Back on my current series this week, as I move onto three-letter song titles. This was where things got easier.
For a start, there were a whole lot more songs to consider, which helped to give me more ideas to work with. It also – as these often do – took me down something of a rabbit hole as I reminisced a bit about my musical past, and thus this week’s post is rather chock full of a number of formative bands for me.
There were 170 suggestions in total, with 24 of those having been used before. 129 unique suggestions were made, by 69 (nice) different people. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who got involved.
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. 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).
From one of the alternative music touchstones, a vitally important album in terms of what followed across the nineties – and frankly a genuinely odd album from start to finish when you think about it – comes one of the more restrained songs musically from it. A song, as much as I can tell, making biblical references in terms of the strains on a relationship built around sex, it is propelled, like so many other Pixies songs, by the Kim Deal’s basslines. The squalls of guitar and occasional vocals feel like sketches across the mix, and it all feels on the cusp of falling to pieces. Like all of the Pixies best work in their first incarnation, that it doesn’t fall apart is the genius, to my ears.
On what was often a rather subdued, emotional second album from A Perfect Circle, Pet stood out as a song built around muscular riffage (that opening groove is titanic). But more interesting are the lyrics and tale Maynard James Keenan tells through the song. As with so many of his songs, there are a number of interpretations, but in the main, this is a song where the protagonist is gaslighting someone else. Be that an imbalanced relationship, or – more likely – an extremely oblique comment on post-9/11 politics and warmongering in the US, where a scared, cowed and angry populace was pretty much told black was white and accepted it. Twenty years hence, and things are probably even worse.
/Stick Around for Joy
The Sugarcubes’ “best-of”, The Great Crossover Potential, alludes to the fact that this oddest of alternative bands of the time really was expected to make the jump to the big leagues. Needless to say, despite the extraordinary early single Birthday and others such as Hit, it never really happened – but lead singer Björk of course swiftly became an international megastar with her own solo work as the nineties progressed, despite often equally uncompromising and experimental music.
Hit is certainly more…immediately approachable than Birthday. A jangling funk-edged guitar over shuffling drums of the era, while Björk’s unmistakable vocals provide a soaring centrepiece…and of course Einar Örn has a bizarre, spoken-word/rapping interlude.
A non-album track that has gained near mythical status in electronic music, partly as Underworld managed to create this and Cowgirl – their greatest song, at least as far as I’m concerned – from the same basic ingredients, and of course the two are usually heard mixed together live (Rez into Cowgirl, always). Rez is perhaps the comparatively more restrained, as the looping synth hooks do most of the heavy lifting, creating a sweet melody that tumbling drums eventually burst into life around – and then, around four minutes in, you can see the join where the track normally morphs into Cowgirl, as the droning synths leave you hanging for an age, before taking a turn into other realms. Indeed I’m so familiar with the live version that I hear Karl Hyde’s “Everything Everything Everything…” refrain in my head regardless…
/Lazer Guided Melodies
The first incarnation of Spiritualized was broadly Jason Pierce and a number of other members of Spacemen 3 minus Peter Kember (aka Sonic Boom), and while it might have initially been thought that Pierce’s new band would continue where he left off, there was a distinct turn in a different direction. The drowsy, droning motorik minimalism was retained, but there was very much a devotional, bluesy feel to much of the music – something that of course would be explored in much greater depth – and with frankly awe-inspiring results – on the subsequent albums by the band.
The lively Run borrows liberally from J.J. Cale‘s Call Me The Breeze – something Pierce would do with rather more legal issues at a later point with an Elvis song – but Pierce makes the song his own here, with a lovely, multitracked chorus that feels utterly weightless. If you do have an interest in Spiritualized, by the way, I can’t recommend the recent reissue series enough – beautiful repackaging and a sparkling remaster of each of the first four albums.
/Burn My Eyes
Burn My Eyes remains a landmark metal album for a good many reasons, but mostly that it helped reinvent thrash for the metal mainstream in the early nineties. It is also chock-full of fucking great songs: particularly, of course, the opening pair, the evergreen Davidian and this. After Davidian winds down, Old opens with ominous drums and Robb Flynn detailing all that’s wrong in 1994 as some kind of state of the world address, which sets the scene for four minutes of savage, mosh-friendly riffs and Flynn’s scorching takedown of religious hypocrisy (which, of course, is likely even more relevant in 2021 than it was in 1994). All together now: “JESUS WEPT!“.
Much of the first Ned’s album God Fodder flashes past, and late-album track You – which lasts barely two-minutes is certainly one of them. A sneering attack on someone who thinks they are rather more than they are – getting in digs at many of their family too, even their pet Chinchilla – it rather feels like a quintessential Ned’s song, both basslines clearly in evidence and Jon’s emotional, powerful vocals. Later on in their relatively short first active phase, they would experiment with goth-tinged, industrial electronics, but here they keep things sharp and punkish.
Despite the regular touring – continuing their reputation as one of the greatest live acts on earth – we had to wait a remarkable ten years after Liebe ist für alle da before another album arrived, and it was perhaps surprising that the album was their best in a lot longer. It kept to the R+ script in many ways – monstrously heavy set-pieces that will be fantastic live, alongside a variety of more nuanced songs too. Sex was not one of the latter. Till Lindemann leaves no doubt that – despite some conflicting thoughts in his head, he appears to like sex a lot, and this song literally swings with desire and sexual power. And even so, it’s still a lot more subtle than Pussy ever was…
/Worse Case Scenario
My love of Belgian band dEUS goes back to their earliest exposure beyond their native land, when Suds and Soda first made it onto MTV Europe, way back in 1994. Twenty-seven years on, I’m still a dedicated fan, having seen them live numerous times and owning basically everything they’ve done. For me, they were a formative band. Their curious, ever-changing style(s) that took alternative-rock and tossed it in a mixing bowl with jazz, blues, post-punk, chanson balladry without ever caring for convention helped to open my eyes and ears to music I perhaps would never have otherwise heard.
But as well as that, their own songs were often unusual beasts, that combined an oft-anarchic approach to composition with a deep, heartfelt tenderness that made so many of their songs really quite affecting. Early single via was one of those, whose main refrain (“I skipped the part about love“) was perhaps lifted from R.E.M.’s Low, according to longtime dEUS fansite hotellounge.be. But whether that is true or just a coincidence, via has a thrilling charge to it, as if Tom Barman can’t get his frustration or words out of his system fast enough.
Having mentioned another Low, here’s a nineties alt-rock staple from a band who never were quite what this song suggested. Lead singer David Lowery was once the frontman for Camper Van Beethoven, and then formed Cracker in the early nineties – and the soaring, alt-rock-meets-Americana of Low remains by far their best-known song. The huge chorus is the big selling point, as Lowery invites someone (his lover, his drug partner, his partner in crime, who knows) to “go down with him”, which despite Lowery’s many protestations, really does seem to suggest a downward spiral of some sort at least, even if it isn’t about drug use. This song is one of quite a few that returned from the depths of my memory on my various /TheKindaMzkYouLike livestreams over the past year or so and remains one of those songs that I still know every word of.