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An Inch Closer to a Kiss
Roxette: Wish I Could Fly #1
Arguably I should have stopped buying import CD singles by now. Time is so inadequate, and there are so many whole intriguing albums I've never even heard, that the amount of receptive potential I divert to these obscure minutiae resists rationalization. The costs are obviously disproportionate, especially since the Ministry of Charts clamped down (in whose interest, I can't discern) on the apparently destabilizing practice of including more than two b-sides on a UK single. For more or less the same amount I paid (in whatever sense) to hear one more Roxette song that even Per and Marie didn't think was worth including on their last record, I could have bought an album by Ma Cherie for Painting, or Magnog, or the Make-Up, or any of the hundreds of other bands about whom I know only their names. If I bought one random album in place of every pair of singles I'd save money, I'd save shelf space and the tray motor on my changer would last longer. I'd meet a nice, funny girl, the Revolution would make the playoffs, winter would be mild, I'd learn how to write a bridge that actually connects one part of a song to another, etc. Most of the time, when we complain about our lives, we're being facile; we know exactly how to improve them, we just don't. But basing a cost/benefit analysis on track counts and lengths would miss a crucial detail, which is that I need Roxette songs, need each new one far more than any sane price they'd ever ask. A Roxette song is precious and evanescent; bands I don't know are legion and thus interchangeable. I won't rest until I know every tab in the M section, either, but my ignorance is vast, and Roxette is dear, and drawing an inch closer to a kiss is far more electrifying than leaping a foot closer to Tau Ceti. So I'm sorry, everyone I could have discovered this week. You put your lives into records, and I traded them, without even listening, for a pile of cast-off songs that maybe nobody but me will bother playing twice. If nothing else, I owe you an accounting.
I traded one of you for "Happy Together", the middle track on the first single for "Wish I Could Fly", from Roxette's still-unreleased-here album Have a Nice Day. Roxette tends to use b-side space for "demos", which in their case means shorter musician lists than on the album tracks, here just Per and M.P. Persson programming a crackly drum loop, glassy synth pads, stern mock-piano chords and a few whistling lead-hooks, Persson adding a few flourishes of guitar, and Per and Marie singing an airy lament for a relationship that might have been. But towering production, however ordinarily Roxette songs pace in its shadow, is their most superficial quality, and b-sides like this are welcome reminders, to me, that what I adore most desperately about Per and Marie are their own presences and impulses. If every studio in Sweden combusts, come the Millennium, I've got a stockpile of batteries for my little Casio keyboard, and they can come sing in my living room.
This single also offers one true demo, a November 1997 sketch for "Wish I Could Fly" itself. The song was moodier, originally, and less expansive, more like a flight wish from the grounded. This version misses many things, momentum and a string section among them, but most of all it misses Marie. It's Per's song, as most of them are, but it sounds barely half-alive without her.
Roxette: Wish I Could Fly #2
Part twos full of remixes are a low-yield tactic even by b-side standards, but I've actually liked Roxette remixes on occasion, so I traded another of you for this set (Tee's Radio Mix, a truncated radio edit and StoneBridge's R&B and Club mixes) with some faint hope for another triumph like the 1995 Chaps remixes of "The Look". Not this time. Tee is Todd Terry, who seems convinced that the song needed a wince-inducingly clichéd House kick-pulse, not a feeling I share. I don't know anything about StoneBridge, but those two mixes impose alternate rhythms with even less consideration for the underlying song, whose "underlying" here has less of the synergy of incorporation and more of the limp sprawl of having been struck. The Club version's "Believe"-esque pulverization of Marie's voice is particularly inane; I suppose I can imagine a way in which reworking Roxette songs for people who don't like Roxette is a service industry, but to me these attempts are as ultimately pathetic and pointless as making a bologna, Velveeta and Wonder bread sandwich and calling it pizza for gourmands who don't like pepperoni, cheese or flour.
Roxette: Stars
Roxette must have given up on the UK charts by the time this second single came out, as it actually has six tracks, and four even if you disregard the album version of "Stars" and, in the CD-ROM portion, the spare and haunting video for "Anyone". The Almighty remix of "Stars" cranks up the Madonna-ish sparkle, making relatively subtle adjustments that seem to me like an actual demonstration of remixing skill, as opposed to the ability to just pound any song into a one-size plastic frame. Per's pensive solo demo of "I Was So Lucky" is very similar in spirit to the earlier demo of "Wish I Could Fly", but the surging rough draft of "7Twenty7" is explosive guitar-rock without much of the New Wave sheen later added to the album version. And the song I trade another unknown band for is the one new b-side, "Better Off on Her Own", a touching departure hymn performed as an acoustic-guitar sing-along with no sequencers to be heard. Perhaps even the Casio batteries are superfluous.
Manic Street Preachers: The Everlasting #1
Some of these singles have sat in my Pending pile for a good long time, long enough for me to discover, coming back to them now, new things about even their title tracks. In the Manic Street Preachers' case, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was so disappointing to me, overall, that I think I've only played it twice in nearly a year, and "The Everlasting" wasn't one of my favorite songs from it to begin with. But a year later, maybe I've shaken a few more preconceptions, and some of the song's touches that originally seemed overblown and unimaginative now sound stately and epic to me, descendants of "Motorcycle Emptiness" where I might have been too eager to hear the lineage of "Spectators of Suicide". Then again, the b-sides from this era continue to impress me without any evident need for months of reconciliation. The first here, the bitter "Black Holes for the Young", marries grand crescendo to punk snarl in a way that few bands have ever done better, and then adds, for b-side variety, strangely methodical descending organ figures and an arch duet line from theaudience's Sophie Ellis Bextor, whose voice I'm reliably delighted to hear, and whose career, unusually for female MSP collaborators, doesn't appear to need their rescue. I'm not sure whether having your band traded for a cameo is more vexing or less, but whichever you think it is, "Valley Boy" is probably the other, a trudging anthem that oscillates indecisively between "Comfortably Numb" poignancy and a squalling guitar lead layered over unintelligible foreign radio broadcasts.
Manic Street Preachers: The Everlasting #2
For part two, as has become their unvarying pattern, the band hands the title track over to remixers. Given how brilliant I thought David Holmes and Massive Attack's reconstructions of "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next" were, these two versions of "The Everlasting", by Deadly Avenger's Damon Baxter and longtime MSP associates Stealth Sonic Orchestra, are pretty hopelessly outclassed from the start. To my great pleasure, they don't seem to notice. Stealth Sonic Orchestra did remixes of all four singles from Everything Must Go, but here they get into the spirit of radical revision, turning in a deadpan synth-symphonic rendition highlighted by the melody played on what sounds like a theremin, the rest of the song transformed into an ominous chamber piece with overtones of Górecki and Pärt. Baxter's "Psalm 315" remix performs another complete rhythm transplant, but this new beat, nervous and evasive, sounds to me like he invented it for the occasion, instead of just hitting Play on a preset, and that makes all the difference. Most of the accompaniment is either removed or compressed into a droning, cello-like whir, Bradfield's vocal the only fully recognizable element from the original, and even that is chewed up around the edges, delay loops spinning into and out of the distance. The strangest touch is the coda, a twenty-second recapitulation of the central drum loop either performed on real drums, or processed to sound like it, as if music is something people learned from machines, instead of vice versa.
Manic Street Preachers: You Stole the Sun From My Heart #1
"You Stole the Sun From My Heart" was one of my favorite songs on This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, and in isolation here, without the rest of the album to temper my enthusiasm, I think I love it even more passionately. The roar as the guitars come in, the verses' twittering drum-machines giving way to thundering human drums, is a soft-loud transition as bracing as anything in rock. Bradfield's singing, which at points on the album seemed to me to get lost in the over-engineered backdrops, holds its own for once here, coaxing the verses along and then galloping out in front of the choruses like he just got in from watching Braveheart a couple times too many. The song still has a musically-uplifting chorus with mordantly depressing lyrics, but I've survived deadlier ironies. "Socialist Serenade", the first b-side, is another throwback to what I consider more inspiring days, a crashing rock song that wouldn't have been out of place on Gold Against the Soul, at least if they got rid of the dumb dog-barking that I only realized on about the third listen was coming from inside my house. I'll admit that the other b-side, though, a lumbering live cover of the Clash's "Train in Vain", seems like a decent idea that didn't work out in practice. But then, my guess is that I not only like the Manic Street Preachers a lot more than I like the Clash, but also like the Manic Street Preachers more than they like the Clash.
Manic Street Preachers: You Stole the Sun From My Heart #2
David Holmes returns to do the first remix of "You Stole the Sun From My Heart", and although the drum loop he substitutes sounds more than a little like Baxter's for "The Everlasting", otherwise his version is smoother and more organic than the original, not less, a calm bass line grounding the wiry guitar, and it's not that hard to imagine their source-remix roles reversed. I haven't gone through the two side-by-side to ascertain for certain whether Holmes altered Bradfield's vocals, but he at least exposes nuances that the album version concealed. The other remix, Mogwai's, dispenses with drums entirely, for the first couple minutes, instead laying Bradfield's voice (bracingly unaltered) over a dreamlike wash of synth textures, and when the rhythm finally materializes, it's less drums than shaped static, as if the song wasn't composed so much as extracted from solar-system radiation. And when the chorus reappears, towards the end, fading out in the distance, of course it can't be drifting to us across a dark, airless void. But then science is sometimes factual at the expense of being true.
Manic Street Preachers: Tsunami #1
The first "Tsunami" single's third track is the video for "A Design for Life" (about which I remember nothing save no particular impulse to watch it again), so we only get one b-side, and it's "Buildings for Dead People", a bizarrely genre-abiding, distortion-frayed blues strut complete with pounding beer-hall piano, an ill-advised space-jam in the middle, and a feint at what turns out to be the very end that momentarily paralyzed me with the fear that they were about to embark on a drum solo. This single was not the best use of my time, but then neither did it waste very much of it.
Manic Street Preachers: Tsunami #2
Incomplete single-sets make me anxious, though, and it would have been especially bad to miss these remixes. I didn't find much of anything to like about Cornelius' album Fantasma, but his collage-style dis- and re-assembly of "Tsunami" is a gizmo tour de force, somehow managing to make it seem like the source material was understated and acoustic, and only energized by this treatment, as if a spindle of John Mellencamp CDs is being jammed through a rock-grinder, shards of music ricocheting from one stereo channel to the other at a speed I'm glad not to be clocking through headphones. Stereolab's Electron Ray Tube mix, on the other hand, subsumes the song into Bakelite neo-lounge coo, a remarkable sleight-of-fader trick, albeit one that causes me to snort once in what isn't exactly amusement, and then look around for something swingable and blunt.
Ultrasound: Best Wishes
Finding UK CD singles by new bands is a lot trickier than ones by established bands, but after a fair amount of effort I've tracked down most of the extraneous output by Ultrasound, who are probably currently my nominee for the year's best new band. The Same Band single, their first, continues to elude me, so I pick up the story with Best Wishes, their first for Nude, released almost thirteen months before their album, Everything Picture, eventually came out. They were disillusioned enough with the title song, by a year later, to leave this full-band version off the album entirely, including a piano duet of it instead, and even then only as an unlisted bonus track. I can understand the decision, I suppose, as the massive choir that wells up in the middle of the song tends to squash any hint of articulation, but in any treatment, this is a remarkable composition, perhaps not a rock ballad at all, at heart, but a lovestruck soliloquy for the poignant pause in the middle of the musical right before her father catches him watching her sleep, and all the fighting starts. "Kurt Russell", on the other hand, is unapologetic rock, grandiose ELP/Moody Blues ostentation mixing with country-rock twang, a Frampton-style voice-box guitar solo, and the prettiest choral call-and-response counterpoint of "Put your hand down my pants" and "We'll place our hands inside your pants" that we're ever likely to hear unless Frank Zappa faked his own death. And "Black Hole" is sleazy, colossal and androgynous, like Brett Anderson fronting Black Sabbath.
Ultrasound: Stay Young #1
I haven't found part two of the set for "Stay Young", which apparently features a version of Neil Young's "Hey, Hey, My, My (Into the Black)", but part one (whose cover shows a crowd of gleeful school kids giving the camera the finger, just in case you miss the thrust of the title track otherwise) has two more of Ultrasound's own songs. "Underwater Love Story" is slow, muffled and sinister, percussion thudding indistinctly, one of Vanessa Best's rare turns at lead mashed against the saturation limit of the tape, so that the more passionately she sings the harder she is to understand. Here too, though, perverse production and distended arrangements aren't nearly enough to hide a melody with ambitions as big as any Oasis song. Even "Can't Say No", the other b-side, a desultory torch-song with sentimental string swells, several lines delivered in bleating French, and some faux-innocent whistling in between verses like Gene Kelly ought to be dancing to it, is a timeless tune masquerading as bleary slow-dance rock that wants you to think it's only pretending to be a timeless tune.
Ultrasound: I'll Show You Mine
But the early songs all pale next to "I'll Show You Mine", the final single released in advance of the album, which if my instincts are correct (not that there's any reason to think they are), will go down in history as one of the rock's most graceful moments, on par with "Kayleigh", "Waiting on a Friend", "More Than a Feeling" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". The EP adds three more non-album songs, the first an episodic ten-minute odyssey called "One Plus One" that starts out like a anthemic rant about pop songs, but then careens off into eerie sci-fi noises and grinding industrial clamor before abruptly snapping back into a gang-vocal reprise of the pop-song part. A basically faithful cover of Pere Ubu's "Final Solution" underscores the vocal resemblance between Andrew Wood and Pere Ubu's David Thomas, as well as Ultrasound's comparable aptitude for blasts of jagged cacophony. And "Lovesick", the fourth track, behind the thin facades of Wood's weird delivery and an obliviously wooden rhythm section, is flowery retro-pop.
Ultrasound: Floodlit World #1
The first part of the "Floodlit World" set adds the week's second regrettable cover, in my opinion, a strained dash through the Beatles' "Getting Better" that fails to notice how out-of-place Ultrasound's stridency sounds, the angelic chorus harmonies notwithstanding. They redeem the disc, though, with the glorious, braying romp "Death of Drag Racer", played enough like a cross between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ziggy Stardust to piss off both.
Ultrasound: Floodlit World #2
The only b-side on part two is a demo of a song called "We Will Find Love", done with just acoustic guitar and Vanessa singing, that is pretty, unadorned, unsullied, and also completely unrecognizable as Ultrasound. The third listed track is actually the CD-ROM video for "I'll Show You Mine", which, while not particularly remarkable on visual merits, does earn some points from me for actually showing Wood, who is a large person, dressed in a billowy white suit and singing the song's proposal directly into the camera without flinching, lending it a plaintive emotional depth where a standard-issue rock-star frame could only have presented it as a coy come-on.
Gay Dad: Joy! #1
The British even take the graphic design of these single series seriously. The Manic Street Preachers have used the same narrow, monochromatic cardboard sleeves for the last sixteen singles, each one a different color, all eight from this album featuring Polaroid photographs on the covers, the band and song name printed in the white space at the bottom of the picture. All the pre-Floodlit World Ultrasound singles featured the same oval logos on the discs themselves, the street scenes shot in the same exaggerated perspective on the digipack covers, the song name emblazoned on a background storefront (the Floodlit World covers drop the street but retain the vanishing point). Gay Dad's six singles use all-white packages except for solid-color discs and text-less abstract color swirls on the front of the booklets. The band and song names are visible through the clear hinge of the tray, but that must have been a little too unobtrusive for the label, who felt obliged to paste larger explanatory stickers on the front of them all, although at least they played along with the typography, color palette and total lack of credits.
The b-sides on the first "Joy" single are actually a bit unobtrusive themselves. "Sly" is a gentle ballad, chirping guitar and rolling piano sweeping into a mildly redemptive chorus, pale and reticent like early Everything but the Girl. "Desire" adds some Seventies stutter and guitar swagger, but only succeeds in sounding like Yes without so many instrumental asides.
Gay Dad: Joy! #2
Things get interesting on part two, though. "Electrogeist" is "Joy!" retooled as an understated robot lullaby, and enters my honor-role of b-side instrumentals alongside Simple Minds' "E55" and the Assembly's "Stop/Start". "Twelve", the other one, is sprawling, introverted and atmospheric, with hints of Spirit of Eden-era Talk Talk, a far remove from Gay Dad's usual irrepressible pop, but a more compelling and self-contained demonstration of their range, to me, than the not-so-pop songs on Leisure Noise.
Gay Dad: To Earth With Love #1
Gay Dad wander furthest from home on the b-sides for the boisterous "To Earth With Love". Part one has the trippy and meandering "US Roach", half the vocals rasped through a bad megaphone, and the equally abstract "51 Pegasus", the first half of which has been blanched so thoroughly that I can't tell whether it used to sound like Radiohead or the Happy Mondays, and the second half of which suddenly turns into placid acoustic jangle.
Gay Dad: To Earth With Love #2
Part two has the impressively restrained "How It Might End", like a Red House Painters song with some free-jazz sax in the middle of it, and the only marginally brighter "Soft Return", a synth-and-guitar instrumental that would fit right into the discovery section of an updating of Rush's 2112. With only "To Earth With Love" for context, these experiments would probably sound incongruous and disconcerting, making this a pretty ill-conceived pair of singles if anybody held out hope that they might function as promotion.
Gay Dad: Oh Jim #1
But if "Joy!", "To Earth With Love" and "Oh Jim" don't convince you to buy Leisure Noise, I think Gay Dad could be forgiven for giving you up as a lost cause. Filling singles with experiments is still a strange tactic even if you suspect only fans are going to buy them, of course, and I'm not sure there's an appreciable overall correlation between people who like the album and people who will like the b-sides, but "Oh Jim" adds two that are as perfect, to me, as anything on the album. The one here on part one is "UVA" (which doesn't seem to be about the University of Virginia, although I don't have any better theories to propose), only slightly more muted than "Oh Jim" itself, and with just as effortless a soaring pop chorus. "Bingo Nation", its companion, is a sneering squawk that reminds me unpleasantly of the last days of EMF, when they stopped sounding like they were having any fun.
Gay Dad: Oh Jim #2
Part two adds a demo version of "To Earth With Love", which sounds even more like the Who than the song did on the album, but the other b-side is my favorite of their entire set, and one I'd gladly trade for another band on the grounds that it sounds like another band. A circling guitar hook, twinkling synth chimes and mysterious voiceovers are joined, after two-and-a-half minutes of painstakingly gradual build-up, by a clattering dance-beat (similar, yet again, to Holmes and Baxter's loops for their MSP remixes), and the song simmers along, making no attempt to develop melody or lyrics to speak of, for another five-and-a-half minutes, mood music for a Run Lola Run in which she walks, instead, and thus has time to realize that Manni is a moron.
3 Colours Red: Beautiful Day #1
Once I realized how much I liked Revolt, the second 3 Colours Red album, I naturally had to go back and buy their singles, too. I'm not sure I see any pattern that differentiates between the songs that made the album and the ones that didn't, but I liked the ones on the album, and I'll take a few more. "God Shape Hole" and "A Fine Time for It" are both pounding punk anthems, guitars blaring, Pete Vuckovic snarling, perhaps a little closer to Pure, the first album, than to the second, but most of the individual songs on either album could be swapped for songs from the other without disturbing the balance much.
3 Colours Red: Beautiful Day #2
Part two gets a choppy remix, by Junkie XL, of the between-albums single "Paralyse", which does nothing to correct the original's blunt, shouty inelegance, but the other b-side, "I Want You", eases off the accelerator for once, and produces an even more believable catharsis, still part Green Day but also parts Christie Front Drive and U2.
3 Colours Red: This Is My Time #1
"All the Fun of the Unfair" abandons metal bombast for the verses, but reinstates it in time for the crushing choruses, accompanied by the martial cadence of a snare drum being mercilessly beaten to death. "If" backs off even farther, trying out a brittle drum-loop and low synth hum on the verses, and upgrading only to booming near-timpani drums on the choruses, like New Order with extra artillery.
3 Colours Red: This Is My Time #2
Part two snaps back into character with the charging, Offspring-esque "www.sad", which displays as little techno-cultural insight as you'd expect from the malformed URL, but except for the dim-witted chorus, I quite like the song. And "Everything", the other b-side, is the matching bookend for "If", ringing piano, big drums, growling bass and synth-string buzz that never resorts to a sprint, maybe not really a sign that 3 Colours Red's range is this wide, but evidence that if you stretch it this far it doesn't break, which is a start.
Stereophonics: The Bartender and the Thief #1
Stereophonics' Performance and Cocktails disappointed me in much the same way that the Manic Street Preachers' This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours did, but I have a lot more Manic Street Preachers material to fall back on than I do Stereophonics songs, so I put a little more pressure on these b-sides to apologize for an underwhelming album. This first one, unfortunately, pairs the seething title song with the album track "She Takes Her Clothes Off", which I thought epitomized the record's lyrical laziness. And the third song is an acoustic Tragically Hip cover, which is serene but no consolation.
Stereophonics: The Bartender and the Thief #2
Part two has three concert recordings from a 1998 Cardiff Castle show, though, and these help considerably. "The Bartender and the Thief" itself is played too fast, which keeps both them and me from dwelling on it. The Word Gets Around single "Traffic" is greeted reverently, the crowd singing along, rapt, and the near-mythic stature the song has assumed justifies its second consecutive appearance on a Stereophonics live EP. And the trenchant "Raymond's Shop", a b-side to begin with, sweeps up the entire arena in its tolerant, understanding embrace. Kelly Jones' voice bounces back off the walls, the returning echoes just audible over his guitar, and I hear the shape of his world as clearly as if it were sonar.
Stereophonics: Just Looking #1
"Just Looking" was another somewhat listless album track I wouldn't have picked to be a single, but I'll take whatever excuse this single needs, as the second track is an inspired juxtaposition titled "Postmen Do Not Great Movie Heroes Make", a careening Stereophonics instrumental accompanying a precise and self-deprecating autobiographical monlogue by an actor named Marco Migliari. Track three, on the other hand, is a thuggish cover of Ray Davies' "Sunny Afternoon" exactly as wrong-headed as the Manic Street Preachers doing the Clash or Ultrasound doing the Beatles.
Stereophonics: Just Looking #2
Part two adds Radio 1 recordings of the first-album tracks "Local Boy in the Photograph" and "Same Size Feet". Both are done semi-unplugged, which I don't normally consider the best treatment for the band, since Kelly Jones' voice has only the one intensity setting and without a wall of amps it's hard for the music to stand up to it, but for this version of "Local Boy" Stuart Cable's drums rise to the challenge, and Kelly and Richard's guitar and bass just keep pace alongside. They slow "Same Size Feet" down just a few beats, and the cymbals crash around Jones' voice like flares, his acoustic guitar evoking the chords of the original as much as producing them. Memorable performances of first-album songs don't necessarily improve my opinion of the second album, but they do reinforce my loyalty to the band, so the next try with new songs will have a better chance.
Stereophonics: Pick a Part That's New #1
The next try is a demo of a new song called "Nice to Be Out", which charms me by using a single one-measure drum loop throughout, lightly augmented by acoustic guitar and slow, fade-away bass. There are too many words for Jones to howl them, and this useful restriction keeps the song on track towards a sort of Dylan-esque storyteller's rap. The other b-side takes "Dylan-esque" too literally, though, and if it were up to me, this cover of "Positively 4th Street" would go in the bin with all the other covers so far.
Stereophonics: Pick a Part That's New #2
Part two tries an acoustic version of "Pick a Part That's New", with more success than not, and follows it with the similarly sedate old-timer's litany "In My Day", but then upstages them both with the first cover from this pile that in my opinion works brilliantly, a harrowing guitar-and-funereal-tambourine version of Nirvana's "Something in the Way", Jones deferring to Kurt's sighing delivery for everything but the title. I'm still waiting for the Manic Street Preachers to do a Nirvana song, linking Richey James and Kurt Cobain directly, but Jones accomplishes most of what I wanted to hear, one of Kurt's most despairing songs stripped of its own social context and brought back to life in somebody else's.
Stereophonics: I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio #1
I actively dislike the bluesy "bar version" of "The Bartender and the Thief", which I probably didn't need another version of to begin with, but part one of the fourth single from Performance and Cocktails adds another cover with virtues, this one a warmly traditional campfire-folk rendition of Neil Young's "The Old Laughing Lady", complete with a little mournful harmonica and a rough semblance of Travis picking.
Stereophonics: I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio #2
And part two, once more, is a live EP. I'm beginning to suspect Jones has misplaced his electric guitars, it's been so long since I've heard them. "I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio" isn't significantly improved by their absence. He relocates them, though, for charged performances of "Pick a Part That's New" and "T-Shirt Suntan", and the prefatory explanation that "Pick a Part That's New" is about going to New York and realizing that you've already seen most of it in movies and on TV lends it a specificity that the lyrics, by themselves, don't have. Although since that kind of lack of detail was my main complaint about the lyrics on Performance and Cocktails, reminding me of it isn't completely wise.
Puressence: All I Want
Between a forgettable video on part one, and a strange double-bill on part two, there's not much substance on the final two singles from last year's second Puressence album, Only Forever, but part one's sole b-side, "Along the Sure", is superb, roiling and extended in distinctive Puressence fashion, but striking a interesting balance between the epic tendencies of "This Feeling" and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and the dense ambience of many of the other album tracks.
Puressence: All I Want / Never Be the Same Again
Puressence singer James Mudriczki's voice lends itself better to acoustic performances than Kelly Jones', though, at least to me, his aching quiver perhaps even a little more comfortable surrounded by chiming acoustic guitars and breathy strings than it is amidst the band's usual din. This version of "All I Want" is quiet and lovely, but "Casting Lazy Shadows", from the first album, turns into practically a different song, and the rapid-fire choruses, which on the album version seem like Mudriczki being buffeted by his accompaniment, here sound more like Miles Hunt, or like hip-hop raised on desolate heather and old Chameleons records.
Brian: Turn Your Lights On
And then, after all these two-part-single series, the collector in me can't decide whether to be pleased or infuriated that Brian, who took six years just to make a second album, and have so far managed only this one single-part CD single from it, nonetheless have my two favorite b-sides from this entire pile. The brief "Under the Floorboards" is buoyant and inexorable, springy bass and unselfconscious hand-claps keeping the slashing guitar from turning a pop song into anything darker. And then, right at the beginning of the chorus of "Cabaret Band", the guitar does seem to wrest the song away, but only for an instant, only until it's flanked by cheery trumpets and a pistoning parade-band drum tattoo, and suddenly the small-town musicians in the song are the Apartments, Madness and Brian Dewan all doing Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk", marching down the corridor from childhood music-lesson rooms to arena stages that we all imagined must exist, as we labored in the former. I've traded a lot of new things I could have learned for these few moments, it's true, but everything we pause to cherish is another shred of knowledge we forego. It's only finite time, and thus corresponding loss, that makes our choices mean anything. In the end, I guess I hope, my catalog of ignorance won't be the evidence brought against me, it will be the proud record of how much the things I gave knowing up for were worth.
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