Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This is supposed to sound really profound, it prob'ly sounds trite

Yesterday Edwyn Collins was on Front Row, giving possibly his first interview since his brain haemorrhage two years ago. It was the first I’d heard, anyway. So great to hear him talk and sing again. Here is a review I wrote when his masterpiece Ostrich Churchyard was re-released as The Glasgow School in 2005. Andy was thinking of doing a fanzine and it was supposed to be for that, but it didn’t quite happen, so it appears here for the first time.

Orange Juice - The Glasgow School

Slightly more than a few years ago I was in the Dundee student union, having a game of lunchtime pool. Playing my usual tactical game of utter inconsistency. This wasn't in itself unusual, but if you'd taken a good look at my face, maybe you'd have seen. On the inside, Orange Juice's 'Falling and Laughing' stretched itself out and around my heart, lungs and other vitals. I'd got a date - or thought I had - and a two song imaginary jukebox had set itself up on a loop, alternating this with The Crystals' 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town', only with the girl in question's name substituted for 'Santa Claus'. The second song was a brash 'Yippee!'; the first a trembling and glowing secret, happily hidden from my pool adversaries. 'They say that there's a thousand like you / Well maybe that's true / I fell for you and nobody else' (that 'else'! - so deadpan, so provisional!)

It's utterly appropriate for an early Orange Juice song to equate to a bright romantic yearning, because that's their sound. Not punk mixed with disco or whatever: nothing so technical. Blind naïve adoration, no strings. Never approaching the angst of Violent Femmes or the bloody mindedness of The Smiths on similar topics, Orange Juice take 'the pleasure with the pain' without bitterness or even question: good things happen, bad things happen, that's how life works, is their philosophy. No regrets if it goes wrong, there's always tomorrow. And consequently, 'The Glasgow School' / 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever' is / are (you gotta hear them both - I can't choose between them) the deftest, lightest of records: it gives, and is lovable, so lovable.

To explain that last bit: Orange Juice's debut LP exists in two versions. The first, 'Ostrich Churchyard', was recorded, along with their early singles, for the independent Postcard label; the second, 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever', came out on Polydor, and delayed the release of 'Ostrich Churchyard' by ten years (until 1992). Wouldn't want to confuse anyone, would they? 'The Glasgow School' collects all the Postcard stuff.

The big thrill for me - because I'd never heard it - is the inclusion of the original 'Falling and Laughing' single. It sounds clunkily rehearsal room at first, the words half bellowed, where the version on 'You Can't Hide Your Love Forever' is studio produced and crooned. A listen or two later, the edges wear away and the song opens up, a giddy mess of falling downstairs disco and laughing carefree guitar. This is 'The Glasgow School' all over. First off, you're not convinced they can play. Timing is loose, Edwyn's singing slides around the place like an egg in a frying pan. The slick (and great) horn arrangements of '...Forever' aren't there, and the drums are emphatically not played to a click track. Guitars are ...frizzier. Only word for it. The band sound like they're having a great time in there. So you don't care that they can't play because if not playing sounds like this then you can keep your virtuosity.

Edwyn's singing, did I say? Is molten, alive, fleet of foot, 'I could be kidding you on', impossible to pin down because of its viscosity. On this record he's dancing with the gods, putting in the performance of his life without even trying. Because he's not trying. It's a hard thing to imagine on the basis of later records where the twinkle in the eye and the volatility disappear, the jokes become more heavy handed and the clichés start to intrude. Because he's trying too hard. Not that his later records are bad records, but they don't have the easy genius of this one. It's true of a lot of people, that they can't recapture the first rush of youth. But few flew so high in the first place as Edwyn.

He had a great foil in James Kirk, the guitarist who sings a couple of songs here (not 'Felicity' - I had to double check). His solo LP of a few years ago ('You Can Make It If You Boogie') actually came pretty close to rediscovering the stuff of which 'The Glasgow School' is made. So he was the Kim Deal to Edwyn's Black Francis then, perhaps - the one who did the spirit-embodying but only got to sing the occasional song. He was kicked out of the band for being too shambolic, of all things! And when they stopped shambling, things were never as good again. Here he's great though. A voice at once laid back and quavering, jumping-all-over-the-place song structures, and a ragged glory guitar with a William Reid fringe.

To someone who, as you may have gathered, is a little obsessive about early Orange Juice, it's peculiar to hear the singles juxtaposed with 'Ostrich Churchyard'. They're less of a piece than I expected. The LP is wholly gentle, from the best-opening-song-ever of 'Louise Louise' through the 'Will you dance?' / 'Sure I'll dance!' combo of 'Intuition Told Me' (parts 1 and 2) and onwards. The singles - which kick off the collection - are more obviously the product of post-punk times. I never really got 'Blue Boy', because its raucous edge, though fun, hardly seemed Orange Juice's strongest suit. Others will tell you it's the single which near enough invented Scottish indie rock, so what do I know? 'Poor Old Soul' is a storming pop moment though, and instrumental 'Moscow' starts out on a 'We're as tough as the Velvet Underground in drone mode' trip before dissolving deliciously into the poppiest surf guitar you ever heard. They can't help themselves. But you should.


Richard said...

Perhaps this is also the right forum for your Scott Walker piece that was supposed to see print in another never-to-appear fanzine? I still have a copy if you don't!

Chris said...

That must be fairly old - I don't remember it at all.

Re: your Ustinov quote, I had a panel of 'Peanuts' all ready to post, Schroeder looking blankly at Charlie Brown across his piano and Beethoven bust, and Charlie saying, 'Now, how about a little Tchaikowski?'

But you can't put images in comments. What's with that?

matsrep said...

Well put! These are the greatest of albums. Nowadays one can programme the You can't ... reissue with the b-side Intuition told me so part II after part I (and You old eccentric as next to last song before In a nutshell). Makes a great album even better!

Do you remember that there is a 3rd version of Falling and laughing, from a peel session, which sounds like an 'intermediate mix' version: it is better played (and recorded) than the single version, but punkier than the album version, with great guitars. I think that it appears on Ostrich Churchyard (or The Heather's on Fire).

Chris said...

Hello matsrep, sorry it's taken ages to reply, I've been away.

No, I haven't heard that version - 'The Heather's on Fire' is even harder to get than 'Ostrich Churchyard' used to be, isn't it? Never did track it down.

I recently found a later session here:

which is pretty lovely.

matsrep said...

Hi, I checked it up: Falling and laughing (Peel Session) is on Ostrich Churchyard.

The Jensen tracks are fine!

There have been some OJ mk 1 live recordings floating around the internet. Lovely stuff!

Chris said...

> Hi, I checked it up: Falling and laughing (Peel Session) is on Ostrich Churchyard.

They're not on the LP though, just the CD. Still, what would life be without an unattainable 'Lick My Decals Off, Baby' or two just over the horizon?

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