Top five tunes: Doves

Well, good morning… and, uh… happy new year.

I can hardly believe it myself, this being my first post of 2019.

It wasn’t a planned break or hiatus. I just wasn’t in a huge rush to get right back at it, what with the holidays and life happening in between. I hadn’t planned on taking so long and really, the longer I took to mobilizing myself, the more I realized I’d have to return with something a bit special. And what’s more special than a focus on one of my all-time faves to come out of the 2000s.

Who? Doves

Years active: 1998-2010, 2018-current

Band members:
Jimi Goodwin (lead vocals, bass, guitars)
Jez Williams (guitar, vocals)
Andy Williams (drums, vocals)

Discography:
Lost souls (2000)
The last broadcast (2002)
Some cities (2005)
Kingdom of rust (2009)

Context:
Doves have been front of mind recently for me because the slew of us that consider ourselves fans got an early Christmas present at the beginning of last month when news came down the pipe that the band was reforming. Interestingly, they never really broke up. The official word back in 2010 was hiatus. However, it was a hiatus that seemed interminable and the good but not Doves great solo and side project albums that appeared from its members only exacerbated our collective impatience. Recently, someone started an online petition to get them back together that really gained steam, it had a Twitter account and everything. And now, they’re back… but what that fully means is still a bit unclear. A handful of gigs in their native England have been planned and announced with more promised and rehearsals have started in earnest. At the time of writing this, we still don’t know if there will be tours outside of England, a new album, or vinyl reissues of their now classic back catalogue but one can hope that this reformation isn’t temporary.

Doves originally formed with their current lineup as Sub Sub in 1991. Jimi Goodwin met twin brothers Jez and Andy Williams at high school in Wilmslow, a town just south of Manchester, England. Sub Sub came about after they got reacquainted at the Haçienda and they released a bunch of singles and EPs through the 1990s on Rob Gretton’s record label. A fire at the band’s studio in 1996 meant they lost pretty much all their equipment and recordings and this inspired them to change gears and name. Doves’ atmospheric alt-rock was an obvious departure from the house and dance of Sub Sub when it appeared in the form of an EP in 1998. A couple more of these followed before their debut full-length appeared in 2000. Regular readers of this site might recall that a couple of songs from “Lost souls” appeared on my best tunes of 2000 list.

However, that album wasn’t my introduction to the group. It was “The last broadcast” that first caught my ear. I fell in love with that album on one of my many trips down to Toronto in the early days of living in Ottawa, back when our only mode of transport to home and back was by Greyhound bus. That particular ride was the overnighter on the Friday of the August long weekend. I had the album on repeat on my Discman for the entire five plus hours trek and it kept me company as I wavered in and out of sleep, ingraining itself into my subconscious. After that, “Lost souls” became my friend as well and each successive album became an anticipated event.

Doves released only four albums in total, all of them in the 2000s, before their hiatus took hold. Each of these is a favourite of mine and hence, each has its place near the top of my list of best albums for the years in which they were released. And given the appetite for their reformation, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. For me, it was a difficult task to choose only five great tunes from their catalogue, but I did manage to represent each of the band’s four long players. And I want to state now that I reserve the right to revisit this list in the future, should this reformation lead to new material because I am sure they’ve got same amazing new music left in them, just waiting to be unleashed on us. Here’s hoping, right fellow fans?

In the meantime, have a perusal of the songs below and as always, let me know your favourite Doves tunes. I’m always willing talk this band.

The top five:

#5: Walk in fire (from “Some cities”, 2005)

Kicking things off with song number five, it is a tune never released as a single from Doves’ third studio album, “Some cities”. This was the first album released after I had discovered them so it was also the first album that I had heaped expectations upon. This anticipation led to an initial letdown for me, the only time I experienced such a feeling with any of their albums. In fact, “Walk in fire” was an early favourite because it most closely resembled the work on “The last broadcast”. The rest of the album and its “stripped-down” approach has since grown on me but this one still remains the standout. It’s a song that builds over its five and a half minutes, which is something you might hear over and over again for these five tunes. Starting with a creak and a sigh, an arpeggio on the chiming guitars, and Goodwin wistfully singing about someone you could swear is from his past, or your past, the drums ease in after the first verse and the guitar effects hanging and teasing around thus far increase in insistence. By the time the chorus hits us with that line, “you’re not free till you walk in fire”, things have reached a pretty frantic dance pace. But it doesn’t stop there. Save for a brief respite at the bridge, where things ease off to give space for a lovely echo of keys, Doves keep raising the bar right to the end, stoking the flames to a mass conflagration. All you have to do is walk through it.


#4: Kingdom of rust (from “Kingdom of rust”, 2009)

Our next tune here is the title track and first single off Doves’ fourth and final album, “Kingdom of rust”. It is the second track behind album opener, “Jetstream”, both of which I fell in love with from the beginning. In fact, it took a bit of time to get past these two tunes, they just kept repeating, the rest of the album didn’t reveal itself to me for well over a week after I got it. “Kingdom of rust” is also the only tune by Doves my wife Victoria likes, which still blows my mind. (I obviously need to work harder on her.) I’ve tried to figured why this one particular song appeals to her when the others don’t but the reason eludes me. I’ve thought that perhaps it’s not as fast past paced or busy as some of the others. Yet this is incorrect, the pace is definitely high energy though it feels slightly tempered by Andy Williams opting for brushes over sticks on the skins. And even still, when his brother Jez decides to let loose on his guitar halfway through the song, the sticks return to play and they both unleash a fury. I also wondered if it was the liberal use of a string section, which never really hurts, to Victoria’s ear, though this isn’t the only track on which Doves employ the use of such orchestral sounds. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure it out but it’s a rocking track nonetheless.


#3: Pounding (from “The last broadcast”, 2002)

The second single released off Doves’ second album, “The last broadcast”, certainly lives up to its name. “Pounding” is a case of relentless drumming by Andy Williams. It is a heavy thump thump thump on the bass drum, as inescapable as the passage of time. It is energy and exuberance personified. It is Jimi Goodwin singing about the value of living in the moment and not getting hung up on the unimportant things, singing “I can’t stand by and see you destroyed. I can’t be here and watch you burn up.” It is a leap into hyperspace to chase down enemy tie fighters. It is Jez Williams doing his best The Edge impersonation about halfway through the song, wailing away on his guitar like he still hadn’t found what he was looking for. It is a great driving tune. Nay, I don’t how many times I have cranked the volume on this one in my car and each time the speedometer needle has crept up by itself and I’ve had to lighten my gas pedal foot. If you want a burst of energy and a jolt of good mood, here’s your song.


#2: The man who told everything (from “Lost souls”, 2000)

“The man who told everything” is the third single to be released off “Lost souls” and coincidentally, came in at number three on my best tunes of 2000 list. Forgive me if I plagiarize myself from that earlier post it because, well, I’m not feeling up to reinventing the wheel today. “‘The man who told everything’ is big, bold, and beautiful. But don’t mistake my words for inferring that this tune is high energy frenzy. Instead, for all the excitement of the words, the music has a more muted pace. The guitar strumming matches the easy drumming at the outset but at each chorus, another layer of guitars and string effects is added that has an arduous quality, at once daunting and stubborn and unforgiving. I don’t how to else to describe it. It’s brilliant though. I like to listen to this one late at night, lights dimmed, earphones on, volume up, eyes closed, a pint not far from hand, and just let the waves of it all crash over me. So much awesome.”


#1: There goes the fear (from “The last broadcast”, 2002)

Of course, you knew that if the band only had four albums and each was represented, there would have to be an album that was represented twice. And of course, that album would have to have been “The last broadcast”, my introduction to the band, as mentioned above, and my still favourite of their albums. “There goes the fear” was the first single released from the album and was one of those that was deleted on the same day it was released so only a lucky few out there have a physical copy of the single. It can more easily be found as track three on “The last broadcast” and is most definitely ranking up there as one of my favourite ever tunes. Yes. Just listen to it. It is nearly seven minutes of pure danceable bliss. The guitar work that strings its way through its entirety reminds me of those old toys that you cranked and it played a tune that could speed up or slow down depending on the speed of your cranking. The drum beat, though not as insistent as on “Pounding”, is no less energizing, almost frenetic, tribal and hypnotic, driving you to the dance floor like an adrenaline surging drug. This song and its slow build of layers, stepping it all up to a point of manic ecstasy is the template for songs on to come on later albums, like “Walk in fire” (see above). But it is almost pure perfection here. I could just listen to it forever.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.

Top five tunes: The Sisters Of Mercy

Who? The Sisters of Mercy

Years active: 1980 – present

Band members*:
Andrew Eldritch (lead vocals, keyboards, guitars, drum programming) 1980 – present
Doktor Avalanche (drum machine) 1981 – present
Gary Marx (guitars, vocals) 1980 – 1985
Craig Adams (bass) 1981 – 1985
Wayne Hussey (guitars, backing vocals) 1983 – 1985
Patricia Morrison (bass, backing vocals) 1987 – 1989
Chris Catalyst (guitars, backing vocals) 2005 – present
Ben Christo (guitars, bass, backing vocals) 2006 – present

*The above is only a selected list of band members. There have been a number of members throughout the band’s existence, of which Andrew Eldritch is the only constant.

Discography:
First and last and always (1985)
Floodland (1987)
Vision thing (1990)

Context:
So it’s October and Hallowe’en is just around the corner. I didn’t do anything holiday-themed last year and typically don’t observe the holidays too much on these pages but well… I’m due for another Top Five Tunes post. I thought about doing a Top Five favourite Hallowe’en tune post but didn’t have the energy to dig too deeply into my iTunes collection . Then I thought about going Goth and even that felt like I would have to wrack my brain a bit too much. (You’ll have to bear with me, I’ve already started looking at narrow down my favourite albums for the end of the year series and it’s taking a lot out of me.) So I settled on making October Sisters of Mercy month this year.

Interestingly, if frontman and driving force behind the group, Andrew Eldritch, every read these words connect his group with Hallowe’en and anything remotely goth, he’d likely shudder, scream, and want to scratch my eyes out. He’s never been happy with the label, finding it quite offensive that the genre itself exists and even worse that anyone connects his work with it. I’ll never forget the only time I saw them live, back in 1999, and having noted all the black clothing, dyed hair, and heavy eye makeup in the audience, imagined all the collective jaws dropping in the dark when Eldritch took the stage with bleached blonde hair and a Hawaiian shirt. (If you’re wondering, yeah, it was a freaking awesome show.)

It was my friend Tim that got me into the Sisters of Mercy. He could tell you for sure but I feel like before he sold off his vinyl collection in the early 90s, he had a boatload of their 12″ singles. He started me off by including one of their songs on each of the many mixed tapes he made for me in our last couple of years of high school. But I think the night that really sold them for me was a night he was driving us all home from a drama performance night (yeah, I was a thespian back in high school) and “Ribbons” was blasting in the car. Tim hit a speed bump just as Eldritch was screaming “Incoming” and a good portion of the soft drink I was holding was dumped on whoever was sitting in the back seat behind me. The song stuck. And the rest is history.

Eldritch formed the group in 1980 with guitarist and friend, Gary Marx, taking their name from a Leonard Cohen song. He started off as drummer but quickly put that aside to concentrate on vocals, replacing himself with the first in a line of many different drum machines, all nicknamed “Doktor Avalanche”, that would provide the group’s rhythm throughout the years. This drum machine would be the only other constant in the group besides Eldritch to this day. You might have noticed above the strange fact for a group that has been in existence for almost 40 years: they’ve released only three studio albums (I’ll get to the why in a minute). But it’s also interesting to note that each of those albums were recorded by an almost completely different group.

After those three iconic records and a bunch of singles and compilation albums, recorded output from the band stopped. The recording hiatus started out as a protest against their record label but East West (Warner) released them from the contract 1997. Still nothing. The touring continued, however, and apparently so did the writing of new material, as was evidenced by the appearance of unreleased songs performed at these shows over the years. Rumours have abounded of new albums in the almost thirty years since “Vision thing” but the closest I think we have come was recently when Eldritch himself posited that they may have to finally get back to the studio should Trump be elected president. Well… the unthinkable has happened, perhaps we’ll see a new Sisters record soon. Until then, these are my own favourites from the old back catalogue.

The top five:

#5: Alice (from “Alice”, 1982)

“Alice” was The Sisters of Mercy’s third ever single but the first to gain any real traction. With its initial release in 1982, it got play on John Peel’s radio show, which led to its re-release the following year on a four song EP. It is one of the group’s best known songs and still regularly appears on set lists. It was re-recorded in 1993 and released as a B-side to the Sisters’ final ever released recording: the single “Under the gun”. Both version are quite good but I actually prefer the more austere and claustrophobic production of the original to crisp and flashy do-over. The song is about drug addiction, the title and name of the protagonist being a nod to the Alice of the children’s stories, and how little else matters to a junkie but the drugs. It is dark, edgy, and haunting, so post-punk and goth, even tending toward industrial before there was such a thing.


#4: Dominion / Mother Russia (from “Floodland”, 1987)

“Dominion” was the second single released off of “Floodland”, which some of you might remember made an appearance on my Best albums of 1987 series that wrapped up last month. Many different versions and remixes of varying lengths have been released but I prefer the seven minute version on the album that includes the “Mother Russia”. It adds a whole other element to the song, with lines comparing the US and Russia, almost equating the two as one. But even without this final piece, the song is very much reminiscent of the Cold War. With the clattering drum ominous guitars, and choral backing vocals, it evokes austerity and totalitarianism and propagandism and the threat of nuclear war. “Some say prayers – I say mine.” Yup.


#3: More (from “Vision thing”, 1990)

This one has already appeared on these pages when it peeked its goth rock face out at number seven on my best tunes of 1990 list last October (coincidence?). It was released as the first single off the outfit’s final studio LP, “Vision thing”, and features heavy handed piano and synth washes, muscular, machine gun guitars, and the backing vocals of Scottish singer Maggie Reilly. Like the rest of their catalogue, it is dark and sinister in sound but if you actually sat down and read the lyrics without the music, you might question it being penned by Andrew Eldritch. It reads like a straightforward love song, albeit one bordering on obsessive, almost junkie territory. “All I want, all I need, all the time is more of your sweet love. Too much just ain’t enough. I never needed a fix like this before.” A great tune for driving in the middle of the night with tears streaming down you face… or… wait… just a great tune, really.


#2: This corrosion (from “Floodland”, 1987)

Recorded during the same sessions as the song at number three above, “This corrosion” has Jim Steinman written all over it. The song is epic big in length, scope, and sound, as well as a budget epic enough to cover forty members of the New York Choral Society, whom you can hear opening the ten plus minute song. It is perhaps The Sisters of Mercy’s best known song, recently appearing in the Simon Pegg comedy, “The World’s End”, and his character sports a Sisters shirt throughout. Given the post-apocalyptic imagery of the video, I used to think there was deep, anti-war message/meaning to the song but I’ve since learned that the song and its “over the top” lyrics are really just a shot ex-band member and The Mission frontman, Wayne Hussey. “I got nothing to say I ain’t said before. I bled all I can, I won’t bleed no more. I don’t need no one to understand.” Learning this hasn’t changed anything for me, it’s still a great song in my books.


#1: Temple of love (1992) (from “A slight case of overbombing”, 1992)

Blah


For other top five lists in this series, click here.

Top five tunes: Second wave Ska

(I’ve done a bunch of these “Top five tunes” posts already but most of them have been ranking my favourite songs by a particular artist. This is only my second thematic-based list and the first of what I hope will be many genre-based lists.)

The context:

Admittedly, my knowledge of ska’s history and the evolution of its sound is very rudimentary. For me, ska is characterized by an upbeat and staccato guitar rhythm, often (but not always) punctuated by horn section flourishes. I’m sure if you spoke to my friend Andrew Rodriguez or even my younger brother Michael, you would get a more accurate and thorough story of the evolution of ska. However, I will endeavour…

What many people (including myself for a while) don’t realize is that ska didn’t begin in England in the 1980s but in Jamaica in the 1950s and that reggae evolved from ska, not the other way around. Musicians like Prince Buster, The Skatalites and Desmond Dekker started this genre by fusing Caribbean calypso sounds with American jazz and R&B. Bob Marley’s band, The Wailers, and Jimmy Cliff, both big names in reggae, actually got their start as ska acts.

It was the “second wave” of ska that came out of England, originating in the late 1970s, when bands like The Specials and The Beat, blended the sounds of Jamaican ska with English punk music. Many of the songs these English ska bands recorded were covers of Jamaican ska hits (in fact, the band Madness took their name from a Prince Buster tune), while many of their other songs pushed for racial unity (a theme especially common with the 2 Tone acts). Many popular 1980s bands, like UB40, General Public, Fine Young Cannibals, and the aforementioned, Madness, started out as ska acts but found larger commercial success when pop and new wave bled into their sound.

The so-called “third wave” of ska stretched from the 1980s into the 1990s as the ska sound finally hit North American mass culture. Punk and hardcore bands mixed ska into their sound with great success. Bands like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Rancid, Goldfinger and yes, even No Doubt, brought a new brand of ska to the alt-rock kids and inspired a short-lived ska revival in the late 1990s. I freely admit that my own intro to the genre came through cursory brushes with Canadian legends King Apparatus and then, later on with early Bosstones. These led to my later explorations with the bands you’ll read about below.

By the time I was deeply entrenched in university, these second ska acts were a big part of my wheelhouse. It got so my friend Mark and I had an ongoing joke on the matter. Whenever there was a song playing, he would ask (facetiously after the first few times), “Is this ska?” To which I would reply, “No, Mark, that’s not ska!”

This top five focuses on the second wave (the third wave might come in a future post), a “scene” that was short-lived but its inspiration was far reaching. Have a perusal and let me know if I’m missing out on your favourite tracks from this era. And yes, Mark, these songs are ska.

The top five:

#5: “On my radio” by Selector (1979)

The first song here is by the only group on this list to feature a female vocalist (and perhaps the only one to feature a female member at all). It is also the group I know least about, only discovering this particular song while listening to a ska compilation album a handful of years ago. However, I’m not completely unfamiliar with their name. I’m positive my friend Andrew Rodriguez has name-dropped them before in conversation and am reasonably certain he used to have their patch sewn onto the army parka he used to wear everywhere back in high school. The Selecter released two albums before Pauline Black left the band in 1982 to pursue a career in theatre. They reformed in the early 90s and have existed in various incarnations ever since. “On the radio” was the band’s first official single and charted quite high. Like many of the songs to follow in this list, it’s upbeat and danceable but Pauline Black’s vocals add a different quality, almost a Motown flair that is jarred awake by the call and response vocals at the chorus. Then, the organs come in on the bridge and we’re all dancing again.


#4: “Little bitch” by The Specials (1979)

Chances are if you google the phrase “second wave ska”, you’ll come across the term “2 Tone” pretty quickly in your scrolling. This is the name of the label founded by Jerry Dammers to release the punk-tinged, ska and reggae music he and his friends were producing and it ended up lending its name as a secondary term for the subgenre. Dammers was also a founding member of The Specials, also known at times as The Special AKA. Their self-titled debut album was produced by Elvis Costello and despite only being the source of two singles, is considered a classic, through and through. They only lasted two albums before rupture, Neville Staple, Lynval Golding, and Terry Hall leaving to form Fun Boy Three. Of course, the band has reformed in many iterations over the years. But back then, “Little bitch”, despite not being one of the songs released as a single, was a classic, a dance hall raver, shouting “one, two”, and carrying on, all staccato and unbreakable, full of the energy of youth and brilliance of age.


#3: “My girl” by Madness (1979)

As I mentioned above, Madness took their name from a Prince Buster song, one of the progenitors of the original ska movement in Jamaica. They also covered the song in question and another, “One step beyond” became quite the hit for them. A number of second wave ska acts covered their favourite numbers by their favourite Jamaican ska artists, reworking them for new audiences, but this track, “My girl”, was an original. It was written by keyboardist Mike Barson about his girlfriend at the time and was originally sung by him for live performances and on the demo, but lead vocalist, Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson took over when it came time to put it tape. The song was the final single released from the band’s debut album. Madness would go on to release five more albums before breaking up in 1986. Of course, there have been multiple iterations and reformations of the band over the years, touring and releasing new material, including a new album just this year. My first (and likely many other North Americans’) introduction to the group came by way of hit single “Our house”, a pop song that was a result of the band’s change of direction before disbanding the first time. “My girl” came to me via my friend Andrew Rodriguez who helped me put together a mixed tape of music from his collection one afternoon. It’s bouncy horns and guitars, tinkling keys, and peppy drumming, while Suggs wistfully waxes about the eternal man versus woman struggles to understand each other. Fun stuff.


#2: “Mirror in the bathroom” by The Beat (1980)

The Beat (known as The English Beat in North America and The British Beat in Australia) was formed in 1978 in Birmingham and featured Dave Wakeling, Andy Cox, David Steele, Saxa, and Ranking Roger, among others. They released three full-length albums before breaking up in 1982, its various members going on to form General Public and Fine Young Cannibals. “Mirror in the bathroom” is the opening track from The Beat’s debut album, “I just can’t stop it”, and as openers go, it’s one of the finest. The driving beat and riffing guitar line lay a fine bed for Saxa’s saxophone noodling and tease you right out on to the dance floor to skank about with abandon, whether the floor is packed or not. The song hints at danger and violence and late-night drinking. I certainly remember hoofing a shoe to this particular number on more than a few dance floors in the early hours during the nineties. And oh yeah, am I the only one here that thought that Goldfinger’s hit single, “Here in the bedroom”, ripped this one off a tad?


#1: “A message to you Rudy” by The Specials (1979)

Here we have the second appearance by The Specials and quite fittingly, it is a cover. Originally performed by Dandy Livingstone, “A message to you, Rudy” was way more successful when it was covered a decade later by Jerry Dammers and company. This version opens the band’s self-titled, debut album, which was described at the time as a perfect representation of their live performances, so I can imagine the song was also a mainstay on their set lists, even back then. It definitely was there when I saw them perform as part of their reunion shows that featured the majority of the band’s original members back in 2013. I say definitely because I have total recall of jumping around like a madman in total bliss. “A message to you, Rudy” in all its mellow jump and groove, horns and organs, and gang vocals was one of my favourite songs for a good while there in the mid-nineties, grabbing me from the moment I heard it. There was a risk, though, when I was in university residence of my getting sick of it. One of the young women on my floor heard me listening to it in my room one day and took a liking to it. She surprised me when she asked to borrow my CD because she typically listened to dance music and pop. The problem was that after making a copy she would play it constantly, sometimes blasting it loud enough from her room to be able to hear it when she was putting on her makeup in the shared bathrooms down the hall. Luckily, the phase passed and I can still say “A message to you, Rudy” is my favourite second wave ska track.


For other top five lists in this series, click here.