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Archive for June, 2016

THIS IS A SITE that tends to stick to music, but today I digress given the momentous events over the past week.

As the entire world now knows the vote was 52-48 percent in favour of leaving the European Union, with working class areas most virulent in voting to get out. It’s being regarded by some as a swing to the right, as a victory for the right-wing UK Independence Party, for Little Englanders and racists and fascists. To an extent it is a victory for the odious likes of Nigel Farage, the right-wing elements of the Conservative Party, and those who want to live in a land called 1957.

But that only tells part of the story. People voted to leave for all sorts of reasons: immigration, to hurt the establishment, disgust in the way the EU imposed horrendous austerity measures on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and decades of being let down by neoliberal politics.Brexit

This was England and Wales’s chance to hold two-fingers up to the establishment in the way the Scots had enjoyed doing in the 2014 independence referendum. When you have no money how on earth can you support a system that rewards the rich and the middle class and punishes those cruelly sidelined by unemployment or forced to work two jobs just to pay the electricity bill?

Neoliberalism is the system that wants rid of unions, church-based communities, laws that stand in the way of ‘competition’, human rights, privacy, and that pesky thing called the environment. They are all obstacles to growth and individual wealth.

It’s a battle being fought around the world: from Cuba which is gainfully trying to maintain its socialist system in a sea of capitalism, to New Zealand, where the “quarter acre dream” – home ownership – is rooted in the entire fabric of a once near-egalitarian society, but is now a distant pipedream for many.Brexit 2

Multinationals are in every suburban shopping parade, and tinned tuna is but an aisle away.

But neoliberalism is creaking at the seams. It isn’t in any way sustainable as the resources are not never-ending. The rising temperatures will mean the mass loss of land and farmland. Ad nauseum ad nauseum. A system that benefits the few at the detriment of the many is clearly limited in its ambition, and lifespan.

The village idiots rise up

And so back to the island group that stretches from the Shetlands to the Scilly Isles. The referendum campaign descended into propaganda and lies, and the Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered in the street.

When the result was revealed all hell broke loose. Xenophobic and racist attacks multiplied, a second Scottish independence referendum is a strong possibility, David Cameron resigned, Nigel Farage looked smug, the markets dived and there was even ruminations about a unified Ireland.

The resignation of Dodgy Dave was no shock: he who lives by the sword etc etc. But the turmoil that enveloped within the Labour Party has been. Here was a chance to hold the divided Tories to account; instead it turned on itself.

The venom from self-important Labour MPs who are clearly detached from the ambitions of their membership towards the democratically-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn (on a bigger mandate than Tony Blair achieved) was overboard and vindictive.

The bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party comprises people parachuted into safe or marginal seats by Blair and his ilk, and they generally lean to the right. They have never viewed Margaret Thatcher as the destroyer of communities, rather as someone who did what she needed to at the time.

They know nothing of poverty, injustice or working so hard you can’t spend time with the kids and are worried shitless about the loan repayment. Blair’s governments did little to reverse the destructive laws introduced by Thatcher or to create a more equal and just society.

Corbyn, and his loyal lieutenant John McDonnell, are cut from a different cloth: they attend rallies and demonstrations while their fellow MPs talk to property management companies about renting out the second house. No wonder they are hated in the Westminster Labour bubble: they actually stand for something. And goodness, it’s called things like justice, peace, unionism and a decent living standard. Gosh, Tarquin, isn’t that a bit like … socialism. Oh, I don’t think I like the sound of that, it lets children have fruit for free.

In his brief time in charge Corbyn has:

  • Fought back against vicious Tory policies and forced them into significant reverses, such as converting schools into academies and cuts to tax credits.
  • Boosted the party membership by tens of thousands.
  • Won four by-elections, three of them with increased majorities.
  • Won the May council, mayoral and assembly elections.
  • Proved that being honest and upfront can win people over.

A coup d’etat

As I write Corbyn is “holding on” apparently. 172 MPs voting in a no-confidence vote against him, with 40 in favour, isn’t, it has to be said, massively encouraging. The largely unknown Angela Eagle is expected to face off against him in a leadership spill her wing of the party hopes to institute. Another nonentity Owen Smith is also intending to do so.

And all because they say Corbyn didn’t push the case for Remain hard enough. Unlike another anti-Corbynite, Gisela Stuart, a hardline Brexiter who devised the misguided slogan about diverting 350 million dollars per week from going to Brussels into the National Health Service, and who shared a battle bus with Leave leader Boris Johnson and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell. She even appeared on a national television debate stating her case. That’s what I call party loyalty.

Bastards

Gisela Stuart, Douglas Carswell and Boris Johnson on the campaign trail

 

But the European battleground is merely a ruse: This is a coup planned well in advance. They wanted Corbyn out, and have waited for their opportunity; and thankfully for them it came days before the Chilcott Report into Blair’s unnecessary war in Iraq is finally released.

Ah, so here we are again, the spectre of Mr Blair hovering over the party like a father in prison for murder. This is a contest for the soul of the party, and of neoliberalism itself. Lose the leadership election and the Blairites will claim Labour is consigned to “electoral liability” for decades.

The reality is the legacy of the 1997-2005 Labour governments will be eternally tainted by the Iraq war, and those MPs who supported the war and were involved in the government of the time have some explaining to do when the report is out.

But it’s also a little more. Those 172 MPs want a party with limited membership, a party controlled by MPs, a party ruled by a clique of those at Westminster, a party where the union backers are largely silent and a party that’s pro-business and for “the aspirational classes”.

A leadership contest won’t settle this ideological warfare; this is going to keep on going for years, if not decades. Someone needs to bang some heads together.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJj0qBQez2Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A FLURRY OF Associates reissues keeps the Porky sty happy.

The remastered releases include the first three albums, The Affectionate Punch, Fourth Drawer Down and Sulk, all with an extra disk of splendiferous outtakes and B-sides and the now-obligatory booklets.Associates 1.png

However, and somewhat insanely, I will bypass these three (I have previously reviewed the classic Sulk), at least for now, and focus on what would appear to be a tiresome cash-in with a title that keeps to the tradition of simplicity for such anthologies, The Very Best Of. This may seem contradictory given the cover art is of an old photograph, the liner notes are sparse and it omits a big chunk of the act’s history. But it has its merits.

Naturally, it includes the three hits which propelled them to playful and glamorous appearances on Top of the Pops – Party Fears Two, Club Country and 18 Carat Love Affair, along with the former’s AA-sided partner, Love Hangover. These complete the singles disk; the compiler has opted to ignore everything after Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine went their separate ways promptly following the final hit, with MacKenzie thereafter keeping the banner with moderate success (two excellent singles, Those First Impressions and Waiting For The Love Boat).

The hit parade includes their very first effort, a now very obscure but very ropey cover of Bowie’s Boys Keep Swinging – frankly there’s no getting around criticising this under-produced barely listenable take, but it did get them noticed, which was its purpose.

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Michael Dempsey, John Murphy, Alan Rankine, Billy MacKenzie

 

It’s followed by a string of tracks released in 1980 and 1981, some relentlessly grinding as they attempted to develop their electro-art cabaret style. But there is the supremely garish pop of A where Oor Billy rattles off all 26 letters with dazzling aplomb and the haunting mystique of White Car In Germany with its encephalonuous lyrics: “Anonymous as bathrooms/ Androgynous as Dachshunds” and keeping faith with his north-east Scotland roots by noting that “Aberdeen’s an old place”.

The carrot to this anthology is an entire disk of hitherto largely unheard tracks, all but three of them having appeared some years ago on Double Hipness, a lavish array of demo-stage recordings, including the paen, as it were, to Morrissey, Stephen, You’re Really Something. This album is only in the homes of true diehards.

The trio of songs that haven’t featured anywhere before are a surprisingly engaging version of the 1960’s standard Eloise, Jukebox Bucharest, which was recorded around 1978 or 79, and a fuller version of Double Hipness.

As I furrowed through this collection I came to realise it was less of a thrill than I first anticipated, other than the discovery of the noted unreleased tracks. I didn’t especially need to again hear International Loner nor a live version of Gloomy Sunday. I can only assume its compiler, the former band member during this period, Michael Dempsey, had trawled the vaults for what was available.

It’s clear that, with MacKenzie’s star still high and interest in the act failing to fade, a box set is required, capturing everything that was recorded up to and beyond the point at which the two main protagonists split. With all the bells and whistles.

 

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DAVID BOWIE’S death in January triggered a frenzy of obituaries, programme specials and lists of what critics regarded as the Englishman’s finest works.

The universal feeling was that his albums from the 1970s were the standouts. I agree to this to an extent – the Berlin trilogy was Bowie at his pioneering peak and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust is his magnus opus, despite all its flaws. Earthling.png

But I was piqued at the neglect from virtually anything post Let’s Dance. One self-confessed fan’s list of top ten albums stopped at 1980’s Scary Monsters, Scary Creeps. I found this incredible given early works like Hunky Dory show Bowie still in his formative stage as a serious artist.

One album I have included in my own top 10 (see below) is 1997’s Earthling. It arrived two years after 1.Outside, the industrial, edgy, album that was another 360 degree turn in Bowie’s output, dramatic turns that he so comfortably did during his career.

And, yet, it is also close to the aforementioned Scary Monsters, which was a more aggressive work that the three previous Eno-tinged masterpieces.

At the time of Earthling’s release I was initially put off by the suggestions it was Bowie’s “jungle” or drum’n’bass album. My first listen didn’t dispel those opinions but I was soon hooked on the electrifying basslines and Bowie’s most passionate writing for a few years.

It kicks off with Little Wonder, which is massively bombastic, borderline radio friendly – its overt use of drum’n’bass laying down a challenge to breakfast DJs to even listen to it. As for the lyrics … well … “sneeky Bhutan” mingles with “Mars happy nation” and “Big screen dolls, tits and explosions,” in what seems almost a stream of consciousness.

If that’s what I was anticipating as those initial third party impressions seeped through my mind, Dead Man Walking pounded them like a hammer on the anvil. If Bowie had listened to The Prodigy in the mid-90s this is how it came out. All that’s lacking is some misogynistic controversy.

Battle for Britain (The Letter) contains a tumultuous opening riff that sounds not unlike a Nine Inch Nails B-side (clearly an influence). It’s a colossal song that veers fantastically in all directions, with a surprising jazz piano break at about three minutes in and intermittent warped vocals.

Then there’s a song almost beyond comprehension, The Last Thing You Should Do, which begins as a possible outtake from 1993’s White Tie, Black Noise before a minute and a half in comes some ear-splitting guitars (Reznor-ish again) that pummel onwards before those deft melodies cooked in grease come to the fore.

I’m Afraid of Americans, is, meanwhile, one of the more straightforward tracks, boom then bang, and repeat ad nauseum in a diatribe on the failed American Dream.

There’s a couple of fillers and the final track, Law (Earthlings On Fire) should’ve been left off but this is more than compensated by the flurry of gloriously in-yer-face tracks that once more put Bowie on a track of his own liking. Alas, he followed this up with the moribund …. Hours and the train was derailed.

And for it’s worth, here’s my own top 10 of Bowie albums:

  1. Heroes
  2. Lodger
  3. Low
  4. The Next Day
  5. Earthling
  6. Station To Station
  7. Diamond Dogs
  8. Heathen
  9. Ziggy Stardust
  10. Reality

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