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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Looking For A Ghost

Here's the last part of Nick Halliwell's all-important blog piece which covers Nobody's Perfect.  The Granite Shore and Occultation Recordings founder and now Distractions guitarist takes us through the album, track-by-track, side-by-side, with a final focus on the magnificent penultimate track, Looking For A Ghost.

Written in granite: Looking For A Ghost

As for that album it is absolutely wonderful. It does rather sound as though most of the budget was spent on trying to get a hit with Boys Cry, the only cover version on the LP, which has a huge Spectoresque production although we'll come to the one other big number in a moment. It opens with Waiting For Lorraine, setting out the band's stall perfectly, picked guitars of a kind that echoed later on in the playing of Johnny Marr, a great pop tune, proper chorus, clever teenage angst lyric and that wonderfully perfect pop voice of Finney's. That's followed by the LP version of Weekend, frankly one of the weaker songs (although only relatively speaking) in the standard Friday On My Mind vein and then the aforementioned Boys Cry. Another short, upbeat pop song in Sick And Tired and then one of the album's real high points, Leave You To Dream, a song of such beautiful simplicity it still produces a bittersweet smile almost 30 years on. Side one closes with Louise (see Lorraine) and the amusing Paracetomol Paralysis, a song about... er... well, it's in the title, really, delivered at breakneck pace.

If side one is great, side two is even better. It starts with (Stuck In A) Fantasy, another wonderful pop song and then a new version of Nothing, from the first EP, a song well worth revisiting. Another achingly beautiful bittersweet pop song (that's pretty much what The Distractions did, as you'll've gathered by now) called Wonder Girl and yet another called, ahem, Untitled.

That brings us to my very favourite song on the album. As with so many of my favourite songs, Looking For A Ghost incorporates elements of both the sublime and the ridiculous. You can pretty much work out the lyric from the title: "People wonder why I smile the way I do/They think I should be sad now you're not around/People wonder why it is I don't miss you/Perhaps they don't know what I've found" it begins. Finney delivers his finest, subtlest vocal performance and, to his enormous credit, he does so to the most over-the-top, preposterous backing vocals ever laid to tape (or any other medium).

They start off as silly "boo! I'm a ghost!" ooohs and ahs and then ramp it up from there. By verse 2 you're giggling, the longer the song goes on, the sillier the BVs get. Then we reach chorus 2, and suddenly we have a choir of ghosts... They drop out for verse 3 and then the final chorus is both the funniest and the most touching thing you'll ever hear as the orchestra brought in for Boys Cry plays a few bars as the ghost chorus goes absolutely berserk. It is utter genius. The first few times you hear it you can't help laughing until you cry... But underneath the wondrous bombast there's also pathos... Well, OK, there's also bathos (and, by the sound of the choir, the rest of the Musketeers). It is truly wonderful.

They then make sure things end on an even sillier note: as the phantasmal chorus disappears off into the fade-out, in comes a piano, playing Satie-like chords for a few moments... And then in come the band at full-pelt playing a daft song called Valerie at Ramones-like speed. It's a truly great second side to a wonderful album. The songwriting is superb throughout, there's wonderful ensemble playing (no histrionics anywhere, barely a guitar solo), the songs are short and very, very sweet. When I look at the sheer breadth of albums from this period that have been reissued on CD over the last 15 years or so I just can't understand why either Island haven't put it out or at least licensed it to some smaller label. You could compile the entire Distractions catalogue (the EP, Factory single, Island album, 3 singles and 'b' sides and Rough Trade EP) all onto a single CD. Why on earth hasn't anybody done this?

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