Whatever Happened To...?
Recent Listening, February 2004
Whatever happened to Mark Kozelek?
Well, after the Red House Painters he released two wacky [sorry, three ­ apparently there’s an impossible-to-find live CD as well] CDs full of acoustic versions of John Denver and AC/DC songs. They were, by the way, marvellous records, though one has to have one’s tongue firmly in cheek to cope with some of the heavy metal lyrics. But now he’s formed a new band, Sun Kil Moon, and Jetset have brought us Ghosts of the Great Highway, their first album.

I want to like this a lot more than I do. The laconic funereal dirge I expected is there ­ and very welcome it is too ­ but the CD is spoilt for me by the endless wig-out of heavy guitars, which are high in the mix and dominate everything. At times Kozelek’s vocals are simply overshadowed and overcome by the great wall of fuzz thrown at the listener. The few songs left unadorned and fragile are great, as is the 14-minute closing epic, ‘Pancho Villa’, which recalls the Red House Painters wonderful first album. I guess Kozelek is trying to marry his heavy metal side with his singersongwriter side; I think a trial separation might work for all cocnerned.

Whatever happened to new wave music?
First of all it became ‘power pop’ and then corporate rock got hold of it, and those jerky, spastic guitars got less intrusive, the singers sang instead of spitting out lyrics and it disappeared into pop. Have a listen to the first XTC album one day and wonder at their deconstructive powers before they became a ‘quirky’ ‘English’ band and disappeared from view. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, well, new wave, it appears, is back if Franz Ferdinand’s CD on Domino is anything to go by. Wonder at their cheesy synthesizer sounds! Marvel at the offset guitars! Tap along with that crisp, knife-edge drumming! Bounce with the bass! There’s all sorts of reference poitns here ­ early Jam, The Vapours, Joe Jackson, a hint of Elvis Costello, the smartarse lyrics of The Boomtown Rats, Martha and the Muffins, and indeed XTC ­ but this transcends pastiche. I love the scribbles of fast guitar at double-tempo, the keyboard intros and middle-eights, the dynamic ebb and flow, the yearning, quirky lyrics, and the vocal scrabble to fit the choruses in. XTC are reborn!

Whatever happened to Richard Pinhas?
Stupid question, you’ve probably never heard if him, have you? Well, way back at the end of the 70s or in the early 80s he nearly broke through to the mainstream with a stunning record called East West, which combined Bowie-esque abstract miniatures with some heavier pieces ­ including a stunning opener which seemed to deal with a space rocket exploding at the point of launch. John Gill, a super music writer who seemed to have gone unnoticed in the rock critic pantheon, raved about it in Sounds, and the world ignored him. It has to be said that further Pinhas investigation revealed a dodgy progrock past [the excruciating Heldon] and some rather dreary solo albums where waves of fluid guitar and feedback went on and on and on... I sold a couple of his albums off ­ though I kept East West ­ and turned my attention to the likes of Wire and This Heat, contemporaries of the time. But through the letterbox this week comes Transition, a new CD by Pinhas on Cuneiform. The CD has five tracks on, each played by a quartet including Pinhas on guitar and electronics, a laptop player, a violin and drums. It’s beautiful stuff, much better than anything of his I’ve heard. Reminscent at times of Frippertronices [or Soundscapes as Fripp now calles them], but with intelligent percussion and violin interweaving and juxtaposing throughout. It’s mesmerising, hypnotic stuff, and I think I’m going to have to find some other recent Pinhas releases to listen to.

Whatever happened to Emma Bunton?
Not a question I’d normally bother myself with, but I’ve found myself more and more enchanted by this ex Spice Girl’s recent singles. Free Me is a sophisticated album of 60s-sounding pop with big Burt Bacharach production, songs full of catchy choruses, horn sections and sultry vocals. Enchanting. Unhip, perhaps, but if this was The High Llamas, Broadcast or St. Etienne, you’d all be rushing out to buy it. Personally, I think this is a lot better...

© 2004 Rupert Loydell