Wednesday, 29 October 2008


They're both, you know, highly enjoyable records. I, you know, immensely enjoy listening to them both. But the one on the left is exactly like an AC/DC record; a band whose career has been making the same album fifteen times, and who may bless their lucky stars that it happens to be a good album. And the one on the right is supple, varied, beautiful, often powerful and haunting, and best of all sounds like nothing else (not even too much like the previous Elbow albums).

So what was I thinking? I was thinking: 'they're both great; but let's be honest The Seldom Seen Kid is a much more grown-up record than Black Ice.'

And then I rebethought: wait a minute. Am I really using my critical vocabulary correctly? Do I really believe that 'grown-up' is synonymous with sophisticated, and 'infantile' with unsophisticated? ... Because, when ye get right down to it, that's the difference between the two: grown-up Elb-and-oh singing about divorces and being a lapsed Catholic from Bury; and superannuated adolescents AC/DC singing about 'rock and roll trains' (rock and roll is amongst other things a euphemism for sex, you know) 'blowing your mind' (they mean receiving oral sex, I think) and 'dancing all night' (bless! the very idea ... at your ages ... etc). But the more I think about it the more convinced I become that it's a mistake to equate sophistication with chronological age. People tend to become less, not more, sophisticated as they get older: more deeply embedded in their habtius, more world-weary, more monotonous. It is children who are the real sophisticates, capable of inflections and nuance and intensities of emotion most adults have long left behind. And so it proves with these two records; the one a brilliant, almost magnificent, account of the unsophistication of life as a grown-up, the other a sheerly wonderful homage to the sophistication of guitar riffs.

Also one especially striking lyric on the Elbow (from 'An Audience with the Pope': the line in question is '...and wait for the jaw-bell to ring'; made me think of the knockout punch) turns out to be a mishearing. It's just 'doorbell' sung in a Bury accent.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

(BB)C Dickens, Little Dorrit

The Andrew Davies version of Little Dorrit starts tomorrow on BBC 1 (Sunday 26th October); it'll be interesting to see how they do it. There's boy-man Matthew Macfadyen, above, in the Arthur Clenham role (a little too young, maybe?): and L.D. herself is being played by Claire Foy, about whom I know nothing. Have a look at the whole Radio Times cast picture gallery, if you like: not a bad set of actors, although I'd say Anton Lesser is wrong for Merdle (who is described in the book more like a charisma-free blonder Boris Johnson); and I feel a bit sorry for Ruth Jones, whose audition must have gone something like: 'yes, we need someone who used to be attractive when she was much younger, but now she's all blowsy and ugly and absurd ... hey, you'd be perfect!' Perhaps acting is not the profession to go into if your feelings are easily hurt.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Oasis, Dig Out Your Own Soul (2008)

I bought the latest Oasis album without any great hope, or enthusiasm; and both states of negative expectation were thoroughly confirmed by my listen. Choose any of the following words: rubbish, tired, old, derivative (autoderivative), feeble, uninspired, uninspiring. Chooose, if you like, all of them. The up-tempo tracks are ploddy; the down-tempo ballads are almost comically desultory and dirge-like. The whole album is bad, except for one song. And this is the puzzle for me, because the more I listen to that one song the more I come to think it's the best song Oasis have ever recorded.

The song is 'The Shock of the Lightning' (Here's the video for it on You Tube. If I knew how to embed that video in the post, I surely would). It stands out, on first listen, simply because it's got more oomph than the other, geriatric tracks, and although it sounds (like every Oasis song) exactly like an Oasis song, it sounds like one of the better Oasis songs: wall of sound guitar drone, that repeated grinding chordal progression from 6th to 7th to tonic, Liam's voice (surely one of the best rock-and-roll voices since Rod Stewart). But then, listening to it again, it started to get under my skin.

Why? The song's appeal is not immediately obvious. I like the squeeze-box way the thing wheezes from major to minor and back; and I like the way that the title is not the phrase repeated over and over in the chorus, but one once-uttered line (though the production, putting a flare of reverb on Liam's enunciation of 'shock', is a little egregious). But, that said, it's a song about shagging, as most Oasis songs are, and doesn't bring much to the party in terms of human aesthetic interrogations of sexuality. 'Come in, come out, come in, come out, tonight' really does just describe the trajectory of Noel's (or Liam's) cock: 'I'm out of control but I'm tied up tight' really does tell us about Liam's (or Noel's) tame sexual gameplaying; 'there's a hole in the ground into which I'm fallin', so God speed to the sound of the pounding' really is as vaginally-objectifying and thrusting as it sounds.

I think what has snagged my liking is its canny (or inadvertent: I don't care which) balancing of contraries. The titular 'shock of the lightning' speaks to immediacy, to the coup de foudre of sexual passion, the urgency reproduced in the music. But the chorus of the song unspools a different sense of time: drawlingly-mutating from 'it's all in my mind' to the repeated

All in good time
All in good time
All in good time

That's a nicely Ashberyan phrase: speaking both to the laddish 'having a good time' altogetherness of Oasis's core fan appeal, and to a less direct sense of the need for patience; or time as something that comes slowly to fruiton not all at once. 'Love,' the song insists, 'is a time machine'. An effectively sfnal keynote. I would listen to it again. I can't say that of the rest of the album.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio

As to whether this can be called a review, given that I've read none of the novels written by this year's Nobel Literature Laureate, I'm unsure. What do you call a review of a book you haven't read? An unreadview? A reunview?

Extra Baxter

Go here to read a very interesting four-way discussion of Flood, 'involving' (as it says) 'me, Karen Burnham, Adam Roberts and Graham Sleight.' That last statement is a good characterisation of the discussion, although it is necessary in this forum to replace the name 'Adam Roberts' with the name 'Niall Harrison'.