Thursday, July 16, 2015
Thirty-six years on and Adrian Wright's Time Goes By So Slow on Factory Records is still receiving the love it deserves. This Manchester classic (and its lovely B-side, Pillow Fight) will of course be appearing in one or two forms on the 'Parabolically Yours' set (Take 2), which is currently brewing nicely. The below review of FAC12 appeared recently in the Unsung section of the Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage site.
Friday, July 3, 2015
The final part of Martin Crookall's fantastic piece about 'Nobody's Perfect' which naturally deals with the killer second side.
Posted: October 20, 2013 in Soundtrack of a Lifetime
Tags: Adrian Wright, Alec Sidebottom, Factory Records, Mike Finney, Nobody's Perfect, Pip Nicholls, Steve Perrin, The Distractions, Time Goes By So Slow, You're Not Going Out Dressed Like That
...Because we’re into a totally different sound as “(Stuckina) Fantasy” flies out as us on sheets of organ, underlaid by a pulsing rhythm, on which Perrin builds little guitar figures until the chorus hits like a dream. The story on this side of the album is different: where Finney sought love from girls who stood him up or were too good for him, now he’s found love, and lost it. They lived together and she left him: the fantasy he can’t leave is that she hasn’t.
Funnily, I didn’t think that much of this track in 1981 but, fifteen or so years later, I dug out this album and put it on a tape to play in the car whilst away on holiday in the Lakes and it hit me right between the ears. Its pace, the compelling chorus, the sheer drive of the song: just as the Bluebells’ “Young at Heart” had reappeared out of nowhere to hit Number 1, I could suddenly see the band performing this in Top of the Pops after a top Five entry.
It’s something in the balance between light and shade: that compelling intro followed by a starkness of sound, of mostly rhythm before re-engaging the full sound for the chorus. And such a painful lyric, as Finney recounts his crippling obsession with almost price: his sprinkling of her perfume on her pillow at night so he can dream of her is a painfully observant detail but it is the final lines, when he reveals that after he switches the TV off at night, her ghostly face appears to him, laughing like a clown, that push in the knife.
Stunningly brilliant, and so bloody commercial too. This, not “Boyscry”, should have been the single.
Next up is a re-recording of “Nothing” from the “You’re not going out dressed like that” EP, which polishes up the song without adding anything to its original version. Like “Fantasy”, it’s about lost love. Finney’s got it wrong and would like it to go back to the beginning, so he can try again, but it won’t happen.
He’s back in the hopeful mode of “Leave you to Dream” in “Wonder Girl”, worshipping from (not very) afar, in his corner at the dance, looking at his Wonder Girl, who’s got something she doesn’t seem to want to let go. How she’s come to have his heart when neither of them has let it show is an impenetrable mystery.
But the song offers an unseen moment of joy: Finney wakes alone, wondering if something was a dream, apologising for apologising. But the door lies ajar, and maybe even the lost and lonely who are too prone to fear can have satisfaction.
Love preys on his mind, and he’s once again waiting for her to call him, but “Still it doesn’t ring”. Finney’s in suspension, not knowing if he still has a girl or not. The music swirls around him, not going anywhere as much as we is: he can’t do anything until that phone rings, his life can’t resume and it’s not going to ring whilst the band weave smooth patterns around him.
There’s a sharp cut again to the punk edge that Perrin needed to espouse in “(Untitled)”, which might as well be called Don’t trust nobody but yourself. This has nothing to do with love, but life: Finney the awkward object that fits nowhere. In a side whose sound is directed to the mellow that would drive Perrin away, the song sticks out like a sore thumb.
And then there’s “Looking for a Ghost”.
And this album reaches out and strokes its hand against the flank of greatness, because this ethereal, 10cc I’m not in love-esque masterpiece, all easy, gentle, drifting guitars, and its soaring, swooping and diving voices filling the air with a sussuration of sound is gorgeous beyond belief. So much so that my sister, then aged 18 and with tastes diametrically opposed to mine, taped this for herself to listen to.
It’s “(Stuckina) Fantasy” moved forward. Finney sings without emotion, quietly, not flatly, but with utter calm, allowing the multi-tracked voices to cocoon, whilst he explains, with infinite care, by just how much he has accepted madness. All he wants to explain is why he smiles the way he does, though she’s left him and she isn’t coming back.
And it’s because he has her in his head. The girl never understood him, he only ever made her feel bad, so he’s replaced her with a fiction that floats by his side, ‘unable to feel good or bad’. The voices swell and rise around him as he gently sings that plain but powerful chorus, then they drop away, leaving Finney alone as he makes the final confession, without regret, in pride at how he’s conquered the universe of being alone.
My only lover lives encased inside my head/No-one can ever take her away/The Ghost now belongs to me and, if she ever knew/I wonder what the real thing would say?
And one last time the chorus swells again, the soaring voices louder and wider. And if you see me hanging around in places/where we always used to go/maybe its just because I’m looking/for a ghost I used to know. And the voices soar even higher then you could imagine as Perrin begins a liquid, reaching, despairing guitar solo that rips apart whatever tiny pieces of your heart that are still left intact.
Most bands would have left it at that, would have closed this album with that soulcrushing song, but not the Distractions. Not for them ethereal perfection, but with joyous energy they finish off with a minute and a half of raucous guitar and drums on their stage favourite, “Valerie”, which distils everything they’ve had to say in this album into ‘I love Valerie but now I think it’s true/I love Valerie but Valerie loves you’.
It shouldn’t work after “Looking for a Ghost” but it does, beautifully, because never has heartbreak sounded so much bloody fun! And it’s so short, you want more of it…
So: a mixed bag, in sound, with its switching between the past and the not-future of a band that deserved so much more, with its sad, grounded love songs and its exuberant melodies: the epitome of bittersweet. There are three stone-gone classics on this album, in “Leave you to Dream”’s melancholy melody, “(Stuckina) Fantasy”’s energy and drive, and “Looking for a Ghost”’s soundscape of beauty and horrific pain.
As I said, musically it’s the missing link between the razor-edge melody of the Buzzcocks and the electronic aura of “Dare”-era Human League. If only more people had seen it as such.
(c) Martin Crookall