Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The House of Love Live at The BBC

In 1988, I got my first CD player; purchased my first Creation Records compilations; got further into the British music press; and read a review of "Christine" by The House of Love.

As was typical at that time given the sorry state of alternative radio in this area (WHFS was not totally horrible [just predictable] and the University of Maryland's station was fine but just on a weak signal), I usually read something in either NME or Melody Maker first and then sought out the import CD in Georgetown or at Tower Records in D.C. (I think there was only one in this area in 1988).

The reviews of the first self-titled House of Love album were ecstatic to say the least and yet not entirely overblown; "Christine" remains one of my favorite singles of all time and it never ceases to thrill me when it first starts -- exactly the feedback that I liked in The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Never Understand" only polished into something resembling an Echo and the Bunnymen track like "Bring On The Dancing Horses" (or something similar).

The band seemed to be aiming for a large sound without the bombast of U2 or the cod-Doors poses of McCulloch and co..

And when I saw the band live in early 1990, around the time that my beloved Record Co-Op was closing, they were perfect, filling the old 9:30 Club with waves of sound that prefigured the shoegazer bands already filling small halls in England.

So, that's all simply an introduction to the recently released live album The House of Love: Live at the BBC which collects some early 1990's-era live performances from the band.

While I could easily fault the track listing -- no "Destroy The Heart"!?! -- the album reminds me of why I once thought this band was going to be so popular.

They weren't.

But I know that I'm not alone in remembering a time when hearing "I Don't Know Why I Love You" or "Never" on WHFS felt like hearing U2's "I Will Follow" for the first time.

You can download the album from iTunes here.

You can order the CD from Amazon here.

And there's probably a download available from them as well.

Here's a clip of the band from "back in the day" doing "I Don't Know Why I Love You" which should have been as big as U2's "Desire" but wasn't.

The House of Love "I Don't Know Why I Love You" (live)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Duel of Fists with Ti Lung

Duel of Fists

Okay, finally a Cheng Cheh film that I liked! This 1971 Thai boxing spectacle stars Ti Lung and David Chiang as half-brothers unaware of the other's existence. David is Xan Fe, a successful architect in Hong Kong -- which doesn't stop him from having an impromptu practice brawl in his work clothes with his old buddies early in the film -- whose dying father recounts details about his Thai wife and Xan Fe's brother.

Ti Lung is Wanlie, a successful boxer in Thailand who seems to not be quite so popular with the local gangsters who control the sport.

Xan Fe arrives in Thailand in a truly 1970's outfit, steps off the plane, checks out the area, and almost immediately hooks up with the Liza Minnelli-like, Lau Laan Ying, billed as Pawana in the titles.

Xan Fe only knows that his brother has an anchor tattoo and, even though he sees Ti Lung's Wanlie in the ring, the boxer's arm is always conveniently hidden. There's a death in the ring, Ti Lung fights Ku Feng, and so on.

What plot there is is secondary to the action, let's be honest. And the modern setting for some reason made Cheng Cheh's typical bloody machismic action seem more palatable. Or maybe it's just that David Chiang and Ti Lung are infinitely more charismatic on screen than Jimmy Wang-Yu is (the guy I've seen in a few Cheng Cheh period pieces)?

Ching Li is on-hand to look concerned while wearing Laurie Partridge-style mini-skirts.

But despite the two female stars, the real fashion horse of the film of David Chiang; he really looks the dashing leading man here. And his outfit at the very end of the film with the cowboy hat and red-and-white jumpsuit-thing made me think of The Gap Band's "Party Train" video from the early 1980's.

Action is choreographed by Lau Kar-Leung and the emphasis is on speed and brutality here as opposed to the more acrobatic moves in some other films the legend has worked on.

The final battle is a blast as the two stars pummel their way through backlot sets meant to look like Thai waterfront houses and a gangster's lair. The moment when the stars pause to look at the picture of their mother is like something out of a comic book when the heroes spout-off quips in the heat of a fistfight.

Look for Cheng Miu and Yeung Chi Hing in small parts.

This an early Shaw DVD re-issue and, as expected, the picture is a bit grainy and/or blurry in spots with a few frame jumps as well. The DVD is letterboxed -- looked like this thing was shot in widescreen to begin with?

Extras include the usual Shaw IVL/Celestial DVD features as well as a 17-minute interview (in English) with actor Shaun Tam, Ti Lung's son. It's not like Ti Lung is dead so the interview is a bit of a puzzle but interesting nonetheless.

UPDATED! Check out Brian's thorough review here which I neglected to link to when I posted this.

The DVD is out-of-print but you can order the VCD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Little Dragon Maiden with Leslie Cheung

Little Dragon Maiden

I have to admit that I was almost totally confused with what was happening in 1983's Little Dragon Maiden; the film is not as disjointed as The Battle Wizard but it's close.

In what other film can you see a giant bird-like costumed creature kill a snake and then feed it to a fatigued Leslie Cheung? Said bird creature looking about as realistic as Big Bird from TV's "Sesame Street"!

Leslie plays a young scholar (usually in a bad wig, by the way), who wanders the martial arts world and gets grief from each school or clan that he encounters. The frog guy -- some old man who hops like a frog and kills a dog for lunch -- and a heavily made-up Ku Feng in another scene -- all of these people have it out for Leslie due to something his father did.

He takes solace in the tomb-like chambers of the title character, played by Mary Jean Reimer who reminded me a bit of Joey Wong, Leslie's costar from the classic A Chinese Ghost Story, made just a few years after this film.

Leslie eventually takes the Dragon Maiden back to her family, endures more scorn for spending the night with her despite the fact that the lovers are not yet married, and then meets the bird creature and finds a magical sword in order to defeat the villain seconds before the final title cards roll.

Shaw heavyweight Chen Kuan-Tai looks a bit embarrassed in most of his scenes and I think viewers can understand why.

The film might have appealed to kids in 1983 but I think most kids -- even in 1983 -- would have laughed at the sight of the bird-creature costume. And the film is not quite lighthearted enough to keep kids entertained for 92 minutes.

There are some nice real locations used in the film and the final duel, though quick, is well staged with a few camera angles that seemed to slightly prefigure scenes in Ashes of Time.

The DVD is an early one in the Shaw re-issue series and the film should be anamorphic widescreen given the year of its release but it's not; the DVD is a hard letterbox. The usual extras are included as well.

For Leslie completists only (does that make me one now that I sat through this?).

You can order Little Dragon Maiden on DVD here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mourning Two Icons of My Youth

I'm 42 so it's impossible for me to not be a little bit saddened by the passing of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett.

Forget all of the jokes and simply look at Michael's career from 1969 until 1987, when Bad was released.

It seemed as if everyone owned Thriller in 1983 (the album was released in late 1982, though). And while I like parts of that album a great deal, I have to admit that 1980's Off The Wall is probably my favorite MJ album. "Rock with You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" still sound ahead of their time -- like the best New Order tracks. Seriously.

I was lucky enough to see The Jackson 5 live at the Shady Grove Theater in Maryland when I was a kid. I'm guessing that I was about 7 at the time (1974) as my memories of the event are hazy -- I do vaguely remember a kind of mid-concert comedy segment where Janet Jackson came out and did a little jokey routine with Michael. This was only a few years before Janet would appear on TV's "Good Times" in a very memorable child abuse plot line.

And I've been told by my parents that I got a wicked nosebleed during the concert (I had horrible allergies and assorted health problems when I was a kid)!

And before he popularized the Moonwalk dance move, Michael did this weird robotic thing in the instrumental breakdown in the amazing "Dancing Machine". I can remember playing that track on the album quite a bit and forcing my parents and grandparents to watch me try to do the robot dance.

Quite a sight I can assure you!

Despite me growing out of Michael Jackson, every so often something would pop up that would catch my ear: "This Place Hotel"("Heartbreak Hotel") and "Lovely One" from 1980's Triumph album from The Jacksons and then even something as throwaway as "Smooth Criminal" from Bad.

When I force myself to forget MJ's personal troubles and mistakes -- and his freakish appearance -- and just listen to any of these tracks, I am immediately a happy person.

As for Farrah, I was a bit too young to be smitten when her first poster came out and she was on "Charlie's Angels". I watched the show but just didn't get it.

By 1978, I was a bit obsessed with Suzanne Sommers since "Three's Company" was such a big hit and by 1979 when I was 12 I started to appreciate Farrah's charms.

I may be alone in saying this but I have more fond memories of this poster from 1978 or 1979 (?) than I do of her more famous one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Puffy Album, Bring It!

I received my copy of the newest Puffy (or Puffy AmiYumi as they are sometimes called in the West) album yesterday and I can say that Bring It is one of the duo's most consistent releases in some time.

I had already heard the singles "Hiyori Hime" and "My Story" (as well as their associated flipsides), and I had heard a version of the duo's cover of Avril Lavigne's "All Because of You", but I can now report that the rest of the tracks on this 48-minute long release are just as punchy -- power pop with one or two jazzier numbers as well!

I didn't see Andy Sturmer's name on this release but his former Jellyfish cohort Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (also a Morrissey collaborator of late!) is behind at least one cut.

And while it would have been easier to buy this as a download (assuming iTunes adds it here in the States), I'm glad I ordered the deluxe edition as it had a 54-minute live concert DVD with it from Puffy's 2005 tour stop in San Francisco!

You can order that version here.

"Wedding Bell" (live)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Valley of the Fangs with Li Ching

Valley of the Fangs

A rousing, stunning mini-masterpiece delivered with flair by Korean director Jeong Chang Hwa, this 1970 film is a perfect wuxia romp. The director had success with Lo Lieh in 1972's King Boxer (sometimes retitled Five Fingers of Death in the West) shortly after this and his skill at staging is really on display here. Camera angles, zooms, and compelling compositions abound in this fast moving tale of the delivery of an imperial shield across enemy lands in the hopes of freeing an innocent man.

With most of these films, the plot device is not as important as the action and the same is true here; the setup takes a few minutes and then things kick in as a mother and daughter begin their trek and the heroic Lo Lieh shows up at the important moments to help out.

Li Ching may not get to fight very much in this film but she certainly portrays the innocent with a lot of conviction. The role of a daughter on the run with her mother through hostile territory is an easy one for the baby-faced queen of the Shaw studio and the actress' yearning expression only makes her seem more vulnerable.

Her best scene is perhaps the one with Fan Mei Sheng, the Battle-Axe from The Shaw Brothers classic, The Water Margin, here playing a villain -- surprise, surprise! As the mother-and-daughter duo pose as travelling street musicians at an inn, Fan Mei Sheng badgers the girl into singing to entertain the drinking patrons. What starts as a typical inn scene -- the sort before a big fight breaks out -- turns into something funny as the burly Fan Mei Sheng leads Li Ching in the type of song he would like to hear.

And what was I saying earlier about Lo Lieh being better at playing villains rather than heroes? I think I made a mistake as the actor does a fantastic job in this film. If Jimmy Wang-Yu is a killing machine with the emphasis on the word machine, Lo Lieh here is simply an unstoppable weapon of justice. As the actor soars on foot after the fleeing villain, his sword is carried down-and-behind him and the actor leans into the wind like an eagle. The evil character played by Wong Hap runs in terror, casting backwards glances at his fate personified by Lo Lieh.

Praise might also be due to action choreographer Lau Kar-Leung as well as each major set piece takes place in an entirely different locale, adding to the momentum of the film as a whole.

A thrilling scene in another inn with the mother and daughter taking shelter from an oppressive rain storm is a highlight. The scene echoes Kurosawa and Hollywood Westerns as the tension ramps up higher and higher. The arrival of Lo Lieh in a doorway with the camera zooming up to his face, shadowed by the brow of his hat, echoes any number of similar scenes in American Westerns -- one half expects John Wayne to be in that doorway given the style of the scene!

And a following sword fight in the mud pits of a nearby kiln/construction site is another marvel. The scene feels natural and entirely different from the other duels earlier in the picture with the filmmakers using a real set as opposed to a studio backlot.

A cousin of Li Ching's has a weird sequence where he appears to be staggering off to his death after battle only to reappear later in a convenient moment near the end. The improbability of that appearance is overshadowed by that near-death scene where the actor staggers up a grassy hillside as a heavenly choir sings on the soundtrack. Sure it *is* a bit cheesy but as the actor then stumbles in profile across a beach at sunset (or sunrise?), it's clear that the director is attempting to do something with the visuals of this film that many of his peers at the time never tried.

The final duel between Lo Lieh and Wong Hap is an almost wordless duel on a desolate plain -- again a real locale and not a backlot.

I also loved how this film had a good five minutes after the conclusion of the action to show us how the characters finally said their goodbyes; too many of these Shaw wuxia genre pics have the final title card play out almost immediately after the final death-blow is delivered.

Here we see how -- like the heroes in disparate works such as The Road Warrior and Yojimbo and The Searchers -- the hero is needed by the civilized world but inevitably must find his own way alone in the uncivilized wilderness.

A real surprise, Valley of the Fangs was as enjoyable for me as many of the Cheng Pei-Pei wuxia films I watched a few years ago.

You can order Valley of the Fangs on DVD here.

[Pictures: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Swordswomen Three

Swordswomen Three

This 1970 tale of two rival martial arts schools is a thoroughly average wuxia flick made all the more claustrophobic by the fact that every action scene seems to take place in the same two sets in one of the two schools!

The three sisters are played by Essie Lin Chia, Violet Pan, and Shen Yi and are up against the villain played by Lo Lieh. Lo Lieh *is* better at playing villains rather than heroes and here he brings a nice menace to an underwritten role. It doesn't hurt that his character has supernaturally powerful Qi and can move things around like a Jedi Knight.

Lee Wan Chung makes a great villain as well and the two schools fight over a magical sword (not very original).

The best sequences for me involved Essie Lin Chia who brought a kind of Chin Ping feistyness to her role. Seems the bad guys have a scarred and disfigured killer in their ranks called "Shadowless" who is an expert with throwing stars. In the course of one of the many skirmishes, Essie disguises herself as the hooded killer.

After that, she is captured and about to be executed by the Three Bullies but manages to charm them out of the deed with talk of their leader's treachery in the martial arts world (as well as promises of marrying the lead bully). It sounds more exciting than it is folks.

Look for Shaw regulars Yeung Chi Hing and Wong Chung Shun as well as Chang Yi as a pretty bland hero.

The final battle in a bamboo field at night is a nice touch and in this scene the hand of action choreographer Lau Kar-Leung is pretty obvious.

Finally the sisters come together to fulfill the promise of the title, dispatching Lo Lieh with three bamboo shafts.

If only the rest of the film had been as interesting.

You can order Swordswomen Three on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Twelve Gold Medallions

The Twelve Gold Medallions

Wow, if only all wuxia films were like this! A thoroughly entertaining, clever, and fast-paced adventure with a chivalrous Yueh Hua out to intercept the traitorous Cheng Miu before he delivers 12 gold medallions to prevent the success of an opposition force to invading Tartar warriors in the Sung Dynasty (whew!).

Add to this, Cheng Miu's one daughter, played superbly by a feisty (as always) Chin Ping who's engaged to Yueh Hua's hero.

The film is a swift series of skirmishes between various clans and kung fu schools in the "martial arts world" and if it sometimes seems a bit confusing, the action keeps a viewer entertained.

Chin Ping has a wonderful fight scene that borders on a Chinese acrobatic routine with the Bingling Trio of warriors led by Fan Mei Sheng, the Battle-Axe from The Shaw Brothers classic, The Water Margin. The sequence is admittedly not as fancy as the wire fu that is routine nowadays but the limitations of the era must have made the filmmakers exercise a bit more invention and wit as the scene is every bit as exciting and funny as anything I've seen in any recent pseudo-wuxia film -- even if it's clearly a dummy of Chin Ping's body being thrown about by Fan Mei Sheng!

The actress' other great scene is when she's been rescued by Yueh Hua and thinks that he's broken the engagement due to finding a broken jade bracelet that she had given him. As he attempts to heal the poison-dart-infirmed Chin Ping, the stoic Yueh Hua makes some comment about throwing away a handkerchief she had given him and leaves the room.

Chin Ping has an almost stereotypical Chin Ping-kind-of-moment where she spins into a minor tempter tantrum -- dunking a pillow in a water dish -- and starts to wreck the room only to stop as the music swells and she sees the handkerchief jutting out from Yueh Hua's cloak.

The look that passes over Chin Ping's face is sublime and illustrates precisely why these Shaw wuxia films are so good: it's not just action and not just complicated plots but a combination of all of the elements of excellent character-driven historical action. Without solid context and strong characters, a film like this *is* nothing more than "people flying and fighting."

This film was so much fun that I don't think I can sit through another Wang-Yu bloodfest after this!

It's worth noting the famous cast and crew: Director Ching Gong is the father of famous director/action choreographer, Ching Siu-Tung; various villains are assayed by Wong Chung Shun, Yeung Chi Hing, and Ku Feng; and the kindly Goo Man Chung has the climatic battle with Chin Ping's father that prefigures Obi-Wan Kenobi battling Darth Vader in Star Wars (well, it seemed to for this child of the 1970's, at least!).

The DVD is one of the early Shaw re-issues and, as such, it's not anamorphic -- not sure if it could have been -- but it looked less blurry than some of those early releases (it is a 1970 film after all). And there is an original trailer, the re-issue trailer, as well as a 12-minute interview with cinematographer Arthur Wong about the Shaw style of shooting as well as a 19-minute interview with Taiwanese actress Chiao Chiao who played Chin Ping's sister in the film.

(Chiao Chiao mentions her marriage to the ex-husband of Laam Dai and *I think* she said that it was Wong Chung Shun who played the villainous Golden Whip in this film.)

You can order The Twelve Gold Medallions on DVD here.

[Photos: YesAsia/Celestial Pictures]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Twin Swords

The Twin Swords

Finally, a movie where Jimmy Wang-Yu didn't bore me! In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the young Wang-Yu is cast against type here as a frequently crying young swordsman, Gui Wu, whose wife, Lianzhu (Chin Ping), has been kidnapped by the clan at the Red Lotus Temple.

The film opens with a breathless bit of action at the same temple where the pair's escape is aided by the mysterious Scarlet Maid (Ivy Ling-Po), a kind of fairy/swordswoman.

In a series of scrapes, Lianzhu is captured and imprisoned in the Temple and its up to her assorted family members to mount a rescue.

Interestingly, Tien Feng is here not cast as a villain but as the family patriarch. Look for a young Lo Lieh as Lianzhu's former ardent admirer before her marriage to Wang-Yu's character. He joins the rescue attempt as does the youngest member of the Gan Fortress: Xiaoling, played by Fung Bo-Bo. The 12-year-old has one great scene in the Red Lotus compound where she uses the Fish Intestine (?) blade on some baddies, hacking off one guy's forearm in a kind of Hammer Studios moment of gore.

The 90-minute film is really a series of setpieces and yet it was a lot of fun. I think Cheng Cheh worked on this film in some capacity but it has none of his ponderous machismo in it. Despite some bits of blood, the film is more like the fun parts of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom than anything else.

Look for Ku Feng, and Come Drink with Me villain, Chen Hung Lieh, as one of the villains at the Temple. And I think I spotted Lee Wan Chung in there as well.

The film moves fast and a handful of songs recap the events like a Greek chorus. Ivy Ling-Po didn't have quite enough to do but she dominates the scenes she's in.

You can order The Twin Swords on DVD here.

Shek Kin in Rivals of Kung Fu

Rivals of Kung Fu

I'm trying to think of something interesting to write about Rivals of Kung Fu since Shek Kin just died.

And the best thing that I can say is that the late actor could do this sort of villain role in his sleep.

The film largely consists of the kindly Wong Fei Hung (Shut Chung Tin, who I just saw in the silly film, The Battle Wizard, where he played one of the many villains in the film) outsmarting Shek Kin's gang of pickpockets and thugs.

There are a few good fight scenes but nothing out of the ordinary for the Shaw Studios in this era and the drama wraps up around a dancing lion contest with an obligatory final fight thrown in during the last three minutes.

I know Lily Li not from her many supporting roles in kung fu films but rather from her precocious turn in Tropicana Interlude with Lily Ho but it was refreshing to see her briefly get a chance to shine in some minor fighting scenes in this film.

You can order Rivals of Kung Fu on DVD here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rose Elinor Dougall, ex-Pipette

The clear, luminous voice behind kenixfan's favorite Pipettes song, "Judy", has returned.

Rose Elinor Dougall has already released one solo single but another is just now out in the U.K. and, as I so happily discovered today, in the U.S. via iTunes!

The voice, so recognizable from the plaintive and funny Pipettes song, is layered over a melody strongly reminiscent of early Broadcast, like "The Book Lovers" but not as trippy.

Along with God Help The Girl, this is going to be the sound of my summer, circa 2009 (well, the new Manics too, I guess).

You can stream both the new A-side and flipside via the Elefant Records link below.

You can buy the new single from iTunes here.

And, you order the single as a download from Amazon in the United States beginning on June 14 here.

Or, you can order the VERY limited vinyl version from Elefant Records here.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Battle Wizard with Danny Lee

The Battle Wizard

Did Danny Lee only do ridiculous movies in the 1970's? I mean, I saw Inframan at the drive-in when I was kid and thought it was retarded fun; I was aware of The Mighty Peking Man, due to my love of King Kong and all of its various rip-offs, and that film turned out to be even more ridiculous than I could have imagined when I finally saw it (thanks to Tarantino's Rolling Thunder re-issue); and The Call Girls isn't exactly highbrow either.

Sure, he was in House of 72 Tenants, but who wasn't?

I'm having a little laugh at his expense because surely no actor has invested more energy in something as ridiculous as 1977's 72-minute (!) long, The Battle Wizard.

In a plot that would take longer than 72-minutes to summarize, Danny plays the bastard son of two members of two rival kung fu clans. His father has the power of the Yi Yang Finger which enables him to shoot energy blasts (that look suspiciously like Star Wars-style lasergun bursts) out of his fingers.

Those blasts severed the legs of a rival clan leader who now walks around on stilt-like metal legs with claws on the end of them. Oh, and he breathes fire too but that's later in the film!

Danny sets out to enter the martial arts world to see if he can survive without any skills. He meets up with the Mistress of Snakes (or something), played by Lin Chen Li, who, at one point, writes a message on a snake and sends it out to get help like Lassie! At other times, she tosses glowing snakes at people, with some snakes boring through the person's body like a drill.

[Someone needs to do an overview of all of the snake-related Shaw Brothers films from the 1970's and it ain't gonna be me.]

Danny also meets up with the sexy Tanny Tien Ni who goes by two different alias and who remains covered by a veil due to the fact that whoever sees her face will become a victim of her kung fu or her husband -- death or marriage, huh?

Tanny is familiar to me from semi-erotic Shaw films like Forbidden Tales of Two Cities, but she is also known as the real-life wife of Shaw action star Yueh Hua.

Tanny's character uses some kind of bone power kung fu: a hollowed out bone that shoots energy darts.

Did I mention that this film is only 72-minutes long?

Ridiculous but fast-moving, this non-anamorphic DVD looks decent. The language track is in Mandarin only and I thought that most Shaw films after 1972 were in Cantonese?

You can order The Battle Wizard on DVD here.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Shek Kin, More Than Just A Bruce Lee Villain

I don't know why now, but one of the first of the Celestial/IVL Shaw Brothers re-issues that I purchased -- on a whim -- was A Friend From Inner Space. I think I just wanted to dip my toe into the waters of the non-wuxia re-issues.

And the film is a cute kids' film that happens to star some legendary Hong Kong actors: Ti Lung, Josephine Siao, Nat Chan, and the late Shek Kin.

Seeing Shek Kin, the baddie from Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon to my mind, as a lovable ghost helping a small child was a bit like seeing Peter Cushing play Santa Claus: weird!

But, looking at his filmography, the guy did a lot of great work in multiple genres: he was in one of Chow Yun-Fat's best starring features, Hong Kong 1941, and I just saw him in a nice comedic bit in Hong Kong Playboys, and he had a small part in the Maggie Cheung/Jacky Cheung starrer, Mother vs. Mother, and the quite-silly-but-still-fun Buddha's Palm with Derek Yee.

I still have Rivals of Kung Fu in my to-be-watched pile of Shaw re-issues and I think I'll watch that soon!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"God Help The Girl" -- *UPDATED*

Stuart Murdoch has finally delivered a masterpiece with the multi-vocalist project, God Help The Girl, out in the U.S. on June 23 via Matador Records.

I say that because, as was always obvious, Belle and Sebastian had the potential to become a bit too precious for their own good; 2004's Dear Catastrophe Waitress went some way to removing that possibility.

However, the indie scene is also a bit too precious for its own good and people seem to forget that, for all their supposed feyness, The Smiths were really a mainstream band with simply too-smart-for-the-mainstream lyrics.

And other indie bands, like Oasis and Pulp, never shied from the mainstream even if they were the products of various indie scenes or labels.

The point being that you can clutch your cardigan sweater, work on your Louise Brooks haircut, and collect Felt singles your whole life, but eventually you have to set your sights higher than that.

And with this project, Murdoch has done precisely that. While there are some slight similarities to early Everything But The Girl, the biggest compliment I can pay the disc is that it sounds like a lost CD from the Dream Babes compilation series curated by former Saint Etienne frontman Bob Stanley.

[Stanley famously signed the much-loved-around-these-parts Kenickie to his briefly active EMIDisc label.]

The other important point I want to make about music like this is how effortlessly "retro" it is without being ironic. The great thing about The Pipettes was how, on the surface, it was all dangerously kitsch dance routines and polkadotted dresses, but underneath that presentation, the tunes were fantastically constructed little slices of great British pop.

Like The Primitives before them, The Pipettes managed to take elements from the past and actually make something new with them, instead of simply putting on a revival show, like Ronettes-mania for hipsters.

I don't really care about the details -- Pitchfork has the facts about the collaborators -- and I'm not so sure that I believe that this thing really is the soundtrack to some future motion picture from Murdoch.

All that stuff is irrelevant when dealing with what is simply a great pop album.

The Northern Soul spin on the earlier Belle and Sebastian song "Funny Little Frog" launches what was previously a well-produced bit of B&S whimsy into a full-bodied, adult song full of the kind of soul that Alison Moyet only ever hinted at; the past filtered through a modern, unironic sensibility.

The title song echoes Cilla Black, and the Neil Hannon-led "Perfection as a Hipster" is -- as per his usual best work -- Scott Walker smoothed of the difficult bits.

Murdoch's voice on a few cuts is the only other reminder that this is a B&S-affiliated project.

And the string-led "Musician, Please Take Heed" is what the Morrissey-and-Marr collaborations with Sandie Shaw *should* have sounded like.

And I've only played the album twice so far!

Rough Trade Records in the UK posted a film clip on YouTube so here it is!