Chart for stowaways – 24 October 2015

Here’s this week’s singles chart for stowaways:

  1. Little Boots – Working Girl
  2. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Tutti Frutti
  3. The Future Sound of London – Point of Departure
  4. New Order – Restless
  5. Jean-Michel Jarre & Tangerine Dream – Zero Gravity
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Love is a Bourgeois Construct
  7. Everything But The Girl – Before Today
  8. Jean-Michel Jarre – Remix EP (I)
  9. New Order feat. Elly Jackson – Plastic
  10. Little Boots – Better in the Morning

Lemon Jelly –

Long before they were famous for Nice Weather for DucksLemon Jelly started their career with a series of 10″ singles, which, with some slight reworking, would ultimately become 2000’s As with their other two albums, the original comes in impeccable packaging, so right from the start you’ll find it difficult not to be charmed.

Having finally opened the package, the album opens with the brilliant In the Bath, a lovely chilled out piece with just the occasional vocal interlude, enquiring “what do you do in the bath?” in various sampled forms. It’s followed by Nervous Tension, which uses a self-help tape as the backbone for an entirely pleasant relaxing piece of music.

The sound of the sea elephant (and he’s a big fellow, apparently) brings us to the curiously named A Tune for Jack, which with its rippling piano parts has to be one of the most iconic and memorable pieces on here. But they’re so relaxed that they can easily drift by, and His Majesty King Raam is upon you before you know it.

The Staunton Lick is next, as featured in Spaced. You would never necessarily know this when listening to the album, but we’re actually running through the three debut EPs in order here, and The Staunton Lick forms the centrepiece of the second, The Yellow EP. It’s difficult not to love this track – it could really fit anywhere. On Spaced it’s background music, albeit to a particularly key scene. As a listener, you could enjoy it as catchy pop music, or as simple ambient music.

That, I think, is the key to Lemon Jelly. Their curious blend of found sounds and catchy pop can be listened to pretty much anywhere, and essentially in any situation.

Homage to Catalonia is next, a gentler, more ambient piece, which one could easily accuse of going nowhere, but it’s also entirely enjoyable. When it breaks down to just the bass towards the end, it goes right through you, before passing the baton to Kneel Before Your God. Perhaps one of the less adventurous tracks on here, it burbles along nicely with the occasional interlude for sinister laughter, which finally takes over completely right at the end.

Page One could easily be missed by the inattentive as well, although the somewhat daft vocal samples help it stand out a little, and final track Come is laid back in the extreme. By the last couple of tracks, this album might have passed its best, but it still has a lovely atmosphere to offer.

I’ve mused before about how disappointing it is that Lemon Jelly appear to have cut their careers so short – after a couple of years’ build up, appeared in 2000, followed by their first studio album Lost Horizons in 2002, and the darkly intriguing ’64-’95 in 2005. But with that, they were gone, and that’s a great shame, as they were really rather good, and got them off to a great start.

You can still find all over the place, but you might struggle to find the original packaging. Do so if you can!

Random jukebox – Wolfsheim

Wolfsheim were almost entirely overlooked outside their native Germany, and that’s a great shame. Perhaps if we’d paid a bit more attention, they might not have split up back in 2003, and some of us might still be able to enjoy their work. From the curiously titled album Dreaming Apes, this is A New Starsystem Has Been Explored.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Organisation

We’ve reviewed a lot of OMD on this blog this year, but this seems an entirely worthwhile anniversary to celebrate – it’s 35 years this week since they unleashed their second album Organisation.

It starts with a cracker – if you had to choose one OMD song to define their career, it would probably be Enola Gay, mainly just because it’s brilliant. The lyrics are eccentric to say the least, but somehow the riff captures something extremely special, and you’re transported back to 1980 every time.

2nd Thought grabs you a little less, but is still great. Clearly after the raw charm of their debut Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (also 1980) they spent a lot of time polishing and honing their sound. Well, not a huge amount of time actually – it was just eight months earlier that they were unleashing the first album. But even so, this has a much more mature, evolved sound.

VCL XI is good too, although it relies perhaps a little too much on its rhythmic elements. It’s catchy, but could quite easily be annoying too, so could maybe have benefitted from a little selective editing. Then comes Motion and Heart, famously nearly the second single (Enola Gay was the only one in the end), a bizarre but pleasant electro-swing piece. It’s difficult to see how this could ever have come out as a single, but on the album it’s definitely up there among the best this album has to offer.

Side A closes with Statues, a pleasant, gentler song. It isn’t difficult to see why they struggled at the time to find a second single, as the majority of songs on this album are gentler or weirder in some way, but while it lacks the raw charm of the debut, it’s still a very good release.

Then Side B opens with The Misunderstanding, which after a very dark and grimy introduction eventually gains the beginnings of another Enola Gay riff. That doesn’t really end up going anywhere unfortunately, as it gets overshadowed by one of Andy McCluskey‘s more extravagant vocal performances and an enormous snare drum. It’s nice, but it does make you wonder slightly whether it was something they had overlooked for the first album.

The More I See You shows some promise too, but ultimately doesn’t do an awful lot either, and this is sadly the general theme of the second half of Organisation. Enola Gay may have been an exquisite opener, but it seems a long time ago now. Penultimate track Promise does little to pick things up either – as with everything else here, it’s perfectly nice, but just a little bit disappointing.

Bringing proceedings to a close is the softer and gentler Stanlow, full of deep arpeggiated synths and soft vocals. It has a great atmosphere and closes the album nicely, but you can’t help but feel a little bit let down on the whole – the previous release was so good, and Enola Gay was so promising and iconic, and then everything else just seems a little drab by comparison.

Even so, Organisation is a competent second album, and one which helped cement OMD‘s place in history.

The essential version of Organisation is the 2003 remaster, still available here. Make sure it doesn’t have copy protection – some copies do.

Mercury Prize 2015 – Nominees

Whatever you think of it, the Mercury Prize is always an interesting barometer of the UK music industry, and this year’s is no exception. Here are the nominees:

  • Aphex Twin – Syro
  • Benjamin Clementine – At Least for Now
  • C Duncan – Architect
  • ESKA – Eska
  • Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  • Gaz Coombes – Matador
  • Ghostpoet – Shedding Skin
  • Jamie xx – In Colour
  • Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
  • Slaves – Are You Satisfied?
  • SOAK – Before We Forgot How to Dream
  • Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool

It’s particularly nice to see the latest Róisín Murphy release on the list.

The winner will be announced on Friday 20 November at the BBC, and you can win all of the albums here.

Chart for stowaways – 17 October 2015

For the first time in a decade, New Order take the top spot on the album chart this week!

  1. New Order – Music Complete
  2. The Future Sound of London – Environment Five
  3. Little Boots – Working Girl
  4. Leftfield – Alternative Light Source
  5. Delerium – Rarities & B-Sides
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 1: The Time Machine
  7. Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite
  8. Chvrches – Every Open Eye
  9. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense?
  10. Air – Music for Museum

Utah Saints – Two

The seven-year gap between Utah Saints (reviewed previously here) and Two (2000) must have seemed interminable to Utah Saints fans at the time, although it pales into insignificance when compared to the fifteen-year gap which has come since. But in those seven years of one-off singles, Leeds-based Utah Saints managed to find a mature sound which failed to make much of an impact on the charts, but was excellent nonetheless.

Their second album (they clearly struggle with names), Two opens with a gentle piece called Sun before launching into the lively Power to the Beats, the third single from the album. It’s a good place to start, sounding not entirely unlike the Utah Saints hits of the early 1990s, although without the samples that made them so famous. It wasn’t a hit, although that was partly because the CD wasn’t eligible for the UK charts.

First single Love Song comes next, with its enormous pounding beats. It’s a great track, but the record buying public of 2000 clearly wasn’t too bothered, as it barely scraped into the top forty. Which is a shame – it may not have the catchy charm of What Can You Do for Me or Believe in Me, but it’s far from bad.

Final single Lost Vagueness is one of the best tracks on here, but was entirely overlooked on its release the following year. Chrissie Hynde‘s weirdly synthesised vocals mix wonderfully with the almost symphonic backing. It’s great, but in the context of this album it forms a part of something even stronger.

This was, perhaps, the problem with Two – commercial success tends to come from singles, and whereas Utah Saints had plenty, Two is a more coherent, and much more complete release. Few tracks stand out, because the general level of quality is so high across the board.

As a fun deviation, Michael Stipe from R.E.M. turns up on a number of tracks, including Punk Club, which samples him largely listing cities in the US, which makes for an odd track, but sounds great nonetheless.

More of that later, but for now the album’s one hit single Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On, which sees Chuck D singing over an enormous driving industrial dance beat. Although actually, apart from the vocal, there isn’t a lot to this track, so you could be forgiven for not being too keen. Again, in the album context, it fits very nicely indeed.

The pleasant didgeridoo-fashioned instrumental Massive follows next, and then another Stipe conversation in the form of the brilliant Rhinoceros. This must be as filmic as music can really be, with its silent movie-style piano backing, and the farcical story (Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On) told in the vocals. Truly brilliant.

This mixes into the lovely, deep and gentle Morning Sun, before they flirt again with their rave roots on Sick, which surely must have been considered as a single at one point. But with the later tracks on the album it’s easy to just slip into the music, and enjoy the way it all fits together – B777 drifts into Techknowledgy and the lovely Three Simple Words, and suddenly closing track Wiggedy Wack is upon you.

Two is a great second album – definitely better than its predecessor – but the last fifteen years have not been kind to it. Not because it’s dated in the slightest, but just that everybody has long since forgotten about it. But it’s long overdue another listen, and as soon as you pick it up again, you’ll realise it’s pretty amazing.

You can still find Two at your local high street record shop.

Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour

This week sees the 25th anniversary of one of the most important and exquisite albums of the early 1990s. If you’re not a fan, you might not even have come across Behaviour – it was the least successful of their early releases. But ask anyone who knows them well, and they will tell you that this is one of Pet Shop Boys‘ finest moments.

It begins with the very soft introduction to Being boring, among many other things a poignant reminder of Christmases long ago. An unlikely festive hit, it struggled its way into the bottom end of the top twenty, and continued to slide around the lower reaches of the chart for the next couple of months.

Over the two minutes or so that it takes for the vocal to turn up, you really know everything you need to about this album. Whereas Pet Shop Boys‘ previous release Introspective (1988) had been a six track collection of extended dance mixes, this time around you would meet a cavalcade of string arrangements, synth pads, and joyous, melancholic lyrics.

Proceedings take a darker turn with This must be the place I waited years to leave, which sees singer Neil Tennant transported back to his school days in a dream. While the rare nine minute extended version has even more atmosphere, even on this shorter version the analogue synth and vocoder lines lend it a particularly mournful tone – Pet Shop Boys travelled to Germany to record much of this album with synth legend Harold Faltermeyer, which gives it a unique sound.

The quietest moment yet comes with To face the truth, which sees Tennant giving an extremely unusual vocal performance while Chris Lowe could almost be playing his pad section live. With its simplicity and understated vocals, it’s an almost unique song in Pet Shop Boys‘ back catalogue.

In a perfect transition, the uptempo How can you expect to be taken seriously? comes next. Much has been written about this song, knowingly contemplating who the subject might be, which we won’t touch on here – let’s just say it’s a satire on fame, fortune, and charity. Ultimately released as a double a-side single with hordes of creative remixes in the extravagantly named Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) / How can you expect to be taken seriously? package, the years that have followed have seen it largely forgotten, and sadly so.

Closing Side A is the lovely piano-driven piece Only the wind, which could only really be improved by being its Nightlife Tour version as found on the Montage DVD (2001), which is worth braving the unwatchable visuals to hear a hugely atmospheric remix. The original Behaviour version is still worthy of your attention, a lovely song which reminds you ever so slightly of the British obsession with the weather.

Side B opens with the haunting My October symphony, apparently the song that inspired November Rain. In spite of the vaguely Soviet sounding introduction and the repeated nods to the October Revolution, the lyrics reveal little directly about its deeper meaning, leaving much to your own interpretation. As it should be. But I’m tempted to wonder whether Tennant is questioning his socialist teenage self, and asking him to reinterpret his feelings about the revolution.

So hard is next, the lead single, with its enormous analogue synth backing. This was the era when digital synthesis was at its height, and Pet Shop Boys were, as always, to be found doing entirely the opposite. Commercially, they may have suffered, but their place in history was assured by this album.

Nervously seems to split listeners, depending on the degree to which they identify with the lyric. It’s probably autobiographical, with Tennant telling us how nervous he was as a teenager, learning about the excitement of the adult world without ever getting very close to it. If you do identify with it, it will no doubt mean a lot to you, but for me it’s always been a little dreary, and by far the least interesting song on here.

After that, you can’t help but see The end of the world as filler, and while it is a little vacuous compared to some of its neighbours, in the broader context of the album, Tennant is telling us about his teenage self learning that relationships come and go.

By the end of Behaviour, we’ve grown into adults, and so it’s time for one of the three songs from Pet Shop Boysoriginal 1983 demo. There, it was called Dead of Night, and was accompanied by two largely awful songs. Here, Jealousy is rounding off an exquisite album in appropriately grand fashion. Disappointingly, the strings on the original album version are from synthesisers, but even so, the middle section drops the listener into the centre of an enormous orchestra, with rippling harps and huge brass instruments.

Although it was released late in 1990, Behaviour really closes the first decade of Pet Shop Boys albums, the singles from which are collected so beautifully on Discography (1991). The era of deep and wistful introspection was over – next would come the computer age, with its bright lights, computer graphics, and Lego CD cases.

If you can still find the double CD version of Behaviour, paired with Further Listening 1990-1991, definitely go with that. If not, the regular version is available here.