Sep 30, 2022

Prodigy's Experience turns 30: that's a lot of small furry animals

The Prodigy's debut album Experience was released 30 years ago this week. It only seems like yesterday! 

Which is nonsense. 30 years is flipping ages ago. Shrews tend to live for less than 12 months. 30 years is over 30 full shrew generations. In human years, this means Experience came out during the reign of Julius Caesar. I hope you're following me on this.

I'm not sure Experience did much to separate the Prodigy from the xylophone-clonking mass of novelty ravers at the time. Their transformation into aggressive firestarters was some years down the line. But Charly pouncing into the top ten in summer 1991 was quite the landmark moment.

The best thing about that album is it's daft. Look at the lyrics. "Feel the bass come down on me  baby… Give me a number one, give me a number two.. . I take your brain to another dimension, pay close attention."

And whatever that cartoon cat was miaowing about. The boy tells us he was mewling road safety messages. I'm not convinced. Personally, I think Little Johnny 2D-face was gaslighting that poor cat. Let it dance into the road, you monster. Let it high five the cats eyes. 

This was originally meant to be a deep analysis of Experience, track by track, with 3,000-word essays and everything. However, I'm too busy listening to the new Bjork album to, er, pay close attention. Let's just say it's a classic that sounds as wild now as it ever did. Even better, actually, now we can consider Experience without the shadow of Jilted Generation, Fat Of The Land and all the chart-topping tomfoolery that came along with them. 

Let's finish this with some Amazon reviews of Experience. Really pay tribute to a great album. 

the album i received is absolutely shocking quality it jumps on every track, such a shame - one star

Record just doesn’t work, keeps skipping and jumping. Not pleased with this product - one star

I ordered it twice and both times the records jumped! Very disappointed - one star

The record arrived warped and not even close to being level. It wobbles on our record player - one star

Ordered Prodigy - Experience.... received Jimi Hendrix album. Rubbish - one star

Oh. Erm. Oops. 

Sep 26, 2022

The downfall of Ian Brown

Ian Brown

Monkey-faced Mancunian Ian Brown is being roasted on Twitter for a gig he did in Leeds.

His concert at the O2 Academy Leeds on 25 September was part of his first solo headline tour in over ten years. And when he means 'solo', he really means 'solo'. Videos abound of him alone on the stage, drawling to a backing track.

One tweet has him murdering FEAR, Another tweet posted a clip of him looking distinctly lonely on stage as he sang First World Problems. The tweeter said:

"turn up to his £40 a ticket, sold out gig at leeds tonight WITH NO BAND. I’m a life long fan but it was bad. #ianbrown does karaoke and butchers his own tunes. Most were too pissed to care but I had to get out after this one. Longsight M13 was a highlight."

It wasn't all negative. A guy called Ryan said, "You absolutely smashed it tonight… You had the place bouncing and your performance was electric." While another complainer seemed disappointed with his singing and his lack of band, yet found it in their heart to say, "he still has the swagger and he’s still a legend in my eyes"

You can't really roast Ian Brown for singing out of tune. The whole point of Manchester acts like Brown and the Happy Mondays and Mark E Smith is that they sound like boozed-up karaoke. It's kicking-out time at the Brass Neck & Baggie and Uncle Darren's off on one. This is what marketers call a unique selling point. 

But it's a bit of a cheek to turn up without a backing band. I'm quite happy for, say, Karl Hyde from Underworld to be a one-man car wash inflatable, flailing around while Rick Smith keeps himself to himself behind his keyboards. But for indie bands, you need the guitars. The musicianship. Something for beardy journalists to write about in Mojo magazine.

He'll appreciate the extra cash pocketed from not paying a band, though. His caché has been increasingly passée in recent years. He's been churning out Covid-19 conspiracy theories, resulting in him being thrown off Twitter and losing a song on Spotify. I think at one point he used the phrase "lame stream media", which instantly loses him any credibility.

Twitter will have its fun. There will be lots more Brown bashing, mostly from people who didn't attend the gig. I still remember a recent tweet showing a few seconds of Mick Hucknall singing off key at a recent performance. People were scandalised. And they ignored a similar clip of Hucknall recently singing like the angels; a stunning set of pipes. Twitter's engine runs on decontextualized outrage. With someone as odious as Ian, it couldn't happen to a better person.

Is this the downfall of Ian Brown? Not for a minute. Do you really think his anti-vax rants will play badly to ageing bucket-heads? Although he may lose a few ticket sales, is his career really going to be harmed by singing like a drunken monkey man on the loose? Not a bit of it.

No. I reckon the worst is to come. Ian Brown is a crusty old white man with big opinions and a screw-them attitude. He is privilege, he is patriarchy, he is Morrissey. The controversy that fully downs his career hasn't happened yet. He'll overstep the mark in some horrible way. Say the 'n' word, become the new Savile, set fire to an orphanage? Probably not. But something.

To quote one of his songs: "I swim with the fishes; you come from the sea. The dolphins were monkeys that didn't like the land."

Nope. Me neither.

Further Fats: Who do I hate more? Morrissey or Axl? (2010)

Aug 31, 2022

It's got a cow as a logo

This weekend I went to Moovin Festival. It's got a cow as a logo. Moo. Moovin Festival.

It's a tiny music festival nestled in Etherow Country Park in Stockport. Lots of tree-covered rolling hills, an impressive multi-layered weir, and tonnes of geese honking all over the place. Actually proper gorgeous. 

Let's talk about the music. I loved Mikey Don's showmanship. Northbase and Mickey Finn brought some mad drum and bass. DJ Frosti provided a welcome shot of dubby progressive house. 

Black Grape replaced the Sugarhill Gang on the bill, which doesn't seem like a fair swap, but suited a crusty Mancunian like me. Shaun Ryder stood reading his lyrics from an autocue while a sprightly Kermit ping-ponged around the stage bringing the party. It was kind of wonderful, and they reminded me how much of a tune Reverend Black Grape is. 

The main reason why I was there was Orbital. They seemed on cheery form, and blasted us with their usual Satanic charms. At one point I got so excited, I turned to my fellow dancers and shouted "come oooon!". Someone shook my hand. You can see me significantly enjoying myself in the above photograph, taken by Orbital themselves. 

To my surprise, Orbital weren't the number one highlight of the weekend. I was there on my own, and most of the line-up, especially on the Sunday, held no interest for me. So a lot of the time, all I had to do was sit and chat to random people. 

And what people! I've never had so many random conversations, with one guy even scaling a hill just to talk to me. I've already done this on Twitter, but I must give a shout out to Rafe for his easy hospitality and the lift home, and Alex and Myles who became immediate mates and absolutely made my Sunday.

This was the best fun in a Stockport park since I went joyriding in a milk float. Would recommend.

Further Fats: I'd advise skipping to reason ten lest you fall asnooze from my word vomming (2012)

Jul 31, 2022

One small BlueDot with Bjork, Anna Meredith, Jane Weaver and tonnes more

I went to BlueDot Festival and had a brilliant time, thanks for asking. The camping was a little tough because I am now as old as a mountain, but with the help of a hastily-bought camping chair and a steady supply of Tango, I got through it just fine. Festivals are back! Woo!

BlueDot is a science and music festival based at Jodrell Bank, which is a clever science centre with a telescope that looks like a satellite dish. You know the scaffolding that Tom Baker Doctor Who fell to his death from? It’s based on that telescope. It’s a small, chilled festival full of nice people. You should go.

I’m going to reel through everything I saw and did, so brace yourself. This is a quick and dirty blog post, so it’s all first draft. No photos – you can find them on Twitter by searching for fatroland and the blue dot emoji. Right. Let’s do some words. Let’s go!

Sunday’s main headliner was the Halle Orchestra featuring Bjork. So good, I cried twice. She was as otherworldly as ever – you can google the costume she was wearing. But she was also earthy and emotional, and she did old tracks like ‘Come To Me’ which made me a very happy boy indeed. The orchestra was phenomenal, and reminded me that there are certain melodic arrangements that sound very Bjork indeed. It’s not all about the voice, as it happens.

I ought to take this chance to tell you that I have also sung with the Halle Orchestra. I was a founding member of Manchester Boys Choir, and we sung in proper concerts and everything. We even did Songs of Praise. I’m not saying that makes me as good as Bjork and/or Jesus. I’m not saying that. That is for you to decide. Ahem.

Mandy, Indiana knocked the tent pegs out of the place with their claustrophobic drums and apocalyptic Frenchness. The lead singer took a bad tumble on stage and ended the gig laughing like a maniac. Breathtaking start to finish.

This seems like stating the obvious, but Yard Act were cheeky, hilarious and very Yorkshire. I loved the bit where he railed against middle-class kids and their confectionary, then tried to list as many middle-class kid sweets as he could. Frubes. He mentioned Frubes. Also worth including in this very-Yorkshire section is the Eccentronic Research Council, whose brilliant festival-closing set involved some amazing gruffness and Maxine Peake reading out people’s dreams. Adrian really does have a very impressive hat.

It was so great to see Kelly Lee Owens, who trod a perfect line between Canderel-sweet vocal harmonies and grubby warehouse techno devastation. She clashed with Groove Armada, but this was an easy choice. Kelly Lee flipping Owens.

Anna Meredith took to main stage and converted everyone to her tuba techno and her bold, brassy, brainy beats. And her digital Tom Cruise. So much fun. Last gig of the year as she turns her focus to album production.

I got to see Koreless, my album of the year for last year. Intricate, powerful, all the good things – but cut short because I had to pop off to Squarepusher. Mr Pusher was in a furious mood, barraging us with audio fractals for a solid hour before allowing even a slight notion of melody to show its face. ‘Detroit People Pusher’ was a fractured highlight. Cracking stuff.

Jane Weaver revived the spirit of melodic 1990s indie and put in a remarkable and mesmerising set. Head and shoulders above most of her peers. I’ve seen LoneLady several times since I did my interview with her for Electronic Sound magazine, and it was good to see her on a proper big stage. Front rail, boogied a lot, sorted.

Hannah Peel and her Paraorchestra was a fine appetiser on a quiet Thursday. Norrisette brought some quirky and masked Stockport realness to the festival. Dirty Freud reminded us of 1990s trip hop. Caro C did a delightfully engaging performance of her Electric Mountain album, complete with found sounds. All rather smashing.

What else? Henge once again beamed in from space to deliver their mix of Spinal Tap and Galaxy Quest fun. Always good value. Sad Night Dynamite were fun too but probably more aimed at kids. I saw some Sea Fever, the projected by Johnny Marr’s bass player Iwan Gronow. Sounds From The Other City did a colossal DJ takeover – another great festival you should check out. Tim Burgess knocked out some Charlatans numbers on main stage, which was endearing, like watching your poodle dance on its back legs. There was Mogwai too. But I didn't watch them. Soz.

Among the non-music things I saw were Matthew Cobb talking about brains and entertaining us with AI-generated Love Hearts slogans, comedian Bec Hill and maths funny man Matt Parker doing a live podcast and Brainiac Live doing science experiments probably – I missed almost all of it because I was chatting and facing the wrong way. I caught A Certain Ratio talking about the olden days with affection and humility. Anna Meredith ran an album listening session which was engaging and funny. The spoken word artist ROY did a hugely enjoyable and expletive-ridden reading and Q&A.

Oh and astronaut Tim Peake talked about being astronaut Tim Peake. This was amazing because he’s a chuffing astronaut and I am most definitely not a chuffing astronaut. Or perhaps I am an astronaut. Perhaps I am. That is for you to decide.

A few personal things. Shout out to my camping buddies Deb and Tom and Michelle, and to the many friends I hung out with. BlueDot is a bit like everyone in Manchester dumped into a field. Hat doff to Ben, to Adrian, to Helen, to Electronic Sound, to my Blackwell’s buddies, and to Dave and Hannah whose BlueDot experience was robbed by Covid.

Would I go again? Of course. I’m addicted to this festival. It perhaps needs more stalls and traders, and more places to buy a bacon butty, and less sponsorship from Dyson which was a bit odd. But the food was immense (masala dosa!), the stewarding was great, and I got to be in a room with a flipping astronaut. Well. Not quite in a room. Outside the tent. Sat against a fence. Just enjoying the BlueDot space vibes. Brill. 

Jul 26, 2022

Happy ten whole candles to Electronic Sound magazine

Today marks ten years since my first Electronic Sound column appeared in print, and indeed ten years since the very first edition of the magazine.

I still remember discovering it on the shelves of WH Smith. "Oh look, it's on the shelves," I blurted while pointing as hard as I can at their music magazine section. "Look, everyone, there it is." I pointed with two outstretched arms but the commuter drones queuing for their daily paper and expensive chocolate weren't looking at me. "I'm in that! That magazine there! Hello? Hello?" Turns out strangers don't like it when you shake them by their lapels.

Writing my column for Electronic Sound is the longest job I've ever had. The magazine started as just 'Electronic', no doubt named after Bernard Sumner's best band. It has been iPad-only, a digital edition with interactive buttons, but most of all it has been a gorgeously produced print magazine. My column has featured in every edition. It's amazing what an steam-powered automatic sentence generator can do. I've been illustrating it since early 2020, a move which single-handedly brought on an international pandemic.

The column is still going strong, as are my "illustrations" (which are actually high-resolution 4D photographs, they just look like cartoons due to the limitations of the human eye). The mag has exciting plans for the future, and I'm happy to say I'm now part of Electronic Sound Premium. This means that, by pressing a few groats into their palm, you can read loads of my columns. They've given them titles titles like 'Unnecessarily Repetitive', 'Why Am I Not A Famous Novelist?' and  'I Am So Very Good At Kicksporting Football Soccer'.

Writing for Electronic Sound continues to be great fun. The columns come easy (although they're often second columns having written a burner column just to get to the "good" stuff). The illustrations are harder, especially as I never write the columns with an illustration in mind. I like to test myself. I occasionally sneak in references to the magazine in my cartoons, sometimes in number plates and sometimes as morse code in a Daft Punk visor (see picture). I also write features and reviews, and scrawl "FRAT ROLEND IS TH BESST" on every page in invisible ink.

Big up to Push and the gang for continuing to publish and, worryingly, encourage me. I'll finish this with a beautiful poem. It's composed from bits of first lines from some of columns. Imagine you're reading Shakespeare or Carol Ann Duffy or a crossword. In the meantime, you can subscribe to Electronic Sound's digital and print editions here.

Picture the scene
We’re all going on
a summer holiday
Electronic music
is far too sexy
This is Geoff
Old Blighty
the drug of the nation
More tossing
Thought you’d never ask
Gird your Union Jack cummerbund
Cancel culture has gone too far
On the first Friday of every month
Stick your finger
in a page
of this magazine
Great Uncle Albion
With words so good like what this sentence
You think you’re clever don’t you
signing up to
my new social media network
Did I ever tell you
about washing powder?
Land O’ Bowler Hats
you’ll no doubt remember
I am ill

Jul 20, 2022

Raving about Orbital and being Picky about Post Malone

Depeche Mode

The current episode of the Picky B*stards podcast features me raving about Orbital and losing my mind over Post Malone.

Before we continue, I realise that starring out the podcast name is extremely snowflakey of me. However, Blogger has a limited enough reach these days without profanity filters further restricting its readability. They're still a thing, right? Internet filters? Fudge knows. 

Guests on the P*cky Bs podcast nominate:

a new album for review, 
a classic album that none of us have heard, 
and a personal favourite artist. 

It's a bit like Desert Island Discs without the benefit of a free holiday and the chance to boast that you've been on Radio 4 at parties.

Let's go through those choices.

For the new release, I plumped for Moderat's unexpected fourth album More D4ta. I'd not had a chance to listen to it, so what better to introduce myself to the album while surrounded by three grumpy podcasters primed to tear my music taste apart.

For the classic, I chose Depeche Mode's debut Speak & Spell, an album which contrasts with their later work for reasons I explain in the episode. This choice was a risk, because the Pick* Bs are young and cool while I am old and decrepit. I feared I would present myself as a crusty old pensioner brandishing a dusty gramophone and wax-bunged ear trumpet. As it happens, (a) Speak & Spell is way before my time so shut up, and (b) my fellow podcasters' response was surprisingly positive.

My favourite band p*ck was Orbital. I don't need to explain this. If you're reading my blog and haven't picked up on the fact I'm obsessed with Orbital, you are as dense as a black hole or an actual hole.

We also reviewed Ethel Cain, who I was a bit harsh about but find more of a connection with later in the episode, Poliça, who I quite liked despite my pronunciation of their name, and Post Malone, who... you'll just have to listen to the episode.

This was immense fun, and it's always a treat to hang out with fellow music nuts. I won't spoil things by writing much more. Dive straight into episode 55 of **ck* ***t**ds: here are all the listening links. Alternatively, launch your podcast app and shout my name until your phone melts.

Jul 12, 2022

Are number one singles getting shorter? (TL;DR: #1s shorter Y/N?)

Harry Styles in the As It Was video

Are number one singles getting shorter?

Harry Styles amiable earworm As It Was (pictured) spent ten weeks at number one recently. That's more than double the chart-topped weeks achieved by all of One Direction's singles combined. He's a one-man One Direction twice over.

One of the most notable things about the track is its brevity. It's short, like my trousers, my temper or this senten--. It doffs its polite hat for a bit then, at two minutes 44 seconds, bows out quicker than you can say Larry Stylinson.

When I think of singles that camp out at number one for ages, I think of really long songs. Epics like Bohemian Rhapsody and that archery song by Bryan Adams. And quite right. If a track is going to wedge itself in the top spot for what seems like an eternity, it had better have some heft. BoRap was just shy of six minutes. Ten-weeker I Will Always Love You was almost five minutes long. Almost five excruciating, ear-destroying minutes.

Styles isn't the only shortie to shoot his shot at number one. TikTok star Gayle's abcdefu comes in at two minutes 54 seconds, two minutes 53 of which are very rude words indeed. The current number one is LF System's Afraid To Feel. This is essentially a caffeinated sample of 1970s funk band Silk, and it comes in at just two minutes 54 seconds. The 3 minutes 30 seconds of Dave's Sinatra-themed chart topper Starlight seemed like Homer's Odyssey in comparison.

Obviously, there are still longer chart-topping singles in the 2020s. Adele knows how to string out a narrative, and those LadBaby lads certainly know how to string out their sausages. It just seems these days, we're more likely to get a Stormzy or 24KGolden dropping something brief. Not dropping their briefs. That's an entirely different thing.

Let's take a quick sample of the charts ten years ago as a comparison. All the number ones are long. Maroon 5, Florence & The Machine, Gotye: their four or five minute structures feel substantial. Strong. Beefy. They were proper units.

Is this the result of the truncated window of Instagram or TikTok? Pruned because of the platform? you can be more throwaway if you're not traipsing into town to buy the vinyl from HMV. Soundcloud dump? Make 'em short, it doesn't matter.

I haven't done much analysis, and I certainly haven't done what I should have done: entered every number one's track length into a spreadsheet and pressed a lot of complicated buttons. In fact, this entire blog post took one minutes 22 seconds to write, which is half a Harry Styles, or about 0.00001% of that archery song.

Jun 30, 2022

Crabby birthday: The Prodigy's Fat Of The Land turns 25

The crab from the cover of Fat Of The Land

The Prodigy's Fat Of The Land was released 25 years ago today. It was the fastest selling UK album of all time, and propelled the Prodge to the top of the charts with Firestarter and Breathe.

The album cover featured a zoomed-in shot of gecarcinus lateralis, otherwise know as a Bermuda land crab. It's a species of crab that is quite happy to hang out on beaches without rock pools, as long as the sand is moist enough for its gills to operate. They tend to be vegetarian, but will chomp on animal matter if needs be. Crab facts!

I'd make a cake to celebrate this anniversary, but the Prodigy never struck me as a cake kind of band. They seemed to hang out in grotty basements while writhing in threatening ways. Feels like an unhealthy place for a cake.

Fat Of The Land was incendiary. The single Smack My Bitch Up attracted claims of misogyny. Yeah, the word bitch is ugly, but I betcha if the protagonist in the video hadn't been a woman, no-one would have batted an eyelid at the video's hellraising. They should have got me to star in it. I would have stayed in listening to Future Sound of London and playing Boggle.

The album also gave us Keith Flint, God rest his sausages. The pointy-haired bovver boy became the face of rebellion in the 1990s. Keith Flint was quite happy to hang out on beaches without rock pools, and would chomp on animal matter if needs be. Apparently, Keith used to go on motorcycle rides with the saxophonist of Madness. That's an actual fact and not some nonsense about crabs. Who knew.

Music for the Jilted Generation was a more artistically interesting album as it turned a band bordering on novelty rave into a serious act. But Fat Of The Land might the most important. Along with the Shamen, it thrust proper dance music into the uber-mainstream while, perhaps unlike the Shamen,  losing little of its musical power.

It didn't impress everyone. To finish off this short waffle, here are some reviewers who didn't get along with the fat, the land and everything between.

Leftin, Amazon
Sexist lyrics set to appalling neo-metal/house bilge. One star.

Anonymous review,
I didn't want to admit it. I refused to accept it. But somewhere in my brain, the honesty section probably, something was telling me that it was a piece of sh*t.

boogie woogie king, Amazon

ozzystylez, Rate Your Music
I listened to this in my car the other day. The bass kicks hard and my car has reasonably good speakers. But I found myself turning it down as I drove through areas with a lot of people on the road in case they laughed at me for listening to such a cheesy, dated and worn out record.

Carlos Mancilla, Amazon
The album arrived a little bent at the top corner leaving a wrinkle in the cardboard.

Peter Barczak, Amazon
Only bought cos it was a penny. Not played it yet. Three stars.

All of these reviewers need rock pools for survival, and so are limited in the range of beaches available to them. Happy birthday, Fat Of The Land.