The blog has been running for over five years and this is our sixth annual ‘festive twenty’ When the blog was named The Uncertain Smile, there was no prospect of a ‘conflict of interest’, as the likelihood of there being any new The The material to review seemed remote at best, about as much chance as Leicester winning the League or seeing a 2018 Jeremy Corbyn annual in Waterstones’ window.
So I am delighted that at number two – and entirely on merit – is ‘You Can’t Stop What’s Coming’ by…. The The! The song features on the soundtrack – indeed is in many ways the climax of – the wonderful film ‘The Inertia Variations’, a documentary about Matt Johnson organising a 12 hour radio broadcast on election day 2015, during which he gave his first performance for thirteen years. It’s a revealing and emotional look at the creative process and the reasons why Matt has been out of the public eye for so long. The catalyst for the film was the collection of poems ‘The Inertia Variations’ by John Tottenham which dovetails perfectly with the creative paralysis that the film portrays. To quote Tottenham’s ‘Inured To Otiosity’:
I am told, often enough, that it is not too late
To do something with my life.
But, unfortunately, the fact that I am not dead yet
Fails to inspire much hope or motivation
For a productive future. And on the evidence of my past
It is clear that there will be no belated burst of activity.
I have been talking about last hurrahs for a long time
Without any sign of an initial hurrah.
I was lucky enough to be at the London premiere of the film, sitting with many of Matt’s friends and family featured on the screen. This track is about the death of Johnson’s brother Andrew, a talented designer and artist who drew those stunning designs for the early The The albums and singles.
The film ends on a positive note and was followed soon afterwards by the announcement of new concerts in 2018 – I will be there for at least two – and hopefully new material, but no pressure.
My runner up is a song about my homeland. Songs about Wales are always full of yearning and melancholy, never bombast . This track was conceived by an English band, who understood this so completely they enlisted the outstanding vocalist of his generation – and a passionate Welshman – to deliver his most emotive ever vocal, over an outstanding tune – it gives me goosebumps every time I hear it . In order to save myself from despair, I listened to this track 11 times in a row after Wales’ gut wrenching World Cup Qualifying defeat by Ireland. Number 2 ‘Turn No More’ Public Service Broadcasting featuring James Dean Bradfield.
Comeback of the Year #2. The band I have at number 2 have been together in various guises for the best part of 30 years, but like Ride, they haven’t really done anything to really excite me since the early 90’s. I’m sure my fellow contributors can and will argue that they have produced a whole series of fine singles and albums over the years, but nothing has really grabbed me since then. Until I heard this! I’m not sure quite why it appeals to me as I don’t really think it sounds much “Different” from the Some Friendly “Days”. However, appeal it did, and although the album is very solid, this is very much the stand-out track for me. Number 2…
For fans of Krautrock, modern dance-pop and modern psychedelia, I present my penultimate selection from Aussie wonders The Belligerents. They have claimed to draw specific inspiration from early Caribou records, along with Can, Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd and Fatboy Slim and also acknowledge traditional pop influences. Band founder Lewis Stephenson said that growing up in a small country town on the Queensland coast, his initial influences included from the Beatles and Stones albums in his father’s record collection and that didn’t start listening to contemporary artists until relatively recently (he even claims not to have heard The Strokes until he saw them at a festival in 2008). Regardless of the musical inspiration, the completed product is a terrific record and I haven’t heard such an accomplished debut since Alt-J’s 2012 release “An Awesome Wave”. The Queensland band captures all that is good about modern Australian psych-pop (think Jagwar Ma, Tame Impala/pond and King Gizzard) but includes a wider variety of musical styles.
The album opens with “Sorry To Say”, a track layered with beats, rolling keyboard hooks, clean guitar lines & soaring vocals. It then follows with a number of other equally impressive tracks including the raga-rock “Less and Less”, the cinematic “Gemini” (think Francis Lai’s soundtrack to “Bilitis” with vocals) while the song “Flash” moves to more traditional psych-rock territory.
The chosen track is probably the most different to all the other songs, but was chosen because it is such an accomplished composition. The tune includes Beatle-ish introductory vocals, a middle section built around a looped recorder solo and closes out with choral backing vocals that bring to mind “Tommy” era The Who. Listen and make up your own mind about what other influences you can hear in “Caroline”: