Love Spit Love – Am I Wrong (November 10, 2021)
Nobody, not even Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed, ever sounded more worn down, world-weary, and full of existential angst than Richard Butler, who, with brother Tim, formed Love Spit Love after the dissolution of the really quite magnificent Psychedelic Furs, and then went off in another sonic direction entirely – the voice, that unmistakeable voice, is certainly the same, but compared to the snarling, uncompromising, almost punk-level bitterness of songs like Pretty in Pink, So Run Down, or Into You Like a Train, all gut-punching masterpieces of their kind, Am I Wrong sounds almost tender, full of regret, doubt, ambiguity, and what might be taken as a plea for forgiveness, or at least understanding, presented with an unexpected level of studio polish. It’s described in some quarters as being about a breakup, but I don’t know, the lyrics seem more about setting an emotional tone than telling a story, describing a state of mind without supplying much in the way of narrative:
There’s too much
That I keep to myself
And I turn my back on my faith
It’s like glass
When we break
I wish no one in my place
…before concluding with the resigned refrain, goodbye, lay the blame on luck. Inscrutable maybe, but it sure does conjure a mood, particularly the line about sleep coming with a knife fork and spoon, immediately understandable to anybody whose insomnia invariably gives way only to nightmares.
Compare and contrast:
I don’t wanna drag you down
Or shack you up with me
Or put you where the flowers go
Or get into your mind
I’m into you like a train
Said Tim Butler, talking to Songfacts: We got bored of being constrained by The Furs. I mean, The Furs expect a certain sound out of it. We wanted to broaden our musical palette, if you like.
Geez I guess, eh?
Love Spit Love didn’t last long, or set the world on fire. After their eponymous debut album, they produced only one more, 1997’s Trysome Eatone, before disappearing, though it contained a few gems as well; have a listen to Fall on Tears:
Squeeze: Goodby Girl (November 24, 2021)
When I first heard Squeeze doing Goodbye Girl, back around 1980 or so, I thought for a moment that it must be McCartney, returning to form at last, and I couldn’t have been alone in that; comparisons of the group’s ace songwriting duo of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford to Lennon and McCartney were being made all over the pop music press, and not without reason. Beginning in the late Seventies, Squeeze was at the very apex of a new set of performers emerging out of the U.K., along with accomplished peers like the English Beat, XTC, Madness, The Jam, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and the Specials, that seemed to herald a new golden age in pop songwriting, and nobody, not even Costello, was writing them with quite the consummate skill of Difford and Tilbrook. It was one superlative, tightly-constructed little gem after another, Is That Love, Up The Junction, Another Nail For My Heart, Pulling Mussels From the Shell, Black Coffee in Bed, Annie Get Your Gun, Take Me I’m Yours, Tempted – the last surely the essential radio hit of the era – and today’s selection, all of them singable, danceable, and stuffed full of clever melodies, nifty time signatures, and wry, often witty lyrics, in the best tradition of the Sixties masters in whose company they surely belonged. For a couple of years there, what with the concurrent rise of other legendary acts like the Talking Heads, the Clash, the Split Enz, and U2, I felt like man, the Eighties were going to be great. Even the Kinks had a massive comeback hit, with the wonderful Come Dancing. Surely, pop/rock was once again emerging on to broad, sunlit uplands!
Then – poof! – it was all bloody Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Bananarama, Wham, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Culture Club, and all those frigging New Romantics, and darkness descended once more.
Their star faded, but the lads stayed sharp. Here’s a couple of lesser-known gems from after their peak:
Badfinger: No Matter What (November 26, 2021)
You might assume, without learning the rest of the story, that Badfinger was a band hung with horseshoes. After all, they were gifted just about the mightiest leg up in pop music history when the Beatles took a shine to them, got them a recording contract with Apple, maneuvered them into the hallowed confines of Abbey Road Studios to lay down their tracks, gave them something eminently catchy to get the ball rolling (their first hit was McCartney’s pop gem Come and Get It ), showed up as session men when needed (that’s Harrison on slide guitar in Day After Day, one of their signature songs) and even pitched in as producers (Harrison manned the board for Day After Day, and incredibly, the sterling, ultra-crisp Abbey Road sound of No Matter What was helmed by none other than faithful Mal Evans, the Beatles’ ex-roadie, who’d apparently absorbed the tricks of the trade by osmosis). Even their name had a Beatles association, Bad Finger Boogie having been the working title for McCartney’s With a Little Help From My Friends (something about Lennon having an injured hand at an early recording session). It certainly seemed for a while there like the baton was being passed, with lead singer Pete Ham, who wrote No Matter What, demonstrating serious songwriting chops, and the band sounding gloriously Beatlesque in the best possible way. Today’s selection, with its clean, unfussy studio polish, impeccable musicianship, soaring melody, and powerful electric guitar lines, is now regarded as the seminal, and still quintessential example of the genre that came to be called “power pop”, and was a hit all over the world in 1971, creating the sense that even though the Fab Four were no more, things were still going to be all right. On the strength of this and a number of other standout tunes, Badfinger was red hot. In just a few years they sold something like 14 million records.
Yet they never made any money, a story as old as the pop music business. Apple was in utter organizational and financial chaos, as everything degenerated into lawsuits and acrimony, and somehow they barely saw a dime for their efforts. Finally they jumped to Warner, where they were shafted again, partly because their own business manager seems to have misappropriated some funds, giving their new label an excuse to withhold payments, pull their albums, and sue them into oblivion. By 1975 they were flat broke and blackballed, and Pete Ham, depressed and desperate, committed suicide. Bandmate Tom Evans did the same in 1983, sadly, while the Warners lawsuit dragged on interminably, as lawsuits always do.
Left behind is the sheer, life-affirming joy of a song that urged us to break down the brick walls in our heads and join life’s raucous party, captivating, timeless, and utterly incongruous with the ugly reality of what became of its composer, and the band that once seemed destined to pick up where the Beatles left off.