Lush – Spooky (1992)
Remember Lush? Like many bands of the early 90s, Lush became kind of big and also a bit dwarfed by the explosion of the alternate music scene, which gave rise to countless new bands vying for a piece of the booming major-label pre-internet spotlight. Some bands got a bit overlooked in the process. Anyway. Lush produced some damn good music and a couple of really cool albums. This was their first (studio album). And throughout ’92 and ’93, my good friend and I ate it up in heaped spoonfuls right along with our daily dose of Nirvana and Sonic Youth and Mudhoney etc. Spooky somehow fit right in with our existing tastes, and it didn’t hurt that it sported two enigmatic front-women: Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. Along with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, the ‘shoegaze’ scene had a messy, sullied sound that was somehow more feminine than the muscular distorted guitars of America. It was the UK yin, to the US yang. It was smooth distortion, but not in the reductive clinical sense of the later pop-punk (Blink 182) sound, which was a tone I found one-dimensional. The shoegaze scene was still a nice wild sound that meshed with the vocals producing hypnotic hybrids that were dense and layered and roomy. Lush’s songs were large, solid blocks of travelling harmony. At faster tempos, their sound had an effect of propulsion. Slower tempos were a swirling ebb that could take you far away from shore like an unseen tidal rip. It was produced by Robin Guthrie (of Cocteau Twins) and he presented their sound well. It may sound a tad dated in stylistic terms, but it still manages to rise above a lot of the other bands that were making music at that time (surprisingly, I find grunge to be a genre that hasn’t aged as well as I would’ve thought – but give it time I guess, it’ll come around again). Lush released two more albums, Split (1994) and Lovelife (1996) and then disbanded after the tragic suicide of their drummer Chris Acland in 1996. So when I need my fix of melodic-pop wrapped in flowering flanger-pedals, I can always rely on the metallic buzz of Spooky. It’s lush.
Scarlett Johansson – Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008)
Whatever Scarlett did was gonna polarise people. Before anyone heard a note, some were gonna love it and others were gonna hate it. If she went the obvious pop route she would have been ridiculed as just another ambitious celebrity cashing in on herself. ‘What’s next, a perfume or a lingerie line?’ But no one expected this – a covers album. And of all the artists to cover…Tom Waits (?!) That’s pretty ballsy. How does one improve on, or take his songs in new directions? Can it even be done? The answer is yes (kind of). This album endeavours to render his songs in an expansive (Daniel Lanois-like) soundscape. Plus she’s got some cool guests – namely Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and David Andrew Sitek (TV on the Radio) handling guitar and production duties, and David Bowie adding vocals on two tracks. Pretty cool. Now, Scarlett’s not the greatest singer in the world. But it plays to her brusque strengths, and somehow works to create a damn good album. I like that she’s not afraid to have her voice lost in the atmospheric mix – and everything is serving the whole. When I first heard Scarlett was coming out with an album, I (unfairly but justifiably) thought: ‘How boring’. But I like that it confounds expectation – from the outset. The first song, “Fawn”, is an instrumental, and it serves to acclimatise you to the world you’re about to enter into. One could even expect Nick Cave or Cat Power to start singing. The sound is ragged and textured, yet delicate at the same time. We hear Scarlett for the first time on “Town with No Cheer” and she laments the song through a lovely crash of fatalistic sounds. And it just continues to surprise you with “Falling Down”, “Fannin’ Street”, “Song for Jo” and by the time you get to the music-box lullaby of “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” you’re thinking: This is pretty f&#king cool. As it starts, “No One Knows I’m Gone” sounds like (The Velvet Underground’s) “Venus in Furs” – and that’s never a bad direction to take things. The album is an acquired taste perhaps, but that’s only because they’re trying to do something different. (It’s certainly ambitious, but I wouldn’t say pretentious.) And the album deserved more attention and praise for that alone.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It (1986)
Science-Fiction, Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, Red Dawn, Nuclear War, guns, rockets, bombs, Robots, Toys, Sex, fake ads between songs, crazy wild-haired cyber-punk dudes – this had everything a thirteen year old boy could want in 1987. I remember getting it on vinyl, and feeling like I was somehow cooler for having it. (I still have it.) The large-size art work and inner sleeve were amazing. There were photos of strange exotic people who looked like they’d walked right out of Mos Eisley spaceport. There were lyrics and symbols and assorted English and Kanji text. There were faint diagrams of assembly instructions for what looked like transformer robots printed beneath the words. And their words actually made sense to a thirteen year old. The first thing you hear is: ‘I wanna be a star!’ – which speaks to a teenager, instantly. And I made mad little mind-movie narratives for all their songs with lyrics like: ‘The US bombs cruising overhead/ There goes my love rocket red’, and ‘I’m a Custom Kar Kommando/ And she she she can she can’, and ‘Star Wars Western USA…Ultra Venus USA…Rockit Miss USA’, and ‘I’m a space cowboy/ I’m a 21st century whoopee boy!’. I totally understood that. I related to those guys as only a thirteen year old can – the magical age when the irrational becomes rational, when dreams and reality are inseparable. When truth and lies are both necessary. And so these guys became my band. It was like my own secret sci-fi world, where I knew all the characters, all the plots, all the tricks and all the action. And you don’t deconstruct anything at that age. You have no sense of history. You have no cultural reference points. You don’t really think about the fact their songs “Love Missile F1-11” and “Atari Baby” sound like Chuck Berry riffs and Doo-Wop played on keyboards. Like rockabilly techno. Like space-age Elvis. As a kid, you just dig it. In 1987, I had never heard Kraftwerk, or Suicide, or Tangerine Dream, or Eno. Looking back now, this album was incredibly important for me, I think it subconsciously primed me for the discovery of all that music later on in life. It prepared me for life as a 21st Century Boy.
By Decoy Spoon