The Oasis Archive interview: Nick Amies talks about his new Oasis book Where Did It All Go Wrong?

In a departure from the usual features written by myself, I would like to reproduce the interview I did with the Oasis Archive website recently on my book Where Did It All Go Wrong? Oasis and the Millennium Meltdown 1995 – 2000.

Tell me a little about your professional background and what made you become an author.

authorI’ve been a journalist for over 20 years now and in that time I have worked in jobs that have required me to write about pretty much everything; business, football, politics, you name it… It’s the diversity of the job which has kept me interested and motivated. One day I could be writing a piece on architecture for the New York Times, the next interviewing a Hollywood director like Terry Gilliam for the Economist. But music has always been my main passion and I’ve been able to keep that side of journalism going even when I’ve had a full time job on a news desk. It keeps you sane when you’ve been writing about war and suffering all day to be able to get to a gig, spend some time with one of your heroes backstage and then cover their concert. I’ve been lucky enough to interview many of my idols and then to write about their lives and their music…it doesn’t get much better than that for me.

As for the books, I’ve always written stories, ever since I was a little kid and it was always a dream of mine to write a novel. After a friend of mine read a screenplay I was working on, he suggested I expand on the story and write it as a novel instead. That turned out to be my first book, the Madchester road trip novel “Mersey Paradise”. It was a good experience but I felt I could do better. So I started a second book shortly after, the Britpop love story “She’s Electric”, which I’m very proud of. Writing books is now one of the many side projects I have, on top of holding down a full-time job as an editor, maintaining a relationship and being a father.

Do you remember where and when you first heard of the name Oasis? Was it their music, or did their reputation and press precede this?

It was 1994. I was living in Norwich in the East of England and I was at a friend’s place getting high. We were watching the Channel 4 late night programme The Word and Oasis came on – their first TV appearance – playing Supersonic. I was blown away. Later I found out that they had played the intimate Arts Centre venue in the city the week before that, and I’ve been gutted about that ever since. It would have been amazing to catch them at that time, before it all blew up. Supersonic was like nothing I’d ever heard before. I was a massive Stone Roses fan at the time and waiting for them to get their arses into gear had left me looking for something new. I dug Suede and I was a big fan of Ride but Oasis just felt tailor-made for me at that time. It all made sense. And Liam was just spectacular. When you watch that clip again, just remember that he was barely 21 and on national TV for the first time. He fills the screen. He invades your home. After that I was hooked.

The artwork for the book is obviously inspired by the artwork for the “Standing On The Shoulder of Giants” release, and it fits very well with the title and theme of the book! Was that a stock-photo, and how did you go about finding this?

6144jy0t0elI wanted to design my own cover but using any of the official Oasis logos would have been problematic, what with the copyright issues and such. And you can forget about using photos of the band if you’re a self-published author on a shoestring production budget. So it’s a Shutterstock image which I found in their database and it’s the closest I could find to the shot of New York used on the cover of SOTSOG. I know the fans get where I’m coming from with it but a few people have asked why I have the Big Apple on the cover when the band come from Manchester. I hope reading the book will lead these people to the music if they’re not familiar with SOTSOG, which in my opinion is a sorely underrated album.

There is obviously a very strong British identity in the visual artwork for the first three albums and related singles (designed by Microdot). Later albums seem to deliberately move away from this, sporting a new logo and images locations far from Burnage. Do you have a favourite record sleeve, and what was your feeling on the shift in design?

I have to say that the final album, Dig Out Your Soul, is my favourite in terms of artwork. It’s as much of a departure from the traditional Oasis style as the music inside the sleeve is from their original sound. It’s psychedelic and mature – just as the recording itself is.

As for the shift in design from the Microdot sleeves of the 90s, I just accepted it as part of Oasis progressing. Those Brian Cannon designs are iconic and part and parcel of the Britpop legacy Oasis left behind when they moved into the new millennium. The single cover of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ is perhaps my favourite from that time. Moving away from Microdot, I loved the SOTSOG cover, the first one Simon Halfon did for the band, and the other covers and portraits he did after that really captured the band in that decade out of time, an older version of Oasis removed from the craziness of the years they dominated. Halfon’s style perfectly caught the band as they matured into serious artists and national treasures from the wild upstarts and party animals they were during their heyday.

R-817735-1293478865.jpegHalfon was a good choice to document these years. He’d been a long-time collaborator of Paul Weller’s and started working with the Modfather on art direction as far back as his days in The Jam. As such, through Weller’s friendship with Noel Gallagher, Halfon got to know the Chief, who appreciated his work with Weller and shared his love of The Beatles. But it was through a friend who was hired to shoot the video for ‘Supersonic’ that Halfon and Noel became friends. When it came to choosing an art director for SOTSOG, Noel called Halfon and asked him to do it. He then went on to photograph and design for Oasis throughout the rest of the band’s career.

Why did you decide to focus on Oasis’ career from 1995 till 2000, and not 1994-2000, or up until their very last meltdown (2009)?

The rise of Oasis with their slash-and-burn approach to touring and the momentum which started to grow around the band in the lead up to the release of their debut Definitely Maybe is of course one of the great rock and roll stories – streetwise lads from the wrong side of the tracks making it mega big; it’s one of those classic origin stories. But a lot has been written about that phase, and rightly so. But for me, if you break down the career of the band into narrative sections, the most interesting is the one featured in the book. It starts with the release of Morning Glory, the second album, through the band’s imperial phase which followed when they were untouchable, playing to a quarter of a million people over the Knebworth weekend, and then – when the fame and fortune were at unprecedented levels – they dived headfirst into their third album, Be Here Now, and into a Himalayan-sized mountain of coke. The excess during this period is legendary but there are so many threads running through this story, behind the music and the madness, and that’s what I wanted to write about as much as anything; the press intrusion, the pressures the band were experiencing professionally and personally, the dynamic within the band, the changing musical and social landscape in the UK at the time. These are the things which contributed – along with the massive intake of drugs – to what I call the millennium meltdown. By the end of the 90s, all of this had taken its toll and it was unsurprising that Oasis Mark 1 fell apart before the 21st century began.

Do you ever see yourself writing a sequel to this book focusing on the next chapter of the Oasis history?

I’ve been asked by a few people if I’ll do a follow up and it certainly appeals to the fan side of me to dive back into Oasis history and start digging again but I chose to focus on a particular time period in the band’s career because that had not been done before. Besides, for me – as I’ve said before – the era I cover in the book is the most interesting part of the whole story: Oasis ascending to the summit of British rock before descending to the depths, where – ironically – they were probably at their highest, if you know what I mean. The years between 2000 and the split in 2009 are filled with great music but in terms of incident and precedent, there wasn’t that much to compare to the events that I’ve documented. What would we have? Noel storming off the tour in 2000 after Liam allegedly questioned the legitimacy of his daughter; Liam getting his teeth smashed out in a Munich bar fight in 2002, the divorces, the Spinal Tap procession of drummer’s after Whitey was sacked in 2004? The truth is, up until the split in Paris six years ago, the stories behind the music kinda fizzled out. They made some great tunes during that time but the sensationalism was over.

Did you get to see the band live during the timeframe of the book (1995-2000)?

BHNI saw them headline Glastonbury in 1995 and then on the Be Here Now tour at Wembley Arena in 1997. Both shows were splendidly shambolic for different reasons. At Glastonbury, Liam was more interested in intimidating the crowd, which failed to respond to many of the songs from Morning Glory that no one had ever heard before. At Wembley, they were just back in the UK after the first leg of the BHN world tour and they looked and sounded a bit frazzled. Plus the popularity the band was enjoying by then meant it was like a variety show with all the families and young kids in the stands, especially as it was around Christmas. It wasn’t very Oasis. The danger and menace was absent. But don’t get me wrong – I loved both gigs purely because it was Oasis. I went on to see them another five times in the years leading up to the split and Noel Gallagher nailed it when he said recently that the band got better as the songs got shitter! Late-period Oasis were still a fearsome live act, even if the youthful mayhem had long been left behind by then.

The book is very well researched with a lot of good quotes and references. Did you spend long researching it, and what were your primary sources?

It took about two years in total, although I did nothing on the book during the nine months my partner was pregnant with our daughter. The research itself probably took six months in all. I planned the book out in the themes I wanted to cover and went trawling through the Internet, reading all the interviews I could find, looking for relevant quotes and information which fitted. I contacted a number of people who were close to band but received the same response: there seemed to be an unwritten rule that no-one would speak about their time with Oasis. And the band members themselves rarely talk to authors because they just get too many requests. But there are some exclusive quotes from Noel and Liam in there as I’ve interviewed them both in the past. And former Oasis press officer Johnny Hopkins was especially helpful and actually helped a great deal to fill in a lot of the black holes I had in some of the chapters.

Have you ever met any of the band members, and if you were given the opportunity to ask only one question to Noel, Liam and Bonehead respectively; what would it be?

beadyI’ve interviewed Noel and Liam before; Noel when Oasis were still going and Liam when he was with Beady Eye. I’ve also talked to Gem Archer and Andy Bell a couple of times, both as members of Oasis and of Beady Eye. I never met any of the other original Oasis members.

I guess if I had to ask one question, I’d ask Bonehead if he had ever considered getting a hair transplant during the band’s heyday. I always respected the fact that Oasis didn’t give a fuck about having a bald guy, or a fat bloke, in the band. It wasn’t about that to start with. But I also always wondered if he’d thought about getting his thatch thickened when the fame and fortune flooded in!

Here is a question from a forum member on SupernovaHeights, named joladella: In your acknowledgements, you thank Noel’s manager Ray McCarville for explaining, why he and the other former band members usually decline requests by authors. I’d love to know what that explanation was. I guess you might not be at liberty to say, but “… situation which prevents [them] …” (p. 236) sounds intriguing, what situation? Legal reasons? Or just a complicated way of saying they simply don’t want to?

There’s nothing sinister about that, as far as I know. The former band members get so many requests for their involvement in books that they simply wouldn’t have enough time to contribute to them all. As a result, they politely decline all requests. That’s the message I got from Ray.

It seems that very few (if any) of the members who left Oasis over the years – from Tony McCaroll in 1995, up until the final split in 2009 – actually ended on good terms with Noel Gallagher. Who do you reckon is the most difficult being in a band with; Liam or Noel?

tony-mccarrollHmm…If you were kicked out of Oasis or forced to leave, it’s very unlikely that you’d have an objective view of those who were responsible for that, right? And that person, more often than not, is going to be Noel because he’s the boss. If you leave under a cloud, you’re more than likely gonna hold grudges… So I think you have to look at who’s saying what and why in those situations.

I’ve spent time with both brothers and both were absolute gents during the time I spent talking to them; eloquent, intelligent, thoughtful and above all very funny – not quite the surly thugs which many journalists portray them as. But I’ve never worked with, or for, either one of them. I would say that both of the Gallaghers are very driven people – yes, even Liam – and that they can be very demanding of those working with them in the pursuit of what they want to achieve. Neither suffers fools gladly. If I had to give my unqualified opinion, based only on the reports and anecdotes I have read during my research, I would say that the young Liam circa 1994/95 would have been a nightmare at times due to his erratic and explosive nature. I would also say that Noel circa 1997 would probably have been quite hard to be around too as he struggled with his substance abuse and the pressure of being the driving force behind the massive band Oasis had become. But this has to be put into context. Liam was struggling with fame and all the attention he was getting at the tender age of 21 and Noel was being crushed by the expectation of millions of fans and the media which had built him up into a Godlike genius. It’s likely any one of us would be an arsehole to some people in the same situation!

What Oasis songs mean the most to you?

That’s like being asked to choose which of your children you love the most. It’s a very tough question as I love pretty much everything Oasis ever did. But if I’m to attach meaning and memory to songs as a way of narrowing things down, I’d say – in no particular order – Supersonic, Listen Up, Let’s All Make Believe, and Who Feels Love. And that’s only from the period in the book. I’d be here all day if I did it for the band’s entire career.

Oasis_supersonic_sleeveSupersonic because it’s such a statement of intent and it was the song that brought me to Oasis. When that drum intro starts and that woozy guitar line starts jangling, it’s goosebumps all over, even today. “I wanna be myself, I can’t be no-one else” – as Bonehead says in the book, that’s Oasis barging to the front and saying ‘right, we’ll take charge here…This is how it’s going to be from now on.’ And they were right. After that, all bets were off.

Listen Up contains some of the best lines Noel has ever written and Liam’s delivery of the whole song is pure magic. I came to this song when I was questioning a lot of things and it helped me get my world view sorted out. The lyric “day by day there’s a man in a suit who’s gonna make you pay, for the thoughts that you think and the words they won’t let you say” – that just fired me up.

Let’s All Make Believe is again a song which came to me when I was at a low point. There were a lot of false people around me at the time and I needed to make a change to get out of that situation. Then a true friend did something amazing for me and through his sacrifice, I made a life-changing decision which I have never regretted. I’m here doing what I do, living the life I have because of that and because of that friend. The song really resonates with that period but beyond its meaning to me, it’s just a beautiful song and, in my opinion, one of Liam’s best ever vocals.

Who Feels Love is probably derided by many because it’s a bit cod-psychedelic and it comes from the period of the millennium meltdown I write about where Noel had to start again from scratch in many ways. But for me, it’s a really uplifting piece of music and has such a light atmosphere to it that I love to kinda float along with it – which is something you don’t expect from an Oasis track. And it reminds me of the love of my life, so there’s that too!

What is your take on the ‘Be Here Now’ album? From its initially raving reviews, to its backlash of people returning it to second hand shops; did you opinion on the album also change?

oasis_be_here_now-ad_11078I remember that I bought a knock-off cassette from a night market in Thailand shortly after it was released and the quality was unsurprisingly a bit dodgy so I didn’t really get the full experience until later but I loved the ambition and the sheer weight of the tracks at first. Once I got a CD copy, I really got into it. It really was a soundtrack for that summer for me and my friends. I’ll admit though that I had a period where I skipped a lot of the tracks on Be Here Now. I also admit that I may have been swayed by the criticism it’s got over the years. But I’ve rehabilitated it and I play it quite regularly, although my opinions of certain songs are forever coloured by the negative associations. I love D’You Know What I Mean?, My Big Mouth, It’s Getting’ Better (Man!!) but tend to tolerate rather than celebrate songs like Magic Pie, Fade In-Out, and even All Around the World. There’s a great song in there somewhere but it’s just too long!

If Oasis were set to release a new retrospective release of any format; what would be on top of your wish-list? A Noel Gallagher penned autobiography? A coffee table book of pictures? Noel’s demos from Mustique, or a concert film from the pompous Be Here Now tour? You decide!

There’s a long-mooted Knebworth documentary and concert film floating about somewhere which would be a great historical as well as musical document of those times. I’d love to see that. An autobiography from Noel would also be an essential read, especially if he really went warts-and-all on the dynamic within the band and his relationship with Liam. But this idea which has been talked about, to do a feature film on the band’s story? No way. Who could play the Gallaghers better than themselves? No actor I can think of. It would be like fucking Stars in Their Eyes. “Tonight Matthew, I’m gonna be Liam Gallagher…” However, if someone wanted to pay me to write the screenplay, I’d be on it like a shot.

What’s next for you? Any new projects you’re working on?

I have a whole graphic novel series sitting around in various computer files and parts of my brain which is so massive in its depth and scope that it kinda scares me! There’s so much there. I’m afraid it’ll never see the light of day because it’s really fucking good, to be honest! It would take a really committed artist to bring it all to life and I haven’t found that person yet. I’m still looking. So that project’s just sitting in the shadows, watching me, whispering my name every day…

Other than that, I already have plans to do another non-fiction book, this time on Happy Mondays. I want to work with an old and very good friend of mine on this but we have to wait until his current projects are completed before we can start. Plus I need a bit of a break after Where Did It All Go Wrong? Once the promotion of that has slowed down, I’ll start the research on the Mondays book and we’ll take it from there.

Related content:

I also gave an interview on WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? to Phonic FM’s Britpop Revival show as part of their great Manchester special in September. It’s worth listening to it all but I come on at the 52′ 30″ mark if that’s all you’re interested in. Click on the image below to go to the show on their Mixcloud page.

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Aussie Underground Goes Mainstream: Planet Perth is Cool (and there’s nothing we can do)

Tame-Impala-Band-2015The imminent release of Tame Impala’s third album, Currents, has many admirers of the Australian psych-rock outfit’s panoramic soundscapes panting in breathless anticipation, while the expectancy among those who consider each new release to be the dawning of an epochal musical age is bordering on unbridled fervour. Refreshingly though, Kevin Parker – the man behind the music – remains genuinely baffled by this level of adoration despite being the recipient of almost unending acclaim ever since his bedroom project went global with the release of 2010’s Innerspeaker, Tame Impala’s expansively trippy debut. The success of his Grammy-winning sophomore effort, 2012’s Lonerism, only added to Parker’s sense of amused disbelief that a college drop-out from one of Australia’s most remote cities could become so universally lauded for delivering thrillingly unfashionable retro-futurism to the plastic pop masses.

“We don’t dance about, we don’t play music that you can really get down to and some of the songs go on longer than a Pink Floyd epic so it kinda confuses me as to why people actually like it,” Parker says with surprising honesty. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do but we don’t really fit in with what’s supposed to be popular. I suppose that’s part of the attraction.”

Popularity, fame and fortune were never the reasons Parker and his cohorts and comrades began making music. Ensconced as they were in the shabby confines of the notoriously Avant garde Troy Terrace commune in the Daglish district of Perth before destiny came calling, they revelled in the detachment from reality where their musical experiments brought them. Success was never the goal because no-oneno one from Perth – and even fewer from the Troy Terrace collective of misfits and outsiders – ever expected to make it. As a result, a rich counter-culture developed free of artistic expectations and industry pressure.

“To be honest, none of us thought anyone outside of Perth was going to hear our music,” says Shiny Joe Ryan, one of the original quartet of Troy Terrace tenants alongside Parker, Nick Allbrook (Pond) and Jay Watson (Tame Impala, Pond, GUM). “We made it for ourselves. It’s amazing that people over the other side of the world have heard and enjoy our music, but if none of that had happened, I have no doubt that we’d still be making music in one form or another and probably together still.”

“Being isolated spatially and culturally – us from the city, Perth from Australia and Australia from the world – arms one with an Atlas-strong sense of identity,” says Nick Allbrook, Pond’s frontmanfront man. “Both actively and passively, originality seems to flourish in Perth’s artistic community. Without the wider community’s acceptance, creative pursuits lack the potential for commodification. There’s no point in preening yourself for success because it’s just not real. It’s a fairy tale, so you may as well just do it in whatever way you like, good or bad, wherever you like.”

Pond_BenHayes_1

Pond have followed fellow Troy Terrace residents Tame Impala into the global spotlight

“It didn’t really matter if you were crap or silly or unbearably offensive, you wouldn’t get much further doing something different anyway,” adds Allbrook. “This helps to preserve a magical purity because it’s executed with love – with necessity. And what’s more, when these artists keep going and practising and advancing – which they must – somehow their crassness coagulates into something brilliantly individual and accomplished.”

It could be argued that because Tame Impala, Pond and, to a lesser degree, the spin-off projects from those bands’ interchangeable personnel have successfully taken that ‘coagulated crassness’ onto the international stage, those artists now developing in their wake back in Perth will be denied the freedom that the Troy Terrace set enjoyed. However, Peter Bibby, a contemporary of Parker, Allbrook et al, who is among the leading acts from the next wave of Perth bands, believes that while the inevitable wave of Tame Impala copyists that swelled after Innerspeaker’s breakthrough initially diluted the creative well, Perth is now benefitting from the exposure enjoyed by its wayward sons.

“Perth seems to have a pretty good reputation for music on a worldwide basis now and the boys, along with Spinning Top Records, have definitely helped with that,” he says, name-checking the label associated with nurturing the city’s underground talent. “They’ve been flying the flag high and proud for a good few years now all over the world and that has helped with myself and a lot of bands being recognised on a much wider basis.”

Clinton Oliver, vocalist and guitarist with garage rock group Gunns – another band on the rise thanks to in part forto the interest in all things Perth – agrees: “It gave everyone huge confidence seeing bands like Tame and Pond succeed,” he says. “They really put this city on the map. I feel like people are paying a lot more attention to bands in Perth now. So yeah it does make you wonder if your chance is coming.”

Whatever the impact these Perth bands have had internationally, back home the laidback attitude that provided them with the environment in which to thrive remains mostly intact, – which gives hope to all those still searching for their own voice in this creative melting pot at the end of the earth.

“Back in Perth, people don’t treat me differently, I’m still just Kevin and no-one attaches any of this bizarre, constructed rock star status to me or any of the other guys,” Parker concludes. “That’s why Perth is a sanctuary. I can go home and be with my friends or disappear into the crowd like I used to. Out in the world, people stop me outside venues and stick cameras in my face and want autographs, and I’m like – whoa, okay dude…I’m just this fucking guitar nerd who makes music in his bedroom… but hey, that’s cool!”

This article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of SOMA Magazine

Mersey Paradise: Novel now available in paperback and on Kindle via Amazon

paradiseWhen the music stops and the smoke clears, what will you have left?

Britain 1990. While the world buzzes with the hope of real change after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the youth of the UK pin their hopes on a musical revolution to turn the tide of recession and to return the power back to the people. For six friends from Norwich, being an active part of this revolution means everything. Too long have they danced to the sounds in tiny local clubs and watched from afar as the wave of destiny has swept across the land. They head for the Stone Roses concert at Spike Island on the Wirral in a rented VW camper in the hope that they will all find something that is missing from their lives there. However, this journey of discovery forces the friends to face some of their darkest secrets. Instead of a hedonistic journey into the fantasy world of ecstasy-inspired togetherness, the six are forced to accept a new reality.

amazon-bmpOrder your copy HERE! Author information HERE!

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,500 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 6 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Mersey Paradise” and “She’s Electric” novels now on sale

My first two novels are now available to buy online. If you’re interested in pop culture/music-themed fiction, please take a look. They can be purchased via the links at the bottom of this post and will soon be available through Amazon.

Mersey Paradise

Britain 1990. While the world buzzes with the hope of real change after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the youth of the UK pin their hopes on a musical revolution to turn the tide of recession and to return the power back to the people.

For six friends from Norwich, being an active part of this revolution means everything. Too long have they danced to the sounds in tiny local clubs and watched from afar as the wave of destiny has swept across the land.

They head for the Stone Roses concert at Spike Island on the Wirral in a rented VW camper in the hope that they will all find something that is missing from their lives there. However, this journey of discovery forces the friends to face some of their darkest secrets. Instead of a hedonistic journey into the fantasy world of ecstasy-inspired togetherness, the six are forced to accept a new reality.

She’s Electric

Britain 1994. Danny Jones emerges from a stifling three-year relationship to find out the eternal battle of the sexes is raging on a new front with completely new rules. As the country dives head first into a Cool Britannia where anything goes, Danny and his friends struggle to strike a balance between embracing the new Lad Culture of girls, goals and ‘go on my son’ with the search for authentic human connection. In a maelstrom of sex, drugs and Britpop, Danny and his mates mount an increasingly desperate search for The One – the perfect woman who can save them from themselves – while staggering ever closer towards the abyss.

Via: DaVinci Institute

Via: LULU

III – Crystal Castles (Review)

If musicians are the chroniclers of the times they live in, and should the human race in one form or another survive the cataclysmic fate that some believe is unavoidable, our descendants will listen to Crystal Castles and wonder why the hell we didn’t see the error of our ways. No other band manages to embody all the confrontation, conflict, and stress of these End Times or deliver such a fiercely aggressive and unyieldingly bleak vision of this modern tribulation we call life in the 21st Century. Humans of the future will play Crystal Castles’ glitch-riven onslaught and understand immediately why we pretty much got what we deserved. Everything we could have learned about ourselves is here in gory, visceral detail – yet ignored to our shame.

The first two albums by Alice Glass and Ethan Kath will sound to them like the end of the world itself; a two-pronged feral assault of screaming, panic-edged vocals and malfunctioning techno shock and awe, leaving few in doubt that the last years of humanity were a frantic, frightening, flesh-tearing descent into chaos. This third album, (III), is still oppressive, claustrophobic and downright unlistenable in places but in the review of humanity’s catastrophe it would represent the final eerie slide into resigned horror, as if Crystal Castles had managed to record humankind’s exhausted death throes as it raged against every machine; breathless, hopeless and fighting against the dying of the light as the clock ticked closer to midnight. (III) is filled with references to blood, wounds, antiseptics, and soil which gives it a touch of torture porn which is unsettling at best and at worst makes the listening experience feel like the scraping of disease off the last morsel of food which could keep you alive. Many have praised Glass and Kath for their nihilistic approach to electronica and the reflection of the septic world we are seemingly cursed to inhabit. And as a document of our time, (III) is maybe the closest we get to the musical interpretation of our modern malaise.

Life can be shit and horrible things happen to decent people every day. Putting wake-up calls into music is nothing new and message-driven art is an essential part of the informative process; it reaches millions in ways that other documentation can’t. But does it have to pierce the soul like the cries of a parent mourning a deceased child? Does it have to unsettle and unnerve like the screeching whine of incoming munitions? When presented this way, there leaves little room for hope and even when the message is grave, music should always offer some hint at redemption. You’ll find none here.

Commendations

The album opens with ‘Plague’, a sinister siren-driven intro which has hints of the unnerving Alien scream of Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece. Beside the ebbing and climbing wails, early 90s rave synths phase in and out, stabbing in the dark for supple flesh to pierce, until Alice Glass eerily begins to whisper childlike threats of bodily invasion: “I need you pure, I need you clean…Don’t try to enlighten me …” The pace quickens as the first of Kath’s incessantly annoying production effects kicks in. A word of warning: throughout the entire album you’ll be checking for loose wires – be aware now, it isn’t a malfunction, only lazy and unimaginative phasing which effectively ruins every track. Soon Glass is screaming “I am the plague” and the uncomfortable and cacophonous opening assault is complete.

‘Kerosene’ offers some hope that the entire album won’t be a sustained and relentless aural rape. It’s a pumping atmospheric dance track with something approaching a tune buried somewhere under the layers of unnecessary effects. But again, the stuttering production techniques which make it sound like the electricity meter is in desperate need of feeding ruins what could have been a peerless example of witch house.

‘Wrath of God’ begins eerily with an encouragingly trance-like melody but before long the phasing begins and Glass tries to make a vocal impression on the track only to have her Red Riding Hood voice ripped apart by Granma Kath’s big production teeth. Glass’s voice is processed within an inch of its life and at some point she becomes ultrasonic. The song finds its feet again with the introduction of an urgent drum beat which makes it engaging but its total sum is a mess. The same can also be said for ‘Affection’ which is an effective slow burner which gets brutally murdered by the production as it struggles to find its keys.

‘Pale Flesh’ summons the image of the famous monkey’s-with-typewriters-creating-the-compete-works-of-Shakespeare scenario. It sounds as though a bunch of chimps have been left with a room full of synthesizers while an epileptic subway accordion player attempts to conduct the primate melody from an adjoining apartment. It will take a brave and relentless soul to find worth among the litter.

The pace and quality of (III) hits the highest level with ‘Sad Eyes’. It’s the stand-out track mainly because Kath’s meddling is at a minimum. It’s a haunting yet driving dance tune which leaves you wonder if the sad eyes of the title belong to someone who has had to sift though the detritus on hands and knees to find this one gem.

The reprieve is brief and it’s soon time to return to the mire with ‘Insulin’ which is a broken, scabrous radio signal beamed in through a filthy toilet bowl. This is the aural equivalent of root canal work. You can’t listen to it for pleasure and you can’t dance to it, which leaves you wondering what the point of it all actually is. Perhaps it will find a place on the set-list at Guantanamo Bay. Played continuously at volume, the war on terror would have been over a lot sooner but then the US would have been even more open to increased pressure over its use of torture. Thankfully, the one thing in its favor is that it’s mercifully short.

‘Transgender’ comes next. It has a good club vibe behind it and could actually be described as music if hadn’t been smashed to bits by a producer who apparently sees cohesion as a toy destined to be crushed by a petulant child. Then there’s ‘Violent Youth’… Take the Donald Duck vocals out of the equation and fire the producer and this one would be a dance-floor filler. Unfortunately, as it is, it’s just a bit rubbish.

‘Mercenary’ is welcome only because, for the most part, it’s inoffensive and not trying to cause any cerebral bleeding.

The final track, the pleasantly titled ‘Child I Will Hurt You’ is at least melodic until it once again decides the listener is the enemy and starts jabbing psychotic sleigh bells down your ears to remind you that this album on the whole is a challenge, not pleasure or entertainment.

Next Steps

It has to be said that Crystal Castles seem utterly unrepentant in their approach or vision so one suspects that, should we see it past the end of the Mayan long-count calendar on December 21, 2012, we’ll get an equally – or perhaps bleaker – interpretation of the human condition on IV. Even surviving the apocalypse is unlikely to turn Glass and Kath into life-affirming purveyors of handbag house.

First published on: Puluche.com

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