Best tunes of 2003: #17 Metric “Combat baby”

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As I’ve mentioned previously in these pages*, it was my friend Jez that introduced me to Canadian-based indie rock group, Metric. He loaned me a copy of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”, a CD he had purchased at one their shows, which I promptly ripped to mp3 and listened to quite a bit during my morning walks to work.

Metric must have come to Ottawa a number of times in the early 2000s because it seems to me that Jez saw them multiple times at very tiny clubs. After the first time, he tried to get me to come out for the next one, raving about Metric’s live energy, especially that of frontwoman Emily Haines. He would go on to describe in great detail her peculiar dance, which I’ve since witnessed personally a few times. However, I’ve often wished that I had had the funds to join him for at least one of those early gigs because I think that her almost awkward dance and nervous energy would have translated even better on those intimate stages.

“Old world underground, where are you?” was like a breath of fresh air when it was released, especially for me. The first couple of years of the 2000s were a bit of a rough go musically. I had felt in a bit of a rut after the high of Britpop and was having a hard time getting motivated about new music. Metric’s debut was probably the first album I had heard from the new breed of Canadian indie rock bands that would go on to catch the music world on fire for the next five years or so. I had previously focused most of my attentions on music from the UK, through much of the 90s anyway, so having some favourites from my home country was almost a new thing to me.

“Combat baby” was actually released as a single from the album a whole year after the album’s release and it started to catch a lot of radio play. Before that though, it was just one of many tracks on an album I knew intimately from so many repeats on my MPIO mp3 player. Like many of the tunes, it is a quick hit, short and high energy and though when I think of “Old world underground, where are you?” I remember it as mostly a synth pop album, “Combat baby” is one of the more heavy hitting tracks. It plays almost to the angular post-punk scales, or to the borderline new wavers, definitely some Blondie vibes throughout.

“Said you would never give up easy
Combat baby, come back”

It kicks in with a chugging drum machine beat before the bass line picks up the barbells and starts flexing. The guitars just drive like the wind and you can almost picture Emily Haines strutting her stuff and wagging her head back and forth to get her blond hair flailing. And all the while, she is snarling wistfully about a lost lover, an antagonist, a bustle of excitement that didn’t settle for the status quo, but that might’ve since perhaps gone soft and settled, and she is missing that edge. By the end, though, you get the feels that she is kissing off, that she will be “fighting off the lethargy” and “painting the town black” going forward. Yes indeed.

*Back when one of Metric’s later tracks, “Breathing underwater”, came in at number 15 on my Best tunes of 2012 list.

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


100 best covers: #52 Depeche Mode “Route 66”

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I was pretty bummed a few weeks ago when I first caught wind of the news that Depeche Mode founding member Andrew Fletcher had passed away. It was merely incidental that I was just gearing up to write this very post. In light of the news, I pondered writing up something more specific towards giving due to the group’s quiet member but the one that purportedly held the whole thing together. In the end, though, I decided to continue on with my original plan and to simply give thoughts on the tune at hand.

I first heard Depeche Mode’s cover of “Route 66” care of my old friend John, many, many moons ago. In fact, it was right around the time that I was just getting into the band, just shortly after the start of the 1990s. He was a bit of an obsessive, my friend John. He already had pretty much everything the group had released thus far on compact disc, which was actually quite a bit. This included the three singles box sets that they had just released and a handful of the latter day CD singles not included in those sets. I remember one evening in his living room, he pulled out his extensive collection and spread it out around us while he played choice clips on his parents’ sweet stereo set up, the volume knob creeping upwards and then sliding back down again at his parents’ behest. “Route 66” was one such choice tune.

This cover was originally recorded as road trip themed b-side for the “Behind the wheel” single. It was recorded in one day and mixed on the next. It incorporated elements of “Behind the wheel” and on some remixes of “Behind the wheel”, we get smatterings of “Route 66”. It was so beloved by everyone (include the record execs), that some were pushing for it to be released as a double A-side, it found a spot on the “Earth girls are easy” film soundtrack of 1988, and it was liberally used throughout Depeche Mode’s tour documentary “101” in 1989.

“Route 66” was originally written by American songwriter Bobby Troup in 1946 after a road trip he took with his wife from Pennsylvania to California and he incorporated the names of places they had passed along the way. The song’s original recording came by way of Nat King Cole and his trio and has become a classic rhythm and blues standard since then, covered by everyone from Bing Crosby to Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. So it’s no wonder that this one was familiar to me, stood out amongst the many other tracks John played for me on that night, and I asked in particular for the Beatmasters mix that combined this with “Behind the wheel” for an extended groove to be included on the mixed tape he later promised me.

I only heard the King Cole Trio original for the first time this week and though it sounds great, his voice and the classic jazz instrumentation, I cannot in good conscience choose it over Depeche Mode’s cover. Alan Wilder, Andrew Fletcher, Martin Gore, and David Graham made this song their own. The electronic and driving beats really evoke the speeds of highway driving and the bluesy riffs of electric guitar only only accentuate the feeling. Sweet stuff.


The original:

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


Vinyl love: Depeche Mode “Violator”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Depeche Mode
Album Title: Violator
Year released: 1990
Year reissued: 2014
Details: 180 gram, gatefold

The skinny: A couple of weekends ago, I started spinning some Depeche Mode and sharing snaps of the few albums I own of theirs in my vinyl collection (yeah, I need few more), all in a bid to stir up the creative juices and finish my Top Five Tunes post that featured their best tunes of the 90s. Well, it worked. I posted that on Friday and if you’ve read it, you’d know that 60% of the songs on that list come from this very album (and the song below wasn’t even one of them). To say that “Violator” is my favourite Depeche Mode album is an understatement. Isn’t it everyone’s? Nine tracks and each one is incredible. Not a skippable track in the bunch. One of many reasons why it was a must for my vinyl collection when I first started collecting again. And this 180 gram reissue sounds perfect. That’s all there is to it. It’s perfection.

Standout track: World in my eyes”