Spirit of SSL v8
1st June 2004
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.
- Sinead O'Connor - This Is To Mother You
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
The repeated little guitar riff is lifted pretty much verbatim
from Here Comes the Sun, but I won't hold that against
8/10 but only because I'm an old softie.
IYLTYL: Er. Dar Williams's The Babysitter's Here?
- Soft Cell - Tainted Love
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.
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''.
- Ella Fitzgerald - Bewitched
Previous jazz selections on Spirit of SSL volumes have
been damned by faint praise such as
(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
(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
with the single lost mark being due to a certain
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.
- Belle And Sebastian - The Boy With The Arab Strap
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.
- T. Rex - Ride A White Swan
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
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
- Radiohead - Kid A
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.
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.
- Fiona Taylor - Spy Movie Soundtrack
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.
IYLTYL: Fiona's other soundtrack demos, available for free
- The Libertines - The Delaney
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.
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.
- Lambchop - Up With The People
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.
- Vast - Pretty When You Cry
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
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
Sacha's genius over the last few SoSSLs has been to pick a
sequence of tracks -
Like This with the Devil (v5),
Shock Me (v6),
Nancy Boy (v7)
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:
IYLTYL: sticking your head inside a metal dustbin and getting
several close friends to hit it (your head, not the bin) with
- Dar Williams - The Babysitter's Here
I might as well come right out and award this the
that everyone already knows it's going to get.
For the reasons, you might want to read
what Rick Anderson has to say
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.
- Leftfield - Melt
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
IYLTYL: I don't know enough about this genre to make an
intelligent recommendation, so I'm going with Daydream
Believer by the Monkees.
- Blondie - Atomic
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?
- The High Llamas - Literature Is Fluff
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
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:
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.