Spirit of SSL v8

1st June 2004

Spirit of SSL v8, front cover

I hate to disappoint, but I found Spirit of SSL v8 by far the most immediately appealing of all eight volumes - sort of ironic, given the aggressive-but-witty cover - so I'm not going to be able to be anywhere near as snide as I like to be in these reviews.

It was fun doing the If-You-Like-That-You'll-Love-This feature for the previous volume, so I'm doing it again this time.

  1. Sinead O'Connor - This Is To Mother You (mike)
    Mike had the cheek to accuse me of having gone soft on account of my having chosen the Dar Williams track below. Has there ever been a more clear-cut case of the pot calling the kettle black? The repeated little guitar riff is lifted pretty much verbatim from Here Comes the Sun, but I won't hold that against it. 8/10 but only because I'm an old softie.

    IYLTYL: Er. Dar Williams's The Babysitter's Here?

  2. Soft Cell - Tainted Love (matthew)
    Actually, pretty much everthing I said about this song in the Call My Bluff section of the SoSSLv8 party was true: I don't admire this song at all, and it's part of a genre than I hated at the time and still loathe in retrospect; but still and all, I can't help sort of liking it. A small but influential group of neurones occasionally make me go Boop! Boop! along with that awful synthentic riff that repeats all the way through the song. 6/10 but I know I'm going to hate myself in the morning.

    IYLTYL: any of the other crud from the same era. Classic examples would be Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf (please!) and any of the dreck churned out by the likes of Culture Club. A special mention goes to ABC, who alone of the early-eighties New Romantics had the courage to write a song including the couplet ``Can't complain, mustn't grumble / Help yourself to another piece of apple crumble''.

  3. Ella Fitzgerald - Bewitched (john)
    Previous jazz selections on Spirit of SSL volumes have been damned by faint praise such as ``can't complain'' (Oscar Peterson's Three Little Words on v4), ``really well phrased'' (Coleman Hawkins & Ben Webster's Shine On Harvest Moon on v5) and of course ``Mostly Harmless'' (Miles Davis's Jean Pierre on v7). But this time John's insured himself by choosing a performance by one of the three or four voices that stand head and shoulders above every other noise ever made. So it would be churlish to give less than 9/10, with the single lost mark being due to a certain conventionality.

    IYLTYL: where to start? Anything else by Ella Fitzgerald would be a good place to start. There's enough to keep you occupied for a while. If you're stuck for a selection, The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook is usually considered one of her classic albums.

  4. Belle And Sebastian - The Boy With The Arab Strap (mark)
    Pleasant. 6/10

    IYLTYL: Anything from the Lightning Seeds' Jollification album. I know Mark hates this comparison, but I can't help it: it's there for all to hear.

  5. T. Rex - Ride A White Swan (mas)
    I'm going to give this song three bonus marks because the band is named after the most awesome of all dinosaurs, and that's coming from a confirmed sauropod-lover. You can talk all you want about other predatory dinosaurs being bigger than T. rex (e.g. the Argentinian carcharodontosaurid Giganotosaurus carolini seems from comparative femur measurements to be about 4% longer), T. rex is just plain better and that's the end of it. As for the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III killing the rex even after having had its neck in the King's mouth - well, don't make me laugh. Speaking of JP III, wouldn't it have been better if they'd gone with the story outline proposed by Derek Tearne? ``In JP III, scientists recreate the actual dino killer meteorite from glassy fragments found near somewhere difficult to spell in South America - evil bad people launch the meteor into space and disaster ensues.''

    The actual song bites, of course, so we'll award a total of 5/10 (but see below).

    IYLTYL: the rendition of Sweet's Ballroom Blitz by Cassanda from Wayne's World. While I was searching for this MP3 of this, I discovered that Motorhead and the Damned have also (jointly) covered BB, which is such a fantastic fact that I awarded the song an extra mark on that basis. It would have been two extra marks had Lemmy been on the vocals. (And to be clear, the 5/10 includes both the three bonus marks for the band name and the one extra for the Motorhead cover.)

  6. Radiohead - Kid A (alec)
    I don't have much to add to Alec's dissertation on the night. Radiohead are one of the very few bands that he and I agree on. The Kid A album that this is the title track of is very dense and not at all easy to get into, but well worth the effort. Its richness and complexity amply repay the investment required to click into its musical mindset. 9/10

    IYLTYL: it's hard to say. There's nothing else like it, really. Some of the early Pink Floyd tracks (pre-Dark Side) are trying to do something similar, but they don't do it nearly as well. Radiohead cite the 20th century composer Messiaen as their main influence for this album, so you might try him.

  7. Fiona Taylor - Spy Movie Soundtrack (mirk)
    This is the first thing that my wife Fiona recorded on a then-new digital studio a couple of years ago, mostly as a test for the equipment, and I think the joy of improvisation shines through it. I can't hear this without imagining a sixties- or early seventies-style spy movie, with Bond or his equivalent sidling down the corridor towards the secret room where the the bomb is primed to go off in so short a time that he only has time for, say, two or three Bond-girls on the way. If there's any justice in the world, this track will be the Austin Powers 4 theme music. 8/10

    IYLTYL: Fiona's other soundtrack demos, available for free downloading at www.pipedreaming.org.uk/soundtrack

  8. The Libertines - The Delaney (alec)
    Remember I said that Alec and I don't agree on much music? This is a case in point. What a waste of decibels. It's usually Sacha who catches most of the flak in these reviews, but in fact I can see that his problem (or mine, if you want to to equitable about it) is that his taste is diametrically opposed to mine; whereas selections like this one leave me drawn irresistably to the conclusion that Alec simply has no taste at all. I truly can't conceive what it must be like to live inside a mind that likes to have this incessant barrage of content-free noise happening to it. 1/10

    IYLTYL: some other similarly unmusical crud that Alec's chosen in the past. Let me see ... [rummage, rummage] ... Ah yes: Let's Build a Home by the Lobotomised Cretins (from volume 7) and Trying Your Luck by the Morons (from volume 6). In fact, I am not at all sure that these three aren't all the same song.

  9. Lambchop - Up With The People (olly)
    Olly can deny that this sounds like the Lighthouse Family all he likes but it's still true. There doesn't seem to be any substance to this song, but that's not really a complaint, because what it has instead of substance is sunshine, and the world can do with a lot more of that. 8/10 which may be a bit generous, but I'm listening to it as I write this and it's making me smile.

    IYLTYL: The Lighthouse Family, Ocean Drive.

  10. Vast - Pretty When You Cry (sacha)

    I really want to like Sacha's selections, if only to confound his expectations; but he does insist on offering such unpromising material. This grubbily unappealing tale about a bloke who likes to hit his girlfriend because she's pretty when she cries is presumably supposed to be psychologically deep, or sociologically informative, or grittily realistic, or some such crock of intestinal parasites. Whereas in fact it hovers unconvincingly between the mundane and the juvenile. If I had to pick one word to describe this song it would be ``wearying''.

    On the positive side, the instrumental backing would make a not entirely dreadful Quake soundtrack. At least until the 80s-style Eurovision-style drum-machine-synth riff cuts in, slicing away at a stroke whatever vestiges of merit this misbegotten attempt at a song might have been aspiring towards.

    Sacha's genius over the last few SoSSLs has been to pick a sequence of tracks - Nightrain (v4), Like This with the Devil (v5), Shock Me (v6), Nancy Boy (v7) and now Pretty When You Cry - that are all more or less equally dreadful, but which achieve that dreadfulness using an impressively wide selection of different methods. Some are aurally offensive, some irritatingly anodyne and some depressingly unimaginative and derivative; but each in its way maintains what has become a significant SoSSL tradition. Sacha, we salute you.

    (On re-reading this review, I notice that I never got around to awarding an actual mark. And I think that's perfectly reasonable under the circumstances. So: undefined/10.)

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

  11. Dar Williams - The Babysitter's Here (mirk)
    I might as well come right out and award this the 10/10 that everyone already knows it's going to get. For the reasons, you might want to read what Rick Anderson has to say at allmusic.com.

    I don't know whether it's having kids of my own that makes me so vulnerable to what this song does, or if it's just The Human Condition, but one of the things I love about this song is that it tells two stories at once - the babysitter's and the child's - and does it seamlessly and perfectly and affectingly, and does it all in less than four minutes.

    IYLTYL: Any and all of the great singer-songwriters. You might like to start with Paul Simon (solo work, not Simon and Garfunkel) and Joni Mitchell.

  12. Leftfield - Melt (andy)
    Alec had some excellent dismissive comments to make about this at the launch party, but sadly his exact words now escape me, and I don't feel I can do justice to them with a paraphrase. The sad truth is that this is sort of nice. Deep in my heart, I know it's just Jean Michel Jarre on (very mild) steroids; but that doesn't change the fact that it's a pleasant sound. Oh dear. I really can't justify giving this less than 7/10.

    IYLTYL: I don't know enough about this genre to make an intelligent recommendation, so I'm going with Daydream Believer by the Monkees.

  13. Blondie - Atomic (becca)
    It seems ironic that I signed off the review of SoSSL v7 by observing that, in the absence of a Mike Selway contribution, ``SoSSL is not the same without [...] a relentlessly overplayed early-eighties ``classic'' rock/pop track''. Now we find that this volume features not one but two such songs - Tainted Love and this one - not to mention the wrong-decade-but-otherwise-bang-on-target T. Rex contribution. The difference for me is that I loved this song at the time, and I still like it a lot more than the Soft Cell one (which I really should have given a lower mark). So I guess I have to give this an 8/10 on the basis that I really like listening to it; but I don't feel it's really earned that mark - it's cashing in on my hacker-of-a-certain-age nostalgia for a musical period when Blondie, the Boomtown Rats and (I believe) the tail-end of ABBA could all be found on the charts.

    IYLTYL: Do I even need to say Sunday Girl?

  14. The High Llamas - Literature Is Fluff (anne)
    This is one of those strangely compelling songs that grows on you more and more as you listen to it. The shambling semi-melody seems to be at right-angles to most music, and the disjointed outro manages to be reminiscent simultaneously of Paul Simon (the end of The Late, Great Johnny Ace and Blur (songs like The Universal and Yuko and Hiro). Not only that, but the muted close-harmony horns just after the chorus sound like nothing more than Walk On By, which has to be a bonus. One day, I plan to listen to the words. 8/10.

    IYLTYL: Mercury Rev's The Funny Bird and The Flaming Lips' Waiting for Superman.

Finally, I found myself wondering whether my first impression - that this is the easiest SoSSL to listen to - was born out by the statistics. So I calculated the average marks, and standard deviation, that I awarded for each of the eight volumes so far. The result is, yes, that this volume comes out very much in the lead - a whole point ahead of the runner up, the very first volume. Athough this may be partly an artifact of my having listened more to this volume before awarding the marks than I did for most of the others. Music always grows on me (except Judge Not, of course).

Here are the scores:

Volume Average Score SD
8 7.15 2.21
1 6.09 2.73
5 5.61 4.17
2 5.59 2.50
3 5.48 2.38
7 5.32 1.97
6 5.11 2.83
4 4.56 2.24

I'd expected to see the standard deviations crawling down from volume to volume, reflecting my perception than the collections are becoming more mainstream with this; that's what happens in the first four volumes, but there's no discernible pattern to after that. The single anomaly is the very high SD for volume 5, but that's largely due to the mark of -10 for Like This with the Devil. The fact that it shows so well in the ranking suggests that this was a particularly good volume apart from that track.

(on to Volume 9.)

Feedback to <mike@miketaylor.org.uk> is welcome!