Spice Girls – Spice (1996)
Though I’d say my favourite Spice Girls songs are “Spice Up Your Life” and “Too Much”, which are both on their second album Spiceworld (1997), you can’t go past their first album Spice for a non-stop pop-fest. (NB: By the time I’ve finished writing this – having listened to both again – I think I like Spiceworld more). In July 1996, with the single “Wannabe”, the girls hit the scene like Godzilla (if Godzilla was a massively marketed corporate girl-group in platform boots and Union Jack miniskirt). They were like Beatlemania & the Sex Pistols & the Village People all rolled into one, transcending the mere music to become pop icons. They were easy to hate, but hard not to like – they were designed to be loveable. You had five characters to choose a fave from (Scary). And the music was fun. R&B grooves (“Last Time Lover” and “Something Kinda Funny”); revamped disco (“Who Do You Think You Are?”); and the gals even sang a ballad for Mum (“Mama”). So I can admit it now: ‘Hi, my name is Decoy, and I’m a Spice Girls fan’. They were a hipflask in the pocket of many reformed pop-oholics, and I now stand by it as a perfect example of 90s pop; catchy upbeat melodies with clean breezy harmonies. I dig the trading-off of lines between the girls – (in descending order of vocal ability) Sporty’s signature soar; Baby’s icing-sugar lilt, Scary’s punchy faux-reggae-rap, Ginger’s cheeky Monroe thing, and Posh couldn’t really sing, but was still an important part of the group strut. Who cares if the Spice Girls were a transparent construct of the corporate music industry and the tabloid media? Girl Power was quite endearing and sweet looking back now. And I already feel nostalgic for that time, the late 90s, pre-Paris Hilton, when a 56k modem was still faster than a 28k modem, when things seemed somehow more innocent. Which is revisionist thinking, I know. But this is one of my favourite soundtracks for those happily self-delusional occasions. On those nights, I crave simplicity, I just really really really wanna zig-a-zig ahh…
Bat For Lashes – Fur and Gold (2006)
I guess if you get invited to open for Radiohead on part of their Rainbows tour, you must be doing something right. Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes received this honour. And you can kinda see why, because one thing that struck me when I first heard this album, was upon hearing the 2nd track “Trophy” (an hypnotic raga that works its magic with a pagan paced chant: ‘Heaven is a feeling I get in your arms…’), I thought: ‘Hmm, sounds like In Rainbows.’ Now don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t. I mean, if Radiohead were a one woman band called Bat For Lashes and had been listening to a lot of Kate Bush and Bjork and Cat Power, and released their debut in 2006 titled Fur and Gold, then it may’ve sounded something like this. With me? Both have employed those little egg-shaker maracas to cool effect. Both try to do inventive stripped back things in regards to instrumentation (especially percussion). Both use lyrics to paint suggestive images that are as meaningful or as meaningless as you wanna make them. Both use atmospheric silence to dim the moody spaces between the core instruments. Both seem old school and contemporary at the same time. And both are beautifully understated. The vocal melodies in “Trophy” when she hits the line: ‘Creatures of love feed…’, or the ‘When you love someone but the thrill is gone’ chorus in “What’s a Girl to Do?” are like torches in a dark forest – you feel safer with them around. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself walking around your home humming strange mantras like: ‘Tahiti we don’t got no name…’ and ‘There is no turning back…’ and ‘She really loves him, Prescilla’. Whatever the case, like In Rainbows, as soon as this album finished – as if trying to isolate the allusive addictive ingredient – I was compelled to play it again. And again. And again. And again.
(Plus the video for “What’s a Girl to Do?” was one of the coolest/spookiest post-Donnie Darko videos I’ve seen in years…dig it.)
Kiss – Music from ‘The Elder’ (1981)
Even amongst hardcore Kiss fans, this is an oddball. It’s considered a strange sidestep on their Hard-Glam-Rock/Heavy-Metal timeline. Having previously worked with producer Bob Ezrin on their Destroyer album (1976), and perhaps after seeing the success he’d had with Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1979), Kiss enlisted his services again for a full-blown concept alb, with the whole swords and castles and fantasy bit. It bombed. But me and my D&D role-playing buddies loved it. Along with Pink Floyd, Queen, Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson, it became part of the soundtrack stable for game nights. The title and cover were all we needed to see, really. Coz it was an album that sounded like its cover: A mock gateway into in the cavernous imagination of four NYC cock-rockers (in capes and make-up) trying to go Tolkien. Which – God bless’em – didn’t really work. And this was the reason most Kiss fans wrote it off. It tried to be a prog-rock concept album, but also wanted to be a rockin’ Kiss album. It was Kiss out of their depth, trying to work within a genre they weren’t really familiar with. But that was one of the album’s charms. There is an un-ironic innocence to it (kind of). You can tell they’re trying (kind of). Some of the lyrics are embarrassingly corny, like a teenager’s first attempt at fantasy storytelling, covering all the clichés of the genre. (That’s why it suited D&D so well.) The opening line of the album is: Like a blade of a sword I am forged in flame, fiery hot, which is actually one of the better ones. There’s “Odyssey” with: From a far off galaxy/ I hear you calling me/ We are on an odyssey/ Through the realms of time and space/ In that enchanted place/ You and I come face to face. (Sung like they’re spotlighted on a dry-iced stage with a skull in their hand.) And it just gets better with the chorus: Once upon not yet/ Long ago someday (See what they did there? – Clever wordplay). But like I said, I love it. “The Oath”, “Just A Boy”, “Odyssey”, “Dark Light”, “Under The Rose”, “A World Without Heroes”, they’re actually cool songs, and Bob Ezrin knew how to make things sound epic. So if you wanna rock out in your lounge room Tenacious D style, it doesn’t get much better than this.
By Decoy Spoon