Saturday, 20 August 2016

Indie Top 20 Volume One - Tracks 11-15 (New Order, Ghost Dance, Rose of Avalanche, Ciccone Youth, Chesterfields)

11. New Order - Turn The Heater On (Peel Session) (Strange Fruit)

While it might have seemed a bit rum to follow Joy Division's track with New Order's on this album, it does, to be fair, involve a flip of cassette sides first (remember we're still a long way from the CD era at this point). What waited for you on side two was actually something of a New Order obscurity, being a cover of reggae maestro Keith Hudson's song which was unissued on any of their B-sides or albums, being a John Peel session exercise only.

So could New Order have followed in the footsteps of UB40 in another life? Not really, but this is an exceptionally eerie, wintery dub excursion which had its heart in exactly the right place. Recorded solely due to the fact that it was one of Ian Curtis' favourite songs, New Order turn it into a unique tribute of its own, and create something beautifully atmospheric and filmic. While Hudson's original burbles along in a lively and summery fashion, New Order leave it to sprawl on the bare floorboards of a Manchester bedsit in January. It's the best kind of cover version, in that it's a total reinterpretation. That it's also a touching gesture makes it a bit more special.

12. Ghost Dance - The Grip Of Love (Karbon)

Enter Goth Rock into the fray. Goth was a funny old business back in the mid-eighties, receiving a very variable music press reception which appeared to operate along the following lines - Sounds viewed it more favourably than Melody Maker, who in turn viewed it much more favourably than the NME. So far as the NME seemed to be concerned, Goth was a deeply silly business only to be spat at, a game of Dungeons and Dragons for Bauhaus fans who were all old enough to know better. By the end of the eighties, of course, almost everyone had given up and began writing about Goth in mocking tones, if they wrote about it at all (many of the movement's biggest bands were utterly denied coverage by the turn of the decade).

Ghost Dance were much-feted among some sympathetic journalists and also within the movement itself, but ultimately never really broke through commercially. Unfortunate, as "The Grip of Love" certainly proved they had the pop chops to cross over under the right circumstances. It pounds along like a more leaden-footed version of mid-seventies Fleetwood Mac (has anyone actually investigated the influence mid-period Mac had on Goth Rock in the eighties? It seems more common than you'd suppose) but ultimately never drifts far from the chorus or central riff, clinging on to both like a small child terrified to break free of its mother's grip. The Grip of Love? Well, maybe. Perhaps that's the point they were trying to make.

This isn't the last we'll see of Ghost Dance on "Indie Top 20" (I told you, they were big news for awhile) and the next time we come to visit them, my opinions may actually surprise you, as they say on Upworthy. Or not, now I've let that huge plot spoiler out of the bag.

13. The Rose of Avalanche - Velveteen (Fire)

We seem to have entered a brief Goth Rock segment in the compilation, for while they later denied it utterly, Leeds' The Rose of Avalanche certainly had a goth following, and a distinctly dark, doomy air to most of their recordings.

"Velveteen" is a prime low-budget, indie approximation of an epic rock tune which in places vaguely predicts the riff from Guns N' Roses "Sweet Child Of Mine". Written about Nico of the Velvet Underground, a drum machine thuds and echoes its way through a slowly evolving guitar riff, and the drama slowly brews, sprawling across six minutes of hollering vocals and foreboding atmospherics.

Or, if you're anything like me, you'll actually find this single unspeakably dull. While it was considered a huge statement to make at the time, back in the days when everything Velvet Underground was the height of outsider sophistication, right now it sounds like a horrible plodding chore, with nothing much to say for its woebegone self. An artist like Scott Walker could do chorus-free character portraits across six minutes and make them sound fascinating - The Rose of Avalanche don't have the same dexterity with arrangements or lyrics, and this entire song is writing artistic cheques it cannot cash. There's no question that this was hugely significant at the time and highly regarded by many fans and critics, but for me it just doesn't cut it.

The next time we meet The Rose of Avalanche, however, I will be a lot more favourably disposed towards them - but epic, plodding rock statements of this nature are something I just lose patience with.

14. Ciccone Youth - Into The Groov(y) (Blast First)

Aka Sonic Youth and Mike Watt having a jolly good piss-around. Like a lot of Sonic Youth's attempts at side projects and experimentation, this starts off feeling so gleefully anarchic that you immediately want to rewind and listen to the whole thing again... but the fun palls quickly. "Into The Groov(y)" is a mutant Hip-Hop and punk celebration of all things Madonna, cutting huge holes in the original pop arrangement of "Into The Groove" until all that's left is a hollow, grinding structure predominantly driven by Watt's repetitive bass runs. Occasionally Madonna's original vocal (which I'm assuming they didn't get copyright clearance for) rises up into the mix to threaten to restore order, then evaporates away again, overpowered, giving up the ghost.

But there's no way on earth this was intended as any kind of serious artistic statement, and really, it's just supreme daftness, another in a long line of attempts to punkify and radicalise highly successful, slick pop music (If I wanted to be really controversial here, I might ask what the difference is conceptually between this and The Dickies). Often though, the problem with exercises like this one is they make you realise how solid and well constructed the original vision was, and by the time you get to the end, your main urge is to just put the original single on the turntable.

Sonic Youth do not appear on the "Indie Top 20" series again after this, which feels like a wasted opportunity.

15. The Chesterfields - Completely and Utterly (Subway)

Another very minor indie chart hit here, which held down the "all-important" number 16 slot in 1986. A gentle and merry track, it cowers and quakes in the presence of Sonic Youth immediately before it - and while Chet and Bee did eventually become dab hands at creating the running orders of "Indie Top 20" albums effectively, it has to be said that Volume One highlights that at this stage in the series, they were clearly not firing on all cylinders.

Yeovil's The Chesterfields were one of very many indie-pop bands of the era whose influences appeared to be somewhere between early sixties pop, The Monochrome Set and Orange Juice, while entirely lacking the groove and funk of the latter. Charm was their main selling point, and "Completely and Utterly" veritably nods and winks its way into your heart, despite trying to sound faintly cross with itself. "I am sick of situations... nothing's changed in donkey's years!" states lead singer Dave Goldsworthy, but it doesn't sound as if it's about anything crashingly important. I've always imagined it's probably about something mundane like the local bus service, but - within the context of indiepop - that's actually a compliment. It wouldn't do for The Chesterfields to try to be The Clash. And in any case, crowbarring the phrase "Nothing's changed in donkey's years" into a pop song, then delivering it in a polite voice, is a brilliant masterstroke.

Like many of their kind, The Chesterfields split in 1989. I can see I'm going to be typing "split in 1989" a lot whenever we cover indiepop bands (although a few brave souls limped on into the dawn of 1990). 

1 comment:

  1. Top New Order cover, fondly remembered in my house. I bought the 12" Peel Sessions with it on a trip to the Young Scientists Exhibition in Dublin's RDS. A few of us left the exhibition as soon as possible, gave the teachers the slip, and got a bus into Dublin's city centre where a brand new Virgin Megastore had recently opened. In those days Virgin had vinyl sections for everywhere (Happy Flowers, Butthole Surfers, Wire etc) so I was in heaven.