by carl wilson

Umlautathon dot UK!
Käte Büsh vs. Motörhead


I often gripe that a lot of British music doesn't stir me, but today in The Globe & Mail, I celebrate not one but two exceptions: First, a review of Kate Bush's new Aerial, which comes out Tuesday and is like a satisfying plunge into a forest pond you knew from childhood but thought you'd never find again. Only sober second thought kept me from rating it 4 out of 4 stars. Read on to find out why. And next, a piece on the Just Ace of Spades marathon benefit for the Red Cross next Wed. in Toronto, in which the Motörhead anthem will be played some 128 times in six hours by eight different DJs at full volume while participants tick off boxes in their pledge forms. Finally, indie kids invent a charity endurance contest of their own that doesn't require them to rise at dawn with a hangover or strain the lung capacity they've so assisiduously ruined with joints and cigarettes. Read the piece for more astonishing Ace of Spades rockathon statistics and rationales. (For more on umlauts, on the other hand, see the standard reference page on "Röck Döts.")

CD of the Week
This woman's work, old style

Aerial by Kate Bush (EMI)
Reviewed by Carl Wilson
The Globe and Mail Review
Friday, November 4, 2005

★★★ ½

In pop music, absenting yourself for a dozen years is like a novelist or painter vanishing for 60, the field changes so much. After British legend Kate Bush released her worn-out-sounding 1993 album The Red Shoes, she retreated to her island home on the Thames to have a child and generally depressurize from a storied career. It began with her discovery by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour at 16, took off with a stunning 1978 hit based on Emily Brontë's gothic romance Wuthering Heights, and peaked in 1986 with the album Hounds of Love, which finally gained her recognition in America.

During her hiatus, rap conquered the world. Alt-rock and techno, among others, came and went. A generation of female singers emboldened by Bush's fearless experimenting and brainy eroticism emerged, such as Tori Amos, PJ Harvey and Bjork, although they weren't alone - hip-hop innovators OutKast also called her an inspiration, the Futureheads had a hit covering Hounds of Love's title track, and Mercury Prize-winner Antony credited her impact.

Now Kate Bush is 47, looking less like the modern-dance nymphet she once was than like a kindly English aunt. Her return album, Aerial, is finally being released after years of rumour. And seldom has "released" seemed such an apt term, since EMI kept it as tightly locked up as an ex-royal consort in the Tower of London.

But suddenly very little of that back-story matters, for KateBushLand turns out to be barely changed. She seems relaxed and renewed on Aerial, but it's full of the touches that enraptured her fans and made the prigs label her barmy. There's the song in which the value of Pi is sung to more than 100 decimal places, and there's the one about the washing machine. That's actually one of the album's finest, movingly tracing mortality and loss through the domestic poetics of laundry. Sure, the passage where she sings "slooshy slooshy slooshy slooshy" can bring giggles. But Bush knows when she's being funny.

She remains preoccupied with English landscape in its mystic and sensual aspects, and now as a familial setting too. The second disc of Aerial is a cycle titled A Sky of Honey, a dappled portrait of a summer day from dawn to nightfall to dawn again, with particular lingering on birds and sea. With arrangements by the late Michael Kamen at Abbey Road Studios, it shifts from Joni Mitchell-ish jazz to hard rock to Gypsy Kings to histrionic chorales in a genre known only as Kate Bush, and back. But ultimately it does, as she sings, "become panoramic," immersing the listener in colour and more than earning its grandeur.

As it has many songwriters, however, parenthood seems to have lured Bush toward less distinctive subject matter. The Elizabethan-madrigal-style paean to her son Bertie cloys as much as it charms, and other lyrics skirt platitudes that would have been unthinkable when she was a quizzical, precocious youth. But the steeped richness of her voice and inventive melodies mostly prevent banality.

The greater misgiving is that Bush, famously an early adopter of new samplers and synths in the 1980s, has added so little to her palette here. Aside from the first single, King of the Mountain (a winking ode to Elvis, Citizen Kane and, ahem, other famous recluses), Aerial sounds almost like it would have a dozen years ago.

On some tracks, such as the otherwise vivid How to Be Invisible (the recipe: "Eye of Braille/ Hem of anorak/ Stem of wallflower/ Hair of doormat"), dull classic-rock production obscures the virtues. It's a relief when the collection returns to just Kate and her piano, on her sumptuously forlorn tribute to her mother, A Coral Sea. Yet how much more thrilling it would be to hear her explore some new technology.

But that could take another dozen years. What we've got is this flawed but ecstatic experience, Aerial. And once again, nearing 50, Kate Bush is making it sound like most other singers just don't know the secret of life. Listen close.

Going Out: Music
Motörhead madness-athon

The Globe & Mail Review
Friday, November 4, 2005

Some people run to help cure heart disease and others walk for breast cancer. Our charitable impulses have given rise to bikeathons, walkathons, swimathons and danceathons. Noble efforts all, but they share one drawback - they're much too healthy and wholesome to be compatible with a more night-crawling kind of lifestyle.

So what about a rockathon?

Next Wednesday, hundreds of people will assemble at the Boat nightclub in Kensington Market in Toronto to hear DJs spin music for six hours. Many will bring pledge forms in which sponsors promise donations to the Red Cross hurricane-relief fund - depending how long the listener lasts.

What's so stamina-testing about six hours of music in a bar? On this particular night, the DJs will play only one song: As the event title promises, it's Just Ace of Spades.

Yes, that's Ace of Spades, the 1980 anthem by British metal band Motörhead, led by lumbering icon Lemmy Kilmister.

And only the original recording will be permitted - no live or cover versions.

In the words of Trevor Coleman, the promoter who recently converted the Boat from karaoke dive to indie-rock clubhouse: "It's like the CN Tower stair climb, except that we're all nerds with atrophied muscles, so instead of enduring physical pain we endure extreme irony."

In six hours, the two-minute-49-second classic can be played nearly 128 times. And it's already a pretty repetitive song: The words "Ace of Spades" themselves will be heard 768 times, and the central rhythm-guitar riff (played 36 times on the record) will be heard 4,608 times over in all its three-chord majesty.

Which makes Just Ace of Spades sound less like a night out and more like some "psychic driving" session out of the 1960s CIA brainwashing experiments at the Allen Memorial Institute in Montreal. Participants risk emerging convinced that they are "born to lose, and gambling's for fools," or with a pathological phobia that they may "forget the Joker."

From what mental Hades does this devilish act of altruism hail?

"I have to admit," organizer Matt Blair says, "it started as a dare." A friend challenged Blair to get himself fired from a DJ job by playing Ace of Spades over and over and over. That conversation crossed another one about putting on a benefit concert for hurricane relief. When a third friend came up with the notion of pledge forms, Blair says, "it suddenly seemed plausible."

The event is part of a larger project called Indiepolitik, which is trying to harness the energy of the indie-rock scene to more socially conscious causes, beyond token benefit shows. The trick, Blair says, is to incorporate a sense of humour.

"There's a perception of activism that it all has to be doom and gloom. We're trying to counter that. It doesn't mean we're making light of the issues. But if you can approach it from a novel point of view, it brings extra attention."

And why Ace of Spades? "Love Motörhead or hate them, I think if you're looking for a song that is bigger and more powerful than you, Ace of Spades is it. After a few hours, even the biggest fan is going to want to step back."

Indeed, you could call Ace of Spades a Category 5 storm of rock'n'roll.

Reaction to this umlaut-a-thon has been so enthused that Indiepolitik may extend the model to other songs and causes in the future.

Besides the cover charge and pledges, the Boat is donating 20 per cent of bar sales. Blair feels a little sorry for the employees, a captive audience: "The indie scene is a very big fan of novelty in general. But that may not extend to the bar staff. We're encouraging widespread tipping."

The volume, after all, won't be gentle. Lemmy wouldn't approve of that. "It's not the kind of thing you want to do halfway. It might be a cliché to say we're gonna turn it up to 11 - but I imagine we'll start loud and just get louder."

Just Ace of Spades, Nov. 9, 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. at the Boat, 158 Augusta Ave., $5 cover or minimum pledge. For information and pledge forms, visit Indiepolitik.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, November 04 at 2:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)



Thank you, fawning crony!

Posted by zoilus on November 7, 2005 7:45 PM



Also, I can only add: "Pitchfork + New York Times Arts Section + Fawning Cronies" sounds like the recipe for a good night on the town (though I'd be tempted to add "+ 26er of Brights Cooking Sherry + Japanese Triplets"

Posted by doug on November 7, 2005 4:13 PM



You've now written the second most entertaining thing I've read about Motorhead all week. The best his this one:

The Motorhead way: Lemmy's social policy

Maev Kennedy
4 November 2005
The Guardian

The man's been around for a while and it's beginning to show: shoulders a little bowed, trademark sideburns now snow white. But if William Graham, the Conservativ e Welsh assembly member for South Wales East, looks every day of his 56 years, Lemmy - four years his senior, motormouth frontman of Motorhead, officially the loudest band in the world - was positively sparkling.

The politician (blue pinstripe suit, white shirt, blue tie, white rose) yesterday invited the musician (black cowboy shirt, hat, boots, jeans, beard, silver embroidered eagles, spurs, and chest hair) to the Welsh assembly in Cardiff, to give his opinions on drugs, based on a lifetime's field research.

Mr Graham's office said the meeting had been organised because Lemmy's views seemed "too important to confine to 1.30am on the radio" - so often with small-hours listening you doze off and only remember half the argument.

Mr Lemmy - born Ian Fraser Kilmister in Stoke-on-Trent, son of a vicar who vanished before his first birthday, brought up by his mother and step father in north Wales - has poured scorn on heroin and heroin users, but has also described it as "the only drug I hate". His drug of choice may now be Jack Daniel, but his glory days on speed are well documented and he has also described acid as his favourite drug.

As the metal detector gate bleeped its distress over the cowboy belt, assembly members - several checked that the invitation wasn't a windup - secretaries, translators, catering staff, security, media and fans piled in. One politician, giggling like a schoolboy, dug a colleague in the ribs: "You and your 'how do you do?' You should have said 'rock on!'"

The scrum had far outgrown the committee room, so an impromptu conference was held in the foyer. Lemmy took out two sheets of paper, apologising for using notes. Mr Graham looked politely expectant. Heroin was a killer, Lemmy said. Mr Graham nodded. Heroin made people into thieves and liars. Mr Graham nodded again. "There is only one answer," Lemmy said, "legalise it." Mr Graham, a former magistrate, blinked twice.

Lemmy continued remorselessly: locking up mainly peaceable young users not only ensured they were criminals when they came out, but that they were probably also brutally sodomised in prison. There were a few seconds' stunned silence, before a chorus of voices asked Mr Graham if he agreed with his guest. "It's certainly part of the debate," Mr Graham said faintly.

Lemmy made a politicianly sidestep when asked if all other drugs should be legalised. "I'm not here to talk about other drugs. I haven't got time. Heroin's the only one I've seen someone die of."

Out of the public gaze, they may have discovered other policy rifts. Mr Graham, chair of the school funding committee, has denounced Labour's plans for school breakfasts for children in Wales as "a gigantic con", declaring: "As we have argued, children are better off having breakfast at home with their families."

Mr Lemmy's views on family are just as trenchant: "As a lifestyle it sucks," he told an interviewer. "I could never imagine looking at the same face over the cornflakes for the rest of my life."

Mr Graham admitted he was not familiar with all of Mr Lemmy's back catalogue, apart from the Ace of Spades. However, it turns out there are fewer than five degrees of separation between the South Wales Tories and the world of leather and ruptured eardrums.

Mr Graham's researcher is Paul Williams, who once wrote lyrics for a Welsh light-heavy metal band called Touch, which way back in the 1970s was once the support act for Lemmy's former band, Hawkwind, from which he was forcibly ejected after serving time in Canada for drug possession. He, it was, who invited Lemmy, on learning that he was in Cardiff for a concert last night.

Asked about his own musical tastes, Mr Graham said: "I have three children, I listen to what they're playing. Westlife, Coldplay . . . as a good nonconformist, I like a good Welsh hymn of course."

For his part Lemmy said: "I don't believe in any politicians, if anything I'm more of an anarchist."

Posted by doug on November 7, 2005 3:58 PM



zoilus = pitchfork + new york times music section + fawning crony comments

Posted by christie on November 7, 2005 1:29 PM



You're right about the beats, Jody - which must be why Big Boi of OutKast calls Bush his second-greatest inspiration and Tricky called her better than the Beatles. Big Boi said a couple of years ago that he wanted to get Bush's collaboration on the next OutKast album; so far no news on that front. Given Bush's fairly solitary ways, I suspect it's a long shot.

That said, beats are not the strength of Aerial - the drumming is the least fresh part of it, unfortunately.

Posted by zoilus on November 6, 2005 7:04 PM



Thanks, Carl, for (as usual) an elegant piece, and for mentioning Bjork. It may well be conventional wisdom that Bush is Bjork's fairy godmother (I frankly haven't read enough about either to know); if it isn't the CW, it should be. I can't listen to Bjork (whom I revere) without hearing Kate, especially in re: the mix of operatic art rock and dope beats. It's the beats, in fact, that have really knocked my socks off when I've revisited Bush's records in recent years. She was just way, way, WAY ahead of her time. She's the Timbaland of the Midlands...

Posted by jody on November 6, 2005 10:53 AM



Yeyeh! The perfect reason to buy the new Kate Bush album: Carl Wilson says I should...

Posted by b on November 5, 2005 7:59 PM



wonderful aerial review, carl. i cannot stop listening to this record.

Posted by markp on November 5, 2005 9:38 AM



She always did look more like an English aunt than she made it seem through stage magic, didn't she?

Posted by Dixon on November 4, 2005 7:08 PM




Zoilus by Carl Wilson