[The Mail On Sunday, 2003]
THE COMPLETE WORKS
WHEN I WAS fifteen (critic sucks teeth back in and gestures with cane from bath chair), adolescent angst was voiced by whingeing poltroons who droned and jangled from somewhere inside big grey overcoats. Today the kids have got whingeing poltroons covered in piercings, tattooes and lurid hair dye, emitting a noise that can induce sterility in a Kodiak grizzly bear at 500 paces. Lucky little beggars.
If I were fifteen now, I'd think Linkin Park were the business. As it is, I can only admire them as the slickest and sonically most impressive of the rap-metal crossbreeds. Their sound is hard, clear and massive, and better crafted than a cursory listen might suggest (their sleevenotes document a meticulous recording process, reminiscent of sample-rock harbingers The Young Gods; instead of playing music, they assemble fragments.) They might be a match for the great Alice In Chains, if they didn't lack that band's black lyrical density and molten harmonies.
Linkin Park are abundantly gloomy, but it's the gloom of a teenage slumber pit, rather than a long, dark night of the soul. Meteora offers a baker's dozen of joyless pocket tantrums, each one to do with being confused, misunderstood and above all, disregarded. “I won't be ignored,” screams vocalist Chester Bennington, a sentiment with which many parents have been forcibly acquainted. Chester screams a lot. He's very good at it. “You've going to listen to me, like it or not.” The notion that affluent white Western youngsters constitute a section of the world's unheard is far the most entertaining aspect of this record. But of course, I Just Don't Understand.
Another thing that used to go on when I was fifteen: shows like Daniel Bedingfield's. I've not encountered anything so unironically mid Eighties since the mid-Eighties. Bedingfield comes across like the three original members of Bros rolled into one, and weighs about the same. He's an unlikely pop star, constructed as he is from an assortment of cuboid blocks. If there were more than one of him, he'd be stackable.
This is worth mentioning because fellows such as Bedingfield, who spend solitary youths at the controls of a mini-mixing desk, generally look like half-starved ferrets. Bedingfield's CD shelves were evidently filled not with the traditional bedroom studio staples - Sonic Youth, Love, Tim Buckley - but with Michael Jackson, Level 42 and Brother Beyond.
The home-made hit Gotta Get Thru This proved that the lad has music-making talent. As a performer, however, he is by no means a natural, and relies on sheer determination. Picture a delivery driver hypnotized into believing he is Luther Vandross. That said, his stage persona owes much to Mr Motivator: “I want to see some movement, people! Up on your feet! Hands in the air!”
When you're too gifted for Butlins and too cheesy for Tesco's deli counter, there's one place to go. Vegas awaits. It's just a matter of time.
To anyone with a bent for dub reggae, Lee “Scratch” Perry's is a talismanic name. Only King Tubby and Prince Far I rank as highly in the imaginative use of dub's primary tools. Bass. Echo. Space you could go for a stroll in, and bring your dog (or, in Perry's case, anything that might be described as barking.) As a musical innovator, Perry deserves mention alongside Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, not least because he carries before him the reputation of a grade-A nutter - a reputation he does nothing to counter at the Brighton Dome.
“Happy birt'day to you, London,” he caws at the assembled Brightonians, in his unique sandpapery whine. Bearing his customary Rasta “crown” (really a peaked cap festooned with sequins and tinfoil), an American varsity jacket, and sundry mystical baggage slung around his neck and shoulders, he resembles an elderly, befuddled tourist who just climbed off the charabanc from Pluto.
Tonight Perry demonstrates little of his famed psychedelic wizardry, but toasts over an efficient three-piece band, mixed by UK dub luminary Mad Professor. Of the pair, Mad Professor is the sane one. In other cultures, Perry would be considered a shaman or witchdoctor. Among Rastafarians, he might claim the status of a seer. Here, were he not on stage, he would doubtless be perched on a street corner, frightening old ladies and toddlers with foaming diatribes about the number of the beast.
Perry veers wildly between stretches of mortifying awfulness and of genuine, spellbinding power. He rasps through something akin, in a grisly way, to a ballad. Then he breaks into a glorious dub variation on The Staple Singers' gospel-funk classic, If You're Ready. Attempting to follow Perry's train of thought is like tracking fireflies across a minefield on a unicycle. It cannot end well. Best just to let him ramble. “I had a dream,” he proclaims. How could he tell?
“The Queen is on my heel,” cackles Perry. “And Bush is in Shepherd's Bush.” He denounces, semi-intelligibly, the war in Iraq - although, as that nation is home to the Rastas' despised Babylon, you'd think he'd be in favour of it. “Don't fire de gun,” he warns. “Don't light de bum.” Sage advice, that. Should you choose to watch Perry's upcoming stint at London's Jazz Cafe, I can safely promise that you will not have seen anything quite like him.
Few bands call to mind both The Velvet Underground and Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd. Spiritualized all but perfected that combination on their first album, Lazer Guided Melodies, a bona fide masterpiece. Since then, they've been engaged largely in repetition. Fortunately, repetition is largely what they're about - they structure their increasingly grandiose work with mathematical formalism. Sometimes it surges with energy and emotion; sometimes it feels hollow.
A new album is due in June. Meanwhile, The Complete Works casts back to the band's early years. This two-CD rarities collection contains a fair bit of melodramatic tat, and more versions of the same songs than even the most ardent fan could want, But it also features some blinding tracks - notably the band's 1990 debut single, Anyway That You Want Me, and their two fabulously and explicitly druggy EPs, Medication and Electric Mainline. Some of the best rock'n'roll of the Nineties is to be found on here, alongside some of the most overblown. Which is understandable; if Spiritualized didn't reach for the former, they wouldn't wind up with the latter.
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