Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Certain Songs Part XVI: Turn Down the Gravity

And the countdown relentlessly continues...

The Church
Gold Afternoon Fix

This is another case where this is probably not the band’s best album (and, actually, they have since disowned it—opening it with the line “Here’s one straight from the factory” was probably a clue), but it made a great impression on me at the time. It does have one of their great album openers (“Pharaoh”) and “hit single” (“Metropolis,” which was played on alternative radio a bit) but the track that does it for me is the sci-fi punfest “Terra Nova Cain” (“Turn down the gravity/This is all too heavy/...We used to float around her weightless bedroom/That drove me right up the wall”). “I’ll show you how the ancients once traveled/They used to call this a Chevy...” “She was a transdimensional speeder!”

“Essence” and “You’re Still Beautiful” are other classics, although most songs are really good. “Russian Autumn Heart” is a great Marty Willson-Piper track, while “Transient” is a good Peter Koppes song. Lines like “Wondering if leaves will fall in May” remind that they are Australian. The record has been described as “cold” and kind of soulless, but I do not agree. Despite band animosity, this was the best Church record perhaps until Hologram of Baal in 1998. Funny, their following album, Priest=Aura, is believed to be their magnum opus, but I never really cared for it.

Oranges and Lemons

It was common, back in the days of one’s teenage days, to treat a favorite band’s past discography with reverence, and a new release as somehow not living up to the back catalogue. I think XTC’s Oranges and Lemons was the first time that that was not the case, and I played it endlessly back in 1989.

1986’s Skylarking gave them an unexpected and well-deserved hit in “Dear God” (which wasn’t even on the album, at least at first), so the pressure was on for a follow-up. Having producer Paul Fox forced on them (Fox would eventually earn a reputation for being the guy who would take quirky alternative bands, strip away everything that made them unique, and try to make them Top 40 bands, and he’d go on to ruin albums by Robyn Hitchcock, They Might Be Giants, and The Sugar Cubes) was not pleasant, but even he couldn’t destroy a great set of songs from both Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding. Drummer Pat Mastelloltto was a session drummer who had recently played with Mr. Mister and would eventually join the ever-changing lineup of King Crimson.

“Mayor of Simpleton,” a kind of update of Sam Cooke’s “Don’t Know Much About History,” was the single and I don’t know how high it got, but it was not high enough. “King for a Day” was Colin’s big hit single and it also didn’t get high enough. Some of it sounds a bit too late-80s, but not in a bad way. “One of the Millions” is one of Colin’s standouts (“I got so much to say but I’m afraid it’ll come out wrong/I’m not into that 80s thing where you look after #1/But I won’t rock the boat...”). As I get older, the more I appreciate “Cynical Days” (as in “Help me get through these cynical days”). “Across the Antheap” is perhaps the most raucous track they have ever done. The record kind loses steam toward the end (“Pink Thing” is a single entendre about Andy’s new son that I imagine he’s probably deeply embarrassed about by now), but it really was XTC’s last real hurrah. 1993’s Nonsuch was very spotty, and then their record company kept them in contract/recording limbo for most of the 1990s. Much more from XTC later in this list.


I’ll admit right now, this is the only U2 album in this list. I got into U2 in sort of a big way when War came out in 1983, and quickly found their debut album Boy to be my favorite. Despite all they have achieved since, I never really got into them again. But I still find Boy to be an exceptional record. I had it on vinyl (it’s the only U2 album I have on CD) and played it rather a lot in the early 80s. It really doesn’t get better than “I Will Follow.” I did always like “An Cat Dubh,” and the way it segues into “Into the Heart.” “Out of Control” was/is a wonderful track. I know I should like Joshua Tree (I saw them live in Syracuse on that tour), but the record never really did anything for me. I did love War when it came out, but never really was engaged with them after that.

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