The pantheon of classic cover versions is long and honourable. Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’, the Pixies covering the Jesus & Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’, Johnny Cash tackling Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Hurt’. Marvels all. Then you have the terrible, horrible likes of DJ Sammy’s mauling of Bryan Adam’s classic power ballad (stay with us here) ‘Heaven’, Britney vacantly posing her way through ‘I Love Rock And Roll’ and Westlife somehow making ‘Uptown Girl’ even worse. And then, oh yes, you have this little lot. Fans of arch musical wrongheadedness, you are in for a treat… I DON’T LIKE ZONDAYS You’ve seen ‘Chocolate Rain’, right? Wherein idiot savant/Youtube sensation Tay Zonday posts a self-penned clip showing off his extraordinary voice (think Barry White before the castration), his bizarre performance style and his ludicrously repetitive song and achieves (at the time of blogging this) just under 28 million views. 28 MILLION! Off the back of this frankly bewildering success and mainstream coverage, our hero turned his hand to covers. Here, with his take on Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’, we have a match made in heaven. Or the ninth circle of hell, depending on your point of view. Tay’s voice manages to make Rick sound like a choirboy, and the entire video has us staring at his admittedly amusing visage and Hawaiian shirt. Best bit: 1:51, where Tay takes a break for the backing singers to come in. You can see the glee in his face as he readies himself for the “never gonna give, never gonna give!” bit. And then he gets it wrong second time round. Oh well, if we’re laughing at him, he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
The ADD-afflicted lord of Saturday morning TV in the Eighties. Then: Combining lame-duck catchphrases like ‘brilliant’ and ‘blaaah’ with bank manager looks and Tom Selleck shirts paid off big-time for Radio DJ-turned-telly star Mallett, as his Wide Awake Club blazed a trail on ITV from 1984 to 1989. For a time he couldn’t put a foot wrong, until his audience reached puberty and wanted to watch Eurotrash instead. These days he does the rounds of student unions, no doubt interspersing his material with heckler-battling and lurid profanity. High Point: Meeting milk-stealing history blackspot Margaret Thatcher in 1990, he ceremoniously bonked her on the head with his trademark mallet, and sadly not with a real one. He also appeared at the Belfast Buzz in 1989 and a starry-eyed AU chased him through C&A as he tried to escape children just like us. All Hail Because: As a suspiciously Jonathan King-looking man with a hammer and a squeaky voice who would never get on the telly these days, Mallett reminds us of simpler, more innocent times.
It will most likely not come as a surprise to learn that Port O’Brien are a band who have found their inspiration from the environment in which they live. Although you would be wrong to assume they live in Port O’Brien – no, in fact they are currently resident in and around Kodiak Island, Alaska, a bleak, beautiful and at times isolating place to live. Remarkably for a signed band, inspiration is also drawn from the labour intensive day jobs they have (although, the show schedule on their MySpace page would suggest they’re taking a fairly long summer break); and let it be known, inspiration is something this band has in bucket loads. Port O’Brien – Music Backround Their sound could be loosely characterised as alt. folk, however it would likely appeal to fans of bands as diverse as the Shout Out Louds, Pavement and Akron/Family. Their music is as much a reaction against the solitude and stark beauty they live in, as it is a reflection of it. ‘I Woke Up Today’ is a joyous and emphatic opener, which unfolds in a delightfully unpredictable way, featuring a Polyphonic Spree-style choir of voices. ‘Pigeonhole’ – about as rock as this band gets – is a cathartic, ramshackle alt-folk wig out featuring crazed, wailing guitars that at times echoes Sonic Youth, or Western Freeway-era Grandaddy. ‘Will You Be There?’ is a more stripped down, intimate affair that showcases the fragile vulnerability of Van Pierszalowski’s lead vocal. Jaunty banjos, varied drum textures, choirs, and damn good melodies all contribute to making this album thoroughly entertaining. All we could do was sing… All We Could Do Was Sing explores life’s questions and challenges, its beauties and its ironies. Its lyrical introspection is balanced against its deep, melodic life-blood and energetic and ambitious arrangements. It’s easy to imagine joining this band for a few jars and a sing-along in some isolated Alaskan bar. This is folk music for an indie rock audience, and as such is a celebration of the highs and lows, the beauty and the fragility of life, and the fact that music is good for the soul.
Clamorous bells ring in the changes on Primal Scream’s ninth album, signalling that changes are afoot, and nothing is as it seems. Coming after the disappointing retro-rock and roll-isms of Riot City Blues, Beautiful Future has everything to prove, and gets stuck in straight away. The Stones swagger has been replaced by motorik rhythms and mechanical guitar, but the warmth of the previous record remains, with the aforementioned bells, marimbas, and even strings at one point. Primal Scream completely re-invigorated, energy pulsing through the artificial heart of this album. Even Bobby Gillespie, never the strongest vocalist or songwriter, seems on top form, his presence imbuing almost every song with personality, and forcing it to connect with the listener. Primal Scream – History Primal Scream have never made any secret of their history as rock ‘n’ roll historians, and this album is no different, drawing from Krautrock pioneers Neu!, as well as the sexy sounds of Philadelphia soul music. ‘Uptown’ is a lesson in dynamics, with strings wrapping themselves round the supple bass of Mani Mountfield, whilst Gillespie gets hot and bothered, almost pouring himself over the song. Primal Scream – Honest Opinion However, as with almost every Primal Scream album, it’s not all good. There’s a slightly saggy mid-section, with ‘Suicide Bomb’ plodding along, achieving little, and towards the end, it begins to hark back to some of their more ‘Rolling Stones-lite’ material, all country rock grooves and twangy lead guitar. Which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but uncomfortably jarring when placed in context with the modernism of the rest of the record. However, when Primal Scream stop looking over their shoulder to the past, they have an unerring ability to warp the laws of time and space. If they say this is our beautiful future, you better believe them.
Every genre has a ‘golden age’ and hip-hop is no different. 20 years ago, before gangsta rap cast its ugly menace over the scene, the music seemed unsullied, even a tad naïve. Hip-Hop Background Long before bling became superannuated, Run DMC rapped about ‘My Adidas’; normal pumps that you could easily buy, only to spend days arguing with your ‘momma’ about the relative dangers of wearing them without laces. The most extravagant jewellery on display was a huge Beastie Boys inspired VW sign, ripped from the bonnet of a sturdy but, hey, hardly extravagant family car. De La Soul invented ‘hippy hop’, and even the bad-ass gun-toting hoodlums NWA had someone called Ice Cube within their midst. That’s not very cool. During the Nineties, hip-hop and rap went all a bit ‘drive-by’, with large, notorious men like The Notorious B.I.G. ruling the airwaves, and then getting shot. Any innocence had long disappeared in a hail of (depressingly successful) assassination attempts. More recently the self-styled bad boy, and repellent misogynist, 50 Cent ruled the scene. Hip-hop may well have rapped its way into a musical cul-de-sac. Chicago duo – The Cool Kids – History Thankfully, and heroically, Chicago duo The Cool Kids may just have arrived in the nick of time. Chuck English and Mikey Rocks have decided to make hip-hop fun again. The Bake Sale rocks to bass-heavy beats, old-style scratching and a hedonistic vibe, harking back to the bygone era; “Like I’m bringin’ ’88 back,” raps English on the funky clunk of lead single ‘88’. This is schoolyard bravado, highlighted by the nursery rhyme of ‘One Two’ (“buckle my shoe”), which boasts about pulling wheelies on a bike. It’s shamelessly retro, and rewardingly fresh. All about “Cool” Music The Cool Kids take great pains to provide a point of reference to the listener, introducing themselves as the “new black version of the Beastie Boys.” In truth, they sound more like seminal New York rap acts like The Jungle Brothers or a beefed-up De La Soul. They also know what they don’t want to be, proclaiming, “How gangsta is that? Not gangsta at all!” on the juddering ‘A Little Bit Cooler’. What lacks is a killer track; while ‘88’ and the dance-party groove of ‘What It Is’ come close, the album lacks the knockout punch of a ‘It’s Tricky’ or a ‘Fight The Power’. It’s surely only a matter of time. Right now, The Cool Kids will have to be content with putting a smile back on the face of hip-hop.
Rumours have it that The Long Blondes’ second is the latest in a long line of classic break-up albums. Such a conclusion seems obvious given the recent change in inter-band relationships, the tales of love gone awry contained within and that title, “Couples”. The Long Blondes – Biography However, whilst it would be wrong to dismiss these biographical readings completely, it would be equally erroneous to consider this record a latter-day Blood On The Tracks. This is no memoir: instead of specifics, it evokes a mood of romantic dishevelment, the sort of album onto which the listener can project their own yearnings. The Couples Song Musically, they veer from pop with panache to the wilfully weird. The first half of the album is distinguished by more obviously tuneful material. Songs such as ‘The Couples’ and ‘I Liked The Boys’ play puppet-master with our heartstrings, whilst ‘Guilt’ flaunts a melodic form chiselled from god’s own quarry. Halfway through and we are taken ‘Round The Hairpin’ into a domain of beats bizarre and thoughts fantastical. Bearing the inimitable brand of producer Erol Alkan, these later tracks, most notably ‘Nostalgia’ and ‘Too Clever By Half’, mark a definite point of departure from the band’s debut. If they can continue to couple songwriting brilliance with a desire to progress, then our love affair with the Long Blondes will long endure.