100 best covers: #54 Gene “Town called Malice”

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During my fourth year at York University, there was a professor’s strike that stretched from March until May, putting a number of students’ academic years and graduation plans at risk. I was on a five year plan in a four year program, so it was no issue to me in that sense. Really, it just lengthened my year some. However, it did have the added benefit of lulling me into boredom in early spring and got me out searching for a summer job earlier than I would’ve done otherwise. I ended up finding a position in a tool rental shop, a job that I surprisingly fell in love with, that kept me gainfully employed for the remainder of my university studies, and turned into my first post-graduation full-time job.

I was trained by a guy named Angelo that was probably a few years older than myself but spending quite a bit of time together in the store, we grew into a sort of friendship. He also really liked music and though he favoured what I considered to be classic rock, he was always very open to different sounds and exploring new bands. In fact, he always open to all sorts of new ideas and new experiences and we had a lot of great conversations. We have obviously lost touch, since I left the tool rental company and Toronto over two decades ago, but I still have the copy of “The very best of The Jam” CD he purchased for my birthday on behalf of him and our other co-worker, Marco.

We must’ve talked about the British punk-rock trio at some point during that summer of 1997 but I’m sure I wasn’t able to contribute much at the time, perhaps just that Paul Weller was their lead singer and that my friend Andrew Rodriguez was a big fan. The gift* was super appreciated, though, and I spent quite a bit of time with the disc that fall, becoming a convert of the group in the process. So a couple of years later when a tribute album called “Fire & skill” was released, I didn’t hesitate to pick it up. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it featured covers by a bunch of Britpop survivors, like Reef, Heavy Stereo, a song by each of Oasis’s Gallagher brothers (Liam working with Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock), and Gene.

Long time fans and influenced by The Jam, Gene chose for their entry on this compilation a faithful cover of “Town called malice”, which, incidentally, was one of the few songs I knew of The Jam before hearing the aforementioned compilation. The original appeared on The Jam’s sixth and final studio album, “The gift”, and is three minute northern soul groove wrapped around Paul Weller’s teenaged kicks around his hometown and man, does that rhythm section get you dancing. The cover is slightly fuller sounding, with raunchier guitars, and it’s fun, Martin Rossiter’s vocals always sounding a bit on the side of Morrissey and has you wondering what The Smiths might have done with this song. And though with the extended moments and cleaner production, it doesn’t quite feel as immediate and as honest as the original, it’s still great.

Indeed, I like both versions a lot (and don’t get me wrong, I do love me some Gene) but I’m going with The Jam on this battle.


The original:

*Pardon the pun

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


Best tunes of 2002: #27 Cornershop “Lessons learned from Rocky I to Rocky III”

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Cornershop’s third album, “I was born for the 7th time” was released in 1997 to critical acclaim but it only became a massive hit for the band after Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, remixed the single “Brimful of asha” and that song hit the stratosphere. It took them five years to release a follow up album, “Handcream for a generation”, though the main players in the band, Tjinder Singh and Ben Ayres, were anything but inactive. Of course, by the time 2002 rolled around, the buying public had moved on and the critics who fell over themselves for “I was born…” weren’t quite so enthused. I personally didn’t know what to think of it at first, beyond the obvious endearment of the grooves, but it has grown on me substantially over the years.

Some say their meteoric rise to fame is the inspiration behind the convoluted lyrics of this album’s second single, the awesomely titled, “Lessons learned from Rocky I to Rocky III”. There most definitely seem to be hits out at the music industry, at “soft rock shit”, at “TSB rock school”, and at hip hop stars bringing guns to meetings in A & R offices. However, all bets are off if you’re looking for depth here because Singh himself can’t account for the meaning in many of the tracks on this album. That is quite okay with me, though, because this tune really does rock and groove. Electric guitar hooks abound and funky drumming and soulful backing vocalists make it a real party. And Singh does his best Jagger swagger while he’s spouting this ‘nonsense’.

For the final word, I asked my friend Andrew Rodriguez to comment on the song and he came up with this:

“Packed lunches, chicks with dicks in miami beach and something about an Overgrown Supership. < lessons learned (and forget everything after 4)”

And this:

“That song in particular was referred to by some dumbf**k music critic as being ‘BTO esque’ ^^^seriously how do these cocks**kers have jobs???? *oh. wait. I answered my own question*”

Thanks again, Rodriguez.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.


Best albums of 1998: #4 Pulp “This is hardcore”

What do you get when you have a band, especially a talented and misunderstood frontman, that toils for years in obscurity, always hoping and striving for fame, finally reaches its goal with a couple of hit records and massive headline spots at top festivals, only to find out that the fame is not what he/they wanted in the end? You get an album like “This is hardcore”.

Indeed, Pulp’s previous record, their fifth, “Different class” had them out on top, almost two decades after a 15-year old Jarvis Cocker formed the band with his friend Peter Dalton. Pulp had seen multiple personnel changes over 1980s and they struggled mightily, releasing two albums to almost no impact on the music buying public. They started to gain traction with their third album, 1992’s “Separations”, and then, “His ‘n’ hers” truly broke the band in 1994. It’s sort of a chicken and the egg thing with Pulp and BritPop. Nevertheless, the scene’s wave carried the band with it to the pinnacles of fame and still, it seemed, Jarvis and company weren’t happy. The sixth album took a year to record and was a struggle from the beginning, perhaps this was partly due to the departure of long time member Russell Senior but the band persevered and the results were completely worth it.

When I first heard it, I was a bit thrown off as I’m sure a lot of people were. Of course, I was still young and looking for more of that glam rock to dance to and sing along with Cocker’s wry observations on love and sex and life in general. I wasn’t ready for all this jaded maturity and found the music too heavy on inaccessible side of the scale. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and with my own jaded maturity, I can now see “This is hardcore” for the masterpiece that it is. An album that is timeless and stands up to Pulp’s best work.

Sample, if you will, my three picks for you below and let me know your thoughts.

“A little soul”: Songs with titles like this are usually a bit more uplifting, soul or R&B pop tracks that shake it, suggesting that ‘little’ is an understatement. However, Cocker turns this idea on its head with a literal take on its theme. The narrative is of a man speaking to his son, likely not a direct conversation though, just one in his head, as he’s watching him from afar or looking at a photo of him. “You look like me but you’re not like me, I hope. I have run away from the one thing that I ever made.” It’s a tired sounding number, an end of the night ballad, a mellow blues band in an empty, echoing club, Cocker sounding sorrowful and full of regret and though he feels he doesn’t have any soul to share, there’s plenty here.

“Help the aged”: Another song here that’s a bit depressing. If you’re sensing a theme, you’re spot on. Amongst the screaming and searing guitars is Cocker eulogizing youthfulness and imploring the young to truly see seniors and not hide from their own mortality. “You can dye your hair but it’s the one thing you can’t change, can’t run away from yourself.” No, it’s not a charitable song, as its title suggests, but an introspective one. A midlife crisis in song form, rage and sadness in a four minute song rather than a red convertible.

“This is hardcore”: The title track is the epic, six and a half minute centrepiece of the album. The sound is very different from the synth glam of their previous record and Jarvis Cocker uses his usual lurid thematics here as an extended metaphor for how he sees the music industry. It’s a slow burning number, dark and seedy, likely something you might hear in a lower end strip joint while a disinterested performer moves to its crawling beat on the grimy stage. Cocker runs the gamut of hopes and dreams and foreplay to being spent and used in every way possible. ”Oh, this is hardcore. There is no way back for you.” This is a great band at peak form.

Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Sloan “Navy blues”
9. Cake “Prolonging the magic”
8. Embrace “The good will out”
7. Mojave 3 “Out of tune”
6. Rufus Wainwright “Rufus Wainwright”
5. Manic Street Preachers “This is my truth now tell me yours”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.