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Wednesday 12 June 2024

Back In The Water Again

Today I offer you three new songs from artists who all found fame/ infamy in the 80s and have kept ploughing their particular own furrows ever since- The The, Pet Shop Boys and Nick Cave. All three have devoted fanbases, all three are artists who have something to say, and all three are associated with a distinct sound and style. The need to keep writing and recording seems to be as strong as ever with them all and the idea propagated by Pete Townshend in The Who about dying before he gets old is long gone. In the 1980s there was a certain amount of derision for The Rolling Stones et al still playing rock 'n' roll in their forties. There is nothing ridiculous about this anymore- artists keep going and we are still interested in their music. None of the three here today are solely nostalgia acts either u their old songs will often get the biggest cheers when played live but the new songs are all trying to get something across- about themselves, about aging, about life and death and the state of the world. 

First is Matt Johnson, back as The The, with a single called Cognitive Dissident and a video by Tim Pope. The song has a gnarly blues guitar riff from Little Barrie's Barry Cadogan, plenty of atmosphere and Matt's low register voice, the song swelling with backing vocals into the chorus, 'left is right/ black is white/ Inside out/ Hope is doubt'. Matt has always written the state of the world and the lyrics on Cognitive Dissident circle around our post truth world, emotion and democracy, alienation and AI. The song is the first from an upcoming album Ensoulment (the first for twenty five years) and some gigs. Cognitive Dissident sounds like The The- no surprise there maybe- but the 90s, Dusk era incarnation with Johnny Marr on board rather than the 80s one of Infected and Soul Mining. Matt says the album is hopeful, even though this single is laced with fear, gloom and bad things.

Pet Shop Boys have a new album, Nonetheless, and a single, A new bohemia, and a video starring Neil and Chris, Russell Tovey and Tracey Emin. The Pet Shop Boys are a long way from their Imperial Period of the late 80s to mid 90s, are currently playing an arena tour of greatest hits and on A new bohemia are in reflective, melancholic mood, men in the 60s looking back to their youths and noticing that the passing of time has seen them moved aside by the new generation. 'Like silent movie stars in 60s Hollywood/ No one knows who you are in a hipster neighbourhood', Neil sings noting the invisibility that comes with being old. Later on, as the strings swirl, he confronts mortality and death, 'Every day is a warning evening might forget/ Then the following morning has the sweet smell of regret'. If Matt Johnson has found something to be hopeful about, Neil Tennant does too by the end of the song. 'Where are they now? Where have they gone? Who dances now to their song?', he sings, surrounded in the video by young revellers, Neil and Chris static on the dancefloor. And there is regret too, 'I wish I lived my life free and easier', he says before concluding, 'I'm on my way to a new bohemia'. I don't know if Neil and Chris are raging at the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas had it, but they're going with disco strings, a day at the beach and acceptance of the turning of the wheel, the struggle of the past forty years replaced by something else- contentment maybe, peace of mind. It's moving stuff. 

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds are back too with a second single from their upcoming album Wild Gods and an arena tour in the autumn. The online fanbase seem a bit split about the new songs- they're also split about Nick's music pre- and post the death of Arthur Cave in 2015. Some want Nick to return to the hammering, chaotic Old Testament and murder ballads songs of yore. There's a feeling that Warren Ellis and the move to a synth dominated sound over the last decade is weaker in comparison to the bone crunching sound of the Bad Seeds of the 90s. Maybe what the long standing fans are really missing is their own youth, their own past in the 90s where a certain amount of chaos and noise was part of life and they were young enough to deal with it. I get why some of the albums Nick's written since the death of Arthur can be uncomfortable to listen to, difficult to find a way into- I've written before about how much I personally get out of Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen and Carnage. Wild Gods so far feels like the first album where the songs aren't directly about grief and loss (although that will all be in there somewhere I expect), but this one is feeling like Nick's found a way to get in touch with something else. The song Wild Gods was sung from the point of view of a carouser now living in a retirement home- Nick and Neil Tennant at similar stages in life. The new single Frogs rolls in on rippling piano, cymbals and strings and a fantastic bassline, references Cain and Abel early on, and keeps coming back to walking in the Sunday rain, frogs jumping in gutters, the song building and building, endlessly rising towards something that is ever just out of reach. A choir of backing vocals appear, ahh ahhing away, and Nick sings of being 'back in the water again'. Kris Kristofferson walks past kicking a can. It's epic, emotive and uplifting and feels like Nick is choosing life and hope and joy. 


Martin said...

All three new to me, and all three crackers. Probably most struck by the doublethink lyrics of the The The track (and yes, I did enjoy typing that) but it's probably the PSB track that will last longest in my head - the sentiment, and the video setting (Margate), both call to me. Cheers for posting.

JC said...

As someone who does really want a return to at least the sounds of the Mick Harvey era, I hadn’t thought about the Nick Cave music in terms of us all growing old together, but what you’ve written makes sense.

Not too sure about the Matt Johnson song. Kind of finding it hard to separate him from his art given some of three nonsense he was spreading during lockdown.

PSB? Compelling and moving. Utterly brilliant and imperious in a way that’s different from before. Happy to have Neil and Chris represent all that is old fogies stand for in a world that often these days refuses to make sense.

Brilliant writing (as usual), Adam. Thank you.

100 Poems, Mike said...

Great songs - all new to me too. Really great writing Adam - which I am glad I read before listening as it really added to my hearing of the songs. All three are great - would have liked another minute of The The (maybe a middle 8), Pet Shops Boys is really well done - the strings and melancholy are wonderful - the winner for me Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, its a triumph of a single, and has more than a bang of Scott Walker off it. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

Rol said...

I was very excited to see The The turning up to play at our local village hall later this summer... until I realised that's the week I'm on holiday. The Undertones are also on that week. Most annoying. I'll have to make do with Billy (Saturday) and HMHB (postponed from last year, now a week on Friday).

Echo and Rauschen said...

Seeing the 65 and 70 year old Chris Lowe & Neil Tennant makes me somehow melancholic, I already felt that way yesterday when I read the concert description on Khayem's Dubhed blog. And the same feeling came over me a few years ago when I saw Trainspotting 2. Everyone is getting on in years, some of their illusions are poorer, hey, that was my business too! But somehow there is also warmth and comfort, and gratitude to still be in the game & Neil's voice sounded the same as always. everything ok, right?

Swiss Adam said...

Glad everyone enjoyed these.

Martin- the PSB video is superb isn't it and Margate is a place I keep meaning to get to.

JC- I get what you mean about Matt Johnson.

Mike- thank you- and yes, the Scott Walker comparison absolutely makes sense.

Rol- that's some village hall. HMHB will be their usual brilliant selves I'm sure. Like PSB but in a very different way a band 'making a stand in a world that doesn't make sense', as JC puts it.

E&R- PSB do have that ability to make you feel everything will be ok.