1. Bradford - Dodging Around In Cars (Village)
"...lazy bastard fumbles funk concerning itself with one afternoon of a misspent youth".
Not really too sure of the point behind including this track on the series. "Skin Storm" had been featured on the CD88 compilation, and "Dodging Around In Cars" was merely the third track on that single, the "extra twelve inch single B-side". And it sounds like it, too... full credit for giving Bradford a tiny bit of extra exposure, but this, a piece of meandering funkiness about teenage driving hi-jinks (a slow and smouldering rethink of the concept behind Madness's "Driving In My Car", if you will) is unremarkable and probably did them few favours.
Nice wah-wah work, though. We'd be hearing more and more of that particular pedal over the next few years.
2. Sandie Shaw - Nothing Less Than Brilliant (Rough Trade)
"the new Sandie Shaw single; succulent, tantilising, rich, beguiling, a bargain at the price and very highly accomplished. A sweeping loop of a record which lies somewhere in between The Cocteau Twins, The Smiths and Raymonde but sounds refreshingly GORGEOUS for all that. Mature pop, vintage wine, send me a kiss and I'll make you my own. Single of the Season". Melody Maker, Everett True.
Ah God, now we're in business! While I'd usually be inclined to take Everett True's hype with a lorry-load of salt - he's been known to rave about both genuinely worthy contenders and barely fleshed out crayon doodles of pop songs - in this case, he was absolutely on the money. "Nothing Less Than Brilliant" involved Shaw hopping back into the recording studio with her old songwriting buddy Chris Andrews, and the pair emerged with one of the finest singles either would produce. Sounding unbelievably 1988 and indiefied from a pair whose career peaks actually occurred in the sixties, it really should have been an enormous comeback single. As it turned out, it wasn't. And it wasn't again when Virgin reissued it to promote a "Best Of" CD in 1994, even though the fair sixties-favouring winds of Britpop should have been behind her at that point.
That's appallingly unjust. "Brilliant" is one of the finest examples of passionate, jagged guitar pop of the era, far better than her Morrissey and Jesus and Mary Chain penned tracks from the same period. Fizzing over with verve, defiance and a towering chorus, the track is pushed further towards genius by Shaw's performance. She throws in some Morrissey styled hiccups and howls as a nod to the new generation, but there's a force of character in her performance which shows this was far from the young, insouciant Sandie delivering a sulky rehearsal of "Long Live Love" for Top of the Pops. She sounds alive and demanding to be noticed, and the lyrics back those feelings up. This is the kind of performance age and experience make possible.
It's unfortunate that Sandie Shaw's comeback LP "Hello Angel" was riddled with song contributions from the press darlings of the time. This proves that she (and Chris Andrews) really didn't need them, and "Brilliant" should have been the lead comeback single.
And what of Chris Andrews, you may ask? What else had he been doing around this time? Well, amongst other things, penning the theme and incidental pieces of music for "The Chart Show" on Channel 4, as a matter of fact.
(Late edit to allow for one more additional fact - it's Chrissie Hynde playing harmonica on this as well).
3. The Parachute Men - Sometimes In Vain (Fire)
"Flying jackets and bootlace ties. Sunglasses, sideburns, buttondown shirts. Stripes, shades, scarves, loud guitars. A floatdown, a freefall. From Leeds, The Parachute Men brandish an intuitive talent for non-nonsense passionate guitar rock underwired with acoustic country threads".
It's an unfortunate consequence of the track sequencing that the fuzzy, emotional performance of The Parachute Men immedately follows Sandie Shaw. Unfortunate because it's also a bit blooming good too, but is somewhat overshadowed.
No matter. I've never been able to make up my mind whether the production of "Sometimes In Vain" is blurry and muddy sounding to deliberately convey the confused anguish of the track's subject matter, or just because they were in a low-cost studio and that's all they could manage. It does work well, though, whether by accident or design - chiming guitar licks almost smother Fiona Gregg's vocals so she sounds appropriately lost, and the track has a very peculiar, almost Bronte-esque melodrama to it which is unbelievably effective. This is sixties styled pop laced with an eighties darkness; as soon as the organ kicks in towards the end, you know you're not dealing with a standard piece of tossed off indie-pop. "Sometimes In Vain" is ambitious and atmospheric as well as having the kind of hooks Shaw would have deemed solid in 1966.
4. The Colorblind James Experience - Considering A Move To Memphis (Fundamental)
"The Colorblind James Experience is a six member rock and roll band whose diverse instrumentation allow the group to sound like anything from a traditional country band to a demented small town orchestra".
There's plenty of silliness in pop's history books, of course - The Firm's "Star Trekkin" would be a prime example of that, funny for one listen, not worthy of your attention much after that. Then there's epic, ambitious silliness, which "Memphis" is. Nearly seven minutes of clearly ironic spoken word musings on Memphis by the singer "Colorblind" James Charles Cuminale. He dreams, somewhat pathetically, of a low-rent relocation ("It worked for Elvis Presley/ Why can't it work for me?") and his ramblings are combined with jazzy arrangements which, according to what segment of the song you're listening to, can sound like morning hotel breakfast bar muzak or flamboyant mod jazz (with vibes, of course). Or on occasion, both at once.
Like the work of other Americans with one eyebrow ironically raised, such as They Might Be Giants or Ween, this is definitely an acquired taste and will irritate as many people as it thrills. But the lyrics are effortless dreamy optimism (they even make getting a job washing up in a restaurant sound amazing) and the band are totally swept along by the merriness and ludicrousness of the idea. I swear at some moments you can even hear suppressed laughter.
The Colorblind James Experience were from Rochester, New York, but found greater success in the UK following John Peel exposure here. Somewhere in their work, you can sense a mentality that may have struck a strong chord with long-standing listeners of his. The sophisticated but daft humour behind "Memphis" doesn't exactly owe a direct debt to the Bonzo Dog Band, but it's in the same underpopulated pop parish of humorous songs with meat on their bones. You can return to this often, and it doesn't stop putting a smile on your face nor become melodically tedious.