Archive for June, 2009

Anomaly

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 30 June 2009 by eT

Anomaly: noun something that deviates from what is standard or normal.

She got to know his mind (x2)

Intimately

She was surprised to find (x2)

Something of an anomaly

(The Pipettes, ‘Dirty Mind’)

The Brighton girl-group The Pipettes, formed to tap into a modern fascination for Phil Spector-style pop, have had a core membership with about as many changes as the serially revolving door-style Sugababes.  But their debut album, 2006’s We Are The Pipettes, contains a batch of singles of particular interest to listeners with a penchant for quality pop.  On Dirty Mind, the girls lament a liaison with a fellow with a pretty face, but whose behaviour left a lot to be desired: ‘You see this perfect boy wasn’t quite so pristine / He had ideas that would make the devil scream’.  Carried off with the band’s characteristic whimsical humour, and benefitting from deftly interwoven female harmonies, Dirty Mind only reached number 63 in the UK charts when it was released in 2005, but it paved the way for two stronger performances in 2006, when Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me and Pull Shapes both entered the top 40.  Here they are in the official video, singing a bit and messing about with some balloons.

Apathy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 30 June 2009 by eT

Apathy: noun lack of interest or enthusiasm — ORIGIN Greek apatheia, from apathes ‘without feeling’.

Oh don’t look in those eyes
Bluer than blue
Rules on the rise
And if I wear apathy‘s crown
Don’t call me highness
It’s a long way down

(Michael Penn, ‘Long Way Down’)

Watching a promo for New Zealand-born director Christine Jeffs’ new film Sunshine Cleaning recently, I noticed that the soundtrack was arranged by Michael Penn, an artist that I’ve been following for around 15 years now.  Penn, the talented brother of actors Sean and Chris Penn, came to prominence in 1990 when he won Best New Artist at the MTV Awards, but like several other artists I’ve posted about here, he’s never attained the fame that is his due.

I first came across Penn through his 1992 album Free-For-All, and I instantly fell in love with his songs – particularly their melding of slightly off-kilter lyrics with a rare sense of how to construct a great tune.  Later I found out that he’d married fellow singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, who I’d also been following for years, and it seemed a perfect match.  Now if I only lived in the US and could track them down on a joint tour!

In Long Way Down (Look What The Cat Drug In), the opening track from Free-For-All, Penn deploys the word ‘apathy’ to useful effect in his tale of jealousy.  Admittedly, it’s not a fully-fledged 25-cent word – maybe only 15 cents?  But it’s still a great song.  Here he is performing it on an undated Tonight Show sometime in the 90s:

Amoeba

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 28 June 2009 by eT

Amoeba: noun (pl. amoebas or amoebae) a microscopic single-celled animal which is able to change shape — ORIGIN from Greek amoibe ‘change, alternation’.

Don’t have to humble yourself to me
I ain’t your judge or your king
And baby, you know you ain’t no Queen of Sheba
And we may not even have our dignity, no
This could be just a prideful thing
But baby, we can choose – you know,
We ain’t no amoebas

(John Hiatt, ‘Thing Called Love’)

Veteran blues rocker John Hiatt has been cranking out songs for decades now, seldom achieving a level of fame and fortune commensurate with his considerable talent.  I first started listening to Hiatt after hearing his 1993 album Perfectly Good Guitar, which had been produced with a rawer, grungier sound to appeal to a youthful market, but the core of his songwriting ability drew me on to his more conventional recordings.  At last count he’s released 18 albums, and his career hasn’t taken off for want of recognition in all the right places.  His songs have been covered by multitudes of singers, including Bob Dylan (Hiatt says the royalties from Bonnie Raitt’s cover of Thing Called Love have put two of his children through college) and his 1987 song Have A Little Faith In Me is rightly regarded as a modern classic.

Hiatt’s songs often display his wry sense of humour, as in this performance of Thing Called Love, a track from the seminal Bring The Family album that also featured Have A Little Faith In Me.  You have to hand it to a writer who can fit the word ‘amoeba’ into a song, particularly when it’s rhymed with ‘Queen of Sheba’!  Here he is performing the track with Lyle Lovett on Saturday Night Live in February 2009:

Talisman

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 25 June 2009 by eT

Talisman: noun an object thought to have magic powers and to bring good luck — ORIGIN Arabic, apparently from Greek telesma ‘completion, religious rite’.

You know this time’s for real
It helps the heart to heal
You know it breaks the seal of the talisman that harms
And so you look at me and need
The space that means as much to me

(Richard Hawley, ‘The Ocean’)

Sheffield singer Richard Hawley, formerly of Longpigs and Pulp, came to prominence in 2006 when his breakthrough album Coles Corner was nominated for the Mercury Prize.  His laconic and thoughtful songs display a rare maturity and gravity in a music market overcrowded with hype.  And it’s most likely he’s the coolest Sheffield Wednesday supporter in existence.

The Ocean is a sweeping ballad that’s probably best listened to in the context of the whole album rather than as a stand-alone snippet.  While the official video for the song can be found here, I think it portrays Hawley a bit out of context: rather cliched helicopter shots whilst standing atop rocky coastlines in the tradition of MOR ballads.  I actually prefer a much more basic clip taken in Barcelona on someone’s personal video camera, which works because it’s so simple – just five minutes of video taken late at night as a group of friends drive homewards after a night on the town.  It’s more genuine and succeeds because Hawley’s songs are in their element in the wee small hours, not in the bright glare of midday sunshine.

Habitual

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 23 June 2009 by eT

Habitual: adjective 1 done constantly or as a habit. 2 regular; usual.

Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as Parklife
A morning soup can be avoided if you take a route straight through what is known as Parklife
John’s got brewer’s droop – he gets intimidated by the dirty pigeons – they love a bit of it (Parklife!)
Who’s that gutlord marching… you should cut down on your porklife mate… get some exercise!

(Blur, ‘Parklife’)

Sure, it’s not the meatiest definition in these pages, but Blur deserves credit for spicing up their pop lyrics with a little more zest than was strictly necessary.  Parklife was the title track of their third album, and was the third charting single from the album, reaching number 10 in the UK top 40 in September 1994.  The recording and its accompanying video highlighted the role of actor Phil Daniels (best known for his role in Quadrophenia and the soap EastEnders) as the Mockney narrator of the song, but 15 years after its release it’s singer Damon Albarn’s relentless goonery and mugging in the video that’s most striking.  If you can get past that it’s still a catchy slice of the Britpop boom at its apex.

Subjugate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 23 June 2009 by eT

Subjugate: verb bring under domination or control, especially by conquest — ORIGIN Latin subjugare ‘bring under a yoke’, from jugum ‘yoke’.

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it’s the rhetoric of failure

(The Police, ‘Spirits In The Material World’)

Good old Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. Sting).  His background as an ex-teacher obviously prepared him well for the role of world-straddling pop sex symbol and rock philosopher.  The underlying message of this song?  Well, alongside the general suspicion of political elites, consumerism is bad, kids… except when you happen to be buying our single.  (Cheap shot, agreed.  I withdraw and apologise).  He earns extra marks for using ‘rhetoric’ in there too.  Spirits In The Material World, from the Police’s fourth studio album, 1981’s Ghost In The Machine, reached number 11 in the US charts and number 12 in the UK.  Here’s Sting being manhandled by a randy Kenny Everett before a performance of the track on a 1981 Christmas special:

Bona fide

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 22 June 2009 by eT

Bona fide: adjective genuine; real.  adverb chiefly Law without intention to deceive — ORIGIN Latin, ‘with good faith’.

I’m bona fide hermit out with the sun
I admit that it’s not everyone’s ideal existence
Or their idea of fun
Seems to work for me
I’m waiting for the moment
The time will come I know it
The strength of my conviction will recognise my soul

(Stellar, ‘Part of Me’)

Boh Runga, who has incidentally got a new solo album out at the moment, originally came to prominence through her snappy pop outfit Stellar.  (I refuse to add the superfluous and attention-seeking asterisk at the end).  Their first album, 1999’s Mix, was a strong collection of potential singles, with the downbeat Part of Me following the up-tempo What You Do (Bastard) into the New Zealand top 20.  In the first line of Part of Me, which reached number 4 in the local pop charts, she injects a little Latin primer to set the scene for an above-average lyrical effort.  Perhaps it contributed in some small way to Mix winning album of the year at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2000, although I suspect Runga’s quality allround song-writing and (if memory serves) American producer J.D. Souther‘s knob-twiddling work also played a major role.