I’m not Irish but it’s impossible to avoid the Irish madness on St. Patrick’s Day here in Chicago. The city reigns supreme in its festivities, complete with day n’ night drinking, parades and a river dyed green. However, no St. Patrick’s Day is complete without listening to House of Pain. Their lyrics are unmistakably laced with Irish-centric references about Claddagh rings, Celtic crosses, Mickey’s, and corned beef.
I’m throwing up a few songs from their debut album, but their second, Same As It Ever Was, is just as tight. “Jump Around” was their biggest hit, and though I debated showcasing it here, I couldn’t avoid linking the video. It’s a ’90’s pop culture staple. Get stung!
I imagine everyone knows exponentially more song melodies than corresponding performers and titles, although I feel I’m particularly egregious in this respect. As a result, I find it pretty exciting when I finally learn, “oh, that’s who sang that,” some 20+ years later. I thought I had never heard (or of) the 1980s Liverpool-based band The Icicle Works until I started to follow Amsterdam, a current Liverpool-based band heavily influenced by The Jam and others. One of those others is Ian McNabb, currently a solo performer and former lead singer/songwriter of The Icicle Works.
Ian Prowse, lead singer of Amsterdam, has performed with McNabb on numerous occasions and often cites him as a major influence. So, I recently picked up the import only, remastered and expanded edition of the band’s 1984 critically acclaimed self-titled debut. Imagine my surprise and excitement when I heard the song, “Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream).”
In the U.S., the titled was inverted, so it became popularly known as “Whisper to a Scream” and was in the Top 40 for weeks. I’ve never been a huge fan of U2, so I take no offense at the following commentary from All-Music Guide, “Frankly, the members of U2 must have wished they could be so emotional and so soaring at this point in their careers. As for “Birds Fly,” the song stands as a joyous rave-up of quick drums and shimmering guitars with an inspiring, frenetic chorus tempered by a gentle, half-whispered conclusion.”
So, did you know this song was The Icicle Works? I sure as hell didn’t.
When I was in junior high school (middle school to some), I went through a period with thoughts I’d always wear my jeans with a cuff. Yes, it started with the famed tight-roll which evolved into several loose-fitting versions depending on the length. Regardless of the technique or style, I swore I’d never wear straight-laced pants in my life. Then I went to high school.
Trends in music can be just as fickle. One can start out with people claiming a certain sound or band or singer has changed the landscape of music forever. It can then quickly resemble a silly fad the next morning.
Last year, a few artists and collaborations tinkered with sounds and melodies reminiscent of yesteryear. Christina Aguilera (apologies in advance to those offended to see her name on this blog) and the tongue-in-cheek duo, Gnarls Barkley, both had quite a bit of success mixing R&B with soul and jazz to give us modernized vintage pop songs.
A couple of female singers from the United Kingdom are following suit with this trend. Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone are both releasing albums in the States (though Winehouse’s album dropped in Europe last year) with music that embodies a sound from when our parents were growing up.
I was first exposed to the alternate version of “Rehab” which was remixed by Hot Chip. If you’re familiar with Hot Chip, you’ll hear quite a bit of their influence when listening to the song.
Winehouse pens all of her lyrics and this song is no different. In it, she discusses the pressure of being asked to go into rehab for alcohol abuse after gaining some notoriety in England upon the release of her debut album in 2003. She publically refused the inquiry much to the dismay of loved ones and the local media. I’ve included the regular album version of “Rehab” along with the Hot Chip remix for your listening pleasure. Both are fit in their own right.
Joss Stone initially found success after covering a handful of songs, namely from the ’70’s and more currently, a song by the White Stripes (“Fell In Love With a Girl”). She, like Winehouse, drew acclaim for her soothing vocals and retro appeal. “Put Your Hands On Me” may not be as serious as Winehouse’s “Rehab,” but it’s still quite fun nonetheless. The music bumps thanks to the production efforts of Raphael Saadiq (one of the founding members of Tony! Toni! Tone!) as Stone throws her heart into the lyrical flow of the song.
Neither of these tracks are necessarily “indie” by any stretch of the imagination, but they seem noteworthy regardless. Sure, this retro sound may only be a fad, but it’s tough to deny a good song on any level. Will they stand the test of time or fade into obscurity like slap-bracelets and sweatpants pulled up to the knees?
I lived in Athens, Georgia for more than two years and managed to miss countless Of Montreal concerts. I didn’t own any of the band’s CDs at that time, and always tried harder to get to an Elf Power show. Now, years later, I still haven’t seen Kevin Barnes and Co., even though I’ve heard quite a lot about their shows from Dave and Jason. Ironically, since I’ve recently been listening to the new Apples in Stereo CD, I think I originally dismissed Of Montreal as too Apples-like; sunshine pop, with likely more sheen than substance. Great pop with little staying power. I was wrong of course. The Sunlandic Twins is one of my favorite albums from the last five years, and it hardly left my CD carousel for over a year. The lyrics from “The Party’s Crashing Us” are as memorable as they come in pop music. Black wizards, suburbs, and fucking. What else is there?
It was hard for me to turn my attention to the band’s new effort, Hissing Fauna, Are you the Destroyer? It’s more abrasive, less melodic at first listen, and has a song over 11 minutes. It’s also depressing lyrically. What happened? There’s nothing Sunlandic here. The travails of singer/songwriter Barnes have been well documented in the press of late, and he even sings about it in “A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger”: “I spent the winter on the verge of a total breakdown while living in Norway/I felt the darkness of the black metal bands/But being such a faun of a man.” The lyrics here could be mistaken as those of a Scandinavian black metal band, e.g. Lordi, the Finnish winners of Eurovision 2006. It’s a standout track, among many. An album of demon pop. Personal demons that is, tails of separation and angst, and lives in turmoil. Still, you will find yourself wanting to move to the beats wherever you are. A month with this stellar album and the new Shins, makes for a very special month of pop music.