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2018 (Slight Return)

As is the way at this time of year, lists, polls and Best Of countdowns prevail. Happily stuck in the past, the truth of it is I’m not a listener of much in the way of new music. Idles seem to dominate many of the lists I’ve seen, and I want to like them, but I can’t get past the singer’s ‘angry ranting man in a bus shelter’ voice. I’ve liked much of the new stuff I’ve heard via 6 Music and some of the more switched-on blogs I visit, but not so much that I’ve gone out to buy the album on the back of it.

If you held a knife to my throat though, I might admit to a liking for albums by Parquet Courts and Arctic Monkeys, both acts who are neither new nor up and coming. I  listened a lot to the Gwenno album when it was released and I should’ve taken a chance on the Gulp album when I saw it at half price last week, but as far as new music goes, I think that’s about it. Under his Radiophonic Tuckshop moniker, Glasgow’s Joe Kane made a brilliant psyche-infused album from the spare room in his Dennistoun flat – released on the excellent Last Night From Glasgow label – so if I were to suggest anything you might like, it’d be Joe’s lo-fi McCartney by way of Asda-priced synth pop that I’d direct you to. Contentiously, it’s currently a tenner on Amazon which, should you buy it via them, is surely another nail in the HMV coffin.

2018 saw the readership of Plain Or Pan continue to grow slowly but steadily in a niche market kinda style, so if I may, I’d like to point you and any new readers to the most-read posts of the year. You may have read these at the time or you may have missed them. Either way, here they are again;

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  • An article on the wonder of The Specials‘ b-sides.
  • Songs about snow and inclement weather.
  • Some words on the punk Beatles. Pete Shelley was very much still alive at the time of writing and retweeted the article.
  • A look at how the best reggae musicians steal the best soul tunes and make them their own.
  • Lush’s Miki Berenyi talks us through some of her favourite music. The most-read thing wot I wrote this year.
  • Stephen Sondheim , Leonard Bernstein, Tom Waits and Pet Shop Boys. Here.
  • First thoughts on Arctic MonkeysTranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
  • Why Eno‘s Here Come The Warm Jets should be in everyone’s record collection. Here.
  • Skids’ Richard Jobson waxes lyrical about Bowie. Here.
  • Some words on the quiet majesty of Radiohead‘s How To Disappear Completely.
  • Brendan O’Hare, loon drummer and all-round public entertainer in Teenage Fanclub chooses his favourite Teenage Fanclub tracks. Here.
  • The punk poetry and free scatting jazz of Patti Smith. Here.
  • A first-timer’s guide to Rome.
  • Johnny Marr live at the Barrowlands.

Feel free to re-read, Retweet, share etc.

 

See you next year.

Hard-to-find

Peace And Quiet And Open Air

Somewhere was written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim and soundtracks arguably the most famous sections of West Side Story. Bernstein based parts of the music on Beethoven’s ‘Emperor‘ Piano Concerto*. Sondheim constructed a lyric that offered hope out of despair. In the musical, the song appears twice, first as a celebration of Tony and Maria’s against-the-odds love for one another and secondly towards the end when Maria sings it – spoiler alert! – as she holds her shot and dying boyfriend in her arms. I’m not a musicals kinda guy, although Grease is indeed the word, but it isn’t hard to appreciate the soaring melancholy of Somewhere. I’ve no idea how the rest of West Side Story is soundtracked, but I suspect it’s not for me. Somewhere though will always be in my ever-changing and expanding list of favourite songs.

Tom Waits takes the song and makes it crawl in slow motion like a couple of Bowery bums from the grubby and well-thumbed pages of a charity shop Bukowski novel. He’s gargled a gallon of gravel and phlegm, downed a litre of brown paper-wrapped liquor and turned Somewhere into a tear and piss-soaked anthem of hope for down on their luck drinkers everywhere.

Tom WaitsSomewhere

The original’s vision of hope over despair is magnified tenfold in Waits’ version, two drinkers looking for a way out of their sorry existence. Strings swirl with Disney-like flourishes. Waits’ vocal is fantastic, his phrasing and intonation bang on. Is he in character or is it for real? Who knows? There’s no doubt though that he’s singing from the heart. This is soul music, just not as you know it. “We’ll find a new way of living,” he croaks. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.”  It’s depressingly sad and sky-scrapingly brilliant all at the same time.

Waits’ version was recorded initially for his Blue Valentine album, an album you really should investigate if it’s unfamiliar to you. He’s a bit of a genius is our Tom, although I suspect you knew that already.

In sharp contrast, Pet Shop Boys reclaim Somewhere as a day-glo gay anthem to rival that of their own take on Go West. If it’s near-11 minute dance remixes y’r after, look no further than the full-length treatment afforded to it.

Pet Shop BoysSomewhere (full length 10.54 version)

A bit of random Chris Lowe chatter, a sprinkling of West Side Story’s I Feel Pretty and a date-defining trip hop shuffle eventually give way to the thump, thump, thump!!! as Pet Shop Boys’ disco machine shifts slickly through the gears towards the track’s conclusion. Fairlights crash and synthetic strings sweep in trademark PSB fashion. The Smiths you can dance to, as they famously quipped.

We’ll find a new way of living,” announces Neil Tennant in that slightly smug, slightly knowing way of his. “We’ll find a way of forgiving.” By the end, doubts have been cast aside, bags have been packed and we’re all in line, “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” following Tennant and Lowe, marching to the beat of their 808 to a wondrous new place.

 

*As I typed this article I listened to all 43 minutes of Beethoven’s Concerto No5: Emperor (complete) and I must be honest, to these philistine rockist ears, I failed to spot where Bernstein borrowed the music. Maybe your ears are more refined. It’s here if y’fancy it.