Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Erasure – The Innocents: 21 years on

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Amazingly it’s the 21st anniversary of the release of Erasure’s The Innocents, with Phantom Bride re-released as an EP and a remastered album to celebrate.

It’s one of my favourite albums and a high watermark in synth pop – though its release was pretty much the last hurrah for the scene – and its anniversary coincides with a mini series on BBC4 on electronic music.

The Innocents is probably one of the first albums I ever bought and, in that way that early albums do, it really has the ability to take me back to where I was at the time. Like any new album bought in those days, it was listened to again and again.

It’s a class of music that’s always been easy to sneer at, but as is mentioned in the BBC4 documentary Synth Britannia, it’s basically soul music on electronic instruments.

It’s an album stripped of a lot of the outrageous campery, posturing and pretension in similar material in the early half of the decade.

Still, it takes some of the social aspects of Depeche Mode, the pop sensibilities of the Pet Shop Boys and the hot-cold duality of Clarke versus a romantic chanteuse – and in doing so creates something greater than the sum of those parts.

Vince Clarke’s driving beats, clever chord changes and impeccable pop hooks contrast with Andy Bell’s soaring, slightly gospel voice – itself juxtaposed with the bleakness of the lyrics.

It’s all bedsits, heartbreak and unrequited love, but there’s a funny symbiosis between the grim and uplifting in most of the songs.

Hallowed Ground, Ship of Fools and Phantom Bride are as downbeat as pop music ever gets; Witch in the Ditch is a strange off-beat carnivale effort’ but overlooked tunes like Yahoo and Weight of the World are well-crafted sweet little songs that match soulful melodies with synth production.

Chains of Love and A Little Respect mine rich gospel seams to stunning effect, but it’s hard to imagine such songs in the charts these days.

Later Erasure albums failed to recapture the same delicate mix between hope and despair, joy and melancholy, Clarke and Bell – and seemed unbalanced as a result.

Inevitably The Innocents was a product of its time, the album is coated in a grimy late 80s melancholy, but it’s aged extremely well and puts the recent synth revival firmly in its place.

That it’s still relevant and fresh is testament to the quality of a duo so often overlooked in British music. The Innocents isn’t just Erasure’s best, it’s one of the best in the entire genre.

Written by Robin Brown

October 24th, 2009 at 12:13 am

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

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For anyone unaware, Radiohead have released a new single called Harry Patch (In Memory Of). Patch, the last remaining British soldier from WWI, died recently at the age of 111.

Rather uniquely for a new single, and for Radio 4, the new song received its first public airing on the BBC radio station this week on the Today programme.

It’s a remarkable, melancholy, eerie and oddly redemptive listen, but the radio interview with Patch – Thom Yorke’s inspiration for the lyrics – are important to hear too.

Delivered in a wheezing whisper, Patch’s distaste for the Great War, and the concept of war itself, are evident.

Having survived Passchendaele, where so many of his friends died, for 80 years Patch did not talk about his experiences, nor did he watch war films.

Only when he realised that the number of Tommies was declining did he speak of his experiences, and he was withering of any notions of glory.

Like some sort of mage from the distant past, Patch’s hoarse prediction of the next war is chilling and affecting.

His is the voice of a man who has seen history play itself out twice before, and grimly, wearily, expects it to happen again.

“They never learn,” he whispers. “The Third World War will be chemical. I don’t want to see it.”

It’s easy to see why Yorke was so affected by the interview. He uses portions of the text from the 2005 segment with Patch verbatim in the music. And it’s easy to see why Yorke thought Patch’s passing worthy of note.

Harry Patch’s words on the utter futility and horror of war are a warning from the past, the like of which we will never hear again. The words of a man recalling one of the most monumental and devastating events in human history – from almost 100 years ago.

It seems impossible, and possibly wrong, to even try to critique the music in light of its subject matter, and wider significance. Fittingly it’s understated, soft and subtle. Patch’s words speak for themselves and Johnny Greenwood’s orchestral score elegiac.

I can’t really explain how affected I’ve been by the music, and by the interview with Patch. I only hope they make other people feel the same way, or I fear Patch’s words will be lost amid the ceremony and noise of a state funeral and accompanying bluster.

“People…the younger generation, can’t image what it’s like. You can’t describe it.”

• All proceeds from the Radiohead track go to the British Legion. It’s a quid well spent. Download here.

Written by Robin Brown

August 6th, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Music,People

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The Secret Chamillionaire

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Another daft ‘What if…?’ mock up.

Chamillionaire about to donate £5,000 to a youth club in Swansea

Chamillionaire about to donate £5,000 to a youth club in Swansea

Written by Robin Brown

April 20th, 2009 at 10:46 pm