Friday 23 November 2018

Bad News

A similar idea happened at a similar time on different sides of the Atlantic.
But which came first: Spinal Tap or Bad News?

Well, Spinal Tap first saw the light of day on a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1979.
Now there is a good chance that Adrian Edmondson may have seen this and been inspired to try something similar.
Or more likely, it was just one of those coincidences that a couple of people had the same idea at the same time (it does happen).
The prime difference between the two though is that whilst Spinal Tap have actually had some success (albeit minor, and festooned with reviews such as "Shit Sandwich", they are actually part of the machine (as Pink Floyd have referred to it), and do have some talent as 20 years of remaining in the machine is testament to..
Bad News on the other hand are trying to break into the machine, but are somewhat lacking in the talent department (bravado and belief are off the scale, but talent is in fairly short supply).

Bad News were first seen in early 1983 in a documentary type film entitled "The Bad News Tour" where the Four Horseman Of The Rock Apocalypse (as they later titled themselves) can be seen boarding a Transit Van for a tour of the bright lights of the UK (primarily a gig in Grantham).
The four members - Vim Fuego (real name: Alan Metcalfe), Den Dennis, Colin Grigson and Spider Webb (real name: Spider Webb) - bore an uncanny resemblance to 3 of The Young Ones (Adrian Edmondaon, Rik Mayall and Nigel Planer) and a Comic Strip Presents actor/director (Pete Richardson).
Much like the concept of synchronous ideas (stated above), everybody has a doppelganger somewhere.
As the documentary ends, you can hear the band falling apart before yours ears as Vim announces: "This band is a pile of shit"

And that was that - or was it?
The journalist they met on the original tour - Sally Freeman - wanted to get the band back together to find out what they'd been doing since the original tour - and released a new documentary.
Well, they had some minor success as the clip from The Tube testifies (although Vim and Colin are having their usual disagreements in front of Jools Holland and the viewing public).
As it turns out. they have all given up the music - Vim is a painter and decorator, Den works for Vim, Colin works in a bank (and still lives at home) and Spider - the wild man who could throw up exactly half a pint into a half-pint pot with no spillage - had to marry this strange hippy woman because he got her pregnant.
Their fist re-union is a relatively friendly affair, but becomes more volatile as the Den informs all those present that Vim's idea of "keeping the music alive" involves playing Mary Hopkins songs in Wine Bars.
Vim is angry with Den and as the barracking starts from the rest of the band, he throws a piece of paper on the table - it is a Record Contract (albeit with little know independent Frilly Pink).
The band are left dumbfounded, and Sally has the perfect opening to her documentary (titled More Bad News).
After availing themselves of the free lager in the studio, their first single is recorded and released - they go straight out and buying 350 copies.  This gets them banned from the charts and any promotion, but the record company somehow gets them onto the bill at the 1986 Monster Of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington.
Things didn't go to well and they performed in a hail of plastic bottles and much derision from the other bands on stage.
Their show ended with the crowd invading the stage resulting in Vim undergoing major surgery and Colin having his throat cut.  Spider escaped by setting fire to himself, and Den "was so scared, I went to the toilet in my trousers and most people, like, kept away from me because of the smell".

Well, it can't have been that bad because inside 6 months, the band were signed to EMI and released their first major label single - a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody".  And then the album followed soon after.
Ah the album ... it is basically a catalogue of every Heavy Metal cliche imaginable (Booze, Motorbikes, Mythical creatures (like the beast from the Lager of Lamot advert)) and a lot of sweary arguing.
It's a bit like a Derek & Clive album with added loud guitars and strained to the point of tunelessness vocals.

They pushed on for another year which included an appearance at the Reading Rock Festival (special guest: Brian May) and a date supporting Iron Maiden at Hammersmith Odeon (special guest: Jimmy Page).
They also went one stage further in the sweary arguing stakes with the release of the album 'Bootleg' containing more of arguing an less music.
And they rounded off their EMI career with the single "Cashing In On Christmas" - except they failed to Cash In as the single failed to get past number 80 in the charts, and is unlikely to appear on any 'Best All-Time Christmas Sing-Song Tunes To Be Played In Every Shop From November 2nd ... Ever' compilation albums.

Bad News introduce themselves (warning - this clip may contain some potentially disagreeable Anglo Saxon wordage):

and then go straight into their eponymous track (or they did on the album, but not on YouTube):

Tuesday 13 November 2018

No Surpises

Radiohead - one of those bands that I own albums by, but rarely feel the desire to listen regularly.
Many, many people hold Radiohead in high esteem for their experimentation, their pushing boundaries, their "difference".
Me?  I probably don't properly get it.
Their first album 'Pablo Honey' is probably best described as a straight indie-rock album with no great surprises.  The album contains a potential millstone in the shape of "Creep" (a song containing a passing reference to The Hollies "The Air That I Breathe"- no doubt their best know song, and certainly most covered.  It was even used as a playout singalong on a brief Channel 4 Game Show Last Chance Lottery featuring Patrick Kielty.

And it may be this (threatened) anonymity that spurred them onto greater heights
Second album 'The Bends' is a complete step on/step up from 'Pablo Honey' - on first listen , it's easy to dismiss as a bit pretentious, a bit "look at us and how clever we are", but it just gets under the skin to the point where it becomes an unputdownable artefact - an antidote to Britpop homogony.
And this is then taken further with the insular moodiness not seen since The Smiths, proggy madness, of 'OK Computer'.
I have no doubt that The Bends and OK Computer are 2 of the greatest albums of the last 20 years (has it been that long?)
'Kid A' arrived at the turn of the millennium, an I (like many others) listened expectantly, then confusingly, then scratched my head - it sounded like they had too much studio time, too many ideas, and not enough editorial control.
My "buy as soon as possible" relationship with Radiohead ended, and eve now I can only profess to hearing "bits" of  later releases - I'm told by "those in the know" that I am missing a treat.  I somehow feel I should explore further, but never really felt the desire.

So there you go ... 'Pablo Honey' is an OK album, but it is the next 2 that assures Radiohead legacy (in my head at least).
For me, 'The Bends' takes it on points (but only just) over 'OK Computer'.
But if forced to pick just one track, it would be ...

"No Surprises"
A delicate, almost childlike, melody bolted to a downbeat lyric smacking of despair and frustration.  The juxtaposition is almost unsettling.  And when framed with the video, "No Surprises" becomes one of the most claustrophobic songs you'll ever hear.
It never resolves, and don't go looking for salvation in the next track on the album, because "Lucky" is almost as despairing.
But, it is just incessant and will burrow it's way into your head.  It manages that trick, as performed by The Smiths ("Girlfriend In A Coma" being a prime example) and others, of making a downbeat song a cheerful earworm.

"No Surprises" - if you want to get all analytical about the lyric - is a cry for help, a cry to leave the mundane behind, the sufferance, the repetition, and just exist in a state of perpetual relaxation and simplicity - with "no alarms and no surprises".
And who wouldn't want that?

At it's root, it comes from the same point as Queen's "I Want To Break Free"
I wonder if Radiohead are considering a version of that track for the inevitable Covers album that will no doubt be along at some point in every career?