May 23, 2010

Jarvis Cocker, Pulp frontman and ‘National Treasure’ according to the scrolling display of my digital radio during his BBC 6music show, is this week’s subject of The Observer’s always worthwhile This Much I Know column.

“The muddling through life is the exciting bit of it,” he informs us. How very true. And what a splendid word to describe it. (A word I’m also rather fond of in the context of what you do to mint to make a Mojito.)

Jarvis also tells us his greatest talent: “to sing and move my hands at the same time. It’s not something I’ve thought through; it’s not that I’m trying to do signing. But it’s nice – you can move your hands and shape the words. Shirley Bassey’s very good at it.”

It’s so true. From the wild hand movements of his youth, movements that dragged his whole body across the stage, to the gentler gesticulations of later years, the hands added a whole dimension to his performance. One that seemed to involve absolutely no muddling whatsoever.


“Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head – they somehow formed in his head – and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.

If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted – they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just a normal sort of person, you could never do anything like that – then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of like, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”

– Brian Eno, via Magical Nihilism

Debut the bacchanal

April 17, 2010

On Tuesday, the glad tidings flew round the interwebz – the Scissor Sisters have returned once more to spread their gospel of joy and love among the human race. Their website is currently bestowing upon us the gift of a play-as-much-as-you-like (and we like) new track ‘Invisible Light’, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a tap in your toe. And to top it all off, there’s a fabulous thriller-slash-two-tribes-esque monologue – could that really be the voice of Gay Knight Ian McKellen? By Wednesday, the suspicion had been confirmed, it was indeed Sir Ian (or Serena as he is apparently known to his thespian chums).

“Painted whores, sexual gladiators, fiercely old party children all wake from their slumber to debut the bacchanal,” intones the voice of Gandalf and Magneto. “Come to the light, into the light, the invisible light.”

Sing it, Sisters!


I’m not sure I really approve of the fad for bands to do gigs (well, probably concerts actually, as they tend to come with a ‘we are serious musicians’ attitude) consisting of all the songs from one of their albums in the right order.

But when I found out that Spiritualized were going to give ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’ a live spin, it only took me a couple of seconds to get over myself and snap up a couple of tickets.

The album came out in 1997, when me and my friend Nicki were sharing the tiniest of flats in a beautiful white-pillared street in Notting Hill. We painted the walls a cheery yellow and our old college friends would come and hang out in our miniscule living room under the Wong Kar-Wai poster (“The world’s most exciting film maker”). We’d thrill to the crazy new sounds of Radiohead’s OK Computer and chill to the blissed out world of Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space. It had been a good few years since we’d left university, and here we all were again – only now in London! With jobs! And money! And nice clothes! Going to cool bars! And clubs! In London! I still sometimes get a thrill from just being in London, but back then I got it a lot more.

In fact it was during that time that the inevitable cracks in our cosy circle of friends finally started to appear. Tensions and fallouts and schisms that I wasn’t directly involved in, but that freaked me out nonetheless, though in hindsight it’s all for the best that we transformed from a single many-headed organism into a collection of individuals. And for me the album remains associated with the happy bit just before all that.

So tonight I decided to dig it out and stick it on the iTunes so me and it could get reacquainted. And it’s impossible to do that without taking a minute to admire the packaging.

The whole thing is done as if it’s a pack of medicine. I didn’t splash out on the deluxe version pictured above in which each track is on a different CD, sorry tablet, in a giant blister pack. Instead I got the next version down which had just the one tablet in the one blister. Inside was a medicinal-looking leaflet with details of the contents (track listing), active ingredients (band members) and a whole host of other information (What is Spiritualized used for? Spiritualized is used to treat the heart and soul.) You can read the whole thing here.

Every detail has been obsessed over by design studio Farrow until it’s spine-tinglingly perfect. They even released this photo to show that it had been packaged under ‘strict pharmaceutical conditions’ (though I reckon her nails should be a bit shorter if so). My favourite bit of verbiage is on the back of the box: ‘For aural administration only’.