Spirit of SSL v7

14th September 2002

Spirit of SSL v7, front cover

Here's my typically restrained review of Spirit of SSL v7 - sorry it's taken a while coming, but that's largely because my review copy of the CD took a long time to arrive!

I was so taken with Alec's If-You-Like-That-You'll-Love-This feature in his review of Spirit of TECC v3 that I'm going to do the same thing here.

BTW., the cover-art is a masterpiece.

  1. Goldfrapp - Lovely Head (rachel-damien)
    I suppose this is sort of interesting. It reminds me of a less adventurous Portishead: the combination of a basically traditional female vocal and a lot of atmospherics going on in the background. Shame about that whiney, whistley lead instrument, though. Sounds like they wanted a theremin effect, but couldn't find one on their sister's Casio. Or something.

    Anyway, I've heard much, much worse on SoSSL's (and will shortly do so again, as I can tell from Sacha's name next to track 5) so let's be generous and open with a frankly unmerited 7/10. No, hang on, 6/10 is more realistic.

    IYLTYL: Portishead's Mysterons

  2. Miles Davis - Jean Pierre (graham)
    Jazz, eh? Sometimes it can be neurone-searingly wonderful (Rhapsody in Blue springs to mind). Sometimes it can be completely impenetrable (does anyone actually like Bitches Brew? Is everyone just afraid to be first to say it's a pile of decomposing anteater lymph-glands?) But most of the time - and I am truly sorry to have to say this - it can only be described as Mostly Harmless. 6/10 and it would probably be a five if a straight rock track was this dull.

    IYLTYL: Weather Report's Birdland

  3. The Stone Roses - Waterfall (mark)
    I have read so much about how revolutionary the Stone Roses were that I've tried really, really hard to like them, but I just can't do it. For me, they are up there in the All Time Top Five Over-rated Artists, along with R.E.M (everyone remember Bang and Blame on volume 5? Sample lyric: ``Bang bang, bang bang bang; blame blame blame''. I ask you.). Er, where was I? Oh yes, over-rated artists: the Rolling Stones (see below), Bruce Springsteen, plus one other space that I'm keeping free for whichever band someone immediately emails me about saying ``What about X?'' and I think ``Oh yeah, of course''.[1]

    Anyway. I could have written this song on the back of a fag-packet in about thirty seconds, and no doubt the Stone Roses did exactly that. Not coincidentally, it takes about thirty seconds of the song to hear absolutely everything it has to say. I considered giving this a 4/10, but I'm going to go with 5/10 because I think that's actually more insulting: the implications of utter mediocrity seem more appropriate than 4/10's implication of something interestingly unpleasant. I'll save the sub-five marks for Sacha.

    [Much, much later] I can't believe that took nearly five minutes. Not to mention that the MP3 takes up four and half perfectly good megabytes of disk space. (Insert old-fart story about how the whole Unix installation used to fit in that amount of space when I were a lad.) For this song, I recommend use of the lossless compression filter dd bs=470k count=1. Don't try this on Bohemian Rhapsody, kids!

    IYLTYL: The Lightning Seeds' Change

  4. Ennio Morricone - Theme from ``Malena'' (sarahb)
    I claim a spotter's badge for recognising that the main string theme bears a more-than-passing resemblance to Prelude #4 in E minor from Chopin's Opus 28. It's not as good, though.

    6/10, I suppose.

    IYLTYL: Ennio Morricone, anything from the soundtrack to The Mission (there are two excerpts on SoSSL v1 if you're interested.)

  5. Placebo - Nancy Boy (sacha)
    Three seconds in, you think, ``Ah yes, Sacha's track.''

    About seven seconds in, you hit the ``next track'' key.

    Then you have an attack of integrity and go back and listen all the way through the whole damned thing.

    Call me self-centered if you will, but it seems to me that Sacha long ago gave up any pretense of choosing music that he actually likes; around volume 4, he started choosing purely to annoy me, and he can deny it all he likes but we both know it's true. This time, he's gone for an irritatingly anodyne excrescence. It manages to combine the flatulence of Kiss (``Shock me! Put on your black sweater!'') with the futility of Poison (OK, I know Emma chose that one, but it could so easily have been Sacha). But, truth to tell, it never comes close to the levels of pestilence achieved by the likes of Entombed's Like This with the Devil (or LLLLLKKTHTHTHISSWITHTHTDDDVVLL to give it a title bearing a closer phonetic resemblance to what is actually sung).

    I'm giving this song 3/10 primarily in order to annoy Sacha, because I know he likes getting zeroes. Truly, this is not bad enough to merit a really low mark. But it's profoundly pointless. (How very Zen.) Basically, if Kylie did metal, this is what it would sound like. (And when I say that, I mean it to sting.)

    IYLTYL: sticking your head inside a metal dustbin and getting several close friends to hit it (the bin, not your head) with baseball bats.

  6. Al Bowlly - Hang Out The Stars In Indiana (alec)
    I want everyone to know that I correctly identified the singer of this track despite never, ever having heard an Al Bowlly song in my life. This is completely true. I deserve some kind of award - a Nobel peace prize, at minimum.

    There's no denying that this is pleasant, but it's a long, long way from being I Get a Kick out of You, which Alec chose back on Spirit of SSL v3. So let's just go 6/10, shall we?

    IYLTYL: Dean Martin, Ain't That a Kick in the Head?

  7. The Rolling Stones - Sister Morphine (john)
    For the first few bars, it sounds like a Coldplay song. Then Mick Jagger comes flapping in and ruins it. I wonder if the Stones might actually have been any good if he'd had his lips stapled to his cheeks? Probably not, but it would have been well worth doing anyway. And it's not too late.

    I could write pages about how mediocre the Stones are/were. In that All Time Top Five Over-rated Artists chart, they are top by a country parsec. It truly astonishes me that they were ever considered ground-breaking or innovative (this in an era that already had the Beatles!) or indeed any good at all. Yet it seems you can't heave half a brick without hitting several dozen rock critics who nominate Keith Richards for their guitar halls of fame. (Actually, hitting several dozen of these critics with bricks may not be a bad idea. I'll try it some time.) And you can hardly turn on Channel Four without seeing some festulent Z-list celebrity claiming that there is profound poetry in the lines ``Well I'm driving in my car / and a man comes on the radio''.

    With all that said, I can't in good conscience claim that this is a bad song. But it doesn't begin to justify the Stones's ludicrously inflated reputation (and neither does any of the other songs on the Sticky Fingers album, which is what I'm most familiar with). I guess justice suggests a 5/10, but deep in my heart, I long to mark this much, much lower.

    IYLTYL: Coldplay, Trouble

  8. The Eels - Novocaine For The Soul (mirk)
    Ah - now we're talking. Someone has good taste on this CD. Unfortunately, it's me. It's all here, isn't it? Creative use of textures, catchy melodies, lyrical hooks, genuine profundity and more. It's the real thing, and it's well worth, oooh, at least 9/10.

    IYLTYL: all of Radiohead's OK Computer, but no doubt you already have that. Quite right too.

  9. Dido - Thank You (mirk)
    Yes, OK, you can call me a weedy, populist prole if you like, but the facts of the case, m'lud, are this: it's a good song, sung well, over well-played music, and well produced. Sounds good to me. More important, it's that rarest of things, a straight-down-the-line love song already. Not a song about how someone's love has gone horribly wrong, or how a promising affair has ended, or how someone is utterly lonely and will never be in love. Nope. The song says: I'm in love and it's wonderful. How about that? Something you don't hear every day.

    It helps that it's sung with such an emotional honesty, too. It's not an intense vocal performance, because the song doesn't call for it: it doesn't need West-End-style vocal gymnastics or a virtuoso Soul-Diva performance. It just needs someone to sing the song like they mean it, which is exactly what Dido does. 9/10, then.

    IYLTYL: the rest of the No Angel album, I guess. You might also like to try early Suzanne Vega, and here I am thinking primarily of the Solitude Standing album.

  10. Lamb - Gorecki (olly)
    The half-a-capella opening is a mistake: the girl's voice isn't strong enough to carry it. Then the keyboard comes in. Does the keyboard player actually only know two chords? Then the song starts gradually to build, but it's too late by then. I lost interest around bar twelve.

    Basically, if Bjork sang this, it might just be interesting. But she didn't and it isn't. Another 5/10, I guess.

    IYLTYL: Bjork, Hyperballad

  11. Blast - Mother (misha)
    This song is Foxy Lady, but with the good bits taken out.

    C'mon. Honestly. Can you really listen to the main riff without wanting to go ``Oooh!'', ``Foxy!'' like Garth in Wayne's World? 'Course you can't. And don't tell me that the bit where he goes ``I'm about to take you on a journey now'' isn't a desperate attempt to do ``Look out, baby - Ah'm a-comin' ta git yer!'' (And I do mean ``desperate''.)

    At first I was inclined to give this a high mark just for being Foxy Lady. But then the rapping bit started, and what had been merely an inferior cover became an actual desecration. The lower-sixth-form cod philosophy doesn't help either. ``Life is what you make it / Never try and fake it''. Per-lease.

    And to top it off, the rapper then throws in an ``Aye'' which is flatly impossible to hear without thinking of Ali G.

    Please. Do yourself a favour. Chuck this in the bin and go buy a copy of the One True Foxy Lady. 2/10 for the bits of the original that shine through all the crud.

    IYLTYL: do I even have to say it?

  12. Robyn Hitchcock - Globe Of Frogs (nathan)
    This is a Syd Barratt song, isn't it? You could slip it into the digital remaster of Piper at the Gates of Dawn and no-one would notice. And yes, I guess I mean that in a good way. It's a relief to have something as idiosyncratic as this on what is otherwise a rather bland compilation. I've not given many high marks, so it feels good to say 8/10.

    IYLTYL: The Television Personalities, I Know Where Syd Barratt Lives

  13. Pink Floyd - One Of These Days (nich)
    The Floyd are one of my very favourite bands (the first CD I ever bought was Wish You Were Here) and Meddle is among their best albums - top five, say - but I honestly can't see how this song, from all the candidates, got chosen. A Pillow of Winds, Fearless and even San Tropez have more to them than this sub-Dr. Who nearly-instrumental. (Not to mention Echoes, but then its twenty-minute length does rather militate against its being included on a SoSSL unless three or four people gang up and nominate it all together.)

    Anyway, it gives me no pleasure to do this to a Pink Floyd song, but I have to say 5/10. Sorry.

    IYLTYL: U2, Bullet the Blue Sky

  14. Joan Baez - Farewell Angelina (sarahb)
    Nothing to dislike, but not a great deal to like. Sorry to be so dismissive but come on! If you're going to stand up, strum a guitar and sing, you've got to have something to actually say. 5/10 for harmlessness, because it's the kind of song that makes me sigh with relief when it gets played in a restaurant.

    IYLTYL: anything by Joni Mitchell.

  15. The White Stripes - Let's Build A Home (alec)
    Oh good - a long, boring, badly-recorded conversation between some Americans: just what I look for at the beginning of a song. Just think how much better Stairway would have been if they'd thought to do that. Or no, wait - that would have ruined it! Still, no such problem in this case. The song itself is so devoid of merit that, if anything, the conversational introduction actually raises the average quality of the track.

    I believe the White Stripes are widely seen as The Future Of Punk. Didn't anyone notice that The Past Of Punk was rubbish? What makes anyone think it's going to be any better this time? 2/10.

    IYLTYL: actual music.

  16. Sunhouse - Grinning In My Face (graham)
    Good voice, fair song. Shame about the accompaniment. Even the clapping isn't it time. Do I admire it? Yes, sort of. Would I ever voluntarily choose to listen to it? No, never. 3/10.

    IYLTYL: anything by Joe Cocker - for example, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.

  17. Patsy Kline - Crazy (matthew)
    I'm a sucker for this kind of thing. And the hint of Moonglows-style doo-wop harmony vocal in the background helps too. Shame ``Patsy'' is such a resonant name. I can't read it or hear it without thinking of ``I am! And this is my trusty servant Patsy!'' from Holy Grail. 7/10, and it would have been eight had it not smelled suspiciously like country music in some places.

    IYLTYL: Anything by Ella Fitzgerald. The Gershwin Songbook is the obvious place to start, since the songs are mostly classics.

  18. Leonard Cohen - The Partisan (matthew)
    Billy Joel once sung a song partly in French (You Were the One on the Glass Houses album) and it turns out that it was a very bad idea. Whereas when Leonard Cohen does the same thing, it turns out to be a very bad idea. 4/10.

    IYLTYL: Paul Simon, Peace Like a River

  19. Anouar Brahem Trio - Astrakhan Cafe (mike)
    Does this have Mike1 written all over it or what? I've going to give this 5/10 because it's 2:21am and I can't be bothered thinking about it.

    IYLTYL: Peter Gabriel's Passion, the soundtrack album to the Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. (Oddly enough, Terry used to be very keen on this.)

Man, that's a lot of 5/10s. Nearly a third of the tracks.

Final comment: wot no mas track? SoSSL is not the same without either an unpleasantly repetitive Michael Nyman track or a relentlessly overplayed early-eighties ``classic'' rock/pop track.

(on to Volume 8.)



Oh yes, I remember: The Manic Street Preachers. [back]
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