I can’t recall where this one first came up, but it might have been thanks to hearing a song that triggered the thought. Anyway, this week is about nothing.
/Subject /Nothing, Zero
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /327/Only Happy When It Rains /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/125 /Used Prior/15 /Unique Songs/102 /People Suggesting/63
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/38:56
That is, the concept of nothing, nowhere, zero. In songs here, it is self-loathing, physics, time, declarations and actually nothing at all.
Thanks, as ever, to everyone who suggested songs (and there were a lot to get through this week).
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
One of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, it is perhaps ironic that he was, and is, best-known for a piece where no music is deliberately performed. 4’33” is absolutely not just four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence: it is the performers of the piece who are silent, and what makes up the piece are the ambient sounds that occur in the room or location it is performed in: an audience member may cough, or rustle something, or shuffle in their seat. Thus, what appears to be nothing is always going to feature something, but will be absolutely unique every time, as it relies on the randomness of everyday life and activity.
Notable recent takes include Austrian metal band Dead Territory, whose take on it went unexpectedly viral back in 2015, and then a sprawling compilation from Mute of 58 different artists taking it on, that I must confess I thought was an elaborate ruse when I initially saw it, but it was at least for charity…
/The Smashing Pumpkins
/Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Not the only overwrought, perhaps overdone double-album from the nineties featured this week, but certainly a landmark in the route out of grunge for a good many bands, as Billy Corgan covered pretty much every genre he could across the twenty-eight tracks that make up the album, not to mention the thirty or so other tracks that were discarded along the way which feature on The Aeroplane Flies High. This song, though, felt like the core track for the album, as Corgan sneers his mission statement (“Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness / And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty, just like me“) amid multi-tracked guitars, and just like that, a host of teenagers found their new hero to worship (and a t-shirt to buy, as the black/silver “Zero” t-shirt was fucking everywhere for a few years after this).
/Started Out With Nothin’
/I Started Out with Nothin’ and I Still Got Most of It Left
The success of Seasick Steve is a remarkable tale of myth-building. An artist that got his big break, of all places, on Later…With Jools Holland, and the story at the time was that he was a hobo made good, who miraculously got a recording contract (and an enormous amount of success that followed). It turned out that this was a rather embellished story, according to some accounts, and he’d actually had a long career in a surprising number of different genres (even disco!), and was a notable producer in the Pacific North West too in the nineties. That said, his gruff blues was endearing and entertaining, and the idea of starting out with nothin’ and still having nothin’, is very much a standard text in the blues…
/Nothing to Declare
Jesse Hartman’s project Laptop has appeared in this series before (as the titular, lead track on /385/I’m So Happy You Failed), and here’s his other single of the time. It details the frustration of the international traveller, who not only has nothing to declare to the customs and immigration services, but he also has nothing to declare about his enjoyment of those travels, be that in joy or in love (or lust). Like many Laptop songs, it all feels a bit bleak, really…
I remember seeing A live at Feet First at the erstwhile Camden Palace, for many years the place for an alternative kid to get a cheap Tuesday night club night, and often an up-and-coming band for buttons in the bargain (I also saw Pitchshifter there in 1997, literally on the cusp of the success that was about to come their way with the dot com album). Nothing saw them suddenly get a UK top-ten hit, and they made inroads in the US, too – perhaps unsurprising as this album saw the band suddenly get big-budget production and a sleek, chart-friendly sound to match – and in retrospect, remains a surprising move.
The song itself is a big, anthemic nu-metal-esque track, really, as Jason Perry muses on having nothing to lose, and if you’ve got nothing, you might as well go for something. I don’t think even the band could have expected the way this song blew up, proving the point of the song entirely.
/Supermassive Black Hole
/Black Holes and Revelations
Another band that emerged initially in the late 90s was Muse, but unlike the stuttering success and then falling away of A, Muse have steadily risen to the top, becoming certainly one of the most noteworthy live bands around (and selling millions along the way). Some of you may remember the way the band were dismissed initially as a Radiohead-clone, which was perhaps unfair then, but those accusations quickly fell away when they harnessed their bombastic, enormous ambitions and started releasing songs like this. An unexpected, almost (modern) R&B groove underpinned a fuzzy, strange song that had an equally striking video, and felt like the point where the band truly crossed over to be global stars. A black hole, of course, is an entity that absolutely nothing can escape from, not even light, and indeed reflects no light either – pretty much the very definition of nothingness at the core.
/Nothing Going On
/A Whole Lot of Nothing
Clawfinger have often been a band willing to stick two fingers up at modern culture and the failings of politicians alike, and this track from 2001 sees them satirising the nascent celebrity culture (that has since become all the more prevalent on TV ever since) both in song and on the video. Their target – and it could be any number of musical celebrities at the time – has everything they could ever wish for, and all the success they could ever hope for…but has nothing to say, nothing else to live for, and really, makes you wonder why some people want to get famous and successful…
/Echo and the Bunnymen
/Nothing Lasts Forever
After their initial success in the eighties, the Bunnymen first disbanded in the early 90s, after the loss of key members (and the subsequent death of drummer Pete de Freitas, aged just 27 in 1989) and a number of withering reviews for their later output. Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant and Les Pattinson later reformed the band well into the nineties, and with the first single back – the swooning Nothing Lasts Forever – suddenly had the press and public back on their side pretty much instantly. No surprise, really – it’s a fabulous, string-laden ballad that sees McCulloch reflecting on his own past and future (and had the assistance of Liam Gallagher on backing-vocals), and reminding the listener to take chances when you get them, for the obvious reasons the title suggests.
/Leave You Nothing
/Who Watches Over Me?
Long my favourite Mesh song (and how is it twenty years old this year?!?), like so many Mesh songs, this is a song of relationship (and emotional) failure that really does feel inspired from bitter, personal experience. Mark Hockings walks away from the wreckage with some clear regrets over what has happened, but also appears concerned with not writing off all of that time spent. Indeed, even the worst times sometimes have sunnier moments, that might be all that you can be left with, but at least you have something to cling to. Been there, done that.
/Nine Inch Nails
/Into The Void
It didn’t take much to realise that Trent Reznor was not in a good place by the time the sprawling double-album The Fragile finally appeared in 1999. Of the many signposts, the steady layer-building of Into the Void was one of the clearer ones, with the hook “tried to save myself but my self keeps slipping away” repeated ad infinitum, and layered as if a roomfull of Reznors was singing it. The song depicts the descent of someone into a dark, black place, a void of nothingness, no hope and no future. Happily, mind, Reznor cleaned up, became an Oscar winner and a father, and just this week is playing the UK (shows we are sadly missing out on) for the first time in a while.