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STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

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Mercury Rev
were, for quite a long time throughout the 90s, one of those bands who got a fair bit of critical acclaim in the music papers and magazines but who were often quite difficult to track down on radio. They were, to all intent and purposes, the perfect definition of a cult band.

Between 1991 and 1997, they churned out 3 LPs and 9 EPs/singles, none of which sold all that well in the UK. Back home in the USofA, they were even more unheralded, with the soft and high-pitched vocal style of Jonathan Donahue often being cited as the thing that most held them back at a time when rock with a slightly harder edge was in vogue.

But in 1998, the release of the LP Deserter’s Songs very briefly put the band firmly in the spotlight. It was a record seemingly not all that different in sound, mood and tone from 1995 work See You On The Other Side, but it just seemed to capture the hearts and minds of many music fans, including the staff at the NME who made it #1 LP of 1998.

I hadn’t paid any attention to the band until then but when I finally did it wasn’t down to the things being written about them. Instead, it was the power of television…..

This was the time when I first got satellite TV, and one of its initial attractions was the ability to surf across the music channels trying to find new and edgy music or videos that I would like, and for a while a lovely promo for a song called Goddess On A Hiway was on heavy rotation.

Come Xmas 1998, and it was the usual requests from friends and relatives about what was on my list to Santa in terms of music and books, and given the critical acclaim afforded to the album, I did add Deserter’s Songs and it subsequently was wrapped in glittery paper come 25th December.

It was, and remains, an LP that I don’t quite get what all the fuss was about, albeit it was pleasant enough in a non-offensive way. My favourite track on it was subsequently released as a single in January 1999 and in reaching #26, became the band’s first bona fide hit:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp

What is most interesting however from the CD single that I picked up for 99p a few weeks later after it had disappeared out of the charts is that the band and/or their label persuaded The Chemical Brothers to make a remix of the song which is near unrecognisable :-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp (Chemical Brothers remix)

The CD single also contained a really rootsy track which was in fact a live version of a Neil Young song that had originally been recorded for an XFM session in November 1998:-

mp3 : Mercury Rev – Vampire Blues (live)

Mercury Rev, The Chemical Brothers and Neil Young.  Three acts that you wouldn’t expect in one blog post far less on a CD single in the bargain bin.

THEY CAN MAKE GREAT SONGS WITHOUT GUEST VOCALISTS

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The best known and indeed best loved of the hit singles of The Chemical Brothers tend to be those that have featured guest vocalists.  Noel Gallacher on Setting Sun and Let Forever Be together with Bernard Sumner on Out of Control and Wayne Coyne on The Golden Path being the most obvious examples.

Even when it hasn’t been a guest singer – such as Hey Boy Hey Girl – it is the sampled vocal that has taken the song to the heights.

But in Star Guitar, a #8 hit from 2002, the boys demonstrated that songs that are near instrumental as imaginable could be a hit and memorable.

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar (edit)

It is like a modern descendant of the great synth pop/disco of Giorgio Moroder but with added guitars. It’s a track that demands to be played very loudly and if you listen through headphones it feels mindblowing.

Here’s yer two additional tracks on the CD single:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Base 6
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar (Pete Heller’s Expanded Mix)

These are a lot more clubby in feel and sound and interestingly Pete Heller brings the vocal sample to the forefront when in the original it is very much in the background. What he does is make into a totally different song but one that I’m far less charmed by.

Oh and you should check out the promo video to Star Guitar.

One of the most clever and intriguing promos I’ve ever seen….I’m glad wiki is around to enable director Michel Gondry to explain how it was done.

The music video  features a continuous shot filmed from the window of a speeding train passing through towns and countryside. However, the buildings and objects passing by appear exactly in time with the various beats and musical elements of the track. The video is based on DV footage Gondry shot while on vacation in France; the train ride between Nîmes and Valence was shot ten different times during the day to get different light gradients. The Pont du Robinet as well as Pierrelatte’s station can be seen. Gondry had experimented with a different version of the same effect in his video for Daft Punk’s “Around the World”, where he had represented each element of the music with a dancer.

Gondry actually plotted out the synchronization of the song on graph paper before creating the video, eventually “modelling” the scenery with oranges, forks, tapes, books, glasses and tennis shoes.

Enjoy.

WHEN ED AND TOM MET BARNEY AND BOBBY

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So I’m guessing that Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands were messing around in the studio of a day, twiddling and fiddling with their knobs in an effort to create some classic new sounds. They’ve gone through their extensive list of contacts for folk to sing lead vocals, but are still on the hunt for that something different. So they get in touch with Bobby Gillespie having worked with him on some recent Primal Scream stuff.

But to their horror, Bobby turns them down. And even worse, he suggests they haul in Bernard Sumner as Bobby has been working with him on some fresh material that New Order are recording….

That’s really a bit unfair. Barney might not possess the greatest vocal talent in the world, but he’s nowhere near as bad as many like to make out.

Whatever the circumstances, and how it came about, I reckon this is a brilliant piece of indie-dance-pop:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control

It’s a song credited to Rowlands/Simons/Sumner, so Barney must have contributed a fair bit to the collaboration. Oh and Bobby does provide some back-up vocals….

This was the third and final single lifted from the truly outstanding LP Surrender, It was released in October 1999 but only reached a rather disappointing #21. But then again, I’m guessing that most folk already had it on the LP as it had already been in the shops for five months. But that meant missing out on a new song and a dapper remix:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Power Move
mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Out Of Control (Sasha remix)

Happy Listening. And Dancing.

A FEW HOURS LATER THAN SCHEDULED..

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The daily posts normally appear at a certain time every day as I’ve the habit of writing up to a week’s worth in one sitting and then putting them into a schedule. However, should something unexpected emerge, such as a trip to the hospital which results in the diagnosis of an infected knee that has to be kept straight at all times this preventing me sitting at the PC for 5 days, then things can go wrong.

Last week’s sudden inflammation underneath my right kneecap was both painful and scary – I was genuinely worried that I was developing some sort of clot.  I went to my local hospital on the south side of Glasgow at 9am last Thursday morning and over the next 90 minutes received the care, attention and treatment that money just could not buy making me again grateful for the National Health Service here in the UK.   There was an initial diagnosis which turned out to be correct but I was also given x-rays and seen by a specialist just to make sure for there was no explanation as to why I should be suffering from Prepatellar Busitis – or as it is more commonly known, Housemaid’s Knee.

A strong dose of antibiotics and a lot of rest, particularly keeping the knee straight, was the recommended cure.  Four days later and I’m a lot better but still not 100%, but at least I feel I can take a few minutes to drop in here today.

I heard a snatch of a song on an advert on the telly over the weekend which reminded me of how great a particular song was:-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun

Released all of seventeen years ago this month.  The Chemical Brothers had been getting a lot of attention both on the back of the release of the LP Exit Planet Dust the the previous summer for for seeming to often steal the show with the live performances at various outdoor festivals.  The fact that The Chemical Brothers were to collaborate with one of the Gallagher brothers caused huge excitement in the music press  – Oasis at this point were at their critical peak as well as having what seemed a fan in every household in the country.  The result didn’t disappoint and deservedly went to #1 in the singles chart.  Noel Gallagher hasn’t done anything nearly as good since….(some would say he hadn’t done anything decent beforehand but that’s extremely harsh).

Here’s the other tracks on the single just in case you’re interested :-

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun (radio edit)

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Buzz Tracks

mp3 : The Chemical Brothers – Setting Sun (instrumental)

Enjoy.