singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
28 October 2019
(listening with headphones)Avid Acutus
Funk F·XRII
Benz Micro LP-S
Linn Kilmax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove Mk 2
TEAD Vibe Phoenix / Pulse 2
Luxman P-1u
Sennheiser HD800

TWELVE INCH SINGLE DEATH-ROW SPECIAL!

I’ve never got rid of records. I once traded two Radiohead singles for Pristine Christine, and when we moved house I threw Closer and Lowlife in a skip to celebrate. Other than that, nothing in playable condition has ever (knowingly) left the collection.

My wife is very tolerant of my records and my hi-fi. We have a purpose-built, nine-foot square unit built into an alcove in the living room, and it’s full of records. Really full. Full to a point where it’s hard to get a 12” record in or out. Sevens aren’t so bad: I have about another foot or so of 7” shelves to go at, but the 12s are rammed. We’ve agreed the collection can’t bleed out into other areas: the condition of being granted this safe habitat is to not ask for any more.

I’ve stopped buying albums because I have nowhere to put them. By thinning out the wastes-of-space, I can allow more in.

So I pulled out all the things I know I can definitely lose. Failed experiments (Neil Young albums); complete crap (Badly Drawn Boy); “novelty” (I’m Free by John Inman); things which I don’t particularly like and are worth money (Hope Sandoval); Morrissey records. Nothing any good, and less than a hundred of them. They’re all propped up against the wall like condemned men.

But tonight, I am Pontius Partridge. The borderline 12s get cleaned and played, and if they’re good enough, they get a poly inner and a place back on the shelf. If they’re not, they’re property of Marie Curie.

The criterion for survival is more subtle than just being “a good record”. You must be good enough to justify your shelf space. Your worth must be balanced against your potential replacement. So the bar is lower for a flat sleeve than for one with a spine. Album track plus live recording will have to be a heck of a live recording.

You have one chance. Don’t blow it.

The BardotsPretty O
12" single

From 1992, on Cheree. I never fully understood the relationship between Cheree and Che, even though I slightly collected the latter.

All three tracks are slightly anthemic mid-tempo, female-fronted indie. Very middle of the early ’90s road. The stuff that turned into britpop. Knowing what you know now, you can hear it coming in The Bardots. They were just too serious. Charity shop.

2

Given its name and its sleeve art, which is of some kind of super-heavy-duty machinery, I expected this to be a lot heavier than it is. It’s a long EP of nimble and smart electronic music. Released in 1999 it naturally owes a lot to Richard James, but he won’t have lost any sleep over it.

Pillow is glitchy before there was such a thing. Production No is noisy proto-electronica. Naxxar is a dirty experiment. Superheroes perhaps does evoke the sleeve art. Big Submarine has drumming and noise and proper submarine sounds at the end.

Not at all a bad record, but not quite good enough to get back on the shelf.

3

I like Teenage Fanclub, but not as much as I think I do. When I listen to them, I enjoy it, but I very rarely get the urge to do so. This is the only one of their catalogue up for the chop, and it’s only here because it has a tatty sleeve and I couldn’t remember ever having played it.

Radio is on Thirteen, and far from the best thing on there, so the ‘b’s will have to work hard to justify its place on the shelves.

First is Weird Horses: a close-miked impromptu sounding mostly-guitar-plus-voice job. Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It is my favourite of the band’s records, so I’m looking on this kindly, but it goes on a bit long. Don’s Gone Columbia is brilliant: an instrumental snippet of toe-tapping instrumentalism. Chords of Fame is a tambourine-driven moral fable with screechy harmonica.

This one is a dilemma: it’s a decent record, but I have this feeling I’ll never play it again. Charity shop, but with the hope someone buys it and plays it loads.

3

You probably only need one Wedding Present record, and it’s probably Kennedy, and I have two copies of that.

Though I do like some of their songs, I’m slightly put off the Wedding Present by their chummy John-Peel-indie-untouchable-national-treasure status. (Peel and Gedge being cut from the same dirty old perv cloth.) I also find Gedge’s singing style annoyingly affected in that Robert Smith kind of way.

Whilst not wishing to make my mind up before playing the record, its case is not likely to be helped by a Beatles cover or a track with ‘(acoustic version)’ after its title. It is, however, likely to be helped by being touched by the sainted hand of Amelia Fletcher OBE.

My theories that every other Wedding Present song is just a watered-down Kennedy, and that all Beatles covers are shit are both confirmed. Charity shop.

2

They were knocking about mid-90s and they had this one song that I really liked. It wasn’t this though. This is an Oasis c-side. Charity shop, stat.

1

They ended up being the world’s most unfashionable band, but they had some good songs. Really Scrape the Sky was one of them: all bad attitude and good drumming, which were their two strongest suits.

Sharing side ‘a’ is Revelation (Bombay Mix) which takes a belting song and sacrifices it on the altar of needless bad punning. “Daddy, what did you do in the format wars?”. “I put a sitar and tabla on our best song and called it Bombay Mix”.

Every Teenage Suicide got them some – mostly bad – press, but it’s a well-intentioned if slightly blunt attempt at breaking a taboo. Then Strip Away breaks out the 6/8 and the 12-string and ends up pretty irresistible.

I’m torn on this one. Two really good songs, one decent one, one waste of grooves, and some of the worst sleeve art you’ve ever seen. I once saw them on a train to Hull. They were in the vestibule, probably trying to fare-dodge. Pardon granted.

3

Why do I have this? Chains of Love is obviously a great record, but “The Foghorn Mix”? What was I thinking? I presume I bought it partly because it was very cheap and mostly because the ‘b’ is a cover of The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Be honest, you’d want to hear that, wouldn’t you?

The Foghorn Mix, as you’d expect, doesn’t improve at all on the original, but it doesn’t particularly ruin it either. Before we get to that intriguing cover we have Don’t Suppose (Country Joe Mix). I don’t know the original of that, but it sounds Wonderland era to me. It has a banjo as needless as the sitar in that Kingmaker record. It’s alright, but it doesn’t half go on a bit.

Finally, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, or at least, the MIDI file of it that Vince Clarke bought on floppy disk. It’s phenomenally camp and though Andy Bell doesn’t contribute any vocals, you can practically see him in his white T shirt doing that stepping-side-to-side-clapping-the-hands dance all the way through it.

I thought this was 100% for the bin, but now I’m not so sure… No. It’s no good… For a second time, the pull of Erasure doing The Good the Bad and the Ugly is too strong. Back on the shelf you go. Quickly, before I change my mind.

3
The FallC.R.E.E.P.
12" single

I know, I know. I’m thinking about binning a Fall record. But remember, I’m running out of space, and across all the various albums, anthologies and compilations, I must have half-a-dozen copies of C.R.E.E.P. knocking about. It’s not even (by Fall standards) a song I’m particularly fond of, and neither is Pat Trip Dispenser.

I love The Fall, but this isn’t them at their finest. Deep breath, and charity shop. Don’t tell anyone.

2

Here by virtue of having too many Kitchens of Distinction records I never play. They tended to get called a shoegaze band, but they really weren’t. They wanted you to hear what they were saying, so though they could certainly make a glorious noise, it tended to be pushed too far back into the mix. More of a sonic church. Or a sonic stained-glass window.

Not a bad record, the best thing being Spacedolphins, a magnificent long, loud, throbbing drone of a thing, like having a tooth drilled in slow motion. Keep. Just.

3

I used to have a friend who was mad on The House of Love. At that time I’d chewed all the flavour out of my Smiths obsession and I needed something new. Hoping I might get out of HoL what she did, I second-hand-shopped their back catalogue and tried to submit. But it never clicked. I never really got them, and the thing I really never got about them was their apparent conviction that if they released Shine On enough times it would be the biggest hit ever. It’s just not that good.

They had a good sound, and some good guitar playing, but lyrically, they were full of shit. In Allergy for instance, we’re told it’s “like a dog climbing up a tree / or making love in a cemetery”.

The first album, and the singles either side of it, were fantastic. Babe Rainbow had its moments, but other than that they still don’t do a lot for me. Audience with the Mind is already in the box to go. I might put Butterfly in there as well, with this one.

3

More “Kitchens” or whatever they might have been called. Title track is shimmering and zingy and busy and, middling. Kitchens of Distinction by numbers, if you can imagine such a thing. These Drinkers is darker and more modest, and better for it.

On Elephantiny a piano gets the treatment the guitars usually have. Loads of chorus, mostly. In these times of multi-effect boxes and modelling amps, it’s easy to forget what a pain in the arse a good pedal board was, and what an art it was to get the most out of it. All those 9v splitters and curly little patch cables, and all those knobs. So many knobs. I found my old stereo chorus in the shed, and put it on eBay. It had one bid, and the chap who bought it was so excited to get it. It was lovely. Great pedal though. Hope he enjoyed it.

Three to Beam Up closes the EP. I remember this one: I had it on a mixtape that was in the car for ages. It’s long, building, and gorgeous. Kitchens of Distinction, I think, could have been a great band if they’d followed the path of Three to Beam Up and Spacedolphins. They could make a glorious noise, with far more texture and colour than most of their contemporaries, but they often came across as too earnest. Unlike most of the other shoegazers, they had something to say. But, perhaps, like Ronan Keating, were best when they said nothing at all.

I’m keeping this for Three to Beam Up. It’s magnificent.

3

Cards on the table, I find BMX Bandits irritating. Pastels, Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, all of that is great. But BMX Bandits are just – only just – the wrong side of the twee borderline.

That said, this record isn’t particularly twee or irritating. It sounds excellent for a start – very professional. It has people from off of out of Teenage Fanclub and The Vaselines (and therefore, by proxy, probably The Pastels). It has a long and stupid remix of the title track which takes up all of side 2. It’s pretty boring. It’s going to the charity shop.

2

I’m not picking on them, I promise. But of the four tracks here, three are live, and live recordings are crap.

Said live tracks are all off Love is Hell, with which this records shares the theme of its sleeve art. But instead of the album’s plain blue, it has a rainbow. I’m not certain whether the rainbow was an official gay emblem in 1990, but can we talk about it as that now? I know there’s still a fight to be fought in many parts of the world, but Pride in this country now just gets on my wick.

I walked past the park near us on Pride day this summer as things were winding down. Pretty much everyone leaving was 16-25, mostly women. A good time, I’m sure, was had by all, but in 2019 England, what point does Pride serve? If you still hate poofs now, a few students in body glitter waving a flag aren’t going to change your mind.

Pride now feels like a bandwagon for corporations to snag themselves a bit of woke credit. I’m old enough to remember getting your head kicked in because you looked like you might be “bent”, and to have known men who lived miserable lies. Forgive me for not being inspired by the bravery of Soho Nando’s putting a rainbow on its sign. Forgive me, even, for thinking it’s an empty and cynical gesture.

The record is nothing special. The songs are good, and the band are tight, but it’s a live record, and, Stop Making Sense excepted, I never play live records, so it’s going.

3

God love Cope.

This finds itself on the pile because as “A Jehovakill Companion” it comes in a half-inch-thick box. That means four songs (one of which is on the album) taking the space of maybe five albums. The bar is high.

It’s a gold and blue picture disc, with Magog on the ‘a’ and a plan of Julian’s Bower on the ‘b’ but – surface rumble aside – it sounds great. The sleeve (box) notes are also excellent. This is going well. Music?

The title track is magnificent, brooding, wondering about the effect of place on people. Are some places inherently “bad”, or “good”?

Then I Have Always Been Here Before, a tambourine-led to tapper meditating on genetic memory. Cope, touring barrows and circles, and feeling a connection to the land. How much of what we are is what we were?

On the ‘b’ things get more psychedelic, with Sizewell B: a sort of loose-limbed, sub-sonic, prehistoric Sister Ray. Then Gogmagog: a shirtless, driverless bullet train through the less visited rural outskirts of krautrock.

As we’ve seen, some people would struggle to fill the 12” singles and double CD EPs the 1990s demanded. Lesser artists would shovel out live tracks, dodgy remixes, acoustic versions, or crappy covers, trying to fill an intimidating amount of space. But post-Peggy Suicide, Cope revelled in the space: why worry about filling time when you can reach in the bag and pull out twenty minutes of crazy riffage whenever you need it?

The box is big, and knackered. I might bin it, but the record is a beauty. Long live Cope.

4
LushSingle Girl
12" single

I have two Lush promo 12s here. I think 4AD sent them to me when I wrote to them complaining that they didn’t release stuff on vinyl any more.

This is Single Girl. Album version. Nothing on the ‘b’. It’s a pretty good song: I’m not one of the people who slagged them off for “selling out” or jumping on the britpop bandwagon. (They did neither.) But it’s not a great song: pretty much everything else on Lovelife is better.

Surprisingly, for a three-minute song spread across the entirety of a 12” side, it sounds bloody rubbish. Charity shop.

3
Lush500
12" single

Same album, better song. It’s about a car you know. The ‘a’ has a not-very-well hidden track. About half an inch after 500 finishes, we get “Mark and Lard” doing Single Bloke. (I’m so desperate I could do it with an artichoke). Hm. Yes.

‘b’ is a “hexadecimal dub remix” of Last Night, which I quite liked. The dark electronics suit the mood of the song.

A varied record, if nothing else, but that’s not enough to save it from the charity shop.

3

Before he was the Arch Drude, Cope made Saint Julian, and flirted with tight-fitting leather and a glossy pop-rock kind of sound.

He’s always known his way round a pop song, and few things demonstrate that better than Trampolene. But the weirdness was never far away: c.f. Disaster: a storytelling sea-shanty type thing, with Cope coming off like Roger-Whittaker-as-lizard-king.

Mock Turtle has shades of Fried’s understated paranoia, and I don’t know what the heck Warwick the Kingmaker is going on about, but I like it.

Good record and by virtue of being in a 1mm-thick flat sleeve, it goes back on the shelf. I also have the remix 12”, which is Trampolene and Disaster again, with a long version of Trampolene on the ‘a’. That got the chop.

4

Four songs of dreary look-at-us-aren’t-we-so-weird?!?!? showing-off.

0

More of an eve’s pudding man myself. Can’t get enough cooked apple. Title track is a bit flat and dull. Works fine on the album, but doesn’t have enough about it to stand on its own. Almost Beautiful Child (i & ii) are strange instrumentals, like someone dicking about on a keyboard without much aim or intention. This is almost certainly exactly what they were.

On the ‘b’ it’s the dreaded live tracks. Pulsar NX and Shot Down are both good songs, and they’re performed well because they’re performed by Cope. But I think you know where this is heading.

2

In the early ’90s I used to make a lot of mixtapes, and though The Stone Roses was my favourite album, I never put any tracks off it on any tapes. Out of context they lost that lightning-in-a-bottle magic.

Here, Waterfall is torn out of the middle of side one, separated from conjoined twin Don’t Stop, and ruined by Paul Oakenfold.

On the ‘b’ Adrian Sherwood gets One Love, and makes it sounds like a bad Stone Roses tribute band playing at a wedding, but “Mani” had to work this weekend, so they’ve got a keyboard doing his part.

To try to be positive, both sides made me want to listen to the originals, and the sleeve art is great. I used to have all the art prints but I lent the records to a girl I was going out with, and though she returned the records, she kept all the prints except for One Love, which presumably she didn’t like.

1

Another pointless 12” Silvertone cash-in. On the ‘a’ Resurrection gets remixed by Simon Harris, who turns up the kick drum so it’s all you can hear, and inserts a minute or so of drum loops into the Led-Zep wigout at the end. If you are curious to know exactly how much he ruins it, the original version is on the other side, along with A Guy Called Gerald’s butchering of Fools Gold.

If, like me, you always wondered what Fools Gold would sound like through a subwoofer with the vocals replaced by a looped sample of a woman going “ay”, here’s your answer.

Inexplicably, this record is collectible. I don’t want it.

1

I have several Mary Chain EPs that I came close to chucking out. They’re great, but they’ve been anthologized to death. I have multiple copies, physical and digital of everything on them. But by and large they’re in flat sleeves, so they just got the nod. This, however, is a gatefold 12”. And, it’s Darklands.

I’ve tried so hard with Darklands (the album) and it still does nothing for me, especially Darklands (the song) as represented here on Darklands (the EP). Boring goth.

Rider is better, fuzzy as eff, but also on Barbed Wire Kisses and The Power of Negative Thinking, as are the (brilliant) cover of Surfin’ USA and demo of On the Wall. It it was a flat sleeve, I might have kept it. But it’s not.

3