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Best tunes of 2012: #9 Spiritualized “Hey Jane”

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The first time I saw Spiritualized perform live was on the Toronto stop for their tour in support of “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space”, way back at the end of November 1997. My friend Terry had picked me up a ticket to the show and he still (amazingly) had an extra ticket on the day of the concert. On the way to the bus stop to head down to the show, we ran into another friend of ours, named Mark, and convinced him to come with.

That night will live on in infamy for the three of us. We made more than a few stops for drinks on the way down to the now shut-down Guvernment Night Club, where Jason Pierce and his band were slated to play. Indeed, by the time the headlining act hit the stage, we were all very deep in the bag. For me, it was incredible, akin to a religious experience, but I can still very clearly remember Mark touching my shoulder at the end of the first song, his eyeballs as huge as cannonballs, telling me he had to leave. For him, it was all just too intense.

Fast forward fifteen years or so. I hadn’t seen Terry for a long time. However, I was still quite close to Mark, though we hadn’t lived in the same city – for some periods, the same country – for more than a decade. I was now living in Ottawa with my wife and Mark was living back in his hometown of Sault Ste Marie. I believe it was April 2012 that my wife and I put Mark up for a week so that he could take a course and write a test to qualify for a job fighting wildfires in Northern Ontario. We were working during the days while he was on his course and he was super exhausted in the evenings so we didn’t see him a lot.

When the week finished out, we had one proper night to catch up and share some laughs before he was due to catch the long bus back home. That night, the two of us killed five bottles of wine, a half bottle of scotch, and a handful of beers and we were up real late. At some point, we started watching YouTube videos on my laptop, each sharing new tunes with the other and on one of my turns, I slipped on the video for Spiritualized’s latest tune, “Hey Jane”, having heard the song but not having seen the video. We got just over half way through it when my friend asked gently if we could switch to something lighter. So still too intense for my friend, but this time, for a different reason (if you’ve seen the video you know what I mean).

Spiritualized’s seventh record, “Sweet heart, sweet light”, came four years after “Songs in A & E”, the album widely seen as Jason Pierce’s comeback, for many reasons, but most significantly because of his near death experience, and it also came after he spent the previous year performing the aforementioned landmark album, “Ladies and gentlemen”, in full, at various shows. At the time, Pierce talked about how his new album embraced a poppier bent but I just thought it rocked like hell. And only in the way that Spiritualized can, blending gospel and droning psychedelia, love, drugs, and religion.

“You broke my heart then you ran away
Some say you got a rotten soul
But I say Janey loves rock and roll”

“Hey Jane” is a prime example of what makes Spiritualized and their work on this album so great. Intense music video aside, this is a track that does not let up for its entirety, nearly nine minutes in all. It’s a rousing, incessant beating heart, pounding and pounding the pavement, both a sprint and a marathon. The guitars keep pace and swirl and roar around the drums, a choir of demons taunt and laugh, and the bass just hums. It threatens disintegration throughout and right in the middle, it does indeed devolve into madness and implodes into an echoing silence. And just when you think it’s over, that maddening rhythm starts back up again. But as opposed to in its first movement, where Pierce seems angry and threatening and mean, the finale sees him uplifting and glorious, even as he’s asking the Jane of the title where she’s gonna go, knowing full well the answer is nowhere. And it all builds to the choir of angels joining him singing the album’s title over and over as an outro.

“Sweet heart, sweet light. Sweet heart, sweet light. Sweet heart, sweet light.”

Yessssss.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #24 Suede “The drowners”

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Suede is one of the great british rock bands of the 1990s. They formed in 1989 and quickly grew to prominence around the friendship and combined talents of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler. Their self-titled debut had the British press fawning all over them and their sleek and sexy glam rock. The band would later be seen as one of the big three or four groups that spearheaded Britpop, a renaissance era in British rock and culture, and a scene I completely bought into, all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, over here in Canada.

However… however, I didn’t get into them right away. I know. Even now, I don’t have a good reason why not.

I was aware of them from the get-go and a lot of my friends were falling all over themselves for Suede. I remember a bunch of people I know wearing T-shirts with the debut cover art on the front, the androgynous figures kissing was definitely an attention grabber in my small hometown. I had a bit of a fling with “We are the pigs”, a single off their sophomore record, but the full on love didn’t come until the Britpop extravagance of their third record, “Coming up”.

Alas, the love for “Suede”, the mighty debut, would come much later for me and yeah, today’s song, even a bit after that. But now, it’s easily my favourite on the record and one of my favourite all-time Suede songs. “The drowners” was originally released in 1992 as a single* but I made the executive decision for it to appear here as the lone representative on this list of 1993 tunes from such an auspicious debut.

“The drowners” is a swanky, four-minute seduction. It’s introduced by machine gun fire drums and rip raunchy guitars. From there it slithers down your spine, like a slick stripteasing dancer, greased up and swinging around on the pole. Brett Anderson teases us snidely, vaguely hinting at drugs or sex or both, a wanton pleasure that can’t be helped, and that might just be fatal. And yet, our protagonist gives in to it. We all give in to it eventually.

“So slow down
Slow down
You’re taking me over
And so we drown”

*Incidentally, one of the b-sides off “The drowners”, an amazing ballad called “My insatiable one” appeared at number ten on my Best Tunes of 1992 list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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100 best covers: #55 Smashing Pumpkins “Never let me down again”

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I’d consider myself a pretty big fan of Depeche Mode, especially of their period spanning the late 1980s to the late 1990s. In fact, last year on these very pages, I did a series of three posts on the iconic synth pop band, each one focusing on my top five tunes of their three very distinct eras: the prolific 1980s, the popular 1990s, and everything that followed, in a more experimental but still very relevant vein.

Near the end of that middle and very popular period in the 90s, a tribute album was put together by the artists and management team behind the industrial rock group, God Lives Underwater. Titled “For the masses”, it featured reimaginings by said band, but also by The Cure, Veruca Salt, Meat Beat Manifesto, and yes, Smashing Pumpkins. I bought the compilation on compact disc, of course, but was mostly disappointed with it and only ever listened to it a few times. And often those few times that it found itself in my player were because I had a hankering to listen to one of the disc’s meagre bright spots, that is, the track that we are focusing on today.

Smashing Pumpkins originally included their cover of “Never let me down again” as a B-side to the single, “Rocket”, released in 1994, just as they were breaking into the mainstream. The cover’s later inclusion on this compilation was the impetus for my buying the CD, after hearing it quite a bit on alternative radio. It is one of the few examples here that the covering artist really remakes the subject matter into their own thing. Where the original was robotic, dark, cold, and practically unemotional, Billy Corgan and gang inject a bit of warmth and yes, some increased sensuality to the proceedings. They take the convertible out for a ride in sunshine, still wearing sunglasses and cool, of course, the guitars are jangling and the drumming peppy, and Corgan is all snarls and whispery and just this side of screaming it out.

Yeah, it’s a great cover. Can I really say it’s better than Mode’s original synth pop evocation of drug euphoria? Nope.Do I think it’s still worth playing over and over? Oh yes.

Cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.