/ Our velocity, Warp, 2007
Pop music may seem at first glance to operate in a vacuum of its own making, sealed off from the world and self-contained in a way that is calculated to irritate, but there is a strain of pop which has a frame of reference beyond its own tradition. My shelves (if not my walls) are peppered with art sourced from a variety of songs. ‘Absolute beginners’ inevitably led many Jam fans to Colin MacInnes’ London novels and a wider if not entirely problem-free understanding of the city which Weller also romanced. Robert Forster’s ‘Karen’ helps him (and us) track down a more challenging reading list while simultaneously taking on the role as the object of his infatuation. Malcolm Eden of McCarthy drew parallels between the meagre payments made to ‘Frans Hals’ for his portraiture and life as a musician on the dole in Thatcher’s Britain. More recently Shack managed a hat trick of references on ‘Finn, Sophie, Bobby & Lance’: Edgar Allen Poe, Peter Weir’s supernaturally unsettling film of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Home and away. What inquiring mind would not follow up these leads (give or take Australian soaps) knowing that they come from the same wellspring that watered a favourite song? Assuming it avoids being didactic, music which acts as curator of its cultural roots is definitely to be welcomed.
Second generation post-punk assimilators Maxϊmo Park have recently developed an unusual approach to mapping their inspiration: the pop obit. Singer Paul Smith – whose haircut has previously had something of the mortician about it – is working up songs from obituaries and pairing them with more reflective music from guitarist Duncan Lloyd. Standing alongside each other in this emerging pantheon are Mary O’Brien, Robert Altman and photographer Don McPhee, with the still-fresh cadavers of London-based Trinidadian calypso singer Young Tiger (George Brown) and post-everything philosopher Jean Baudrillard currently being prepared for viewing. While these biographical vignettes are initially and appropriately appearing as B sides, there’s talk of a compilation, which should surely be called The morgue, after what the newspapers call the filing system for the largely pre-prepared obituaries they are obliged to keep in readiness.
Robert Altman you know, but who was ‘Mary O’Brien’? Well, we hear that her mascara streamed and she once threw a tea set down a flight of stairs. She was ‘none of the above’ and ‘bottle blonde until the end.’ She ‘found fame, faded away’. Can you see who it is yet? I confess I needed the tip-off in this article. Mary O’Brien became Dusty Springfield – a singer in terms of tradition as distant from what Maxϊmo Park are about as Robert Altman is. After the bluster of A side ‘Our velocity’, ‘Mary O’Brien’ is a joy, with its mournful Momus meets the Montgolfier Brothers melody, and an acoustic guitar that echoes the intro to Dusty’s ‘No stranger am I’, which not entirely coincidentally, is the next B side on this blog’s record deck.