Indie rock’s finest have been this way before, of course. In 1982 New Order signalled their intent to move beyond the confines of taut post-punk by introducing sequencers and DMX drum machines into their songs. A generation of would-be guitar bands followed suit, casting off their greatcoats, donning baggy clothing and heading for the dance floor.
Whether Arcade Fire’s swerve towards the disco will prompt today’s indie rockers to follow suit remains to be seen but the decidedly Abba-esque title track from the Canadian group’s fifth album is a thing of joy that shows there’s more to life than guitar, bass and drums.
Of course, this being Arcade Fire, there’s also an arty critique of modern life going on beneath the dance moves – Everything Now targets consumerism (“’Til every room in my house/Is filled with s*** I couldn’t live without”) while Signs of Life bridles at “Those cool kids stuck in the past, apartments of cigarette ash”. More troubling is Creature Comfort which addresses self-harm and suicide (“God make me famous/If you can’t just make it painless”) then there’s the two versions of Infinite Content – one a punky rush, the other a swooning alt-country croon.
There are lulls – Peter Pan’s middling attempt at dub, Chemistry’s jarring mismatch of rocksteady and glam – but thankfully they’re outweighed by the poptastic grooves of Electric Blue and Put Your Money On Me (the album’s second collaboration with Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, after the title track) and the woozy sadness of We Don’t Deserve Love.
An album to divide their audience perhaps, but a necessary artistic move all the same.
“Don’t poke the bear in the wood,” wails Paul Draper enigmatically in the opening track of his first solo album since the dissolution of his band Mansun in 2003.
Having spent a decade or so behind the scenes, writing songs for others including The Anchoress and Skin of Skunk Anansie, it seems Draper, now 46, has a lot to get off his chest.
“More Facebook friends don’t make me happy,” he notes in Things People Want, Spooky Action’s most overtly poppy moment that recalls his former band at the catchiest.
“Where there’s money there’s treason,” he observes in Jealousy Is a Powerful Emotion, perhaps hinting at the reasons behind Mansun’s collapse, adding: “Everybody’s got a weakness” in friends Make The Worst Enemies and “Until you’ve been where I’ve been you can’t change your understanding” in You Don’t Really Know Someone Until You Fall Out With Them.
Treading a line between prog and pop, Spooky Action makes for stirring listening, with plenty of keyboard stabs and drones offset by some soaring guitar riffs. Draper’s in good voice too – indeed this whole album sounds like a form of catharsis and the exorcism of a few old ghosts.
He’ll be doing an instore appearance at Jumbo Records in the Merrion Centre on August 14 at 6pm followed by a gig at Brudenell Social Club on September 14.
Brian Eno would go on to create a musical genre all of his own – ambient – as well as using his production skills to turn U2 and Coldplay into all-conquering rock behemoths but he first made his reputation after leaving Roxy Music on a quartet of solo albums that would have a lasting influence on art rock.
Here Come The Warm Jets combines spiky riffs with experimental drones, macabre wit and surprisingly touching moments such as the mass chorale on On Some Far Away Beach. Eno enlisted 16 musicians, including members of King Crimson Hawkwind and Pink Fairies because he thought they’d be incompatible musically. The results suggest otherwise.
Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) is a loose concept album whose meaning may be obscure – something to do with espionage and Mao’s Chinese revolution – but it signalled the first use of Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards with their instructions intended to aid the creative process. More focused than its predecessor, it contains Back in Judy’s Jungle and Third Uncle, later covered by goth rockers Bauhaus.
Another Green World is not without strains of art rock but it’s mainly notable for its largely instrumental second half – especially the title track, Little Fishes and Spirits Drifting – which hint at the direction Eno would later follow on ambient classics such as Music For Airports and Apollo.
Finally there’s Before and After Science which came out in 1977, amid his work with David Bowie. It was to be Eno’s last rock album under his own name until Another Day on Earth in 2005 but fans of Talking Heads’ worldly punk-funk will relish tracks such as Kurt’s Rejoinder and King’s Lead Hat. Eno would, of course, go on to helm their albums More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light.
Remastered at 45rpm on heavyweight vinyl and house in deluxe gatefold sleeves, these albums stand as vivid testimony to one of music’s great innovators.
Manchester’s considerable contribution to British pop, rock and dance music in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties is celebrated in a superbly compiled seven-CD box set from Cherry Red Records.
Starting with the spit-flecked punk of the Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and The Nosebleeds, the caustic wit of John Cooper Clarke, Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias’ Status Quo-baiting Heads Down, No Nonsense, Mindless Boogie, Magazine’s imperious The Light Pours Out of Me, the ragamuffin Frantic Elevators (featuring a young Mick Hucknall) and Joy Division’s doomy She’s Lost Control, the collection begins to get more diverse on disc two, with The Fall’s wiry Rowche Rumble rubbing shoulders with the Durutti Column’s decidedly more delicate guitar patterns; there’s a welcome reminder of the DIY charms of Blue Orchids, the power pop of The Freshies’ I’m in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk, the innovative grooves of A Certain Ratio and gothic power of The Chameleons.
Disc three sees New Order’s first foray into poppier territory with Temptation, Carmel’s indie-meets-jazz Sugar Daddy, Nico’s unlikely but magnificently gloomy hook-up with The Invisible Girls, Quando Quango and Section 25’s appropriation of New York dance music, Stockholm Monster’s wonderfully busy All At Once and the punk fury of The Membranes.
By disc four we’re into fully-fledged Eighties indie, with a nascent James, Easterhouse, The Bodines and Inspiral Carpets; disc five launches straight in with Happy Mondays’ anthemic 24 Hour Party People, and includes one of the early musings of John Bramwell, later of I Am Kloot but then known as Johnny Dangerously, the scratchy joys of King of the Slums and Barry Adamson’s widescreen solo debut, The Man With The Golden Arm. It draws to a close with A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray, foreshadowing the Hacienda dance revolution.
By CD six, Madchester is in full flow led by the Stone Roses, with the likes of Paris Angels, The Mock Turtles, The High and Northside in hot pursuit. Moss Side’s MC Tunes hitches up with 808 State and there’s a cracking reminder of
the Brit-hop of the Ruthless Rap Assassins, featuring Kermit, later of Black Grape.
Disc seven traces the roots of Britpop, with contributions from The Charlatans and a young Oasis alongside World of Twist’s Sons of the Stage, a favourite of Liam Gallagher’s. There’s also highly danceable grooves from 808 State, Lionrock and the Chemical Brothers, Intastella’s collaboration with Shaun Ryder, and Sub Sub who would later morph into Doves.
Some may lament the absence of The Smiths – arguably the most influential Manchester band of them all – but there is Morrissey’s magnificent Last of the International Playboys and Johnny Marr’s hook up with Bernard Sumner on one of Electronic’s finest moments, Getting Away With It.
As brilliant a retrospective as any indie fan could wish for.