Monday, December 28, 2009

today I'd be a millionaire...I'd be a Fred Astaire

I know there's a fashion for it at the moment, where old bands put on special shows where they run through a long player, but there aren't that many albums that can really stand up to it. Even before the days where the album as a concept became pretty much irrelevant, there were always one or two tracks that could be skipped over and, lets face it, many albums were a hit single or two packaged with some other tracks, which may or may not be excellent, and often crushingly dull. This is especially true of pop, as opposed to rock. Genesis or Cream or Zeppelin operated in the album form, and hardly ever released singles. They could probably perform IV or Disraeli Gears or Selling England by the Pound in full and get away with it. Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall likewise. OK Computer at a push. But pop music is built on the three minute radio-friendly ditty. The very idea of pop is to have hits and be popular. And the economic model of pop is to concentrate on the singles and follow up with the album - hence the very concept of filler.

Which is what makes ABCs The Lexicon of Love so remarkable. At the time it was widely hailed as one of the best albums of the 1980s and has since cemented its place in the critics top howevermany of all time. This, for a pop concept album on that perennial pop topic of love and heartbreak. It's a difficult trick to pull off. Write a song cycle that more or less describes the arc of a love affair but make it not cheesy, not cloying and not sentimental. In fact, pack it with wit, honest emotion, clever wordplay, a pinch of pretension and even political allegory, but without tipping over into detached cynicism. But do all this to music which makes people dance, smile, sing along and suffer a sublime soaring heart from the first to the last second.

But ABC pulled it off. Orchestrating a timeless and joyful brew of 80s funk, Philly Soul, Bacharach and David, 60s film soundtracks, shiny electro-pop and even a slight nod to Vegas and musical theatre. The LoL also contains several of the greatest pop moments ever committed to tape. Like the bit in Poison Arrow where the girl declares: "I care enough to know I can never love you" and the drums crash back in (and for that matter the simple injerjection of her saying "Goodbye" as a percussive beat in Look of Love), or the bit in All of My Heart where there's a piano arpeggio that goes all the way down the keys, ending with a resonating bass note (which was soon after nicked by Quincy Jones on Michael Jackson's I Just Can't Stop Loving You), or the climax of Valentines Day: "If you gave me a pound for the moments I missed And I got dancing lessons for all the lips I shoulda kissed I'd be a millionaire I'd be a...Fred Astaire", or the tension break when Many Happy Returns segues into Tears Are Not Enough, or the way the electric piano break Show Me loses it's echo and suddenly feels really close to the speakers. Or the three shimmering guitar chords on All of My Heart that back the words to the bridge..."I won't be told, there's a pot of gold, at the end of the rainbow..." that are like the wind ruffling the surface of a mill-pond.

So to watch Martin Fry, band and orchestra perform The Lexicon of Love a couple of weeks ago was potentially a special experience. It was also potentially a naff nostalgia-fest for gone-to-seed, stuck in the 80s former new-romantics. But in fact there were fewer of the 80s nostalgia crowd in attendance than I thought. Maybe ten people or less would have also paid to see, par example, Spandau Ballet. You could tell them by their recently washed and pressed 80s nostalgia tour T shirts.

I truly love that album. It's travelled with me throughout my adult life, reflecting my youth as if in gold lame, reinvigorating the part of me that loves pure edge-of-kitsch pop music as much as I might also like Janacek's String Quartets or Sketches of Spain or heavy metal like Hanoi Rocks. And it seemed I was in a room with several hundred like-minded folk. There were plenty of middle aged men with their slightly less interested wives, but also a smattering of people from all ages. One row was taken up with an entire posse of teenaged girls. Odd, but explained when Martin Fry dedicated a song to his daughter and one of the girls squirmed and blushed whilst her friends pointed and giggled.

The first half of the show was a run through of the other, less brilliant hits - how else could they structure a show such as this? And then a civilised interval where people queued in a middle-aged, civilised way for wine and premium lagers.

The sense of anticipation in the room increased. You could feel it. I mention this because I never quite expected what would happen next. The orchestra came on, followed by Anne Dudley, to strike up the overture. After a smattering of classical concert styler applause, everyone went silent. Then the band appeared and moved smoothly into Show Me, tremeloed bass harmonics and all. It was great. I could feel my face smiling and I couldn't stop. But then the quite unexpected happened. As the piano arpeggio/glissando and handclap intro to Poison Arrow began, people began to stir. Almost as single person the audience stood, as if ordered. And by the time the intro led into that 7 note slap bass fill before the real song began everyone was keening towards the stage with tension and expectation. As the bassline and the drums kicked in properly the place went absolutely chaotically, uncontrollably mad. People were jumping up and down. Groups of middle aged folk ran from their seats to places where there was room to dance. The people on the balconies were throwing shapes and cheering along as if their team had just scored the winning cup-final goal. Everyone just let go. It was almost bacchanalian and out of control. At the song's abrupt end the place roared its approval. People stayed on their feet for Valentines Day, dancing a little less energetically, but then came The Look of Love and everyone entirely lost their senses again. For the next thirty minutes the energy gradually dissipated. But then after Anne and the orchestra had finished Look of Love prt 5, the band skipped back on and encored Look of Love (part two), causing mayhem again. People booed when a second encore didn't materialise. I genuinely think they could have heard the hits two or three times over and still have been left wanting more.

What was so brilliantly joyful about it was that this wasn't a crowd of uninhibited teenagers on too many blue alco-pops and half a dodgy E. This was a respectable middle aged crowd who'd got baby sitters and driven their people carriers to the show. Perhaps its not so shocking that the place exploded. All that middle-aged respectibility can be so restricting. And to have your favourite ever songs playing in front of you in a way you never thought you'd see and at a level of quality you never expected is the excuse you need to let it all out and express the fact that even though you're 45, you still feel 15 inside.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

today : politics: a warning from history

It's very clear...Gordon's not here to stay. What with the press upping the ante with their attacks on him and everything he does being portrayed as incompetent and blundering. And unless something really stands out as a topic requiring comment in the run up to the election in a few months, I think I'll leave it all alone. I don't really feel the need to use my 'umble blog to play at being a pundit. After all, it's the Nick Robinsons and the Adam Boltons and the John Pienaars and the Laura Kuensbergs who get to do that. And it's a slight pet hate of mine to see that lots of people use Web 2.0 to endlessly broadcast the minutiae of their stupid opinions, like the web was a great big local radio phone-in. So here's all I have to say. If you are going to vote for the Tories next time because you're bored with Labour, or are taken in by the endless negative press on Brown, or even if your political instinct is conservative, don't come crying to me when it turns out that you didn't quite get what you thought you were getting.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Today : Saltydog's now traditional Xmas music selection

It's Christmas (or December, at least) and each year I like to post a Christmas Video or two. Let's start with the best one

and a new one that's quite good

and a bonkers one

and proof that some people can make even those tired old naff Xmas songs swing like a mother

Be nice to people.