Almost 10 years ago I witnessed a Calgary band called Women (actually four young guys) wipe the floor with an Atlanta band called Deerhunter (same) at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shortly after, Women’s guitarist passed away in his sleep, the band broke up and two members formed the nucleus of a new band, the unfortunately named Viet Cong (also guys, none of them Vietnamese), who sounded pretty similar to Women to be honest, although with maybe a little extra edge.Read more
Category: On Music (page 1 of 3)
But, I’ve been working away in the background and have now re-jigged the first four of my reviews of Chris de Burgh’s lyrical output in the 1970s: Far Beyond These Castle Walls . . . (1974), Spanish Train and Other Stories (1975), At the End of a Perfect Day (1977) and Crusader (1979).
Specifically, I’ve added record covers, quotes and links to the lyrics, in order to make the reviews (even) easier to digest.
Right now I’m also working on a review of de Burgh’s first 1980s collection, Eastern Wind.
More on that shortly!
At the time, unfortunately, I knew nothing about shoegazing, Ride or UK indie. I was a passionate R.E.M. fan, and had just been (ahem) blown away by Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. I’m not too proud to admit that I was listening to commercial FM radio, too. I’m also happy to admit that, given I was living in Australia at the time, the soundtrack to my summer of 1989/1990 was heavily tinged with execrable shit like Noiseworks. It’s okay, we can all love on from that.
Then again, in my defence, by 1989 I was already into Australian indie. Ratcat, the Hummingbirds – this stuff was the actual soundtrack to my first summer out of high school. Ratcat’s That Ain’t Bad EP was brilliant. The Hummingbirds’ loveBUZZ album, named after the song Nirvana covered on Bleach, was also fantastic: 14 singles in a row, really, all with that R.E.M.-style Rickenbacker jangle that was so hot at the time (and no surprises that it sounded like R.E.M., given the album was produced by Mitch Easter).
Despite my Sydney indie credibility, however, I was in for a shock when I started university and fell in with a bunch of guys who were not only fully aware of British indie but were also apparently lifetime subscribers to New Musical Express. Through them, I discovered that there was a whole world of indie beyond R.E.M. (and let’s face it, by 1990, R.E.M. were slightly removed from indie anyway). The first time I heard the Pixies I almost shat myself. Sonic Youth had a similar effect. But the biggest impact was reserved for the shining lights of UK indie: My Bloody Valentine, the afore-mentioned Ride, the Charlatans, the Wedding Present, and on and on and on.
A little while ago, during one of my many trips down Amnesia Lane, I decided to create a list of all the great UK indie bands from the early 1990s. The problem was, I wasn’t ever an expert at all, and I’d never lived in the UK. Who needs Wikipedia, I reasoned, when I have a whole bunch of friends on Facebook who were all alive at the time, and are all now going through more-or-less the same stages of sentimentality and nostalgia? So, I opened up the comments on a Facebook post, and look at what we came up with together.
Faux-Norman Invasion-era period film actor and troubadour Chris de Burgh impressed [some and turned off others] in 1977 with his eerie [some would even say ghastly third LP] At the End of a Perfect Day, despite its strongest tracks, the ethereal ‘Broken Wings’ and the astonishingly bent ‘In a Country Churchyard (Let Your Love Shine On)’ suggesting a pop heart beating beneath the shards of tape-looped noise, the cracked mirrors in the studio.
Whatever your opinion of de Burgh’s shambolic (perhaps, shamanic) stylings, the positive discipline of a punishing South African touring schedule, undertaken to promote Spanish Train and Other Stories in 1975, had hardened de Burgh’s trademark soaring and uplifting songwriting, and the results are here for all to see on this two years overdue but surprisingly-upbeat and quirky follow-up, Crusader (released in Europe together with a live disc, featuring the (even then) legendary faux-jazz re-workings of ‘Carry on (reprise)’ and ‘I Had The Love In My Eyes’).
It’s hard to make out the individual contributions of the 50 hand-chosen session musicians and distinguished members of the public chosen to accompany de Burgh on the magnificent anti-war screed that is the album’s title track: ‘Crusader’, a four-part medley that is only two or three minutes too long.
“What do I do next?” said the bishop to the priest,
“I have spent my whole life waiting, preparing for the feast,
And now you say Jerusalem has fallen and is lost,
The king of heathen Saracen has seized the holy cross”
Then the priest said “Oh my bishop, we must put them to the sword,
For God in all His mercy will find a just reward,
For the noblemen and sinners, and knights of ready hand,
Who will be the Lord’s Crusader, send word through all the land,
Jerusalem is lost,
Jerusalem is lost,
Jerusalem is lost.”
Chris de Burgh, ‘Crusader’
The same criticism could also be levelled at the arch-balladeer’s take on gospel, the irreparably retarded ‘You And Me’, a totally unnecessary cover of a completely different poem.
The time has come for me to take my bows and leave the stage,
But I feel I’m just beginning,
There’s so many things I want to say before I go,
But I’ll be back, to sing again;
And I’ll lead you through the ancient halls and stories of the past,
And the many ways of loving,
And when all is said and done, there’s only you and me,
You and me . . .
Chris de Burgh, ‘You and Me’
De Burgh, by now a notably outrageous fencer and paramour of other people’s girlfriends, not to mention a quasi-Internet media personality, continues to wear his pantomime influences proudly, opening the album with the Norman Invasion-Era spy-by-numbers ‘Carry On’, introducing a triumphant Mead vibe to ‘Just In Time’, before launching into slow-burner ‘The Devil’s Eye’.
Oh side by side,
We will cross that great divide,
‘Cos nothing’s gonna save you now from the Devil’s eye!
Oh nothing’s gonna save you now from the Devil’s eye . . .
Chris de Burgh, ‘The Devil’s Eye’
Elsewhere the beautiful [ambient soundscapes of] ‘The Battlefield’ and ‘Finale’, in the epic conclusion to ‘Crusader’, demonstrate de Burgh’s affinity with his troubadour folk-pop Romantic [tape-hiss] heroes. In particular, one hears on this trumped-up, rejected by Broadway (later rumoured to have been optioned by Peter Jackson (even later proven to be just a four part rock-opera)) the unmistakable influence of The Deletles, whose collective and altogether 1978 album Send Me Jah defied even its own expectations.
The melodrama is occasionally stifling—see ‘Old Fashioned People’ for a maudlin and pitifully Baroque example—but must be seen in the context of de Burgh’s fragmented (and often heart-rending) poetic constructions of self in his lyrics.
Old-fashioned people, they never know why,
The world is changing day to day,
It moves so fast and leaves them in another time
Chris de Burgh, ‘Old-fashioned People’
Medieval ghost rock for the post 70s stadium masses? We would hear for ourselves de Burgh’s answers in the astonishing trilogy of albums he was about to release.
I speak, naturally, of Eastern Wind, The Getaway and Man On the Line.
Of course, fans of this late-era bombastic traveller with three guitar strings might also want to check out the lyrics to this album, which de Burgh, in his wisdom, has now ceased to make available on his website free of charge.
In the spirit of loving kindness, here’s a brief tutorial entitled “How to write a Deerhunter review in 300 words or less”. I’ll be showing you how to write not just a 100 word record review but also a 200, and a 300 word record review.
For those of you wishing to write a 400 or 500 word record review the instructions are even simpler: just add an extra hundie or two hundie review chunk, to taste.
. . . any chance you’d release some of those haunting lyrics as a book of poetry? They read just as well as they’re sung. Hold that thought! I want 10% of the royalties!!!
Joseph Cotter from Cork, Ireland, 25 April 2007
Chris’ response was interesting for its glancing reference to the poetic craft:
I am not sure that song writing lyrics when written on a page are as anywhere near as good as when they are accompanied by a melody. Because that’s what they are designed for. And they might look a bit banal or indeed dull if not accompanied by the music that they have been set to.
Chris de Burgh, 25 April 2007
While it has always been my determination to demonstrate that the lyrical output of de Burgh in the 1970s and early 1980s was nothing short of prodigious, and amounts to a cultural phenomena, I am sure even the casual fan of Chris would agree that even in these ‘Norman-era’ years Chris has his moments, and then he has other moments which he will later regret.
And these regrets compound upon one another, here, at the end of his apprenticeship as a poet, from which he will emerge, but two years later, as the first of his great historical guises: that of the Crusader. Onwards …
While, as ever, there’s never enough time to explore these issues deeply, can I just say that I’ll be happy to hear from anyone who has time for Chris, as JDG and Tom obviously do, and that while we may differ in our opinions about what may be his best song or album, what inevitably brings us closer together is our admiration for his songwriting abilities, not to mention the fact that Chris has now been made a goodwill ambassador for the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina against Malnutrition (PDF).
Yes, folks, just in case you didn’t hear it the first time, it’s all about respect.