I used to work with Steph and we sometimes go for a dog walk together. We were talking the other day about how we both make lists of things to do and get immense satisfaction from ticking things off when the tasks are completed. The best thing is when I do something which isn’t on the list; I will then add it to the list and immediately tick it off. There’s something satisfying about demonstrating control, I guess.
I think that the completist part of me responds to the same inner motivations. The idea that I have every Neil Young album is very appealing even if he hasn’t released a good new album for nearly twenty years. The fact that he has just released two albums which don’t look very interesting is a problem for me. To complete my collection or not?
I think that the same inner feeling leads to me to examining the personnel that play on every album I get and trying to ascertain whether or not there are any other albums I should explore. It’s all about control and wanting to make sure I’m not missing out. When I learned of a group backing Neil Young in 1969 called Crazy Horse and then I saw they had released their own album, I had to buy it. Who knows, it might be good. (It’s okay).
One of the first times I ever went out for an evening with Roo, was to see a gig by The Blue Aeroplanes. As the Nineties progressed, we must have been to see them at least a dozen times. The first half of each concert was good and the second half confirmed their reputation as Britain’s best live band. There would be up to a dozen people on stage, most of them playing electric guitar with super smooth Gerard Langley exuding cool behind his shades, talking the lyrics into the microphone a la Lou Reed whilst ignoring the mayhem behind him, especially the dancing of Wojtek Dmochowski, a Polish born maniac who took his top off and gyrated around the stage. It was better than it sounds.
The lineup of The Blue Aeroplanes changed constantly and Wikipedia lists ninety people who have played with them at some point. Roo and I nearly bought a T-Shirt at one of the gigs which listed all these people with the title “Are you or have you ever been a member of The Blue Aeroplanes”. Andy McCreeth was for a time but Joe McCarthy never was.
John Langley is Gerard Langley’s brother and he played with The Blue Aeroplanes in most of their incarnations. Patrick Duff and Nick Powell were guest members for one album. Alex Lee played on their best albums. Joe Allen played on two albums. Julian Pransky-Poole never played with The Blue Aeroplanes. All of these people were members of Strangelove when their eponymous third album was released. I only got this album because of The Blue Aeroplanes’ connection and I’m very glad I did because it’s excellent (although they sound nothing like The Blue Aeroplanes).
The lead singer with Strangelove was Patrick Duff and he was spotted busking by David Francolini, the drummer with the psychedelic rock band Leviathan, who assembled the group from various Bristol musicians that he knew. They subsequently appeared at Glastonbury, toured with Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers and Suede and released two albums before recording this album at Abbey Road Studio Two with Paul Corkett producing. He had been involved in recording albums by The Cure, Nick Cave, Bjork, Suede, Jennie DeVoe, Julian Cope and Tori Amos. For a group that very few people remember, they had connections and seemed destined for greater things.
Yesterday I wrote about how drug use can ruin lives. Patrick Duff struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. In an interview with “Melody Maker” in 1994, he hinted at suicidal thoughts and later in the year he fell asleep in the middle of an interview with a journalist from the “New Musical Express”. In 1996 he booked himself into a rehabilitation clinic. He later wrote about this in The Guardian: “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. My personal life was now in tatters – and I decided my last chance was to throw what was left of me into our album. Something was left in me that wanted to do something positive. Thank God“.
The thing I particularly like about this album are the accentuated vocals that are high in the mix. On “Superstar”, the drumming is frantic, there are good harmony vocals, the songs’ dynamics build to a climax and the guitar solos are exciting, but all through every song the vocals dominate.
The second track describes someone who considers himself to be a “Freak”. “I walk the plastic streets just like a monkey, just like a geek. My scraping knuckles bleed. I hear my mummy crying out ‘”he’s a freak'”. In this video, taken from an early Channel Five chat show, Patrick Duff wishes he were Iggy Pop much to Jack Docherty’s annoyance.
“Mona Lisa” is nearly seven minutes long. It starts quietly but seems to quicken as piano and drums kick in. The lyrics describe a dystopian world where everyone is stoned, drunk or shopping but the smile of a girl is the one thing that could save him. It seems like it’s not going to be. “I don’t know about you, man, but I feel that there’s something wrong“. After five minutes, the dynamics change for a mournful reflection asking why she promised him so much before the full band pound it out until, at the end, Patrick Duff cries with anguish that he knows that he doesn’t belong here. It’s scintillating.
My favourite track is “Another Night In” which describes a desperate night staying in because there’s nothing better to do. There are rats in the kitchen, the phone line has been cut, there are bugs crawling all over his bed and even looking through old scapbooks brings no pleasant memories. The phrase has suck with me ever since I first heard it. Any Friday night when I wasn’t in the pub was “Another Night In”. Now every night is another night in.
Strangelove are another band that flirted with greatness and subsequently faded away. After Strangelove split in 1998, Patrick Duff lived in a forest outside Bristol for two years before starting a solo career. Alex Lee joined Suede and also played with Goldfrapp. Nick Powell made some TV and movie soundtracks and Joe Allen, Julian Pransky-Poole and John Langley formed a band called Saturation Point. That’s all from me for now – I’ve got an overwhelming need to listen to some music by Saturation Point, Leviathan or Jennie DeVoe.