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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Numbers 20-16, "Special Cases"

#20. Miss Kittin "D'you know Frank Sinatra? He's DEAD. Hahahaha."
 20.Frank Sinatra - Miss Kittin & The Hacker
First Album (2001)
So, there's a wee language warning on this one. And a rather large taste one. This rates so highly as a vicious satire on the sheer vacuity of modern celebrity culture. And frankly I'm not sure any song on this list  deals with a more important contemporary issue. If Black Mirror is vital TV for the same reason, this is its vital soundtrack.

The vocal is delivered with such deadpan while the content has such shock value, it's from that fissure that the song derives its power to unsettle. You kind of want a shower after this. Or a time machine. There's a hot tub time machine gag in there somewhere ...

19.Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) - James
Pleased to Meet You (2001)
It's a kind of sad story this one. One of Britain's longest lasting and best loved bands were approaching their 20 year mark when they released what was to become a surprisingly poorly received swansong album, even with the benefit of Brian Eno's production. This was the only single lifted from the album, it charted poorly and the band soon split, faced with a supposed massive unpaid tax bill from Her Majesty.

They deserved a better sendoff. We'll hear more from James in the Top Ninety of The Nineties project (stay tuned), during what was really their heyday, but this song is not a bad way to cap a career. Easily the best track on the album, it combined everything that was great about the band, obtuse lyrics wedded to virally addictive chorus melodies that make the whole pub want to stand up and sing along.

18.No Pussy Blues - Grinderman
Grinderman (2007)
It's always an interesting experience to first encounter a good band live rather than through their singles. I knew what Grinderman were about when making my way to what is still the most fabulous music festival I've ever attended - the sadly sole stranded lonesome Australian All Tomorrow's Parties at Falls Creek.

I was expecting something more Nick Cave-y and less Warren Ellis-y. The band just seemed to love creating NOISE. Clearly they were enjoying themselves and most of all were really enjoying playing together. Tight wouldn't really be the right word, perfectly loose would be closer. But when they played this, this one really shone for the CRAFT of the songwriting, and that's where you now the hand of Mr Cave is at play. Oh, plus the misogyny ...

17.Special Cases - Massive Attack
100th Window (2003)
Here's another band that rightly belongs at the pinnacle of the NINETIES pantheon doing their gamma ray burst from a dying star thing. This album featured songs far more complex than anything the band had previously attempted. This isn't the sparse, catchy triphop that defined them in the previous decades. This album heralded the demise of a singles band - OK they were always much more than that, the demise of that dimension of their work is probably better - and the birth of one of the most important outfits experimenting in musical form still known to us today.

As always with Massive Attack, it's all about the BASS here. Musical bass. Vocal high treble. The vocal sprints hurriedly where the bass just barely creeps. And I say creeps, because it really is haunting, ominous, foreboding ... A tremendous video to boot...

16.Wolf Like Me - TV On The Radio
Return To Cookie Mountain (2006)
The song that launched a career, and revived a million flagging dancefloors. Yet another song that proves the timelessness of the pop formula - create a catchy hook, repeat it ad nauseum, and provide backing that gives it a fitting pedestal.

That's how you go about creating art. You don't need to be able to sing flouncy trills like Beyonce, all the great poets ever born have shown a simple structure in repetition can generate meaning and profundity, and that's what's going on here.

Lycanthropy is normally a kind of corny affectation in popular culture. Not here.