The Future Sound of London – Papua New Guinea Translations

After a bit of warm-up, The Future Sound of London really started operating under that name in 1992 with the groundbreaking and enormous hit single Papua New Guinea, and just under a decade later, they put that particular career on hold with the mini-album Papua New Guinea Translations, released fifteen years ago this week.

It opens, of course, with the track that began it all, the exquisite original 12″ version of the title track. Until you listen to it again, it’s easy to forget quite how good it actually is. Those simple, reverb-laden piano notes and choral washes will send shivers down your spine – it really is that amazing.

That was the first translation (back into the native FSOLish, it would seem). The second owes a lot to the original, built around a similar chord sequence and directly sampling it at various speeds. Papsico is a great way to begin in earnest – a ten minute exploration which takes the original in a very different direction while at the same time not straying too far from the theme. There are definite echoes of FSOL’s later, broader and more exploratory material, with a slidey middle section and hints of far-off alien worlds, but it’s almost certainly best not to read too much into that at this stage.

Other translations are more of a departure from the original – The Lovers, later revisited on the next Amorphous Androgynous album The Isness, borrows primarily from the original with just a laid back bass part, and a spacious progressive backdrop has been built around it. In its original form, it’s another nine minute exploration, which gives it plenty of space to evolve and saunter through the concept.

After this, the translations start to drift from one to the next, both literally and metaphorically. Wooden Ships hints at the eastern directions of their next project a couple of years later; The Great Marmalade Mama in the Sky is less psychedelic, and more of a beatsy, cosmic variation.

The journey we take on this album carries us around the world – perhaps even across the universe. Requiem is a gentler piece, with piano, harmonica, and waily vocals. Then Things Change Like the Patterns and Shades That Fall from the Sun is a more dramatic translation, built around startling pad chords based on the original Papua New Guinea sequence.

The eighth and final translation is The Big Blue, bringing together many of the themes from the preceding tracks into one. It’s a pleasant eastern-themed piece, drifting along with various instruments taking the lead. On the face of it, there isn’t a lot of Papua New Guinea left here, but then elements from the original do turn up from time to time, and the sum product is entirely pleasant.

Like the album as a whole – blurring the line between what “single” and an “album” might mean, this is an extremely enjoyable exploration of different elements from the start – and end – of The Future Sound of London‘s chart career.

You can find second-hand or downloadable copies of Papua New Guinea Translations from places like this.

Chart for stowaways – 17 September 2016

Here are the top singles this week:

  1. Shit Robot – End of the Trail
  2. Röyksopp feat. Susanne Sundfør – Never Ever
  3. Pet Shop Boys – Inner Sanctum
  4. Massive Attack – The Spoils / Come Near Me
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Say It to Me
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  7. Pet Shop Boys – Twenty-Something
  8. Shit Robot – In Love
  9. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – People on the High Line
  10. Clarke Hartnoll – Better Have a Drink to Think

Peel Sessions – New Order, 1 June 1982

New Order recorded four John Peel sessions, but the most famous are the two from the very early days, recorded in 1981 and 1982 respectively. By this time they just had one album and a handful of singles under their belts, and were still spending a lot of time sounding a bit like Joy Division, as you might expect.

The session opens with the never-released Turn the Heater On, which you might justifiably expect to be dreadful, but surprisingly it turns out to be a pleasant dub reggae-inspired piece, with the huge amounts of reverb and sound effects that it deserves. The lyrics are a bit wet, but it’s actually pretty good otherwise – and it’s definitely a shame that it never saw a proper release.

In fact, at the time of the session, nothing on here had seen a release, which is definitely admirable. We All Stand would later turn up on the next album Power, Corruption and Lies, but with a lot more production. I think I actually prefer the Peel Session version – it’s a lot more chilled out, and seems somehow to have the atmosphere that the song deserves.

Too Late was never released at all, and this one is probably a little more justified, as it does seem to be the weakest track on here. It bobs along nicely, but it’s pretty bland.

As is 5 8 6, actually – one of the better tracks from Power, Corruption and Lies, they clearly hadn’t quite figured out what it was going to be yet when they recorded this session. It’s nice to hear a bit of experimentation in the recording, but it does sound as though it needs quite a lot of work still. But that’s alright – nobody said the Peel Sessions had to be particularly polished.

We previously covered the first session here, and you can read more about New Order‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. This session is available on the CD The Peel Sessions, which is no longer widely available.

Random jukebox – Belinda

Don’t be put off by the fact that she looks so cross – this is a great piece of Europop from Belinda, Ni Freud Ni Tu Mama. And don’t be put off either by the fact that it’s Europop – just open your mind and enjoy it, and try not to wonder how good the acoustics might be if they were actually playing in the rain.

Pet Shop Boys – Concrete

By 2006, Pet Shop Boys were already twenty-five years into their music career, and they still hadn’t released a live album. But that would change with Concrete, released a decade ago this week.

Of course, the problem with live albums is that they often aren’t actually very good. You normally just get a few marginally different versions of tracks, which are clearly being played with a lot of energy, but unless you were actually there in person, it’s hard to get a feeling for what was actually going on at the time.

Trust Pet Shop Boys to do something different. Concrete starts with the enormous orchestral swell of Left to my own devices, and as on the original, that orchestra is actually real. This time it’s the BBC Concert Orchestra, in a concert recorded for BBC Radio, and as you might expect from that fact alone, it truly stands out as an exceptional live album.

There’s an unusual mix of tracks on here – of the seventeen, there are six from the latest album Fundamental, but the bulk were selected for their suitability to play with an orchestra, so after the introductions we get Angelo Badalamenti‘s rather awful rearranged version of Rent, and then an adorable version of You only tell me you love me when you’re drunk.

After a pretty awful sleazy introduction, Frances Barber of all people turns up to introduce the first new track, The Sodom and Gomorrah show, marking the first of the surprise appearances on this release. There’s another on the next song, as Rufus Wainwright appears to sing the bulk of Casanova in Hell, which suits the music well.

Concrete is characterised by a few things, then – the orchestral accompaniment, the guests, and the unusual selection of tracks. Continuing on the latter theme, we now get an excellent version of After all, from the Battleship Potemkin soundtrack, followed by another guest appearance from Frances Barber, now in character as the flamboyant Billie Trix on Friendly fire. The latter just about works, although it does require a bit of an explanation from Neil Tennant beforehand.

Disc one closes with a triumphant version of Integral, and then the pairing of new singles continues on the second disc with the lovely (but largely hated by the fans) Numb. In an environment such as this, you might think that a 1980s acid house classic might not fit too well, but somehow It’s Alright sounds amazing alongside these neighbours.

After Luna Park comes a major surprise: Nothing has been proved, written for Dusty Springfield back in the 1980s but rarely performed by Pet Shop Boys, and sounding completely fantastic here. Then comes Jealousy, in its wonderful extended form, but which maybe could have done with a little more rehearsal, as Neil has to rush a bit when he announces the surprise singer, Robbie Williams.

More surprising, though, is the inclusion of the adorably silly Dreaming of the Queen, from Very. It’s great to see the duo taking their art with a pinch of salt, even here. There’s grandiosity – It’s a sin closes the main set – but there’s also definitely a sense of humour.

Of the encores, Indefinite leave to remain falls a bit flat now – it’s a nice song, but that’s about all you can say for it. But right at the end, it mixes into the orchestral version of West End girls, which, of course, sounds amazing.

Concrete definitely has its ups and downs, but you can’t question its inventiveness as a live set, and for the most part it’s quite excellent. It’s not often I would say this, but this is a live album which is definitely worth tracking down.

Which you can do by clicking here or looking in any major retailer of your choosing.