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Released in 2006, this is essentially a celebrity mix tape, the celebrities in question being two former members of Pulp. One had always suspected that Pulp (Jarvis especially) had some pretty eclectic tastes, but there's always the danger with these kinds of things that the compilers (or 'curators' as they're pretentiously called) will try to be as esoteric as possible for the sake of it.
Happily, although there's certainly a nice selection of the odd and the obscure, the compilation is eminently listenable. Taking in music from the 60s to the 90s, it combines plenty of different styles and genres, but rarely strays too far from catchy pop territory. While other albums in 'The Trip' series tend more towards dancey or ambient tunes, most of what we get here are songs.
With 35 songs I'm not going mention all of them. To do so would be really dull, for me as well as you.
Disk 1 kicks off with Gassenhauer by Carl Orff, a full-on classical composer. It's the jolly yet mysterious xylophone piece that's used in Badlands. It's like two happy skeletons playing music on each other's ribcages. (At least, that's what I get from it. You are free to disagree.)
Next up is Release the Bats by The Birthday Party, a very different proposition. An Adam Ant drumbeat, a Watching the Detectives bassline, and some squawky guitar accompany Nick Cave as he shrieks out garbled lyrics about bats. Probably not one to look for profundity in, unless "sex bat horror vampire sex" means something to you.
Rubber Room by Porter Waggoner is one of only three tracks I already knew (I was both proud and disappointed to actually know a few of these already). A stately, melancholy country number about life in an asylum with wordless, mournful backing vocals, this is a tough one to sum up. It's gloomy and morbid, but so damn strange that it stays poised on the knife edge between genius and kitsch.
Just Drifting by Psychic TV is a gentle, rather pastoral song, considerably less confrontational than much of their work. As ever, Genesis P-Orridge's creepy, somnambulist voice creates something rather lovely and peculiarly sinister. The lyrics have too many syllables to fit the melody, but they pull it off.
The Lady With the Braid by Dory Previn is magnificent, a tuneful ballad that's a Robert-Browning-style dramatic monologue by a neurotic hippie trying to persuade a pickup to stay the night with her. (I'd be out of there like a shot, she's obviously really clingy and you'd have a nightmare tying to extricate yourself. Ah, who am I kidding? I'm a desperate man. Desperate.) It's a really sweet song, full of intelligence and yearning, beautiful in what it reveals about the character without ever spelling it out. It won't be to everyone's tastes (it's not the kind of thing I normally like at all), but this is a life-enhancing song.
24 Sycamore by Gene Pitney is probably my favourite. An easy listening number talking about a lost love in terms of the house she used to live in. It goes on perfectly pleasantly for about a minute and a half, burbling its quiet heartbreak ("who's going to mend my rainbow"). Then suddenly the facade cracks wide open and the song goes loud. Suburban love agony becomes opera as Pitney deploys the full force of his whiny roar. This is a man whose world has ended, dammit, and he can't hold it in anymore! I love this sort of high camp 60s epic pop, it's like mainlining emotion in its most simple form. Sneer all you like, this feels more honest than a thousand Coldplay albums.
The trip then takes a turn into psychedelia, with a dark instrumental by Animated Egg that reminds me of any number of late 60s US bands without the silly lyrics. Which leads us nicely onto Feel Flows by the Beach Boys. The poor old Beach Boys never quite kept up with the rest of music after the transcendentally beautiful Pet Sounds. This is dimestore mysticism and isn't even that well sung, with production tricks nicked from Revolver. And yet, somehow, this totally works. It's a somnolent little masterpiece of dreamy psych weirdness. It can't hold a candle to their best work, and if you'd never heard God Only Knows, you'd probably like this a lot more. It's from their hippy car-crash album Surf's Up, which was out of date before it even appeared.
Winter's Coming by Bonnie Dobson is a sinister ballad, a chilly song about a woman seemingly preparing to murder the (married?) father of her unborn baby. It totally gets inside your head. After a few bland tracks Bobby Bare's Don't Think Twice steadies the ship - a deceptively cheerful country track about a man walking out on his sweetheart. This song speaks to the deep well of macho pathos that lurks in every man's heart, rather like The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. It's the kind of song you might put on repeat play when seriously drunk and looking to have a good, cathartic cry. Great backing vocals, too.
There's a nice line in unexpected cover versions. OMD's Waiting For The Man is unexciting, but Human League's cover of Gary Glitter's Rock n Roll is terrific. It's not clear whether this was intended ironically, but that's how it inevitably comes across, both because of the whole Gary Glitter issue, and because that kind of glam chant inevitably feels weird played on synthesisers. A drummy number by Lieutenant Pigeon takes us to a great Add N to (X) track, King Wasp, which sounds like a crazy, hyped up, electronic version of Crawling King Snake.
After such a strong disk, the second can only be a bit of an anti-climax, and so it proves. There's far less essential music on Disk 2. But there are still some gems.
Jet Boy Jet Girl by Elton Motello has the tune of Plastic Bertrand's Ca Plane Sur Moi, but tells of teenage gay sex. Hilariously confrontational (especially for the 70s!), it's the essence of punk right there, and it's all about boys getting it on! Classic, and catchy as hell.
Johny Wakelin's In Zaire is a song about the Rumble in the Jungle, in praise of Mohammed Ali. It's another one with an Adam Ant-style drumbeat, and its attempt at tribal rhythms and rather daft lyrics make for a song you can't help but enjoy. Egyptian Reggae by Jonathan Richman is an instrumental which doesn't have much that I'd call reggae in it. And it's about as Egyptian as the Bangles. Great tune, though.
Pour Man by Lee Hazlewood is the undoubted highlight of Disk 2. Hazlewood's mix of country and folk and pop has rarely been better. This tells a ludicrously jaunty tale of a man awaiting execution for the murder of his own brother. It has the classic cheery pathos of Hazelwood, although lacks the emotional resonance of some of his later work. "I'll miss the robins and the little songs they sing". It's an amazing song.
Flashing Light is from Screaming Lord Sutch's much maligned 80s album. It's pretty dreadful - heavy guitar backing utterly trivial lyrics - but apparently includes playing by Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore and Jeff Beck. Rarely have so many rock greats been so ineffectively deployed.
Beasley Street by Mancunian poet/punk John Cooper Clarke is an epic 6 minutes of silly nasal agit prop. I don't in any way dispute the strong feeling Mrs Thatcher provoked in the hearts of the righteous, but at this distance this is pretty hilarious. 'Keith Joseph smiles and a baby dies in a box on Beasley Street'. Right on, brother.
Pammie's on a Bummer Now by Sonny Bono is dreadful, and presumably only included for some kind of misconceived comic value. Dion, a pioneering rock 'n' roller, gives a strangely melancholy acoustic rendition of Purple Haze. It doesn't suit the song.
Going Nowhere by Neil Sedaka adds a last burst of interest. It has strange, rather impenetrable lyrics - the overall meaning is obviously sad from the way it's sung, but I can't work it out. Lovely song, though, even if what's got him so worked up remains unclear. The compilation ends with Sailing By, by Ronald Binge, a piece of softer-than-soft library music which apparently used to be the BBC's theme tune for the shipping forecast.
Disk 2 is a bit of a let-down after Disk 1, but still has more than enough to keep you happy. This costs £12, which seems a bit high, but it's an absolutely essential purchase - you'll be sure to find something on it to like, even if it has the odd dud track. This, my friends, is one of the best compilations ever.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Gassenhauer - Carl Orff
2 Release The Bats - The Birthday Party
3 The Rubber Room - Porter W Wagoner
4 Just Drifting - Psychic TV
5 The Lady With The Braid - Dory Previn
6 Cool Summer - Bob Lind
7 24 Sycamore - Gene Pitney
8 Sock It My Way - The Animated Egg
9 Feel Flows - The Beach Boys
10 Winter's Going - Bonnie Dobson
11 I'm Going Home - Arlo Guthrie
12 Don't Think Twice It's Alright - Bobby Bare
13 Jukebox Babe - Alan Vega
14 Waiting For The Man - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
15 Rock 'N' Roll / Night Clubbing - The Human League
16 The Villain - Lieutenant Pigeon
17 King Wasp - Add N To X
18 Lost In Music - The Fall
19 Pastoral - Moondog
Disc #2 Tracklisting
1 Jet Boy Jet Girl - Elton Motello
2 John, I'm Only Dancing - Polecats
3 Wop Doowop - Electronicat
4 In Zaire - Johnny Wakelin
5 Anonymous Face - Quix*O*Tic
6 Egyptian Reggae - Jonathan Richman
7 Pour Man - Lee Hazlewood
8 Flashing Lights - Screaming Lord Sutch
9 Beasley St. - John Cooper Clarke
10 Rock On - David Essex, Jeff Wayne
11 Les Visiteurs - Georges DeLaRue
12 Pammie's On A Bummer - Sonny Bono
13 I Wonder If I Care As Much - The Everly Brothers
14 Purple Haze - Dion
15 Going Nowhere - Neil Sedaka
16 Sailing By - The Ronald Binge Orchestra