Sunday, 8 January 2017

Volume 10 Side 4 - Pixies, Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes, Teenage Fanclub, Telescopes, Carter USM

1. Pixies - Velouria (4AD)

" taken from Pixies fourth LP 'Bossanova'".

"Velouria" is a strange one, by general standards at least. It comes crashing through your stereo speakers like an epic rock tune at first, scaling a mountain-face like David Lee Roth at his keenest, but constantly gets distracted on its way. It seems to be constantly building towards some grand anthemic chorus, only to deliver Frank Black's barked shout of "Velouria! My Velouria!" It beckons you forward with one hand, then pushes you away with the other.

It's still a strangely beautiful record, though, from those scaling, powerful verses right down to the Kim Deal vocalised outro. It's slightly unpredictable form also creates something a damn sight more interesting than your bog-standard piece of FM rock, twisting and turning around to ensure there's more to draw you back than the obvious initial hooks. Truly horrible and pointless video, though, which looks more like a "Chart Show" home-brew effort than an official product.

This was the group's first Top 40 hit in the UK, peaking at number 28.

2. Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes - Grand Hotel (Avalanche) - Vinyl and Cassette Only

"Shine on Patrick Magee, shine on! Ceadh mile failte."

Mmm. As a teenager, I found the references to the Brighton Grand Hotel bombing in this song exhilarating and hilarious, and considered it a true piece of punk rock. Now it feels uncomfortable - a key indication, if any were needed, that we get less flippant about these artistic gestures as we get older. Also, it perhaps shows how politically divided Britain was in 1990, with bilious and murderous hatred being targeted at those who weren't on the correct side of the left-right divide from a variety of sources, and never mind anyone else who might happen to be caught in the firing line. Ladies and Gentlemen, those were the days, and we're set to recreate those days...

Jesse Garon and The Desperadoes were actually old-school Scottish indie-poppers from the mid-eighties who seemed rumly out of place with the rest of Volume Ten's offerings. That said, "Grand Hotel" sits neatly enough next to "Velouria" with its abrasive sound and angelic female backing vocals. It's also a total headrush of a track, scruffy and scuzzed up but ferocious and full-on - an innocent slice of C86 this isn't, obviously.

It was also an unusual Indie Top 20 track in that it wasn't a big seller at the time, even in indie terms, and one EP later (the "Hold Me Now" extended play issued in November 1990) and the group would be no more. Its appearance on this compilation was the first time I was ever made aware of it. Even the Daily Mail's feathers clearly weren't ruffled by its existence, and it seemed to slip under a lot of people's radars. The eighties had been filled to the brim with furious, stabbing and occasionally controversial left-wing records or even anarcho-punk records - the steady flow would continue into the nineties until John Major's government was at its absolute weakest, but interest post-Thatcher began to deplete quite rapidly. The Family Cat's B-side "Bring Me The Head Of Michael Portillo" is the most recent example I can think of, but there may be others which you good readers can think of...

3. Teenage Fanclub - Everything Flows (Paperhouse)

"Teenage Fanclub are going to be as big as The Ronettes hairdos, the Beaverbrook Foundation and Van Gogh's sunflowers".

And the Scottish fuzziness and scuzziness continues. "Everything Flows" is a ballad hiding under a fog of grungey guitars. It's melancholy, snail-paced and yet slightly noisy too. Lyrically it's confused and vague - "I think about it every day/ but only for a little while/ and then the FEELING" sings Norman Blake. Enough said, obviously.

"Everything Flows" feels like waking up in the middle of the night from a dream about an ex, alone, and with a sleep-fogged brain, knowing that your past decisions perhaps weren't the wisest, and not certain that you're any more sure-footed in the present day. It ends with distorted guitars swimming all around the mix, never once picking up the pace or offering a clear resolution. It's beautiful in a horribly disconcerting way. Perhaps unsuprisingly, it was wildly popular with John Peel listeners and did indeed do a lot to launch Teenage Fanclub outside of their existing cult following.

4. The Telescopes - Precious Little (Creation) - Vinyl and Cassette Only 

"Obsession always was one of the most terrifying of human emotions. It's when the noise stops that you silently start to scream." - Melody Maker

We're on side four of Volume Ten of "Indie Top 20", and is that... can that... can that really be a contribution from Creation Records? Well, switch my knickers! Apart from contributing the video to Tangerine's "Sunburst" to one of the Indie Top Videos, they had avoided the series like the plague until now for reasons known only to Alan McGee.

Of course, "Precious Little" is a piece of distorted, sinister and not entirely reassuring noise about love, or perhaps as the Melody Maker scribe pointed out, obsession. Had it been written for my benefit, I think I would have been a bit worried. You could quite easily give the lyrics and the melody to a twee girl with an ukulele in the present day (note to anyone reading - please don't do this) - it certainly starts appropriately enough with "Precious little look outside the sea crashes for you" - but The Telescopes, being The Telescopes, ramp up the volume and turn it into a threatening, obsessive attack, not a simple love song.

It's not their finest single, in truth, but it's certainly never short of being interesting. Stick it on in the company of friends, and witness the silence afterwards.

5. Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine - Rent (Big Cat)

"I've been waiting half of the twentieth century for my housing benefit so that I can pay my rent, I am pissed off" - Fruitbat.
"I like the Pet Shop Boys and I'm more than happy to make them a little bit of cash to help them out, stuff the Poll Tax" - Jim Bob.

The second cover version on Volume Ten takes the same approach of taking the basic template of the original but completely transforming it. Or, if your views of this are unfavourable, it might feel actually as if Carter simply scrawled childishly and furiously all over the Pet Shop Boys original melody with a variety of Crayola crayons.

Obviously, The Pet Shop Boys version of "Rent" was largely deemed to be about male prostitution (subsequently denied by Neil Tennant in recent years) something I doubt either Jim Bob or Fruitbat would have been terribly successful at. Perhaps because of that, rather than due to a deliberate misunderstanding, they seem to have made it about paying the rent in general and turning into a screaming punk assault. It starts calmly enough with a gentle (if cheap) synthesiser pulse, then slowly begins to rumble like a volcano before exploding into a disconnected, screaming rant about the contents of DSS forms.

An unpopular view started to form approximately around this time that Carter were like a rather punkish take on very late Pink Floyd - and when I say "late Pink Floyd", I very much mean the Roger Waters dictatorship years. Initially that might sound ridiculous, until you surf away and listen to "Not Now John" and hear similar spittle, samples, swearing, despair and melancholy rolled into one ball, just with much more careful production values (and classier backing vocals and more saxophones). Even the epic war ballads on "The Final Cut" with their tinkling pianos bore vague similarities to the likes of Carter's take on "The Impossible Dream". Whatever your general view, "Rent" here sounds truly hilarious at first, then weirdly gripping thereafter. It's a marvellous tantrum of a cover.

It was the flipside to their single "Rubbish" rather than an A-side, obviously, so its inclusion here is a bit strange. Clearly either the band or Beechwood Music deemed it more worthy, but I'm glad I got to hear it when I did.

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