Finally, some good news. Trump has lost the election, the R number in Wales is coming down and, most importantly, a vaccine may be ready before Christmas. It seems that somebody has, in the words of the first track on this album, “dreamed up A Perfect Miracle“. Obviously, the negative, pessimistic, gloomy, curmudgeonly part of me thinks “I’ll believe it when I see it”. Which is exactly what was said to me this morning by a fellow dog walker but today was the first time in a long time when I read the paper from front to back because it wasn’t simply a litany of bad news.
I will certainly have a vaccination if it’s offered to me. It was interesting that both times I’ve had a flu vaccination, I’ve felt a little bit ill for a day or two afterwards. Roo was quite unwell this year after her jab. It seems that we have to get a little bit ill at first to make us much better in the long run.
Many years ago I taught at a school where, after a lovely long Summer holiday, we all returned to the first staff meeting of term full of good cheer and optimism until the Headteacher presented us with a diagram of a Sigmoid Curve. He showed us most of the following diagram (but not the very right hand part of it) and explained that this was how the fortunes of the school would fall and rise over the next few years if we were prepared to accept change.
I think that the basic tenet of his argument was that if we wanted things to improve at the school, they would have to get worse first. Over the next fifteen years, he proceeded to manoeuvre experienced teachers out of the school, appoint young, impressionable, compliant people to middle management posts, take the school into special measures, see the intake of the school halve, blame middle management for the underachievement of the students, appoint his wife as a special consultant, introduce draconian measures designed to stifle creativity but lift the school out of special measures, oversee the takeover of the school by an academy chain and finally leave to set up a consultancy on how to improve schools. In order for the school to thrive it would first need to have a vaccination that would hurt.
On a personal level, things became so bad at the school that I left (before it went into special measures – just saying) and got a great job; my dream job really. I avoided that initial slump into special measures by the skin of my teeth. It’s a bit like running to keep fit. I know plenty of people who used to like to go for a run but I could never see the attraction really. The rationale behind running to keep fit seems to be that there’s no gain without pain. By putting yourself through a hellish experience, in the long run, you will benefit. That’s fine unless you’re someone who believes in instant gratification. The only time I ever tormented myself in a regular fitness workout was when Martin and I used to go to the Harlow Sports Centre and torture ourselves with at least half an hour of intense pain. Luckily, it was always followed by four pints of Greene King and some bacon flavoured crisps. No, I could never see the point of making myself miserable so that in a few years time I would reap the benefit. I’m miserable enough without causing myself unnecessary pain. My middle names are “instant” and “gratification”. However, when you work for “the man”, you have to do what you’re told so within a few years I had become Lead Teacher for Maths and Languages. This involved observing French, German and Spanish lessons and giving experienced languages teacher feedback on how their lessons could be improved despite not being able to speak a word of any of these languages. This was all in the name of progress. When, after three years of this, I said that this was a crazy job, I got moved into a much more interesting role and the whole Lead Teacher structure was abandoned. In true political style, the Head said that the Lead Teacher phase was over and we were ready to move on. That was much easier than saying it was a huge mistake.
Spiritualized are a “space-rock” band and was formed by Jason Pierce, who is the main singer, musician and songwriter. Since 1992 they have released eight albums. Their 1997 album, “Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space” was the NME’s album of the year. Before listening to this album, I knew nothing about them and had dismissed them as another British group that I wouldn’t like along with Radiohead, The Stone Roses, Stereophonics and Kasabian. There I was, pretending to know a lot about music and I’ve never listened to any album by any of these groups. I just assumed that Spiritualized produced dance music which I could only appreciate if I was replete with designer drugs. Not for the first time, I realised that I was wrong.
“The Morning After” reminds me of The Modern Lovers, The Velvet Underground and The War On Drugs. It’s up tempo and exciting, it’s got great synthesisers, insistent drums and Jason Pierce sings it using only two different notes. In the song, Jane complains that she is having a problem with the modern world and the only way out is to hang herself. The end of the song features a couple of minutes of manic saxophone. While this song is not particularly typical of the blissed out mood of most of the rest of the album, it shows how a great riff can sustain interest and enjoyment over nearly eight minutes.
“I’m Your Man” is much more laid back and starts with a great chiming guitar before Jason Pierce’s breathless vocals kick in. A brass section builds the mood slowly before really accentuating the chorus. He is promising that he will try hard to be good for his lover but the truth is that if she wants someone who is wasted, loaded, faded or uneducated, then he is the one for her. Looks like she has to ride that Sigmoid Curve before she gets into a relationship that she can be happy in. My advice to her, listening to what he is promising her, would be for her to leave quickly. But what do I know?
“Friends” by The Beach Boys is a great album and includes a song called “Busy Doin’ Nothing”, in which Brian Wilson gives directions on how to get to his house. Fifty years later, Spiritualized repeat this idea with a song called “Here It Comes (The Road) Let’s Go”. For example, “Take the road down to the stream. Be sure to keep your licence clean. Better slow down for the lights. There’s a cop up there who sits up all night. Take the hill in second gear. You can see my house from here.” It’s utterly charming, melodic with a memorable chorus. Thankfully, there’s nothing negative about this song, it’s simply a love song. No sign of needing pain before pleasure. And Nothing Hurt.
“On The Sunshine” is another high tempo garage rock blast which is vaguely reminiscent of classic Oasis with it’s sneering vocals and guitar drenched instrumentation. It’s not absolutely clear what the song is about but there are two interesting couplets: “If youth is wasted on the young/Then wisdom on the old” and “You can always fix tomorrow/What you can’t pull off today“. I like to think that the last of these is a sign that you don’t have to solve every problem straight away and that, in time, all your problems will be solved. The Sigmoid Curve will take care of you. Don’t believe a word of it.