Despite a running time that makes it feel more like a generous EP, 'Histoire de Melody Nelson' remains one of the most important and influential albums of Serge Gainsbourg's career - indeed of the 1970s as a whole. If you're at all familiar with the music of David Holmes, Broadcast, Mick Harvey, Massive Attack, Portishead, Stereolab or any number of other Gainsbourg disciples, you will have heard echoes of this record in their work. The basic tracks for the LP were recorded in London with the aid of largely uncredited British session musicians, before co-composer/arranger Jean-Claude Vannier added strings back in France. The 2011 Deluxe Edition of 'Histoire de Melody Nelson' adds a disc of out-takes and a DVD documentary to the story. From the former, here's a chance to fully appreciate the genius of Jean-Claude Vannier via an instrumental version of the album's closing track 'Cargo Culte'.
By way of a New Year's Resolution, a friend of mine pledged to read four books per month throughout the coming year. Another has set himself the lofty goal of watching 365 films in 365 days - as I type, they are both still on track. I knew that I wouldn't have a hope in hell of getting anywhere near either of those targets, so I went for something much more within my limited grasp, namely to listen to as many albums, in full, as possible in 2019.
So at the beginning of January I started to keep a list of every album I played from beginning to end. The format is immaterial, LP, CD or Download, as long as the album in question is played in its entirety. If I skip tracks, cherry pick the odd tune or give up part way through, it doesn't go on the list. My aim, as often as possible, is to treat the album as a body of work, old school stylee.
I realise that this is a purely self-indulgent endeavour and unlikely to be of the slightest interest to anyone else, but since I'm jotting them down, I thought I'd share the stats month by month anyway. So here's a list, in order, of the 37 albums I played in full in January, with a track from one of 'em at the end - a tune from The Stroppies' self-titled debut. Expect these guys to show up again when their new LP arrives at Swede Towers in March. (If you're reading this Brian and you're not already aware of them, I reckon they might be right up your street).
CB3 - From Nothing to Eternity (2018) LP
John McLaughlin - Devotion (1970) LP
Julian Cope - Rite (1993) CD
Sandman Project - Royal Family (2018) LP
Matching Mole - 1st (1972) LP
Ian Carr - Belladonna (1972) LP
VED - Omikron (2016) LP
Sista Maj - Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy (2018) LP
Thomasz Stanko Quintet - Purple Sun (1973) DL
Isotope - Illusion (1974) LP
Alasdair Roberts etc - Au Cube (2018) LP
Isotope - Deep End (1975) LP
Soft Machine - 1st (1968) LP
Soft Machine - 2nd (1969) LP
Fanatism - The Future Past (2018) LP
Alexander 'Skip' Spence - Oar (1969) CD
The Stroppies - s/t (2017) DL
The Janitors - Fuzz Club Session (2019) LP
Elvin Jones - Genesis (1971) DL
Ian Carr's Nucleus - Roots (1973) LP
The Janitors - Horn Ur Marken (2016) LP
Elvin Jones - New Agenda (1975) DL
Richard Youngs - Dissident (2019) LP
John Cale & Terry Riley - Church of Anthrax (1970) LP
Kungens Män - Dag & Natt (2017) LP
National Health - s/t (1978) LP
Ultimate Painting - Up! (2018) DL
dbh - Time Flies (2013) LP
Defunkt - s/t (1980) LP
Dr John - Gris-Gris (1968) LP
Deerhunter - Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? (2019) DL
Herbie Hancock - Kantonschule (1972) DL
Prince Far-I - Showcase in a Suitcase (1980) LP
Träden - s/t (2018) DL
Soft Machine - Alive & Well (1978) LP
Elvin Jones - Mr Jones (1973) LP
Edgar Froese - Aqua (1974) DL
Something a little different this week - not so much a long song, as a long clip. Over the last few world tours, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band have welcomed occasional song requests from audience members. These range from stone cold classics, obscure curios from their hefty back catalogue to one-off cover versions that find them reaching back to their bar-band days. This is a terrific example of the latter, pulled from a 2013 show in Leipzig. Springsteen plucks a request for Chuck Berry's 'You Never Can Tell' from the crowd, to the visible consternation of the band who obviously know the song, but have never actually played it. Steve Van Zandt, Bruce and the band spend a couple of minutes working out an arrangement - worth watching for the look on Steve's face as he tries to persuade Bruce to bring it down a key. Then, gloriously, they throw themselves headlong into a joyous, life-affirming performance. If anyone still questions why I've travelled so far, so often to see Bruce and the E-Street Band in concert over the years, here's your answer.
I've been even further off grid than usual since Saturday. All overtime at work has been slashed and I'm reduced to bare minimum hours, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to head down to the smoke for a few days and check in on my two elderly Aunts. Mrs S needed the car at home, so I loaded my device of choice with a bunch of recently purchased albums and let the train take the strain. Track maintenance on the way down necessitated a coach replacement service for part of the journey and the trip home was also heavily delayed after a poor soul was struck by a train near Brentwood, halting all services in and out of London for three hours. Long story short, I had plenty of time in which to acquaint myself with new music. I listened to a lot of good stuff, but I still reckon that there has been no better LP released so far this year than Rustin Man's 'Drift Code'.
Across the 9½ minutes of 'The Trapeze Swinger', Sam Beam casts himself as a dying man looking back on a life of love, loss, regret, redemption and salvation. It's an outstanding piece of writing and a breathtakingly beautiful performance. The song originally appeared on the soundtrack of the film 'In Good Company' in 2004, before featuring Iron and Wine's rarities and b-sides collection 'Around the Well' in 2009.
Träden's musical journey began a very long time ago, in 1969, when the group formed in Sweden as Träd, Gräs och Stenar (which translates as Trees, Grass, and Stones) from the remenents of two other outfits, Pärson Sound and International Harvester. Their story is a convoluted one that, quite frankly, I'm still piecing together myself. The band's moniker was shortened to Träden only last year, to coincide with their tremendous self-titled LP released on the Subliminal Sounds label. From that very record, 'Tamburan' is a meandering 11 minute high point.