Sunday, 17 February 2013
Friday, 15 February 2013
I’d been going out with a girl for almost a year, it was an intense relationship, and to say that the girl I was seeing was a bit of a possessive fruit-loop is something of an understatement. We’d separated shortly after I went to university in the September, and I thought that we were on good terms with each other – I was wrong.
I went back to Wolverhampton on the night of the show and was given a lift to Birmingham by the girl’s mother. We’d had an argument before the car ride, and the atmosphere was in that sweet spot between tense and awkward. I can’t remember what the argument was about, but I can recall there being quite a few jealous rants that paid no heed to logic or rational thinking, and ultimatums were made. I don’t respond well to ultimatums – I never have. I’ve always seen them as the last refuge of a control freak.
The show at the NEC was incredibly disappointing: the sound was quiet and sparse, the crowd seemed detached and bored, and the evening was spent in the icy company of my ex who spent most of the show in tears. I’d been to quite a few gigs with her, and each time there would be some kind of drama or upset.
On the way back from the gig, I stared in silence out of the window of my ex’s mother’s car and could not wait to get back to Keele and be rid of her.
The next day she phoned me up, begging for us to remain friends. I agreed, not wanting to cause further upset, but when she found out during the conversation that I had started seeing someone else, her reaction was really quite frightening as she began screaming hysterically down the phone.
When I returned back to Wolverhampton for the Christmas break, I heard a lot of rumours that had been spread around Wolverhampton about me, most of them petty. The one rumour that bothered me the most was the fact that she told anyone who’d listen that I once forced her to get an abortion – this wasn’t true in the slightest. When I heard that, I decided it was time draw a line and never have anything to do with her again.
The next time I went out in Wolverhampton to a club night called Blast Off!, a sweaty indie night that took over the Civic Hall every Saturday and featured the same playlist of Madchester and Britpop anthems week-on-week, I was charged upon by my ex. She jumped at me and tried to burn my eye out with a cigarette (I still have a tiny scar on my eyelid from it), I pushed her away and made my way to a disabled toilet, locked the door and bathed my burnt eyelid.
A half hour or so later, I was back with my friends on the dance-floor when I was unceremoniously seized by two bouncers who dragged me to the entrance foyer. My ex had accused me of some kind of sexual assault, and the bouncers looked like they were ready to take me around a back alley and kick the living shit out of me. My ex was there, in tears, pointing and shouting “that’s him, that’s him!” I tried to explain who she was and pleaded my innocence, but she gave a fake name and denied knowing me. Just at that moment, one of her friends shouted over to her to leave it, and used her real name. The penny dropped with the bouncers, and I avoided God knows what.
So, I blame her in some way for spoiling the Smashing Pumpkins’ final show for me. They’ve reformed since, but the memories of that gig and what transpired afterwards are pretty messed up. Luckily for me, they never hindered my enjoyment of Siamese Dream.
Siamese Dream opens with the layered intensity of ‘Cherub Rock’, a song that builds in urgency during its intro until hitting you hard with with the main riff. It’s simple, yet stunning. The guitar solo dips and twists around from deep dive-bombi ng whammy bar bends to dizzying wails. Billy Corgan’s vocals do what they do best: swing from the soft subtlety of the verse, to the spits and growls during his screams of “let me out”.
‘Quiet’ is a song that doesn’t quite fit its title, with its chugging guitar progression during the verse, and an insane guitar solo that would make leave many rock traditionalists baffled. It’s an excellent piece of music that showcases what an important part of the Smashing Pumpkins’ sound Jimmy Chamberlain’s drumming was. ‘Today’ is an incredibly cute pop-rock song built around a music-box sounding lullaby guitar riff. The video for this one is excellent, as it sees the band covering an ice cream van in paint.
‘Hummer’ is truly astonishing. The guitar work is subtle and beautiful, and the harmonic guitar and whispered vocals of the verse create an incredible sonic effect that has to be heard in a quiet room with headphones on to truly appreciate. The subtlety of the verse is contrasted with the fuzz-soaked guitar of the chorus, but it’s a contrast that never sounds out of place. If you’re not convinced by the sheer genius of Corgan’s song-writing abilities, just listen to the gentle, echoic guitar work of the bridge – it’s mind-blowing. This is the sound that made me fall in love the Smashing Pumpkins: subtle, atmospheric and dreamy elements clashing with all out noise rock. Amazing.
‘Rocket’ is another excellent track. Again, we see layered guitars and dreamlike vocals ringing over an awesome melody. The guitar solo is something to behold as it takes the almost My Bloody Valentine levels of layered fuzz into a surprising direction. There are few bands that could get away with the level of unabashedly flamboyant guitar wankery without it sounding self-indulgent. Perhaps it’s because the guitar solos always seem so necessary and surprising, that it doesn’t detract from the integrity of the rest of the music.
‘Disarm’ is another stunning piece of music that is hinged around acoustic guitars, hand-bells and a string section. The song is heartfelt and powerful, and always sends a bit of shiver down my spine. ‘Soma’ continues the spine-tingling sensation: it’s melodic and dreamy, and has an incredible chord progression. Corgan’s vocal performance in this one is exceptional. ‘Geek USA’ is a bit like ‘Cherub Rock’ on speed, and lacks a lot of the sonic elements that make the rest of this album so engaging.
‘Mayonaise’ opens with a gorgeous melodic intro, before being drowned by layers of warm fuzz. It’s the perfect balance of loud distortion and quiet delivery that make this song so special. Even though the guitars are loud and layered, they never sound noisy or aggressive. It’s a sound that bands like Weezer and Dinosaur Jr. do so well, but that Corgan perfected.
‘Spaceboy’ points to Smashing Pumpkins’ future trajectory more than any other track on the album. With its pained vocals and gentle acoustic guitar playing being held together by melancholic synths. In contrast to this is ‘Silverfuck’, with its swirling riffs and a barrage of drums. ‘Sweet Sweet’ is quiet and gentle, and is one of the shortest songs on the album.
Album-closer ‘Luna’ treads similar conceptual lines as tracks like ‘Hummer’ and ‘Soma’, and is tinged with the sense of romance and yearning that made Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness such an interesting album.
Siamese Dream is an album that rewards the careful listener. It’s an album that ranks as one of my favourites, and it is one that I don’t think I’ll be getting rid of any time soon.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
The training is pretty intense and means that I’m having to learn about things like law and public affairs. On the whole, I’m finding everything pretty easy to follow, but I am struggling with one element: learning shorthand.
Regular readers will probably know that I’m visually impaired, so I have been worried from the outset about my capacity to learn and read shorthand. So far I have found myself being able to learn the letters and write them confidently, but I am finding that when I read the notes back, I suffer terrible eye-strain. I have come to realise this past week is that determination can only get you so far when biology is conspiring against you.
Having spent most of my adult life working towards a career in academia, I found the world of journalism to be really quite refreshing. Established journalists seem friendly and willing to give you help and advice. Fellow trainees are genuine and friendly, and don't have the passive-aggressive competitive ruthlessness and suspicion that was so prevalent in academia.
It’s been a bit of a shock to the system having to wake up every day at 6am and make my way across Leeds for a full day of training. Luckily my wife is still on maternity leave, so she has been taxiing me to and from work. In the car over the last week, we’ve been listening to Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around – an album of gloomy country tracks that brings to mind some of Cormac McCarthy’s darker moments.
The titular album-opener ‘The Man Comes Around’ is a song of judgement and redemption heightened by a sense of revenge that can only usually be found in the Old Testament. For most of the song, Cash’s voice is cold and deliberate, and the guitar work is jerky and uncomfortable, but then the chorus hits with its triumphant tones and angelic imagery.
‘Hurt’ is beyond heart shattering. There are few songs on this planet that pull at my heart like this one. I will always prefer the Nine Inch Nails’ version as a piece of music, but there is something incredibly moving about Cash recording this song at the end of his life, his voice cracking with emotion and world weariness. It brings a lump to my throat just thinking about it.
If ‘Hurt’ wasn’t enough to bring a tear to your eye, then ‘Give My Love to Rose’ is a song about the final words of dying man. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ will always remind me of a drunken night from when I was about 15, where a couple of my best friends got a bit drunk and teary and hugged each other whilst singing along with the Simon and Garfunkel original – and for anyone who was wondering: yes, I was one the cool kids.
The theme of death continues on ‘I Hung My Head’, a song about accidently shooting someone. It’s a song full of shame and regret, and Cash’s vocal delivery makes the song incredibly vivid in its emotive effects. ‘The First Time I Saw Your Face’ is a slow, moody love song accompanied by sparse guitar plucking and subdued organs hovering low in the mix.
The cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ is structured around dark guitar grooves and bluesy piano flurries. Cash’s version manages to emphasise the religious fervour of the lyrics that seemed somewhat dormant in the original. It’s an excellent version of the song, and probably ranks up there with ‘Hurt’ as one of Cash’s finest cover versions.
‘Sam Hall’ lightens the mood with a chirpy country number about hatred, violence and murder. The subject matter may be dark and uncompromising, but I can imagine Cash performing this in front of a ravenous audience with a wry smile. A cover of ‘Danny Boy’ is performed with a church organ accompaniment, and is a song full of nostalgia and yearning.
‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ is a song that speaks of loss and loneliness. It’s a country standard that shows just how close many country records can be to blues. The same can also be said of ‘Streets of Laredo’, with its imagery of cowboys and their tales of woe.
The album closes with a nostalgic cover of ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The final bars to this one are great: lazy clarinet riffs, sliding ukulele, and a chorus of a dozen or so elderly people singing along. It’s a great feel-good way to end quite an emotionally draining album.
This is an album riddled with images of death, judgement and regret. The fact that many of these songs were recorded so close to Cash’s death gives them a deeper resonance. This is an excellent collection of songs that I will definitely be keeping.