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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Deliriously out of time

Here's the next installment of the truly great article from Caught In The Carousel.  Side two of the album is dissected here.




An Interview With The Distractions 

By Dave Cantrell

Flip the record over and whattaya know, another gloaming gem (does get to be a bit routine on this album, in truth), this one, “Too Late To Change, built on the not unclever trope of a fading tattoo migrating on aging skin. Aside from its obvious musical merits, single-ready and all, buoyed with a Wrecking Crew level of unobtrusive excellence, it’s the words that wrap around your brain like clinging ivy. Perrin’s lyrics can sometimes tend to leap – or, rather, step gingerly – over the barriers of scansion with an acrobatic, gliding precision, scattering feints throughout the album that are at once both concise and unexpected. One’s reminded of slightly less-literary Leonard Cohen, words that flow with the impression of being effortless when their creation almost certainly was not (though I think we can safely assume the process was nowhere near as painstaking as Mr Cohen’s). More than proving the point, the opening stanza from “Too Late To Change”: The name on my arm isn’t where it once was/the skin starts to age it/starts moving because of/a process that’s slowing the/blood in my veins but/I’d go through the/ whole thing again and again” and yes note the oh-so-subtle shifts in the line breaks. It is exactly this emotive slyness – the purposeful slip of the tongue, an anxious hiccup made smooth – that, beyond the band’s basic pop penchant, has marked The Distractions out from the start and had as much to do with hooking us all in the first place as anything in their sound.

But oh my that sound. Whether it’s the tumbling skip-along of “The Summer I Met You” with June Bride Arash Torabi’s jumpy, pugnacious bass and the crashing, articulate punch of Mike Kellie’s drums (yes, that Mike Kellie, he with the Only Ones and Spooky Tooth in his CV), the racing restraint of “Boots, the exquisite melding of elements on “I Don’t Have Time” or the mournful churn of album closer “The Last Song, the band here is simply magnificent, tight as the devil’s own hand-rolled cheroot and twice as smooth. Not bad for a band whose two principle members live over 11,000 miles apart (Perrin’s in New Zealand these days) and who played these songs at most three times before nailing the take. The whole recording took five days and, really, why should it take more when you’re this good?




Inevitably, however, any discussion regarding what this band sounds like has to return to the quavering baritone singing at the center of it. Finney’s voice never sounds anything less than almost unspeakably natural as it limns the boundaries of fatalism, yearning, and regret, and make no mistake, there’s a fair amount of regret admitted to here. Not the sad, sorry-for-itself kind, but more resigned and accepting, the ‘Hey that’s life and take it as it lays’ kind. It’s his voice’s natural habitat. Distractions songs inhabit a place where a character and his or her motives are indistinguishable, it’s what makes them so endearing, so enduring, what makes them settle in your marrow, and it’s the uncanny mix of buoyancy and gravitas in the singer’s voice that makes this happen so convincingly. It is also, as it turns out, the ideal instrument for both the pimply longings of a post-teenage romantic and the ruminative surveys of a man in his fifty-sixth year. Sepia-toned and clear-eyed in equal measure, the voice, along with the songs and the marinated tone of this record have all merged into a wistful though vitally living document of pre-internet, pre-Instagram reminiscence.

There is, for me, a constant undercurrent, listening to this record. Yes, in some respects, time goes by so slow but, truly, it doesn’t. Those thirty-two years have, by any measure, whipped by in a blur. Certainly each of us can break down constituent parts, compile a list of specifics and a mind full of images sufficient enough to bulge a scrapbook, but as an arc of experience it’s flashed past. Not only that, our own private nostalgia is not in any sense sequential or linear. That day on the plane at the fag-end of 1979, idly, dreamily flipping through singles, is as much a part of what gets carried through my daily life as when my daughter’s next performance is, where or if my wife and I are going to buy a house, what I’m working on next for CITC or, indeed, some randomly generated memory of an event from fourteen years ago. Viewed this way, as an agglomeration, undelineated, it would all be naught but a jumble, just a shapeless mélange of living, our minds – and therefore our lives – simply some ragged game of recollection pinball were it not for the emotions with which each is imbedded. Which is one of the reasons we love, and need, records so much.

The End Of The Pier, as befits an album by a band of this vintage, succeeds via a rather aching palimpsest effect, the matured, more umber strokes painted with a hazy, opaque transparency over those less seasoned characters with the brighter, more naïve colors that first appeared on the canvas three-plus decades ago. And like the best of such records (Pete Astor’s Songbox is another), that effect gets transferred across our own lives by the very act of listening to it, it soaks into us, there’s something of a spell involved.

Without a doubt there is some aspect of irony here, an album hammering away on themes of time and remembrance being made by a band that is itself timeless, but that’s The Distractions all over again. They were, in essence, a band out of time in 1980 and remain so in 2012 and in fact there’s their epitaph should it ever be written: The Distractions, a band deliriously out of time.

On the small promotional poster for The End Of The Pier that came inside the package from Occultation, above the same album cover shot of a lonely Blackpool Pier resplendent in rainy grays and salt air, the tag line, lifted from side one earworm “Boots, is “Who’d’ve thought that coming back would be so hard?” Quite germane, certainly, but for this writer two other lines from the album speak just as well and perhaps more succinctly to the relief and joy of having The Distractions back on my turntable: Too long in anonymity from “I Don’t Have Time” and, from “The Summer I Met You, trying to forget you didn’t seem logical,” to which I’d have to add ‘nor possible.’


[to be continued]

(c) Dave Cantrell. Caught in the Carousel

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