Thursday, 23 October 2008

The cockney Sparro

Strike a light, guvnah! Sam Sparro (or Sparra in his tongue) was on TV last night in a repeat of Channel 4's Transmission and for the first time, I noticed how ENGLISH he sounds. Now I know this Ozzie/LA boy spent some time over here, but the sartorially challenged one seems to have picked up the accent and never let it drop - well, all except for the 'aitches...

Anyhoo, above is a random Sam and Annie interview (Transmission's intro piece on their collaboration was snipped off). And below is the strange mash-up (they never quite work on this show) of Heartbeat and Black and Gold.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Oops, just got pulled over by the web police

'Tis a pity, but it's a fair cop! The luvverly PNAU track Embrace sung by Ladyhawke was here, but now it's gone. It would be nice to be able to point you in the direction of a European or American source to buy a copy, but there aren't any! Well at least it gives me a chance to post this instead. The view from my bedroom window. Bona!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Ch Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

It was about time I redesigned the place. The purple background was giving me a headache. Quentin Crisp's still here though. Bona!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Ask Soft Cell. I shook 'em up...

Over-analyse the role of a remix and you could get lost in waffle - best to just treat it as a genre, an art in itself and judge the track on its own merits. Which is why this album of re-heated Soft Cell songs deserves singular attention. It's fucking amazing. A motley collection of hipper-than-thou producers and genuine 'Cell Mates' (The Readers Wifes, Richard X, Manhattan Clique, Yer Man, Cicada, Atomizer and George Demure) have taken Marc 'n' Dave's old C90 cassettes and digitized them into something as bright as a new pin.

Not all of the 26 tracks are the sharpest though. That's fine. And very in keeping with the state of most albums these days. But when it's good on Heat: The Remixes, it's VERY good. Yer Man pull off a stonker with the The Art of Falling Apart album track Heat and Readers Wifes tackle my FAVOURITE Soft Cell track Soul Inside. This single is refreshed and suitably whooped up into a frenzy. It's a project clearly accomplished with integrity: Marc and Dave were involved and happy with it.

Soft Cell were always into their remixes even before they knew what they were. They and The Human League followed up massive breakthrough albums with a remixed version. Dave Ball recalls in the sleeve notes: "The Human League and producer Martin Rushent had realised the potential of the remix at the same time we did - call it synchronicity. The remix versions were very important to us because it was the advent of club culture. In the early 80s we didn't have computers or recall for mixing, so it was all very physical... there could be four of us all with our assigned mute buttons and faders, so the mixdown became like a mini performance in itself. Marc Almond and I typically go into the studio and record all ideas for a track that would initially be around 7 minutes long. We would then reduce that to the best three and a half minutes for the single/radio edit. This process sometimes meant removing a verse or more. If you listen to the 12 inch versions of Bedsitter, Torch, Soul Inside and Memorabilia you'll hear lots of extras."

A Man Can Get Lost (Marcello Remix) - Soft Cell (zShare)
- They've managed to turn one of Soft Cell's 'non songs' into a song. And, dare I say, better it. The guitars give it a brand new edge.

Where The Heart Is (Marcas Lancaster Remix) - Soft Cell (zShare)
- A beautiful Soft Cell single given a Gok Wan-like makeover: it went into the studio feeling like an ugly duckling and came out a swan. Marcas Lancaster understands this song completely by not trying to outwit and overpower.

Sex Dwarf (The Grid Remix) - Soft Cell (zShare)
- This is Dave Ball's own re-think. He's given it a spit and a wipe and it's come up lovely. But still as filthy.

Surrender To A Stranger (MHC Remix - Edit) - Soft Cell (zShare)
- From the Last Night in Sodom album, it's a chunky refit that thankfully has kept the comi-tragic lyrics.

Read a great, comprehensive review of the album here at Underwuld Music.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Idol and The Icon

The Idol: Grace Jones

Donning a suitably odd outfit, the Amazonian singer accepted an award from her dad, Tom Jones, at last night's Q Awards for being the Q Idol 2008 (a wonky category to guarantee the legends will turn up). See footage here. The new album is two and a half weeks away!

The Icon: Adam Ant

And the King of Antmusic popped up in an equally odd outfit to pick up his award for Q Icon 2008, (a wonky category to guarantee the reclusive legends will leave the house AND turn up). It's good to see Adam out and about, but he really needs some of Grace's magic dust at the mo'. She's going from strength to strength this year producing some of her best work and performing career-defining concerts.

How about a duet? The Idol and the Icon...

Monday, 6 October 2008

Who the Fenech are Fenech-Soler?

Or, in other words, WOOP! WOOP! WOOP! Fab new band alert! Before you read any further, GO VISIT THEIR MYSPACE HERE and listen to the tracks. This trio from Cambridgeshire, Ross Duffy, Ben Duffy & Dan Francis have a sound all their own. It's electro without the re-wiring. It's pop without the bubblegum. And it's astounding considering they've yet to reach 20 years old and are unsigned.

The tracks featured on their MySpace player sound like future classics. White Hearts for all it's lo-tech production has high hopes and aspirations: Martin Fry and Paddy McAloon on a Scritti Politti production. The vocals from Ben are accomplished and very stadium-like as he sings about Cher setting his eyes on fire, or summat. Lies is equally funky and LARGE. The Cult of Romance, slated as a single with a deal on the table from several labels, is the one that will be as radio-infectious as INXS. Mark Brydon of Moloko will be producing this future epic in a match made in heaven. The fourth track on their MySpace player is the track to hook the Cut Copy/Presets brigade. Black Keys, with shades of Manc band The Whip, is the kind of bombastic synth driven track to go down a storm live.

One question though. What the Fenech is Fenech-Soler?

The brilliant Paul Lester and his review on The Guardian website.
And, TimesOnline getting all hot and bothered.

***UPDATE*** Vocalist, Ben, got in touch and explained that Fenech-Soler is the Bass player's full name. How exotic. So there you go.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A Parralox universe

This week saw a very special jiffy bag of delights pop through the door chez moi. After months of having to listen to the wonderous Parralox via TheirSpace the first track on their new album, Electricity summed up its arrival: "Congratulations that we've come so far/It's a pleasure to meet you finally". And singer Roxy, writer/producer John and their LinnDrum don't disappoint. Their debut is as sparky as Summer Heights High and as confident as Dare. Each track is a perfect pop song. There's melody, succinct lyrics and radio-friendly vocals all held together within a verse/chorus format, and like Dare, the only instruments are a synthesizer and drum machine (although the digi effects are very much 2008).

[Click on the titles for a sample] Opening track Europa is fittingly anthemic, a paen to a new start while Black Jeans then cuts in with a Sound of the Crowd swagger to bring us back to earth. Third track, Electricity, is dedicated to the godfather of synthpop, Martin Rushent and like his own productions is as joyous as Altered Images and as glossy as Leisure Process. The stonking I Fell in Love With a Drum Machine, a clear single, has a male vocal reply vocal, a la Matinee Club, which sings: "I love my Linn Drum". How 80s! The single Sharper Than a Knife is Top Ten material: it's accomplished pop with a compelling story of emancipation. How Noughties!

The songs on Electricity could easily sit within other artists' canons: You and Me Both, a Yazoo tribute could be a Kylie track; X Minus One wouldn't be out of place on a Marsheaux album; and given the Xenomania treatment, We Believe in Electric Love could be a Girls Aloud numero uno. The End of Summer, cleverly recreating Pet Shop Boy's Rent drum track is definitely Madonna, circa Ray of Light.

It's clear there is a lifetime of influences on Electricity. Here, Roxy and John explain the music which has shaped their sound.

Buffalo Gals - Malcolm McLaren

What was the first record you bought?
John: "The first actual record I bought was Buffalo Girls by Malcolm McLaren (7" vinyl single). Although by this stage I had already discovered the joys of electronic music. I was an avid fan of Mr McLaren for many years to come and proudly purchased more of his songs, such as Madame Butterfly, Deep In Vogue (I'm surprised Malcolm didn't sue Oldfrapp), Something's Jumping In My Shirt and Double Dutch."
Roxy: "Soooo embarrassing, but it was an album from a tv show called Young Talent Time which featured little wannabe child-stars singing super cheesy songs (and the one which started the Minogue dynasty). I was traj way back!" [Clicky here for a miniscule Dannii on YTT!!]

What was the first song that made you first sit up and notice music?
"The song that really catalysed it for me was The Things That Dreams Are Made Of by League Unlimited Orchestra. It was a lovely Saturday afternoon in December 1982 when I heard that song come onto FM Radio and I just sat there between the speakers transfixed at this perfect union of the synthetic and pop. Of course I was already a massive Kraftwerk / Klaus Schulze / Jean Michel Jarre fan (all this at only 13 years old!!) but to hear electronic music in this format was something brand new. Unless you were there at the time it's hard to understand the cultural and technological context in which this music was being created."
Roxy: "I can't say any song in particular but I used to love my Walkman. I had it right by my bed - the top bunk - and used to listen to tapes and radio surrounded by garish green wallpaper."

Who has your favourite voice?
"I can only pick one? Ok then...Randy Crawford. I have listened to her for as long as I can remember and she really is one of the greats. I recommend all readers to grab a copy of her album Secret Combination as it contains some wonderful vocal performances and songs including Rainy Night In Georgia and You Might Need Somebody. I had the priviledge of meeting her when she toured Australia in the 90's (I was working at the Hilton) and I have to say her voice is phenomenal. She sounded just like she did on the CD. No autotuning there! Other vocalists that deserve a mention are Annie Lennox, Dave Gahan, Patti Page and last but not least..Divine. Yes, that's right..Divine..just listen to Alphabet Rap and tell me you haven't been entertained ;)"
Roxy: "I love Mary J Blige. She is amazing and there's a heartfelt passion there – it’s almost uncontrolled. Although I imagine she is very much its master."

Is there a song that makes you cry?
"My heart was replaced with a microprocessor in the late 80s so unfortunately I don't cry anymore. Seriously though, I do get very emotional when I listen to The Winner Takes It All by ABBA. It has to be one of the most heart-wrenching songs I've ever heard. It's emotional resonance is all the more powerful when you understand that subject matter mirrors the divorce that Agnetha and her husband, Benny Ulvaeus, were going through. The pain that they all must have been enduring can be heard in Agnetha's voice when she sings this song. Of course she is a brilliant vocalist regardless, but it's one of those magic moments where everything falls beautifully into place (unlike their marriage...whoops).
Roxy: "I’ve cried when I’m writing songs that are really true to my know when you manage to just get that match between a melody and a lyric to express a feeling."

Is there a song guaranteed to get you dancing?
"Oh yes...Michael Jackson's Don't Stop Till You Get Enough."
Roxy: "Anything anthemic always works. I loved that vid for Rock With You with Michael Jackson in a sparkly jumpsuit with a green screen created starry sky behind him."

Whose songwriting do you admire the most and why?
"That's a difficult choice, but in terms of modern composers I'd have to say Martin Gore of Depeche Mode. Songwriting is an art that you develop over time, although some people seem to be born genious songwriters. I'd say that Mr Gore has certainly matured as a songwriter and you can trace this evolution from Speak & Spell right up to Playing The Angel. Mind you, Tora, Tora, Tora was a great start! He has such a unique approach to lyrics and melody and his exploration into the darker side has given his songs a much deeper meaning and a real edge. Also, Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode. One of my all time fave Depeche songs is The Things You Said, but also Enjoy The Silence and Black Celebration are masterpieces as well. His songs are just lovely."
Roxy: "I thought that the Robbie Williams/Guy Chambers partnership was a good one. It changed song-writing in the 90s and took it to a more complex self reflective place."

Which song of yours made you think, "We've cracked it. This is a proper song"?
"In hindsight I'd have to say Sharper Than A Knife, although I also think Factory Friends is the most meaningful song I've written to date. It's a real challenge to ensure that our music doesn't fall into the cliched 80's revival movement (though a few tracks like We Believe In Electric Love are the exception. But that's just between you and me, gentle reader) so I really work hard to make sure that the production and lyrical content stays somewhat grounded in reality. In the case of STAK it was one of those fluke moments where the music and lyrics fell into place and you end up with a song that translates well in any genre, and could potentially have cross-over appeal. It takes time to distance yourself from your own creation and see it like other people do, although it never really happens that way. What I mean is - as a songrwriter and producer I will never experience the song in the same was that someone who is hearing it for the first time. But I can appreciate that it is a good song (IMHO) and probably the one of the strongest pop songs on the album."
Roxy: "Sharper Than a Knife. It was our first potential crossover song. John, who does the writing on this project, can be a little left of centre, bless him. But I’m a bit of a mainstream tragic so when we started recording Sharper Than a Knife and it was sounding like a radio song, that’s when my little 'you never know your luck, we may really have something here' voice started to whisper."

Parralox Myspace here.
Electricity can be purchased here.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Boy George: Back in the land of the living

Last night, the first of Living with Boy George aired on Living TV. And what entertainment! The Boy doesn't disappoint. He's back to his witty, intelligent self and 'fessing up to a five year drug binge. No BooTube footage yet but I found this liddle titbit on Clicky here for a look at George the tea boy in the studio.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Missing. Presumed dead in the water: Torment & Toreros

Where IS this seminal album? According to Marc Almond's former label, Some Bizarre, it was meant to be reissued on CD over a month ago. If you follow this circuitous route from their website here, to the newly created MySpace, specifically for the Torment & Toreros album here and the info therein here, you'd think the CD re-issues of both the Mambas albums were already out. Wrong. The first, Untitled, is the 1992 version and the Torment and Toreros album is from 1997, now priced everywhere at the ridiculous sum of £130!

Marc's work, especially this album, which was originally released in 1983, deserves better. Current reissues of his solo work have been patchy and ill thought out. His website said this, way back in June: "It is important that past albums are re-issued, to have them available in the shops. Too much of Marc's vast back catalogue has only been sporadically available. Marc would like them to be available at all times in good pressings with decently printed covers and the correct, relevant B sides and extra's included. This hasn't happened in the past. Marc apologises for what must be frustrating to some fans but despite Marc's good intentions, it really is out of his hands." It's obvious there are wranglings with Marc and Stevo (the Some Bizarre supremo). Out of all of Marc's work, this has to be one of the best, therefore it's a shame the reissue is turning out to be quite messy.

Once the album is eventually available to everyone again, there'll be a post devoted to it. Until then...