Clipse – Hell Hath No Fury

Clipse-Hell-Hath-No-Fury

 

 

 

 

 

Clipse have long been characterised as the doyens of cocaine (w)rap, a term which does scant service to the ingenuity of their wordplay and the stripped back nihilism of the music on this, their greatest album. Their interest in words can be traced back to their origins: originally known as the Full Eclipse Crew, they then changed their name to the gun referencing Full of Clips Crew before settling on Clipse. The brothers, Gene (Malice) and Terrence (Pusha T) Thornton started selling crack in their Virginia neighbourhood as teenagers whilst, at the same time, trying to gain a foothold in the local music scene where they met Pharrell Williams who, impressed by their lyrical skills, wanted to work with them, thus beginning a long partnership with The Neptunes production team who have never been better than on this album.

Having released a previously well received album, ‘Lord Willin’, in 2002, it was anticipated that the follow-up would arrive the following year. However, numerous record company changes and contractual problems meant that ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ would not appear for another four years – a lifetime in rap circles. If the William Congreve referencing title didn’t make you aware how frustrated and angry the pair were with the delay, then the music and vocals contained within would.

The first track, ‘We Got It For Cheap (Intro)’, starts with a warped, repetitive mambo beat over which a dealer is selling his wares immediately establishing the predominant theme which is taken up by Pusha T: “Fear him as soon as you hear him / Upon my arrival, the dope dealers cheer him….” There is little doubt that the brothers are intimately acquainted with the drug world they portray here. In ‘Wamp Wamp (What It Do)’ we are told,”17 a brick, yeah, go and tell ’em that /I got the wamp wamp when I move it its still damp /Mildew-ish when I heat it, it turn bluish /It cools to a tight wad…” By the time we get to ‘Keys Open Doors’ (the keys, of course, are kilos of cocaine), the dope is safely stored in the fridge awaiting distribution: “Open the Frigidaire, 25 to life in here / So much white you might think your holy Christ is near / Throw on your Louis V millionaires to kill the glare / Ice trays? Nada! All you see is pigeons paired.” And away from the fictionalised world of the album, the real life friend and manager of the band was imprisoned for 32 years for being the head of a 10 million dollar drug ring.  Alongside the vast quantity of songs about drugs, there are occasional glimpses of the violence required to sustain this lifestyle. In ‘Chinese New Year’, they decide to supplement their drug money with an armed robbery: “I’m at your door, your eyes are like why are you here / Judging by my steel I got something to do here / Give up the money or the angel cries two tears / Front of your crib sounding like Chinese New Year.”

So what is it then that differentiates ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ from other macho braggadocio about drugs and violence? Firstly, I think it’s the literate imagery used throughout, for example the idea of a gun firing  two bullets likened to an angel crying two tears with the associated religious imagery of angels shedding tears in heaven for this man’s subsequent death. You can go to virtually any song on this album and find dense, literate imagery – Pusha T and Malice can write, that’s for sure.

Secondly, there is real humour here. They may be writing about drugs and violence but there are times when it is difficult to suppress a chuckle. When Pusha T likens his skills to cooking up cocaine to that of Bet Crocker (an American equivalent of Mary Berry), you can envision a reality cooking show where rappers compete to see who can make the best crack.Then, on ‘Mr Me Too’, there is the slapping down of Lil Wayne for his blatant attempts at imitating them: ” Wanna know the time? Better clock us / Niggas bite the style from the shoes to the watches.” There are the knowing references to Miami Vice’s Tubbs and Crockett , The Wire, The Fonz and even the Cookie Monster, Ernie and Bert. There is the sheer stupidity and joy of the chorus to Chinese New Year which goes, “Brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, ka-ka-kat, kat / Brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, brat, ka-ka-kat, kat,” where, vocally,  they try to replicate the noise of fireworks or guns.

Thirdly, behind it all, particularly in older brother Malice’s lyrics, you get a sense that he, at least, understands the superficiality and cost of this lifestyle. In the very first song, he says, “And to little brother Terrence who I love dearly so / If ever I had millions never would you push blow, never”; in the next song, he reveals the guilt he feels over his lifestyle choices, “Mama I’m so sorry, I’m so obnoxious / Big home, palm trees, and watches / Mama I’m so sorry, I’m so obnoxious / My only accomplice is my conscience”; and by the final track the confusion and paranoia of a life dependent on crack is plain for all to see, “Look over your shoulder, something is near / And I’m so scared, when I’m alone I’m so scared / Now it’s inching closer, trouble is near / But nothing’s there, when I look nothing’s there / I’m outta my mind, I’m runnin’ from guilt, but / It’s right by my side, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Finally, there is the music in which these words are wrapped. There was a conscious agreement between Clipse and The Neptunes that the production should try to revise some of the early sonic experiments of Mantronix. As a result, everything feels stripped back and encased, coiled up, ready to pounce. The synth soundscapes are restrained but form a threatening backdrop to the beats and rhymes. Unusual instruments like accordians, kettledrums  and harp suddenly appear, frequently forming a main component of the song. There is a real tension and darkness in the music that matches the lyrics perfectly.

From Congreve to cocaine, from the making and taking of the drug to the paranoia it can induce, this is as artful an album as you will get anywhere, irrespective of genre.

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Daily Playlist 16/01/2014

No Dice – Beirut

Your Own Back Yard – Dion

Broken Radio No 1 – The Fatima Mansions

Mineral – Buffalo Tom

Lazy Rain – Smog

Heart of Darkness – Sparklehorse

Merge – Grizzly Bear

Murderers, The Hope of Women – Momus

You’re a Big Girl Now – Bob Dylan

Miami – Randy Newman

Sweet Gospel Music – Prefab Sprout

BH Rock – The Paradise Motel

Really – Nellie McKay

Love of an Orchestra – Noah and the Whale

Everybody – Delta

Summer Breeze – Emiliana Torrini

Poison Girls – Persons Unknown / Crass – Bloody Revolutions

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The germ of this split single lies in the arrest of anarchists Ronan Bennett and Iris Mills on trumped up charges of conspiracy to cause explosions with persons unknown. After 18 months of imprisonment where they were subjected to numerous indignities, they were found not guilty of all charges and finally allowed the freedom they should never have lost. During that year and a half, friends and supporters of Bennett and Mills took on the name of Persons Unknown to help publicise and fund their cause. Both Crass and Poison Girls played benefits for Persons Unknown and, following their release, Bennett penned the copious liner notes for this particular single.

Poison Girls were a misfit band from the start. At a time when female visibility in bands was generally restricted to the glamorous and young, Vi Subversa, the lead singer, formed the band in her mid forties (she is currently 78 and living in Spain). With a honeyed voice that has echoes of Marianne Faithfull, Lesley Woods and Eartha Kitt, Vi uses the phrase ‘Persons Unknown’ to encapsulate all ordinary people whom the authorities may choose to brand with that nomenclature: “Housewives and prostitutes / Plumbers in boiler suits / Truants in coffee bars /Who think you’re alone.”  The suggestion is that any of us could end up like Bennett and Mills, accused of a crime we did not commit and vilified by press and government. Throughout the song, Subversa makes the point that society encourages people to live lives of isolation making it easier for the authorities to exercise control: “Habits of hiding /Soon will be the death of us /Dying in secret from poisons unknown.” The only response to this is to try to reclaim power from the state by not being scared to speak out about what we feel is right: “Survival in silence / Isn’t good enough no more /Keeping your mouth shut / Head in the sand.” The music is swaying, circular, woozy: it reminds me of the music of a carousel, albeit a carousel powered by electric guitars. In the course of the song, Subversa covers the whole gamut of society from “accountants in nylon shirts” to “cleaners of lavatories” but,above all, it is a call to arms challenging each and every one of us to cast aside the social conventions imposed by the state that shackle us: “Flesh and blood is who we are / Flesh and blood are what we are /Flesh and blood is who we are /Our cover is blown….”

Crass’ ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is the ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ of anarcho-punk. Around the central musical, and symbolic, motif of La Marseillaise, this 6 minutes and 24 seconds packs in five distinct musical movements, linked only by lyrical content. After an initial collage of sound, comes the dull thud of monotone bass and drum over which Steve Ignorant intones, “You talk about your revolution, well, that’s fine /But what are you going to be doing come the time? / Are you going to be the big man with the tommy-gun?”  There is little question that this is a reference to The Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’ and ‘Tommy Gun’ although only later in the song does it become apparent that it is also a critique of their perceived posturing. But Crass are far more concerned with wider issues than mere rock star ‘revolutionaries.’ Not for them, the adoption of left wing credentials: ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is an attempt to put a metaphorical bomb under the notion of left wing revolution:

“You talk of overthrowing power with violence as your tool
You speak of liberation and when the people rule
Well ain’t it people rule right now, what difference would there be?
Just another set of bigots with their rifle-sights on me.”

Ignorant’s vocal style and delivery have always been problematic for me as they seem to encapsulate the worst sort of yobbish, aggressive, faux Cockney punk and in the second part of the song it is at its worst as he barks in stentiorian style, like a man on the corner selling the Socialist Worker Ignorant so clearly despises. And then a thing of wonder occurs: Ignorant shuts up, a beautiful guitar emerges from nowhere and the fantastic Eve Libertine takes over vocal duties, sounding as though she’s channelling the voices of Maddy Prior initially and then Poly Styrene. In the final part of the song, over militaristic drumming and La Marseillaise,  Joy de Vivre hammers home the message by speaking the final lines:

“Nothing’s really different cos all government’s the same
They can call it freedom, but slavery is the game
There’s nothing that you offer but a dream of last years hero
The truth of revolution, brother………………. is year zero.”

Just like Crass themselves, ‘Bloody Revolutions’ is an unholy mess and yet it somehow works. Within the confines of a pop song, there is an intelligent argument posited whether you agree with it or not. The shouty, barking, male lead is counterbalanced by a beautiful femininity. And whatever you think of Crass’ politics, they put their money where their mouths were. From the proceeds of this single, they established the Wapping Autonomy Centre as a central meeting place and venue for anarchists. The fact this closed due to the disagreements of the different factions of anarchists only highlights the naive idealism at the heart of this band.

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Daily Playlist 12/11/2013

Pink Glove – Pulp

Demons In Her Dancing Shoes – Richard Thompson

Ode to Booker T – Young Marble Giants

Please Stop Dancing – The Magnetic Fields

Circuit – Delta 5

Pride – Manchester Orchestra

At Home He’s a Tourist – Gang Of Four

My Little Rainbow – East River Pipe

Beautiful Place – Babybird

Straight Life – Black Box Recorder

Anvil – Tapes ‘n’ Tapes

The Kerry Baby – Pete Wiley and the Wah! Mongrel

Miss X – MC5

Skip the Youth – Frightened Rabbit

Taxi For Ms Corday, Please

manics

 

 

 

 

 

The Manic Street Preachers promised they would crash and burn after just one album. Unfortunately for us, they continue to make records with ever diminishing returns. Thus speaks someone who was an enormous fan of the band and, like any fan, continues to buy their product (for that is now what it has become) out of loyalty and love for what once was. I have had too many musical marriages which should have ended in divorce long ago. However, that debut album encapsulated all they would ever do – the railing aginst big banks, royalty and the US; paeans of love to themselves; and the genius of duetting with porn star Traci Lords on a song about abuse to women. Watching James, Sean and Nicky plod through a couple of new songs from a new album (inevitably heralded as a return to form) makes one yearn for the torn t shirts, the terrorist balaclava and a time when Nicky Wire really was wired.

However, The Manics are merely replicating what bands have done for decades, grimly clinging on to past glories because this is all they know, because the thought of becoming a taxi driver (although, let’s face it, James already looks like one) and have passengers comment on your previous incarnation are too dispiriting. For the most part, bands are only capable of writing one or two great albums. Radiohead released a great pop album in Pablo Honey, followed it with the stunning, bleak beauty of The Bends and then vomited up the mucous monstosity that was OK Computer, admittedly with a couple of pretty songs on it but also home to the progwank Paranoid Android – possibly the worst title ever for a song and one on which Muse seem to have based their whole career. Nowadays, the band takes periodic leaves of absence while Jonny faffs around with his film soundtracks and Thom prances around with my good friend Flea. And that is the other problem with bands who still exist but are long past their use by date: they are like the hydra so we not only have to put up with the band’s sub-standard offerings, we also have to endure various members’ solo projects. History is destined to repeat itself, we are told, and instead of Yes and ELP, we now have Radiohead and Blur, with Thom Yorke seriously contemplating his navel whilst Damon Albarn, that cheeky Mockney, becomes ever more Zelig like in his collaborations. And that is not a compliment.

The bands that are most fondly remembered are those who got out at the top of their game, although it was usually circumstance that forced this rather than the sort of deliberate plan The Manics talked but didn’t walk. Television released just two official and peerless albums before drugs and guitar rivalry saw the plug pulled and the picture go blank. Unfortunately, nearly 15 years later, service was resumed but by then the world wasn’t watching. The Sex Pistols released just one corruscating rock album before Lydon’s parting shot of, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated.” It’s just a pity he didn’t have the bollocks to put PIL out of its misery after the brilliantly conceived and executed Metal Box. There are those that so nearly got it right. The Clash should have cut the crap and ended on Combat Rock. Even after Eno left, Roxy Music continued to make strange and beguiling albums but they should have heeded the siren’s call and stayed put in their Country Life.

And then there are the few bands who were capable of more than a couple of good albums and left at the top of their creativity. No-one did it better than The Beatles. Watching them rehearse and record Let It Be fills you with wonder and astonishment that after nearly a decade of being the biggest band on the planet, they were still capable of pushing boundaries, lyrically and musically.   In the same way that Lennon and McCartney’s relationship disintegrated, the fissure between Morrissey and Marr meant that The Smiths never had an opportunity to develop middle aged spread but left a legacy of four lean and poetic studio albums. Drugs and divorce led to the severing of The Cocteau Twins but each EP and album is a glass candle grenade.

These, though, are the exceptions to the rule. If you are in a band that has made a couple of acclaimed records and you suddenly find yourself impelled to record a song on which you collaborate with Flea, Robert Plant or African Burundi drummers, do us all a favour and become a taxi driver – you’re far more use driving me to St Pancras Station than being a pretentious twat so full of themselves I have to hear the story of how your latest song was written whilst listening to sand settle in the Sahara following a storm. Taxi!

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What A Way To End It All

Instead of my usual playlist, here’s a game you can all play related to the above post. Here’s a list of the last albums bands should have released before splitting up. Feel free to agree / disagree / add your own.

Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

Radiohead – The Bends

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

The Clash – Combat Rock

Roxy Music – Country Life

The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane

Fairport Convention- Full House

Public Enemy – Fear of a Black Planet

Public Image Limited – Metal Box

Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Juju

Steeleye Span – Commoners Crown

Cockney Rebel – The Psychomodo

The Rolling Stones – Black and Blue

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality

Echo and the Bunnymen – Ocean Rain

Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands

Primal Scream – XTRMNTR

Patti Smith Band – Wave

Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

The Stone Roses – before they got a record contract

Pervy Porridge

Jimmy-Tarbuckrolf-harrisWilliam RoacheDave Lee Travis and Savilemax cliffordfreddie_starrstuart hallJim Davidson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have an idea for a new sitcom where Jimmy Tarbuck, Max Clifford, William Roache, Jim Davidson, Freddie Starr, Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and Dave Lee Travis are serving their time in an open prison. The opening scene would be a prison guard showing the men to their cells in the newly opened block called Savile Row. The show would be scripted by Ronnie Barker’s son and be called either ‘Pervy Porridge’ if on the BBC or ‘Up the Shitter’ if on Channel 5. New cast members are imminent.

I think the world will stop spinning, at least for people in the UK, should Sir Terence of Wogan ever get caught up in the tsunami of sexual scandal that has engulfed comedians and light entertainers of a certain age. So many household names have been arrested in relation to allegations of sexual abuse that the public now, more or less, expect anyone on TV during the 1970s and 1980s to be the next front page story.

But surely it is unreasonable to expect such a narrow strata of society to be the only culpable party? Apart from the stupendously stupid Gary Glitter, who went to get his computer fixed with a hard drive full of child porn, no rock stars from that era have been targetted. And yet, surely, when we consider sex with underage fans, rock stars, by their own admission, have been leading the way for decades, whether singing about the joys of underage sex (Hello, Alex Chilton), actively participating (Hi, Mr Berry, is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? Oh both)  or a mixture of the two (Way to go, Motley Crue).

King of the Pervs surely has to be Chuck Berry, who not only transported a Sweet Little 16 year old girl, no make that 14 years old, across state lines for immoral purposes but also installed cameras in the women’s toilets of his restaurant so he could subsequently play with his ding-a-ling whilst watching the videos he had made. Jerry Lee Lewis thought it a good idea to marry his 13 year old cousin and we should probably draw a veil over a secondary reason as to why he may be known as The Killer. Ted Nugent has even admitted to being a serial paedophile with his marriage ending due to his numerous flings on tour, often with underage women (Courtney Love evidently gave him a blowjob when she was 12). Don Henley of The Eagles drugged and fucked a 16 year old. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler even adopted his under age girlfriend so he could fuck her. And that’s just a small sample of our American cousins (that’s cousins in the loosest sense, Jerry Lee).

Now Operation Yewtree is not going to concern itself with Americans but it is difficult to believe that British musicians have not behaved similarly. Some are lucky not to have been already incarcerated. Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones admitted to fucking Mandy Smith when she was 14 and yet the police were not interested in pursuing the case.  Leaving aside the fucking of girls with sharks, Jimmy Page got his roadie to kidnap a 14 year old girl and then kept her imprisoned while he fucked her.  Make no mistake about it, the list of English stars will rival that of Americans and it won’t be long before well known names of 70s and 80s rockers will be added to the names of light entertainment as the branches of Yewtree grow and extend over spring and summer.

There is a moral witch hunt being waged here which, by design or not, takes headlines away from the economy, austerity measures and the privatisation of the NHS. It comes as no surprise that it was the morally repugnant Daily Mail which broke the Jimmy Tarbuck story. This leaking of names feeds into the prurient interest of the general public and by targetting high profile names, the police know they will gain the requisite publicity which demonstrates they are doing an efficient job. Americans appear to forgive or forget the sexual peccadilloes of their stars. The French are used to sexual scandal and shrug their shoulders ( hell, in Roman Polanski we keep a paedophile as a personal pet to taunt the Americans). But the British appear horrified, surprised and upset that some of their national treasures are being paraded through town with a sign around their necks that reads “PAEDOPHILE”. When they run out of comedians to entertain us in their twilight years, don’t be surprised when they come for your music heroes, a final encore which will see their music removed from playlists and record stores. Now, can someone tell me where I can get a copy of ‘Rock n Roll Part 2’?

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Daily Playlist 9/05/2013

Last Night In Town – The Twilight Singers

Tiger Mountain Peasant Song – Fleet Foxes

Billion Dollar Babies – Alice Cooper

Pilentze Pee – Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares

One By One – Billy Bragg and Wilco

The Summerhouse – The Divine Comedy

Go Away – Katy B

Let It Be So – Victoria Williams

Alone Apart – Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

New Box of People – Lee Hazlewood

L’Illusioniste – Keren Ann

She’s Not Dead – Suede

In My Own Dream – Karen Dalton

Icona Pop – I Love It

Icona Pop - I Love It

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in a Beirut apartment not feeling well. I resorted to my favourite pastime of winding people up on Twitter and Facebook when I came across an updated status that read, “I put your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs.” A little concerned that I might be intruding on private grief, I responded that that would make a good first line for a song or story. And it was then that my ignorance was laid bare when he responded that I should listen to Icona Pop’s song ‘I Love It.’ 90% of what’s recommended to me is rubbish and, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this to be much different. However, the sample lyric intrigued me and the name of the band suggested a certain intelligence at work.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it wasn’t the sugar adrenaline rush of pure pleasure at hearing someone who knew how to construct a perfect pop song. This had everything: the way memorable verse led to  catchy chorus and a fantastic bridge, all perfectly constructed; a lyric that was arch and knowing ( how can you not fall in love with a song whose opening words are “I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone / I crashed my car into the bridge. I watched, I let it burn / I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs / I crashed my car into the bridge” and then the pay off punk, nihilism of the chorus, ” And I don’t care, I love it. I don’t care”?” And then there are the two female singers of Icona Pop, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo,  young women who sound and look as though they’re having the time of their lives.

Icona Pop are from Stockholm and this particular song appears to have been a big hit in most places apart from the UK. Ironically, one of the people behind the band is Charli XCX, or English singer-songwriter Charlotte Aitchison, who with Swedish producers Linus Eklöw and Patrik Berger (also responsible for Robyn) have written this paeon to not giving a fuck in the face of adversity. Whether they can go on to produce anything as good as this in the future is questionable but the video for another of their songs ‘Nights Like This’ suggests that there is a real artistic vision behind the frippery. In this video, there is an intermission, with no music,  where the two women eat a Mexican meal; the film itself appears to catch fire and disintegrates; and then, when the video does resume, the women, stranded in a car that’s broken down, are about to be murdered by the man who has stopped to help them with a car jack. It’s an intriguing and unsettling video and far removed from most airhead pop acts.

‘I Love It’ is a song that makes you glad to be alive. It lifts up your soul, puts a smile on your face and hope in your heart. On this single, Icona Pop are truly icons of pop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcULnDtJ3AM

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Daily Playlist 15/04/2013

Black Light Blue – Shelby Lynne

The Murder Mystery – The Velvet Underground

Teenage Spaceship – Smog

Sugar Lee – Donny Hathaway

So Dead – Manic Street Preachers

Honest Mistake – Ron Sexsmith

On a Bayonet – Beirut

Crash – Asian Dub Foundation

If You Want Me To Stay – Sly and the Family Stone

Constantly Changing – Young Marble Giants

Mom’s TV – American Music Club

Hit The North – The Fall

Time – La Dusseldorf

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