[14] Neneh Cherry, ‘Spit Three Times’

neneh-cherry-2014

Junior 3 says we should’ve played this at Christmas. She then sings ‘Jingle Bells’ in a vaguely similar tempo, which is odd because there’s nothing festive or jolly about ‘Spit Three Times’, a song that explicitly references the “black dog in the corner”, the manifestation of Neneh Cherry’s depression after the death of her mother. Maybe it’s just that we remember lost ones at this time of year.

Cherry seemed like a lost one for so long. This year’s fantastic Blank Project is her first pure solo album in 17 years – she’s edged in here and there, notably going jazz freakout with The Thing in 2012 – but even a little bruised it was a strong, confident record, helped along by Kieran Hebden and RocketNumberNine. One of my stellar moments of 2014 was interviewing Cherry in a pub in Kensal Rise, where she’d taken time out from a friend’s wake to talk about the new album. That’s a punishing schedule that says a lot about the demands of trying to muscle back into the public eye, but she really wanted to talk about this – something that meant a great deal to her –and even understandably distracted, she was generous and lovely company.

Junior thinks this is “good, in a slooow motion way,” which is how we all described trip-hop in the early 90s. Cherry’s woven into the fabric of all that, as Massive Attack’s babymother in the late-80s, and into the Bristol sound in all its variety as a Rip, Rig & Panic pioneer even earlier. Gareth Sager of RR&P even barged into the interview halfway through, asking to sit on my lap. Old habits die hard.

Advertisements

[8] Polock, ‘Fireworks’

Polock

We pooled our knowledge for this one: “They’re from Spain.” “Spain is a very long time.” Getting a bit meta, Junior then sings Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ over the top and claims Polock’s “one, two, three, four, five” is from a song by a girl about “daydreaming”. So far we don’t think she means Kid Sister, Aretha or Massive Attack.

When she eventually gets to hear Phoenix, she’s going to think they’re Polock’s Gallic shrug, a Versailles knock-off of a Valencia original, because – in the most generous terms – they’re peas in a pod. ‘Fireworks’ is Phoenix distilled into one song, melody coursing through every guitar strum, synth wash and bass drop, the production swaddled in that warm, 70s, AOR blanket. If it wasn’t for Papu Sebastián’s Spanish accent, well, you know now. But the tune is so glorious, you can put it all down to shared musical loves.

In the end, ‘Fireworks” sunny rush has Juniors 1, 2 and 3 premiering an audacious mash-up of the Hokey-Cokey and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

[10] Emeli Sandé, ‘Heaven’

Emeli Sandé

“Will you recognise ME?” Sure. You’re that Shara Nelson, aren’t you?

Bit of satire there, ladeezangennelmen. Junior seems to know all the words to this one already – which is more than we can say about ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ because I never play it, having absolutely KILLED it in 1991. It left a grimy fingerprint on the stereo along with Screamadelica, Eg & Alice’s ‘Indian’, Jesus Loves You’s ‘Bow Down Mister’ and Jellyfish’s Bellybutton. And, let’s face facts, The Milltown Brothers’ debut album.

Junior asks if she’s English, obviously, but of course Sandé couldn’t be less English if she was Neptunian. She’s Scottish and let’s say that she caresses ‘Heaven’ with that peculiar Scots soul passion, ranking alongside Sharleen Spiteri, Lorraine McIntosh, Marti Pellow, Pat Kane, Lulu and, er, Maria McKee. On firmer ground, the beats are terrific and the strings – ahem – sympathetic. That Critics’ Choice BRIT will look lovely in her palm.

[4] Tricky, ‘Aftermath’

Yes, it was released next year, the following year, that is, 1995, but Maxinquaye was a fantastic album, wasn’t it? Weed-killed, paranoid Tricky and Poltergeist girl-a-like Martina weaving hydroponic magic out of a punk-bred hip-hop, yet still managing to sound pop – and resolutely NOT trip-hop. Way too aggressive for that sort of chilled-out entertainment.

‘Aftermath’ was the initial signal after Tricky had fled the increasingly banal Massive Attack, and it’s a dark delight filled with punchy beats and half-inched Japan lyrics. Plays havoc with the PA, too, if you’re confrontational with the bass.

Not in the best frame of mind to welcome the Brizzle apocalypse, Junior sat sulkily in the naughty seat, having shook the muslin rather too pointedly in her little sister’s direction. By the time we reached the false endings of the track, she was up in her room.

[20] Portishead, ‘Sour Times’

1994 looks dark. Maybe it was dropping out of my Masters and taking coy steps into the record industry in forbidding London. Maybe it was the dawn of clog-footed Britpop. Maybe it was four months of Wet Wet Wet.

Or maybe it was the magnificently maudlin Portishead, introducing a refined and bleak take on the Massive Attack template, woefully misplaced on the coffee table yet a mainstay there all the same. It may boast gnomic lyrics, but ‘Sour Times’ is so steeped in woe-is-me and chilly zithers that it seems pretty clear where Beth Gibbons’ head’s at. Still, while the desperate “Nobody loves me” might come on like a tiresome whinge, it’s immediately undercut by “… not like you do”. Relief! She does have someone after all! Not that it sounds like a bed of roses. “After time, the bitter taste… Scattered seed, buried lives…”

Dummy’s a beast of an album, as I told Junior. She mulled it over, mesmerised by the sleeve. “Is it a beast? Is it scary?” Well, yes, it is a bit; it’s not one for the fragile listener. I wondered whether she liked the song and she murmured, “I don’t know.”

[1] Neneh Cherry, ‘Buffalo Stance’

Gigolo. Huh. Sucker.

La Cherry burst on to the scene, all pregnant earth mother horsing around on Top Of The Pops. She was bold, beautiful and the hippest thing since sliced Furious Five. She invented Massive Attack, Sugababes and Betty Boo. She called the unborn girl Tyson, a green light to idiot Beckhams everywhere, and made Bomb The Bass rock the place. Yeah, you’ll remember I explicitly referenced this song right back at No.20. You should’ve known.

Difficult to call, this. I mean, does everyone realise it’s a stone cold genre-busting phat classic? It’s a cool pop record with a surprise around every corner and faultless cred, erm, credentials. Neneh annoyed the pants off people, sure, but that’s what comes of being an outré risqué locomotive.

As for Junior, it shut her up. She was bellowing along the South Circular after Catford, so her mum shoved in the Cherry and it silenced her in seconds. Awe. Or. Or it was so loud, Junior’s mum couldn’t hear the young lady anymore. Either way, result.

[7] Massive Attack, ‘Risingson’

Dense, edgy, sneering, eerie, blank, clammy, creepy, discordant and destructive, ‘Risingson’ has all the ingredients of a top pop tune. It came out quietly in the Summer, took Massive Attack to No.11, their biggest hit at that point, and was all but forgotten by the time of the Mezzanine album a year later. The band themselves remembered its dark hue, but copied it over and over until the album was a bore.

But I’ve moaned about that before.

Junior loves to prick the pomposity, poke fun at the serious. She grinned at ‘Risingson’’s sinister tones, swept all her books off the coffee table and played ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ over the top of it all. The effect was like one of those old children’s music boxes playing in a horror film. Freaked me out; she just stood there laughing.

[16] Neneh Cherry, ‘Manchild’

Neneh Cherry

Trip hop invented here. Should Neneh go up against the wall for paving the way for Morcheeba? Or should we thank her and her cohorts for Blue Lines, Dummy and Maxinquaye? Whatever, she co-wrote this with Massive Attack’s 3D and their producer Cameron McVey, and some arrangement duties were taken on by Nellee Hooper, so an early sign of things to come.

Or, as my big sis put it at the time, it’s a nice song until she tears the towel off her head and then you’ve got this banshee rapping in your face. And she’s PREGNANT. Big sis wasn’t wrong, but I like the rap – I can even perform it for Junior, who remains unmoved. She’s used to seeing her dad act the goat, fortunately. Let’s face it: she’ll have to endure years of it.

Can’t stand that trip hop label, and I’ve only gone and perpetuated it. Needs a new name. Slow hop, maybe. Marijuanabore hop. Was-quite-promising-until-it-got-diluted-by-chancers-bereft-of-ideas-and-concepts-of-melody hop. More?

[1] Massive Attack, ‘Unfinished Sympathy (Paul Oakenfold Mix)’

Shara Nelson

“Forced” by public opinion and common decency to drop the ‘Attack’ half from their name for the duration of the first Gulf War, Massive still managed to score their debut hit, almost as if the publicity did them no harm. Cynicism aside, it would’ve been a travesty if this hadn’t troubled the chart scorers. As it is, it only flirted with the edges of the Top 10 when it surely deserved to climb far higher. This is the beefed-up Oakenfold single mix: it kicks off properly rather than ambling in like the album version. Pretty much everything else is the same. Shara Nelson still rules, her abortive solo career just a dull twinkle in the corner of her eye.

Junior has chickenpox and I lost my job last week, so we have plenty of time to sit here and pick over the song and its band. But we took potshots at the post-Blue Lines output in the 1995 rundown; maybe we’ll just enjoy this record. Junior gives it the paradoxically supportive shake of the head and waves around the cow-on-a-stick. This is no faint praise.

Right, we all know the drama and beauty of this track, so let’s concentrate on the trivial. My mate had Blue Lines with the ‘Attack’ intact, mine just said ‘Massive’. He thought his was the better artefact, but history would prove him wrong, no?

While we muse over these matters, and where to go next with this place, we’re playing Bowie’s Hunky Dory. Junior is applauding the Dame.

[All my vinyl rips seem to have corrupted; Top 11 mp3s to follow… later]

[6] Massive Attack, ‘Protection’

Postscript: all the dance records that get in the charts these days sound like Spagna’s ‘Call Me’. I don’t know if it’s any better in the clubs, because I’m too old and a dad.

Massive Attack redefined a small area of club music. Blue Lines was the pinnacle, and it still holds up today with ease. Its reputation grew over a few years until the expectation surrounding the Protection album was nigh on unbearable; in the end, they couldn’t take the weight. Tricky was reduced to cameos and Mushroom became estranged, some truly awful tracks got past quality control.

This single was a beauty, affecting, hypnotic, metronomic, with the newly fashionable Tracey Thorn to the fore. Junior was spellbound, only breaking free and demo-ing the new cockateel dance towards the end, so it’s a hit with the infant jury.

What happened next? Mezzanine, was a “dark”, “moody” piece beloved of the tastemakers. Yep, dull. A feature length BMW ad soundtrack. Then there was the unlistenable, po-faced tosh of 100th Window. Either excessive marijuana use has muted the muse, or 3-D without his cohorts is a bore. The new single is ok thanks to Terry Callier’s rich voice, but it’s still melodically uninteresting. It’s all been such a disappointment.