Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Nashville Obsolete

When it comes to the new album by Dave Rawlings Machine, I can’t go beyond “The Weekend”. Obviously, this album has six other songs that are all excellent, well-written, moving, perfectly realised – but it’s hard to get past the opener. Once in a while you hear a song so good you feel it’s not just you. It’s everyone else. Obviously all the musicians involved knew they were recording something special.

It’s an album to be addicted to. Second side has a couple of obligatory fast-paced numbers that must be great fun to play but not such transcendental joy to listen to (I love them both – but then I’ve been a Welch-and-Rawlings admirer for a while now), but even those get drowned in the amazing craft put into this work. 

Also, I can’t decide whether Nashville Obsolete is a self-deprecating title or merely a clever one. But then who cares about such details when you have a stone-cold Americana classic that almost rivals Gillian Welch’s masterful Soul Journey?.. Besides, it has “The Weekend”. 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

List Of The Lost

With reviews so hilariously negative and vitriolic, with an eye-poppingly silly plot, with a description of a sexual intercourse so bad you would actually want to reread a similar scene featuring Harry Angstrom, with another batch of misguided attacks on judges and such, with a novel that looks like a novella but should be a short story, with dozens of typos begot by lack of editing, there’s no reason why you would wish to miss Morrissey’s new book. Not in a million years.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Dear God

It’s disheartening how a song like “Dear God” can mean so much at some point in life and then make you cringe years later. Nobody told you ten years ago that those lyrics were embarrassing. They seemed tough and audacious and hard-hitting, but now you have to wonder how Andy Partridge even came up with such one-dimensional tripe. 

The video has glimpses of artistic hope, the music still holds up and the kid’s voice at the end is as chilling as it ever was, but there’s no question that lyrically this is the sort of childish atheism you could find among faceless hordes of Scandinavian death metal bands. 

P.S. After all these years, Drums And Wires is still their best album. 

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Patti Smith, part 2

And once, a long while ago, she gave an interview to an American magazine in which she described what it took to get a record in the old days. A new album by Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop or The Doors. For every small second it takes you these days, you had to wake up early in the morning, get on a cold bus upstate, travel many miles, get out in the afternoon and then, with some luck, there was a chance that the record store will have the LP that you wanted. After which you travelled back the same way.

Only happier, much happier. You got back when it was dark already. And of course there’s no point in saying that your music-listening experience would differ greatly, and God knows you would spin the record until it wore off and you knew more about it than any music hack slagging or praising it in that very same American magazine. It was your record, you lived with it. 

And it was a loving description. What appealed to me about that interview was that there was no bitterness in her words. It took guts not to be bitter, but she wasn’t. As ever, she sang about angels.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

When she sang about angels

Snow. Just enough snow to scrape off my boots. Donning my black coat and watch cap, I trudge across Sixth Avenue like a faithful postman, delivering myself daily before the orange awning of Cafe ’Ino. As I labour yet again on variations of the poem I’m writing in memory of Roberto BolaƱo, my morning sojourn lengthens well into the afternoon. I order Tuscan bean soup, brown bread with olive oil, and more black coffee. I count the lines of the envisioned 100-line poem, Hecatomb, now three lines shy. Ninety-seven clues but nothing solved, another cold-case poem. 

From Patti Smith’s upcoming memoir. You may not care for her music, you may consider her a critics’ artist, you may think Horses is the most overrated album of all time, that’s completely irrelevant. However, if you don’t buy a copy of M Train – your soul just isn’t there.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Curious Incident

You invent a catchy title, you expand the boundaries of a juxtaposition as far away as your imagination would allow (autism, violence), you write in a gimmicky way that is also true to the authentic feel, you try to cram it all into a style that would be readable on a bus or a train on the way to work or back home. You make sure Ian McEwan likes it (arguably the trickiest part of it), and there you have it. The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

People suffering from A.D.D. are more than welcome. As is everyone else. Incidentally, Mark Haddon’s novel happens to be really good. Almost a shame, all things considered. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The hell?

The saddest people are those who can’t find the time to do the things they want to do. These people like to approach you with a question you hate to hear: with so many other things on your mind, with so many sleepless nights, where do you find the time?.. 

So that you have to scratch your head and wonder: really, where the hell. But even in your head, so deep it shuts out all that humming noise, you try to not make it sound like a question.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Hollow Meadows

In the world of moneyed mediocrity, it doesn’t feel right to be picking on Richard Hawley (of all people), but his latest record makes you think. He is a songwriter you can respect and admire and appreciate and God knows what else, but I can’t imagine one single person who would say that Richard Hawley is their favourite artist. I’m not saying this isn’t possible, but it’s highly unlikely and would seem rather odd.

Hollow Meadows sounds like a painfully fitting album title.

You could argue that each one of these 11 new songs is well written and beautifully crooned in that low-key, old-fashioned way that hasn’t lost all of its appeal. It’s charming, it’s tasteful, but there’s little you could do about the severe lack of identity. Hawley can be special for some, obviously. However, let’s face it: anyone and anything can be special. But if someone tells me he is their favourite artist on account of his music (which is good music, don’t get me wrong), my immediate response would be ‘you should get out more’. 

In view of this, it’s somewhat frustrating that I can very much imagine how Miley Cyrus could be someone’s favourite artist. On account of the fucking music. Tragic, really.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Bosom of Abraham

The feeling is hard to describe, but you know it when it comes. It’s physical. An orgasmic ripple coming through every cell of your body. As a recent newspaper article suggested, some people have it during “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and some people don’t ever have it (sorry bastards). 

I guess it would have to be “Lonely Stretch” by The Triffids. Every last God-fearing moment of it. When Dave McComb gets to the climax, the line ‘rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham’ becomes literal.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Dead Poets

In art, like in life, all the best things are subjective. And while eventually (as years roll on and more art is accumulated) head takes over heart, there are things you would never even dream of putting down. Those things that made a strong impression when you were 13 years old. Things that would now make you a completely different human being.

Some stand up (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), some don’t (Forrest Gump, regardless of the soundtrack), some you don’t even want to touch. Dead Poets Society, that old childhood favourite, is one of those. You realise, at the back of your mind, that the youthful idealism grates and there are scenes upon scenes upon scenes that would make you wince uncontrollably. You imagine that, you haven’t seen the film in years. 

You don’t wish to watch it again. Heavens forbid. Watching it now would be a fist in your mouth. A blow below your waistline. You value it too much, the film or perhaps the memory of it, to make the experience objective. And then later, sometime somewhere, you suddenly mention it to a serene-eyed, ghost-chasing inspiration-seeking youth singing to you a few memorable lines from Morrissey’s “Cemetery Gates”.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


I swear I found time to sit down and listen to Lana Del Rey’s new album and write a proper review of it.

I swear a review was actually written, and a proper one, too, mentioning song titles and lyrical matter and Lana’s vocal performances, but then something happened, someone attacked me and the world blacked out.

I swear I reread my piece and realised to my utter confusion that I wrote the same review I did last year when she released Ultraviolence. Word for word.

This is last year’s review then, and the new one, sadly, had to be discarded. Sadly – because it took effort and inspiration akin to those displayed by Lana Del Rey on Honeymoon. But just to say something, I’d like to quote an anonymous reader reviewing/anticipating this new album months before its release: 

‘Looking forward to the one about a bad boy, and the one where she puts on a red dress’. 

P.S. One song is called "High By The Beach". 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Banned books

I find it mildly amusing that Burroughs’ novels are banned from Russian libraries. Not in a sense that this is a somewhat fascinating and downright fatuous way of dealing with drug problems, but rather in a sense that a great opportunity has been missed. An opportunity to ban Burroughs’ novels on the grounds of them being poorly written or artistically limited. At the very least from that absurdity some sense could be retrieved. As things stand, it’s just silly.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Judy Garland, Rudyard Kipling and Oliver Cromwell

Anthems For Doomed Youth. You just knew how it would happen. You knew Doherty and Barat would get the songs right (great songwriters do not die that easily, not even after drug addictions, horrible album covers, pointless bands and cringe-worthy acting) and music critics would express snide indifference.

In a way, The Libertines’ reunion was a lost cause from the start. Songs are poor – they are ripped to pieces. Songs are great – come on, it’s not 2002 anymore.

And the songs are great. You can’t be so blind as to not see the obvious class in these 12 ragged, romantic, hopelessly British songs. Their songwriting (and the album gives off this charming collaborative feel) has more twists and turns than most could fathom. I’d been concerned about the risk-free inclusion of “You’re My Waterloo” but it fits in so nicely and so naturally and creates this wonderful sense of continuity. 

Elsewhere… “Gunga Din” has their best chorus since “Good Old Days”; “Iceman” is a classic that is a lot better than its title suggests; “Fame And Fortune” is infectious as hell; “Dead For Love” seems like a confessional, majestic closer. In the end, well, if parts of it are not as good as Up The Bracket, I’m willing to forgive them. Their thrills remain singular, and, quite simply, they are still so much better than the rest. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

National Anthem

In his old-fashioned jacket given to him by his mother back in 1977, wearing disheveled hair and a tie from Primark, he didn’t sing the National Anthem. There was great confusion. There was anger. There was panic. He just stood there in silence, not once moving his lips. It was surreal, it was insane. What was he thinking? And what was he thinking about? Didn’t he know the words? Wasn’t he supposed to be the future leader of the nation? What effrontery.

Next day the country’s newspapers were filled with righteous rage. Every small inch of the footage was carefully dissected by journalists and experts, all wondering if a man could fall any lower than that. ‘Lack of Respect’. ‘Shameful’. ‘Disgrace’. And all those soldiers who died in the name of the whole nation. Suddenly the few moments in the grand old building overshadowed what came before and what would come after. They even managed to overshadow his mother’s old-fashioned jacket, his unwieldy hair and the tie made in Bangladesh. 

In the midst of all that, one political analyst suggested that the man didn’t sing because he was tone-deaf. However, I didn’t buy that. I don’t think anyone did. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Robert Forster - SONGS TO PLAY

I see a canal and I think waterfalls…

Every artist should know how to dance the perfect striptease. Not that he should dance it. Not to complete exposure. The real tragedy for an artist is to appear naked. Any lonely teenager will tell you: shed a garment or two, but never go for full-frontal nudity. Artistic nudity destroys your image, makes you look compromised, and there’s nothing worse for an artist than to be demystified. With time, even his music, his paintings, his books will start getting worse… Indeed, there should be some scientific research into the matter.

Video may have killed the radio star, but social network is killing the artist. It’s tragic. Robert Forster could tell you a thing or two about that. Robert Forster isn’t on Twitter.

Also, he is an artist. In the old-fashioned sense of the word (old-fashioned being merely a few decades ago). It’s not because his latest album contains song titles like “A Poet Walks”, “Songwriters On The Run” and “Disaster In Motion”. It’s in his carefully guarded image (the video he so thoroughly scripted). In his idea to release albums every five years (more artists should be encouraged to do that). In the way his melodies stay in tune with modern music but gracefully slip out of time. In the way he can give you a mundane line like ‘golf balls found in the mud’ and make the imagery so evocative and so complete.

In fact, it’s been a whopping seven years. In this time, a band can form, release a promising debut, crash into sophomore slump, reach its peak, split up and be forgotten. And Robert Forster wrote ten new songs. I’m not going to compare Songs To Play with The Evangelist (which has slowly become a top 10 album for me), but you cannot fault the songwriting. “Learn To Burn” is a perfect driving opener augmented by some beautiful violin work from Karin Baumler. “Let Me Imagine You” is the song of the year (it also contains the lyric of the year). “Songwriters On The Rain” is a striking duet and features my favourite instrumental hook on the whole album. “And I Knew” is a pretty acoustic piece that could appear uneventful were it not for Robert’s personality. Side A finishes with “A Poet Walks”, a classic of poetry and intensity.

Side B has two brilliant pop songs in “I’m So Happy For You” and “I Love Myself And I Always Have” (you have to love those lyrics), one rain-themed romantic ballad in “Turn On The Rain”, one surprise in “Love Is Where It Is” (have I already mentioned the clever sequencing of this album?) and one career-defining moment in the closing “Disaster In Motion” which occupies that beautiful spot between “The Mountains Near Dellray” and Grant’s “Bachelor Kisses”. And, again, tons and tons of that unmistakable Australian charisma (I’m improvising here). In fact, the least charismatic part of the whole thing happens to be the album title. I would have much preferred Soft Flashbacks… 

Certain artists are like Robert Plant’s jeans. They leave no room for imagination. There is no sense of mystery that is essential to every true artist. Robert Forster is different. He lets you dream and guess. No, not even that: he makes you dream and guess. It’s like that unforgettable line from Edward Albee’s play: ‘It’s for me to know and for you to find out’. Robert Forster knows and he does it his way. This album is a masterpiece.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Bad reviews

There are always people who will read a bad review and feel upset. Loss of appetite or, worse, indigestion. You feel for them. Their defenses are weak and emotionally they feel vulnerable. That’s only natural and taunting those people would be a very mean-spirited thing to do. 

However, there are also people who will read a bad review and scream murder. Murder being that annoying, time-consuming, irritating question: ‘Well, you fuck, can you write a better one? What have you ever written in your miserable little life?’ While I find that unintentionally hilarious, these people are rather sad. After all, how badly can you miss the point?..

Monday, 14 September 2015

Famous Last Words

Collected Stories by Saul Bellow. Complete Prose by Woody Allen. And, since not so long ago, Famous Last Words. Three books that never leave my bedside, my desk, the field of my vision.

The latter is special. No one can resist some slight flirtation with death. It’s a book I stole from a British pub some time ago and it’s a book I can open at any point and on any page and fish out a couple of lines of perverse inspiration. It’s a constantly reprinted book that has a very old-fashioned feel about it. It’s divided into sections like “Gallows Humour”, “The Show Must Go On”, “The End Is Nigh”, etc.

And while you do realise this is clearly a sham in 95% of cases (at the very least), you tend to purr with delight at, say, the defiance of Allen Ginsberg and the bitter poetry of Lord George Byron. So recognizable, so grotesque, yet so in character.

Still, my absolute favourite famous last words were spoken by Jimmy Hoffa, an American trade union leader, who died (presumably) in 1975. These words have to be true as they seem the most naturally tragic of all: 

‘Has Tony Giacolone called?’ 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Slanted & Enchanted

Generally, you know it from the start. By the fourth page and by the fifth minute you should know if it’s any good. Or, alternatively, if it’s any good for you. It’s a rare miracle when you hate a book from the get go and then suddenly, almost accidentally, floodgates open and you see Jesus. Hooks might come, but it’s the style that does it in the end. The click that should come when you first arrive.

Built To Spill didn’t click but Stephen Malkmus did. Except that Built To Spill never did.

In fact, Pavement was one such miracle I’ve alluded to earlier. After the ragged pointlessness (or that’s what I thought) of Slanted & Enchanted, I was never going to give them another chance. Until one day “Summer Babe” began playing and suddenly, almost accidentally, floodgates opened and Malkmus’s melodies started to make sense. Not the lyrics, no, but that one Lou Reed-esque laugh is worthy of most artists’ entire discographies. That’s just one hook in the sea of colourful noise, granted, but it clicked. 

And how

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Let Me Imagine You

Music from a museum, as in art that heals you. Lyrically, too, Forster arrogantly rhymes ‘things’ with ‘things’, the brilliant man that he is. The album has been on repeat for days, merging with faces and streets, and the review is due at some point next week.

I haven’t heard a better song in years. The melody stings with understatement, as do the lyrics. The lyrics are phenomenal. Unassuming. Forster-like. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Another misguided adaptation

Or that’s my feeling whenever the idea of a Martin Amis movie comes up. His books are unfilmable by default – in case you want to retain the authentic feel, that is. Even in the old days, when he was a lot more straightforward than he is now, it didn’t work (ever seen Dead Babies?). Later on, the grotesque balance of brutality and charm became so fine that you had to struggle to imagine Keith Talent making a screen appearance. 

Which brings me to the upcoming release of London Fields. It half-excites me, admittedly, but that’s inertia rather than great expectations. Which might actually work, when the film is out and I gasp with admiration seeing Billy Bob Thornton play Samson Young. And Christ what if Johnny Depp’s cameo as (I’m not saying) makes people read the book… Whose last few pages devastate you like nothing else. And I do mean both physically and emotionally. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Wire (self-titled)

There are rainy days and then there are days when it’s raining (actually a good first sentence for a novel). Rainy days are tolerable and can even be called romantic if you’re in that sort of mood. Days when it’s raining, on the other hand, leave not a vestige of hope. They depress the guts out of you. It’s just one massive stream of intensely grey water that looks like it is never going to stop pouring down. It’s like a pair of grizzly, horribly overused lenses that make your eyesight even worse.

And accidentally – I’ve found the perfect album for a day like that. On a bus taking me to the airport, at 8 in the ghastly morning, I decided to play an album which had not done much for me up to that point. Wire’s self-titled (interesting how some bands choose to go for this righteous excuse so late in their career) album from 2015. It just merged so well with these overwhelming floods slashing down the bus windows and made it all seem so much better. The album and the day when it was raining. 

By the time of “In Manchester” I’d been converted. But it all started here.  

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

An impulse

I believe the idea to automatically reject something popular (and popular is often annoyingly popular) is a perfectly natural one. We all have the right to do that. Hell, we all should do it. Frank Black, remember, hated Nirvana when they first arrived even though everyone kept telling him they were influenced by Pixies (never bought that to be honest). 

Later, if you actually like this popular something, against your desire or otherwise, keep resisting it. Keep fighting back. If you lose, you lose, but at the very least give it a good shot and die a noble death. Fortunately, with a hilariously awful album like Miley Cyrus and The Dead Petz, you don’t even have to try. Speaking of which, what the hell is wrong with Wayne Coyne? What’s in it for him?

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Akutagawa's prose

Japanese art is eccentricity made organic. It is strangely enticing.

Akutagawa’s fables create odd worlds that are not unlike those created by Kafka. They are less claustrophobic but they are just as natural. It’s some incredible feat – to make absurd seem so wholesome and so consistent. Only in Kafka’s case it was the mental state of one man. Here, it’s the state of the whole nation. 

“The Nose” in particular seems a masterpiece of abstract expression that you can smell and almost taste. Japanese art is like Japanese tea. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Charlie Freak

Few things can beat commercial cynicism, and you won’t find a better example than Steely Dan. Starting with the name meaning dildo in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and ending with the pointless Grammy for Two Against Nature which they planned to send to Eminem (who really wanted it), they have been walking the fine line between charts and obvious drug and sex references for decades.

For me, Walter Becker is one of those rare people who can get away with slagging off “Yesterday” and being ridiculously arrogant during interviews. And that goes well with polished jazzy grooves and Donald Fagen’s (The Nightfly is seriously overrated though) smoothly playful vocals. They might sound like your granddad’s favourite band and Johnny Rotten must have hated them. But in a way – they were more punk than punk. 

Can’t Buy A Thrill is in the top 10 of my favourite debut albums. Although really – that whole seven album run was terrific (they've been way too sterile this century), and was filled, among other things, with minor classics like “Charlie Freak”.  

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Sunday morning

It's for a fleeting moment like that. Early morning chill mixed with quiet delight growing out of each one of your cells. It’s a sleepy dance, and you wish it could go on forever. And then Robert Forster’s “I’ve Been Looking For Somebody” starts playing, and it’s all about a Sunday morning. Your Sunday morning. Music, and yet somehow more than that. Always more than that. 

“Justice” to round it off. 'Lucky I ran into you', from 1986 classic. And the best really is yet to come.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Wrote and the Writ

The upcoming publication of Morrissey’s novel makes you wonder, almost against your will, just how good songwriters are at writing fiction. They can write, some of them anyway, but coming up with an original, full-blown story is a different matter entirely.

For all the deserved success of Chronicles, Bob Dylan was exasperated. You actually have to make yourself sit down at the desk and work away, for several hours each day. Then edit. And then edit again. It’s a nightmare. It’s not like you can do the whole thing over a flight from New York to Washington DC. Sketchy, disjointed thoughts have to be licked into shape.

Having been suitable impressed/freaked out by Gira’s fiction, I should say that generally I’m too skeptical to bother. Most of it ranges from boring to genuinely awful. Incredibly, some manage both – like John Lennon in the 60s. 

Still, if there’s anyone who could pull it off, it’s Morrissey. With his recent autobiography, with his Penguin deal, what proof do you need? He has the ego and he has the time. If it’s bad – I give up. And if it’s good… well, the man is just an exception.  

Friday, 4 September 2015

Chrissie Hynde said something

As people do. You ask them their opinion, they give it. It used to work like that, but not anymore.

And it may have been a stupid thing, regardless of the fact that she herself was once a rape victim, it may have been completely irresponsible. But the backlash has been so severe, so over-the-top that you might start thinking people actually give a damn about what a pop star says. As in – that’s some thought, let’s write a 5,000 word article about it.

She is a fucking pop star. And what I admire about Chrissie Hynde (who, sadly, hasn’t written too many good songs since that second Pretenders LP) is that she did not back down. 

Really, if you’re so easily offended, then don’t ask any questions. Since it just feels like you ask them to get something to sulk about.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Rembrandt's women

World’s biggest fan of Rembrandt was a man I knew indirectly. And when I say biggest, I mean he had every single book written about the man – however derivative and insignificant. Millions upon millions of reproductions, printed on the same pages and in the same colours, it was an OCD-type situation.

Quite simply, you didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance to not be overpowered by him when discussing Dutch art. The way he talked about Rembrandt was sheer drunken poetry, and even more fascinating was his disdain for 20th century painters. If you told him you liked Picasso, he would wish you to have women exactly the way Picasso drew them. Abstract, angular, sketchy. 

The man was a character. He was about 70, he played a 7-string guitar. Also, I think he was unmarried. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Tally Ho!

Even though nothing compares to the dizzying perfection of “Heavenly Pop Hit” (first time you hear it, you think a sweeter melody cannot be written), for me the defining moment of New Zealand music has always been that legendary church organ riff of “Tally Ho!”

I haven’t yet managed to determine whether it is silly or brilliant, but that could be the whole point. The Clean may have had better songs (“Anything Could Happen” defines ‘cool’), but “Tally Ho!” is melodic dementia at its best. Interestingly, it was Martin Phillipps who came up with the riff. 

P.S. This current flag business it total nonsense. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Sweet Smell Of Success

Nobody makes films like this anymore.

Loud jazz by Elmer Bernstein and the cynical noise of New York, Sweet Smell Of Success has 50s written all over it. Idiomatic language, long dead but still as hard-hitting as it ever was.

‘You’re a cookie full of arsenic’.

‘Not even if you serve me Cleopatra on a plate’.

‘You have more twists than a barrel of pretzels’.

‘The man in jail is always for freedom’.

‘Your dear sounds like dagger’.


And oh the days when you couldn’t play a negative character because your name was Tony Curtis. Old-fashioned, insane, larger-than-life stuff.