Surprise Yourself!
Shop Around Ö part 36
What one word best describes the magic of pop? Now thereís the sort of question to drop at random into a conversation. Actually I would opt for surprise. Itís a lovely word.

Surprise, as in joking recently about discovering my Prats 7Ēs again, and then finding that a Prats compilation is being put out by One Little Indian oddly enough. And itís a wonderful surprise to find that the Edinburgh schoolkids still sound as wonderfully and as accidentally adventurous as they ever did. At the end of the Ď70s these kids just happened to break every rule going, recorded for two of the coolest labels ever (Fast Product and Rough Trade), and they were the one group of the punk age I could completely identify with. The ramshackle protest of 'Inverness' and the later fully formed 'General Davis' sound fantastic, and the live demos and live stuff is great too. One of the latter numbers features Paul Research of Scars on guitar too, which is another timely reminder that aside from the Glasgow School of Orange Juice and Alan Horne, during the golden age of Scotsí pop Edinburgh pretty much ruled the roost. Josef K, Fire Engines, Visitors, Scars, Prats, Article 58, Fast Product, and Rational Records, but thatís a different story.

Perhaps the best thing about pop and surprise is hearing a song on the radio that makes you drop your drink. Itís not been a bad year for that. Amerie, Faith Evans, Damien Marley, Rihanna, and Kanye West have all succeeded there. Where this gets really frustrating though is when you hear a song but donít quite catch whom itís by. I hate that. It happened a while back when one of the ríníb/hip hop shows played a track by Lina, which stopped me in my tracks. Trouble is it never occurred to me that her name was spelt Lina. So I never tracked down a copy of the record. Until recently. Amazon very helpfully pointed me in Linaís direction when I was buying something else, and so I belatedly caught up with her 2001 debut Stranger On Earth.

It remains one of the strangest ríníb records ever, taking the swing thing totally literally so that you have a real sense of Billie Holiday/Ella, gardenia in the hair, huge mic, danceband thing meets lowdown Roots-y soulfulness. Now Hidden Beach (home of the great Jill Scott appropriately) have issued a long-delayed follow up in the excellent Inner Beauty Movement, which will restore your faith in soul music. Trust me.
In fact itís one of a few sophomore sets from the soul underground, which I have stumbled across recently. These are wonderful records from incredibly talented, strong minded, very beautiful, fiercely independent young women who are determined not to take the easy options. The best of these is by Jaguar Wright, who is the most argumentative and confrontational performer Iíve come across in a long time. And if you like your soul stripped-down and deep, and your beats dirty, then treat yourself to her new record. Her first LP (Denials, Delusions and Decisions) featured a phenomenal 9-minute number called 'Self Love', which was astonishing and as scary as hell. This time around sheís left that way behind, with the 12-minute 'Do Your Worst', which is like a cross between Linda Jonesí 'Your Precious Love' crossed with Dexysí 'This Is What Sheís Like', or Laura Lee tossing her copy of Astral Weeks out the window and saying honey that sounds so tame, listen to this! Iíve heard nothing as extreme for ages.

If you can find them, thereís some very entertaining Jaguar Wright interviews out there, where she has some very specific comments about young ladies that participate in promotional videos clad in next to nothing just to shift a few units and get their product more widely known. She does have the advantage of being associated with the Roots stable, and we have to give those guys credit for plugging away with the soulful sounds. Another one of note is the new one from Vivien Green, and in an ideal world we would be hearing her all over the airwaves in the way say Anita Baker and Chaka Khan once were. Itís absolutely gorgeous pop, and if you shop around youíll pick up these records at great cheap prices on import. Surprise yourself!

And thereís a new Syleena Johnson record due sometime soon, a third chapter in her astonishingly powerful series, which of course people hopefully rush out and buy after her contribution to Kanyeís College Dropout. But if you canít wait for that, then treat yourself to the two earlier chapters in her story.

© 2005 John Carney