Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ray Reagan & the Rayguns (2009)


You may recall Stan Batcow from such acts as the Membranes, Howl in the Typewriter, Ceramic Hobs, Blunt Instrument, and the Def-A-Kators, but if not, here's another unfamiliar pie in which he's had fingers, a band which played gigs, garnered fancy-pants record company interest, and accordingly went into the studio at some point during the eighties; at which point the tale fizzles into either thin air or is absorbed into one of the other four-million bands in which the Batcow has been involved over the years. The story behind this collection is that it comprises those studio recordings, arguably those vintage studio recordings, dug out of a box in the attic and finally whipped into some sort of shape.

I have to admit, upon first listen it sounded a lot like just another Pumf record. Stan has a fairly distinctive sound and songwriting style, which I suppose can be a hindrance as much as a recommendation; but the strengths of the album really begin to come through after a couple of spins, once it's obvious that this isn't quite just another Pumf release. I think the point at which it clicked for me was where I suddenly realised how much Ray Reagan & the Rayguns remind me of Hawkwind - particularly on the chugging Dopamine, although a faintly crusty festival vibe informs the enterprise as a whole. I'd say it reminds me of the Levellers in places, except I never liked the Levellers, and this is better, and presumably predates them by a couple of years; which seems particularly pronounced on Salt And Pepper, a thoroughly breezy account of getting raided by the pigs, country tinged, and so fucking catchy you'd swear you'd heard it somewhere before.

After about the fifth play it occurs to me that this might even be the best thing ever released on the Pumf label. It seems to represent all the strengths of those involved, not least being Stan Batcow as Ray Reagan, woven into something much bigger than the sum of its bits, and which doesn't quite sound like anything else after all. It's of its time, I suppose, with touches of pub rock and maybe the Stranglers somewhere in there, and even passages of cod reggae which manage to not sound fucking ridiculous; and there's a wonderful Hammond organ, or something of that kind. With a bigger, more expensive production - maybe from Clive Langer or whoever it was used to work on those Elvis Costello albums - this could have been massive, which I suppose potentially makes it a lost classic.

I sometimes wonder if Stan Batcow doesn't release too much, spreading himself too thin in certain respects, so it's nice to be reminded of what he can come up with when he's firing on all four cylinders.

On sale here, although you may have to root around for a bit.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Toyah - The Blue Meaning (1980)


I fancied Toyah something rotten when I was at school*, knowing her mainly as the punky presenter of Look! Hear!, a Birmingham based yoots programme featuring weekly performances by local acts such as the Neon Hearts, Ruby Turner, and others. Then, following her turning up on an episode of Shoestring, I realised she also had a band so I made my own Toyah badge using Humbrol enamel paints, copying the logo out of Smash Hits. Then, when I finally heard the actual music, it was okay, but somehow wasn't quite so amazing as I felt certain it would be. I mean, it was all right, but, well - you know...

I never heard The Blue Meaning at the time, having drifted away by that point, so I'm only just hearing it now, and incredibly - against all expectation - a couple of plays in and it's actually pretty fucking great. To backtrack, I picked it up as part of a double disc package along with Sheep Farming in Barnet, the first album, but not really an album seeing as it was just a collection of EPs and singles. Sheep Farming in Barnet was mostly the stuff I heard which left me underwhelmed, even at the age of fourteen. Neon Womb was great of course, and Danced and Our Movie, but once you're past those, it all blends into one and the individual tracks really don't work together as an album. She has a great voice, but nevertheless rather than sing she started out overacting to the music, like a sexier William Shatner - whoops, whistles, comedy John Major voices, all manner of funny noises - the kind of sounds which traditionally accompany spooky expressions of surprise made as though trying to convince the audience that you really are subject to the influence of dark forces. Similarly the music of that first handful of discs seems to be some prog band's idea of punk, or at least - cough cough - new wave; so the enterprise steers perilously close to resembling rock opera. I know that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing every single time...

Anyway, I guess once she'd got it out of her system with the stuff on Sheep Farming, whatever it was, The Blue Meaning really comes together as sounding very much like an album rather than a series of weird squeaking noises bearing no particular relation to each other. She's reigned in the overacting, developed a convincingly pseudo-operatic bellow, and the music rocks pretty darn hard, like it really wishes it had been produced by Tony Visconti. In fact I had to look at the sleeve to check that it wasn't, and I can easily imagine Next Day-era Bowie vocalising over some of this stuff. It's not punk, and never really was, and as has been pointed out from time to time, lyrically it's mostly pseudo-mystical horseshit about pyramids, crystal balls, and sphinxes: it's a self-involved teenage girl spending five hours putting on her make-up, making it look as weird as possible just so she can pull a spooky face and make you think she's deep and mysterious; but fuck it - you know all those Beach Boys records? They were just about cars and girls, most of them! Honest! If you've somehow mistaken The Blue Meaning for St. Paul's letters to the Galatians, then you're probably missing the point. I know how these days we're all busily declaring that everything from the eighties was tittersomely brilliant, at least now that we don't actually have to dress up in any of that shit, but The Blue Meaning is a real cracker of a debut album.

*: I recently discovered that the children's show Teletubbies was filmed on the farm upon which I grew up as a child, and of course Toyah was the voice of Teletubbies. I suppose, it might be a coincidence.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

David Bowie - No Plan (2017)


What's the possibility of my being able to write anything useful or meaningful about this? Minimal, I'd say, but fuck it - let's see what comes out...

It's been a year since he went and it still feels wrong, or at least unnecessarily weird - not least with that whole idea of Bowie having been the glue holding the universe together, which is why it's all turned to shit since and we've got fucking Wotsits Hitler running the show; and listening to No Plan facilitates my appreciation of how his being gorn still doesn't seem to make sense. Here are four tracks recorded while he was in the process of dying - as are we all, I suppose - one from
Blackstar, and three I've never heard, which I guess must be the last things he recorded and which failed to appear during his lifetime. The new material feels very much part of the album and the direction it took, sombre without necessarily sounding depressive, overtly jazzy, and somehow seeming both luxuriously lush and yet a fucking tough listen at the same time.

I don't want to get too bogged down in what it all means, because that's why you listen to the thing so there probably isn't anything I can say which is worth saying; but the crucial point is that, like Blackstar, the record does its job, and does it exceptionally well, and at least as well as any of Bowie's former glories. When I Met You is, I suppose, the last new Bowie song I will ever hear, and it feels like he knew it in so much as that it's kind of up, almost as though our man had grown tired of cataloguing the minutiae of his own impending demise.

See - I told you it'd be horseshit.

Just listen to the record.