Thursday, 3 January 2013

Is it worth the wait?

As history relays - The Rutles recorded their first album in 20 minutes (their second took even longer). Their parodists The Beatles recorded 'Please Please Me' in a trio of three hour sessions on Monday, 11th February 1963.

Beginning with the rather sedate 'There's A  Place'

and ending with Lennon, stripped to the waist, gargling milk, popping cough drops and ripping lumps out of his vocal chords to produce a single take of 'Twist & Shout'

585 minutes to alter the consciousness of a generation. Of course the songs took longer to be written and so on but in essence, an album in a day.

This occurs to me because I have been listening to a lot of Portishead over the last few days.

Well I say a lot. There are only 4 albums of which the last 'Third' came out in 2008. That's already over 5 years ago. Their last album of original material before 'Third' was their self titled second album in 1997. That's an 11 year gap in which admittedly Beth Gibbons managed one solo album (and very good it is too). Whole band careers, the Fabs for instance,  rise and fall in that period.whilst producing a dozen albums that are the foundations of musical culture.

So alongside terminal procrastinations like My Bloody Valentine and Kate Bush (CBE) I wonder what the reason for such glacial songwriting speed is., In Kate Bush's case it is certainly a creative freedom she has developed over the years to do as she darn well pleases. She owns her master-tapes, has her own studio and EMI, her label since she was 16 have even given her an imprint , 'Fish People' to keep her on side after the departure from the company of trusted staff.  Since 'Ariel' broke a 12 year hiatus in 2005 she has released two more albums (although only one of new material) which is like lightning in comparison. Also, of course, she is a perfectionist.

Perfectionism - the old "get out of jail free" card of the genius songwriter. That's why it takes so long, cos they are a perfectionist about what they do. All artists are. Very few go into a studio to record and then deliberately put out a slapdash effort. Some unintentionally do that but I digress. Perfectionism is another term for madness.

There is an old hairy dog story that Brian Wilson still regularly goes into the studio to mix the master-tapes to Pet Sounds, still trying to get it to sound like it does in his head. Wilson spent seventeen sessions with 90 hours of tape making the sub 4 minute single mix of 'Good Vibrations' over a 6 month period.

Have you heard 'Good Vibrations'? It may be the best single ever made.

Although as Peter Townshend said in the NME at the time - "'Good Vibrations' was probably a good record but who's to know? You had to play it about 90 bloody times to even hear what they were singing about" before saying he feared this could lead to over produced complex records. Not on his watch, sunshine.

Or that might be the follow up, the equally time consuming 'Heroes & Villains'. It could be argued that Wilson didn't get that the way he wanted until his version of 'Smile' was released in 2002. Or when the Smile sessions finally emerged in 2011. In his case there were periods of clinical obesity, depression, chemical dependency (legal and illegal), schizophrenia and appointments with lawyers of his brothers & cousins to contend with.

So with My Bloody Valentine supposedly having just put the finishing touches to their first album in 22 years - the last one having taken 2 years to record and bankrupting their label, Creation, are these things ever worth the wait?

Naturally these bands have the sort of audience that are prepared to put up with periods of silence. If they were an up and coming pop act then they would be dead in the water. In Popville, a week without new product, scandal, appearance puking into a bin or fingering someone from Hollyoaks in the back of a cab is unheard of. Add to that the fact that most people aren't checking the internet daily for news of new albums from musicians - well, Kate Bush fans are but they'll settle for a new pic of her looking lovely instead.

So 11 years for 'Portishead' 'Third' - was it worth it? I'd say so.

I think the truly great albums create a self sufficient musical ecosystem allowing the songs to exist (if Paul Morley didn't write that already, he will, Oscar, he will). Third is incredibly claustrophobic as it clatters, bangs and crashes like a devilish machine gone wrong

Take Machine Gun for example

As Pete Townshend might say, who knows what Beth is singing about but her pleading has to fight against the regimented sounds of her world. Its oppressive stuff - "too scared to sacrifice a choice chosen for me" and the world is unyielding - it continues without end. The stunning opening track 'Silence' (does anyone know what the hell that bit of dialogue at the beginning is?) sets the mood - we're lost, confused and adrift.
Radiohead covered 'The Rip' within weeks of release in a move akin to Jimi Hendrix covering 'Sgt Pepper'.

Although the album ended up in a lot of "Best Of The Year" I still don't feel it really got the full acclaim it deserves. Just as astounding and enveloping as the omnipresent 'Dummy' was in 1994. As Hitler said, Time will prove me right. Why am I praising an album that is five years old? Well if they can take their time so can I.

But for every 'Third' there is a 'Second Coming',  a 'Phantom Menace', an 'Ariel' (not for me but some REALLY hated La Bush's return) or a 'Free As A Bird'.

So is it worth the wait? Sometimes

What have we learnt. Nuffink

As you were.....

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