mercredi, mai 30, 2007

The Nymphs live



Wednesday Jun 06, 2007 at 8:00 PM


The Roxy
9009 W. Sunset Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90069
United States

The Nymphs are at the Roxy for an all ages show!!! This is my first headlining show since I've been "back". I hope to see YOU there!

Love, Inger

This show is ALL AGES!

You can get tickets here at

Also, check out an exclusive video of the Nymphs at!!! HEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


dimanche, mai 20, 2007

Some girls

Album: Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Trip the Light Fantastic, FASCINATION/POLYDOR

Andy Gill

Published: 18 May 2007

With her last single struggling to reach the Top 10, and the follow-up yet to make any impression on the Top 40, the game may be up for Sophie Ellis-Bextor. It's not hard to see why, either: while she's been away for a few years, a new generation of more talented singers has come along, bringing back soul (Joss Stone), character (Lily Allen) or both (Amy Winehouse) to a scene long corroded by bland disco icons like Posh Spice and Ellis-Bextor.

Even if you can hear past the dated and bought-by-the-yard techno-pop arrangements of tracks like the latest single "Me And My Imagination" (imagine a 20-year-old Yellow Magic Orchestra track overlaid with the "la-da-dee, la-dee-da" hook from Crystal Waters's "Gypsy Woman"), the shortcomings of her vocals become painfully apparent. She doesn't so much sing as apply the same tremulous tone to every phrase, shuttling up and down the melody with little discernible emotional colouration, a chilling harbinger of the singing robot on which teams of Japanese scientists are doubtless already working. And which will probably be modelled on her, too.

Soulless, lifeless and worthless.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

Album: Candie Payne

I Wish I Could Have Loved You More, DELTASONIC

Andy Gill

Published: 18 May 2007

Candie Payne is a veteran of several lower-league Liverpool bands. Her debut album arrives via a hook-up with Simon Dine, the producer behind the trip-hop of Noonday Underground. On I Wish I Could Have Loved You More, he applies his sample-based arrangements to her Mari Wilson-style vocals, creating backdrops ranging from the Spector-esque wall of sound of "One More Chance", all deep, burring horns and dramatic drums, to the subdued "Jean Genie" stomp of "Hey Goodbye", and the soundtrack trumpet stylings of "Why Should I Settle For You?", which sounds like Portishead fronted by a pop singer rather than Beth Gibbons.

That's part of the problem here: there's nothing about Candie's voice that suggests that she's emotionally connected in any way to these songs; even the ones where she's supposed to be distraught, she seems to manage with ease. At the other extreme, the melody of a song like "In The Morning" gets lost amid the welter of samples.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

vendredi, mai 18, 2007

Control: The Ian Curtis Film

The cult of Ian Curtis.

Anton Corbijn's eagerly-awaited biopic of Joy Division's lead singer opens at Cannes this week. It's just the latest example of the extraordinary fascination that's grown up around the short-lived star, says Andy Gill.

Published: 14 May 2007

This week, the photographer Anton Corbijn's film about the late Joy Division frontman, Control: The Ian Curtis Film, will be premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on the 27th anniversary of the singer's suicide.

Co-produced by his former label boss Tony Wilson and the singer's widow Deborah Curtis, with a screenplay based on her account of their life together, Touching From A Distance, it represents the most comprehensive attempt so far to provide some insight into the troubled life of a gifted young man who has become an icon for successive generations of fans.

Already the subject of several biographies and a bottomless well of internet sites, forums and message boards, this is the second time in recent years that Curtis and Joy Division have been featured in a movie - although this one is likely to be rather more sombre than Michael Winterbottom's Tony Wilson biopic, 24 Hour Party People, a light-hearted romp through two decades of the Manchester music scene.

In it, Curtis was a serious, somewhat scary presence, at odds with the otherwise genial, amused tone but this time, if Corbijn's distinctive monochrome rock photography is anything to go by (he created The Joshua Tree image for U2), the film is shot in stark black and white, in keeping with both the mood of the band's music, the sense of alienation in Curtis's lyrics and the bleak Northern backdrop of 1970s England, which in those pre-Playstation, pre-internet, pre-postmodern times still had the dour post-war tone of the kitchen-sink dramas of the 1960s. Indeed, in an earlier era, Ian Curtis would have been played by the young Tom Courtenay rather than Sam Riley, the newcomer who takes the role in Control.

In the immediate post-punk years, Joy Division were part of an emerging new-wave strain of music sometimes known as "industrial" rock, whose leading lights also included Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and the American band Pere Ubu.

They shared certain values, most notably an attitude that prized aesthetic over commercial success and a belief that their music should reflect the grim post-industrial wastelands in which it was created: just as The Beach Boys hymned California's sun 'n' surf culture in glorious, soaring harmonies, so did the industrial bands incorporate machine noise and discordancy into their dark, brooding pieces, as sonic signifiers of what Marxists claimed was the alienating effect of industrial culture.

They were among the earliest groups to employ primitive drum machines, which both anchored their sometimes abstract compositions to decisive, untiring rhythms, and - following Kraftwerk's lead - offered an implicit condemnation of the robotising effect of industrial labour.

Visually, they shunned colour to match the bleak tone of their environment and their attitude - although this was also partly a matter of economics.

"Peter Hook says he always thinks of Joy Division as a black and white band," says photographer Kevin Cummins, who photographed the band several times. "There are very few photographs of them, and they are all black and white, and the reason is that nobody published in colour back then. Why would we shoot in colour when it would cost us twice as much and nobody would use it?"

Likewise, the expensive, multicoloured light-shows favoured by the era's heavy metal, glam- and prog-rockers were replaced in the industrial bands' shows by stark white lighting, collaged black-and-white film backdrops, and sometimes strobe lights.

The latter could be a problem for Joy Division if lighting engineers ignored their instructions not to use them, triggering the epileptic seizures that increasingly afflicted Ian Curtis in his final months. The epilepsy doubtless contributed to his terminal depression, along with several other factors: worries about his troubled marriage; guilt over the affair he was conducting with a Belgian fan, Annik Honore; his growing burden of responsibilities as the band's lyricist and frontman; anxiety over whether he would be able to endure the band's first American tour, which was due to start the day after his body was found; and a more generalised pessimism that pervaded the dystopian worldview he shared with his favourite authors, William Burroughs and JG Ballard, whose books furnished the song-titles "Interzone" and "The Atrocity Exhibition".

He did his best to disguise his depression; on the few occasions I met him, he was cheerful, engaging and articulate, discussing literature and films with the eagerness of the autodidact but entirely free of intellectual snobbery and rock-star arrogance.

Onstage, however, he was a completely different creature, transformed into a staring, wide-eyed maniac, his arms windmilling wildly about as he slipped into a sort of trance-dance whose spasmodic twitching resembled his epileptic seizures. It was a riveting spectacle, quite unlike any other rock performer. At the side of Curtis's involuntary gyrations, the stage antics of even such extremist showmen as Iggy Pop and Lux Interior of The Cramps seemed like affected, calculated exercises. In his case, it really did seem as if he were possessed by demons, a spectacle wretched and compelling.

According to his former bandmates, even when not performing he could plunge without warning into rages that echoed that stage persona, and which would sometimes presage full-blown seizures. These days, such vertiginous mood-swings would perhaps be diagnosed as bi-polar disorder; but back in the 1970s, they were generally viewed as separate episodes of hyperactivity and melancholia, rather than a single syndrome.

Not that it would have made much difference in the case of someone dedicated to pursuing a stressful lifestyle which, doctors warned him, was inimical to controlling his seizures, which accordingly increased in frequency and severity.

As the American tour loomed, his condition deteriorated rapidly. Early in April, the band played two shows in one night at separate London venues, and Curtis suffered fits during both. Three days later, he attempted suicide, taking an overdose of barbiturates. He was taken to a psychiatric hospital, where his stomach was pumped. Unbelievably, he still tried to make the following night's show in Bury but was too ill to perform, and a riot broke out when punters objected violently to the use of a stand-in singer who had been brought along as cover.

Curtis sat backstage, head in hands, mortified by misplaced guilt. The burden of responsibility had never been as crushingly evident on him. Several subsequent shows were cancelled in preference to a repeat of that night's riot and, for the next few weeks, Curtis stayed with Tony Wilson, guitarist Bernard Sumner and finally his parents, to avoid having to return home to his wife, who was initiating divorce proceedings.

On Saturday 17 May 1980, he went back to their Macclesfield home, and after discussions with Deborah, asked her to stay that night at her parents' place. He watched Werner Herzog's film Stroszek, a glum tale of a German naif who moves to America and is destroyed by the experience: his eventual suicide occurs off-screen, while the world carries on regardless. Then he listened to Iggy Pop's The Idiot, before hanging himself in the kitchen.

Curtis's death sent shock-waves through his circle of friends, and through the wider music community. A few weeks later, the tragically beautiful "Love Will Tear Us Apart" became the first Joy Division song to reach the Top 20, partly propelled by the ghoulish romanticism that sudden death drapes around such records.

It's worth remembering that earlier performers as diverse as Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Reeves had all scored their most significant chart successes in the wake of their premature deaths. Just as drivers slow down to gaze at the carnage of road accidents, so too is the public's attention drawn by tragedy to celebrities in whom they had previously never displayed the slightest interest.

Joy Division's case, however, was different to those of Hendrix, Redding and Reeves, and to more recent instances, such as Tupac and especially Kurt Cobain, in that they were not yet celebrities, having only secured themselves a cult following by the time of Curtis's suicide.

Indeed, it's debatable whether they would ever have developed such a formidable reputation had that tragedy never occurred. A short while after his death, the band's second album Closer appeared, clad in a sombre sleeve which, designer Peter Saville later realised, resembled a tombstone. Musically, it was an even darker affair than their debut Unknown Pleasures, and its lyrics contained several intimations of Curtis's troubled state of mind, such as the lines "an abyss that laughs at creation" and "existence, well what does it matter?" from "Heart And Soul", and "this is a crisis I knew had to come/Destroying the balance I'd kept" from "Passover", which seems to hint at his coming suicide. In contrast to its predecessor, the album reached the Top 10.

Subsequent compilations helped keep the band's memory alive, whilst the bleak tone of their music and Curtis's worldview became the seed-corn of what would become known as Goth, a musical scene based around dark imaginings that has since become a lifestyle - particularly in America, where it provided a rallying-point for teens excluded from the hierarchy of "jocks" and their attendant cheerleaders.

As the years passed, the band's posthumous reputation expanded. A significant factor in cementing its mystique was James O'Barr's Goth comic-book The Crow, which was laced through with Joy Division references. When the actor Brandon Lee, son of the martial arts star Bruce Lee, was accidentally killed whilst starring in the film adaptation, that mystique expanded exponentially. Bands such as Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails (who had covered Joy Division's "Dead Souls" on the film soundtrack) became standard-bearers for a community of malcontents and outsiders, for whom Curtis became a tragic icon. As the band's producer Martin Hannett once said of the singer: "Ian Curtis was one of those channels for the gestalt, the only one I bumped into during that period: a lightning conductor." And his memory continues to attract those flashes of recognition today.

This process has been facilitated not just by the nature of his work, but by its paucity too: having such a slim catalogue of releases meant that Joy Division never reached the decomposition stage of their career. They never had to face the hurdle of that "difficult third album", so their reputation became frozen at its peak, providing a touchstone of tragic perfection for successive generations of dissatisfied young outsiders rebelling against a world of prefabricated pop-culture.

As with Jim Morrison and Scott Walker, Curtis's sombre baritone imparted a seriousness to the band's work that seemed to deliberately turn its back on pop's usual cheap thrills. That refusal to court popularity became a vital component of later youth movements such as grunge, a keystone of dissatisfaction that has itself become just as much a rock cliché as leather trousers and eyeliner.

"When a band gets frozen at a certain point like that, people can imagine whatever they want about them," says Kevin Cummins. "I get loads of messages, from the US especially, from people who are just obsessed with Joy Division, and they imagine Ian Curtis being 24 today, really. But who knows what might have happened? Ian might have been fronting an Oasis dad-rock type of band today."

That seems unlikely; although the prospect of a Joy Division-themed Yo Sushi! meal would have seemed just as unlikely a few years ago, yet today you can feast on the "Love Will Tear Us Apart" Salmon & Tuna Box. In the 21st century, everything is up for grabs, including legacies as seemingly uncommercial as Ian Curtis's. These days, Joy Division is just another brand, a development that would have nauseated him. Just the other day, the sportswear company New Balance announced they had commissioned two pairs of trainers themed around the band, one featuring the cover design of Unknown Pleasures, and the other bearing the Factory Records logo and the legend "One Of One Made In Macclesfield". How long before some enterprising toy manufacturer comes up with the Ian Curtis doll, complete with vocal soundbites and authentic twitching limbs (battery not included)? Don't bet against it.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

lundi, mai 14, 2007

Brett Anderson Interview

Growing Up In Haywards Heath By Brett Anderson, Part I and II.

By David Natoli

A singer-songwriter with impeccable credentials, Brett Anderson remains one of music's heavyweight performers. Having spearheaded the 1990's indie scene with Suede's blueprint for Britpop and re-established one of the world's greatest song-writing partnerships with The Tears, he returns to the fore as an accomplished and independent new artist. On March 26 Brett Anderson will unveil his self-titled album via Drowned In Sound in the UK.

Before his several sold out dates take place across the pond, Brett sat down and wrote us an exclusive feature that talks about growing up in Haywards Heath, and the effect his family had on his art. This is a two-part piece, with an exclusive interview to follow.


I was born just after the Summer of Love of 1967 in the upstairs bedroom of a tiny council house in Haywards Heath; a grey little train stop of a town between London and Brighton. To most people the 60's meant free love and mini - skirts but to my parents it was all rented furniture, Lino and pregnancy tests. My mum was a dressmaker and part time artist and my dad was a postman at the time but managed to drift from job to dead end job until he eventually settled as a cab driver.

It was a strange upbringing and one that didn't fit in with the usual class stereotypes (though whose really does?). We were an abjectly poor family but we lived in a safe and leafy part of England. Most of my friends' dads worked in insurance or something but mine was a swimming-pool attendant one week and a window cleaner the next. There was never any money around so it was the kind of house where if you wanted something you made it yourself. Our mum sewed all our clothes, made the curtains and blinds and painted the paintings on the walls and our dad busied himself making all the furniture. He even made himself a pair of speakers out of which blasted a constant rumble of Gustav Mahler and Hector Berlioz. We lived in a council estate by a rubbish dump so I spent most of my child-hood picking through other people's discarded stuff, climbing on their broken 'fridges and playing with their smashed TVs. there was always an obsolete household appliance to fuel our children's games. Someone even once dumped a knackered rowing boat, which my little friends and me spent most of the summer in pretending we were pirates.

My dad was a child of the Empire, born in the early 40's to a military family and very proud to be an English Royalist. As my granddad was stationed in India, my dad grew up in a very old-school colonial environment. He always wore a suit and tie, saluted the TV at the end of the night when they used to play the national anthem and even fixed a flagpole to our tiny council house so he could run-up the Union Jack. I even used to think that he secretly arranged my conception so that i was born on Horatio Nelson's birthday, one of his elite group of heroes which also included Winston Churchill and the romantic composer Franz Liszt. Every couple of years he would drive his ancient, tatty Morris Traveller (look it up on Google) to Hungary and bring back a bag of soil from Liszt's birthplace. Liszt was his religion. Once when on jury service he refused the bible and insisted on swearing his oath on a biography of his hero.

My mum was from a rural Sussex family and had more happily embraced the zeitgeist of the 60's. She learnt to paint and draw at an art college in Brighton and had much less conservative tastes than my dad. While he was downstairs engrossed in his Wagner Operas, she was upstairs painting or sewing and listening to the Rolling Stones on her tinny little plastic cassette player or wandering through the gentle Sussex countryside, documenting it's simple beauty with her brush.

I guess my path in life as an artist was very much a result of the synthesis of these two personalities and the unique world they created for me and my sister Blandine (named after Franz Liszt's daughter of course). It's easy to see myself as a blend between my father's obsessive love of music and my mother's creativity. But looking back there were other aspects of my childhood that I have learned to treasure. I am especially proud of the way we were never taught to worship money. Value was defined through art and beauty and even though life was a struggle for my family it was always something other than money that was the goal. In this crushingly greedy and materialistic society, I am honored to have been raised in this eccentric but precious way. My only regret is that I never managed to tell either of my parents that while they were still alive.

Well, I can't really think of a neat way to end this. I did enjoy writing it though. My dad died recently and it set me off on a huge emotional journey. After sorting through his meager possessions in the little house where we were raised and spending hours poring over old photo albums I had a period of intense reflection about life and death, my childhood and my place in the world. Years of being in a successful band keeps you in a state of emotional immaturity, your development on pause, and it is only recently that I have taken control of my life and felt the need to confront and ask questions of my self and my past, where I have come from and ultimately where I am going.

Brett Anderson, London, Feb 2007


For over fifteen years, Brett Anderson has been providing a soundtrack to the lives of those on the fringes. While chronicling his own experiences in the commuter town of Hayward's Heath and within the decadent underbelly of London, Brett has also been detailing the lives of his public, glamorous urbanites and provincial misfits alike. Anthems like "Trash," "The Drowners," and "The Beautiful Ones" might be seen as Suede's shining moments, but that would be studying only one color of the rainbow. Whether writing of escaping to the City (Come unto me my winter son, we could lie on the rails, and when the morning comes, we'll be miles away,miles away -"Modern Boys"), lover's trysts, both beautiful and tragic (Where's all the money gone? /I'm talking to you/ All up in the hole in your arm/ Is the needle a much better screw? - "The Living Dead"), or of the recent passing of his Father (My life was a flower/ And love was the leaves/ But nobody saw any beauty in me - "Song For My Father"), Anderson has trademarked a sense of romance that is always a bit sour and wilted, but always moving.

Suede has been credited with creating the blueprint for the short lived "Brit Pop" movement, and for carving out a new place for song based rock music in the baggy and shoegazer dominated world of UK indie in the early 90's. Equally influenced by glam, punk, and the lyrical intellect of The Smiths, Suede deliberately focused on the fleeting beauty of everyday life as an antidote to the press dominating Seattle scene at the time, with it's insistance on machismo and inarticulate rage. A landslide of hype was matched with a brilliant first album, Suede, and what many consider their masterwork, 1994's Dog Man Star. After the acrimonious departure of guitarist and co-songwriter Bernard Butler, Brett drafted in the young Richard Oakes, and to the surprise of many critics, quick to rush off to the next big thing, released their most successful album to date, 1996's Coming Up, followed by 1997's B-Sides compilation Sci Fi Lullabies. To follow were a narcotic drenched experiment in cold electronics, 1999's Head Music and the bright eyed chronicle of newfound sobriety, 2002's, poorly received A New Morning.

In 2003, Suede quietly split. To much amazement Anderson reconvened with Bernard Butler and together they formed The Tears, releasing Here Come The Tears in June of 2005. A beautiful album from first note to last, HCTT did not mine Suede's greatest moments for inspiration but featured a brighter, more pop side with the singles "Refugees" and "Lovers," countering darker moments like the detailed chronicling of loss that is "The Ghost Of You." The Tears are now on indefinite hiatus while Butler focuses on his work with David McAlmont and Tricky, and Brett on his first solo album. Brett Anderson will be released in the UK on March 26th on Drowned In Sound. A collaboration with Norwegian producer/artist Fred Ball, the album is a much more fragile work, with an emphasis on strings and piano versus Brett's more traditional guitar framework. Described by Anderson as a "personal" work that at times "lifts the mask off of me," Brett Anderson is more an amalgamation of all of his work. The windswept balladry of "To The Winter" and "Song For My Father" will certainly please the longtime fans, while songs like "Intimacy" and "Dust And Rain" are more fractured and sketch-like. The first single, "Love Is Dead," is a string drenched ode to loneliness that is probably Brett's most pop moment to date, somehow uplifting as it details an almost defiant retreat into solitude.

This interview sees Brett on the cusp of his first ever gig in Moscow, and at the beginning of a new chapter in his life, and in his art.


D: The album has a lot less guitar and is much more piano and string based. Was that something that you took up as a challenge for yourself when you started making the record? Or was it more out of necessity, considering you aren't a natural guitarist?

B: A bit of everything really. The situation was that I met this guy Fred (Ball) and started working with him and he was a keyboard player rather than a guitar player. So there was a certain way that we were forced to write because of the nature of that, but at the same time I deliberately didn't want to make another guitar based rock record because it seems to me that I've made quite a few of them and it is important to sort of go in a different direction. Fred is very much not into that kind of music. He doesn't really come from that kind of indie guitar background and is very much into things like Michael Jackson, Air and Prince and things like that. Some of which I like and some of which I don't like. Its interesting having someone coming from a different musical direction and it takes you in a different way you know what I mean? So it was a deliberate attempt to not make a guitar based record. The first version of the album had pretty much no electric guitars and I felt it was charming, but was a little bit kind of gutless. It sort of sounded like some demos.

D: Now that you are doing solo work, do you find you're more productive because its less structured?

B: I feel very productive, I'm not sure if its the situation or the stage I'm in in my life at the moment. The very fact that I kind of can't really rely on people like I could within the structure of a band means that you have to be productive, otherwise nothing gets done. Being in a band is like being on a big ship where you're going steadily and slowly in one direction and it's quite difficult to steer the ship or maneuver it. It's like if you're on a little moped or something like that and you almost get carried along with it. There are moments within my work when I allowed it to carry me and I was sort of not as focused as I should have been, especially towards the end. With this now, as soon as I take my foot off the gas the machine sort of stops and I'm very conscious of that. But it also means that it makes me much less lazy, which is good because I've got a very strong trailer trash, working class sort of side to my personality where there's a worry that I would be happy sitting watching reality TV with a beer in one hand. This is very worrying and I try to suppress that side of me as much as possible, but I know it's there and I have to keep sort of pushing myself. Being a solo artist makes me push myself, which is great. Lots of things on this record... playing more of the guitar and stuff like that is basically because there hasn't been a guitarist within the framework of the band, and I've needed a guitar played and I've thought "Well fuck it, I can do this," or at least I'll give it a go and even if it doesn't end up working, at least I will have tried taking it on and accepting it as a responsibility. There are lots of elements in my life at the moment that I'm sort of taking more control over, and I think that's important. There is a sense that being in a band does sort of keep you on hold for a while in lots of ways. You know I learned to drive and its sort of a little thing but its very late for me, I suddenly got pissed off and I just learned to drive. Me learning to drive is almost a symbol of taking control of my life a little bit. I'm kind of quite proud of myself having done it. Maybe I didn't ever want to learn to drive because i was little scared of myself behind the wheel, and I still am to be honest, but (laughs) that's a whole other story.

D: Musically, the album makes me think back to how Neil Codling maybe pushed Suede's music in different directions, particularly with the also less guitar based Head Music album, Is that a fair comparison?

B: Yeah I think it probably is. Head Music was the Suede album that Neil was most influential on, Neil is very much into vintage synths and Fred is as well, so there is a similarity. I'm not sure how stylistically parallel the albums are. I think maybe this album is a little bit more classic sounding than Head Music, which was almost supposed to be our way of making a Prince album in a funny sort of way, even though it doesn't sound anything like that.

D: Head Music was a very polarizing album for your fan base, despite being fairly well received critically. These days, that album seems to be less regarded critically. Why do you think there has been this sense of revisionism?

B: I'm not really sure, All I can have is my opinion about it. I think it is quite an undervalued record actually and I think it was a strange record for us to release, because it was released in an odd moment in my life personally. I wasn't the most focused person in the world. There were a lot of drugs around confusing the issue, but looking back on it, it had some really great moments. It's almost one of those albums that could have done with a bit of more controlled editing. I think maybe if it had lost a few tracks it might have been a much stronger record and maybe the fact that it sort of meandered in places, people almost interpreted that as a weakness. In fact when we were making that record it was quite deliberate. We were trying to make a record that was sort of warts and all. We were conscious that there were moments that were stronger and weaker than others and I quite liked that. It's almost a sort of an artistic stream of consciousness. You get the joyful excellent moments and you get the shit as well and I think I quite like that in a way.

D: A reflection of "this is sort of where we are right now"...

B: Exactly, It was sort of a snapshot. That's how it was intended. The three previous albums were very self conscious, very much me looking in the mirror of what I am, and there was almost a sort of vanity taking over in the music and wanting to present an absolute perfect kind of image to the world as much as I could. I liked the fact that with Head Music it was less precious. Of course you're playing all of these mental games as an artist, and of course the only way that people see it is "Oh there's a chink in the armor, let's beat them up about it; use that as a stick to beat them with." But it was meant with the purest of artistic intentions, that record.

D: I noticed couple of geographical references on your album, like Lisson Grove, Crystal Palace, etc. Does London still inspire your writing in the same way that it seemed to in Suede?

B: It really does, I'm still sort of in love with London. I find it endlessly fascinating and endlessly beautiful. I once wrote a line about London in Suede, "With all the love and poison of London," and to me that's still quite a powerful line. London just has that sort of duality that all great cities have, where you get the sense that there's a kind of twin nature. Beauty and dirt within the same streets. I find it endlessly inspiring and I'm not really sure if I'll ever fall out of love with London. It just tends to do it for me all the time.

D: So you don't anticipate pulling a Morrissey and moving to LA?

B: I haven't got any plans to. I always sort of liked to think that I might one day, as sort of a romantic idea, but I actually haven't felt that practical need to, and I don't really know if that will ever change. I think if I ever left London it would be for somewhere warmer because that's the only thing I dislike about London. So it would have to be LA. But who knows. As long as I feel like London is inspiring me then I'll carry on living here. The second I feel that it's restricting me creatively then I'll leave. But going back to what you were saying about the specific reference points, I like to think that if I have any advice to young songwriters is if you want something to come across as real, always put detail in your songs. That's what I always try to do cos detail beats with the pulse of reality. When I'm talking about my life in London, I have to talk about it in quite specific little terms because you bring it to life like that. Lisson Grove, that's a place near Edgeware Road where i used to go, where I would sign on to claim unemployment benefits. It was a reference to the years I spent with no money to my name, buying second hand clothes and stuff like that.

D: "To The Winter" is a song that creates a very detailed picture with the lyrics.

B: It's quite a reflective sort of piece. There is a park called Crystal Palace (as mentioned in the song) that has plastic dinosaurs in it and you can actually climb on them and stuff, and its kind of quite nice.

D: What are some of your favorite places in London?

B: Some of the parks are breathtaking. I love that thing in cities where the rural and urban settings are together. I think it's one of the most breathtaking things about London. One of my most favorite things is going to St. Paul's and walking over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, and walking along the river, It's so beautiful and engaging and romantic. Primrose Hill is very beautiful as well.

D: The first single is "Love Is Dead," continuing the trend of the first song on the LP also being the first single, that goes back to Coming Up I believe...

B: Yeah it does...

D: What specifically inspired that song? It has a very lonely, world weary kind of tone.

B: It's not about the death of a relationship as most people would think from the title. It's more of a sense that sometimes you get the feeling that there is no love in the world. It is quite a bleak take on life and loneliness in the 21st century. I quite like that there is no ray of sunshine in the song or light at the end of the tunnel. I find that quite liberating and freeing that the song isn't trying to say "everything is all right." It's quite the opposite, saying life is an endless road of pain. It's almost like the Buddhist principle, once you accept that life is struggle then you're free to a certain extent. That's what the songs subtext, life is a piece of shit and then you accept that and get on with it.

D: There is a duality to it in that music has sort of an uplifting feel to it.

B: Yeah there is. That's sort of the power of music isn't it? If you put the same lyrics to a different piece of music with a different melody it could have a completely different feel. That's why song writing isn't poetry. It's a different sort of discipline because the music obviously gives it another dimension. If the lyrics were put on a minimal electro, or aggressive, dark piece of music it would have a level of bleakness that maybe it doesn't have with quite romantic sounding strings.

D: You have a theory that Track 7 is typically the key track on any given album. Does your album stand up to this test?

B: (Laughs) I'm always aware of it but I don't compile my albums around track 7. I do it how it sounds right but then afterwards I think about what has landed on the track 7 spot. I'm happy with "Infinite Kiss" (Track 7). It's not my favorite track on the album but it's not my least favorite, it's somewhere in the middle.

D: I was paying a lot of attention to the vocals on this record. It's something your fan base seems to talk about a lot. They seem to change quite a bit from record to record. Is that a result of different production?

B: No, I think my voice genuinely does change. There is only a certain amount you can do with production. If you're voice is fucked you can't repair that with a lot of expensive software. How one sings is quite naked in a funny sort of way, no matter how many effects you put on it there is only so much you can do with it. I've been singing better I think. I've been taking care of my voice and been very aware of what it can and can't do as an instrument. I've been singing a lot at the moment. It's the equivalent of expecting to do a marathon without having done any training, and you're body will refuse to do it. It's sort of the same with singing. Before I went into the studio I was doing a lot of singing at home everyday picking up the guitar and making it a discipline sort of thing and keeping my voice limbered up I suppose. I did a series on YouTube recently and I learned a lot from that about how I sound and how I come across. It was interesting for me because it was such a raw interpretation of the songs. It was me in a room with a crappy mic and a little reverb. I very much got the sense of my strengths and limits as a performer. Its all about keeping yourself learning and always accepting that you can learn something else about yourself. Even though I've been singing professionally for nearly 20 years now, I would never think that I know everything about it and I think anyone who does assume that is stupid. There is always somewhere to go with what you do and the second that you think that there isn't anything you can learn is the day you should give up, really. I think creating art and music is all about learning and trying things out and risking yourself sometimes. Putting your reputation on the line. Otherwise you disappear under the duvet and don't do anything. It's about polarizing peoples opinions about you and taking risks sometimes.

" My experience with major labels in the past hasn't been great. You can do things on a smaller scale and people will still hear your music which I think is quite exciting. "

D: You seem to stay away from the more operatic things that you've done vocally, as on the first two or three Suede albums. Is that on purpose?

B: Lots of people will assume that I just can't reach those notes anymore. There are even a couple of things that I'm going to do live where I have changed the melody slightly, but that actually isn't the case at all. I can easily reach those notes. My voice is in better shape than it's ever been. I just don't want to anymore. Some of those falsetto parts that I used to write in the early 90's, I wouldn't write them like that again. They're quite naive in a funny sort of way. It's someone who isn't 100% in control of his song writing and is trying to get drama into it by putting a bit of falsetto in it. When you're more confident of your musicianship and ability to write you just don't write like that, and I look back on those things thinking they could have been written better. It doesn't have anything to do with my voice or being able to do that. It's quite the opposite actually.

D: Is it ever a struggle at all between pleasing your fan base and singing the way you prefer to? The response to the YouTube series was largely that you're vocals were maybe a bit closer to the older style.

B: Well I understand what people mean, I think what people are referring to is in that last Suede album (A New Morning). I sang in a really gravely, sort of slightly fucked way. That was me experimenting with my voice and trying a new way of singing, and looking back I probably overdid it on that album. People are probably pleased that I've added that crooner sort of element back to my voice. On the first two Suede albums I think I'm guilty of over singing a bit. So if anyone is telling me that I should be singing exactly as I was on Suede and Dog Man Star, I'm not going to listen to them because I don't think that they really know what they're talking about. I still think my voice is actually getting better. It's not just about the voice, its about the writing as well. Dog Man Star was such an extreme record that the people who like it are always going to find that anything else I do is going to be in its shadow and that is limiting sometimes. I find that with every record I release that there is a comparison to that record and that can be tough.

D: I'm one of those people that thinks that the sleeve really influences how you hear a record...

B: I totally agree.

D: I was wondering what the process was like between you and Peter Saville on the sleeve this time and is he as slow as everyone says he is?

B: The answer to the last part is yes (laughs), he is as slow as everyone says. He might actually be slower. Peter is an original. What is great about him, and simultaneously infuriating for some, is that he doesn't play the music business game. He isn't a neat little chap that's going to get everything in on time and make the record company happy at all. It's quite the opposite, actually. The way he works winds people up, and he's got that "x-factor" where occasionally he does something very clever and ground breaking, and I've got so much respect for him. We're friends, and when I've got a new recording coming out and I want him to work on it, i'll just go round to his place. Having a meeting with Peter doesn't involve anything like having a meeting with anyone else. It's sort of like you go sit round his flat and look at pornography for two hours. He wanders down the stairs in his dressing gown a half an hour later. You just sit there flicking through his porn books and like two weeks later you come up with an idea. Talking about it now I can put it into a structure, but it's very vague working with Peter. We had a basic idea that we wanted to artwork to lift the mask off of what I am and what people perceive me to be, and because the music is in places quite confessional and personal, that the artwork should have the same sort of sense of intimacy. We've both known Wolfgang (Tillmans) for a long time. Because of the nature of Wolfgangs work, the way he documents reality with snapshots, we thought he was perfect for it. We did a shoot with him and it didn't work out. So we went back to an old shoot I did with Wolfgang a few years ago and looked at it and went "God this is amazing, why don't we just use this?" Which sounds like a cop out but the decision wasn't because like, we haven't got anything else, it just seemed to say exactly what we wanted it to say within the concept of the art work. So we used it.

D: Then Peter goes away and obsesses over the typeface for weeks?

B: Yeah. There are details Peter does that I don't think anyone else notices, and I certainly don't notice, that he's utterly obsessed with. He kind of zeros in on these things that mean absolutely everything to him, a tiny position of a letter or something like that. It's nice because it means that even though most people cant see the difference there is always that sense that he really cares about what he does.

D: You seem to be doing things on a much smaller scale at the moment; smaller gigs, label (Drowned In Sound)...

B: I think if I had released this on a major label, with fan fare, "Brett Anderson's new record," it would have fallen flat on its face. There is a vulnerable side to the record that I think people would have used against me if the whole kind of set up of it had been wrong. I like that this is very much laying foundations for the next record, and its re-introducing me and that's very important from that point of view. My experience with major labels in the past hasn't been great and learning from experience, the best times were working with Nude records in the 90's when there was real sense of care about what they were bringing to it, and I kind of wanted to get a bit of that back. The people from Drowned In Sound seem to care about it and I like the way that they approach things. In the music business there is obviously a huge seismic change going on. You can do things on a smaller scale and people will still hear your music which I think is quite exciting.

D: Does it sort of afford you an opportunity to focus on doing challenging records and maybe not focus as much on the commercial side of things?

" If I release this record in a low key way and it does the same sales, it will provide a platform for the next record and that's much more important to me. "

B: Yeah exactly, that was one of the things that I was as very conscious of with making this record. I don't want it to be a kind of pot shot at having a hit album. That's how most majors take every project. It's a spin of the roulette wheel, and if it lands on the number they've put their money on than they're all laughing, and if not, they move on to the next thing. I really didn't want it to be in the hands of fate that much. I'm much more happy for this record to be a slower, more low key affair if it means that I can have a solo career. It's as simple as that. If I had released a huge record on a major label and it had fallen on it's face than no one would have wanted to hear about a next record. If I release this record in a low key way and it does the same sales, but is seen as doing relatively okay, then it will provide a platform for the next record and that's much more important to me. I realize what I want in life these days. I don't particularly care about chasing this huge, dangling, golden carrot that I've sort of been chasing for a lot of my career. Trying to suddenly have a #1, all of these things that get in the way of your art. I sort of want to be in a position where I can just carry on making records. That would be absolutely fine for me.

D: How comfortable are you with your artistic legacy up to this point?

B: It's really difficult for me to be unbiased about it. I do get asked quite alot if I think Suede is underrated and of course I do; I was in the band! If you ask anyone in any band if they think their own work is underrated, even Paul McCartney would agree. It's just the nature of being in a band. I can sit here and intellectualize it and come up with all of the reasons that I think Suede is an important band and because of that they are undervalued. But at that end of the day, it's me saying that, so I have limited weight behind it. It needs other people without a vested interest in it to say it. But yeah of course I do. I do sort of feel as though the band hasn't been given the critical breaks they should have gotten really.

D: Is that frustrating for you that your lyrics are picked apart and analyzed as much as they are? A huge example of that was " Savoir Faire" off of Head Music. The lyrics to that song were brutalized in every review.

B: Yeah it is frustrating. That whole thing with "Savoir Faire" was ridiculous because of course I knew "She lives in a house, she's stupid as a mouse" was a dumb lyric, but that's the point of it. It's not like I couldn't think of a more clever lyric so I just stuck it on the record. It was a deliberate, ironic lyric. After years of being a "writerly" sort of a writer and self consciously coming up with veiled, poetic sort of lyrics, I was almost subverting my own creation and saying, "No, I'm going to write something dumb," and people were generally too stupid or didn't care enough to interpret it how it was meant. I learned and I won't make that mistake again because I've given people far too much credit for knowing the depth of what they do. It was a self referential, dumbing down of my own work, and yeah it is frustrating for me. I've read little things about this album and people will zero in on words I've used and beat with me a stick because I've used them before, even though they're missing the point of the broad concept of the song. Something like "One Lazy Morning," I read recently an online review and it was brutally picking the song apart for being repetitive and using my lexicon. I'm thinking, if you listen to what the song is about, conceptually the song is completely new ground for me. They've chosen not to analyze that but to merely analyze a tiny part of it. I seem to very much polarize peoples opinion, there is very little middle ground with how people receive me.

D: Is that a backhanded complement that people are interested in analyzing every line?

B: I'd like to think that it is, but it probably isn't. I don't really know what it is, but I kind of guess that in a funny sort of way that I've set a high standard for myself down the years, and there are certain things I've done that are pretty untouchable. Individual songs like "The Wild Ones" for example is one that springs to mind. As soon as I drop the bar people are always willing to jump in and beat me up about it. I don't really know what it is about me that people object to, but people still seem to object. There is a part of me that gets wound up about that and a part that thinks it's great. If I'm still doing that in another 17 years time that is pretty much what artists should be doing. I look at the music business and my big criticism of the modern alternative music scene is that it's very self congratulatory and there are very few people taking risks with their careers. There are very few hate figures out there. I find that really quite dull.

D: It's certainly better than ambivalence, or being a middle of the road sort of artist that sells millions but that very few people actually care about.

B: Yeah I've never really been able to do the middle of the road thing, although in a small way I have at times wanted to be a bit blanker with what I'm saying. But even when I've tried to be blank it's difficult. If I write in any style people seem to have extreme opinions about it. I kind of don't know why that is. I listen to a lot of music around me and if you're going to judge it in the same terms, it is completely full of holes.

D: I think that there are certain bands where there is this intangible thing that specific people pick up on and really enjoy and others don't quite hear. These bands create a world that you can choose to enter or not. I think that's very polarizing. A band like The Smiths for example, for as many people that love them there are 10 or 20 more that absolutely loathe their existence.

B: You're right. You've hit the nail on the head. It's about creating your own little world. That was always my intention with Suede. It was sort of a little club and I'm reaping the legacy of that now. You are a member of the club or you're shut out and not let in the door. You know, it was never a place where people could wander casually in and have a drink and wander out again. You either joined the club and got the tattoo or you weren't allowed in. I guess that's very much how people see me now and it's a double edged sword. It's both good and bad and can be sort of frustrating at times.

D: There has always been talk about the influence of drugs on the first four Suede records. Your lifestyle has changed dramatically for you since those days. I imagine this changes the way you write lyrics.

B: It very much does change it. I think that taking drugs had exhausted me creatively rather than inspired me. It had gone past the point of where I was feeling as though that whole world was something I could write about with any sort of freshness. It was necessary for me to get beyond that and try to see the world from a new point of view. For a more sober, clearer point of view, and there isn't a way back. It's not like I can sit here and think to myself, "These songs I'm writing are really dull, I'm going to go and write songs like I wrote on Dog Man Star. Let me go and become an insane acid taker again and coke taker or whatever." There is no way back and that would be sad tourism in a way, me trying to grab something back of my past. The only way forward is to push forward and develop as a human being and hope you develop as a song writer. "A New Morning" to me was over celebrating the fact that I was clean and seeing the world through these bright spectacles. Looking back on it, it was slightly sickly as well. When you're taking drugs it's not for several years that you actually gain any kind of real psychic balance. It's only very recently that I feel I've done that. I'm aware of my behavior being influenced by years and years of drug taking. Thats inevitable, One thing I will say is that its very convenient for the public to see bands that are living the rock and roll myth as being exciting artists that are pushing the envelope, but I genuinely feel in 2007 so excited about what I'm doing that the thought that anyone thinking that just because I'm straight now, that my work is safer or something. Listening to the record, it's not a challenging record in the traditional sense. I'm not talking about obscure fringe issues like I was before, I'm trying to talk about something more universal. Something clearer. I genuinely feel that what I'm trying to say is worth listening to, and what I'm going to be saying on the next record is worth listening to as well. There was a period back there where I sort of felt I'd run myself down a dead end.

D: Two years ago you put out The Tears record, Here Come The Tears. It's sort of an inevitable question, but what was it like working with Bernard Butler again? Obviously, it's historically noted that your relationship very volatile before. Does a relationship like that benefit from being volatile?

B: Maybe it does. It's difficult for me to say. It was very volatile in the early days and when we met up again for The Tears it was done in a very consciously different way. A warm emotional environment. We deliberately got on with each other. But I really enjoyed making that record. Making the record was good but, as is always the case, there is promoting the thing. When the little baby you've given birth to grows up and goes to its first day of school and comes back and it's been beaten up and bullied; that's what releasing a record is like. There is a point when you have to let go of the child and let it fend for itself in the world. It hurt me that the record wasn't better received by critics and the public because I think it was a good record. It didn't really have a hit single on it so it was difficult for there to be an entry point with it. But I think it was a quality record.

D: Will there be another one? During the last few gigs you had been premiering new material, "Berlin," "Europe After The Rain"...

" When you're taking drugs it's not for several years that you actually gain any kind of real psychic balance. It's only very recently that I feel I've done that. "

B: I honestly don't know. The next record I'm making is my second solo album. Yeah, there were others that we worked on that we didn't actually play live as well. We were full spin ahead with writing the next album and I don't know what happened. We sort of lost the thread of it a bit. We both decided that we weren't really enjoying it, it was as simple as that. It didn't have anything to do with our relationship or anything like that. It was one of those projects that we always said we'd do when we feel inspired and when we want to do it, so yeah I don't see why there couldn't be a second Tears record. We've talked about it and we did start writing it, but I don't see it as a priority for either of us right this second. But who knows. I never thought I'd work with Bernard again after he left Suede and I ended up working with him. The chance of there being another Tears record in the future is pretty good actually.

D: You mentioned you're thinking of a second solo record already. Will there be new collaborators?

B: I haven't decided on who I'm going to work with on the next record. The good thing about being a solo artist is that there isn't so much baggage. You can change the people you're working with if you want. All I know is that I want to have more of a band feel on the next record. There is a side to this recording that is simultaneously its beauty and its weakness and that is that it's quite fragile and some of it was written in a studio; piano, vocals sort of thing. There are points in the record where you can sort of tell that. What I think I want to do with the next one is get back to a more live feel.

D: What about on the live front. Do you anticipate doing a tour? You have a smattering of gigs coming up in Moscow, London and Denmark.

B: I really want to get out there and play. It's a matter of I'll play wherever people want me to play, but it's not like you sit down as an artist and have a map before you and put a pin in the map and everyone runs around and organizes it. It's more about how it works within the framework of money and marketing. If someone wants me to come and play in a territory and the reason for that is that the record is going to sell there and it will set up the next record, than I'll go and play there. Of course there is no way that I'm going to do the year and a half tour like we did with Coming Up. The problem with being on the road a long time is that you kill yourself creatively. You end up creatively dead, It's important for me to keep myself creatively alive and write the next record.

D: So where does that leave America, in terms of seeing you over here. It's been 10 years now.

B: If there is any chance of doing it, then I'll do it. I'm not just going to fly over to New York and play a gig though. It has to be part of a coherent marketing campaign and that involves getting a record deal which I don't have in America yet. The second I get one, the second I'll be playing there. I've always loved playing in America. There is a strange little rumor about Suede and America not getting on. The name thing (having to be called The London Suede in the US, due to copyright reasons), that was a big fuck up and I hated having the perform under that name. That's probably why we never came back there.

D: I imagine your gear being stolen in Boston didn't help either. (In the middle of Suede's 1997 mini-tour of the US, all of their gear was stolen in the middle of a two night stand in Boston.)

B: Yeah, Its tough. It's not well known but I genuinely loved it out there, and I have every intention of coming out there again as soon as I can make it work financially, which is a tough fact.

D: Will the upcoming shows feature a full band? And if so, will the LP songs be reworked in some way to fit that?

B: Absolutely a full band. I've been rehearsing with them. Yeah, I mean in "To The Winter," for example, there is an electric guitar in the outro the way we do it live, but hopefully there is still the delicacy of the record there as well. There is no point in taking a song like that and making it a Clash song. It is what it is. It has a grandeur and delicacy which is it's beauty and you shouldn't destroy that.

D: Will you be playing all solo songs? Do you have qualms with playing older material?

B: I haven't decided on the set list. I don't have a problem with Suede songs. There is no big battle big battle between me and Suede in that way. I felt as though with The Tears I made that point because we didn't play Suede, We played one b-side ("The Living Dead") or something like that once, and then regretted it. But generally we toured pretty much for six months without at all playing Suede songs and I felt at the time, that it was actually very hard work. But I think people respected us for it. It was a matter of trying to establish a new band identity and I think it would have been wrong to play Suede songs.

D: Are you more prone to maybe play Suede songs that you wrote on your own vs. songs that were written with the band?

B: (Pausing) Yeah I guess in a way there is always the issue in the back of my head about playing Suede songs. I'd feel weird if one of the other members of Suede played a Suede song and just got another singer to play my part. It's almost like what Morrissey said about the rhythm section in The Smiths being as replaceable as the parts of lawnmower or some really funny quote about Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke that always amused me you know what I mean? I'm not talking about the Suede rhythm section of course. All the guys that used to be in Suede, I still know them personally and I'm friends with them and stuff like that, so hopefully if I did decide to do Suede songs they wouldn't have a problem with that. I'd like to think they wouldn't, and if they did have a problem, we'd talk about it. With this, my name is Brett Anderson, I used to be the singer of Suede. I can't really get away from that unless I call myself something else.

lundi, mai 07, 2007


So much to answer for.

It was May 1982 when a young Johnny Marr encountered the charismatic Mancunian oddball who became known to millions only by his surname. Their amazing songwriting partnership inspired a thousand indie bands and, 25 years on, they remain a potent force

Sean O'Hagan
Sunday May 6, 2007
The Observer

Twenty-five years ago this month, a bequiffed 18-year-old called Johnny Maher turned up unannounced at the door of 384 King's Road, a nondescript terraced house in Stretford, Manchester. 'It was a sunny day, about one o'clock,' he recalled years later. 'There was no advance phone call or anything. I just knocked and he opened the door.'

'He' was Steven Patrick Morrissey, then a 23-year-old misfit who inhabited the fringes of Manchester's fragmentary postpunk music scene. Morrissey had already tried his hand at being a writer, sending live rock reviews to Record Mirror, penning non-fiction books for a small publisher, Babylon Books, (a homage to James Dean, a tract on his favourite group, the New York Dolls) and even sending unsolicited scripts for episodes of Coronation Street to Granada Television. His fitful attempts at rock stardom had been even less successful, and had all but petered out following a few eccentric appearances as the lead singer for a little-known local group, the Nosebleeds. Back then, Morrissey's effortless oddness was such that Manchester scene-maker and head of Factory Records, Tony Wilson, would later remark: 'Anyone less likely to be a pop star from that scene was unimaginable.'

Prior to that fateful day in May 1982, Morrissey and Maher had met only once, their paths crossing fleetingly at a Patti Smith concert at Manchester's Apollo Theatre in 1978, where they had exchanged the briefest of courtesies.

Against all the odds, though, the mercurial Morrissey invited the nervous Maher up to his bedroom, where a pair of cardboard cutouts - one of James Dean, the other of Elvis Presley - stood sentinel like twin arbiters of their owner's pop dreams. There, the two music-obsessed strangers talked for hours about their shared influences, among them the New York Dolls, Patti Smith and Sixties girl groups.

'It was pretty phenomenal that we were so in sync because the influences that we had individually were so obscure,' Maher said later, long after he had changed his surname to Marr. 'It was like lightning fucking bolts to the two of us. This wasn't stuff we liked, this was stuff we lived for really.'

A few days later, Morrissey made the return journey to Marr's rented room in Bowdon, where, over a melody lifted from Patti Smith's 'Kimberly', they mapped out the contours of a song called 'The Hand that Rocks the Cradle', a complex lyric about childhood innocence and terror that would soon be set to a chiming, circular guitar line. Though they had yet to name themselves, and yet to find a rhythm section, 'The Hand that Rocks the Cradle' was the first real Smiths song, the inspired starting point of a creative partnership that would last a mere five years and yet alter the arc of British pop music in a way that could hardly have been foreseen by even the most blinkered champion of skinny white-boy indie guitar rock.

Between 1982 and 1987, the Smiths, now comprising Morrissey, Marr, Andy Rourke (bass) and Mike Joyce (drums), released a brace of brilliant singles, at least two classic rock albums, provoked several outbursts of outrage from Britain's self-appointed moral guardians and stirred scenes of fan hysteria on a scale not seen since the heyday of glam rock a decade previously. Perhaps more importantly, though, the Smiths almost single-handedly reclaimed and revitalised the ailing tradition of the guitar-driven, four-piece rock group.

To put the extent of their achievement into context, you need only remember that they arrived at a time in the early-to-mid Eighties when punk's rupture had long been papered over, when the new synthesised pop of Boy George and Wham! ruled the charts, and, more importantly, when sample-based dance music first began crossing into the mainstream and rock music seemed to be fighting a desperate rearguard action.

In the office of the NME, where I worked in the mid-Eighties, the split between the dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists of the indie brigade and the unruly iconoclasts of the dance faction threatened to tear the paper apart. Back then, every editorial meeting was a battle ground, every choice of cover star a victory or a defeat. I remember assistant editor Danny Kelly, now a sports presenter, storming out of a meeting, incensed that the Fall had been overlooked in favour of the original ganster rapper Schooly D. Another meeting ended moments from an actual fist fight. I was on the side of the modernisers, fired up by the sheer energy and iconoclasm of hip hop, the sonic dissonance and radical politics of Public Enemy, the lyrical brilliance of Rakim, the inspired cut-and-paste techniques of every great rap single released on Def Jam and Sleeping Bag and all the myriad local labels that sprang up to disseminate this new music. Ironically, the flowering of hip hop reminded me of the eruption of punk: the same energy, the same DIY application, the same sense of possibility that anyone with imagination could cut a single. The parallels were lost on the indie brigade, though, and on the core readership of the NME, who were, and remain, essentially conservative: in thrall to the familiar - young men with guitars and adolescent neuroses. For the indie boys, the Smiths arrived at the very last minute and saved the day.

No other group carried such a weight of expectation - and tradition - as the Smiths. Had they not risen to the occasion, it is not overstating the case to say that the entire trajectory of recent British rock music as we now know it - that's the line from the Smiths to the Stone Roses to Oasis and on to the Libertines and today's indie darlings, Arctic Monkeys - would not have been traced.

It took me several years, and a long detox from the music press, to approach the Smiths with any degree of open-mindedness, having finally and reluctantly bowed to their brilliance with the release of the towering 'How Soon is Now', a song, interestingly, that sounds least like a typical Smiths song. I realised that Morrissey's singing voice, which improved enormously between the first and second albums, was an instrument that could be negotiated after all. Then there were the songs!

'If you look at the Smiths' greatest songs over that short five-year period, it's such an intense outburst of creativity that it sweeps all before it,' says the music writer and pop cultural historian, Jon Savage. 'Johnny had this incredibly instinctive melodic gift for a lead guitarist, and a style that was almost a signature from the moment you heard it. Morrissey was doing extraordinary things with lyric and metre, using words that didn't seem to scan on the line in any regular way, using implied rhymes, and often dealing with subject matter that didn't seem to belong in the pop tradition.'

Savage cites the Smiths' 1985 single, 'Shakespeare's Sister' as a case in point. 'I listened to it recently,' he continues, 'and was struck again by what a very odd song it is. It's essentially a suicide drama set to a demented rock'n'roll rhythm. I mean, how did that become a hit? It's not your regular pop song, is it?'

Though not blessed with great production, 'Shakespeare's Sister' is nevertheless emblematic of the Smiths' otherness, their singular ability to juxtapose the musically familiar and the lyrically surreal to create something unique. Musically the song evokes an older, more raw rock era, with echoes of both Bo Diddley and the early Rolling Stones in its galloping rhythm. Lyrically, though, it draws on an incredible variety of sources, none of which would have impinged on the consciousness of a less erudite, or indeed eccentric, songwriter.

The title comes from Virginia Woolf's essay, A Room of One's Own, one of the many feminist texts Morrissey embraced as a sexually confused, politically awakened adolescent. As Simon Goddard points out in his concise and consistently illuminating track-by-track study, The Smiths: Songs that Saved Your Life, 'Shakespeare's Sister' also pays lyrical homage to Elizabeth Smart's autobiographical novella of obsessive love, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. There are nods, too, to an obscure and melodramatic song about teen suicide called 'Don't Jump', recorded as a B-side by the British pop idol Billy Fury back in the early Sixties.

The merging of highbrow and lowbrow influences soon became a Morrissey signature of sorts. 'Reel Around the Fountain', for instance, references Molly Haskell's feminist-fuelled book of film criticism, From Reverence to Rape, while the quintessential Morrissey line, 'I dreamt about you last night and I fell out of bed twice', turns out to be lifted, word for word, from Shelagh Delaney's great kitchen sink drama, A Taste of Honey, perhaps the single most quoted source in the Smiths' canon. ('Hand in Glove', 'This Charming Man' and 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes', all borrow from Salford-born Delaney's seminal drama of northern working-class life.)

Little wonder, then, that the Smiths were manna from heaven for bedroom adolescents, for whom Morrissey was nothing less than a mirror - and a vindication - of their thwarted dreams and desires. His hybrid aesthetic - part high camp, part English eccentric, part pop-cultural pick and mix, part Mancunian drollery - extended to the Smiths' record sleeves as well. He alone choose the portraits that adorned the covers, canonising his personal icons for a generation of fans, many of whom discovered a whole world of literature, film and songs made in the postwar, pre-Beatles era that Morrisey seemed most fixated on. Those icons included actors, Alain Delon, Jean Marais, Rita Tushingham and Terence Stamp who, despite Morrissey once defining his idea of happiness as 'being Terence Stamp', famously demanded the withdrawal of his image from the sleeve of 'What Difference Does it Make?'

More revealing still, for a confessed celibate, was Morrissey's choice of gay icons such as Joe Dallesandro and Candy Darling, both from the Warhol 'family', the latter immortalised by Lou Reed on 'Walk on the Wild Side'. More irreverently, but just as knowingly, he selected various lesser-known English 'faces', including the ill-starred Sixties pools winner and author of Spend, Spend, Spend, Viv Nicholson, as well as two stalwarts of British television drama, Yootha Joyce (from Man About the House) and Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street).

For all the passing nods to Warhol, and despite Morrissey's undiminished love for the New York Dolls, the Smiths were a quintessentially English proposition, often unapologetically parochial in their obsessions. 'Manchester, so much to answer for,' sang Morrissey on 'Suffer Little Children', but Manchester made the Smiths, and they invoked it time and time again in song.

With Marr as his musical director, Morrisey elevated a certain kind of poetic provincialism - the provincialism of Philip Larkin or Alan Bennett - to a pop art form. In doing so, as the writer Will Self, a longtime Smiths fan, points out: 'Morrissey freed himself to be a national artist in a way that a London pop star could never be.'

Morrissey's wilfully maudlin lyricism and his definably northern singing voice, alongside his fondness for a certain kind of camp, self-deflating couplet - 'And, as I climb into an empty bed/ Oh well, enough said' - also spoke of a tradition that predated the pop lineage they were obviously a part of, a lineage that stretched back from the more melodic side of the Jam to early Bowie, and beyond that to the Beatles and the Kinks.

'There's a proscenium arch around the Smiths,' elabaorates Self, 'a music hall element that comes mainly from Morrissey's songs and attitude. You could imagine them in another not too distant time being introduced on The Good Old Days by a man in a dickie bow with a mallet. That's the tap root of many Smiths songs rather than, say, the great folk or blues tradition that a similar-sounding American rock group would be duty bound to draw on.'

The Smiths had a dark side, though, and that too was somehow quintessentially English. 'Morrissey sings of England, and something black, absurd and hateful at its heart,' mused Tony Parsons much later, referring specifically to the singer's more provocative, some would say nationalistic, solo songs. Listening again to the Smiths' first album, though, I am intrigued and appalled all over again by the subject matter of the chilling final track, 'Suffer Little Children'. This is Morrissey's ode to the child victims of the Moors Murderers, which Simon Goddard rightly describes as 'dreadful yet captivating'. It is hard to know what to make of the song save for the underlying sense that Morrissey is working something out for himself, and for his hometown, Manchester, in singing it. Whether or not you think it is suitable subject matter for a pop song at all depends on how seriously you take Morrissey as a songwriter, as an artist. Savage argues in his favour.

'It's an incredibly sensitive subject and one that I almost feel he was compelled to confront. I mean, it was such a stain on the city, it was as if the Sixties ended right then and there in Manchester. Morrissey grew up in the shadow cast by Brady and Hindley, and there's perhaps an unhealthy morbid fascination there, but there's also the sense of an artist wanting to get to grips with the dark side of his city. Whatever the impulse was, it was not shallow nor merely provocative.'

The writer Michael Bracewell, in his book England is Mine, homes in on Morrissey's fascination with the underbelly of a reimagined England familiar from the novels of Graham Greene, a not too distant, but fast-fading, urban Albion populated by underworld spivs, rent boys and juvenile delinquents, a land of 'jumped-up pantry boys' and tutu-wearing vicars. Morrissey, like Greene, is drawn again and again to the seedy and the sordid, the louche and the low-rent, seems spellbound by the sight of 'loafing oafs in all-night chemists'.

Writing in 1936, Greene observed that 'seediness has a very deep appeal: it seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost'. For better or worse, no other songwriter has captured that sense of a lost England, Arcadian yet besmirched, quite like Morrrisey.

Now, ironically, the Smiths also represent something lost in British pop culture, their premature and messy break-up - the result of Morrissey's self-defeating control freakery as much as anything - has left a hole in the pop landscape that has not been filled by the altogether more obvious noise of the Britpop brigade or the rock-by-rote thrust of the current wave of traditional British guitar bands. You could even argue that, for all their skill and fire, their otherness and eccentricity, the Smiths did turn the pop clock back, ushered in the formal conservatism that was to follow.

'Who would have thought,' as Will Self puts it, 'that over 20 years after the Smiths' demise we would be listening to so much music that, in the main, is simply an atrophied form of the Smith's rock classicism?'

In fairness the Smiths cannot be blamed for the sins of their imitators. But, what, exactly, is their legacy? The songs, of course, and the craft that carries them. The merging of lyric and melody that seems to have come about so effortlessly time and time again. The sense of possibility that their best songs contain, the possibility that a 'simple' pop song could be as potent and as intimate, as literate and as allusive, as any other kind of great writing. You can hear that same sense of possibility in the lyrics of Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, another writer who deals in the poetry of the parochial, who paints from a quintessentially English - indeed definably northern - palette. You can hear traces, too, in the half-arsed songs that the Libertines left behind, though it is more a striving after something Smithsonian than a finished elucidation of it. Luke Pritchard, of Brighton band the Kooks, hears echoes of the band everywhere: 'Now that their music has had 20 years to marinate, their influence is more obvious than ever. Everyone from the Kaiser Chiefs to the Killers owes them a huge debt'.

'Morrissey was speaking directly to me,' Brandon Lee, the Killers' lead singer, said recently of the first time he heard the Smiths' 'Panic' on the radio in the early Nineties. That same epiphany he describes occurred across Britain and beyond in the early Eighties, when Morrissey became the bedroom bard to beat them all, the quintessential lonely adolescent turned pop star.

In the greatest Smiths songs, you can hear how the great Mancunian misfit, the self-dramatised 'boy with the thorn in his side', fixated on James Dean and the New York Dolls, turned all his acutely perceived limitations into the most potent delineation of outsiderdom and perversity yet articulated by a British pop singer.

Now Morrissey resides on the west coast of America; a more unlikely home for 'a jumped-up pantry boy' it would be hard to imagine. Exiled in Los Angeles, his wilfully adolescent self-absortion has become a tired trope throughout an erratic solo career: narcissim in the young is forgiveable; in the old it is simply ugly.

Johnny Marr, too, has been only fitfully successful on his own, though his current collaboration with Modest Mouse took him into the American charts - a success that must surely have caused his former partner some chagrin. You cannot help feeling, however, that, in the manner of Lennon and McCartney, or Strummer and Jones, each needed the other to shine most brightly. Now the moment is long past, the legacy assured, and this Johnny-come-lately fan can certainly live happily without a Smiths reunion. You wonder, though, whether, self-exiled in his mansion in California, the least likely pop star imaginable ever counts his blessings that a shy teenager called Johnny Maher plucked up the courage to knock on the door of his terraced house in Stretford 25 years ago. He really should. And so, heaven knows, should we.

Charming men: star appreciations

Bono: '"Girlfriend in a Coma" - when I heard it I nearly crashed my car and ended up in a coma. He has that gift. That is not the work of a miserable man.'

Chrissie Hynde: 'The amount of times people have said it was "Meat is Murder" that converted them is astonishing.'

Noel Gallagher: 'Whatever you put down in a lyric to define your love or hate, [Morrissey]'ll do it one better.'

JK Rowling: 'I think the Smiths were the only group whose falling apart really affected me personally. Very sad.'

Billy Bragg: 'He sang all those old Smiths songs and made me feel 17 again. It was pretty amazing as I was 26 at the time.'

Observer critic Miranda Sawyer: 'If you notice, it's really all blokes. Men are in love with him... not women.'

Gordon Agar

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