Friday 26 April 2019

How to improve Record Store Day

1. Make the prices the same at every shop.
I know one of the main points of RSD is for record shops to make money, but the mark ups some shops put on releases would shame even the most cynical eBay scalper.

2. Sale or return
Somewhere in the spreadsheets, the accountants have forgotten that the day is about shops (‘stores’) not labels. So labels are chucking out what I can most politely describe as any old crap in a limited splattered edition. It doesn’t matter to the labels if it doesn’t sell. It should. Because shops are stuck with those records for years. I see ancient RSD releases in the racks every week. They’re as attractive as the can of beer and backwash the morning after the party.

If labels had to take back what doesn’t sell, they’d focus on quality output.

3. Dead pop stars stop bouncing after a year
Did anyone really want 5 (FIVE) live Fall albums? And a 7” box set? And two other Fall albums? Yours for £225. Most of them still yours for £25 per album. Death is a good career move for some artists, but not 16 months on.

4. One release per artist
David Bowie’s RSD popularity peaked in 2012 when he was alive. The Starman picture disc (2,000 copies) sells for around £200. 2019’s Pin Ups picture disc (4,000) copies is still not selling in a record shop near you. Along with the other Bowie 2019 RSD releases.

5. Get rid of Black Friday
Or the half-hearted RSD. This is timed for Christmas purchases. But record labels already spend much of the year planning Christmas and save the box sets and special issues for that market. Black Friday is for the stuff not good enough for a Christmas present.

6. Deadline for releases
Also known as stop blocking up pressing plants. Let’s say 90% of RSD releases are planned and agreed by August. Plenty of time to press them for April, especially if there’s no Black Friday. The other 10% can be for newly dead pop stars’ reissues and Courtney Barnett’s annual RSD release (there are other culprits). Crucially, other releases can come out on time. It's all very well saving record shops on one day, but postponing an indie band's album release so they have to cancel a tour or go bankrupt isn't helping the future of record shops.

7. Manage stock levels in real time
How hard can it be to have an online central database where buyers can see the stock in each shop? Not hard at all. Then the weary punter knows which shop to go to after their local has sold out instead of travelling for an hour to a different shop and queueing up for just as long only to be told, “Sorry the Otis Redding has sold out. Can I interest you in a live Fall lp?”

8. Gigs outside shops
Because it’s hard enough to get into a shop without 200 people crowding round the entrance to see Pete Doherty play his poundland Kinks songs.

9. Get rid of Cassette Store Day

Exercise in brand dilution.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Cowgirl in Sweden

This private press issue from the Manchester underground takes Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden as its starting point. If this record isn’t the Whyte Horses trading under another name, I’ll eat my socks.

Cowboy in Sweden - saloon bar baroque, cavernous echo, cinematically psychedelic - was one of the major influences on the Whyte Horses’ debut, Pop Or Not. And so it is here, as the title obviously signposts. Only this is stripped back, without Pop or Not's orchestral flourish. At times, it suggests what Spector would sound like outside the Gold Star Studios and set up to record in a desert shack.

There’s a cover version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s Here’s Where You Belong - neat in itself, but raises the possibility that the whole album is a collection of obscure cover versions. They're that good.

But really these are songs forged in the same febrile atmosphere as the first three Bee Gees albums, Susan Christie’s folk-psych and any number of soft pop nuggets. Only Don Thomas, unlike Lee Mavers, found a vintage mixing desk with original Sixties dust on it.

Buy it before it starts trading hands for silly money.

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Possible Humans - Everybody Split

Everybody Split is 2019’s first classic - the record you know will define at least part of the year and you’ll be coming back to fondly in a decade’s time.

There’s a lot going on here. The lyric "King Crimson covering Nirvana" on Absent Swimmer probably isn't them declaring their inspiration. There is, though, in Orbiting Luigi a pop song with taut folk rock rhythms (maybe they played Before Hollywood before going into the studio). Then there’s the desperate torch ballad Meredith which combines Mope City’s fury with The Twerps' jangle.

Most of all they remind me of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, only better.

The real engine of the album's brilliance, though, is the 10-minute epic Born Stoned, which is the greatest song Neil Young didn’t write. It builds and builds and builds, always threatening fireworks, then stops dead before it can collapse.

I don't really know what these songs are about. They most likely might be about loss and desolation and destruction, because that's what they sound like. I reckon I’ll still be thinking about them years into the future.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

I Was A King - Slow Century

Norman Bleik, I Was A King’s debut single 10 years ago, made their intentions very clear: they liked Teenage Fanclub so much they even spelled the singer’s name wrong like TFC had done in tribute to one of their heroes, Neil Jung.

Norman Blake produces Slow Century and if so far it seems a little incestuous, this album’s quality will brush aside any misgivings. It’s the album Teenage Fanclub forgot to write after Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain, so makes it the best TFC album in over 20 years.

The early 1990s saw three bands emerge - Teenage Fanclub, Stereolab, Saint Etienne - who each had their own retro take but did it so well they made their own genres. In Teenage Fanclub’s case, this is bands who play power pop, jangly guitars and forlorn ballads by way of Big Star, The Byrds and Neil Young, but who sound more like Teenage Fanclub than the bands that informed them.

I don’t think anyone’s ever sensibly proposed that Teenage Fanclub are better than their influences, in the same way that only a few bands have been as good at appropriating those influences since 1990 as Teenage Fanclub are.

What I Was A King have done with their sixth album, though, is make a record to challenge Teenage Fanclub’s dominance. For my money, Slow Century is fresher, brighter and better than Teenage Fanclub have been since the 1990s. It makes the old sound new, the melancholy sound like the heart’s still bleeding, and the jangle as clear and jubilant as church bells on liberation day.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Marvin Gaye - You’re The Man

The release of these 1972 recordings should be a major event in the music calendar. It's not for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they’ve almost all been released before. Secondly, Tamla have released *everything* and chucked in some very unnecessary contemporary remixes. A pared down, tightened up version would showcase the true successor to the all-time classic What’s Going On.

If we were coming fresh to Where Are We Going?, the sessions’ stand out track, then all music publications would have held their front pages. Like a number of the album’s songs, it’s got laid-back funk, supple Latin American rhythms and a richly decorative arrangement.

This record is a missed opportunity to give Marvin’s back catalogue an album his reputation deserves. You see, I think he’s a little overrated. Or not as good as his contemporaries. If I’m making a list of the top 5 acts 1970-75, it’s:

Curtis Mayfield
The Chi-Lites
Neil Young
James Brown
Al Green

If I carry on, it’d still be mostly soul - The Isley Brothers, Bobby Womack, The O'Jays, Tyrone Davies, Joni Mitchell. Rock music from that period is largely very uninteresting. Oh, I think Bowie is *really* overrated. Hardcore soul fans will raise an eyebrow at Stevie Wonder not making the list, then question Funkadelic’s omission. Make your own list.

I’d consider Dylan but only for 74's Blood On The Tracks and 75's Desire. So if you're looking at two-shot artists from that era, then the Raspberries, Big Star, Judee Sill and Nick Drake are at least equal along with Marvin for What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On.

A 1972 release of You’re The Man would have elevated him in my ranking at least. Some of these songs are Marvin Gaye at his best. And when he’s at his best - love in all its pleasure, pain, jubilation and tragedy - very few can touch him.

So strip away the remixes, the alternate title track mix and Christmas in the City, and you've got a 10 out of 10 stone cold classic.