Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Linkblogging – And A Break From Blogging – For 22/05/12

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on May 22, 2012

When I said the other day that I’d be offline next week, I didn’t realise that this was the week that Plok was coming to visit, so I won’t have time to write for the next couple of days. Since we’re going away on Saturday morning, and I won’t have net access for a week, don’t expect any more blog posts for the next nine days or so.

Have some links to tide you over:

The IPPR argue that Labour needs to plan for coalition with the Lib Dems

Jennie has some useful ideas about cutting red tape for businesses.

Jazz Hands, Serious Business on social mobility and public schools — I come from one or two notches down the social ladder from JHSB, and went to private, rather than public, school, but this is pretty much my experience too.

Caron Lindsay has a good roundup of the Lib Dem bloggers’ responses to the pusillanimous, illiberal, craven decision by Lib Dem FCC to allow the police to decide we no longer have the right to free assembly even at our own conference
. You can take it that I agree with all the posts she links, and with her own comments.

And Power Pop Criminals links to a recording of a concert of solo Paul McCartney songs performed by powerpop greats. I’ve not listened to it yet, but given that it features people like Jeff Foskett, Probyn Gregory, Stew, Morley from Cosmo Topper, P. Hux, Baby Lemonade, Andrew Sandoval, Randell Kirsch, PF Sloan and Darian Sahanaja, I imagine it’s about as good as music gets.

I’ll be back, at the latest, on the second of June. I’ll get a lot of writing done while I’m in Cornwall, with any luck.

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New MindlessWho Post

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on May 22, 2012

Linkblogging For 20/05/12

Posted in linkblogging by Andrew Hickey on May 21, 2012

Sorry for the lack of recent posts — I’ve been incredibly busy the last few days (in fact for the last few weeks — I’m more than a month behind with my comics reading). I normally try to get a MindlessWho post up on a Saturday night, but I spent Friday night at the theatre and then all day yesterday in Liverpool, attending both the International Pop Overthrow (the best powerpop festival in the world) and a Beach Boys fan convention.

I’ve nearly finished the post on The Deadly Assassin that was meant to go up on Mindless Ones yesterday, so that’ll be up tomorrow, and then there’ll be Peculiar Branch and Kinks posts in the couple of days after that.

From the 26th through the 2nd I’m on holiday with no net access, though I’ll *try* to get some posts queued up for while I’m gone. The plan is that I’ll use that time to finish the Kinks book, and maybe finish the Peculiar Branch novel up too, but no matter what I’ll get a lot of writing done while I’m away.

But for now, links:

Gavin Burrows on an exhibition about the Hajj at the British Museum

Bronchia on what Blue Peter meant to her as a child


Police call for public to be vigilant as hunt for Gambaccini intensifies
— I found this hilarious, especially the bit about Gambaccini’s radio appearances after Davy Jones’ death. I remember that when I did a radio appearance talking about Davy myself, the producer who asked me to do it said “we want someone who isn’t Paul Gambaccini”…

How the Citizens United decision was orchestrated by John Roberts

Romance University on turning backstory into characterisation

An introduction to Objectivist-C

And finally, though I was never a huge Bee Gees fan, I was sad to hear about Robin Gibb’s death. I love his unreleased solo album Sing Slowly Sisters, which I linked here a few weeks back, but of the Bee Gees’ released work, by far the best is the deeply strange double album Odessa, which stands up well against Odessey And Oracle, Forever Changes and other albums that straddle the borders of psychedelia and soft-pop, of mainstream cheesiness and disturbance.

You can listen to the 3CD deluxe edition of the album, legally, on Spotify here. For those who don’t have or can’t get Spotify, I’ve embedded a youtube video which contains the entire original album below. I’ve no idea if it’s on youtube with permission or not though, so it could disappear at any time.

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The Kinks’ Music: Percy

Posted in music by Andrew Hickey on May 16, 2012

A revised version of this essay appears in Preservation: The Kinks’ Music 1964-1974, available in paperback , hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK) , and for all non-Kindle devices from Smashwords.

The Kinks’ final album for Pye Records is one that is literally impossible to listen to in the correct context, because that correct context has never existed. It was written as the soundtrack for the film Percy, an alleged comedy about a penis transplant starring Hywel Bennet and Britt Ekland, and so as programmatic music it should be listened to in the context of the film. Except that Ray Davies stormed out of the film’s premiere because his music had been so chopped up by the film’s makers, so clearly what made it to the film is not what Davies intended.

So the best we can do is to judge the album on its own merits, except that the music was never primarily intended as an album, and so much of the music doesn’t really work as a separate listening experience either.

Possibly the best thing for a listener who wants a good musical experience is to listen to just the highlights from the album. The songs God’s Children, The Way Love Used To Be, Moments and Dreams were released as an EP, and that EP is as good as anything the Kinks were doing around this time. The best of this music is better than the best of Lola Vs Powerman, but it’s surrounded by instrumental filler.

That said, even the filler is perfectly listenable for the most part — it’s just not interesting, either as music or as a stage in the Kinks’ artistic development.

For these reasons, this will be the shortest of these essays by some way. It’s a shame, though, that Davies didn’t get to have his work treated with enough respect that we could hear what it sounded like in its proper context.

The Album

God’s Children
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Generally considered the highlight of the album, God’s Children is one of Davies’ return-to-nature songs, this time arguing that “we are all God’s children” and that “Man…didn’t make you and he didn’t make me/And he’s got no right to turn us into machines.”

Musically, this is very Dylanesque, with a simple I-IV-V chorus, and verses that aren’t much more complex, and a string section essentially acting as a pad in much the same way Dylan would use a Hammond organ.

It’s not a completely thought-out song, but there’s an emotional honesty to the track that makes it work.

Lola
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

This, on the other hand, really doesn’t work at all. A nearly five-minute instrumental version of the band’s recent hit, performed in the pseudo-funk style that is stereotypically used in 70s porn films, all chittering hi-hat and mildly distorted guitars, but with the vocal melody stated by a Hammond organ in a way that sounds incongruously like the work of Reggie Dixon.

The Way Love Used To Be
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A rather lovely little ballad, this is by far the best thing on the album, and is also far better than anything on Lola Vs Powerman. Based around a simple fingerpicked folk-style acoustic guitar part, doubled by piano, but with a string section that has some of the best orchestral arrangements of any Kinks album, dominated by cellos, with a very thin, barely audible, violin line at the top, this is musically simple, play-in-a-day stuff, but it’s the right kind of simple. This could easily have fit onto Colin Blunstone’s One Year, which is praise as high as it comes.

Davies’ marriage was going through a rough patch at this time, and this song about wanting to get away from the cares of the world and “talk about the way love used to be” is the work of a man who desperately wants to fix what is broken. This is possibly the best Kinks song of the post-60s era, and doesn’t really admit of much analysis — it works so well because of its simplicity.

Completely
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A ditchwater-dull blues instrumental based loosely on the melody of Amazing Grace, this plods along for three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of nothingness.

Running Around Town
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A nice little fragment, this starts as a rather frenetic, jug-bandish reworking of the melodic theme from God’s Children, performed on acoustic guitar and harmonica, before easing into a slow, arpeggiated, guitar/piano/harmonica fade.

Moments
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

Stylistically rather odd, this is a mix between French chanson and the kind of 70s divorce rock that one expects to hear sung by a jumpsuited Elvis, occasionally hitting on something that sounds almost like Jake Thackray.

Based around the old Davies trick of the descending scalar bassline, this seems not properly thought out, an emotional expression (a confessional about his failing marriage — “I said I’d never do you wrong but then I go and do the same again/I don’t know why”) that hasn’t been completely fitted into the formal structure of the pop song. Unfortunately, Davies’ overly-mannered vocal here distances that emotion enough that the song doesn’t quite come off, but it’s a brave effort.

Animals In The Zoo
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

A three-chord rocker based loosely on a Bo Diddley beat, but with Davies doing his Carribean accent again, this is another of Davies’ songs about needing to get back to nature — “You’re locked up but I’m on the loose/But I can’t quite tell who’s looking at who/Because I’m an animal too”. It’s the kind of thing you’d write if you wanted to write something that sounded a bit like early 70s Kinks, and is catchy enough, but tellingly wasn’t included on the EP of the better material from the album.

Just Friends
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

One of the strangest, and strongest, things on the album, this shows the growing influence of Kurt Weill on Davies’ songwriting — an influence which would come to dominate the Preservation album.

Starting with a statement of the melody, played presumably on a celesta, but sounding like a music box, this waltz-time piece then goes into a speak-sung Weimar cabaret style performance, alternating between Davies singing, backed by strings, and a tinkling solo harpsichord answering Davies’ phrases.

In this section, Davies sings in a light, pre-war vocal style, with lyrics that show the character he is playing is trying to reassure but is very, very scary — “I shall not molest you, I shan’t rape your brain”. He then takes on a slightly less sinister persona, this time in a comically vibrato voice reminiscent of Rudy Valee, to repeat the same sentiments over a faster-moving string part.

The track then moves into a baroque instrumental orchestration of the main theme (though perhaps with too simple a string part to have the true baroque feel), led by a harpsichord. The whole thing feels curiously like the work Randy Newman was to do a year or so later, both in the orchestral style and in the use of the unreliable, creepy narrator.

Whip Lady
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

Forty seconds of rather interesting minimalist music built up from several layered piano parts playing simple repeating motifs in 6/8 (with a guitar and bass coming in toward the end), followed by forty seconds of loud rock music with some technically impressive drumming.

Dreams
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: Ray Davies

The most complex song on the album in terms of structure, this is still a comparatively weak song by Davies’ standards.

We start with a verse over slow arpeggiated keyboads (based around I and V7 chords with the occasional IV thrown in), doubled with acoustic guitar as on several other tracks around this time. The second verse, following immediately after, is the same melody and chord sequence, but over a sluggish, grinding, rock riff.

There then follows a quick drum fill, leading into a slow ten-bar keyboard solo, based around yet another descending scalar bassline, with a feel that seems to be going for Bach, but is let down by a guitar- and drum-heavy mix.

We then get a seven-bar chorus, with a IV-I chord sequence underpinned by another descending scalar bassline, before suddenly going into an instrumental break consisting of slowly arpeggiated I-IV-V-I chords played by a piano with an organ pad.

We then get a heavy rock version of the verse, a second chorus, another verse, then seven bars of the arpeggios, played at twice the earlier speed, on harpsichord, before the heavy rock style comes in for one final verse and then a repetition of the verse riff to fade.

The song shows some of the ambition of a Shangri-La or Autumn Almanac in its arrangement and construction, but alas has a paucity of musical ideas, and outstays its welcome.

Helga
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

A generically “Meditteranean” instrumental, with wordless vocals from Davies, this features Spanish guitar and what sounds like a bouzouki, playing a 6/8 melody that owes something to the theme from Zorba The Greek, El Paso and to The Last Waltz.

Willesden Green
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: John Dalton

This is notable as the only track in the Kinks’ entire career to have a lead vocal by a band member other than one of the Davies brothers, as John Dalton performs what seems to be an inept (probably deliberately so) attempt at an Elvis impression.

The song itself is a parody of Detroit City, a country song by Bobby Bare that had been a UK top ten hit for Tom Jones in 1967, and has the same melody and, like Detroit City, a lyric about missing one’s hometown when far away and wanting to get a train back, including a recitative section in the middle.

The joke of the song is that while the singer in Detroit City lives in Detroit and misses the cotton fields of the South, the singer in Willesden Green has only moved as far as Fulham and Golders Green from his home area of Willesden (all three of these areas are within a handful of miles from each other, all within London).

This combination of country music and focusing on a specific area of London would be used more seriously on the band’s next album, Muswell Hillbillies, but here it’s just played for laughs.

God’s Children – The End
Writer:
Ray Davies
Lead Vocalist: instrumental

Twenty-seven seconds of reprise of the opening track, with the melody played on an acoustic guitar, closes what is the least interesting Kinks album up to this point.

New MindlessWho Post

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on May 13, 2012

On Genesis Of The Daleks, Terry “Will this do?” Nation’s finest three hours.

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