Every once in a while some old song comes across the public airwaves and I’m perplexed by what anyone found appealing about it then or now. Recently Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” was playing over a store’s speakers, and I tried to imagine what it would feel like to experience any sort of enjoyment while listening to the song. I was stumped. There are so many things I hate about the song: the oompah rhythms; Joel’s hectoring, faux-tough guy tone; the sax hook; the time when he sings beeeeg shot; and so forth. It was like trying to imagine any kind of positive physical sensation while sticking hot pokers in my eyes.
Someone out there must have experienced a positive reaction to Billy Joel’s “Big Shot” at some time. Blame it on youth. Blame it on sneaking wine at the Bar Mitzvah. Blame it on whatever, but please explain what it feels like to have enjoyed sticking hot pokers in your eyes. Thank you.
Has anyone listened to the new FFS album? FFS stands for Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. Sparks is a band I had not thought about in years, until I heard about this new release. I didn’t even think they were a going concern, but I see they’ve cranked out a bunch of music in recent years.
From what little I’ve listened to them, the song above is consistent with what I recall about the band — offbeat lyrics, choppy start/stop beats, and quasi-operatic singing.
A buddy in college thought these guys were the greatest thing going — and I owned Big Boy and Sparks in Outer Space at one point, but I never understood them.
Can you enlighten me on the merits of Sparks? I look forward to your responses.
Saturday night I watched an hour-long performance by Radiohead on Austin City Limits. It’s the second such hour-long televised performance I’ve watched by the band on PBS. A couple of years ago I saw some performance of them in a studio. In both cases, I was interested enough to keep watching, but despite being impressed by their arsenal of avant-garde touches; instrument juggling; and obscure and cool gear as well as the maximum effort that all the band members put into their music, I got very little out of the experience of trying to listen to and feel the music. It added up to a whole lot of nothing.
Many moons ago, when I was so much older then, I used to work in a bookstore with a lot of other musicians and music lovers. It was as wonderful as a low-paying job could be at that time in a young person’s life. We worked hard. We played hard. We got 35% discounts on books. We were counted on by regulars who sought our advice on tracking down obscure books in their genre of choice. Those of us in bands were assured of getting a decent crowd of bookstore employees and their friends to show up for gigs.
A slightly older, wiser colleague who drummed for an established local band that helped introduce me and my little band to The Scene, as it was, lived in a high-rise apartment 2 blocks away from the bookstore. Once a week, we’d go to his apartment at lunchtime so we could get high and listen to records. We had similar tastes in ’60s and punk rock. Sometimes we’d listen to stuff we both already liked, such as Magical Mystery Tour or Sound Affects. Other times he’d root through his collection to play me deep cutz by a band I’d only known for its hit singles (eg, he’s still the only person I’ve ever known whose owned most if not all of The Beau Brummels‘ albums) or to find a somewhat obscure record I’d never heard. One day, while seeking an album that might earn him Turn-On Points, he pulled out a very silver album sleeve containing an album by a band called The Monochrome Set. The album must have been Strange Boutique. The cover was very silver, and I was really stoned.
That afternoon, I felt like I was hearing the greatest, off-kilter pop album since my beloved Positive Touch, by The Undertones. The rhythms were propulsive. The guitars jangled in jagged, unexpected ways. The melodies were ’60s-based but in no way slavishly devoted to that decade’s melodic conventions. The only thing that stopped me from running down to Third St. Jazz & Rock that afternoon, beside the need to get back to work and little spending money, was the singer’s voice, which had that dramatic, “overdone” English quality that sometimes puts me off from the likes of a Robyn Hitchcock.
Long story short: I never got around to buying a single album by The Monochrome Set, although I rode through the next few decades on the power of that high introduction, only buying and downloading individual songs from their albums over the last few years. All this time I’d never read a single article about the band, never seen a videotaped performance, and never even seen a still photograph of the band members. I knew nothing about The Monochrome Set, despite having kind of liked them since 1985. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I saw this video:
This is cool! These guys would have been really fun to see in their prime. They seem to have been ahead of their time, like a Hoboken band before the Hoboken scene really took root. I still know nothing else about the band, other than having been reminded that they were led by a guy with the excellent stage name Lester Square. I will probably take some time to read up on them. Perhaps you have some details to share. Meanwhile, I’m content to let my ignorance stay clear from this feeling of bliss.
Have you long liked an artist or band that you still know nothing about?
I had an unfortunate experience on Monday morning. I’m sure it was exacerbated by driving to work in heavy traffic, and thanks to Daylight Savings, right into the sun. I was tired, I was cranky. And I made the mistake of listening to The Lumineers. A colleague lent it to me, and stupid me, trying to be open-minded about new music these days, decided to give it a listen.
I made it through about two thirds of the album before switching it off. I had to put on the Mamas and the Papas to get the bad sound out of my ears (tangent: “Shooting Star” is such a goofy and weird track that it always puts me in a good mood).
But back to The Lumineers. This band is the epitome of many things I am hating about a current trend in popular music. What is that plinky-plonky sound? Oh, it’s the arrangement of multiple acoustic instruments. What is that echo? Perhaps it’s to make us think that that wash tub bass is being played and recorded in a barn. What is that horrible whining sound? Yessirree folks, it’s the nasally, earnest voice of the lead singer.
And then I looked at a video:
You don’t want to hear their cover of “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).”
Monday evening, Mr. Royale listened to my rant and came up with an interesting analogy: The Lumineers are like Haircut One Hundred. Instead of artfully-draped sweaters, we have suspenders. No more classic haircuts; we’ve moved on to facial scruff. Created for style; substance is of limited value. The recipe has been changed up, but the intent is the same.
But my question to you is How did we get here? Why is faux folk played on acoustic instruments by bands most likely from an urban hub so popular now? Is this Retro Retromania? Don’t tell me that Fleet Foxes started it. Say what you like about their beards, but those bad boys can sing. Was the start of this evil trend Arcade Fire, the band that tried to temper their bombast by telling everyone that at least the recording was made in an old church? I really liked that first album of theirs, but I’m guessing that if I listened to it now, I might feel differently. Help me, and please explain what happened.