Posts Tagged ‘REM’

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Wire Brush

February 7, 2017

Of all the bands that followed in the slipstream created by the Sex Pistols’ sonic boom, one of the most interesting is Wire.


Where the Pistols raged with a stomping glam rock fury and The Clash spat socio-political lyrics ten to the dozen, Wire were simpler. There’s no meat on their records, nothing that doesn’t need to be there. They’re packed full of lean, mean, short, sharp shocks. Rhythm and counter-rhythm live easily beside one another. Chunky, concrete block riffs drop in and out to allow vocals, backing vocals and chanted slogans the space to breath. Solos are kept to an absolute bare minimum.

There’s no need for showboating when you’re in Wire. The showboating comes from the fact you’re in Wire to begin with.

No songs outstay their welcome, either. Much of the material on debut album ‘Pink Flag‘ is over before it’s barely begun. ‘Field Day For The Sundays‘ lasts barely half a minute before it’s gone. ‘Three Girl Rhumba‘ pushes the boat out to 1 min 20 seconds. At 2 mins 37 secs, debut single ‘Mannequin‘ is a prog-bothering epic in comparison.

WireMannequin

WireDot Dash

Had I first heard ‘Pink Flag‘ on LP rather than CD, I’d’ve been up and out my chair like Sur Alex chasing a flag-happy linesman to check there was nothing wrong with my record. And, just for the, er, record, no ma’am, there ain’t nothing wrong with the record. It’s a fantastic example of art/punk. Songs start. Then stop. New ones start again. Then stop abruptly. Tracks run into one another, all delivered in accents last heard when Gripper Stebson was terrorising Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill. “Is this still the same song?” “I dunno!” you’ll answer yourself. By the time you’ve worked it out, the band are onto their next song.

WirePink Flag

WireLow Down

‘From A to B, again avoiding C, D and E. Cos E is where you play the bloooooze.’

There’s yer Wire manifesto right there. Two chords and the truth. Discipline. That’s what Low Down is. How many other bands could’ve resisted sticking a one note feedbacking ‘whuuuuuooooo‘ in the middle of it? Not Wire. Instead, they stick a great, echoing chord over it for a few bars. Keen ears will spot that it’s not a million miles away from that big clanging one in the breakdown of Primal Scream’s Loaded. Brutal and minimalist. Over and out.

How many other bands can claim a debut album that boasts 21 songs? By the time reissues were an accepted part and parcel of the music industry, the track listing on ‘Pink Flag‘had multiplied to an eye-watering, ear-saturating 38 tracks, including non-album singles and Peel Sessions.

wire-line-up

Famously, Elastica stole great chunks of their most well-known tracks – I Am The Fly and Three Girl Rhumba – which I’ve written about before, here. A quick listen to Wire will make you appreciate where many other 90s and 00s bands were coming from. I’m sure the Holy Bible-era Manics were not unfamiliar with Wire’s uncompromising sound. Franz Ferdinand and The Cribs too. Graham Coxon scuffed the edges of Blur’s most abrasive tracks, not to mention much of his own solo recordings, with steroidal Wire-like riffage. Even the Lord God of Indie Guitar, Johnny Marr, has heard their angular twang and thought, “I’m borrowing some of that.” A quick listen to his more recent solo stuff will qualify that, not so much in sound but in lip curled, Fender-toting, noo wave attitoode.

The anglophile Peter Buck dug Wire so much he persuaded REM to cover Pink Flag‘s Strange on breakthrough album Document. It’s a great version too.

REMStrange

Contrast and compare…

WireStrange

Pink Flag by Wire. Everyone should have this album. It may be forty years old this year, but it’s never too late to get on board.

wire

 

 

 

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We Are 9

December 30, 2015

Somehow, some way, Plain Or Pan has turned 9. Or, to be more accurate, is just about to turn 9. But at this time of year, when you can never be entirely sure if it’s Sunday morning or Thursday night and inspiration goes out the window along with routine and work ethic, it’s tradition that I fill the gap between Christmas and Hogmany with a potted ‘Best Of‘ the year compilation, so I’ve always made this period in time the unofficial birthday for the blog.

i am nine

Not that anyone but myself should care really; blogs come and go with alarming regularity and I’ve steadfastly refused to move with the times (no new acts here, no cutting edge hep cats who’ll be tomorrow’s chip paper, just tried ‘n tested old stuff that you may or may not have heard before – Outdated Music For Outdated People, as the tagline goes.) But it’s something of a personal achievement that I continue to fire my wee articles of trivia and metaphorical mirth out into the ether, and even more remarkable that people from all corners of the globe take the time out to visit the blog and read them. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, one and all.

Since starting Plain Or Pan in January 2007, the articles have become less frequent but more wordy – I may have fired out a million alliterative paragraphs in the first year, whereas nowadays I have less time to write stuff and when I do, it takes me three times as long to write it. To use an analogy, I used to be The Ramones, (1! 2! 3! 4! Go!) but I’ve gradually turned into Radiohead; (Hmmm, ehmm, scratch my arse…) Without intending it, there are longer gaps between ‘albums’ and I’ve become more serious about my ‘art’. Maybe it’s time to get back to writing the short, sharp stuff again. Maybe I’ll find the time. Probably I won’t.

The past 9 years have allowed me the chance to interview people who I never would’ve got close to without the flimsy excuse that I was writing a blog that attracted in excess of 1000 visitors a day (at one time it was, but I suspect Google’s analytics may well have been a bit iffy.) Nowadays, it’s nowhere near that, but I still enthusiastically trot out the same old line when trying to land a big name to feature. Through Plain Or Pan I’ve met (physically, electronically or both) all manner of interesting musical and literary favourites; Sandie Shaw, Johnny Marr, Ian Rankin, Gerry Love, the odd Super Furry Animal. Quite amazing when I stop to think about it. You should see the list of those who’ve said they’ll contribute then haven’t. I won’t name them, but there are one or two who would’ve made great Six Of the Best articles. I’m not Mojo, though, so what can I expect?

pop9

A quick trawl through my own analytics spat out the Top 24 downloaded/played tracks on the blog this year, two for each month:

  1. Michael MarraGreen Grow the Rashes
  2. Wallace CollectionDaydream
  3. Jacqueline TaiebSept Heures du Matin
  4. The TemptationsMessage From A Black Man
  5. New OrderTrue Faith
  6. Bobby ParkerWatch Your Step
  7. Jim FordI’m Gonna Make Her Love Me
  8. DorisYou Never Come Closer
  9. Ela OrleansDead Floor
  10. Mac De MarcoOde To Viceroy
  11. Teenage FanclubGod Knows It’s True
  12. Iggy PopNightclubbing
  13. George HarrisonWah Wah
  14. MagazineThank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again
  15. Future Sound Of LondonPapua New Guinea
  16. Bob DylanSad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands (mono version)
  17. Richard BerryLouie Louie
  18. REMRadio Free Europe (HibTone version)
  19. The CribsWe Share The Same Skies
  20. Johnny MarrThe Messenger
  21. McAlmont & ButlerSpeed
  22. Talking HeadsI Zimbra (12″ version)
  23. Style CouncilSpeak Like A Child
  24. Darlene LoveJohnny (Please Come Home)

And there you have it – the regular mix of covers, curios and forgotten influential classics, the perfect potted version of what Plain Or Pan is all about. A good producer would’ve made the tracklist flow a bit better. I just took it as I came to them; two from January followed by two from February followed by two from etc etc blah blah blah. You can download it from here.

See you in the new year. First up, Rufus Wainwright. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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Callin’ All, Radio Transmit!

September 8, 2015

REM‘s output falls into two camps – the hard jangling college rock of the IRS years and the radio-friendly unit shifting Warners years. Fans are often divided over which era constitutes the band’s ‘best era’, which is a bit like arguing over whether tomato soup or tangerines are better. Both are magic, both are different. Me? Despite the dramatic tail-off in quality towards the end of the Warners era, I like ’em both equally.

rem 81

REM were born into the world on the back of Radio Free Europe,  first released on their own promotional ‘Cassette Set’, of which only 400 were made. The track was pretty much fully formed from the word go. Counted in on a pistol crack snare and carried in the verses by a tightly coiled spring of a guitar riff, it explodes in a colourful burst of glassy 12 strings and up-the-frets bass.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set version)

There’s also an extremely rare ‘Radio Dub’ version which has novelty appeal, interesting for the treated vocals and rudimentary special effects.

REMRadio Free Europe (Cassette Set ‘Radio Dub’)

*credit where it’s due – these tracks came a few years ago via The Power Of Independent Trucking blog. I think at the time they were almost shut down over the inclusion of them, so shhh!

Local label Hib-Tone were suitably impressed by the demo cassette to offer the band a one single deal, and Radio Free Europe was committed to 7″.

 rem hibtone

REMRadio Free Europe (Hib-Tone Single)

The band themselves weren’t overly impressed by the finished results, but Radio Free Europe is the perfect defining introduction to the band – great musicianship fighting for earspace with the sandpaper vocals of Michael Stipe. Stipe is clearly a passionate vocalist, but you’d need a degree in WWII code cracking to work out what he’s on about here. Even when you can make out the words and phrases, many of them make little sense.

The silent silver radio’s gonna stay,

Reason it could polish up the grey

Put that! Put that! Put that! In you wha

Badness isn’t country at all

Ray-dee-stay-shu…….

That’s not right, of course (Taking my cue from the chorus, I don’t even think I’ve got the right title for this piece), but that’s what I’m hearing. The first time I heard it, I actually stopped the record after a minute to check I hadn’t a build-up of fluff on my Grundig ‘music centre’ stylus.  A quick Google of the lyrics just now (there was none of that in 1989) doesn’t help either. There are many websites offering you their definitive take on the lyrics and, like much of the internet, the information is only as good as the person who put it there. I’m not convinced any of the lyric sites have the words 100%. Just as you most certainly shouldn’t be convinced by my ham fisted attempt above. Not for nothing was REM’s first LP called ‘Murmur‘.

rem 83

Radio Free Europe and the band was picked up by IRS. Re-recorded and re-released, the track also kicked off side 1 on Murmur. 

REMRadio Free Europe (Murmur version)

rem irs

It was slower and less murky, perhaps on the instructions of producer Mitch Easter, but Michael’s mumblings were all over the record like the fuzz on a Georgia peach. There’s also an annoying hi-hat ‘tick tick tick’ all the way through the verses that, once heard, can never be dislodged.  The best bit is still towards the end when, on one of the final choruses, all instruments bar the beat-keeping drum drop out before returning a second later.

rem stipe

The band played it live less and less as the years grew. In fact, you can probably chart it’s appearance in set lists in direct proportion to the introduction of the mandolin in their sound. It was something of a surprise to this audience (venue unknown) in 1992 when REM played a rare version. No doubt inspired by Nirvana and their ilk who were all the rage at the time, this version is a somewhat muscled up, balls-dropped shitkicker when compared to its original form. It brings to mind the harder sound of future LP Monster. Mike Mills plays like a demon possessed on this. Thankfully Peter Buck hadn’t yet discovered the tremelo pedal that would spoil much of the upcoming LP.

REMRadio Free Europe (Live 1992)

 

 

 

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O Superman

March 3, 2013

Life’s Rich Pageant was the first REM album I heard and, when push comes to shove, it’s still my favourite of theirs. Borrowed from Irvine library and duly taped, it soundtracked much of my late teens. From Begin The Begin‘s acid rock feedback ‘n twang via the alt. American Rickenbacker riffage of These Days and I Believe, to the Beach Boys backing on Fall On Me and Cuyahoga, it’s a terrific LP. All killer, no filler, you might say. It captures the band at the highest critical trajectory in their career – still hip enough to be considered underground, yet big enough to have worldwide sales (and actual big-hitting chart singles just around the corner with their next LP and beyond), being in REM around this time must’ve been great.

rem 86

Tucked away at the end of Life’s Rich Pageant was Superman. A twin-vocaled throwaway bit of bubblegum pop that showcased the extraordinary backing vocals of Mike Mills, it was the track I played again and again and again and again ad naseum. Which, given it was on cassette, led to some frustrating rewind sessions where I’d zero the wee digital tape counter as Superman started, and try and stop the tape bang on zero zero zero when the song had finished and I’d began to rewind it. There was none of this stop/start/skip/repeat stuff going on back then. But you’ll know that already. Anyway, I did this 1000 times until the tape stretched and eventually, catastrophically snapped, leaving ribbons of TDK wrapped around the tape heads on my none-more-80s music centre. The soft-eject door may have been the most aesthetically-pleasing one in the shop (you tried them all out, didn’t you) but it was impossible to take off to get the chewed bits of tape back out. So that was that. Down to the wee record shop at the back of RS McColl’s at the cross to buy the actual record. Up the road, and reading the sleevenotes it was then that I realised Superman was a cover. With no internet at my fingertips or music-geek big brother to grill, I waited literally years until finding out that the REM track I loved so much was by a band called The Clique.

the clique promo

Pardon the pun here, but there are lots of Cliques in the music business. The Clique that released Superman in 1966 were from Texas. There was also a pilled-up ‘n purple hearted mod band from England called The Clique doing the circuit at the same time. And in the 90s, a band called The Clique (also of modish persuasion) were on the go. A few years back I featured one of their tracks. Very good it was too. But anyway…

The Clique’s version of Superman was a b-side. Given his trainspottery love of obscure and underground music, it was no doubt Peter Buck who brought it to REM’s attention. REM’s version actually turns out to be pretty faithful. The original is indeed a piece of throwaway bubblegum pop, with a high backing vocal and a highly fruggable bassline. Handclaps, little bits of chanting and a weird, trippy vocal, not unlike the effect you get when you hear backwards guitar on one of those 60s records, complete what is an excellent wee record. Although I still prefer REM’s.

Contrast and compare:

SupermanThe Clique

SupermanREM

Sadly, perhaps, I don’t have to hand the recording my wee band did at our first ever gig. I did the Mike Mills bits. Badly.

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