Monthly Archives: June 2009

In memory of albums trapped in major label limbo.

Q: What’s worse than the curse of the ‘difficult second album’?

A: The ‘unreleased second album’.

Yes, surely never having the opportunity to release their much-laboured over second album is even more soul-destroying for a band than having it mercilessly torn apart by the music press. Take, for example, The Departure. Now, I liked The Departure. That statement may have immediately caused me to plummit in your estimations, but fuck it, I thought their debut album Dirty Words was fantastic – a mesh of wirey guitars and brooding emotion. Having teased their follow-up on Myspace and in live shows, I was ready to be impressed again… but then the band were unceremoniously dropped, dooming the album to remain unreleased. The band didn’t even get to keep the rights to their name for fuck’s sake!

The most recent victim of this cut-throat business are GoodBooks (or Good Books, if you prefer), who released one of my favourite albums of 2007, Control. Their demise seemed rather unexpected to the casual observer – in January they reported via Myspace that their second album, Cry Of The Hunters, was finished and due for release in summer. When summer came around, however, instead of an album, we got the news that the band’s performance at this year’s Glastonbury was to be their last. And so, another fully recorded and mixed second record now sits in limbo, owned by a major label that presumably has no intention of releasing it.

It’s not just second albums that have suffered this ignominy, and in that regard Pull Tiger Tail are surely one of the most luckless bands in recent history. Having finished their debut record in February 2007, they were then dropped by their label, B-Unique – and over two years later, the record still remains unreleased. The band’s Wikipedia page claims that the band finally have the rights to the record and intend to release it independently later this year, but I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of this – though I do hope it’s true.

There is, however, a crumb of comfort in the fact that some bands manage to survive such adversity – like Blood Red Shoes, for example. With plans to release their album in late 2007 well and truly buggered up when their record label, V2, was bought out by Universal, the album eventually saw the light of day in April 2008 – and it was certainly worth the wait.

But unfortunately, when it comes to major labels, money talks. There’s no sense of duty towards a band, and any ‘belief’ in them rarely extends beyond the belief that they’ll sell some records. And if they don’t meet up to that expectation, then it’s likely that their careers will be prematurely curtailed – no matter how good they are.

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Why I’m hoping Patrick Wolf’s next album has fewer collaborations on it.

Ah, Patrick Wolf. I was admittedly a little late to fully catch on to his charms, but nevertheless both his recorded material and live shows have beguiled me in equal measure. So it was with some anticipation that I awaited his latest fan-funded, two-album opus (The Bachelor is out now: Its sibling The Conqueror will be released next year. But you probably already knew that). The question is, does The Bachelor live up to my expectations? The answer is a slightly disappointing “not quite” – but that’s not so much to do with Patrick Wolf himself as it is the album’s smattering of celebrity collaborators.

It’s Alec Empire who has the most to answer for. First off, he co-wrote questionable first single ‘Vulture’ – a schizophrenic mess that can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a good song or not, and thus ends up being a pretty poor one by default. For every slick synth line there’s a clunky one, and for every good lyric there’s a bunch of pointless staccato utterances – the elements of the song just never really gel together very well. And to make matters worse, it had a really cringeworthy fanservice video. Ugh.

However, Empire’s second contribution to the record makes ‘Vulture’ look like a work of genius – ‘Battle’ is easily the worst thing Wolf has ever committed to record. A mess of dodgy electronic hardcore, chugging guitars, random shouting and lyrics that your average angsty teenager would probably have been embarrassed to have penned, at first it’s repulsive. Then it’s pitiable. And then it’s actually kind of amusing – none of which are reactions that Patrick was aiming for, I’d imagine. To top it off, the song feels pretty unneccessary, considering that he’d already put a similar message across far more eloquently in ‘Hard Times’.

I’d actually go so far as to say that Alec Empire’s contributions to The Bachelor are the only two Patrick Wolf songs I’d consider outright bad. So, congratulations Alec, you’ve sullied a perfectly good recording artist’s back catalogue!

The album’s most unusual contribution comes from actress Tilda Swinton, billed pretentiously here as “The Voice Of Hope”. She provides spoken word narration on three tracks, but her contribution unfortunately suffers from the law of diminishing returns. It starts out well enough on ‘Oblivion’ – a song which sounds like the further adventures of the poor bastard who got chased by ‘The Childcatcher’. The key is that her voice is used sparsely, and it doesn’t clash with Patrick’s – rules that are subsequently ignored in her appearances later in the album.

There are warning signs at the end of ‘Thickets’, where she repeats the same phrase over and over, like some sort of children’s story tape stuck on repeat. However, nothing can truly prepare you for the onslaught of inanities that she spouts over ‘Theseus’. She sounds like she’s belatedly auditioning for Jackanory: After a storybook-like intro, her contribution basically consists of repeating random parts of Patrick’s lyrics in really annoying received pronunciation. It’s at this point that you’ll pretty much be thinking “SHUT UP TILDA!” – rather than adding anything to the song, her voice just detracts from it by being an irritating distraction. It’s a shame really, because the song’s been around for ages – compare and contrast with this session version of it from 2003, and perhaps you’ll agree that it would sound better with all traces of Tilda Swinton removed from it. Ok, maybe the intro can stay. Maybe.

It’s up to Eliza Carthy to prevent the album’s collaborations from being a complete wash-out, and to give her credit she delivers brilliantly on the album’s title track, her throaty howl providing an excellent contrast to Patrick’s own vocal. In fact, she almost replaces him as the star of the show, so well suited is her voice to the song’s boisterous folky hoe-down – she serves a very similar role to Marianne Faithfull on The Magic Position‘s ‘Magpie’ (another collaboration that actually worked).

It’s a shame that most of the The Bachelor‘s collaborations fall flat, as the rest of the album is actually pretty good. ‘Hard Times’ is pacey, bold and stirring, ‘Damaris’ provides sweeping, lovelorn drama, and ‘Count Of Casualty’ is one of Patrick’s best juxtapositions of classical and electronic influences since Lycanthropy‘s ‘Paris’. The album even tackles personal issues, with ‘Blackdown’ and ‘The Sun Is Often Out’ both serving as moving tributes to Patrick’s late father (edit: Since originally publishing this post, I have discovered that ‘The Sun Is Often Out’ is actually a tribute to a friend of Patrick’s – a poet who committed suicide by jumping into the Thames. A moving tribute nonetheless). And perhaps it’s just because that it comes after the dirge-like ‘Battle’, but ‘The Messenger’ has an air of twinkling beauty about it -and importantly, it sounds like both the close of one chapter and the start of another, almost as if it serves to mark the transition between The Bachelor and The Conquerer.

Here’s hoping that The Conqueror chooses his ‘allies’ better than The Bachelor, eh?

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Plastiscines’ new single is their best song yet!

… don’t worry, it’s still pretty rubbish.

For those not familiar with Plastiscines, their primary appeal is that they’re four (ok, three and a half) hot French girls – a fact that basically served as a thin justification for sub-Libertines-with-a-French-accent nonsense such as ‘Mister Driver’. This basically means that a lot of French girls probably hate them for one reason or another, and I wouldn’t blame them.

New single ‘Barcelona’, on the other hand, has a more well-polished sheen about it. To be fair, it at least starts promisingly, with guitars crunching in a satisfyingly White Stripes-esque way, complete with the kind simple ‘thud-thud-thud’ drumming that works so well for said band. However, that’s usually followed by some guitar theatrics from Jack White, and we’re obviously not going to get that here. Instead, we get a fairly limp pop-rock chorus with puddle-deep lyrics: “I like romancing/but I don’t wanna” makes The Ting Tings look positively philosophical. Unfortunately, the band dispense with the White Stripes riffage within a minute and a half, leaving the song to meander aimlessly to its conclusion without the only thing that made it vaguely interesting.

Let’s go back to the lyrics for a minute. They’re a confused jumble of words that are in places meaningless, trite, lazy and nonsensical – never more so than in the utterly terrible bridge/coda, which sounds like it was written using ‘My First Rhyming Dictionary’. Seriously: “Going mad/going mad/not too bad/not too bad” … what the hell?

For all its flaws, it is irritatingly catchy though… which I suppose makes Plastiscines the French answer to the aforementioned Ting Tings. I’d certainly swap the guy with the glasses for three French girls – take a look for yourself:

You can get some pretty funny stills of the lead singer, as the preview aptly demonstrates.

And a final thought: Aren’t those heels ridiculous?

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Hi How Are You.

There’s no huge rationale behind the fact I’m trying to start writing (again) – ironically, this blog’s inspiration is pretty much a lack of just that: Inspiration. I’m pretty jaded/cynical/lazy/apathetic/etc (delete or substitute your own adjectives as desired) at this point in my life, but there’s a part of me that would like to start getting really excited about music again – or failing that, at least more opinionated. This blog is my lame attempt at doing so.

So, enjoy? Or at least amuse yourself with my amateurish attempts at journalism.

Paul.

P.S. The amusing picture of me you see above was drawn by Sian, who writes far more interesting things than I do at The Other Disco.

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