Entry #16 – Kid A (a.k.a Fame’s a Bitch part 2)

Best tunes of 2000: #12 Radiohead “Optimistic” – My (life in) music lists

All good things come to an end as the saying goes. Britpop had to end at some point after peaking in the summer of 1995 with Blur v Oasis. The most commonly cited factor that brought about the movement’s end is Radiohead’s OK Computer. We all know about that album. How many times has that thing been voted as one of, if not the best album of all time? Every track was a classic, every note was perfect, it was an apex of music, and it cemented Radiohead as one of the most influential bands in Britain (Or so the story goes; me personally, I’ve never really been able to gel with it that much).

And of course, with every high comes a low.

Radiohead’s came as they slogged their way through the gruelling Against Demons tour to promote the album. Almost a year of being on the road nearly wiped the band out. Like Pulp in the previous review, they were sick and tired of playing the same songs, doing the same interviews and appearing on the same television shows constantly week after week, city after city. OK Computer was so popular, Radiohead was so popular, that they couldn’t handle it.

When it all finally came to an end in mid-1998 Thom Yorke was especially feeling the effects, having become cynical to the concept of rock and dealing with writer’s block that prohibited him from writing new songs. By the time the band finally reconvened at the start of 1999, he still was not fully back to his old self. Anything he did have to offer was disjointed and/or basic and he would be damned if he was just going to go back to writing rock songs around them and making his brain sick again. The way to go now in his eyes was something he had gelled with in the aftermath of the tour; electronica.

Now how the hell was that going to work for an alt-rock band like Radiohead? The Greenwoods voiced their concern that it was “art rock nonsense just for its own sake”. Ed O’Brien was seemingly going to be left little to do as guitarist. And the fanbase were eagerly awaiting what they thought would be OK Computer II; typically atypical rock.

Was Radiohead about to sign its death warrant in revolt against their biggest success, or would they successfully evolve the sound of music once again?

The answer lay with Kid A.

Track #1 – Everything In Its Right Place

Setting up Kid A right away as the antithesis of OK Computer is this introductory track. Basic structure, haunting electronic sounds only and random sentences stitched together to form lyrics. The latter point at the time of release led to the accusation of it being a load of gibberish but according to Yorke, it was a reflection on his mental state during the tour. All things considered it is quite minimalist and a gradual step into the experimental field Radiohead will be playing in.

Track #2 – Kid A

Title track time. Here I find this one brings the ear closer to the sound as Thom’s vocals are distorted to the point of indecipherability, and we hear Phil Selway’s drumming guiding us along what sounds like a twisted nursery rhyme tune. Then at 3 minutes in, there’s a scratch of guitar that throws you off, the synths begin to kick in, the anticipation builds along with a sense of dread and then…more of the same, which makes you relax a little before the song ends with a distorted baby’s wail. That’s when I checked the lyrics, saw the third verse said ‘Standing in the shadows at the end of my bed’, and realised what was going on. Jesus Christ.

Track #3 – The National Anthem

Hot damn I love this track. This is Colin Greenwood’s day in the sun as he commands this track with that simple but rocking bassline. We get an orchestra in this song too, for what has been described as a session of “traffic jam” music which Yorke got so into that he broke his foot whilst conducting. With that increasing manic clashing of brass, I can believe that. It’s a near 6 minute jam session by a band with zero f*cks left to give and the result is such a beautiful mess that flies by. Special shoutout aswell to anytime the band plays it live, particularly at Reading 2009.

Track #4 – How to Disappear Completely

I like to think this song lulled OK Computer fans into a false sense of security with the opening acoustic guitar and Thom’s lyrics no longer being put through a ring modulator. While this one sounds more ethereal (Helped by the fact it was recorded in Dorchester Abbey), this has some of the most downbeat lyrics to be found. Having half of them be the sentence ‘I’m not here’ will do that. And then you get to the final minute. The orchestra loses the plot momentarily, as if screeching in pain, before recomposing themselves as Thom fades away. That’s one way to translate death to sound. Or maybe it’s hopeless escape. One of the two. Or both.

Track #5 – Treefingers

Imagine yourself in a large white room. Miles of space around you. Nothing to fill it. Just yourself. You’re alone. But you’re safe. That’s what Treefingers conjures up, for me at least.

Track #6 – Optimistic

Irony incoming I bet, was my reaction when I saw that title. Optimism and Radiohead seemed like water and oil to me. But it all stems from a message of reassurance that Thom received from his partner, Rachel – ‘Try the best you can/the best is good enough’. It’s a little too basic for Kid A though. It’s good, but it ain’t fantastic like everything has been up to this point.

Track #7 – In Limbo

Once again leaning to Thom’s cynicism with Radiohead’s increased exposure, and magnifying it more than any other track up to this point, In Limbo implies he was stuck between the real world with all the cameras and the people biting at his heels, and a fantasy world, a world of dreams where he was safe (More than likely whatever he was imagining in his head when Treefingers was made). The lyrics are once again seemingly slapdash like they were on Everything In Its Right Place but if you look closely, they all tie together. ‘I’m on your side’? Force fed false reassurance from prying eyes that won’t leave him. ‘Nowhere to hide’.  ‘I’m lost at sea’. Stuck miles away from home. ‘Don’t bother me’. Doesn’t want to be back in reality. Lyrically, this is my favourite track on Kid A by a mile.

Track #8 – Idioteque

I’ve been looking forward to this one. You always seem to hear about this one when Kid A is brought up. After the electronica had been blended nicely with Radiohead’s rock sound and perverted orchestrations, here it is well and truly on display once again. While Colin’s shining moment was The National Anthem, brother Jonny’s is definitely Idioteque. While things have felt a little fraught but still held together for a few tracks now, this track undoes that as Radiohead descend back into mania. With lyrics like ‘Who’s in a bunker, who’s in a bunker?’ and ‘Ice age coming, ice age coming’, this feels like a psychotic calm after the storm. I guess we’ll be playing this once World War 3 finally happens.

Track #9 – Morning Bell

Nice transition from Idioteque to this song; I didn’t realise Morning Bell had started until I looked up and saw it had. Immediately you get a more soothing feel in stark contrast to Idioteque but Thom’s strained vocals remind you you’re still listening to Radiohead. ‘Cut the kids in half’ reminds you you’re still listening to Kid A. However, I don’t think there is really much to say about this song. Like Optimistic, it does feel a little bit basic. A little unnerving, yes, but it wouldn’t really be Radiohead if it wasn’t unnerving would it?

Track #10 – Motion Picture Soundtrack

A hangover from OK Computer, which I’ll say right now has one of my favourite Radiohead songs in the form of Exit Music (For a Film). Like that song, this definitely feels like it comes from a soundtrack to a film thanks to the swirly sounds of a harp. I’d argue that it is Exit Music’s little sister; if you look at the lyrics to both you get the standard feeling of reluctant attention as the narrator seemingly talks of suicide (‘Red wine and sleeping pills’ and ‘I will see you in the next life’ kind of sum it up). But while Exit Music has a level of bombast to it, Motion Picture Soundtrack has a more gentle and subtle majesty. Which is kind of why I instead buy Thom’s interpretation of the song; that it’s saying goodbye to a dying loved one. If it was from their point of view, maybe it would sound like a grandiose final note, which is what a lot of us want to go out on, which is what the narrators of Exit Music and (perhaps) How to Disappear Completely do. But because it’s from someone else’s point of view, someone who is making peace with the idea that someone’s suffering is coming to an end, it gives us a more gentle, relaxing sound instead. An ideal finale for an album like Kid A.

Conclusion:

I put this review off for a long time. I always thought you would have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to any Radiohead album, let alone Kid A, and with the constant cycle of despair that is the pandemic still raging on I was worried in case I wasn’t entirely ready for it. But today I finally bit the bullet and you know what? I’m glad I did. Kid A is a damn near perfect album in my book. It’s not a conventional album by any means, nor is it an easy listen (I don’t exactly see myself sitting back in my chair and thinking “Why don’t I listen to In Limbo?”), but it is truly an artistic masterpiece. Radiohead excel themselves here, subverting their norm, stepping into new territory and nailing it with the help of Nigel Godrich.

And indeed, this is the perfect sequel to OK Computer.

Radiohead needed to do an album that wasn’t OK Computer, one that would help them vent their frustrations, one that would allow them to feel good about making music again, one that would make people scratch their heads but still enjoy themselves, one that wouldn’t be appreciated right away but in due course to allow the band time to recharge. Kid A achieves all of those. Looking back, not releasing any singles for this album was a smart move. Any preview would have killed sales. They gently forced the general public to accept them for what they were now. Not many bands can do that.

As far as protests against fame go, Kid A is a shining example.

Entry #15 – Sampling Soundtracks II: James Bond (a.k.a No, Mr Bond, I expect you to release the bloody film already!)

James Bond streaming guide: Where to watch every movie online | soda

Happy 2021! At the time of writing this we are about less than a week into the New Year and the world hasn’t burst into flames or anything just yet, so I’d say that we’re off to a good start. Just another 360-odd days to go. I said at the end of the last entry that the next album that would be covered on A-Side Glance would be Kid A but frankly I think the best time to listen to that is when you’re already in a bit of a downer mood, to help you come full circle. So until the bad news rears its ugly head again, we’re going to talk about James Bond.

Once again this edition of Sampling Soundtracks is rooted in my early exposure to video games on the Nintendo 64, the game in question of course being GoldenEye 007. Thanks to that, I ended up finding the film it’s based off in my grandparents’ VHS collection along with Octopussy, watched them both and before long I became a fan of the James Bond films. With my magnifying look into the world of music I have started to pay more attention to the soundtracks that accompany each film in the series, from the likes of Monty Norman and John Barry, to David Arnold and Thomas Newman. For this entry I’m going to take a selection of instrumental pieces heard across the 24 Bond films. I could talk about each film’s respective theme song, or the soundtracks to the video games like the above-mentioned GoldenEye, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish to look into another time. This is mainly just out of intrigue but also because it kills time as we await No Time To Die being delayed for the gazillionth time. That film was meant to be out in 2019 for crying out loud.

Just a heads up going into this, I won’t be talking about the James Bond theme itself or its many, many variations heard throughout the franchise. If I did, we would be here far too long and I’m pretty sure you’ve got better things to do then read a five thousand word essay on why Michael Kamen’s take on the Bond theme is the best of the lot or how Eric Serra did the best piece of music for the gunbarrel.

To start things off, let’s have some of the…less than stellar moments from our resident composers.

Monty Norman’s Dr No score

No full disrespect meant to Monty Norman, after all he did give us the Bond theme which is one of the most classic musical renditions in all of cinema. But when that isn’t playing and he has to come up with something else he lends a tune that would be more suited to a Disney film. Admittedly, this was the first Bond film and a true Bondian score was one of the kinks that had to be worked out. Unfortunately you can’t really help but laugh when there’s an exceptionally loud blare of music as the Three Blind Mice make a lame attempt to assassinate Bond, or the orchestra accompanies each time Bond twats the tarantula.

The Man with the Golden Gun – The slide whistle

John Barry had only two weeks to compose the score for The Man with The Golden Gun. I’m sure if given more time he would have realised just how much a slide whistle would dilute what should be considered one of the best stunts in the entire series.

GoldenEyeLadies First

There are parts of Eric Serra’s one and only Bond score that I will happily defend. This is not one of them. One of the main criticisms of the GoldenEye soundtrack is that it sounds better suited as elevator music and I think this, one of the most 90s tracks ever 90s’d, best exemplifies that.

Right, that’s enough negativity. Let’s have some positivity.

007

The secondary Bond theme, the one you would hear on and off through the Connery era for an action setpiece that didn’t quite suit the Monty Norman tune. I used to dislike this one as a kid actually but it has grown on me. To me it screams courageous adventurer, kind of more Indiana Jones than James Bond, but at the end of the day that’s what Bond is: courageous, unflappable, always running headfirst into danger.

Goldfinger The Laser Beam

We all know the scene. We’ve all seen it parodied a thousand times. We all know that dialogue between Goldfinger and Bond. But that scene would only have half worked if it weren’t for the music that steadily gets louder and more frantic as the laser slowly approaches Bond’s knackers.

You Only Live TwiceMountains and Sunsets

To lean into the Japanese setting for You Only Live Twice, John Barry’s music has more of an oriental flavour behind it that makes this film’s score stand out from the others in terms of sheer beauty, and none sound more elegant than those beautiful swirling strings that bookend the track Mountains and Sunsets. Of course there’s the dramatic middle portion that highlights that this is still a Bond film and he’s got a World War to avert (As a side note, honourable mention to climactic track Bond Averts World War III for its sheer intensity).

The entirety of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is John Barry’s finest hour as Bond composer in my book. Everything from the gunbarrel to the credits is peppered with his best tracks as he experiments with a new instrument in his repertoire; the Moog synthesiser. It screams late 60s class and adds a layer of hurriedness and intensity to the scenes it can be heard in, especially the safecracking sequence. You can’t pick a single best track out of this film’s music, just listen to the full thing. Do not skip Lazenby!

MoonrakerFlight Into Space

Say what you like about Moonraker, but if there’s one thing it does right it is the execution of the journey into outer space. I’m not overly fond of the entire soundtrack but that piece of music that accompanies the shuttle from Earth to the space station is magnificent. Like with the laser sequence in Goldfinger, the visuals are only half the tale; the model work in this sequence is brilliant but if it weren’t for Flight Into Space, with its choir adding to the beauty of leaving the planet behind, the scene would have been universally shat on. However, thanks to John Barry, it’s only shat on by purists who call this the jump-the-shark moment for the series.

For Your Eyes OnlyRunaway

Enter Bill Conti. Yes, that Bill Conti. The one who did Gonna Fly Now for the Rocky films. He did a Bond film. And if you couldn’t tell we had entered the 80s with For Your Eyes Only, here’s Bill to give you a loud and proud reminder. The highlight of his one and only Bond score has to be Runaway, which for me is the ideal kind of track for a Moore-era chase thanks to it being not overly dramatic, settling for a tune that has a jovial vibe to it. Classy and camp. That’s our Rog.

A View To A Kill‘The Three Amigos’

After some weaker compositions in the 70s, I think Barry had something of a renaissance period with his final Bond films. A View To A Kill, while not one of the best films in the series, does boast one of the better soundtracks, one that harkens back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Only this time, the 60s-sounding Moog synthesiser has been replaced with an 80s-sounding electric guitar. It does date things ever so slightly but fully suits the film it accompanies and reflects well on the mental state of main antagonist Max Zorin; classy but erratic. The main action setpieces of AVTAK (Bond escaping Siberia, the fire truck chase, and the battle atop the Golden Gate Bridge) all use the same orchestral composition but with different variations of the guitar. The final appearance of the tune on the bridge is the best in my book, selling the effect of Bond and Zorin doing battle in the skies.

The Living DaylightsAir Bond

John Barry ended his time with the series with The Living Daylights and what a score to go out with. Again, very 80s, but also with some of the most hard hitting brass that evokes memories of the moodier compositions of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, most notably shown with the grandiose piece that blasts out as Koskov flies off to freedom in a jet. Triumph rarely sounds so epic.

The World is Not EnoughCasino Jazz

I love a bit of jazz. That’s all.

Casino RoyaleAfrican Rundown

Let’s talk about David Arnold proper now. I feel like I should like him more than I should. Don’t get me wrong, he does what he sets out to do and does it well, whether it be romantic or exciting or both. For some reason it just doesn’t normally click with me aswell as Barry’s work. I think what also doesn’t work in my favour is the fact that I have sworn off tracks that primarily incorporate the Bond theme for this entry and most of Arnold’s best work does include that (for example, Bike Chase from Tomorrow Never Dies or Come in 007 Your Time is Up from The World is Not Enough). So perhaps with the deliberate move to not include the Bond theme at all until the end credits of Casino Royale, Arnold gets to show his potential a lot more and boy does he do that with African Rundown. One of my favourite pieces of chase music for one of my favourite chases, full stop.

SkyfallTennyson

And so we end things with the most recent addition to the roster of composers who have had a crack at the Bond films, Thomas Newman (Well at least until No Time To Die is released and we officially hear Hans Zimmer’s score). There are a lot of tracks to choose from (so much so that he lifted half the soundtrack and plonked it in Spectre, but that’s besides the point), Quartermaster and Welcome to Scotland being particular highlights, but when you think of the Skyfall soundtrack you’ve got to think of Tennyson. The ultimate track to suit the feeling of arriving in just the nick of time. Judi Dench reading poetry as Bond sprints across London would have only had half the impact if it weren’t for this track, the cherry on the cake from Newman.

Entry #14 – This is Hardcore (a.k.a Fame’s A Bitch part 1)

tbt Pulp / This Is Hardcore (1998) « THE MINIMAL BEAT

Say what you like about the Britpop phenomenon during the 1990s, but there is one simple fact about it that you cannot escape. It made and broke its stars, and it more than made sure it took them with it during its rough death. Think about where everyone started; young, eager to break through into the public eye, to combat the wave of grunge, make music British again and of course, gain a bit of fame and fortune on the side. Fast forward to the end of the 90s and they’re all more or less in bad shape. Damon went through a breakup, Brett descended into crack addiction, Oasis fell apart to the point where the only original members left were Noel and Liam, Justine was nowhere to be found, Richard had split away from his mates yet again, and Thom had almost singlehandedly killed the genre at the cost of his own sanity.

But what about the one remaining icon not mentioned in the above list? Jarvis Cocker. Different Class was exactly what the title suggests. It was on another level, one of the quintessential records of the 1990s. People lapped it up, they lapped Pulp up and gave them the fame and recognition that they had spent nearly two decades searching for. And it was good. For a little while.

Then there’s the comedown. Legend has it that it all started when Jarvis mooned Michael Jackson at the ’96 BRITS (And with good reason). Good and bad publicity + cocaine addiction + breakup of a longtime relationship + the grand old age of 33 = Breakdown.

And that’s how we got their next album in 1998. That’s how we got an album that dissected Pulp’s image with the sole intent of shitting on it, taking the knowledge you’re in the middle of a mid-life crisis and wearing it tight. This is the album that, in my opinion, definitively put Britpop six feet under. This is the anti-record.

This is Hardcore.

Track #1: The Fear

Something’s wrong. Those are the first words you think when you hear the opening seconds of this first track, as we jump from the final chords of Bar Italia and sink into a nightmarish mesh of strained wailings from the guitar. Right then and there you know that this is very much going to be something Different Class wasn’t. Then Jarvis’ opening verses confirm it, with lyrics such as ‘This is the sound of someone losing the plot/Making out that they’re okay when they’re not’. This is one spooky, unsettling opener and in an artistic sense it’s the best out of Pulp’s opening tracks. Not my favourite, but definitely an impressive way to kick things off.

Track #2: Dishes

‘I am not Jesus, though I have the same initials/I am the man who stays home and does the dishes’. Based off a theory Jarvis heard from another guy that 33 is the age where a person has a mid-life crisis, because that was how old Jesus Christ was when he was crucified, and if men reach that age then they realise they’re not going to be the new messiah (Probably makes the 27 Club feel a lot better). Jarvis wrote this song in retaliation, in an effort to combat his fast approaching birthday present of a mid life crisis. And I don’t think he won the battle. Gave us a heart wrenchingly intimate song though so there’s that.

Track #3: Party Hard

Britpop, exit stage left. I got some Nick Cave vibes from Jarvis’ performance on this one; contemplative and utterly exhausted. The tune in turn gives some Bad Seeds vibes, erratic and hard hitting cluttering of instruments to create the sound of a party spinning wildly out of control. Uncle Psychosis certainly left his mark.

Track #4: Help the Aged

I’m pretty sure that this is my favourite Pulp song of all time, and no it’s not because of Ali G before you ask. While dealing with the subject of the midlife crisis yet again, it’s got that standard wit and sarcasm from Pulp whilst still incorporating the dark and more resigned sound of This is Hardcore. Another reason I like it is because of how high Jarvis goes as he sings ‘Funny how it all falls away’, he hits it just right. Also, stick around for the b-side Tomorrow Never Lies if you want to hear what could have been for Pierce Brosnan’s second film as James Bond (Whose musical history is a whole other can of worms that needs opening one day).

Track #5: This is Hardcore

So I think it goes without saying that the title track is the best on the album and possibly the best song that Pulp have ever done. This is the embodiment of all the grievances the band had at the time melded into 6 minutes of orchestra and thinly veiled innuendo, which doubles for the fame that they had craved for so long. You wait so long, you’re ready now, you know the parts to play and by the end you’ve done it to death, to the point where you’ve ‘seen the storyline/played out so many times before’. The only reason I don’t listen to this as often as Help the Aged is because this is more than a song. It’s an event.

Track #6: TV Movie

Less hard-hitting than the previous song, but the opening seconds of atmospheric static made me think this was going to be even darker than before. Thankfully not, in fact this is the lightest track so far. Not quite as minimalist as Dishes seeing as this one incorporates strings, but not far off.

Track #7: A Little Soul

One last single to cover and a bit of a change of pace as we deal with the strained relationship between a divorced father and his estranged son, the former narrating the song and basically deeming himself an irredeemable failure as he begs the latter ‘Please don’t turn into me’. He wishes he could ‘show a little soul’ but that’s gone. Wasted, in fact. Christ, that’s depressing.

Track #8: I’m A Man

Back to reflecting on life now, as Jarv covers the things he’s done to appear to be a man; drinking, smoking, dirty jokes, driving fast, fancy restaurants, fine wine. And then he asks the question; what’s the f*cking point? Very biting satire here that harks back to Different Class as it deals with those cliches of what makes you cool in society according to those adverts you’d see while out and about. Pulp tried them, became cool. ‘So please can I ask just why we’re alive?/’Cos all that you do seems such a waste of time’. Definitely a song that has aged well over time, especially with the rise of social media and its influencers teaching the young and impressionable how to look cool.

Track #9: Seductive Barry

Guest starring Neneh Cherry, this is officially only the second longest track on the album at eight and a half minutes. This feels like the little sister to the title track, with talk of love scenes as the titular Barry carries out his long awaited seduction of someone he has long fantasised over, and the music guides us as to which part of the action we are at. Nothing much happening for about six minutes, and then the swirling strings inform us that the action has begun. It’s a little uncomfortable to listen to, with a hint of sleaze under the romance (‘if this is a dream then I’m going to sleep for the rest of my life’) and I think that’s sort of the point. I wouldn’t have minded if this was a single honestly.

Track #10: Sylvia

Is it me or does the opening guitarwork from Mark Webber sound eerily similar to the tune found in the first half of Like a Friend? Anyway, Jarvis’ own words; “Some people get off on people who they think are a bit screwed up…I think that’s a bit pervy to be honest”. Hear, hear. Once again, Jarv really goes for the high notes and it sounds really effective, giving the aura of desperation of the man who wants Sylvia all to himself.

Track #11: Glory Days

You can’t talk about Glory Days without talking about the song that it was cut for: Cocaine Socialism. Originally, that was going to be one of, if not the most biting statement that This is Hardcore had to say in repulsed response to one of the factors behind Britpop’s death; New Labour’s hijacking of the Cool Britannia movement to make themselves look cool and electable. Ok, it worked, but everyone saw through the façade. I wish that had been on the album instead of Glory Days. While it is a decent enough song, it is much the same of what we’ve heard so far, only less inspired and with less sugarcoating. Aging into irrelevance is the topic of discussion once again with glimpses into the things that had made Jarvis so cynical (‘Oh, my face is unappealing/and my thoughts are unoriginal/I did experiments with substances/but all it did was make me ill’). But as the man himself says, it is “about nothing really”.

Track #12: The Day After The Revolution

A radio station closed down to this track. True story. If This is Hardcore and Help the Aged are my picks for the top tracks on this album then this song definitely takes the bronze medal. It concludes affairs just how they should be concluded; simply saying ‘it’s over’. Pulp are now over the hill and they make it known with the most hard hitting track on the album since number five. Bleak as it sounds to defiantly state it’s all over, it signifies that Jarvis and the band are now free from their shackles, free in the knowledge that they have just said ‘bye bye’ to what made them famous. If they had stopped here, then this would have been one hell of an exit.

Conclusion:

This is Hardcore is a beautifully sinister suicide pact from a band looking to wash themselves clean of a dirty movement that muddied their lives. There’s barely a glimmer of light to be found and at times it makes for a difficult listen, defiantly daring the audience to stay with them as they go deeper and deeper through the rabbithole of despair. It’s depression put to tape and artistically it is the best album the band ever put together. I would argue that at times it does feel more like a Jarvis Cocker album than a Pulp album (Which is partially why Russell Senior left the band), but that doesn’t really matter in the end given the subject matter of midlife crises and consequent cynicism to sex.

A shame then that it wasn’t their last, and this is coming from a guy who genuinely likes We Love Life (And hopes that there is a 20th anniversary release with all those unreleased tracks in 2021). This is Hardcore was the finale to Pulp, but the following album ended up erasing that perfect ending, kind of like what season nine was for Scrubs. If it had led to another era for the band then fair enough but let’s not forget they were dealing with aging here in their early to mid 30’s. By the time WLL rolled around they were pushing 40. Time wasn’t really on their side unfortunately.

So that’s This is Hardcore. One of Britpop’s main killers, and a damned fine album. While I may prefer Different Class seeing as it is quintessential Pulp, I’ll always respect This is Hardcore. And as the title suggests, this is only part one of Fame’s A Bitch here on the blog. What’s that one album that overshadowed TIH as the album that sent Britpop to the grave?

OK Computer.

As it turned out, fame in bulk didn’t really agree with Radiohead either. The end result was the next album I’m going to cover in the new year.

Kid A is next.

Entry #13 – Sampling Soundtracks I: Ridge Racer Type 4 (a.k.a Hey! It’s a new record!)

R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 | Ridge Racer Wiki | Fandom

And so we reach unlucky number thirteen on A-Side Glance and commemorate it by starting a new on-off series to break up the regular reviews of albums and singles.

For most of my life, I have been a fan of video games. When my father Simon passed away in November 2000 I inherited his Nintendo 64 and the accompanying games. I still have it and play on it to this day. In fact at the time of writing this I’ve been trying to get a 100% completion rate on Star Fox 64. Easier said than done.

Anyway, back on topic. Video games can stick in the mind for many reasons; the gameplay, the characters, the storyline, the levels and so on. But there are a handful that have stuck out for me because of their soundtracks. And today’s entry is on one of them.

Ridge Racer Type 4 was a racing game I had for the Playstation 1, where you could drive for one of four teams, each with a set level of difficulty, a wide variety of cars, a story surrounding each team’s manager in the background, and with a lot of fascinating tracks to navigate around as part of the fictional Real Racing Roots ’99 series. Win consistently (Which is all you can do, anything less than a first place finish by the final races and you can kiss your career goodbye), and you get to play the final level, minutes before the end of the 20th century. It’s too good for words to sum it up.

But the soundtrack for this game is something else. It’s the integral cherry on the cake, especially for that final level. Meshes of electronica, acid jazz, funk and garage mean you’re hard pressed not to bop your head once you have the race under your control. While this game is chock full of stellar tracks, I’m going to pick out a few of my personal favourites.

Pearl Blue Soul

If you go with the game’s default selections for what track you listen to on a race course, then this is going to be the first piece you get to race to. And it’s the ideal introductory piece, with saxophones blaring away like starting horns to get your race off to a flyer. It’s designed to ease you in to the game, nothing too intense, but not completely relaxing; you are in a race after all. Good for long drives on the motorway.

Naked Glow

The perfect track for racing under the gorgeous sunset of the Wonderhill circuit. Like Pearl Blue Soul, it has a relaxing vibe to it but then the second part kicks in sounding halfway like the theme from Bullitt to remind you that you are indeed in a race.

Thru

A more psychedelic piece which is always something that will appeal to me personally. While I think it could be argued that this might be better suited for a rave or just tripping balls in general, this track is also well suited to racing at night time. Best heard on Edge of the Earth in my opinion.

Motor Species

The default track for the level Phantomile, and one that signifies that it just got real. For every race you have to start at the back of the grid, and this track is the shortest on the roster. You have little time to make your way through the grid, and even littler room for error; one small mistake and that is your race stuffed. Oh, and did I mention that from this point on you have to win every single race? This tune personifies that feeling of intense concentration you need for the circuit, building up to a crescendo as you get deeper into the thick of it. The splicing of engine revs during said crescendo only serves to build up the tension.

The Objective

Ever been out for a drive under the bright lights of midnight? Well next time you go out for one, put this track on. You’ll feel like a God of the road. Just try to resist the temptation to go full throttle. I’d always play this one on Brightest Nite in an effort to synchronise the climax of this track’s gradual buildup with the car taking flight down a steep hill.

The Ride

Of all the tracks I’ve selected for this list, this is my absolute favourite. This can play on the aptly named penultimate level Heaven and Hell, and shows that this is far from the calm before the storm. You’ve come too far to screw things up now, and frankly this track is just too good to lose to. Worth the price of admission just for those intense organ chords alone.

Movin’ in Circles

Welcome to the final level. Welcome to the new millennium (In its infinite wisdom). As I said at the top of this post you get to cross the finish line as the year 2000 begins and what better track to do it with than this remix of the game’s main theme song? Every track preceding this feels like it has been building up to something and this is it. This is the ideal climatic track for the campaign.

Conclusion:

So yeah. Something a little different this time around, a change of pace from the standard indie rock albums I’ve been reviewing this year, and a start for a new recurring series on this blog. Not sure when I’ll pick this up again but it should be sometime in the new year. Until then, you can always check out the full soundtrack to Ridge Racer Type 4 below. As I say, these are just my favourite tracks. I could easily have overlooked one track that I should probably have paid more attention to. Much like the next album I’m going to review on this blog (Wink wink, nudge nudge…).

Entry #12 – B-Side Myself II: The Masterplan (a.k.a Lovelovelovelovelovelove)

Can I get some Masterplan love in here today? A great album of "B-Sides".  One of my all time favorite songs, 'Listen Up' is featured on this album.  What's your favorite song

I’m cashing it in. This is one of the albums I have wanted to talk about ever since I started up this blog and I am not putting it off a moment longer.

The Masterplan is my favourite Oasis album.

Not Definitely Maybe, not Morning Glory, not even Be Here Now, none of that jazz. The Masterplan. Their b-side album, their compilation of songs that didn’t make it onto those three albums, the rejects, these are my favourite collection of tracks from Oasis. I picked this album up when I was just getting into Oasis, I’d heard bits and bobs from albums one and two and was interested in hearing more. Then I saw a few people online talking about The Masterplan, how it’s a great compilation of b-sides and I decided to get it. No real expectations going into it, I mean surely if they couldn’t make it onto the final album then maybe they were just good but not good enough.

But no. Some are better.

Allow me to tell you all about it.

Track #1: Acquiesce

B-Side to: Some Might Say

Some Might Say is one of my favourite songs from Oasis. Quintessential noisy rock, and we actually had this as part of the playlist for a while in the shop where I work. Why they took it out I’ll never know. But the argument could be made that Acquiesce is quintessential Oasis aswell, not least because it has a killer guitar riff and some of the best lyrics they can offer, but also because it has that added bonus of Liam and Noel both sharing lead vocals. Story goes that Liam was struggling with the chorus so Noel stepped up. End result? Excellence. With the benefit of hindsight ever since that night in the summer of 2009, it’s become that little bit more poignant. But looking past that, this is an excellent song and an excellent opener for The Masterplan. But which would I take out of the two to put on Morning Glory? I’d put both on. Just get rid of the Swamp Song excerpts and put it after Hello. Job done.

Track #2: Underneath the Sky

B-Side to: Don’t Look Back in Anger

Underrated. I really wish that they had played this live at some point. While the distorted guitar seems a little out of place this is still a brilliant track and contains one of Liam’s finest vocal performances. I’m also really fond of the piano notes peppered in during the middle eight, adding to the dreamy mystique of the ‘storyteller sleeping alone’. Should it have gone on the album though? I hate to say it but probably not. There’s not really that much room for it and while I say it’s underrated that doesn’t mean it should go in place of Don’t Look Back in Anger. But like I say, wish there was a live version of this, and not the occasional acoustic version you can find from Noel.

Track #3: Talk Tonight

B-Side to: Some Might Say

Speaking of Noel, here’s his first appearance on this album with one of the fanbase’s favourite b-sides, Talk Tonight. I like it but, and I might get flak for this, out of this and the other two songs it’s part of on the single, it’s probably my least favourite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic song and it’s got some beautiful lyrics stemming from when Noel left Oasis for the first time during that shambolic tour in the US in 1994. But because it’s an acoustic number sung by Noel it doesn’t have that same oomph. Again, absolutely wonderful song, I don’t hate it at all and it’s the right choice to come after the fast paced sonic rock of Acquiesce and Underneath the Sky, but there are other songs that I prefer.

Track #4: Going Nowhere

B-Side to: Stand By Me

Like this for example. Although this may be down to the fact that this is one of only two b-sides here from the Be Here Now era (Trying say that when you’re drunk). While it’s also an acoustic song of Noel’s, because it comes from the BHN sessions it has a little bit of extra peppering with delicate brass, strings and Liam’s tambourine. I guess while lyrically it’s weaker compared to Talk Tonight, it has two things going for it in that department; 1) I find it relatable as a recent uni grad trying to sort his life out. 2) It’s got the rhyme ‘I’m going to get me a motor car/Maybe a Jaguar’. This should have been on the main playlist for Be Here Now in place of Magic Pie. Oh, I’ll get to Magic Pie one day…

Track #5: Fade Away

B-Side to: Cigarettes & Alcohol

To the Definitely Maybe era now, and talk about being full of bittersweet adrenaline. Judging by that chorus (‘While we’re living/The dreams we have as children fade away’), I think this song made way for another good b-side from this era, D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?, which shares similar themes of childhood dreams not being realised. But because of that, and maybe the fact that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have three of Noel’s acoustics in a row, we get Fade Away instead to get your blood pumping again. If I had one gripe with it though, and this is going to be a really tiny nit to pick, it’s that I think this song would have benefitted being re-recorded by the time of Be Here Now. When it was getting started I expected to hear the guttural vocals of a more experienced Liam before remembering this came from the DM sessions. His performance is brilliant here, no doubt about that, it’s just that it is kind of jarring to hear young, fresh Liam against such fast, borderline punk music.

Track #6: The Swamp Song

B-Side to: Wonderwall

Signalling the end of act one of this album is the full song teased by those excerpts on (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and the song that the band would take the stage to pre-SOTSOG. And good God above that harmonica on top of the guitar riff is very much the icing on the cake. No lyrics necessary, just pure jamming for a few minutes.

Track #7: I Am The Walrus (Live at Glasgow Cathouse June ’94)

B-Side to: Cigarettes & Alcohol

A live track? Curious. But I don’t think I should be entirely surprised that the Gallaghers, being the fanatics that they are, would sneak in their take of one of the Beatles songs. It’s alright, nothing special and it being live means we get to hear a little bit of squabbling over the guitar (‘Doesn’t matter if it’s out of tune!’) before the song begins so there’s that. Probably the weakest track on The Masterplan.

Here’s a fun fact for you though: This was the last song Oasis ever performed before they split up, at the V Festival on August 22nd 2009. Finishing as they started. Loving the Beatles.

Track #8: Listen Up

B-Side to: Cigarettes & Alcohol

Cigarettes & Alcohol was a popular single apparently; this is the third b-side from it here on this album. Just an honest aside though, if I close my eyes and hear that opening drumbeat from Tony, I have to think and work out if I’m listening to Listen Up, Supersonic or Live Forever. Anyway, the song itself. Once again, phenomenal, superb and passionate performance from Liam, great guitar riffs from Noel and Bonehead (particularly that middle eight) and you can just about hear Guigsy on bass. What’s not to love?

Track #9: Rockin Chair

B-Side to: Morning Glory

Favourite Oasis b-side bar none. Definitely in my top three of their entire catalogue. This song ages like a fine wine and I am both pleased and surprised that Liam still occasionally sings Rockin Chair to this day. This is him singing at his most heartfelt and most powerful, with a song that I’ve seen very accurately described as one long chorus, to the point we fade into the music in media res. Like Acquiesce, this song has become more and more poignant as time has gone on, as the brothers grow older and further apart. Just listen to Liam sing the line ‘It’s all too much for me to take when you’re not there’ and try to tell me it doesn’t tug on your heartstrings.

Track #10: Half the World Away

B-Side to: Whatever

A.k.a the theme tune to the sitcom The Royle Family, Noel steps up to the mic again to make what is actually his favourite b-side. It’s one of my favourites of his too, it’s just so gentle and bittersweet with the narrator insisting he’s not down as he’s faced with the same old monotonous life in the same old town. Again, relatable. Bonehead’s keyboards are a nice touch too.

Track #11: (It’s Good) to Be Free

B-Side to: Whatever

Carrying a similar tone to its a-side, this song very much feels like the sister to Whatever, with a more rock and roll edge to contrast against the merry strings of what was almost the 1994 Christmas number one. A serviceable effort but I don’t whether or not to like the last 40 seconds, where we go from standard Oasis, to Morse code-esque beeping noises, and finally a French accordion. Bit random, innit?

Track #12: Stay Young

B-Side to: D’You Know What I Mean?

Back to the Be Here Now era and I’m always especially interested to hear b-sides from this time period seeing as how people love to make their own versions of the album. Would this one end up on mine? Well yes, of course it would. Of course to fit in with the rest of the playlist, it would need another couple of layers of guitar to give it more of a sonic noise, but even then I would substitute it for I Hope, I Think, I Know.

Track #13: Headshrinker

B-Side to: Some Might Say

I thought Fade Away was about two or three steps away from punk rock. Here, we’re right there. Borderline spat out lyrics, raw guitars and F1-level tempos guided by Tony and his drumming, in what would be one of his last acts before his unceremonious sacking. His more erratic style suits this song to a tee so it’s good that he got to do this before Alan White. The question occurs though: What is a Headshrinker? Well I’ve seen one guy online theorise it’s about blowjobs. Let’s leave it at that.

Track #14: The Masterplan

B-Side to: Wonderwall

And so we come to the title track. I said that Half the World Away was one of my favourite b-sides from Noel. This is my absolute favourite, not just of his b-sides but overall from the elder Gallagher, second only to The Importance of Being Idle. It’s the perfect way to end this album, name dropping Acquiesce from all the way back at the beginning, singing the chorus about how we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we’ll just let it be; ‘We’re all part of a Masterplan’. And with hindsight, it was the best way to close the golden era for Oasis, before the departure of Bonehead and Guigsy, and the death of Creation Records. Obviously I’d want it on Morning Glory. But where would it go? Well, I’m going to be controversial. I know everyone loves Don’t Look Back in Anger, but if it were up to me, I’d substitute it for this and make it the b-side to Wonderwall. And no, I’m not drunk.

Oh and while we’re at it. Best Oasis music vid.

Conclusion:

So yeah, like I said, out of everything the band produced this is my favourite Oasis album. To me it’s as consistent as any early Oasis album in terms of quality and track choice. It serves as a great last hurrah for the hardcore fans who strictly love their 90s sound before they transitioned into more psychedelic territory. Obviously there are other b-sides worthy of being part of the playlist like Cloudburst and D’Yer Wanna be a Spaceman?, but you can’t have them all sadly as you’d end up with an album longer than Be Here Now (Although saying that, why not do what Suede did with Sci-Fi Lullabies and make a double album?). Plus it’s difficult to choose which tracks from the band go where. Hell, if they didn’t have that problem we wouldn’t have had this compilation in the first place! Anyway, sooner or later I’ll cover another set of b-sides from Oasis, some from the 90s and others from the 2000s. Until then, who knows? It’s Christmas season. Anything can happen.