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Best tunes of 2003: #25 The Stills “Still in love song”

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“We were lovers
We were kissers
We were holders of hands
We were make believers
Just losing time”

The four original members of Montreal’s The Stills – vocalist and guitarist Tim Fletcher, guitarist Gregory Paquet, bassist Olivier Corbeil, and drummer Dave Hamelin – met when they were all still teenagers. Each performed in various bands prior to forming The Stills in 2000 and perhaps because of these previous experiences, they quickly gained a following based on their heavy duty live show. They finally released their debut album, “Logic will break your heart”, late in 2003 to critical acclaim*, earning favourable comparisons to Echo & the Bunnymen and fellow post-punk revivalists Interpol. They would go on to release two further albums before amicably splitting up in 2011. The band’s members continue to work in the industry, in other bands, and doing session or production work for other great Canadian acts.

It’s unfortunate to me that the quartet didn’t have more success and longevity, given the promise of their outstanding debut. I remember being super excited when I first heard “Logic will break your heart”, right around the time that I heard “Turn on the bright lights”. I admit that I didn’t feel the same way about those latter albums but that original excitement never waned and I often found myself putting on the debut when I felt the urge to be dark and sombre and angsty.

The third single off that debut would forever remain my favourite by the quartet. “Still in love song” can be universally understood by all but those who have never had a love crushed by someone over whom that person chose someone else, a career, or whatever other passion.

“And you said you’d rather live in TV land
Than say that you care
But you don’t
That’s heartless and I will not cry”

Musically, the tune is – purely and simply – post punk revival at its best. Sinister, arpeggiating guitars, menacing bassline that won’t quit, punishing and bass heavy drum rhythms, snarling vocals, and all this captured in stasis in a vacuous and hermetically sealed wind tunnel. It’s a song that begs repeat plays, tailor made for ear phones and closed eyes and all sorts of other mopery.

*Discounting, of course, the lambasting they received from Pitchfork.. and I always will.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2020: #27 The Psychedelic Furs “Wrong train”

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The Psychedelic Furs have been around forever. The British post-punk band formed in the late 70s and had a string of hits throughout the 80s. I first picked up on them in the latter part of that decade when I first saw the John Hughes film, “Pretty in pink”, whose title was inspired by one of the band’s early hits and of course, that track was re-recorded for the now iconic soundtrack. When I went through a retro 80s kick in the 90s, I picked up on even more of their tunes and ended up getting a copy of one of their best of compilations on CD but that was as far as I ever delved.

Still, I remember thinking it cool and a little bit funny when my friend Eileen was telling me and my wife a story over beers about how she met up with them at a tiny bar in New York when she was younger. She also laughed because she didn’t know who they were then and still didn’t really know how big they were but clearly remembered their name and that they were a ‘great bunch of kids’.

I also didn’t hesitate to ensure to catch their set when they played my favourite local music festival, Ottawa Bluesfest, a couple of years ago, even though the reformed group hadn’t released any new material since 1991’s “World outside”. I was absolutely rewarded by them playing pretty much all the songs that I knew by them but I was also super impressed by how they really rocked the stage, frontman Richard Butler especially tearing it up with those inimitable lungs of his.

So when I heard a couple of years later that the group had released its first album of new material in nearly thirty years, I was leery and almost gave it a by. As it was, I pressed play on Spotify, fully expecting to skip a few songs and give up the ghost in short order. How wrong I was! “Made of rain” was fresh and raw, full of killer hooks and Butler’s rock and roll vocals.

“I took the wrong train
Ate all the wrong pills
I took a cell phone
To call my voice mail”

Track four on the album is a tune called “Wrong train”, a banger that was actually written by the band way back in 2001, near the beginning of their reunion run. Butler wrote it about his experiences living in the suburbs, a bad time in his life tainted further by his break up with his wife, the domestic life gone awry. It’s the roar and rumble of a commuter train, lost in sleep and dazed in the humdrum of the day, Butler’s voice roaring and soaring above it all, looking down at this daily drudgery like an out of body experience.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2020 list, click here.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 1993: #21 New Model Army “Bad old world”

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New Model Army is yet another group to whom my friend Tim introduced me, but as opposed to the group who last appeared in this list, this meeting was more immediately successful. He put one of their tracks, “51st state”, on a mixed tape he made for me and its angry folk-punk and intelligent but subversive messaging appealed to my teenaged sensibilities. Then, seeing my interest piqued, he loaned me a CD copy of their 1992 singles compilation, “History”. From there, I was completely sold on the songwriting of Justin Sullivan and the dark and angry workings of his bandmates.

Indeed, it was almost as if it were all part of Tim’s ‘evil’ plotting because in the early part of the summer of 1993, the group was touring North America, complete with a stop in Toronto, and yours truly was a ready-made concert buddy. Nevertheless, it was to be my first ever concert* and to say I was excited was an understatement. I purchased a copy of their latest CD, “The love of hopeless causes”, in preparation and it quickly fell into heavy rotation.

“Bad old world” is the final track on that album, a real rocker to close things off, but what really makes the song notable is the lyrics and the way Sullivan sings them with such conviction. I’ve read that it was written as a sort of sequel to “Green and grey”, one of my favourite tunes off the band’s 1989 album “Thunder and consolation”. And I’m willing to bet that there’s something to this theory and it’s not just because New Model Army played the two songs back to back at that show back in 1993. It’s like the missing piece of the original song we didn’t know we needed but now that we’ve heard it, both songs are just more perfect.

“Green and grey” addresses a missing friend or brother, someone who left the protagonist behind to continue the fight alone. He sings of the brightness and optimism of youth and how nothing has changed where they grew up and there’s a sense of a feeling of betrayal and a lack of understanding for the departure. All this comes out in the form of a letter for which no reply was expected but yet “Bad old world” is that reply, nonetheless.

“Dear Justin, I know it’s been a long time
Remember all those nights we spent sitting up talking in your front room
About leaving this worn out world and starting again far away in a better place
Well that’s where I am now – but still thinking about you”

Where “Green and grey” is as wistful as its fiddle and as bitter as its foreshadowing storm, “Bad old world” is nostalgic in its delivery but also full of hope. The correspondent admits that he got out, leaving the bad old world behind, but he bears no shame and in fact, wants to share this sense of peace with his friend.

“I used to think it was me who’d somehow sold out
Or given in on some almighty cause,
But what difference would it make? It feels good to be out here.”

It truly is a wonderful counterpoint, a comparison of two lives that started at the same point but were then lived very differently.

*This is a story I’ve already regaled as part of my post on their 1990 track, “Vagabonds”, when it appeared at #9 on my best tunes list for that year.

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