Saturday, April 13, 2013

Guest Post: Thank U

This guest post was written by Des, an old school chum of mine. You can read more of his stuff here, and you should, as it’s really quite thought provoking – Rob.

Because I've known the author of this blog a long time, and enjoy antagonising him in ways many and various, I was delighted when he asked if I'd mind writing a guest article for him.

We all have some little dirty musical secrets, I suppose. You know, those bands that you really love but rather hope none of your "cool" friends find out about. So I'll some right out here and say it:

I really like Alanis Morissette.

I'm not alone, of course, according to Wikipedia she has sold over 60 million records worldwide. Unfortunately, it's a case of "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff", as her third album, Jagged Little Pill, sold 33 million of those all by itself. That was a great album, including the most savage break-up song ever (You Oughta Know) but it's a song from her more pensive fourth album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie that I'd like to investigate here.

The song is entitled Thank U, and despite using the letter U instead of spelling "you" I really love it. In the chorus she thanks India and the song was written after a trip to there, and obviously it had a profound effect on Alanis, because these lyrics are (for the most part, at least) equally profound. Or if not profound, then at least they are thematically courageous. The accompanying film clip (not the one I've chosen to use here) portrayed Alanis walking around Los Angeles in the nude. It's a pretty obvious analogy for a song that quite literally strips the singer bare, in an emotional sense, but I guess it got people's attention. I've cited the live version here for the purposes of an equal comparison with the cover version.


Now, as much as I am a fan of this song, and Alanis and her songwriting, I'm a bigger fan of Steven Wilson. I could go on and on about how astonished I have been at so much of his enormous catalogue of work, how he has brought me to tears, how the Porcupine Tree live DVD Anesthetize is the best live recording of any band, ever. But with one of his earlier musical collaborations, Blackfield, he frequently performs a cover of Thank U that holds up extremely well to the original.

Unlike Alanis' version with the full band, Wilson's version relies on an arrangement stripped bare, much as Alanis is in the film clip. His voice, whilst emotively equivalent, requires a stretch to hit the high notes that gives an edge to the lyrics and a depth to the dynamics that isn't otherwise present. His interpretation is more masculine, perhaps more cynical. He changes the third line of the first verse from "How 'bout them transparent dangling carrots" to "How 'bout changing a line 'cause it don't make sense", which is playful, rather than disrespectful. He puts himself into this piece, the Blackfield version is Wilson's reply to Alanis, in her own words. I think it's brilliant, and I prefer it over the original by some margin.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Totes Devo About a Lack of Girly Action

I knew when I started this blog that I would have a downtime (sorry about that), and that I would have repeats of bands. I never expected, though, that my first repeat would be the Rolling Stones: a band that I have never really liked.
Satisfaction is a relatively early hit from them, released in 1965, and also their first number one in the US. According to Wikipedia the song was, in the UK, initially only played on pirate radio stations (along with A Walk in the Black Forest) due to its sexual suggestiveness. And this is what I want to talk about here.

The song's main theme is the singers inability to get off with someone. This is exacerbated by his apparent uncoolness as evidenced by the media he consumes. He doesnt connect with the people on his radio and TV. The suggestion being that perhaps, if he kept in line with the social norms, and smoked the same cigarettes then perhaps, just maybe, he'd be able to get a "girl reaction" (or indeed some "girly action" as I first heard it when I was a kid.)
Here's the thing, though. This is Mick Jagger talking. I doubt he's ever had any trouble getting any girly action, particularly not at this stage of his career. Likewise, fashion was being modeled on what he did. And here's the thing: it's a saucy song. He's breathily singing this over the top of a very sexy and dirty riff. The buildup during the "and I try" bit is almost orgasmic, until he's shouting that he can't get no satisfaction even though it sounds like he just did, right then.
I short, it's incongruous, and I don't think that incongruousness is necessarily ironic or intentional.

Skip forward a few years to 1977 and (with Mick Jagger's permission) Devo release this cover of the song:

Musically, this song is everything that the Stones' version isn't. It's jerky and uncomfortable. It's sung with a manic intensity. And, of course, being Devo it's nerdy. It's a nerd, singing to nerdy music, about being a nerd and not fitting in and not getting any poontang (nerdy or otherwise).
In short, it fits. You can believe that everything Mark Mothersbaugh is singing comes straight from personal experience. He knows what it's like to not fit in, he knows what it's like to not be able to get satisfaction and he definitely knows what it's like to try t-t-t-t-try-try. I'm pretty sure he also actually says girly action.

But, aesthetically, their version simply isn't as good. I like Devo, and I don't like the Rolling Stones (if you offered me tickets to go see one or the other - at any point in history - I wouldn't hesitate for a second to see Devo) so I really don't like saying this, but I prefer the original. Why? I think it's just easier to listen to. The cover is TOO frustrated - too frenetic. It has an edge that puts me off. The original is smooth, rocky and cool. And even though that means it doesn't t match the lyrics, it's still a good song.
For what it's worth I think it would be a much different story if it had horns doing the riff, as Keith Richards first intended.