A Hymn To The Risk Takers
Shop Around … part 45 
I was fortunate enough this week to see Saint Etienne perform a live soundtrack to their new film, What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? This was followed by a great set of songs, mainly from the group’s recent Tales From Turnpike House. Now I’m not the world’s best person to comment on these performances, but I was really struck how such a long-established group quietly sticks its neck out and takes all sorts of ridiculous risks, often without the world really noticing.

That if anything is the recurring motif for this year. The strangest pop has come from the oddest of places. I’m thinking specifically of Tales From Turnpike House itself, Broadcast’s Tender Buttons, Annie, Jamie Lidell, the solo set from Moloko’s Roisin Murphy. These are great pop sets, but there is a pulsing sense of strangeness pulsing through the recordings which makes them both immediately appealing and lingeringly lovely. That is, there’s plenty to come back to.

To this list I would add Nicolette’s Life Loves Us. It’s the best record around, but in danger of being buried alive. I have to confess I had forgotten about Nicolette. It’s the best part of ten years since her Talkin’ Loud set Let No One Live Rent Free In Your Head after all. That was such a wonderful record, and one that seemed to capture the spirit of its age. Yet there’s been so little since.

Nicolette’s new set, Life Loves Us, surpasses even the wildest of optimistic expectations, if we’d been wise enough to have them. It’s an incredibly articulate and adventurous set, underpinned by the liveliest beats and bass you’ll have heard in a long time. While old friends like Plaid pass through, this is an incredibly independent set. It’s on her own label, she’s taken control of most of the programming, engineering, mixing and producing too. And most of all her words will remind you why it’s good to be alive, and be your own person.

I’m not sure where Nicolette’s been. I’m not sure it matters. It’s worth reminding ourselves where she’s come from though. We may love her 'No Government' and the attendant Talkin’ Loud set, or her collaborations with Massive Attack on Protection. Perhaps more interesting, though, are her roots with the Shut Up And Dance organisation. It is to be hoped that SUAD’s contribution as pioneers of the breakbeat era is fully recognised, and that the label’s early releases are considered as precious texts. Certainly the Ragga Twin’s Reggae Owes Me Money set sounds astonishing still, and 'Hooligan 69' still stirs the blood in a way few pop songs can. Though from this distant perspective maybe 'Wipe The Needle', 'Illegal Gunshot', and 'The Homeless Problem' are more apt and hint at how the world’s not changed too much for the better in the intervening 15 years or so.
How available are the old SUAD releases now? It might be a good time for a comprehensive and sympathetic salvage operation. After all, so much is available. I was surprised, for example, to see on a recent visit to Fopp that DVDs of Louise Brookes in the silent classic Pandora’s Box were being practically given away. When I was a young punk the book on Louise, Lulu In Hollywood, was something of a religious text, and the iconic black bob coloured many a dream, as one pretended to possess a familiarity with Pandora’s Box, and the sultry Louise.

Also on display in Fopp were an array of Throbbing Gristle reissues for a fiver a throw. There is some sort of irony that these supposed wreckers of civilisation should have their back catalogue on sale along side that of Jackson Browne and Rod Stewart. But why not? After all, I’d aver that every home should have at least two Throbbing Gristle sets on its shelves. And, anyway, if this year’s strangest pop has come from some surprising places, then people will be pleasantly surprised too to find that Throbbing Gristle also recorded some of the sweetest pop moments, like 'United' and 'Adrenaline', which are scattered among its back pages.

Cabaret Voltaire, too, fall into the same category, where they too can be viewed as industrial/electronic explorers, but their early recordings (widely and cheaply available on Mute’s Grey Area like the TG reissues) contain all sorts of gorgeous pop moments, like the single 'Silent Command'. Incidentally, if anyone has caught up with the recently salvaged Eric Random recordings, then it is imperative to explore the Pressure Company recording, with Eric on guitar with Cabaret Voltaire live in Sheffield in 1982. The guitar playing is exquisite, and again if history is to be rewritten then people should laugh at Television, and hold this particular recording up as an example of how pop can be.

© 2005 John Carney