All things creative

In no particular order

March 6, 2019
by nitty

I catch the scent of apples

In the last few years, DJs have decided people want to hear 80s’ music again, and – horror – I am having to duck away from those synths again. I was in my teens during the decade that sounded like artificial glaciation took to our airwaves and, to be frank, I was glad to see the back of it when that finally subsided a few painful years later. But something unexpectedly good is showing its nose from this second coming: I can now somehow hear the music that was buried under the drenched sound in a way that I really struggled to back then.
We were having a meal in a Chinese restaurant keen on feeding us topical music as they do (although the food was good enough as it was) when Prefab Sprout was mentioned.
Those two words suddenly hit me in the face. The shock of a sudden flashback. A time, a sunny warm afternoon, alone in a park, my bicycle next to me, with my headphones on (my beloved walkman), around 1985, I guess, tripping (err, so to speak) on Faron Young. The sheer intense pleasure of that moment tinged with a fair bit of frustration for not getting the lyrics at all. I was a French kid whose English was still fairly rudimentary and hated ‘yoghurting’ as is referred to in France (singing phonetically along foreign words you don’t understand). I was desperately trying to figure out what it was the song was about, and couldn’t get the reference of course… And so that moment encapsulates my teenage years beautifully – the intensity of teenage life, the mixed emotions, and a glimpse of how clearly defined a person I already was at 15: a nerdy slightly obsessed but determined self (this has not changed).
After the meal I decided I’d go back and listen again. We went home and put an old CD on. It was fun to hear the greatest whatever but was intrigued at my reaction at the restaurant. And so I started to rewind properly, starting with the first album and got to hear Swoon aged 49 for the first time (!) and was quite smitten by its beauty and its emotion. I’m actually gobsmacked that I could react to pop music in this way – I thought it had left me completely. But the beautiful bass lines lifted by the clean drums alongside stunning writing in songs like Couldn’t Bear To Be Special or Green Isaac (both versions) is rather touching. The voice feels real too, a bit raw. Ok, used for artistic effect, but a touch of truth in it, at least. And a touch of softness I could relate to. I also don’t remember reflective pop songs in the 80’s. (Does it not sober you up a little that someone should strive for humility?). This album which I missed out on completely at the time sounds incredible to this middle-aged woman. A little wonky in parts but quite extraordinary. I then played Steve McQueen and I was now in more familiar ground. Back in 1985 I loved the melodies, the layered voices but completely missed out on the lyrics, much to my despair. I now hear Moving the River quite differently. I hear jubilation, trepidation, surprise, slight fear. I see friends wading upstream through water, laughing and celebrating. I see myself and my sister swimming, diving, kidding for hours in the sea. And I now finally understand ‘turkey-hungry, chicken-free’.
I then went on to play From Langley Park to Memphis and was getting a bit nervous. This was entering the dangerous zone. The cringing late 80’s that I struggled so much with. But I can now hear Nightingales and Nancy (Let Your Hair Down). The songs are rather over-dressed for my liking (rather like the fashion of the time: angular clothes and heavy makeup). Too much pink. But such beauty below the sugar. Nancy sounds like Caroline, No (Pet Sounds) to me. And I listen to it with my own production/mix in my head: I’ve pushed the drums back, brought percussions forward, have developed Wendy’s lines more, have asked Martin to do what he wants on the bass (he was so underrated, don’t you think?) and I’ve asked Paddy to sing this again, with his own voice, not quite that voice. Oh, how unfair of me to be so critical, you say. You’re not a hard-core fan. Well, I’m not. I can do what I like: I’m middle-aged. Na.
I listened to the other albums after that, with yet more caution: I don’t remember much about them and so wonder how much good is in them. They undoubtedly contain bits of gems, but this is no longer a band and you can feel it. It’s a recorded artifact now, far from the energised band players’ dynamics that exude from an earlier sound. But people move on. Each day incrementally moves us forward. You don’t change and yet you do. And so it would be ridiculous to expect a band to retain an energy that was then. At least we have a record of that energy.
But things did not dry up after that, as I Trail The Megahertz reveals. The song is based on tension. Paddy’s best somgs often hinge of some sort of tension between characters, and I guess this is true here too. Although an inner tension here, I suppose. The tune is instantly beautiful and arranged tastefully, in patterns that break and restart the melody line beautifully. I have found it best to let words fade in and out of my consciousness – not listen too hard – as if it was part of a collage (like a Picasso or Braque collage from a hundred years ago). Musically it has hints of La mer (Debussy), to me anyway. Not musically exactly, more in terms of mood or arrangement perhaps, and in the way that you can let yourself go into a dream crammed with images, emotions and smells. Like our strongest memories.
‘I catch the scent of apples’.

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