Thursday, September 02, 2004

When I was finishing my final year of high school back in the dark ages, there was a given theme to the English course at the time, the theme being "Growing Up". The gist of it was this: maturation and self-understanding are really only achieved through pain. Only through pain, discomfort and hard times can we come to learn about ourselves and the world, because "pain" is what forces us to look inside ourselves and face our shortcomings, the hope being that such a shock will help us "grow up". It sounds a touch simplistic, but I always felt it to be a truism, and I learnt that over the weekend. I also learnt this: at the age of 32, I'm not sure if my mind and body can take solid 2-day/24-hour booze binges and remain a workable entity for the rest of its natural life. Yes, that's right, I had a weekend bender with the sole diet of two servings of hot chips and a gallon of alcohol as my nutritional intake for the period. The pain I went through the next day was scorching. It wasn't just the physical nature of the hangover that was the killer, it was the mental comedown and all that goes with it. I like a drink or two - all my friends know that - but with a hangover that'd kill an ordinary man, I've sworn myself off the demon liquor for the time being. Like my pal Danny says: It's all fun and games until someone wakes up with a psychiatric illness. What was the occasion to celebrate, you ask? Why, it was the weekend.

So, on the Monday, with a crippling pain seeping its way through my mind and body and a fairly rapid decision that there was no way I was going to be able to work that day, I proceeded to spend the rest of the daylight hours in a semi-coma, stretched out on the couch, cursing myself for my indulgences and alternated between a few DVDs for comfort and a smorgasboard of music to keep my mind intact. These following titles somehow managed to keep my mind in one piece that fateful day, and for that I am eternally grateful. Forget the High Five - here's a Drunk Five...

1) ROYAL TRUX - Thank You CD
When this came out in 1995, on the Virgin label, it only brought one thought to my mind: some poor A & R schlep is going to lose their job over this sucker. I don't know how it faired in the US or Europe, but judging by Virgin's desperation to get rid of the money-losing led weight that was the 'Trux in the late '90s by paying them off a cool million and politely showing them the door, I'll assume its success was as great as it was down here: negligible. Thank You has gone through three distinct phases of its commercial shelf life thus far: 1) its total saturation in the "hip" record stores of the day upon release; 2) its total saturation in the bargain bins of said stores 6-12 months later; 3) its total saturation in the secondhand bins everywhere ever since. That's where I found my copy a few months back. Since I'm back on the 'Trux, I figured I'd give it a go. I'm glad I waited 'til now, because if I'd bought this back in '95, you can guarantee I would've been one of those lucky customers selling it right back two weeks after purchase. Why does this make sense to me now? That will forever remain a mystery, but my theory is this: Thank You sounds like two junkie hipsters desperately trying to appropriate every riff Led Zep and the 'Stones wrote in the year 1972 and spitting it out ca. 1995. Right now that idea appeals to me.

As a honky motherfucker, I've been through two distinct and separate "Reggae Phases" in my life: in the mid/late '90s when I discovered both the On-U Sound/Pressure Sounds roster of artists (the former not being strictly "reggae" as such, but it's close enough) and dug deep into the Blood & Fire reissues happening at the time, and somewhere round the 2001/'02 period where, for no reason in particular, I immersed myself heavily in the world of Dr. Alimantado, I-Roy, Congos, etc. It's all pretty fuckin' ace music - you don't need a white fuck like me telling you that - so you probably don't need me attempting to wax lyrical on the greatness of this disc. I bought this reissue at the time (it says 1994 on the CD, so I'll assume it was somewhere near then) on the strength of both John Lydon and author Jon Savage having hailed it as possibly the finest dub album of all time, and whilst I wouldn't agree with that (for the record: 'Alimantado's Best Dressed Chicken In Town, I-Roy's Crisis Time and the Congos' Heart of the Congos get my vote, though I'm no expert so don't ask me), it's a nice disc to pass the time for a morning of head-throbbing and wall-staring.

Not my favourite Sharrock disc per se; his '69 debut, Black Woman, wins that prize, but since I wasn't in for half an hour of Linda Sharrock screaming in my ear, I opted for this 1986 solo effort. Hadn't dug this one out for quite a long time, though it's a six-string "cosmic" workout which has held up well. With just Sonny and what I can only assume to be a few (or perhaps many) overdubs in place, this is a rather fine mix of full psychedelic blowouts and more melodic textures which'll appeal to both noise buffs and, much as I hate to say it, the kinds of losers who read guitar-player magazines. Naturally, all Eddie Hazel/Hendrix fans need this one.

4) SLOVENLY - Riposte / We Shoot For The Moon LPs
Two finer albums you'll will almost never hear, these two late '80s masterpieces from a band sadly so few have ever cared about are platters I'll take to the next life. Featuring ex-Saccharine Trust and future Red Krayola people at the helm, Slovenly were the great critics' fave of the late '80s and a band I'm willing to bet sold next to nothing. Riposte, from 1987, is the more skeletal and bare-boned of the two, with guitars interweaving Marquee Moon-style and Steve Anderson's deadpan-vocal profundities hitting you in spades, and whilst I'm aware of the fact that many people are put off by Anderson's supposedly atonal singing, for me it's what makes Slovenly work. There are moments of beauty here I'm too lazy to discuss; suffice to say, Slovenly achieved moments of sheer brilliance few others have ever approached.
We Shoot For The Moon from 1989 is a far noisier, more dense affair, and possibly even better than its predecessor. At the time, Forced Exposure compared it to MX-80's classic major-label flop from '77, Hard Attack, and whilst a reference means zip to many, it's right on the money. This is a completely unique collision of almost "heavy metal" guitars mixed with a jagged, No Wave/Beefheart sensibility, a combination I've heard nowhere else except perhaps from the similarly great (and ignored) The Scene Is Now. Both out of print, if I didn't figure that trying to wrestle the reissue rights off SST for these would be a Herculean task and a completely fruitless endeavour, I'd give it a go, but I'm not wasting my time with that.

5) MUNIR BASHIR - The Art of the Oud CD
Friends of mine will laugh at me mentioning this, since it's... umm... aaarrgh... kinda my job to be selling this disc in Australia, but since I also happen to really like it, I don't feel bad about mentioning it. Actually, if I didn't have to sell this and gain some familiarity with the Ocora label, I'm not proud in saying I probably wouldn't ever be aware of its existence, but that's the truth. You see, this 1971 recording from Bashir, the "Godfather of the Oud", is considered an absolute classic of world music, and now that I know that, I'm happy to inform you of that fact. When you're one of those self-styled know-it-all music boffin types (and if you're reading this right now, you probably are. It's ok to admit it), you take pride in trying to know absolutely everything about every half-assed genre under the sun, and, yes, the Iraqi stringed instrument known as the oud had slipped under my radar until approximately two years ago. Anyway, Bashir, who passed away about 10 years back, has a stack of material out, and whilst I only have this and his amazing Mesopotamia 2CD on the Chant du Monde label, I will stand forward, chest out and proudly recommend his music to anyone who's had their head turned by the likes of John Fahey or Robbie Basho. Mesopotamia is a bit more aggressive and almost raga-like in its length and twang, whilst Art of the Oud takes a more calming approach, plucking out notes which are perfectly spaced and even more perfect to listen to when your brain is slowing being plucked apart by the remnants of day-old alcohol.

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