Summer Is Here
So summer is here in its full blown glory at last. I know people who show their delight in this time of year by making summer mix tapes and CDs, and for sure in the next week or so I will be doing the same. It will of course be a fine blend of the old and the new, and I can tell you right now that for certain one of the cuts on there will be the great lost Denim single ‘Summer Smash’. And alongside it? Why, the mighty ‘Summer Is Here’ from the new Go-Kart Mozart set Tearing Up The Album Charts, of course.

You know by now that I have more than a soft spot for Lawrence. I think he is one of the most criminally ignored / forgotten Pop mavericks of all time and that he has barely put a foot wrong in the past twenty five years. Some would take umbrage with that comment of course, and yes, if pressed I would aver that perhaps the first Go-kart Mozart set was a low point on the journey, but then again, wasn’t it a marvellous ring-tone album four years ahead of its time? Now only the passing of the years will tell if Tearing Up The Album Charts is ahead of its time also, but I do know it’s barely been off my stereo for the past week.

Lawrence has said that this album was recorded cheaply in home studios. He’s also said that he hates cheap home studio recordings, and as I’ve said before and will continue to say forever no doubt, it’s these kinds of contradictions that make up part of the appeal of Pop, and that make Lawrence such a special personality. So Tearing Up… is as much about the context of its creation as it is about anything else, and if it IS about anything else then it’s once more about Lawrence’s obsession with his early teenage childhood. In other words, it’s suffused with the spirit of the early 1970s, of a time when Glam was dissolving into Pub Rock and thence into Punk Rock, and let’s face it that’s not a bad spirit to be filled with. John Carney recently wrote stirringly about Jesse Hector, and really that’s a vital reference point for where Lawrence is coming from these days; from where Lawrence really has been coming from ever since Felt ended and Denim rose from its ashes.

The Denim reference is important too, because listening to this collection is a bit like hearing a set of demos for the next great Denim album. And for those Felt fans who never rated Denim I say you’re missing half the story, and that all of the Denim albums really are the magnificent protest records that Lawrence always insisted they were. Go and listen to Denim On Ice again, in particular, and tell me it’s not a record that resonates with the aches and delights of being in love with both Rock and Roll heritage and modernist futurism. But back to the present, and here we have Lawrence and his band (including Terry Miles, Tony Barber and the excellently named Tula Hoob on ‘hair guitar’ and Thunderbuck Ram on ‘exquisite scorn’) playing songs that are awash with ace riffs not a million miles from those found on Lawrence’s beloved Sex Pistols records, and shot through with keyboard lines beamed in from the outer space of heavenly Pop’n’Roll.

Highlights? The aforementioned ‘Summer Is Here’ of course; the riff driven ‘Listening To Marmalade’ and ‘Fuzzy Duck’; the surreal ‘Delta Echo Echo Beta Alpha Neon Kettle’ (spells Deebank, duh…) ; the oddly jaunty ‘Donna And the Dopefiends’ that would seem to be some kind of autobiographical piece on his New York adventure post-Felt. All of them suitably strange and naturally, compellingly wonderful. This is a record filled with great songs fighting to escape from the underground, and the fact that this reflects the story of Lawrence’s life in music so far is something that resonates with a vague sadness. So to paraphrase David Essex, buy this record and make him a Star…
Speaking of David Essex, what about his duet with Sarah Cracknell on the recent St Etienne set Tales From Turnpike House? Now I’ve heard various vastly differing opinions on this, but I have to say I love it, even though I’m no great Essex aficionado and remain somewhat suspicious of investigating any more of his material. But then once upon a time I said the same of The Beach Boys and The Bee Gees, so who knows what might happen in the coming years… Certainly I’d be tempted to slot several tracks from the St Etienne album onto my summer smash mix. ‘Milk Bottle Symphony’ would be right up there, as would ‘Teenage Winter’; two great list songs if ever I heard them, that sum up the kind of reflective detailed period pieces St Etienne are so profoundly adept at. In the end though I suspect I’d opt for the sublime album opener ‘Sun In My Morning’ which seems to me to be about the closest they have come to fully capturing the spirit and sound of the West Coast Soft Pop so beloved of the group. It’s as sparkling and sweetly seductive as you could possibly imagine. And then some.

It’s well known that Bob Stanley is a big Lawrence fan, and of course he features in their sublime Finisterre film due for imminent DVD release. So what chance a duet on the next album? It would be great, I’m sure.

Now I think it’s pretty clear that Sweden’s Club 8 have been St Etienne fans for a while, and certainly their new Strangely Beautiful set for Stereo Test Kit will go down well with all lovers of sweet soft electro pop. It’s a well crafted record, with the edges and surfaces smoothed and varnished but with some quaint folk art scratched into the veneer. Opener ‘When Lights Go Out’ sets the scene perfectly, with it’s downbeat Future Bible Heroes feel and Karolina Komstedt’s gently aching voice winding its way around your heart like Sweet Pea tendrils stretching out in the summer sun. Then there’s the soft focus, French film, blurred episode of ‘Stay By My Side’, and what about the frankly gorgeous ‘Cold Hearts’ that follows it? A gem of fragile bittersweetness, this is the sound of The Field Mice accompanying Action Biker; this is the sound of seeing soft brown eyes in the sparkling river reflections five years after you thought them dead; is the sound of a heart splitting in new ways you would never have thought possible. But just when you think it’s all weeping sunsets over the archipelago, they bounce in with the fab ‘Saturday Night Engine’ which is all Baxendale meets The Legends. It would have been good if they’d been able to inject more of this energy and pace at other moments on the album, and it does stand out as something of an oddity as a result, but that’s okay because it’s a loveable oddity for sure. Aptly titled, Strangely Beautiful should be one of the softest hits of the summer.

The aforementioned ‘Cold Hearts’ also features on the Stereo Test Kit compilation Records Make Great Pets. With a sleeve by ace Plan B art maestro Andrew Clare, this is an essential sampler of Swedish Pop Now. There’s something for everyone here (well, nothing for death metal fans or boy band ‘punk’ buffs, but heh…) and plenty of highlights. Opener El Perro Del Mar, fresh from a split single with the genius Jens Lekman, delivers a gem in ‘Dog’ that marks her out as something special in the mod-folk realm, and hers is a name we really ought to watch carefully. Then there’s Speedmarket Avenue’s brilliant ‘He’s A Rebel’ that sounds like some kind of wonderful update of Dino Desi and Billy’s ace ‘The Rebel Kind’ with an indiepop slant, whilst Heikki’s fab ‘Former Hero’ is one of the fizziest, fuzziest slices of pure popcorn I’ve heard in a while. It’s up there with Fibi Frap’s monumentally classic ‘Catherine’, and if I’d had my way that cut would surely have been the centrepiece of this collection. That it’s not, however, in no way means this collection is not an essential slice of summer listening, and if for some strange reason you are still unconvinced of the brilliance of the Pop renaissance that’s been emerging from Sweden these past few years, then it ought certainly to serve as a convincing means of persuasion.

© 2005 Alistair Fitchett