It was 22 July 1988 and Tribune published my first ever music column ... The Fall, Tom Waits, Talking Heads, Wire ...
By way of introduction to a regular stroll through Musicland, a round-up of the last 12 months seems to be in order. Somewhere in the future 1987-1988 may well go down in a Zimmerman Study Center thesis as the time when the collective eardrums were assaulted by the likes of Bros, Tiffany and countless joke raps from the other side of tat. What next? A Bay City Rollers revival?
Of course, the big names – Springsteen, Dire Straits etc – have gone on consolidating their “mature” period rock – but you don’t want to hear about them … do you?
More interesting by far were The Fall on television covering a Kinks song and appearing in the Smash Hits sticker collection. After “Victoria”’s success you might expect these self-styled outsiders to release an appropriately “accessible” album. But no, The Frenz Experiment, released earlier this year, still has Mark Smith sounding like he’s reporting back from some unspecified reconnaissance mission. With its sixties feel it could be the soundtrack from a cult thriller.
In a similarly esoteric vein, Tom Waits’ musical Frank’s Wild Years has all the brilliance of his last quirky masterpiece, Rain Dogs – and the strangled Sinatra pastiche on “I’ll Take New York” makes it worth every penny.
Staying with America for a while, Talking Heads’ Naked moves them back away from the mid-West of True Stories, picking up some of the African feel of their earlier records and splicing it in with what often sounds suspiciously like the theme from Shaft. Unlike The Style Council’s dodgy attempts at seventies soul, Naked’s strength lies in the tension playing between the horn section and David Byrne’s ever-more-adaptable voice.
On the other hand, the staunch efforts of organisations like WOMAD are starting to shift popular music’s American-European axis. Right now it’s the West African sound that’s strongest. Mali has suddenly put itself on the world music map in a big way. Two very different albums, Salif Keita’s Soro and Mory Kante’s Akwaba Beach show why. And at this year’s WOMAD Festival in August, you can hear another innovative Malian talent, Ali Farka Toure. The WOMAD line-up is extraordinarily diverse – ranging from old post-punk Pere Ubu to a Bulgarian wedding orchestra. No doubt this will bring further slices of world music cake into the record shops come autumn.
Meanwhile, something seems set, with the release of the Substance compilation, for that Joy Division revival we’ve all been waiting for. But a few other seventies faces have been popping up as well. Mick Jones seems on the point of renewed popularity with B.A.D.’s Tighten Up Vol. 88, while old pal Joe Strummer is currently rocking against the rich with The Latino Rockabilly War. But rest assured that the last of the punk idealists are said to be earning but a pittance from The Story of the Clash Vol. 1. Seeing as they’ve crammed just about every decent song they ever recorded onto Vol. 1, Vol. 2 hardly seems a likely future release.
Another band enjoying a revival is Wire. Last seen in Europe working with bands like Belgium’s Front 242, Wire have bounced back into obscurity with two albums in the last nine months. Somehow they’ve managed to keep their eccentric charm without sounding left behind by the younger techno whizz kids. Now part of the Mute records success story (along with Nick Cave, Erasure and Depeche Mode), Wire are only one of a whole batch of independent bands on the up and up: The Darling Buds, McCarthy and The Wedding Present being other notable examples.
And for those who find even The Cure’s gloom thrash on their Kiss Me double album too poppy and lightweight, there’s always the recent releases from Sisters of Mercy and The Jesus and Mary Chain to give consolation.
Then, of course, The Smiths broke up leaving behind Strangeways, Here We Come and Morrissey, the solo artiste – is this man destined to become the Sting of the cardigan set? But even he was beaten to the punch for lyric of the year. That must go to Lloyd Cole for the casual way he drops in, “If you’re looking for an early grave, Mr Anderton will lead you to it”, towards the end of The Commotions’ otherwise mixed bag, Mainstream.
Add all this to a renewed interest in jazz thanks to Andy Sheppard and Courtney Pine, the deserved success of Tracy Chapman and some good honest pop from Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout and Voice of the Beehive and I guess it hasn’t been such a bad year – no matter what sickly goo continues to drool its way up the Top 40. And if you’re looking for a couple of singles to brighten up the summer you couldn’t buy better than The Specials’ update of “Free Nelson Mandela” or “Fiesta” by The Pogues – and dance those Tory third term blues away.
Published in Tribune, 22/7/1988