Chart for stowaways – 3 June 2017

These are the week’s top singles:

  1. Depeche Mode – Where’s the Revolution
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Undertow
  3. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  4. Goldfrapp – Anymore
  5. Depeche Mode – Cover Me
  6. Jean-Michel Jarre & Pet Shop Boys – Brick England
  7. Depeche Mode – You Move
  8. David Bowie – No Plan
  9. New Order feat. Brandon Flowers – Superheated
  10. Pink Floyd – Interstellar Overdrive

The playlists for stowaways

On Music for stowaways, I’ve always tried to be flexible: some features don’t really work out, and get killed off; others die a natural death after a while; and of course, plenty more get flogged like dead horses. The playlists aren’t an example of any of these though – I simply didn’t have time to do any more. Which is a great shame, as I really enjoyed doing them. Hopefully one day, I’ll find the time to run off some more, but in the meantime, here’s a compendium of all of them to date.

MFS001 – Pilot (13 March 2013)

A half-hour sample of some of the delights that would turn up on the Playlists for stowaways.

MFS002 – Norge (10 April 2013)

An hour-long exploration of the musical delights of Norway.

MFS003 – Comme Mode (12 June 2013)

An hour-long journey through the large roster of artists who sound like – but aren’t quite – Depeche Mode.

MFS004 – Flight Risk (21 August 2013)

An hour-long collection of tracks that should sound pretty good on a flight (better than this one, anyway).

MFS005 – Soundscapes (25 September 2013)

An hour-long tribute to the BBC Radio Derby show Soundscapes.


MFS006 – Who? (20 November 2013)

An hour-long music and sound effects adventure from the worlds of Doctor Who.

Monaco – Music for Pleasure

Sha la la la la la la. Yes, What Do You Want from Me? is an extremely good song. Peter Hook is on great form, the lyrics are better than many of New Order‘s and singer and guitarist David Potts was on fine vocal form too.

Music for Pleasure, released twenty years ago this week, was Peter Hook‘s second attempt at a solo project after 1990’s largely forgotten Revenge project. Monaco, though, were pretty successful for a while, and of course What Do You Want from Me? is the single you remember, with its enormous bass guitar part and all the sha la la-ing.

The album followed reasonably quickly after the single though, and third single Shine comes next, still sounding a lot like New Order, or even Electronic during this period. It’s a bit more rocky, and Potts can’t quite reach the high notes, but it’s still a great song.

Getting the singles out of the way right at the start, we then jump to Sweet Lips, which came out just before the album, and was also a pretty sizeable hit. It’s much more dancey than either of the other singles, and it’s another fantastically catchy song. The album version is a slightly extended mix, which works well too.

1997 was, of course, just a couple of years after Oasis had turned up and persuaded everyone to dig out their 1960s record collections, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Monaco wanted some of the action as well. Buzz Gum is a pretty respectable imitation of all the other indie stuff that was going on in the mid-1990s.

It’s tempting to wonder whether loading all the singles at the front of the album was the best idea – it started off so promisingly, but Blue is pretty dreary, although it’s also mercifully short. Then comes Junk, a nine minute dance piece, which actually sounds as dated as the indie tracks now, but it’s pretty good.

Billy Bones is a slightly trippy slow-rock piece, which is pretty pleasant, then Happy Jack is another low-grade indie track, this time with a particularly average vocal as well. Tender is better – if you’ve forgotten the album, this is the one with the catchy “in my mind I live in California” line.

Sedona (which is in Arizona, not California) is the last track, and is the best thing we’ve had on here since the singles at the start. It’s a huge, and epic piece, bobbing along at a fairly leisurely tempo, and with some slightly naff synth reed sounds, but it’s a clever exploration of sounds, and makes for a great instrumental closing piece. After a minute of silence at the end, someone turns up to add “Oi! You can turn it off now!”

Strictly speaking, I could have done that three quarters of an hour ago, but I didn’t. Music for Pleasure is a mixed bag, but when it’s good, it is very good indeed. And it clearly must have had some kind of impact on me – I would never have suspected it when the album came out twenty years ago, but now I do live in California. Thanks, Monaco!

You should still be able to find copies of Music for Pleasure floating around, but I’m not sure I would pay that much for them…

Chart for stowaways – 27 May 2017

Here’s the latest album chart:

  1. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  3. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  4. New Order – Lost Sirens
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Gorillaz – Humanz
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  8. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Lovely Creatures – The Best Of
  10. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon

The Day the Music Died

If you scroll through the Industry label on this blog, you’ll see a series of musings / rants that I posted, mostly fairly early on in the life of the blog, beginning with my creatively named State of the Industry Address, back in 2012. For a long time, I’ve been meaning to put some kind of post together to summarise the findings.

That was just over five years ago, and as my annual sales analyses (also under the same label) have proved, the “industry” has changed fundamentally in that time. Back in the 1980s, as you may remember, record labels could pretty much throw anything out, and it would make the charts in one form or another. Then CDs came along, and they were able to go round reissuing everything, so silly suckers like you would buy them again. Then, about 15 years later, they discovered that the original CDs weren’t that well mastered in the first place so you had to buy them again, now as a remaster, which might come in a nice big boxed special edition, or it might just be the same as the original, only a lot louder.

But in the 1990s, the music industry started to limit itself in bizarre ways – they changed the chart rules so that the number and contents of formats were limited, and tried to kill the remix at a time when it had become one of the most creative elements in music. They tried throwing more formats at us, to see if they could change the way we listened to music, but we didn’t bite.

But by the end of the 1990s, the record labels were being edged out of their own game by technology, and that’s the trend that has dogged them for the last couple of decades. Initial attempts to stamp out illegal copying by adding copy protection to CDs backfired spectacularly.

Then, when sales started to slump, and pretty much every high street record shop had closed, computer games suddenly went mainstream, and VHS finally gave way to DVD, and the few remaining shops started selling them instead.

Nowadays, you’re most likely to stream your music rather than buy it outright, and nobody seems to care about the UK charts since they moved to Fridays, not even Radio 1. And if you’re a total completist, there’s also a good chance that you might be trying to build up a completely lossless music library too. Physical releases still sell, and record companies continue to come up with ingenious ways to sell us the same thing again and again, such as the recent trend of releasing anthologies.

There are positives – many of the most creative record companies are actually still going strong, the music industry is finally bouncing back with increasing revenues, and the cost of buying and listening to music continues to decline (in fact, nowadays there’s a good chance you pay nothing at all). But it’s also fair to say that today’s music business is very different to what it was ten or twenty years ago.

All of the links above will take you to more in-depth pieces that I wrote about those subjects. Happy reading!

Saint Etienne – Continental

Continental isn’t a real album. Not in the sense that anyone thought of it as a studio album when it came out, anyway. Initially released two decades ago this week, but only in Japan, this follow-up to Tiger Bay (1994) compiles highlights from the singles, compilations, and other bits and bobs that appeared during the group’s first wilderness period. But then in 2009, it got a surprise inclusion in Saint Etienne‘s series of deluxe edition albums, so now we get to enjoy it as a real album after all.

It opens with the lovely Shad Thames, a bright and chirpy synth instrumental which hadn’t appeared anywhere prior to this point. If you only know them for their pure pop songs, it might come as a surprise to know that Saint Etienne have a great line in quirky instrumental, sample-based, and also long tracks. It’s a perfect opening track.

Burnt Out Car is next, a fantastic song, and in common with the timeless nature of this album, it did eventually appear as a single, but not until the end of 2009, when it heralded the London Conversations compilation. Here, it’s in its original form which first appeared in 1996 on the Casino Classics collection, mixed by Balearico.

Sometimes in Winter follows, another track that appeared in remixed form on Casino Classics, although this time we get Saint Etienne‘s original take. It’s a sweet slice of 1960s-style pop – the kind of thing the group have a justifiable reputation for being very good at. Then comes Winter Melody, kind of a continuation of the previous track, as it takes elements of Psychonauts‘ remix from the earlier release and stretches them a bit. A slightly odd inclusion, but also very much in line with the rest of this release.

One slightly trippy oddity leads into another, the short drum and bass-inspired Public Information Film, and then comes The Process, which was one of the b-sides of He’s on the Phone, presumably the track that necessitated this compilation in the first place. It’s also the track that comes next, and it’s a difficult one not to love. It’s a Motiv8 production, and his mixes do have a tendency to sound pretty much exactly the same as one another, but this one is pretty much as good as they ever got. You’ll find it very difficult not to sing along.

Side B opens with Stormtrooper in Drag, the cover version which originally appeared a few months earlier on the Gary Numan tribute compilation Random. It takes a lot of inspiration from He’s on the Phone too, with a pulsating mid-1990s synth line in the background and occasional rippling piano, and honestly once you accept that it’s a little bit dated now, it’s pretty great too.

Then things go unexpectedly glam with Star, the first of two tracks here on which singer Sarah Cracknell shares a writing credit with Ian Catt, so it’s probably safe to assume that this grew out of her solo album sessions and then maybe gained a bit of Saint Etienne production along the way. Good, but not really up to the standard of most of the other things on here.

The next pair of tracks consists on Down by the Sea and The Sea, which are pretty much two parts of the same song again. The latter appeared on Casino Classics with a lovely spacious, maritime-flavoured drum and bass remix from PFM, whereas the former is a full, although slightly avant garde, song. Together, they make up around ten minutes of music, a fifth of the entire release.

After several minutes of frantic drumming, we’re left with Lonesome, the second Ian Catt collaboration, and closing track Angel. It’s a slightly alarming change of pace, as Lonesome is largely acoustic pop, but it’s rather pleasant. Then Angel is the Broadcast remix which had appeared already on Casino Classics, which is nice, and very ethereal, but definitely not quite as good as Way Out West‘s version which appeared on the same release.

So Continental may or may not be a real album, and it’s definitely a slightly odd mix of tracks, but it’s also rather good, and is definitely worthy of its insertion into Saint Etienne‘s back catalogue.

The double-disc version of Continental gets a reissue of its own in just a few days, and comes with a bonus disc of early and alternative versions from the period. It will be available here.