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Friday, 26 October 2012

The Music - The Music (2002)

When I first saw the grainy music video for ‘Take the Long Road and Walk It’ by the Music on MTV2 after a night out in mid-2001, I was mesmerised: the sound was fresh and psychedelic: they reminded me of a British Jane’s Addiction only with northern lads in baggy hoodies rather than pink hair and make-up. With Britpop a distant memory, and the airwaves filled with nu-metal and skate-punk, The Music stood apart from the pack. Swirling guitar loops, funky beats and Rob Harvey’s unique voice all combined to create something genuinely special and exciting.

They played a gig at the Little Civic in Wolverhampton that summer: a small attic venue which could probably squeeze in about 100 people at a push. The show was mind-blowing, and I knew that I had seen something really quite special. After the gig, my friend and I went for a drink and rambled like excited children about how fucking amazing the show was and came away with the conclusion that they were going to be our generation’s equivalent of the Stone Roses.

To say that the Music grabbed my attention is something of an understatement. I became obsessed: I picked up a copy of ‘Take the Long Road and Walk It’ from the Little Civic show, and played it to anyone who would humour me over that summer; I would check their website every day to see if they had released another MP3 to download; and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on any new material. The wait felt eternal, but their debut EP You Might as Well Try to Fuck Me came out in the November. I had been with the girl I would go on to marry for just over a month, and I’m sure she must have got bored of me enthusing about how great ‘Karma’ builds up or how awesome the ending of ‘Too High’ was.

When their self-titled debut came out in September 2002, my enthusiasm peaked. I loved the album, and some of the B-sides such as Jag Tune, the heart-breaking ‘Alone’, the euphoric ‘Rain Dance’ and the awesome ‘Dragon Song’ cemented them as one of the best new bands around at that time. For Christmas that year, my girlfriend bought us tickets and accommodation to see the Music play at the Glasgow Barrowlands. The Barrowlands had a kind of mythic aura for me: I’d read countless articles about the Barrowlands being many bands’ favourite venue, and I have to admit that it lived up to my expectations. The gig was amazing, the venue was awesome and the crowd was electric. I don’t think I’ve been to a gig before or since that had such an insane atmosphere as this one. It was as though the crowd fed on music; it was as if they had been purposefully starved in the days leading up to make them more ravenous than usual. This was a great present.

The next time I saw the Music was after I moved up to Leeds. I was very excited about seeing the Music play in their hometown, and owning the Live at the Blank Canvas DVD, knew that the venue was also something unique. The Blank Canvas had the feel of a makeshift venue: it stood in a dark, damp tunnel beneath Leeds train station. The walk up to the venue was incredibly atmospheric with its industrial arches and black canal waters swirling beneath. The show was around the time of the release of the Music’s second album Welcome to the North. Welcome to the North had more of a traditional rock sound than their debut, and this maturing of their sound translated to their live performance which seemed a much more sober affair than the Glasgow show. I didn’t hear much about them for a few years after this, and rumours were rife that the band were splitting up. So when I found out about the Music booking a series of secret gigs around Yorkshire in 2008, I knew that I had to go.

When I saw them playing at the Locorum in Barnsley, I have to say it was one of scariest gigs I’ve ever attended. The venue had the capacity for 500 people, but this included the bar as well as the room where the bands played. Suffice to say, when the Music came on the bar emptied and the room was dangerously packed, so packed that my wife and I couldn’t actually get into the room. We had a bit of a moan to the manager who allowed us to watch the gig from a balcony next to the mixing desk. To get to it we had to climb through a window in the women’s toilets, and stand precariously over the crowd on the most slap-dash rickety balcony you could possibly imagine. The room was roasting hot and people were squashed in, but the gig was great and they even debuted some new tracks - ‘Drugs’, ‘Fire’ and ‘The Spike’. This show had all the ingredients for something tragic to happen.

Their third album, Strength in Numbers, was rather disappointing, but when I saw some of the songs performed live at their farewell gig at the O2 Academy in Leeds, their true power came through. Their last gig was quite an emotional experience. My wife and I felt the same about the show: that because the Music had been a big part of our musical lives since we got together it was like a chapter had come to an end. It seemed to represent something to us that was far deeper than we could really express in words. Perhaps coming to the end of our twenties, it represented the realisation that we weren’t going to be young forever and that youth was slipping away from us. It may have been because we’d followed them since the start, and they were about the same age as us, and had provided so many good memories, that is was sad to see it end.

Enough time has passed since their farewell gig to make a fresh assessment of their debut album. The Music’s self-titled debut opens with the intense and frantic ‘The Dance’, a perfect way to announce to the world that the Music have arrived. The version of ‘Take the Long Road and Walk It’ is not quite as raw and energetic as the original single version, and dropped the acoustic slide- guitar section from the end of the song. I defy anyone to try and walk around with this song on headphones and not look down to find yourself with a swagger in your step. ‘Human’ is incredible: subtle guitar-work and an amazing riff that builds over an increasingly funky rhythm section. Rob Harvey is an excellent vocalist and the band have an uncanny talent for writing amazing choruses. ‘The Truth is no Words’ is built around a dirty guitar riff that could make Jimmy Page envious. I never really cared for ‘Float’; it feels like a weak link on the album. It’s a song that is fantastic live, but just doesn’t translate well on record. ‘Turn Out the Light’ is a very powerful slow number that shows that the Music have a sensitive side. This is another song that works better in front of a rapt audience than in the studio. ‘The People’ is a dance floor-filler. I remember back when I used to DJ playing this one and someone incredulously asking me if I could “play something good like Papa Roach” – unfortunately I didn’t have any, and have never felt inclined to fill that gap in my collection. ‘Getaway’ is another one of those awesome songs with great guitar riffs, and a spine-tingling chorus. The breakdown of ‘Getaway’ is massive, with its sub-bass synths and dance rhythms making this a perfect song for an indie club night. ‘Disco’ is another one of those songs that is amazing live, but doesn’t quite work on the album. The version of ‘Too High’ on The Music is different to the version on the You Might as Well Try to Fuck Me EP. It’s powerful and epic. The guitar riffs are awesome and the song builds from subtle beginnings to an awesome crescendo of frantic guitars and stop-start rhythms. The album closes with the secret track ‘Walls Get Smaller’, a stunning instrumental that can move a grown man to tears in the right conditions. What made this album interesting was that along with the ‘Walls Get Smaller’ the album boasts another hidden track that can only be found by rewinding the first track back to before the song starts. The song appears on the re-release of ‘Take the Long Road and Walk It’ with the title ‘New Instrumental (Live at the Blank Canvas)’ and captures that psychedelic, effect-heavy sound that I had experienced during that first gig in the Little Civic.

What is obvious from listening to this album is that the Music never quite captured the magic that they had when performing live. The songs are fantastic, but the production leaves a lot to be desired. I have a theory that if the Music came a couple of years later with a slightly more Google-friendly name, they could have lived up to the legendary status that they so richly deserve. This album means a lot to me, and I’m sure my wife would be pissed off with me if I ever decided to cull this.

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Anonymous said...

Brilliant read - really enjoyed that and sums up exactly how I felt about the band too. 'Google friendly name' :)

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