PERPETUAL MOTION, TRAVELLING AROUND
Permanent Records is being posted early this week, as I am off to SPX and also, it's timely with the release of 12 Reasons Why I Love Her. Newsarama has reposted the preview that was up at Broken Frontier before and was also at Publisher's Weekly's site just yesterday. Read it here, and then check back with them on Friday for the interview with the far-more-interesting-than-me Joëlle Jones. And then come down to SPX and buy it off of me.
PERMANENT RECORDS: DEDICATED TO THE DEDICATED
Permanent Records is a year-long project. Each Friday (or thereabouts), I will post a new entry about one specific album, chosen due to its significance to myself as a fan. Though the list is numbered, a particular record's placement should not be considered a ranking. There will be 52 albums in all.
12. MY LIFE STORY - THE GOLDEN MILE (1997)
Personnel: Jake Shillingford, vocals; Paul Seipel, bass; Simon Wray, drums and timpani; Danny Turner, piano, harpsichord, and sampler; Lucy Wilkins, violin; Becki Doe, violin; Robert Spriggs, viola; Oliver Kraus, cello and keyboards; Roxanna Shirley, trumpet; Ruth Thomas, trumpet; Mark Bradley, trumpet; Ben Spencer, tenor & alto saxophone; plus additional guests on strings, brass, and percussion
Producers: Gary Langan, plus George Shilling ("12 Reasons/Suited & Booted/You Can't Uneat the Apple/Strumpet")/ Label: EMI
At first glance, My Life Story's Jake Shillingford struck me as the less gifted little brother to the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon. Jake wasn't as literate, not as smooth, he was more of the cut-up. He had to put it on a little more to maintain the image, and despite his own considerable talents, he would always be playing catch-up. Both recorded smashing orchestral pop, but the Divine Comedy was more arch. It was opera house while My Life Story was vaudeville and Vegas.
The obvious reason for including The Golden Mile on my list is that its opening track is "12 Reasons Why I Love Her," the song that gave me the title for my new graphic novel with Joëlle Jones. I'm covering all of the albums with songs that have leant titles to my books (Geneva's Weather Underground, which has "Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?" as its finale, is tentatively slotted for #2). While I stole the name, I didn't actually use any of the reasons listed in the song. Most of them are things like "motorcycle riding to the south" and "running just in time to catch our train," images that didn't fit what I wanted to do. The only one I considered was "she prefers the night to day," but instead I wrote reason 4, where our heroine Gwen describes her feelings about the four seasons. Not really the same thing. I probably wouldn't have minded using "the way she puts her fingers in her mouth," either, but I wanted to avoid that kind of specific detail. I thought it would come off as trite.
Still, I really like the bombast of that single. Standing in front of a massive wall of orchestration, Jake croons like his heart needs it to go on pumping blood. If he doesn't declare his big love now, then it will all be gone. I love the harpsichord entrance, the ominously quiet introduction of the strings, and then Boom! It's like the soundtrack to a never-made spy movie where romance is the ultimate secret to be uncovered.
When it comes down to it, the rest of The Golden Mile probably had a greater impact on my 12 Reasons Why I Love Her script than the song itself, though I wasn't conscious of it while writing. I think there's a little bit of Jake Shillingford in my male lead, Evan, even if Evan presents himself as more of a Neil Hannon. The onstage Jake persona, the cabaret singer in the tux with the curl in his bangs, is not at all like Evan, but the boy in the lyrics of many of The Golden Mile's songs fits Evan to a tee.
For all his bluster, Jake is a little gunshy. While he's "The King of Kissingdom" on one song, the very next song is "I Dive (Unanswered Questions & Questionable Answers)," where he declares, "you know you should never fall in love, you should dive." In contrast to the Divine Comedy's loutish, romantic Casanova, a lot of The Golden Mile is leery of love. "I Dive" is composed like a carnival zipper ride. It goes up and around and then shoots down quick, a repeated pattern of screams and shudders. Where "I Dive" feels like Evan to me is when there is only 40 seconds left of the song, coming out of the bridge, where the chorus picks up three new words: "she says Jake." As in, "She says, 'Jake, you don't fall in love.'" He hasn't come by this sentiment on his own. His lover is telling him to feel this way!
This revelation makes the next song, the gorgeous ballad "You Can't Uneat the Apple," make even more sense. It's not a kiss-off song; rather, it's a post-kiss-off thank you. After being dumped, Jake picks himself up and says, "Hey, you know what, it's done, but I've had the experience, and that can't go away. I appreciate it." I find it kind of bizarre, because I've never been that big of a person.
"April 1st" is probably the most obvious parallel to the push-pull of the relationship of 12 Reasons. The title, of course, refers to the holiday, April Fool's Day, but it's also a pun. April is a girl who is the subject of the story. April the First, like a royal title.
"Here comes April the First, she's welcoming me,
She hasn't a doorman, and I haven't a key,
I gave her flowers, she sent her family tree.
Don't rewrite the books, just rewrite the title,
She helped me to be somebody I didn't like at all,
April the First, the first of love."
I think it would be wrong to think this is entirely an unhappy romance. Sure, Jake is doing things he may not be proud of, and since April is the first there is the presumption there will be more and their union doesn't last, but any real and passionate love affair has its moments of frustration, where we are pushed out of our comfort zone and confounded by the person that has captured our heart. It's the kind of craziness I tried to capture in the graphic novel. On one page you're up, on the next down, but that doesn't mean you pack it in.
Again, this isn't the theme of The Golden Mile. It's only a handful of the songs that delve into this territory. The singles are positively raucous, by comparison. "12 Reasons Why" is confidently strident and has a firm spring in its step. Likewise "The King of Kissingdom," a bawdy brag by a lipsore lothario. The re-recorded "Sparkle," originally a single off of the band's debut album, Mornington Crescent, is a real stormer, but it's deceptively happy. It sounds like a love song, but really, it's doubtful of the concept. It worries over the grand artistic image of love, wondering if it can come down to earth and settle in one woman. You see, the problem is that she doesn't sparkle, so can she truly show Jake the way to truth and beauty?
The thing is, we never know where inspiration will come from. While some things like a title are direct, there are other things, like an overall feeling from a handful of songs, that come to you indirectly. Their ideas seep in, and whether you are thinking of them or not doesn't matter. They're in there. And thus, My Life Story go from being the obvious start of something to carrying me all the way through.
NOTABLE B-SIDE: Despite its title, "A Boy Called Daydream" is not a limp tribute to unicorns and other such wimpy pursuits. Rather, this B-side to "King of Kissingdom" is a piss take similar to Pulp's "Razzamatazz." Jake sings about a rival with a charmed life, tearing him down line by line. "Does your mother still dress you?" he asks. "Underdress you? Wash you, brush you, try to impress the family ways?" The song has a horn section that has a jazzy noir tone, while the electric guitar sounds like a take-off of the lame histrionics normally heard when an r&b/pop singer like Janet Jackson tries to go rock 'n' roll (remember when she told us there was no acid in her house?). It never gets any better than a B-side as revenge.
Reminder: As always, this post is full of links to Amazon. Click on any one of them when shopping, and Amazon will shave a few pennies off their take to give to me. So, if my reviews make you all hot and bothered and you just have to own one of the things I'm talking about, use my link and contribute to buying me more stuff to review. (Those reading a Live Journal feed will likely have to click to the actual blog page first before heading over to Amazon, though.) Either way, thanks for reading.
Current Soundtrack: Monsieur Gainsbourg Revisited
Current Mood: sleepy
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2006 Jamie S. Rich