tremble clef

Friday, March 31, 2006

Xlover, "Faking It" (2005)

The exterior of this track is all crunchy electrorock fierceness. There are screeching guitars: throughout the song, as riff (wa-wah-wah-wah-wah!), but also as breakdown. There are rude injunctions: "Fuck my lips/While you fuck my tits." And there is snarling. Oh, is there snarling.

But there is also a soft gooey center. "I'm fucking you/I'm in love with you." But even more: "I want to fake it/I want to fake it/With you." (Imagine that as a wedding vow.) This is, presumably, the best the narrator can do: unable to feel, her highest compliment is to give herself to someone with whom she can be her best fake self. If she, as the song implies, can't be real, then she can at least be fake with someone whom she comes closest to loving. It's something. Better than nothing. Maybe even better than something.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Gonzales, Feist and Dani, "Boomerang 2005 (Comme Un Boomerang)" (Um, 2006)

Some songs just beg to be retold in the form of a pop art comic strip, don't they? Yes. Yes, they do.

(Here's the shimmering original -- French, rap-less, intended-for-Eurovision but possibly dirty -- 2001 version, on which Dani duets with my sometime-boyfriend, Etienne Daho.) (And as always, you can click on images to enlarge.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jamie Lidell, "When I Come Back Around (Freeform Reform)" (2006)

In which Freeform Five works some remix magicks: whereas the glitchy original features Jamie singing along with the herky-jerky rhythm, here Freefrom Five overlays that singing on top of a beat that owes a little something to "When Doves Cry," making the vocal modulations more interesting because they now work against the beat, but all the better to produce a scorcher. They thereby help Mr. Lidell become the funk soul brotha he no doubt has always wanted to be, and reduce the spasticity of a certain blogger's dancing.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ne-Yo, "So Sick" (2006)

Here's why I felt fucked yesterday.

I spent much of the weekend listening to Ne-Yo's "So Sick." Yet, when Monday rolled around, I didn't especially feel like I should blog about it. One reason, certainly, is that I suspect everyone has heard the produced-by-Norwegians-R&B-ballad (although, if you are as radio-free as I've become over the last few decades, maybe not). The song is Number 1 in the UK this week, and was likewise, in a rare act of near-unanimity, on top of the US charts not too many weeks back. Maybe you're even (let's get this joke out of the way) so sick of it by now. It's definitely not like I'm going to be introducing Ne-Yo to people, not that I've ever seen Tremble Clef as serving that function. So, fine, I'll just write about something else on Monday, and by Tuesday would be past my mild obsession with "So Sick."

But here we are. No post yesterday, "So Sick" today.

"Gotta change my answering machine/Now that I'm alone/Cause right now it says that 'we can't come to the phone.'" To start with, I love how the song starts. It's always the small things that get you after a break-up. The stray shirt that's still in your laundry hamper. The CD that you'll now never get back. Having to throw out the soy milk that was always only for that someone no longer here. These things have the worst potential to spring up and upset you, precisely because they are so small, and therefore will hide in plain sight unless you're careful to weed them out. The calendar that needs to be fixed -- the one "marked July 15th/Because if there’s no more you/There’s no more anniversary" -- that kicks off the second verse is more trite, and doesn't ring as true. Still, like the answering machine, it's an object that marks time, and thus the song crowds us with an unspoken sense of how useless that concept now seems.

But the central conceit of the song lies in the chorus's question: "And I'm so sick of love songs/So tired of tears/So done with wishing you were still here/Said I'm so sick of love songs/So sad and slow/So why can't I turn off the radio?" I think it's easy to look past this moment, even though, as its chief hook, the song repeats it several times. But, really, why can't the narrator turn off the radio? Furthermore, not only does he seem unable to turn off the radio, but he himself is of course creating another addition to the corpus of "stupid love songs." For what is "So Sick" if not another reminder -- and the most exact, detailed one at that -- of lost love? Not only unable to stop the pain, he is further adding to it. The song ends with the sound of a brief snatch of radio static. Has he turn the device off, finally? Or simply changed the channel, in a half-hearted attempt to escape the love songs that are, as if he didn't already know, in fact on every channel? Why this addiction to pain?

The answer is understandable to anyone who has ever been in the situation. Without articulating an answer, the song nevertheless illustrates one: as hurtful as it is, the pain of a break-up is also what best reminds you of the relationship. And even as you wish for the agony to end, you also fear that, when it does, you will have lost your very last tie to the relationship. It sounds like masochism, but it's just human nature.

Eduardo Galeano, in The Book of Embraces: "Recordar: To remember; from the Latin re-cordis, to pass back through the heart." Like with a needle, or a spike.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Peter Murphy, "Cuts You Up" (1989)

Recently my sister and I were sitting around talking, and the conversation drifted to the topic of traumatic childhood injuries. It's not a competition, but if it were, she would definitely win for severity, since she broke her arm when we were kids. That was in fact how we got onto the topic: we were reminiscing about our Three Rich Cousins, whom we don't really see anymore, and I was joking that it was just as well, given how one of them was directly responsible for the horror.

"That's right," she said. "We were all playing in our room, and jumping up and down on the bed. And [K., the boy cousin] landed on my arm." She paused. "Sat right on it. I can still hear the sickening cracking sound."

"We were sword-fighting," I supplemented. Helpfully, yet totally irrelevantly. "We had these two plastic martial arts swords. With sheaths and everything. One red, one green." My sister eyed me, perhaps entertaining for a brief moment a suspicion that I remembered so well because I had rerun the event in my mind a few too many gleeful times. But she just said, "That's specific." It was. I don't know why I can recall that so precisely, but I can still picture those damned swords. It's like I'm the rain man of childhood injuries.

If the competition was not over severity, however, but frequency, I would have her beat. While I don't have a broken arm to my name, I did have several major bloody incidents. One time we were both playing badminton (shut up) with the kids in the neighborhood -- this was the same group we went rollerskating with, but the tale of the Xanadu gang is another hilarious story for another time -- and one of them threw a racket at me. The action wasn't clearly aggressive, but the way she did toss it, makes me think that there was at least some malice and bottled-up resentment involved. I'm not sure why the thrower would have had any animosity towards loveable me; maybe I kicked her ass in a game or something. Yes, I can talk tough because I beat girls at badminton. But the racket went up into the air, like a paper plane, such that it came down in an almost graceful arc. "Graceful" until the edge of the racket caught my forehead, just above the eye, that is. After that: neither the racket nor I was so graceful. There was blood spewing everywhere, and I can remember my sister grabbing my hand and running with me, all the while imploring me to keep my head up, back up to our apartment. In my mind, she was more hysterical than I was; I had some sort of unnatural calmness about it all. Maybe I was just thinking about the pretty shuttlecocks.

I must have been eight or nine. Later, when I was closer to fourteen or fifteen, I was playing squash in school, and my opponent smacked me in the face with his backhand swing. Oi, referee, I believe that's a foul. More blood spewing. Excellent. Clearly, I didn't have much luck with racket sports. Eventually I noticed the pattern, wised up, and switched to ping pong. Those paddles don't draw blood, unless, well, you get a bit too zealous with the spanking.

Despite these bloody run-ins, I have grown up to be a person with very little body awareness. Sure, I'm conscious of the fact that I've gotten fat, or when my back aches. But sometimes I find cuts and bruises on my body, and I haven't the foggiest idea how they came to be. A few days ago I finally noticed that I have a little cut on one of my toes -- not on the top, even, but on the side -- and I have no clue how it happened. I don't think I'm self-mutilating (though I understand those for whom the act is a way of feeling), nor do I have an abusive boyfriend who's taking a razor to my digits in frustration while I sleep. It's not even as if the cut hurts that much. I just wouldn't mind being a bit more mindful of when my body gets pierced, rent, or ripped. But perhaps my childhood traumas have gotten me to the point when I'll only notice blood when it's gushing out of a gaping head wound. And even then, nowadays I'll probably be like, "Huh. Interesting. Wondered how that happened."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Similou, "All This Love" (2005)

Someday, hopefully soon, when they write the definitive Encyclopedia Of Pop Music, they will devote a chapter to funny toy sound effects. In this chapter Nu Shooz would presumably hold a place of honor, and Pet Shop Boys' "Heart" would be hailed as its apotheosis.

Possibly I am exaggerating, or perhaps just delirious with the vapors (I'm better, actually -- thanks). But now that I'm gotten ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-ge, ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-ge, and ah-ah-ah-ah-ah into your heads, doesn't it seem desirable to have such a chapter, even imperative?

The Similou, a Swedish electropop band who has a tinge of the Junior Seniors about them, hereby make their bid to be included. "All This Love" -- a single in Europe last year, and, as Popjustice reminds us, finally getting a UK release this week -- has a jaunty diddly-doo electronic bit that won't leave your head. As is often the case with such records, the result is that we have a song with, in effect, two choruses, backed by big 80s drums. "All this love!/Saved up for nothing!/I never felt so blue!/And all this love!/Rainbow styling! (Styling! Styling!)" In an admirable attempt at consistency, the real chorus is just about as silly and nonsensical as the sound effects (unless, of course, the lyric is really just about having blue balls).

Update: YSI link now active.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hot Chip, "No Fit State" (2006)

I'm feeling under the weather (etymology: probably nautical, from when seasick passengers or sailors were sent below deck where there was less swaying). I'm sure my colleague in the next office wants to kill me because of the incessant coughing. I would almost welcome it. I'm in no fit shape, I'm in no fit state, I'm in no fit shape, I'm in no fit state, I'm in no fit shape....

Monday, March 20, 2006

Strawberry Switchblade, "Who Knows What Love Is?" (1985)

Rhetorical questions can be annoying, can't they? Nothing if not presumptuous, these questions expect no answers. They're just declarative statements masquerading as questions. It may be even more accurate to say that they leave no room for answers: once posed, they barely pause to await a reply, and in barely pausing, create the impression that there can be no answer. Expecting consensus, they create it.

But sometimes there is a flicker of uncertainty, a crack in the veneer. A question, seemingly rhetorical, wishes for an answer, and thereby ceases to be rhetorical. It drops its bravado, which is therefore revealed as false. It stops and waits. Perhaps it had previously tolerated no answer because it dreaded the answer that could come. In such moments, a rhetorical question becomes quite poignant.

The verses of "Who Knows What Love Is?" paint simple, commonplace, even mundane scenarios. Sitting in my front room. Rainy afternoon. Get myself a glass of milk. Flick through a magazine. The lines run on, never breaking at the places you think they would, one sentence blurring into the next: "Sitting in my front room as the/Sun is going down, I'm/Wishing I had someone who could/Maybe come around, Oh but/All I do is watch TV, a/Programme I want to, But/I never see it cos I'm/Thinking about you." The heavenly harmonies reinforce the feeling of fuzziness: words bleed into words bleed into words. Thoughts stray; thus the pages of the magazine "are unseen." And that trumpet, playing forlornly over the rattling rhythm and that xylophone, all encouraging us to drift away, in reverie or in sadness.

"Who knows what love is? I wonder if you do. Who can tell me what love is? I wish it could be you. I wish it could be you."

The chorus, in contrast, is more sharply delineated: no more run-on lines, but questions -- and wishes -- bitten off and articulated clearly. Not the rhetorical queries you might expect, but just genuine, heartfelt questions.

Who knows? Who knows?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Kings Of Convenience, "Free Falling (Live In Roma)" (2001)

I'm not a huge fan of live recordings: certainly not bootlegs with their dubious pedigree and shady quality, but even official live albums or tracks induce a "meh" in me. But this track -- concert in Roma, Kings Of Convenience, covering Tom Petty's "Free Falling," issued as the b-side to "Failure" -- is worth making an exception for, and perhaps my favorite live recording. The arrangement (a simple guitar, accompanying the band's harmonies) transforms the song, of course, but more so the audience's backing vocals: the final two minutes features the crowd singing, with perfect pitch, "Free falling, and I'm..." When I first heard this, I thought it was an actual choir on stage with Erlend and Eirik, but when the backing vocals finally fall apart in sheer delirium, it becomes more apparent that it's not.

As that track suggests, Kings Of Convenience are pretty great at getting their audience involved, and that was the case at their show on Thursday. I was a little worried about the setting: the band was playing what was essentially a world music (bleurgh) festival, in a polite orchestral concert hall (one with good acoustics, though). And indeed, they opened the evening on an "inaccessible" note, doing a track off their "Playing Live In A Room" EP ("Until You Understand") that only the more hardcore fans would have known.

But things warmed up soon enough. Erlend was his natural hammy self, and Eirik really impressed those who were previously inclined to thinking of Erlend as the main voice of the band. The middle section of the gig was when the magical audience participation started. It began with the band doing "Know How," one of my absolute favorite KOC songs: Erlend eventually encouraged the audience to sing the "you and me alone/sheer simplicity" lines, thereby allowing me to fulfill my ambition of being Feist. From there the interaction increased: Eirik told us that Toby, their usual viola player, couldn’t travel from Norway to play his part on "Stay Out Of Trouble," so we therefore dutifully filled in with whistling. Here, the tendency of any concert audience to never be able to sustain something -- always hilarious: it's like we find the act of clapping continuously for three minutes impossible -- actually worked to the song's advantage. The whistling was stronger in some moments than others, but this simply meant that it had the effect of fading in and out of the song eerily.

Their performance of "Homesick" was participatory in a different sense: joking that they wanted to create a "Christmas atmosphere" for the song, they asked for the house lights to be completely turned down. And so they were, as Erlend and Eirik proceeded to play their guitars in the dark (jokingly hitting a few bum notes at the start), thereby forcing the audience to really, really do nothing but listen to the song echoing in the concert hall. And when that song's chorus is "Homesick/Cause I no longer know/Where home is," the effect was almost unbearably poignant.

The show ended, naturally enough, with "I'd Rather Dance With You," and Erlend proceeded to fuck with the concert hall atmosphere by getting everyone up on our feet and some people to bum rush the stage. Heh. Against the protestations of some well-dressed ushers, a bunch of women got on stage, whereupon they...then lost any sense of what they should do, it seemed. They decided to form a circle and dance, so suddenly it was goddamn Lilith Fair. I half expected an earth goddess to be conjured up, but it was not to be.

During "Misread," Eirik asked the crowd to hum three notes at the end of the song. Like an asshole, I actually tried to harmonize on those solitary three notes. What can I say? I was moved by the spirit was desirous of making beautiful music. It was almost enough to get me dancing around in a circle and swirling like Stevie Nicks.

(Bonus: They ended the show with their marvellous cover -- marvellous because it does away with the original's heavy metal guitars and shrieking chorus -- of a-ha's "Manhattan Skyline." In the audience was a reader of this blog, who, it turned out, was hearing this version for the first time, even though he CLAIMS to be a fan of both KOC and a-ha. Oh, the shame. So, here is the song, for him.)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Terri Walker, "This Is My Time (Hit 'n' Run Disco Edit)" (2005)

Is it two or three instances that make a trend? I only ask because, while I can't claim to have heard Terri Walker's entire oeuvre, what I've encountered suggests that she hits the spot more when she's been remixed. The Ben Watt remix of "Guess You Didn't Love Me" was better than the standard version with the Mos Def rap, and now, this Hit 'n' Run disco mix of "This Is My Time" improves on the regular mix immeasurably.

Maybe I'm not being fair, since these remixes effect genre transformations: where the original of "Time" is a rather plodding R'n'B workout, this faster mix, as its name suggests, is all disco bounciness. I'm sorry if this means that I'm essentially counseling a slight career/market change for you, Terri, but, honestly now, you can't put high-pitched tooo-tooo-tooo-bleep-bleep video-gamey noises into the end of a filter-disco mix and not expect me to love it enough to want to see you leave the rote R'n'B behind -- or even the uptempo R'n'B like "Whoopsie Daisy," to which people are just going to mutter "Beyonce knockoff" -- and opt instead for full-time disco divahood.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

a-ha, "The Weight Of The Wind" (1986)

When all is said and done, I'm an old-fashioned guy. I know you might not have thought so, given that I'm such a technological pioneer, probably the only person you know who has one of these new-fangled blog things, or how I'm so cutting-edge with regards to music, throwing down tracks that are da hot shit, by, like, Melissa Manchester and stuff. But I am.

I am, for example, still inordinately attached to the album. In this day and age, when people tend to think of music as a bunch of digital files existing only in a gadget, and less, if at all, as taking physical form, I still am. I make CDs. I'm not talking about burning compilations. I do those of course, but even when I download (legally, of course) an album, I'm all about burning it onto -- no, not just "onto," but "into" a CD. Not only that: I may even make sleeves. My deep dark secret is that I still want my music to look like what I remember music to look like. I would be lost otherwise.

Indeed, I was old-fashioned even before I was old. Growing up, we had no CDs (and I also had to walk through five feet of snow, uphill, each day to get to the market where I could barter for food, etc.), but I was making tapes. Sometimes these were dubs of friends' cassettes, and others, the tapes were copies of my vinyl albums. I bought a-ha's Scoundrel Days on record in 1986; I was looking forward to it because Hunting High And Low was great, and I really liked "I've Been Losing You" despite everyone saying that it was a disappointing first single. (A song in which the narrator, within the first four or five lines, tells us that he put "the gun down on the bedside table," but not what he had been doing with it -- that's good pop.) And it did turn out to be a marvellous album, with dramatic windswept numbers like "The Weight Of The Wind," and luscious ballads like "October" and "Soft Rains Of April."

I also couldn't resist the album because the cover was so great. My copy had the sleeve with a lot of white space both above and below the bleak yet beautiful landscape picture; the band's photo was small, unsmiling, which of course spoke to the serious angsty teenager that was me. Best of all, the sleeve was embossed: in the upper left hand corner was a few blue smudges of "water" that popped off the sleeve. I must have spent hours fingering them. Mmm, tactile. (Disappointingly, there are either versions of the album sleeve that didn't have this feature, or maybe the CD version screwed up the artwork. All I know is that my CD copy, purchased years later, looks like ass in comparison, so much so I don't even want it on this page.)

When I made myself a copy of the album on tape, I had to do a cover. Nowadays that endeavor would be easy: find a hi-res jpeg online and print. In the days-with-barter, I instead scanned my Smash Hits and Number 1s to see if there were usable pics of the album art. For Scoundrel Days, I must have only found the photo that the band used for the "I've Been Losing You" single, but I liked that better anyway (why is Mags jumping? Meaningful!). Add some black construction paper for the cool factor; some masking tape and brown wrapping paper to make the whole thing look "interestingly" rough (and for, um, practical reasons: you try writing the album title on black paper). The result was a cassette sleeve that alluded to the album cover without actually being a copy of it. My genius, obviously, aproached Picassoesque levels.

Okay, maybe not. I was in my teens. Gimme a break. But coming across the sleeve recently, I still kind of like it. So now you too can cut along the edges and insert my genius sleeve into, um, your cassette copies of Scoundrel Days.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Faint, "The Conductor (Thin White Duke Mix)" (2003)

Free label samplers given out by record stores with any purchase: they're pretty useless, aren't they? Most of the time they are filled with acts that "need to be promoted," i.e., not that good, and samplers also by nature toss together all the different acts on the label, so it's unlikely you'll ever like the whole thing. Plus, the samplers that come in cardboard sleeves just get filed away, and since there're no spines you're never reminded that you even have them in your collection, and so they just sit there until one day you finally think to play the CD next to the sampler, and so at long last the little cardboard sleeve falls down and plonks you on the head.

I can't even remember which proper CD purchase entitled me to this Astralwerks 2003 sampler. But one plonk later, I realized that it at least has one of the less common Thin White Duke mixes. A lot of Stuart's remixing tricks are in place here: the repeating "control control control" vocal loop, which is comparable to last year's remix of Missy Elliot's "Lose 'hypnotic robotic hypnotic robotic' Control," and the way the song builds and builds is by now a recognizable Lu Contism. This remix has some nice pizzicato strings, though; off the top of my head I don't remember if they've featured on other mixes, but then again I have a bit of a concussion.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Caroline, "Bicycle"/"I'll Leave My Heart Behind" (2006)

Some reference points for Caroline -- full name Caroline Lufkin -- are obvious. Say: Bjork, and Stina Nordenstam.

But what comes to mind most, when I listen to the bewitching album Murmurs, is a music box. If the ballerina in that music box could sing, she would, I imagine, make music that resembles this. Crisp. Fragile. Pristine. Tinkly with some clean electronic flourishes, and featuring vocals pitched so high as to be almost unbearable.

On the first half of the album, this music box aesthetic is especially strong. The opener, "Bicycle," has a series of staccato lines that are vivid without ever explaining anything: "I can't remember your face/But I remember your bicycle/How it took my breath away." It's followed by "Pink and Black," a song that uses harps and, if such a thing is possible, sounds like a windchime, and the sparseness continues up to the recent single "Where's My Love." The second half of the album picks up the pace slightly: "Every Little Thing" has an arpeggiated riff that actually breaks a sweat, while the lovely "I'll Leave My Heart Behind" is almost conventional enough to be glitchy pop.

It's all quite hypnotic, though it may also prove too precious for some. Music to listen to while watching that ballerina tether, spin around and around. (While thinking, perhaps, about how you used to have a pink skirt just like that.) (Um, or not.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Shampoo, "Inspector Gadget" (2000)

Note from the editors: We've decided that this blog needs more readers. We're therefore converting Tremble Clef into tabloid format. Rest assured that this will not affect the quality of this esteemed publication.

Our Father in Heaven, help us!

Some things are too SHOCKING to speak of, but we here must do our duty!

We can exclusively reveal: bubblegum pop song hides secret evil message!

"Inspector Gadget" is a song by pop duo Shampoo. You can find it -- IF YOU DARE! -- on their Absolute Shampoo album. The album was mostly written and produced by Saint Etienne's Bob and Pete, who should be ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES! Although this track wasn't done by them.

The song seems fun and harmless. It's about "Inspector Gadget." We might think it's about an inventive cartoon character who loves electronic doodads. "His Bag Of Tricks Would Confuse 007! Two Mobile Phones Is His Idea Of Heaven!"

But then Shampoo tells us that "Life Would Be Hell Without Duracells!" Huh? And then Shampoo says, "We Know For A Fact He Wants In On The Act!" And they confess, "Everything He Does Nearly Drives Us Insane!" Insane -- WITH PLEASURE!

The meaning could not be plainer! Or sicker! This is obviously a song do we say it? It's about the thing that could REPLACE MEN. The thing that...VIBRATES. And in vibrating, should make every red-blooded man TREMBLE.

We urge you to buy up all copies of Absolute Shampoo* and BURN THEM!

*was only available for a short time in 2000 from the band's website.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Melissa Manchester, "Home To Myself" (1973)

One story I could tell you about my relation to Melissa Manchester might begin with a panning shot that settles on a nine or ten year old boy lying in bed under the covers. He's distraught. The setback in his life is, especially in retrospect, absolutely minor, and may have something to do with his fear that the next day will bring an annoucement, via a report card, that he is no longer the smartest boy in the school. As he thinks about this, he hilariously sinks deeper and deeper into self-pity, and is either in, or on the verge of, tears. But then he recalls Melissa's sage advice. "Don't cry out loud," she counsels. "Just keep it inside. Learn how to hide your feelings. Fly high and proud. And if you should fall, remember you almost had it all." Wise words, even if his situation didn't have much to do with the circus coming to town, or affairs with clowns. He sniffs one last time, and decides he would bravely keep his chin up. He needs to be stoic for the world. In his imagination, the people around him even start to slow clap for this boy's incredible courage. He drifts off to sleep, and, on waking and going to school the next morning, finds that his worries were all for nothing.

But such a story would be too embarrassing. Even for someone who loves the power of cheap music, it's twee and, lord, oh so gay. So say it's untrue, and instead take refuge in a more impersonal close reading.

Before Melissa Manchester made wonderfully OTT power pop ballads in the late 70s, before she put out, in the early 80s, gloriously cheesy drum majorette pop songs like "You Should Hear How She Talks About You" that Gwen Stefani would give her firstborn for, she was a sensitive singer-songwriter. The title track, cowritten with Carole Bayer Sager, of her debut album, for example, is a quiet, simple song about being alone. (I sometimes wish it could have offered Phyllis Hyman some comfort.) It's a tough genre. Perhaps it says more about my (now) bitter cynical heart, but few songs about the joys of solitude convince. It's too easy for such songs to sound like they protest too much; sing "I know we're cool" one less time, and you don't make your point strongly enough, but, more likely, sing "I ain't missing you at all" one more time, and it sounds like you're trying to fool yourself.

But "Home To Myself" is never too much. "Think to myself/My own best friend/It's not so bad all alone/Coming home to myself again." Life alone is not great. It's just "not so bad." And it's a verdict that Melissa arrives at, instead of one she emptily reiterates in order to convince, most of all, herself. "Now I understand/Whatever I feel is whoever I am/Watching my life, how it's grown/Looking on back to things I've known/And it's not so bad all alone/Coming home to myself again."

One way to end this story is to flash forward and replace that little boy with a grown-up version, in bed again, who thinks about how he was paying attention, all those years, to the wrong Melissa Manchester song. "I've come a long way/Got a long way to go." But there are, one hopes, other endings.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Memphis, "My Favourite Game" (2002)/"Love Comes Quickly" (2004)

Pop Stars Who Have Awesome Day Jobs (A Short Series): Chris Dumont, who is one half of the group Memphis, is a carousel operator at Central Park. A carousel operator! At the happiest place on earth! Except when it's the setting for a climactic movie murder!

Okay, so he was only doing this part-time; and perhaps it wasn't even so much a day job as a night job; plus, he was doing this a few years ago, and for all we know may no longer be a guardian of the horsies, but, it still looks fantastic through my rose tinted glassses. It's almost disappointing that he never sampled the carousel theme music for one of his band's records.

The other member of Memphis is Torquil Campbell, who is better known as the frontman of Stars. I've watched the increasing fame and popularity of Stars with mixed feelings. Indeed, the feelings are complex enough to deserve a separate post, not that I'll ever write it, but they essentially boil down to my liking them less the more well-known they became. This is in no way due to my having the indie-hipster attitude which holds that a band is good only so long as they are unknown. Rather, I've just found Stars' success to coincide with their sound changing from something more electronic/ keyboard-based, to one more rooted in guitar rock. Nightsongs from 2001 was almost a perfect pop album, the sound of some young men twiddling knobs in their bedroom and coming up with pretty but bitter pop numbers. Heart, released two years later, of course had "Elevator Love Song" and "Life Effect," though the album as a whole I found less consistent than Nightsongs. But it was Set Yourself On Fire that more or less broke the band. And yet the album is my least favorite: it's not necessarily bad, but the preponderance of guitar pop-rock tracks on that record just made Stars sound like a million other bands (albeit a good version).

Because of my dissatisfaction with Set Yourself On Fire in 2004, I eagerly sought out Memphis's album I Dreamed We Fell Apart. I first heard the band in 2002 -- this was after Stars' Nightsongs, which I loved so much that I just had to track down Torquil's side project -- when I picked the EP A Good Day Sailing on Le Grand Magistery. All five songs on the EP turned out to be marvellous: dreamy, poignant, catchy. "My Favourite Game," for example, presents a series of melancholic haikuesque lines: "Blossom Dearie, that's my favorite name/Winter leaves brush against the window pane/All I see is the lemon tree, the one behind my house/We kissed beneath it in November rain."

Perhaps the standard set by the EP was impossibly high. The long player I Dreamed We Fell Apart in contrast lacked the magic and sparkle; many of the songs were equally dreamy but somehow more insubstantial, inconsequential. My favorite thing about the album, finally, is the title, although the band's cover of Pet Shop Boys' "Love Comes Quickly" comes a close second. It doesn't quite have the swooshing grandeur and heartbreak of the original -- what does? -- but in its quiet, hushed way (a strummy guitar replaces the sweeping synths of the original) is almost as effective.

The releases have done nothing. Memphis is not a household name. Perhaps Chris is back working at the carousel. That still sounds impossibly exciting to me, but I might feel differently if I had to spend all day oiling a horse's cast bevel gear.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

ABC, "Ocean Blue (Atlantic Mix)" (1985)

I was fifteen before I had a room to myself. Prior to that, my family lived in an apartment that was a reasonable size, but didn't have too many bedrooms. My mother did a wonderful job of taking care of my sister and me, and of my grandparents, who at points lived with us as well, while my father worked to provide for everyone. Although I had to share a room with my sister for the first fourteen years of my life, neither she nor I ever felt aggrieved about the lack of space. Indeed, neither of us really felt that we were wanting for much. That is less of a testament to us -- and especially to me -- and more to my parents, who are absolute heroes.

Nevertheless, it was pretty nice when we -- by this time just my parents, my sister, and me -- moved to another apartment. In a shocking act of generosity, I ceded the bedroom with the lovely view of water to my sister, who didn't even pretend to engage in a "No no, you take it" charade, and took the other room, which had more of a Rear Window vibe.

Perhaps it was because I was a prissy child (some would say, still is). Or perhaps it was because my parents had taught me to treasure things in general (for years, I used to wrap the cover of every book I bought in a kind of transparent plastic sheet, the better to reduce wear and tear. This is not as eccentric as it sounds: to this day many kids in this country still do it, and it warms my heart). But I never made my new room over into what one typically thinks of as a teenage-looking room. In particular, there weren't a million pop posters adorning the walls, nor was there some rebellious "Keep Out" sign hanging on my bedroom door. (Aside from the teens on American TV, does anyone actually do that?)

Eventually, one poster made it up onto the wall. And I think I only hung it after they invented Blu Tack and I could be certain that I wasn't going to damage the property. (Like I said: prissy.)

The poster was of ABC's How To Be A Zillionaire! album cover. ABC was pretty much my favorite band in the 80s, rivalled only by, um, Thompson Twins. I loved The Lexicon Of Love, of course, and, in an early act of music deviance, Beauty Stab even more. And then came Zillionaire, which I thought was, no question, their pinnacle. I still do: it's a wildly inventive record, a sort of postmodern pop album. From the opening stereophonic machine-gunny effect on "Fear Of The World," to the simply but infectious toy piano riff on "Be Near Me," to the unusual shuffle faux-Motown beat of "15 Storey Halo," to the doo-wop-goes-hip-hop sounds of my favorite track "Tower of London," through the two tear-inducing ballads that are "Ocean Blue" and "Between You And Me," there wasn't a single track that I truly disliked. (The only one that came close: the single "Vanity Kills," and that was as much because it perturbed me to hear the hitherto erudite Martin Fry be so horrifyingly ungrammatical: "Vanity kills/It don't pay bills.")

Quite aside from how much I loved the album, I also quite adored the cover art. At this time, ABC of course was in the phase of wanting to be pop-art cartoon characters, going so far as to induct into the band a bald little person and a former Face journalist whose main function, it turns out, was to mutter the immortal line, "Hi! I'm Eden! I want you -- to kiss! My! Snatch!" I believe my thinking then was: well, if I'm going to put up a poster in my room, from where it couldn't possibly ever be taken down, it better be something that has enough elements to entertain me for years. (I'm telling you: pris. Sy.) If I remember right, I bought the poster from a record shop in town called, appropriately enough for our story about rooms, The Attic. This was a infamously snobby store; they only stocked vinyl, which even in the mid-80s was beginning to look rather pointedly retrogressive. The store, while intimidating, entertained my friends and I for hours, because we were never sure if the person who worked there the most was a man, or a very severe and mannish woman. It was Pat.

"Ocean Blue" is one of the highlights of Zillionaire. This teen had no defense against its romantic inverted title and lush, romantic sound. When the song was wisely selected as the fourth single, I bought the 12", and on it was this bewitching "Atlantic Mix." (It later became available on CD via The Remix Collection.) The five-minute version begins with a "Brum-brum, PING!" sound that subtly marks its departure from the album version. From there, we go through what is essentially the 7" version, but then the remix becomes more apparent: an instrumental passage, some pizzicato strings, and a little gurgling bass part. About two minutes into the track, an extended orchestral part takes over: utterly gorgeous strings swoop in, a keyboard fades in and out like a memory, and a piano pounds, as the remix expands on what had been, on the album version, a short instrumental middle eight. Here on the remix, it goes on and on, and yet is not a second too long. When we finally return to the final two couplets -- "I stand at the head of the queue/This mutiny's every crew/Wishing and wondering 'bout you/Ocean blue" -- it feels aptly like we've gone on a long seafaring voyage only to find ourselves back at the start, changed and yet the same. And, to this day, the ABC poster still hangs in my old bedroom, in my parents' apartment.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The 6ths with Melanie, "I've Got New York" (2000)

This evening I met the avant-garde musician who's internationally famous for playing the toy piano. We made small talk. But what I really wanted to ask her was, "Was it fun tickling the ivories for the 6ths and Melanie? What is Stephin Merritt really like?"

Next up: Brittle-Lemon meets Madonna, and asks her how it felt "acting, in a supporting role, with Lori Petty."