the Horn Farm Paste Mob

retro listening 11-20

11. Wire – IBTABA

I bought this while at nerd camp (CTD, Northwestern’s version of the CTY programs) and I was very upset to get the tape back to my room and discover that three of the six songs listed for side B weren’t there. On the other hand, the songs on that side of the tape DID fill it up, so it was unclear how the others could in fact ever have been there.

Actually, I have to agree with my younger self that this is a big disappointment– mostly new versions of songs from the only other Wire album I had, and even now that I’ve been a Wire fan for my entire adult life, and just listed to A Bell Is A Cup and IBTABA back to back, I couldn’t tell you how any of the variants differ from their originals.

On the other hand, I’m just now realizing how good “It’s A Boy” is. I was always dimly aware that having “It’s A Boy” and “Boiling Boy” so close together in the tracklist (twice!) was keeping me from remembering which was which, but… I guess it really was.

The missing songs turned out to be CD bonus tracks, listed by mistake. And they were pretty great, though I didn’t know that at the time.

12. The Cure – Standing On A Beach – The Singles (and Unavailable B Sides)

There’s hella guitar soloing in “Killing An Arab”. I apparently didn’t used to have enough consciousness of punk-as-break-from-what-came-before to notice that. It’s incredibly rudimentary, is maybe why?

“Boys Don’t Cry” sounds very jangly and indiepop, all of a sudden. True, I was just listening to Go Sailor a minute ago, but that didn’t make “Killing An Arab” sound like the Fat Tulips.

“Charlotte Sometimes” is a tremendous clunker, compared to all the singles before it. I never did buy all those famously-depressing early Cure albums, so this is still my only context for it (if it was even on an album at all; I don’t know). “The Hanging Garden” is more like it, though I think (and I’d never noticed this before either), the appearance of the lead guitar line after each chorus is a mistake. It seems like it’s trying to reassure the listener that this is all still a Cure song, but it’s so completely unnecessary: the wonder of the song is how sparse the drumming makes it feel *despite* the other instruments being enthusiastically present. Why defang that?

At my last job, I had a coworker who informed me that hardcore Cure fans referred to Robert Smith as “Fat Bob”, which was also the name of her largest pet fish. I think at some point Fat Bob stood accused of eating all his cohorts. The fish did, I mean.

Here is some absolutely masterful abuse of the word “the”‘s narrative powers: “I called you after midnight and ran until I burst / I passed the howling woman and stood outside your door”. THE howling woman! No explanation, just… the. Honestly, most of what’s good in the Cure’s lyrics happens between the lines. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think that, like Morrissey, Smith took a lot of undeserved flak from listeners who didn’t realize he was in on his own joke. Morrissey’s lyrics *were* the joke, though, and often Smith’s vocals are more like props.

Finished with side A. The transition from old Cure to new Cure sure was abrupt– seven songs in, boom, it’s “Let’s Go To Bed”.

Aha! “Mr. Pink Eyes” is the transitional moment the a-sides were missing– Smith definitely has one foot in the deviant music-hall act that would lead to “The Lovecats” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” but it’s distinctly still post-punk. Sounds kind of like The Fall, actually.

I hung on to this tape until *2004*, when the Cure finally put out a b-sides collection on CD (by which time it was four discs long, instead of half of one 90-minute tape).

13. Wire – The Ideal Copy

I still had no idea how Wire had originally sounded (more on that later), so I think at the time, this just sounded, if anything, more naturalistic than A Bell Is A Cup.

I remember how I felt about “Feed Me”, though. Gods. I think that was the first time I ever felt compelled to turn out the lights and just lie there so a song could wash over me. This is a rare case of an album sequenced for LP or tape (i.e. with two sides) that got better when the songs were all run together– “Feed Me” wasn’t telegraphed as a big side-ending track, it was just this thing that happened in the indistinct middle of a list of songs.

“Cheeking Tongues” still always sounds (delightfully) to me as though it’s been sped up 10%. Other than that it plays the same role as “Kidney Bingos” did on their next album. Tongues, kidneys, hm.

14. New Order – Technique

I think actually I bought this earlier than 14th– in the spring of 8th grade, before I discovered The Cure or Wire. “Fine Time” confounded me– it was a while before I got that the album title might be a pun on “techno”, and a LONG while before I could recognize “Fine Time” as New Order’s version of the Madchester sound. (Even so, starting your album with a completely uncharacteristic song is still a relatively rare move; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah mystified a lot of people with it not long ago.)

Cut Copy have made a career out of songs that sound like the sunny half-acoustic New Order except more danceable.

I suspect the blankness/simplicity of Substance’s cover art read as authority to me; Technique was the first time I found their visual style evasive, as I think is the intent. (That link was just the best recap of their cover art I could find; the download links don’t work.)

15. The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

And maybe this came before Standing On A Beach! That summer I was 13, at camp, there was a dance on the last night. I began it standing outside with my friends, like you do. When “Just Like Heaven” came on, I got excited and said, “Oh, I want to go dance! I’m bad at it, though.” Carl Stern somehow convinced me that nobody cared, which for some reason carried extra weight *because* he was completely uninterested in dancing or pop music. (As far as I could tell, anyway– maybe he wanted to even more, and just couldn’t take his own advice!)

If I have this sequence even close to right, opening track “The Kiss” was one of the first genuinely angry songs I had. The idea of getting to kiss someone but being mad at them did not compute– actually, the song doesn’t make that much sense now either. Cathartic, though. Likewise, I always got that “hanging on your back” in “Torture” probably meant it was about sex, but even now, despite having memories of sexual experiences whose emotional tenor matched the song’s, its narrative is kinda opaque! Is he actually upset that it’s their last night together? Or…

(When I asked John Flansburgh about the meaning of some jokey TMBG lyric, during an interview I got to do with him in college, he replied, “Well, as my uncle said… not every beam is structural.”)

This is a slog. I’m on song 12 of 18 and more than ready for the album to be over.

Synth horns > synth bird voices >>> synth strings.

Also, I find Robert Smith’s attitude toward women less than exemplary.

16. The Damned – The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

I hope this is good. It’s two hours long– a double-cassette best-of that I’m pretty sure I was swayed to buy because of the music-to-dollars ratio.

ROCK MUSIC. Oh thank god, I was starting to stereotype my 13-year-old self something fierce. I seem to recall the Damned being dissed as “fake punks” at some point, which–

Aha, maybe it was around the time of the Hammond organ and backup singers, which just came on. Is this in chronological order? No. Good choice, starting the retrospective with an early song, when they still sounded like the Stooges, and then immediately zooming forward a decade.

Wait! “I Feel Alright” is BY the Stooges. I must have learned that back then, obsessed with reading liner notes as I was, but I wouldn’t have heard the Stooges until much later. And I guess I didn’t care for the song then, or I would have tracked them down.

Deep in the middle of disc 2… this is mostly not living up to the Stooges cover. I perked up for “Love Song”, whose opening bassline I am probably still programmed to like (and I mean, it is pretty awesome). Points also for “The History Of The World Part 1″, which I can’t distinguish from other late Damned in the abstract beyond its drier production, but I like it.

A quarter of these songs are over five minutes, for fuck’s sake. I’m going to skip a few.

17. Madness – One Step Beyond…

Remembered this as classic; it’s actually deeply inessential, mostly instrumentals and joke songs. What it IS is musically varied, and I think the excitement about Madness this sparked was me picking up on that– they were ringing the changes on a genre that was about all equally foreign to me. For that matter, the flimsiness of the lyrics marks them clearly as just an excuse for playing ska music, which the band are appealling gleeful about. Even back then, though, I think my favorite song was the comparatively substantial “Night Boat To Cairo”.

To clarify, since I was chatting with Super Roommate E about this topic the other night– there’s nothing inherently wrong with being insubstantial! But just like how a three-minute song can be too long even though another song is the right length at four minutes, the problem with *this* record is that it’s not meaty enough.

18. Devo – Freedom Of Choice

As I’d hoped, there was more to them than just “Whip It”. Super-dry production, though. I think to some extent this is a style misremembered as being about harsh blown-speaker chiptune sounds… the game designer Jason Rohrer made an interesting point about how the pixelated ‘retro’ aesthetic in a lot of current games is MUCH blockier than those classic 80s video games looked to us back then, played on TVs and 80s arcade monitors. What they look like, Rohrer pointed out, is the way those old games come out when played today, on an HDTV using software emulation.

(Rohrer makes me gnash my teeth a lot, but it’s a really good point.)

Anyway, I think we’ve done that sonically too.

19. He Said – Take * Care

My first CD, you guys! No, you’ve never heard of it– this was filed under ‘Wire’ at B-Side Records, along with lots of other side projects and import albums that I despaired of ever hearing if I stayed with cassettes. So I was excited when parents decided to buy a CD player.

Two songs with straightforward lyrics about tragedies (one suicide, one murder), the rest even more oblique than the songs Graham Lewis wrote for Wire. I still can’t make head or tail of “A.B.C. Dicks Love”, for example.

At the time I found the sound palette cheesy. Now I hear effects all over the place that are more unusual than a lot of other synthpop sonics, but this still spends a lot of time in Steely Dan territory.

One of the middle-school friends I was drifting away from infuriated me by looking at the CD packaging and then insisting that I listen to his a capella impression of what he was sure the music sounded like. I was just like, uh, that’s not how it actually sounds! It actually sounds some particular way that isn’t up to you!

Neither one of us could have ben enjoying that conversation much.

20. New Order – Brotherhood

Side A has what are probably my favorite New Order non-single tracks: “Paradise” and especially “Broken Promise”. (I liked those back then, too, but I preferred even more the melodrama of “Angel Dust”.)

I like things that monkey with the very framed, very monologuey discourse structure of song lyrics. New Order has a bunch, and now that I know you can include time offsets in Youtube links, I will share them with you! I had forgotten the coughing at the beginning of Technique’s “Love Less”, the laugh in “Every Little Counts”, and the way the two vocal parts on the chorus of “Paradise” are superimposed at pretty much exactly the same volume, heedless of each other.

But here’s the best thing, and this one I remembered: In the video for “Bizarre Love Triangle”, which is otherwise just images of people falling plus quick-cut footage of city scenes and digital blurs, there’s this bridge (watch until about 2:50). There’s no break like that on the audio version of the song, and those people don’t recur in the video.

I’m not sure why I love that so much.


One Response to “retro listening 11-20”

  1. villain, on March 7th, 2011 at 11:55 am, said:

    I’m really enjoying this series.

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