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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

In early 1979 Squeeze were climbing the charts with their breakthrough hit “Cool for Cats”. A somewhat ridiculous lyric, it featured cowboys and indians, the Sweeney and failed “posing down the pub”. My 10-year-old mates and I loved it.

A few months later they produced another 190 seconds of pop perfection with the fabulous “Up the Junction”. It felt like this was in the charts for ages, as it too reached 2, kept off the top spot by Tubeway Army’s seminal ‘Are Friends Electric?’.

I love Up the Junction. I Reckon it’s got one of the best introductions of any pop song, tells an amazing story with a beginning, middle and end, goes from Love’s Young Dream to Growing Up to Losing it All in barely 3 minutes, and has a blinding middle 8, and for the geeky among you, the middle 8 is almost exactly to the second in the middle of the song! It’s true some of the rhymes are a bit tenuous, but Chris Difford has said he harboured ambitions of being the David Bowie of Deptford, and not of all Bowie’s lyrics made complete sense…

 

Up the Junction is one of my all-time favourite songs. I love the kitchen-sink storytelling (he started me on Monday, so I had a bath on Sunday), the loss (the devil came and took me from bar to street to bookie) and the ultimate lack of remorse (I’d beg for some forgiveness but begging’s not my business).  And apparently the video was filmed in John Lennon’s kitchen…

 

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In 2009 I wrote that In Rainbows was the culmination of everything good about Radiohead’s formidable progress over nearly 20 years. I Reckon was right, at the time.

This year’s release of their 9th studio album A Moon Shaped Pool has forced me to reconsider. This is a very, very good Radiohead album, made even better by Jonny Greenwood’s arrangements and the introduction of intimacy. And it’s this honest human emotion that IMHO lifts it above everything else.

Radiohead have made a career from often unsettling music. In 1989 Thom Yorke responded to friends’ criticism that he only wrote miserable songs with a self-consciously titled Happy Song(!). But these songs feel truly from-the-heart, an opening up, brutally honest and raw. There are more mentions of the words love and heart than on their entire back catalogue combined.

 

Burn the witch…

abandon all reason / avoid all eye contact / do not react
shoot the messengers / burn the witch

This is the exception to that rule. From the sudden, strident opening, with strings playing repeated percussive chords con legno (with the wooden back of the bow), through the chilling message so relevant to the Brexit referendum campaign, this had my attention immediately. After the more electronic feel of The King of Limbs, this felt like a powerful statement. Jonny Greenwood’s film scores and orchestral writing were up front and central, and the relentless momentum of the song made me very excited for the album. Oh, and the video…

 

Daydreaming

Around the time of the album release I read that Thom Yorke had split from his life partner of 23 years. This coloured my reading of the whole album, and I Reckon it’s a serious influence on the musical and lyrical content.

Daydreaming is the first song that alludes to the End of Something, a time when something precious has been lost, and the world must move on.

beyond the point of no return… / …it’s too late / the damage is done

 After Burn the Witch it immediately signals a change of tone and mood that flows through and over the rest of the album. Slow descending piano arpeggios are set against a pulsing bass in a 3-against-2 rhythm that seems to cocoon the listener with its almost hypnotic feel. Thom Yorke’s plaintive vocals feel like mourning, while the fabulous video shot by P T Anderson evokes ceaseless searching for something misplaced, but concluding in a wilderness, retreating into foetal hibernation.

Decks Dark seems to use an alien invasion as a proxy for psychological unease.

In your life, there comes a darkness / there’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky / and there’s nowhere to hide…
…it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard / in your darkest hour

This feels like the overwhelming threat of depression, the deep guitar and dissonant effects adding to the unease, before it ends in a layer of overlapping sounds and a woeful

          Have you had enough of me?

 

Desert Island Disk seems born of solitude, perhaps not loneliness, but more of acceptance and understanding. It’s lilting and beautiful, but leaves me feeling almost unutterably sad.

The wind rushing round my open heart / an open ravine…
…waking up from shutdown / from 1,000 years of sleep…

Different types of love are possible

 

Ful Stop must be tremendous performed live. A restless, driving track that feels more angry than plaintive.

You really messed up everything
This is a foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your ful stop…

After a building, almost menacing first couple of minutes, the band bursts into life in a way that reminds me of Arpeggi/Weird Fishes from In Rainbows

          All the good times … / take me back again / won’t you take me back again?

 

Glass Eyes

This is as beautiful a piece of music as I’ve heard in years. Limpid, fluid keyboard figures are distorted like reflections in the ripples of a pool, while aching strings underpin a lyric full of anxiety, fear and resignation: perhaps a farewell message, or a call for help?

Hey it’s me / I just got off the train / a frightening place / faces all concrete grey /
and I’m wondering should I turn around / buy another ticket /
panic is coming on strong / so cold from the inside out

And the path trails off and heads down the mountain / through the dry bush / I don’t know where it leads / I don’t really care

I feel this love turned cold

 

 

Identikit is a great Radiohead song that builds layers of different sounds and moods. Almost indecipherable words at the start break into a chilling

Sweet faced ones with nothing left inside that we all can love
When I see you messing me around I don’t want to know

Broken hearts make it rain

The rolling accompaniment soars into broken jangling chords and a choral refrain that is gradually replaced by terrific guitar work that takes over and builds in a rare solo to an almost ecstatic finish.

 

The Numbers starts like a jazz group warming up. Rolling, random piano lines and rustling percussion undercut with birdsong gives way to an insistent, shuffling rhythm and lyrics that depart from the painful intimacy of the previous 4 songs. This feels like a more prophetic take on global ecology and our place in the world. The string arrangements in the second half are astonishingly effective and turn this initially quiet song into something almost epic.

The numbers don’t decide / the system will survive /
the river running dry / the wings of butterflies /
will take back what is ours one day at a time

 

Present Tense is a great track, reminding me of Jigsaw Falling into Place with shuffling rhythms and acoustic guitar figures over layers of vocalising. It’s both a defiant stance against sadness and a recognition of loss. It has a perfect ending.

This dance is like a weapon of self-defence against the present tense…
…As my world comes crashing down I’m dancing, freaking out, deaf dumb and blind…

It’s no one’s business but mine that all this love has been in vain
In you I’m lost

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief…

With the longest title of any song I can recall, this is a hark back to Hail to The Thief, with white noise distortions and echoing vocals that grow with dark bass piano figures and sliding strings. On one level it feels more shapeless or experimental than other songs in the album, but then when I listen to it it feels almost perfectly formed.

 

True Love Waits is a song that had its origins 20 years ago as a B-side to an early single. It’s my favourite final song to a Radiohead album (no small achievement). A love song, a lament, the references to children (Yorke and Rachel Owen have two, similar ages to mine) make me shiver. The unresolved end to the song, to the whole album is breathtaking. I’m struck dumb for moments after.

true love waits in haunted attics / and true love lives on lollipops and crisps
just don’t leave, don’t leave

I Reckon this is my favourite album of all time. In the few months since its release I’ve listened to it straight through in one sitting more than 40 times, and I never get bored. I can’t remember a time when one album commanded my attention so completely for so long. It’s unsettling, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, human, breathtaking, accomplished and (occasionally) uplifting. Uniquely, in my experience of Radiohead over 25 years, it’s moving, touching, intimate.

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You have glaucoma in your left eye.

A few months ago I had a routine eye test at our local opticians in Tetbury, part of which was the normal visual field test. I stared into the eyepiece, waiting for the machine to whirr and flash a series of tiny pinpricks of light, to which I would respond by clicking a button whenever they appeared. All-so-normal, until it seemed my left eye wasn’t quite so good at noticing the dots. This was unexpected, and very different from just 12 months earlier, so the optician asked me to repeat the tests. The results were the same.

I can still sense the whirring of the machine as it flashes lights that I ought to be able to see. There’s a rhythm to it that I can recognise. With my right eye there’s a regularity to the button clicks as the lights register in my brain. For my left eye there are gaping silences where clicks should be. I’m staring, squinting, aching to see something that means I can click. I’m tempted to cheat. The test takes longer as the machine gives me more chances, makes the lights brighter, trying to understand what’s there and what’s not there for me. And while I know it’s only minutes it feels much longer. I sense the nurse knows what the silences mean: this isn’t normal.

Visual Field Tests Glaucoma

This isn’t mine… but it’s sort of similar

 

And so last week, after further tests, a precautionary MRI scan and a couple of months of eye drops, I sat with the consultant as he confirmed the inevitable, and talked about my glaucoma.

There are fairly significant differences in the visual field tests in your left eye, notable damage to and thinning of the optic nerve…

…but your IOP (intra-ocular pressure) is normal, much lower than often is the case with glaucoma…

…you’re really quite a lot younger than the typical progression, a bit of an outlier on that graph…

…nothing on the MRI scan, so we can definitely rule out anything like a tumour pressing on the nerve…

…there’s no increase in your pressures since taking the drops, no real progression since the last tests (3 months ago), so that’s pleasing…

…you probably won’t notice anything different, until you do bump into something (joke)…

…playing a wind instrument like an oboe or French Horn can cause spikes in IOP, although I’m loathed to tell someone who loves playing music to stop…

So the long and the short of it is that I’m now taking daily eye drops (painless, no hassle at all), and will have repeated tests every 6 months. And that’s it.

Except…

The following day, at my regular orchestra rehearsal, I was acutely conscious of sensations of ‘pressure’ when playing, especially loud and high notes. We’re playing Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, which has plenty of loud and plenty of high, especially for 1st/3rd horn. In fact there’s mostly a lot of notes that are both loud and high, in rapid succession, in violently percussive chords and fanfares. In exercise terms it’s high impact, like running up and down stairs. I could feel the impact inside my head, around my eyes, behind my eyes, in ways I’ve never actively noticed before. And all the time I was thinking

Should I be doing this? Am I risking my sight?

There were moments when I wanted to play quieter, or stop. There were moments when I didn’t want to play my Horn any more, at all, ever again.

Apparently the mean time for progression from early diagnosis to loss of vision is more than 20 years: for normal tension glaucoma and for younger (under 60) patients it’s even slower than that. So I’m probably being over-sensitive. But if the visual field loss starts in my right eye, I’ll have to tell the DVLA. And then I’ll have to be reassessed for driving.

So.

I’ll take the drops every morning, and play 4th horn instead.

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I may be the wrong age to have been a real David Bowie fan. He had his created and killed off Ziggy Stardust before I even understood music, and by the time I was a teenager he was in his Let’s Dance phase, which made him feel to me no different from the rest of the pop charts. Sigh.

Luckily for me I grew out of that feeling, mainly by discovering most of what he did in the 1970s, a decade in which he released 10 albums of original material, a collection of covers and two live recordings. Let’s just say I Reckon he’s about as important as The Beatles or Robert Johnson, that sort of level.

We know Major Tom’s a Junkie…

When Bowie’s first hit Space Oddity was re-released in 1975 this young boy loved the storytelling and the astronaut. He might have missed out on the alienation and tragedy. A few years later he thought he was older and wiser, until he encountered the deranged Pierrot clown walking with some very strange-looking people along a beach, with a bulldozer, in the Ashes to Ashes  video.

David Bowie Ashes to Ashes

Most of the lyrics still made no sense, but

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know Major Tom’s a junkie

was a hook like no other. The electronic soundscape of the song sounded like it came from the future, and I’m pretty certain my parents didn’t get it. This was the start.

Didn’t know what time it was, the lights were low, I leaned back on my radio…

In the years that followed I learned more about Bowie through late-night radio. Radio Luxembourg on 208AM and John Peel on Radio 1, volume low so as not to alert my mum, cheek pressed against the corner of the radio. Many times I woke up with the radio, now drained of batteries, still pressing into my face.

The intimacy of no distractions helped feed my growing sense of musical snobbery. The arrangements and production in everything Bowie did are amazing. His early work features lush strings and saxophones. The stylophone drone and glissando in Space Oddity makes me smile every time I hear it. The ‘rattlesnake maracas’ in Jean Genie, that Rebel Rebel riff, Robert Fripp’s guitar on Fame and Heroes, it’s almost overwhelming. He wrote great songs but he had a f**king amazing band to deliver the vision. There’s more skill and creativity in one middle-eight section of a Bowie song than in many pop careers.

Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry…?

Not only did Bowie write great songs, he was a bad-ass singer. He could turn himself to almost anything and make it sound perfectly natural. There is no single Bowie sound, but everything he does, from the Philadelphia Soul of Young Americans to the foot-stomping Rebel Rebel  to the pop-tastic Let’s Dance immediately sounds like Bowie.

He has a fabulous rich baritone voice, and a crystalline falsetto. This line from Young Americans is his equivalent of Freddie Mercury at the climax of Somebody to Love: it sends shivers down my spine. But then, so does the high tenor of Heroes, somewhere between ecstasy and anguish. He nails it in any octave you care to mention.

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues…

Noone alive and with access to Radio 1 or Top of the Pops in 1983 could fail to recognise this line, and the iconic video that went with it. I didn’t care for it at the time. WTF is serious moonlight anyway?

david bowie let's dance video

Turn and face the strange…

In recent days I’ve most appreciated the way Bowie reached out to young people in so many of his songs. I was the wrong age to appreciate this at the time, but it’s there in so many songs.

Oh you pretty things, don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane…

And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware what they’re going through.
Changes – Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Changes – Where’s your shame? You’ve left us up to our necks in it…

Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let the children boogie.

Turn on with me, and you’re not alone…

And then there’s the fabulous Rock’n’Roll Suicide. The closing track of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, it follows the barnstorming title track, and is at once a searing depiction of alienation and an uplifting message of hope for his fans. I’m pretty certain Pink Floyd’s The Wall used Ziggy as a template.

I reserve the right to change my mind, but I Reckon this is my favourite Bowie song. Or possibly Heroes.

Time takes a cigarette, puts it in your mouth
You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your cigarette
The wall-to-wall is calling, it lingers, then you forget
Ohhh, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suicide

You’re too old to lose it, too young to choose it
And the clock waits so patiently on your song
You walk past a cafe but you don’t eat when you’ve lived too long
Oh, no, no, no, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll suciide

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road
But the day breaks instead so you hurry home
Don’t let the sun blast your shadow
Don’t let the milk float ride your mind
You’re so natural – religiously unkind

Oh no love! you’re not alone
You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair
You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone

Just turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on with me and you’re not alone
Let’s turn on and be not alone
Gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful
Oh gimme your hands.

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During my Best Man’s speech at my brother’s wedding, I referred to a selfie he had taken as a teenager (always ahead of his time!), in which the album cover of Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ is clearly visible, remarking that this was an almost compulsory purchase for any intellectual, white, middle-class teenage boy in the late 1980s. Of course I had a copy: I was there right from the start.

Peter Gabriel So Album

So is Peter Gabriel’s most commercial album, and propelled him from the arthouse audience he had enjoyed since leaving Genesis into the mainstream, driven by stunningly inventive videos and the heyday of MTV. As a white middle-class angsty teenager, it was very important to me in the late 1980s, and I still love it today.

I come to you, defences down, with the trust of a child…

For all its commercial gloss, slick songwriting and laser-sharp production from Daniel Lanois, So is an intensely intimate album. The opening track, Red Rain, recounts a vivid dream to the constant shimmering of cymbals and restless, always moving drumbeats. By the end of the song, the vocals collapse as if exhausted.

The insistent rhythms of percussion and bass are important throughout the album, driven by Manu Katché’s fabulous work, creating a tone that’s sometimes mystical (Mercy Street), sometimes unsettling (That Voice Again), sometimes soothing, like resting on a partner’s chest listening to their heartbeat (Don’t Give Up)…

This is the new stuff…

Sledgehammer is one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s. Its groundbreaking video featured fabulous stop-motion animation from the then-fledgling Aardman Studios and became the most-played video ever on MTV. It’s a massive departure from Gabriel’s earlier singles, a joyous, innuendo-laden homage to Otis Redding that opens with bamboo flutes but is dominated by an in-your-face horn section. This ends with a bang, not a whimper. Perhaps less successful, Big Time also takes an unapologetically straightforward approach to satirising Gabriel’s own success, although it feature terrific guitar work from Nile Rodgers.

We’re proud of who you are…

Don’t Give Up follows Sledgehammer on the album, and couldn’t be more different. From an assertion of sexual machismo, we’re brought down to earth in this limpid duet between Gabriel and Kate Bush. Apparently inspired by Dorothea Lange’s photos of a woman and her family during the Great Depression of the 1930s, this is less a traditional duet and more a conversation between a man and a woman. He’s been battered by unemployment and the recession of the 1980s, and clinging on by his fingernails.

Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother Don't Give Up Peter Gabriel

Kate Bush is simply perfect in this song, providing the counterpoint to Gabriels’ damaged masculinity. Just  a couple of years later she’d write and sing (for me) one of the greatest and most heart-wrenching songs about femininity, This Woman’s Work.

Wear your inside out…

Amongst the singles, there’s still the more artsy, eclectic songs, of which Mercy Street is clearly my favourite. Breathy vocals, a throbbing bass and ethereal Fairlight sampling make this a thing of great beauty. We do What We’re Told and This is the Picture are more experiments in tone than anything else. They always felt like a slightly weak end to the album to me, a judgement I’ve only slightly amended with time.

But whichever way I go, I come back to the place you are…

On the original (vinyl) album In Your Eyes was the first song on side 2, even though Gabriel wanted it to close the album. Apparently this was because its heavy bass rhythms could cause the needle to jump in the tighter grooves in the centre of a disc (historic trivia that you young kids won’t understand…!).

Perhaps that contributed to my underwhelming sensation as the album ended, because I Reckon that In Your Eyes is one of the best love songs ever written, and a brilliant end to any collection of songs. It’s a brilliant consolidation of everything I like about So: a terrifically catchy chorus, fabulous percussion and rhythms throughout, wonderful vocals from Gabriel and Youssou N’Dour, and lyrics that never fail to move me, despite how familiar they have become to me since I first heard them as an angsty teen in 1986.

Love, I get so lost sometimes.
Days pass, and this emptiness fills my heart.
When I want to run away, I drive off in my car
But whichever way I go I come back to the place you are…

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It’s 1984, and I’m 15 years old. I’ve discovered a new album via a friend, and its gatefold cover immediately intrigues me; swarming with imagery and hidden meaning. I put the fresh vinyl onto my record deck and wait for it to start, already looking ahead through the printed lyrics on the sleeve…

marillion script for a jester's tear

So here I am once more in the playground of the broken hearts.
One more experience, one more entry in a diary, self-penned.
Yet another emotional suicide overdosed on sentiment and pride.
Too late to say I love you, too late to re-stage the play,
Abandoning the relics in my playground of yesterday…

They’re not so much lyrics as poetry. The album has just six songs; most of them are over 8 minutes long. Almost symphonic arrangements, properly anthemic guitar solos, extravagant drum fills, changes of tempo and mood, 5/4 or 7/8 time signatures, elliptical subject matter hidden within dense vocals, laden heavily with adjectives. There’s minor keys aplenty, loneliness, rejection, drug addiction, aristocratic ponces, soldier victims of the IRA, all smothered into 40-odd minutes of neo-prog-rock. This is Marillion’s debut album. I’m 15, I’m angsty, I don’t do pop music, I’ve hit the limits of my flirtations with heavy metal and been fed up with Queen since they went all Radio-friendly, but this is fucking amazing.

Marillion are still around, recording and touring with their original line-up, bar the frontman, lyricist and singer, Derek William Dick. No, he didn’t think his name was especially Rock, so changed it… to Fish.

Fish Marillion 1980s Singer

He looks much, much better now…

I’ve only recently got into Spotify, and instead  of using it to discover new music, I’ve been wallowing in guilty pleasures from my youth, namely Marillion. I don’t think I’ve listened to any of their music in 25 years, but it’s all come flooding back. Their first two/three albums were very important to my teenage self. I loved the complexity and the ambition of their music. I loved the richness of the poetry/lyrics (especially compared to the banalities of 1980s manufactured pop), and Fish’s retelling of broken relationships, thwarted romantic idealism and how this world is totally Fugazi all resonated with my confused sensibilities.

Looking back with nearly 30 years’ hindsight and perspective, the music still just about holds up. Of course they wear their influences pretty brazenly on their sleeve, particularly Peter-Gabriel-era-Genesis. But the poetry… now it kind of seems almost embarrassing. If I’m generous, it’s someone trying very, very hard to be clever but unable to edit themselves. What’s an emotional suicide, exactly? What else is a diary if not self-penned?

At its worst, it reminds me of William Pitt the Younger as portrayed in Blackadder III, a moping adolescent…

There is just one thing before I go… (confidentially) I’ve got this sort of downy hair developing on my chest – is that normal? Also, I get so lonely and confused. I’ve written a poem about it; maybe you’ll understand. “Why do nice girls hate me? Why…

Marillion were nailed on, perfect for the teenage Chris. Where I now smirk quietly and try to forgive myself for embracing this tosh so readily, I once embraced it, I loved its wordplay. Yes, I really did.

The Web – Marillion (Script for a Jester’s Tear)

The rain auditions at my window, its symphony echoes in my womb,
My gaze scans the walls of this apartment
To rectify the confines of my tomb…

…The flytrap needs the insects, ivy caresses the wall,
Needles make love to the junkies, the sirens seduce with their call.
Confidence has deserted me, with you it has forsaken me,
Confused and rejected, despised and alone,
I kiss isolation on its fevered brow
Security clutching me, obscurity threatening me,
Your reasons were so obvious as my friends have qualified.
I only laughed away your tears

But even jesters cry.

Fish has described the first album as ‘bedsit thoughts’, while the follow-up, Fugazi, was ‘hotel-room thoughts’. Which is immediately reflected in the album cover.

Marillion Fugazi Album Cover

Can you spot the connections with the first album…

This time there was more anger, directed at women-as-demons (She Chameleon, Incubus), more relationship break-ups (Jigsaw, Emerald Lies) and in perhaps the most over-wrought, over-written and impenetrable song-lyrics I’ve ever seen, the final track, the titular Fugazi.

Vodka intimate, an affair with isolation in a Blackheath cell.
Extinguishing the fires in a private hell
Provoking the heartache to renew the licence.
Of a bleeding heart poet in a fragile capsule
Propping up the crust of the glitter conscience.
Wrapped in the christening shawl of a hangover
Baptised in the tears from the real.

Drowning in the liquid seize on the Piccadilly line, rat race
Scuttling through the damp electric labyrinth.
Caress Ophelia’s hand with breathstroke ambition
An albatross in the marrytime tradition.
Sheathed within the Walkman wear the halo of distortion,
Aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation.
She turned the harpoon and it pierced my heart
She hung herself around my neck…

I mean, WHAT? I’m not even sure Fish could explain this bollocks.It’s probably about alienation, or something.

This music meant an enormous amount to me for a couple of years at a pretty fundamental time. I was playing it the other day when Rachel overheard it and exclaimed her distaste. Apparently one of her teachers used to play it during lessons and walk around the class playing air guitar. That’s what Marillion was like for its fans. I can realise now that quite a lot of it is quite ridiculous.

But that hasn’t yet stopped me indulging this now very guilty pleasure. Forgotten Sons, anyone?

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I first discovered R.E.M. when I was at High School in Princeton, New Jersey for the Spring Semester of 1988. Their latest album, Document, was perhaps more accessible than previous work, with lyrics that almost made sense and more radio-friendly tunes; none more so than The One I Love and It’s The End of The World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine). The first of these had for some reason gained traction as a Prom Night favourite (perhaps the greatest misreading of a song since Every Breath You Take), while the latter was a favourite of mine, as I spent hours trying to get all the words down…

The following year I bought their next album Green, and it’s still my favourite of their albums. It evokes massively rich memories of the Spring and Summer of 1989, both my first year at university and of an Inter-railing trip around Europe, for which it was the dominant soundtrack on the overnight trains or basking in the sunshine in continental city parks.

I love a lot about this brilliant album: the acerbic lyrics hidden within seemingly simple songs, a tremendous blend of the plaintive with angry with sinister. I love the bright orange cover for an album titled ‘Green’. I love the juxtaposition of leaves & fossils against telegraph poles. Most of all, I love the songs.

Pop Song 89 is a belting start to the album with lyrics that remind me of The Beautiful South’s Song for Whoever.

Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you, I think I can remember your name.
Hello, I’m sorry, I lost myself. I think I thought you were someone else.
Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the Government?

Get Up follows on in the same vein, with a strong jumping beat and references to Michael Stipe’s ongoing dream theme…

Dreams they complicate my life, dreams they complement my life…

You Are The Everything is one of the most beautiful songs I can think of, depicting (for me) a child’s-eye view of the world, travelling and falling asleep in the back of a car, gazing out of the window at the night sky…

The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen and they’re there for you,
For you alone,
You are the everything.

I can clearly remember lying on a grimy bunk in a shabby but cheap hostel in Barcelona on a hot summer evening listening to this over and over. I was missing my girlfriend and, despite having a brilliant time, I wanted to see her. When I returned from the trip, it was clear all was not well, and she dumped me only a few weeks later.

Stand is almost like a children’s playground or skipping song in its chanting simplicity, but beneath that facade seems to lurk biting comments about patriotism & nationalism. Maybe.

World Leader Pretend is the only song whose lyrics are printed inside the album artwork. It’s darker than the previous songs, with brooding cellos and downbeat lyrics. It always struck me as a commentary on US policies; defiant, petulant, isolated

I sit at my table and wage war on myself…
This is my world and I am World Leader Pretend,
This is my life, and this is my time.
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit…

The Wrong Child features wonderful mandolin playing and heartbreaking layers of overlapping lyrics about children playing

I’m not supposed to be like this… let’s try to find a happy game to play
I’m not supposed to be like this, but it’s OK…

Orange Crush was the Big Hit Single from the album, an attack on the destruction of swathes of Eastern Asia by Agent Orange. Militaristic rat-a-tat drums and clanging guitars back up some potent lyrics.

We are agents of The Free,
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to spread your conscience overseas

Turn You Inside Out is another sinister, angry-sounding song that sounds most like some of Document, insistent guitars, layers of vocals and pounding drums…

I could turn you inside out but I choose not to do…
…I believe in what you do, I believe in watching you…

Hairshirt is a shift in tone, back to more gentle plucked mandolin and perhaps the most opaque words on the album

Here I am, here I am in your life
It’s a beautiful life, My life
It’s a beautiful life, Your life

I Remember California seems like a(nother) lament for something that has been or will soon be lost, before the final Untitled track that is simply perfect, a poignant love song that could work equally for a partner as for the world itself, and in the light of the rest of the album I’ve always seen this as ‘Green’ call to action…

This world is big and so awake
I stayed up late to hear your voice
This light is here to keep you warm
This song is here to keep you strong

I made a list of things to say but all I really want to say
All I really want to say is
Hold her and keep him strong
while I’m away from here
Hold her and keep her strong while I’m away from here

I love Green from start to finish. 41 minutes of brilliant writing and playing, arranging and producing of deeply intelligent, sensitive songs.

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