Archive for the ‘Prefab Sprout’ Category

1979SOUNDTRACK: HAPPYNESS-Tiny Desk Concert #468 (September 4, 2015).

happynessHappyness are a trio from London: Benji Compston (guitar), Jonny Allan (bass) and Ash Cooper Drums).  They play mellow Britpop with rather clever lyrics.

The first song “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere” opens with a steady bass line and smatterings of guitar chords.  And when the guys  sing, Benji sings into a normal mic in a kind of deep whisper and the Jonny sings into a processed mic to make his voice sound kind of tinny (in harmony).  And the lyrics are great.  I like when the second chorus comes in and the processed vocals go up an octave for a really cool harmony effect.  And I mentioned the lyrics.  Here’s an interesting verse:

I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair / There’s a scalpless singer of a Montreal rock band somewhere / And he’s all right

Before the second song starts, they have a bit of fun while Benji tunes his guitar.  Everyone is standing around awkwardly and Benji tells Jonny to tell his whale joke.  Jonny says no and that it’s not his whale joke he took it off the internet and would like to put it back.

For the second song, “It’s On You” the guys switch places (it  was suave, kind of Bob Fosse-ish).  Benji sings into the processed microphone. The song also has some busy basslines but the guitar is more pronounced.  Hearing him sing in that processed tinny voice is really interesting.  More interesting lyrics: “You said I’m an anarchist, communist, feminist phlebotomist.”

Before the final song, they switch places again.  Benji says he’s “not the most flexible boy in this collection of people.”  “Who is?”  “Definitely [the bassist].”  Bob asks, “Who tells the best jokes?”  “Unintentionally [the drummer]  Jonny says to the drummer: “You could do the whale joke… don’t do the whale joke.”

The final song, “Weird Little Birthday Girl” is nearly 8 minutes long.  It opens with a cool bass riff and some lovely overlapping guitars.  There’s a nearly three-minute instrumental opening and when Jonny starts singing it has a distinctly Wilco quality (partly because oft he processing on his voice but also his delicate singing).  There’s a nice shout out to Prefab Sprout in the lyrics:

Its so easy to replace it / some things hurt more much more than cars and girls / an evening in an iron maiden / a morning in your funny little world.

I really enjoyed this set a lot and I’m intrigued that their album (on bandcamp) has some really short songs too.   I wonder if their sound is different on the record.  Guess I’ll have to give it a listen.

[READ: July 12, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980

I foolishly thought that this book would play up the idea of moving into a new decade. But as I should have learned from years past, Schulz doesn’t really care about when it is.  His strip is mostly timeless.  There are of course references to time passing, but they are very minor.  So, on New Years when it  turns 1980, the strip heading says 1980, but there’s no other mention of it.

It’s also interesting how some things that he’s talked about in the past cycle again–many many years later.  In January 1979 Peppermint Patty is on a quest for a library card (we saw Sally get one like 5 years ago).  She says that once she gets one she wont leave home without it.  Marcie says Karl Malden will be happy to hear it. This is a reference to a an American Express card commercial that I remember hearing all the time when I was a kid (although I had o idea it was Malden doing it).  She also get a very funny line about junk food: “Life is more than carrot sticks, Marcie…what is a stomach that’s expecting a chocolate bar going to say when it gets a carrot stick?”

The World War I Flying Ace never really went away, but it seems to be making a resurgence in this year, with Snoopy wandering around speaking French and then later German to all the young ladies. (more…)

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  karlove5SOUNDTRACK: RAGA ROCKERS-“Slakt” [“Slaughter”] (1988), “Hun er Fri” [“She is Free”] (1988) and “Noen å hate” [“Someone to hate”] (1990).

ragaKarl Ove mentions many bands in his books.  Raga Rockers appeared twice in this one.  I can’t find a ton about them online, because they never really made it beyond Norway, but the Google translated version of their website says:

Raga Rockers is an ingenious rock ‘n roll band that has existed since 1982.

Today the band consists of: Michael Krohn (vocals, lyrics), Hugo Alvar Stein (keyboards / guitar), Eivind Staxrud (guitar), Arne Sæther (keys), Livio Aiello (bass) and Jan Kristiansen (drums).

The band came out of the punk community in the early eighties, but became such a “poppy” large parts of the Norwegian people have founded acquaintance with them.  Songs like “She is free” and “Someone to hate” is almost singalong classics! Their greatest triumph came perhaps in 1999 when they played for thousands of ecstatic Norwegians at the yellow stage at Roskilde Festival. (Reviews of the show by Dagbladet (which Karl Ove wrote for) and Dagsavisen–both are in English.

Despite their punk roots and the rather violent song titles, the songs are almost poppy–heavy guitars but simple chords and a singer who doesn’t sound angry at all.  In fact, if I didn’t read about their punk roots, I’d swear these songs are kinda goofy.

“Slakt” is a simple song, opening with a 4/4 drum and splashes of guitar.  The middle is a bluesy riff with a chorus of “ah ha ha”  The lead singer’s voice is mostly kind of deep–not quite what I expected from the heavy guitars.

“Hun Er Fri” is quite different from the others songs.  It’s only 90 seconds long and features a piano.  The chords are still simple the piano may be playing single notes in fact).  The lyrics are pretty much nonstop and kind of fast.  It seems like a silly pop trifle and I can see why it’s popular among their fans.  The first time I listened to it, I was surprised it ended when it did.  This bootleg live version is certainly fun.

rocknrollThese two songs came from their 1988 album Forbudte følelser [Prohibited feelings]

“Noen å hate” has a bit more of a metal sound, but is essentially the same kind of heavy rock with simple chord progressions.  There’s a good solo at the end.  A black metal band called Vreid has done a cover of this song (which really only sounds different because the Vreid singer is more growly).

This song comes from their 1990 album Rock n’ Roll Party.

And yes, they are still around.  They took a hiatus in the 2000s but came back with three albums 2007’s Übermensch, 2010’s Shit Happens and 2013’s Faktor X.

[READ: May 1, 2016] My Struggle Book Five

karlove 5ukI realized as I read this fifth book that I should have been keeping a vague sense of the timeline of these books.  Specifically, because he opens this book with this: “The fourteen years I lived in Bergen from 1988 to 2002 are long gone.”  So if he was born in 1968, this book covers roughly ages 19-33.

So my general outline for the other volumes:
Book Five: 1988-2002 (19-33)
Book Four: 1987 (18)
Book Three: 1968-1981  (1-13)
Book Two: 2008 (40) (with flashbacks to meeting his second wife in 2003 or so)
Book One: 2008 (40) (with flashbacks to his father’s death in 1998 or so)

What era could Book Six possibly be about?

We’ll find out next year in what is said to be the 1,200 page final volume.

So as I mentioned above, Karl Ove talks about the fourteen years he lived in Bergen.  And it made me laugh that he says:

The fourteen years I lived in Bergen, from 1988 to 2002, are long gone, no traces of them are left, other than as incidents a few people might remember, a flash of recollection here, a flash of recollection there, and of course whatever exists in my own memory of that time.  But there is surprisingly little.

And then he proceeds to write 600+ pages about that time. (more…)

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jun9SOUNDTRACK: EX-COPS-“Ken” (2014).

excopsIn this song, I get a vibe of Prefab Sprout singer over a swirly indie band (at least for the verses).  The chorus is bigger–swirling guitars and fast drums, with Ooohs building and building.  And yet the song never quite launches the way “Black Soap” did.

Amalie Bruun doesn’t really contribute to this song.  And while I wouldn’t say she is crucial to the band, something is definitely lacking without her sharing vocal duties.

I wanted this song to be a bit…more, somehow.  I’m not quite sure about Ex-Cops after two songs.  We’ll see if I get blown away by something else later on.

The whole reason I checked out this song was for the video, which is a tribute to The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” video.


[READ: June 17, 2014] “The Adolescents”

This year’s Summer Fiction issue of the New Yorker was subtitled Love Stories.  In addition to the two graphic stories, we have a series of five personal essays which fall under the heading of “My Old Flame.”  I liked that all five writers have slight variations in how they deal with this topic.

Kushner presents a series of past boys that she had crushes on when she was young.  Each one is presented with a “random initial.”  First there was B who looked like an angel.  He asked to carry her books in sixth grade.  It is a sweet introduction until the conflict: an eighth grade girl, she was stridently white, says something about his race.  And in the span of one paragraph, “many things were new to me that day.  B and I never reconnected.”

Next there was D.  D was white and proclaimed that he would hurt others (presumably those who were black).  The race issue was complicated then.

She once kissed M, who was black, although R would have been a better match.  R flirted with her on the playground and treated her like a sexy woman.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PREFAB SPROUT-Let’s Change the World with Music (2009).

This album was unreleased back in 1992 (it was supposed to be the follow-up to the wonderful Jordan: The Comeback).  Record label confusion left it shelved for many years.  It’s been released now because lead Sprout Paddy McAloon has been having health issues and won’t be releasing any new Sprout music anytime soon.  So he has released this album in what is essentially demo form.

Unlike many demos, though, this one is pretty fully realized.  It’s full of keyboards (where there might be strings for instance) and there are no backing vocals (or any other musicians), and yet for all of that, it doesn’t sound like a scratched out demo or a home-recorded cassette (and Paddy sings his heart out).  There are certainly moments (most evident in the drums at the beginning and end of songs) that sound kind of sparse, but the bulk of the disc is fully formed and quite well realized.

The opening is pretty odd, with Paddy (who normally has a soaring tenor voice) speaking a deep almost rap over a funky beat.  In fact, as the song continues, with Paddy’s voice returning to “normal,” that funky beat continues.  Nevertheless, but the time the sweeping dreamy chorus kicks in we’re back to less funky, more smooth sounding Sprout that I know and love.

Like Steely Dan, Prefab Sprout is not really meant to be enjoyed by the young.  It’s borderline treacly, it’s very sweet and earnest, an my high school self would have scoffed at my enjoying them at all.  And yet for all of that, the songwriting is really magical.  There is religious imagery all over the disc, but it’s there to convey the magical power of music.  And it’s entirely authentic.

And when you combine that with Paddy’s voice its adult contemporary music that is still interesting (certainly too interesting to be played on pop radio).  I think the real key to the success of the disc is the unpretentious, unforced and completely unironic joy that Paddy gets from music.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

[READ: November 14, 2010] “Five Stories from Flaubert”

I really enjoyed Madame Bovary many many years ago when I read it.  Recently, writer Lydia Davis translated Madame Bovary and her translation is supposed to be exceptional, light years above the translation that I read.  One of these days I plan to read her version.  In the meantime, I’ve got these little short short stories.

I had a hard time deciphering what these little stories were, exactly.  The introduction says that they are “adapted from letters Flaubert wrote to his lover.”  So I guess Flaubert gets a co-writing credit?  There’s a couple more stories online at The Paris Review (but you need to buy the issue to get all ten). (more…)

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