Adventures of a University Finalist

Friday, October 21, 2005

On the Banks of the Muddy River Douglas


Grand Drive - Santa Rita

The Undertones - Here Comes The Summer (Peel Session 5.2.1979)
The Seeds - Two Fingers Pointing On You
Witness UK - Avalanche

Never in my life have I read liner notes that have quite a vitriolic hatred for the recordings that they are supposedly promoting than on the Edsel release of The Seeds' 'Future/A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues'. 'Future' is seen as the product of "ludicrously pretencious meanderings from [Sky] Saxon's psyche" and 'A Full Spoon...' is simply termed as "an aberration". Of course, knowing me, I find a significant amount of charm to The Seeds' output despite such claims. 'Two Fingers Pointing On You' is amateurish in its kitchen sink approach with parping tubas, sitars, and a merry go round middle eight. However, there's always an alluring Strychnine undercurrent to the Seeds' "flower music" dredged from the depths of their garage past. Guitars intermittently wail in the background against the enigmatic Spitalfields marching band rumblings. Someone shakes a tambourine haphazardly in its simplistic attempts to add depth to the arrangement. In concocting this strange musical formula for an organic music closer to the earth's own metronome, the Seeds would embark on a paradoxical journey. Paradoxical in the way that it encapsulated an important cultural movement without reflecting anything of import itself. It's lyrical content are weak in their literal reliance upon pointing the finger and the music comes off as rather slight. A few years later, The Rascals would tackle similar subjects with more accomplished playing, tight R n' B arrangements and, in Felix Cavaliere, would possess a vocalist who surpassed Saxon technically by a country mile. On reflection, the song may be no 'Mr Farmer' or 'Pushin' Too Hard' but its an interesting curio nonetheless and would end up appearing in Jack Nicholson's 1968 movie Psych-Out. The rippling organ riff is something to savour too.
The Undertones, like the Seeds, were a band who recorded four albums and whom, over that period of time, would end up altering their musical output significantly from Casbah Rock to mellifluous Motown soul. Of course, this meant that the band would be seen to have succumbed to over production; the "curse of the Nepalese nose flutes". 'Here Comes the Summer' came long before that period though and this particular version of the song should be of interest to all of those who've heard the original due to the smart arse Shangri-Las spoken word intro. The boys, now significantly matured, now refer to the old intro as guff but it's still very amusing with the comical attempts to replicate waves crashing on a sun dappled beach. The performance of the tune itself could be referred to as stock with no significant deviations except that little extra bit of bite provided by the live session setting. The backing vocals are bang on and once again we're left to marvel at what a great frontman Feargal was with his duffel coat and bar room vibrato. "Hey Mickey, what does 'incoherently' mean?"
Witness (or Witness UK as they're known in the States) were direct descendants of The Verve with their specialising in miserabilist anthem rock that encompassed both their Wigan roots and a smooth Midwest sound. The album from which 'Avalanche' is taken, 'Under A Sun', is a real corker barring one absolute stinker, a tacked on reference to Little Feat's 'Willin' on 'Mines', and the B-side tagged on the end. It can be picked up in record shop bargain bins and on Amazon for the price of a small latte at Starbucks. In 'Avalanche', I've cherrypicked the real highlight of the piece with its deft piano movement, the heavy delay, the constant high hat movement, the emotive chips of slide guitar, and Gerard Starkie's flawless delivery. Thankfully, the piano takes on the driving role often assigned to large scale orchestras giving the song a more personal feel to it whilst the chorus really hits home lyrically. It's a slight shame about the pompous religious overtones brought into the song's bridge for it shifts the song on to an unwelcome tangent. Sometimes, a more general lyrical construct can be sustained throughout effectively without a reliance on cumbersome additions added in a vain attempt to build a crescendo in the middle eight. It's a minor quibble but one that I feel is important to raise. Sometimes an instrumental break compromised of repeated verse chord progressions is perfectly satisfactory; otherwise a song's shape can be sacrificed in the name of filling in the gaps.
Grand Drive are pure Americana. It's a shame that they come from Camden. 'Santa Rita' is a clean cut Burrito Brothers epic drawn from their last album, 'The Lights In This Town Are Too Many To Count'. It's acoustic fingerpicking with the bastard son of Lanois and Eno on the decks. In other words, it sounds quite similar to something that U2 may come up with if they believed in the power of pathos. You can hear bubbles underneath the clear surface and an occasional snap of snare rippling outwards into the ether. It's ever so calm and carries on its shoulders an adulterous beauty that leaves one enraptured. Imagine the song that wafts through the bar in Paris, Texas as strangers sup from their surrogate teats and regulars brush off the dust from their regular seat encapsulating the raw landscape through which it sifts. That's 'Santa Rita'.
Final note, I've just checked my server and noticed that one of the Jam songs I uploaded, 'I Got By In Time', and The Mutton Birds tune were 0 bytes in size. Did any of you find difficulties listening to those two songs? If so, I'll upload them for the next post. As an addendum, if any of you suffer problems with any of the songs, just leave a comment and I'll deal with it pronto. Otherwise I'll never learn and you won't be able to experience first rate New Zealand pop as I intended.

Buy - Grand Drive - The Lights In This Town Are Too Many To Count
Buy - The Undertones - Listening In
Buy - The Seeds - Future/A Full Spoon of Seedy Blues
Buy - Witness UK - Under A Sun