately been away from the scene since 2003, a lifetime in the fickle Chinese pop world. Faye, after all, is the person who in 1988 released an "alternative" album called Impatience which had maybe five lines of lyrics and a whole lot of wailing and gurgling instead. (It's great. Remind me to post one of the Cocteau Twins collaborations sometime.)

It's not that I don't enjoy the sprightly tune of this song. (That tune is by Tanya Chua, a successful-in-her-own-right singer-songwriter from my fair land. The song in fact began life as an English number called "It's Your Last Chance" (not as good), done for the soundtrack of a local movie, so Faye's version is technically a cover.) It even has "universal," transcendent bits. Like the great bassline that starts things off, and some fantastic violins throughout. And there are easy-to-sing-along-in-any-language "ba-ba, ba-da-ba-lap-ba-ba"s after each chorus.

But the lyric makes the song, I think. It's the work of Lin Xi, who's been considered the top lyricist for the past few years. A lot of his writing is very, very literary and erudite (i.e., "no, I have no idea"); this, however, is very colloquial and conversational, and therefore a bit unusual for him. But that's entirely appropriate, because, as its title suggests, the song is about a wrong number. Brilliantly, we get to only hear one side of the phone conversations, though: Faye's, or the narrator's, who apparently keeps getting calls from a man trying to track down a long-lost girlfriend.

As the song progresses, we see that Faye's attitude towards the caller shifts, ever so imperceptibly. She begins by being irked, as one would be: "Told you you have the wrong number/I'm not your whoever, whatever/So what if I have the same name as she does?" The second verse remains irritated, and even a little taunting: "Really, you have the wrong number/Why would I lie?/How long has it been anyway that you can't even recognize her voice, you fat bald loser?" (I may have added the "fat bald loser" part. Translation is about the spirit, people, the spirit and not the letter.)

By the time the chorus rolls around, however, Faye starts to exhibit some curiosity about the caller. "How do you live your life? And what kind of life is it? Can you not stand to be lonely? Who are you, always this strange mistake brushing past my ear?"

The next two verses sees her more and more intrigued and involved. She learns the beloved's name, starts pondering Large Philosophical Questions, and most significantly, begins to put herself both in that woman's place, and also to try to understand the man's psychology. "How many times have you now called this wrong number? Is it fate or a coincidence? Who is this Margaret? She would pleased to know how anxious you are to track her down." "What happened between the two of you? Did you wrong her in some way? What makes you unable to let go of her, such that you continue to call even though she doesn't live here anymore?"

We get the chorus two more times; but the song ends quietly, not on one of them, but on a final new verse, and a surprisingly poignant note. "What would you two talk about?" Faye asks the man, either in reality or just in her mind, imagining for him that wonderful day when he might finally track down his lost opportunity and put his past to rest. "Would the tone be gentle, wistful? You're so tense you could cry. And years from now you'll think of today and wonder whether it was worth it or not." It's not clear whether "today" refers to the day of Faye's and the man's conversation, or the hopeful day when he and his ex reconnect. It doesn't matter by this point; they're practically the same thing. In that, the song ends with a beautiful final act of empathy, identification, and most of all, grace.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Nick Kamen, "Wonders Of You" (1988)

Im a 15-year old girl from the year 1988, and Im here to say, Eeeeeeee!!! NICK KAMEN!!! Like Im so glad I found you guyz, cuz I didn' think other peepz like him, and cuz the internet haznt been invented yet. But your so tight, y'all, like a communittee of fanz and everythin'. UR SO COOL!!!

Nick is awsome! LOL LOL LOL. when i saw him in that Levis ad I almoz died. LOL. NICK UR SOOOO HOTT in your boxerz and stuff, sitting in that laudrowhateva. Luz yeahz.

But then i heard madonna likes you, and im like, yo' bitch, step off. she ho. with scabies. i sawz Nick 1st, ok? ok, maybe like itz good that she wrote a song for you and all, but Nick you bettah not go near that skank.

OMG im funny!!! lmao kidding!!!

ok ok "each time you break my heart" is cool even if she did write it. like it came on the radio in 86 and i was all SQUEEEE. it wuz a hit in the UK and on the US dance chartz and everythin. Rick Dees said so. i bet it waz really written by stephen bray anyway. justz don be breakin my heart ok nick? the album next year is dead cool, becuz itz all 50s sounding and stuff, with awsome awsome retro songz like "win your love" and "come softly to me." Haterz die!!!

and then you made me wait a yearz. playing hard to getz ha ha ha? but totally worth it. ok, so between 87 and 88 my life was like totally tragic, becuz i burned down my parentz houz when i left the curling iron on, like i dont have better thingz to do then turn electrical appliances off? whatev. at least i saved my walkman. but now nick you have this new album Us, and it's like OMG, ur speaking directly to me. Becuz U + Me = Us!!!! 4EVA!!!

The cover is sooooo dreamy. Nick is all like hitchhikin' and his boots are 2 freakin' cool! And all the songz are awsome, ok? I mean nick even helped write some of them. that bitch madonna popz up again on backing vocals on "tell me," but ok, whatev. she does the "if u could stay one night, u would save my life" bit, which is cool. AND TRUE!!! u can even download the extended version if you are livin in the future. and then "steal love" is like, ohmigod, 7 minutes long and cool way to end album. I never thot i wouldnt be bored. but it rox!!! but my fave is like the 1st song, cuz nick is like asking me to bring him my love and all. LOL LOL LOL!!! And i really like "wonders of you," cuz their iz a zig-zig-zig stringz sound in the background. Itz so poppy! And catchy!!! Also cuz you cant get it on that website, LOL.

Nick, ur so underappreciated. if i could see the future i would know that u then releaz 2 more proper albums, Move Till We Fly and Whatever, Whenever, and they will actually be awsome, especially the latter, even tho by that time no one would care. Including me. and if this wuz 2005 you would be robbie williams. BUT HOTT!!! or cool. One or the other.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

LB, "Jealous Guy (Poeme Syncope)" (1998)

The robot sits, broken, on the floor. The hum of his circuits has slowed to a crawl, and he now seems like a mere metallic shell. "Why is my face moist?" he asks. "Are these...tears? Is this what it means to feel...e-mo-tions?" He stops to consider, but it is a struggle. His face is now completely wet, and the tears fall freely. "Have I at last become hu-man?" His face flickers with the light of recognition. But perhaps it is just another fuse blowing. "Am I," he asks one more time, but quietly, weakly now, as if barely able to get out one last question, "now simply a cliché in a crapass sci-fi movie, or worse, in a bad Daft Punk concept album? Because, seriously, fuck that shit."

Monday, September 26, 2005

Alexis Strum, "Bad Haircut" (2005)

"You're almost like a bad haircut/That won't grow out/You're almost like a joke candle/That won't blow out."

Like Pink's "Just Like A Pill," except good, "Bad Haircut" is a song with A Metaphor. Alexis seems to like using and examining 'em; hence, in "Addicted," she's a junkie for your lurve, and "Nothing Good About This Goodbye" (now appearing in a debatably inferior version on Rachel Stevens's new album, of course) is nothing if not a consideration of the inherent figurative nature of the word "goodbye."

The specific metaphor in this particular case has to do with hair. An endlessly fascinating subject. There are 120,000 hairs on the average scalp! Of which 50 to 100 fall out every day! 16 km of hair are produced each year! In song, hair often proves popular as a representation of burden or worldly worries. There's South Pacific's "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Out Of My Hair." And Hong Kong songstress Gigi Leung has a lovely Chinese number called "Short Hair" in which she sings of cutting her locks off, and shedding her sorrows. And, um, others (some en francais). I have some way to go to be a historian of hair songs, no doubt, but it wouldn't be a job without charms.

I can't quite work out what the next few lines of Alexis's chorus are, though. I'm 80% sure that she goes on to sing, "I'm going out my head/Trying to work it out/Why I'm still in love with you." But the other 20% of me thinks she could also be singing, "I'm growing out my hair/Trying to work it out/Why I'm still in love with you." One of the excellent things about this song is: both versions work.

Sure, with strong enough googlefu we can probably find the official lyric, but do we really wanna look?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rachel Stevens, "Crazy Boys" (2005)

Since If it is the case that I sometimes listen to songs while, in my head, I am the divalicious star who is performing them, then the problem I can have with Rachel Stevens is that I am often much more fabulous that she is. HONEY, the case IS clooosed; I do not, I said I do NOT negotiate with love.

On the opener of Rachel's forthcoming album Come And Get It, "So Good," for example, there is something overly placid and undramatic about the way Rachel sings. Take the line "I like to watch you suffer ever so slightly," which Rachel performs with very little inflection. She doesn't snarl it, or tease us with it; it's neither playful, nor mocking, nor nasty, or campy. She could have lingered a little longer on the word "sliiightly," say, in order to imply that she in fact prefers the suffering to be long and protracted. She doesn't. If the song had been in a language I didn't understand, I wouldn't be able to tell from the way Rachel sings it that it is a "witty" line. Even the faux-scandalous "I let you in my back door" from current single "I Said Never Again (But Here We Are)" is barely a single entendre in her hands.

Of course, I am not the first or only person to comment on Rachel's lack of personality, or, to be more accurate, the way her voice lacks color. (Not living in the UK, I have very little idea about Rachel's actual public persona.) For some other listeners, Rachel's vocal featurelessness is in fact her strength: James over at Greenpeaness, for example, likes her precisely because of "how little she tries to diva it up."

Further, I realize all this makes it sound like I don't like Miss Stevens, or the album, but that's not true. The latter implication would be especially misleading: Come And Get It is certainly one of the strongest pop albums of the year thus far, chockfull of incredible songs that are well-produced and mostly well-realized. Other than "So Good," which I don't much like, the only other songs I could take or leave are "Je M'Appelle," "Secret Garden," "It's All About Me," and on most days I would in fact take them. On a thirteen-song album, that's a mighty impressive ratio. Whether these songs are, and the album is, great in spite of Rachel is a trickier question. I don't think I would say that, but the question does nag. At the very least, Rachel does have a problem, and one that's worth considering how best to deal with -- worth it to me, since I do want Rachel to be essential to the charm of Come And Get It, and apparently worth it to Rachel herself and her team.

Judging from the album, Rachel herself knows about the problem. "Dumb Dumb" (about a "girl who lives her life in plastic" and lets you think she's "acting kind of stupid," but is clever enough to turn the "dumb" title into a catchy dum-da-da-dum chorus) might even be a comment on it. Her producers know it too. The album is strikingly full of "humanizing" touches -- the sharp intake of breath that kicks off "So Good" and thus the whole album, the way she mutters "Could you turn down the track a little bit, please?" on "Negotiate With Love," all appear to be attempts to break that fourth wall and convince listeners that she was actually in that recording studio and having a non-robotic day.

Scattershot "humanizing" touches aside, the producers seem to be trying different things to have Rachel's blankness work to her advantage. A few songs ("Je M'Appelle," "I Will Be There") surround Rachel with "dreamy," triphoppy atmospherics. With varying degrees of success: on "Je M'Appelle," Rachel's main vocal sounds a bit too indistinguishable from the backing vocals. (Writing this, I had to go back and listen to remind myself of whether she even sings on the chorus.) (And now I've already forgotten.) "I Said Never Again" gallops away at a furious pace -- the resemblance of the backing track to "Antmusic" has been much noted, but it's almost also a Brazilian batucada -- as if determined to drag a personality out of Rachel if it kills it. These tactics don't entirely work for me, but it's at least entertaining to listen to them try.

"Funny How," which most people are already pegging as a highlight of the album, has much more success. It works because here Rachel's blankness fits the song perfectly. She comes across as numb, tired, and somewhat resigned ("Night got cold/It's almost three/Take these fools away from me" -- so tired that she may not even be bothering with a "the" in front of "night"), and that synchs perfectly with the song. It's the equivalent of Keanu Reeves turning in a good performance in The Matrix, because his character is meant to be a slacker and tabula rasa.

But the best solution to the Rachel Problem probably comes by way of "Crazy Boys," the other accepted highlight of the album. (It's quite interesting how listeners have been quite unanimous about which are the album's gems.) The credit must go to producer and co-composer Richard X, with some kudos to lyricist Hannah Robinson. Richard has written music that's so inherently dramatic and cinematic that Rachel can't help but respond with, if not vocal theatrics, than at least vocal color. ("Some Girls," the other Richard X contribution, is much steadier and shuffling in comparison, less prone to building and building towards peaks, and there the male backing vocalists help the drama with their "HEY!s".) A timpani roll and we're off: the backing riff beep-beep-beeps ominously throughout (it sounds a little like a slowed-down, muted version of Stazi's great electro-soul record, "Love Is Lethal"), and the melody demands emotion from Rachel. She rises to the challenge: "Baby, baby please forgive me/I know not what I do" is very emotive, and the "deliver me from yoooouuuuu" bit is so great that when if I mime it, I have to close my eyes as if in tortured agony. (That's my highest praise.) While not her best work, Hannah's lyric helps too. "For you I wait forever/Nobody does it better": the inversion of the first line gives the thing an epic air, while the second line, with the James Bond aura it invokes, more than keeps up. It's a wonderful track, and one that comes closest to solving the Rachel Problem.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pleasure, "Disco Doctor" (2003)

Dude. I'm confused. If you're feeling poorly, and your problem is that you -- you, Fred Ball, whom fellow Norwegian Bertine Zetlitz would ask to produce her Rollerskating album, aka my favorite musical thing of 2004 -- can't stop dancing, then why would you ask to be taken to a disco doctor? As far I know, disco doctors will simply prescribe you a new pair of legwarmers and send you home for more dancing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Junior Senior, "UR A Girl" (2005)

One of the first lines you hear on Junior Senior's new album Hey Hey My My Yo Yo is: "Put on your pants/Cause you just might want to dance." That's genius. I mean, it's the best reason I've yet heard for putting on pants, and one that even Homer Simpson might get behind.

That 45-second introductory snippet then goes into the first proper song on the album, called "Hip Hop A Lula," which features one of those ba-ba-ba-ba-ba disco riffs like in "Theme from S-Express." Because Junior Senior can't very well tell you a reason for wearing pants, and then not give you a chance to test out that reason, can they?

And then, the third song on the album, "Can I Get Get Get," comes along, and makes you think that it should have illegitimate lovechildren with Howard Jones's "Like To Get To Know You Well," and those hyperactive bastards could take over all the discos where they can use their arsensal of stutteringly dorky but effective pick-up lines. And further, there is a song wherein Junior Senior don't just use handclaps, but become them. Hardcore personification.

The inane catchiness doesn't much let up, but this track might be the best thing on the album. Properly sung rather than rapped (not that there's anything wrong with the latter), this is an ode to a girl that Junior might not even know (she's either a girl, or his girl -- there's no difference, apparently, since either is a fit subject for song). There are harmonies and "ooh-la-las" that make it sound like Sha-Na-Na, except happier. It mentions windchimes and rollerskates. Why more do you need (except possibly your own set of wheels, the better to roller boogie along)?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Helen Shapiro, "Waiting On The Shores of Nowhere" (1970)

Are you alone? Have you been waiting too long for your prince to come? Do you wonder, especially on cold quiet nights doomed to end with you crying yourself to sleep, why there is as yet no one for you? There are reasons, surely. Maybe you have been too busy carving out a career. Maybe the six cats are enough. Maybe you feel that you would rather not compromise, that 'tis better to be alone and mostly happy than to settle for a relationship you aren't that thrilled with. Maybe you want to learn to love yourself before you love someone else.



I learnt my mad pep-talking skillz from one Helen "Dr. Phil" Shapiro, who has the knack of looking into hearts and ripping them clean out. Not least her own. Helen was a bit of a child prodigy, topping the UK charts in 1961 at the tender age of fourteen with her debut single called -- wait for it -- "Don't Treat Me Like A Child." Some random songwriting team called Lennon and McCartney, whose band Helen actually toured with, liked her enough to write a song, "Misery," for her, though her management never released it. Because they wanted to make things harder for themselves, presumably. She did have a couple of other big hits, but then they got smaller, even after she appeared on Ready, Steady, Go! with John, Ringo, and George as her backing band. In 1970 she released a 7 inch single called "A Glass Of Wine" with this as the b-side. I was only one then, but had enough smarts to crawl out of my crib to purchase a copy. Or possibly I simply heard it years later on a compilation called 60s Brit Girls.

The first few times I listened to this, I enjoyed it and may have even tapped a foot or two. It has a nice dramatic flair -- that ba-ba-ba-BAAA!!! opening, and those fab horns continue throughout -- and a great melody, particularly on the chorus, which the backing vocals really help bring out. Sure, the beat, while competent, does make you want to see a better production team work on it, and Helen's voice isn't that great -- a fansite, from which I stole most of the above information, went so far as to compare it to a foghorn. But the ditty was pleasant enough. And then I clearly heard that lyric, and laughed for a good two minutes. (At least I think I clearly heard it -- to this day I'm still not 100% sure that's really what she's singing, but that might be as much due to my stunned disbelief that she would sing it.)

"But I'm still waiting on the shores of nowhere/Waiting till my boat comes in/I know it will someday/I've gotta find a way to make my life begin/BABY I'M A LOSER!" Awesome. There's honest self-appraisal, and then there's...this. Give me this, give me this!

Friday, September 16, 2005

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions featuring Tracey Thorn, "Big Snake" (1987)

I like my workspace a little more than I probably should. I have a corner office, a term that probably needs no further explanation, especially if it conjures in your mind visions of two walls of windows. But furthermore: I work on a hill, and on the sixth floor, so the view is really quite nice. I see the top of a bunch of trees, which makes me feel like I'm in the clouds, and there is a sea in the horizon. So what if the waters are mostly industrial, infested with cranes and tanker-type ships?

Outside my windows runs a ledge. It's fairly wide -- about four feet across, or just wide enough to make you feel like you could step out on it in the name of daredevilry during slow Fridays, or perhaps when you want to avoid certain meetings -- but serves no purpose as far as I can see. Except for the occasional window cleaner to walk on, out of the blue and past my window the better to startle me.

A few days ago I had a different kind of fright. I was staring at my computer, which is right beside the window, when something slithered across my field of vision. Snake! Not a garguantuan python or anything -- at least not in this telling of the tale, but give it a few years -- but a small, thin, but still slimy thing. He was merrily sauntering by, all "don't mind me," but I was surprised enough to back my chair away in alarm as I scrambled to assure myself that there are no such things as permeable windows. Thus composed, I ventured back to consider the creature. Sort of pretty. He continued on his way on the ledge, and rounded the corner. Or since I lost sight of him, so I hoped.

"Big Snake": From the third, final, and best album by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, the song features Everything But The Girl's Tracey Thorn on backing vocals. Completely unlike any other song in their oeuvre, the hypnotic track sounds it should be in a bad Mickey Rourke movie set in, sigh, New Orleans, in which his Puffy Highness tries to seduce some nubile underage girl. The trumpet by Jon Hassell would slither in and out as Lloyd Cole sings about wanting to be your daddy, and details how the "big snake's a-crawling through the smoke and perfume to be your baby." (It's quite possibly a phallic thing; I can't be sure.)

Might be time to reorganize the office. Having your desk so close to the spectacular view is way overrated anyway.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ladytron, "International Dateline" (2005)

Near the end of Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, a film I watched for the millionth time today, two of the movie's three major characters are sitting in a bar in Bueno Aires, speaking to each other in different languages. A sign behind one of them says, appropriately, "3 Amigos." Both Chang and Fai came to Argentina as tourists and stayed illegally as low-wage workers. Fai, we know, has had a hard time of it, seeing his relationship with his fucked-up boyfriend go to hell, and now simply trying to stay afloat while saving up enough money to go back to Hong Kong. Chang has done so, and is thus heading back to Taipei soon, but not before he makes a trip to Tierra del Fuego. The town of Ushuaia, he has heard, is the southernmost city on the planet; it is the end of the world. El Fin del Mundo.

Chang hands Fai a tape recorder. Never one for tourist souvenirs, he urges Fai to leave his voice on the device for Chang to remember him by. Fai demures, but Chang tells him to confide to the recorder all his deepest sorrows. "I'll carry it to the end of the world for you." Chang leaves the table, and we see Fai hold the tape recorder up to his mouth. It obscures his lips. Seven empty beer bottles hold the foreground of the shot, as Fai cries, composes himself, and then gets overwhelmed again.

When the film later shows us Chang in Ushuaia -- it is January 1997 -- he is standing at the lighthouse at the end of the world. Pensive and alone, he holds the tape recorder up to his ears. He hears nothing, he tells us in a voiceover; just some strange sounds "like someone sobbing."

Ladytron: "The international dateline/Let's end it here." Ambiguous lines. Fighting words, or words of resignation and even death?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Terry Hall, "Forever J" (1994)

C'mon. You gotta love a song that begins with the line "Like Isabelle Adjani/She glides by upon a bank of violets/With those eyes that see it all," right? And then goes on to namecheck yet another movie star when Adjani's double tells our narrator "'You're no Mel Gibson, but that's ok/Today could be your lucky day,'" no?

Having been in, in order, The Specials (passed me by), Fun Boy Three (better with a side of Bananarama), The Colourfield (brilliant but shortlived), Terry, Blair and Anouchka (fabulous but shortlived), and Vegas (um, that version of "She" was good, and they were meant to be shortlived), Terry Hall might possibly hold some kind of record for, um, being-in-bandiness. In 1994 he finally became a proper solo artist and released the album Home to a wave of popular indifference. Shame, really, because in addition to including Terry's version of the poptastic "Sense" (which is better known -- just barely better known -- as a Lightning Seeds song, since Ian Broudie co-wrote and recorded his own version), the album contained nine other great ditties. Including this first single, which is apparently about Terry's then-wife Jeannette. I guess, given how she is "uncertain, coy and hard to please," and can only kiss our narrator "through gritted teeth," we shouldn't be too surprised then she is only his then-wife. But there's no removing the tattoo that is this song, Terry. Oh, love.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gwen Stefani, "Cool" (2004)

For no real important reason, I hated Gwen Stefani during her No Doubt days -- the (borrowed) conceit of, and the video for "It's My Life" in particular used to work me into a frothy fury -- and the early days of her solo career didn't change that much. "What You Waiting For?" left me mostly unmoved -- although I did secretly enjoy going around mumbling, as so many of us no doubt (ha!) did, "Take a chance you stupid ho!" at every conceiveable opportunity -- and "Rich Girl" drove me up the proverbial wall. But "Hollaback Girl" wrestled me to the ground and smothered me with its brassy pom-poms, and you know there's nothing I enjoy more than smothering pom-poms. And now here we are, at the shockingly gimmick-free "Cool," a song I've been obsessed with for a few weeks now.

So let's talk about that track, of which I seem to have much to say, even though I will really be talking about, good lord, eight seconds of the song. In his long and thoughtful consideration, Tim over at Skywriting suggests that "Cool" "appears to tell...a certain story about love in spite of itself": namely, that even though Gwen sings about having moved past the relationship, the emotion in the song belies her "true depth of feeling." In particular, Tim started off by taking the song "at its word," as a gentle, gracious, and generous sketch of how happy Gwen was now able to be for her ex. But the video, in which it is nakedly apparent that the narrator is still in love, changed his mind, with the result that "Cool" is now a "blatantly self-deceiving" song -- although, if I understand Tim right, no less moving because of that.

My comprehension of the song moved through several stages as well, although it started at a different place, wandered around, before finally getting back to where it started from. Unlike Tim, however, when I first heard the song, I immediately assumed it was a "self-deceiving" one. The asumption was so automatic that it was only later that I could reconstruct the reasons why I thought so. One is my inherent predisposition to read (and love) such songs that way, and there is indeed a rich tradition of them stretching from "I'm Not In Love" to a track that I wrote about just a few weeks back. (Two weeks, and I'm already repeating myself. Promising!) Furthermore, that inherent bias in me was triggered, I think, by the fact that "Cool" owes a sonic debt to a classic from that genre: John Waite's "Missing You." Though Tim and others have suggested that "Cool" steals its melody from Yazoo's "Only You" (I don't quite hear it myself), while yet others keep muttering about Cyndi Lauper, for me "Cool" most obviously evokes those 80s synth-rock numbers with chugging guitar lines -- most especially Icehouse's "Electric Blue," but certainly also Waite's bigger hit. Given this subliminal connection, it was perhaps no surprise that I should have thought of "Cool"'s narrator as simply trying to convince herself that she has gotten over her ex.

There's a third reason, but it took time to put my finger on it. As I listened more carefully to the song, I began to doubt my initial impression. After all, there is nothing diegetically in "Cool" itself that really points to self-denial, except, arguably the repetition of its central sentiment ("we're cool, we're cool, we're cool..") which always raises the doth-protesting-too-much specter ("...aren't we?"). In "I'm Not In Love," of course, we know that the narrator still keeps her picture on the wall, calls her all the time, while John Waite tells us that he still catches his breath when he thinks of her. Were there really such clues in "Cool"? It didn't seem so.

But then again.... I realized that the first few times I played Gwen's song, I had in fact misheard a lyric, and that was at least partly responsible for my interpretation. Or maybe it was not so much that I misheard it, but I certainly walked around armed with only an imprecise memory of the song, mis-singing it. The third refrain, which comes at the 2 minute mark, begins: "And I'll be happy for you/If you can be happy for me." Initially, I thought Gwen was singing: "And I'll be happier for you/If you will be happier for me." The implication of course, in that misheard edition, is that Gwen's "happiness" is really not as great as it could be, and it is in any case something she's just miming as a way of getting her ex to be happier for her.

A google search turned up lots of sites recording the lyric, and all of them agree that there is something wrong with my ears, or possibly my subconscious. Gwen is just singing "happy" (and the remixes, especially the one by Richard X, confirms this). But the lines remain sticky, I think. For one thing, the conditional tense is striking: I'll be happy for you if you can be happy for me? Isn't she supposedly already happy for him regardless of whether he's happy for her? Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, I now no longer think that my mishearing was completely accidental. The phrasing of that line is really quite strange; the rhythm of the lyric and the music don't quite line up, and there is kind of an extra beat after each iteration of the word "happy." Gwen clearly has to drag out her enunciation of the word the first time to cover that beat, and, for the second, places an oddly heavy and protracted emphasis on "be" before allowing a beat to intervene after "happy" (the emphasis also makes " happy for me" sound like an imperative, further cementing the sense that her ex isn't as pleased as he could be). "I'll be happppppeeee for you/If you can BEEEEEE happy [beat, and a breath] for me."

Was it my mind simply filling in the gaps, hearing an "-ier" where there was none? Or does the song in fact subtly encourage that, by actually leaving a literal blank (or two) for listeners to fill in? In her phrasing, is Gwen perhaps performing a kind of uncertainty in the way she practically hiccups or stumbles over her words, trying to make them fit the dictates of the story that the melody and rhythm is telling? Does the song tempt her with the ghost of a chance to decide and say, honestly, just how happy she is for him, and does she never quite know what to make of that chance? Happy for you...Happier for you...Happy? What and how am I feeling here?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Brad Carter, "Morning Always Comes Too Soon (Radio Edit)" (2004)

I'm going through a stretch when, two days of the week, I have to be at work by 8 am. Including Mondays. Totally messes up my sleep schedule. And I usually come in 30 mins before: to get ready, and, since my job involves speaking, to warm up my voice the better to not come across as a croaker. Seven. Fuckin'. Thirty. A. Of the M.

On the plus side, I'm done early and have all day to write long blog entries.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Leomoon, "Stay" (1999)

Circa 1999-2000: I am living in the Boston area, near a cute little store called Record Hog. Among its charms are: used CDs, a friendly proprietess whose name may have been Una, racks of 80s 12" singles that are so fun to browse, and two cats that insist on sleeping on the exact CD you want.

I look through the $1 used CD stack, and for no particular reason am attracted to one by a band named Leomoon. "No particular reason": I had never heard of the group, and even the cover, while tasteful, isn't especially arresting. Perhaps I am intrigued by reading the credits and seeing that it's a band with two men and a lead female singer. That's the universal recipe for good pop music, after all.

At home, I play the CD and it is no great shakes. In fact, it is actively annoying in that, after 11 songs, the CD goes into 87 -- 87! -- tracks, each lasting 6 seconds, of silence, before a final track with some crap noise on it. Great joke, guys. But there is one memorable number on the CD: a fairly good pop melody, sung over a scratchy trip-hop beat that features bursts of a hooky keyboard riff. Some DJ pops up every now and then to tell us to "check this out!", while backing vocalists coo "Oooh, and I like it!" While I myself might have whispered it more softly, it's a fair enough sentiment.

2001: Still in Boston. I buy an EP by A Girl Called Eddy at Other Music called Tears All Over Town (Everything But The Girl shout-out!) and am entranced by its lush 60s melancholic pop stylings.

2003: No longer staying in Boston, I learn with sadness that Record Hog is closing shop, or at least becoming a more web-based business (not that there's any trace of it at the URL). I also find out that her name is "Ina." Which makes more sense...than Una, I guess.

2004: In London, I surprise myself by finding an advance copy of A Girl Called Eddy's self-titled album, which goes on to land a place on my year-end list of favorite albums at #4. Maybe #3.

2005: I realize (possibly from here) that before she started recording under the name A Girl Called Eddy, Erin Moran was the singer in Leomoon. I wonder how the cats are doing. "Won't you stay?"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Kirsty MacColl, "Walking Down Madison (6 a.m. Ambient Mix)" (1991)

I've been thinking about Kirsty MacColl quite a bit recently. Much of this was spurred by listening to her From Croydon to Cuba boxset, which does a nice job of compiling the highlights of her all-too-brief career (although: where is "Autumn Soupgirl" from Tropical Brainstorm, or "Treachery"? Grumble grumble, get off my lawn, kids).

Although her death, let alone the tragic circumstances around it, makes it easy to be revisionist and claim that I've always loved her, the truth is more mundane (though, I suspect, quite typical). I first adored, and will always adore, Kirsty for "They Don't Know"; but even there I prefer Tracey Ullman's version (more joyous, more unironically girl-groupy). The middle period of Kirsty's career, however, was frankly a little boring. Something like "Days" was all well and fine, but it was so polite (no, thank you for the days!). If she had had any success, she might have been accused of all the things that Dido is nowadays (unfairly) charged with. Kirsty's infatuation with Latin rhythms finally returned the sass to her recordings, but it would be all too brief.

Of course, there were exceptional moments from Kirsty's middle period. I first heard "Walking Down Madison" in a record store in London (one of the big franchise ones -- HMV, perhaps, or Virgin; I don't think I even knew about Berwick Street then). This must have been 1991, so it would have been my very first trip to London. (Is this the little boy, sunrise, sunset, etc.) I loved the song as blared over the speakers, and bought the 12" because I fancied it would be novel and unique of me to buy records instead of postcards to remember my trip by. Why, no one else has ever thought that.

(Side note #1: Yes, I still do that, but at least I'm not all self-satisfactorily smug about it. Side note #2: the other record that I associate with that trip, and have the CD single of? Rodeo Jones's "Get Wise!" What? It was bouncy!)

One thing I never loved about the song, however, is the rap. Needless to say it now sounds dated, but even then it was a bit cringeworthy, as if a symptom of Kirsty's over-identification (homeless people are street...and now I'm street because I put in a rap!). That's why I've always preferred this mix: an ambient version that slows down the number, removes the rap, and makes it much more heart-wrenching. In so doing it inches the song perilously close to being an overly earnest ditty about liberal/class guilt and homelessness (i.e., to Phil Collins territory). Perhaps. But it's hard to not call the song heartfelt at around the 3 min mark. It's all tinkly percussion, and sounds like someone, a street performer, say, is in the background tapping quietly on pots and pans; but then the synth line gently swells up again, and the harmonizing background voice joins Kirsty in singing "it's not that fun..." It's utterly moving, and not quite your father's day in paradise.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Rita and the Tiaras, "Gone With The Wind Is My Love" (1960s)

There's something incredible -- weird but effective -- about the singer's phrasing on this classic northern soul record. She sounds like she is singing fragments instead of complete sentences ("What things I possess/I knew it was wrong/you said it was [mumble] and i...DID it for you baby"), which somehow fits with the anguished, epic style signalled by the vaguely Latinate syntax of the title. Tatu should so cover this.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tatu, "Sacrifice" (2005)

The thing about Tatu -- or TATU, or T.a.t.u., or t.A.T.u., or oh my god, like I'm not already going to have RSI in three years -- is that they seem so highly strung all the time. Many of their songs drop us right into the choruses (epic!), and thus begin like we're in the middle of a car chase. BAM! AllthethingsshesaidallthethingshesaidALLTHETHINGSSHESAID! POW! NotgonnagetusnotgonnaGETUSNOTGONNAAIIIEEEEEEEE!!! In the opposite version of this, when they are not running off their words together in a madrushjumblesalad, they sing syllable-by-painstaking-syllable. And without varying the stress on each. They are the musical equivalent of that interwebs style of snarky writing that has been a running gag for the past few years, in which you emphasize your words via separating! And! Punctuating! Them! Like. So. (as on the current single "All About Us," as implied here).

It makes sense, of course. The band's persona is built around rebellion, a carefully cultivated us-against-the-world ethos, and their sound is therefore often one of barraging sound and fury. Sometimes it is sonically very exciting, and works spectacularly; sometimes, not so much. It's not a bad thing, but I do find it a little exhausting (say, over an entire album, or when repeated too often as shtick). It's like listening to death metal, except made by Russian teenage faux-lesbians. So, yeah, exactly like death metal.

This song -- for me a highlight of the new album Dangerous and Moving -- however understands contrast, that furious (melo)drama is most recognizable and effective when set off against moments of quiet. When this begins it sounds like a ballad, with an acoustic guitaresque riff that acts like it wandered in off of some Ibiza chillout record. It's all calm and good, but then the chorus hits, via a series of notes that climb higher and higher -- "I WILL SACRIFICE! I WILL SACRIFICE!" -- and now when we hear the riff again, it sounds sad, resigned, like it constitutes preparation for that act of sacrifice. You can already imagine the way the song will be used in a movie. POW!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Bananarama, "Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango)" (2005)

Bananarama are back! Back !! BACK!!! As Smash Hits would have said in the 80s. Well, they wouldn't have said it about Bananarama in the 80s, since the girls wouldn't have been gone then. But you know what I mean.

Where was I again? I'm just so dizzy with delight that I can't follow what I'm saying, because THIS SONG IS SO AWESOME. But, oh yes, being back! Back!! BACK!!! The girls -- just Keren and Sara now, of course, or as a friend unkindly but, frankly speaking, quite accurately calls them, "Keren and Horseface" -- galloped back into public consciousness last month with their Top 14 single "Move In My Direction." That's about the right position, give or take 3 spots, because for all its loveliness, "Move In My Direction" is not as brilliant as it could have been. (The more spacious Bobby Blanco and Miki Moto mix offers one hint of how that track could have been better: if Basement Jaxx had been let loose to throw in flamenco guitars and turn it into a samba house stomper.)

But this, this is utterly fantastic. One of four tracks on the album sampler, "Look On The Floor" is a slinky disco number with just a hint of melancholia. As the parenthethical bit suggests, it uses the chorus of an 80s Italo disco song by My Mine called "Hypnotic Tango," although the 'Narns seem to have come to it via Master Blaster's 2003 cover version. More generally, the lyric does traverse ground that's well-trodden: the narrator has met someone at a club, and, after giving him her number, now leaves with a sense of anticipation of where things could now go. It's a theme we've seen in everything from Shannon's "Let The Music Play" to to countless Pet Shop Boys songs to Kylie's "Love At First Sight."

Here (and unlike on the demo, on which the verses have a different melody), the first voice we hear is a robotic one: "It's close to midnight and I'm leaving now/I'm getting in the car and heading out." But then the vocal gets unprocessed: "And I can't slow down/Cause I don't know how." The pattern is repeated on the other verses; the vocoderized lines always seem to be expressing the tough, weary, seen-it-all-before viewpoint ("You've got my number/So we'll be fine/So go and use it/Just don't waste my time"; and "Devil's in your eyes/And he's looking at me/I know what you want/And you know what I need"). But in the moments after, the narrator allows herself to get over her cynicism about how this might just be another inconsequential moment in the club, and instead to dream that it might lead to something more. "Look on the floor/And all is spinning around/Someone told me this was just a dance/Then take a chance and I'll give you more/Do you really think we have a chance?" What makes an encounter on the dancefloor so exciting are also the things that make the aftermath rueful: its fleeting nature, the rush of the moment. "You take me over/Stay with me/And we'll fade away..." The dream on the dancefloor is the dream that you will need no more such moments.

And when you think the song couldn't get better, you get a fabulous breakdown (kicked off by an echoing, eluding "Chance! Chance! Chance!..."). The beat goes on, but this wondrous "woooh-ooh-ooh!" sound moves from the back- to the foreground, and all you can do is try to wordlessly imitate it because it's pure. Disco. Delirium.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Death Cab For Cutie, "Brothers On A Hotel Bed" (2005)

"You may tire of me, as our December sun is setting. 'Cause I'm not who I used to be: no longer easy on the eyes. But these wrinkles masterfully disguise the youthful boy below, who turned your way and saw something he was not looking for. Both a beginning and an end. But now he lives inside someone he does not recognize when he catches his reflection on accident.

On the back of a motor bike, with your arms outstretched trying to take flight, leaving everything behind. But even at our swiftest speed we couldn't break from the concrete in the city where we still reside. And I have learned that even landlocked lovers yearn for the sea, like navy men, cause now we say goodnight from our own separate sides, like brothers on a hotel bed.

You may tire of me, as our December sun is setting. 'Cause I'm not who I used to be"

Who would have thought that Death Cab For Cutie would produce the best gay song* (*possibly) of 2005? A song that is great not just because it seems, matter-of-factly, to be about two gay men* (*possibly) -- although that fact doesn't become clear till the title line is finally sung at the end of the lyric, and even then will probably still strike some people as not really involving two gay* (*possibly) protagonists -- but because it takes on the unromantic task of detailing the "December" moment in a relationship when sexual interest has faded? A moment that turns out to be doubly sad and rueful, because of the way the lyric flashes back to a time when this waning wasn't the case, but in hindsight already on the way to being so ("even at our swiftest speed we couldn't break from the concrete"), maybe because it's in our nature and thus inevitable (since all monogamous "landlocked lovers," in an incisive metaphor, must naturally have a thirst for "the sea" and perhaps its sailors)? Death Cab For Cutie, which as an "emo" band you would think makes its name on -- and insofar as they are liked by me, may even be liked because of -- its willingness to be overwrought, but here strips away the bombast to present two simple verses (and a final refrain) that are almost haikuesque, or might be Philip Larkin stanzas?

Not many people, that's who.

Perhaps it hasn't come to pass: you only may tire of me. But somehow it seems like I shouldn't not count on it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Jay-Jay Johanson, "Rush" (2005)

It seems only appropriate to kick off this blog, which I've been "starting" for, oh, three, four months now, with a song called "Rush." Of all the songs that afford me this irony, this is possibly my favorite. Well, this week anyway, and they tell me that that's what blogs are all about: the moment. "Rush" also has the added merit of being current in a way that the other contenders -- say, Debbie Harry's or Paula Abdul's "Rush Rush," or Jane Wiedlin's "Rush Hour" -- are not. Which is not to say that Tremble Clef won't often post older tracks as well (or "most of the time": I'm not particularly, how you say, au courant). Really, this blog will feature whatever I'm listening to, or moves me, or calls up a memory, or perhaps just songs about which I have something to say.

With that semblance of a blog raison out of the way, let's consider Jay-Jay's current single. "Rush" is not, in many ways, an especially original track. Most obviously, it owes a big debt to "I'm Not In Love"; like that 10 cc track, Jay-Jay's electro-ballad coasts along on a bed of persistent synths. I know next to nothing about how music is actually made, but I am probably right to imagine that here, you basically put your finger on a key and, well, hold it. The word that always come to my mind to describe this sound is "ooze," and for me it is the sound of melancholia.

Aside from sharing the ooze factor, there's another way in which "Rush" recalls "I'm Not In Love." The latter track is almost a definitive example of a song about, and in self-denial. However hard and frequently Graham Gouldman proclaims that he is not in love, he is, of course, transparently smitten; indeed, the repeated proclamations, we recognize, are his efforts to convince himself to be out of love. "Rush" does something similar, but also different. Jay-Jay insists that he won't rush us, and he keeps his word insofar as the melody is slow, non-frantic. But underneath it all, the synths ooh and aah seductively, as if Jay-Jay is simply trying another way -- the measured but slinky way, baby -- to get his beloved, and us, to give in to him already.

What Jay-Jay wants us to give in to may not be apparent from the get-go. The lyric actually begins rather creepily. Is Jay-Jay just a psycho trying to deflower some coy virgin ("I might wait another year/But I can't promise anything")? Is he simply not understanding a part of the word "no"? On the evidence of the first few verses, possibly. As the song goes on, however, it becomes clearer that one of unrequited love. "I know you're still in love with me/I can see it in your eyes/You say you've forgotten me/But I'm sure it's only lies." By the time of that third verse, the song is no longer creepy, but reveals a singer who is just pathetically sad. What "Rush" does well -- or better than "I'm Not In Love," to continue the comparison -- is this sense of build-up (or let down, from another point of view). Where the latter is a series of repeated assertions that are patently false ("I'm not in love...I'm not in love...nope, I'm still saying I'm not in love with you"), "Rush" jumps right in without explaining to us what Jay-Jay is obsessed about, before revealing more slowly the depths of his sad denial at being unwanted. And if his girl finally seems unlikely to change her mind, at least we eavesdroppers might consider falling a little in love.