Friday, February 08, 2008

We Are Scientists

We Are Scientists dish out brash poppy punk tunes at the Maximo Park or Kaiser Chiefs end of the spectrum. After meeting at college in California in 2000, they relocated to New York. They had released a couple of independent singles and albums but it was British audiences who took to them first thanks to tours with Maximo Park and The Arctic Monkeys. America may want them back soon!

DJ Steve Lamacq was an early and enthusiastic evangelist for them. Their major label debut With Love And Squalor came out in 2005.

It’s a good album, going from the jerkiness of the likes of The Arctic Monkeys or Franz Ferdinand to the out and out Green Day cartoon Punkiness on a track like Callbacks. They remind me a lot of The Wannadies. The guitar sounds go from clipped riffage to that stratospheric echoing sound that bands like Bloc Party have been trying to reclaim from U2 or The Chameleons. Drummer Michael Tapper left the band at the end of last year. The drumming really motors along; it’s busy without being overly fussy. They haven’t announced a replacement yet.

One of the reason s people warm to the band is the humour around their interviews, website and videos. And if your girlfriend likes Owen Wilson then she’ll probably like singer Keith Murray. Oh Great!

The video for The Great Escape has the trio getting out of bed (in a Morecambe and Wise and Young Friend style) and then carrying out their daily tasks like Siamese triplets. It’s been covered by Art Brut who are definitely travelling along the same road. Both bands have also embraced the ‘tache during their career

The video for This Scene Is dead is actually very short on action. It’s just the band standing pretty much stock still on an enclosed pedestrian bridge, while the occasional passer buy walks past. It’s actually quite disconcerting though as the accompanying song is going hell for leather. There is a flurry of activity when one of the band polishes his glasses.

My other favourite glasses related video, (although I haven’t really put a great deal of research into this, so it’s not much of a list) is the bit in The Happy Mondays video for Step On where Sean Ryder takes off his sunglasses, waves them around while he adjusts his parting (serious curtainage) and then puts them back on. I think Bez is involved with some goggles at one point as well. A video masterclass! O

Bassist Chris Cain answers a Jo Wiley question with a terse “I had my heart broken once, sure. It's a story as old as civilization: I loved her, was blind to her flaws, trusted her implicitly; she robbed my apartment and pawned my stuff to buy a car that she and some other guy drove off to God knows where, running over my father on the way out of town, taking with her my passport and credit cards and birth certificate which she sold to a criminal; I subsequently spent time in jail for what this criminal did under the guise of my identity. Hard time -- I lost a kidney. Eight years before my attorney got me out. Family all dead by then. Everybody I knew had moved away. No jobs to be had. Then the lean years: near-starvation, living on the streets, no human affection to speak of. And yes, I have forgiven her. I learned a ton.”

The new single Afterhours is less electric than previous material and is built round a winding circular riff. There’s a bit of a They Might Be Giants feel to it.

Chris Cain described it as “About that time of night when every instinct says you should not have one last drink, should not linger any longer at the pub, should not continue to talk to this clearly-troublesome yet troublingly-attractive stranger who keeps slurring as she holds eye contact for uninstinctively long periods of time -- what you should do instead is go home.”

Of course none of the of the other stuff, the humour, the videos, the facial hair, matters if the music isn’t any good. Well I like the music… and I really like their band name!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Nick Cave

Nick Cave is instantly recognisable, but also easy to pastiche. He’s a scowley stickman with a Basil Fawlty walk, all hubba hubba heh he heugh vocals sung into his collars like a death obsessed Harry Hill. I think he’s just got better over the years though as he’s moved from the confrontational howl of the Birthday Party and embraced his inner Johnny Cash.

The Birthday Party are one of those bands that I really regret not seeing live, (although I did have a ticket for a gig in 82. I can’t remember the holiday I was on, but I bet I’d remember the gig I missed to go on it) The band’s gigs teetered on the edge of onstage and offstage violence and the band themselves were just such an odd looking spectacle. There was Cave, flailing and writhing, baiting the audience and kicking out at stray heads while Tracy Pew, the static Gay bar cowboy thug (big hat, bigger 'tache), knocked out bass lines that could knock down buildings.

The thing is though, I don’t listen to the Birthday Party very often now. And if I do it’s the songs like Release The Bats, which is funny, cod Goth rockabilly horror (“Bite sex vampire bite" and it’s Elvis impersonating "Baby’s a cool machine").... The band hated it and resented the fact that their joke song became their biggest song. Nick The Stripper has a predatory strut and it could have come straight from the Buffalo Bill scenes in Silence Of The Lambs). It's got the catchy refrain of “Hideous to the eye”. (Now doesn’t that make you want to sing along?)

While there was undeniably a fierce sense of humour about the band, there was also just fierceness, and the nasty undercurrents of misogyny. It’s probably 20 years since I listened to a Birthday Party album all the way through. It was hard work then. And I don’t feel like that anymore. Either the hard work or the hatred. The band split in 1984 but I did get to see him at the Powerhouse with Sonic Youth supporting around 1985. And he did kick up a thrilling and unholy racket.

The forthcoming album Dig Lazarus Dig will be his fourteenth and over time the scratchy swampy blues of the earlier albums have become a more streamlined kind of rocking and his ballads have become less hammy. He's operating outside the normal rock n roll influences though. His lyrics are ripe with biblical imagery and lyrics that sound like screenplays for unmade films, or Jim Thompson short stories. Sometimes they're just funny. There She Goes My Beautiful World has the great line "John Wilmot penned his poetry riddled with the pox and Nabakov wrote on index cards at a lectern in his socks"

The major influence on Cave though is Johnny Cash. As well he should be. After all most books could be usefully replaced with a copy of Cash's autobiography. It would certainly simplify library shelving.

On his second album The First Born is Dead he covered Wanted Man by Johnny Cash. (Well actually written by Dylan but made his own by Cash.) It’s a really good cover, repaid in kind when Cash covered the electric chair song The Mercy Seat, stripping it of the hysteria of Cave’s original and replacing it with tense resignation. Interestingly enough though the piano on Cash’s version plays the hysterical role instead. Cash and Cave dueted on I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry on Cash's American IV album.

Cave and Shane MacGowan released a single Wonderful World in 1992 and Cave does a masterful version of rainy Night in Soho by The Pogues.

The spectacularly unflattering photos on his album sleeves over the years and his well-documented heroin use may have held him back from winning Handsome Man awards. But it could have been worse. While Dorian Gray had a picture in the attic, Nick Cave kept a guitarist on stage. Blixa Bargeld spent twenty years as a Bad Seed and still holds the distinction of the illest looking man in Pop

The duet with Kylie on Where The Wild Roses Grow was not only a hit in 1996 but it had a nation in up arms once they realised it’s murderous subject. You can’t kill Kylie! A Peoples Army of 40 year old blokes was raised to defend her. Some of them were straight!

The Boatman's Call from 1997 has the achingly beautiful Into My arms. It's just piano and bass and has a hymn like stateliness but also a real delicacy. It also sets itself apart from most love songs by having the opening line "I don't believe in an interventionist God". Nick Cave sang it at the funeral of Michael Hutchence.

The album also has People Aint No Good, which crops up on Shrek 2. Another beautiful song. Sumptuous and perkily miserable. And just when you think, “Actually shouldn't Nick really be out there scaring the kids parents?” the closing track Green Eyes delivers the line

"Slip your frigid hands beneath my shirt. This useless old fucker with his twinkling cunt. Doesn't care if he gets hurt"
I'm not quite sure what he means.... but I'm fairly sure the song is not in Shrek The Third.
After establishing himself as the ultimate creepy crooner last years Grinderman project was an excuse for him to play filthy garage rock and play with a rocking pervy preacher persona. Grinderman features long time collaborators Warren Ellis and Jim Sclavunos and a fine array of lady scaring beards. No Pussy Blues from the Jools Holland show is tightly reined in chaos. Loud and layered, with wave after wave of guitar and feedback crashing in then holding back. It's what the Birthday Party used to do.

So even though I don't think I can listen to the Birthday party anymore I found that one of my favourite albums from last year was Grinderman with Nick Cave using some of his old tricks