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Tuesday, November 25, 2003
One of the reasons I like putting CDs in binders (although I mainly don't anymore) is that sometimes you'll see a CD and forget what the hell it is. This happened the other night whilst flipping through one of my binders (looking for Blur's 13, as it happens, which it appears I've lost--damnit!), and I put the mystery CD in my changer to listen to later. I just put it on tonight and it turned out to be Gavin Friday's "Shag Tobacco."

And--oh my god--what a fucking great record.

It's like a whole disc of b-sides for Pulp's This is Hardcore, sorta--dark grooves and sex and lots of bass, while still being very English and theatrical and like that. The AMG review pegs it as an early trip-hop thing, predating Mezzanine but still having a remarkably Massive Attack-ish single called "Angel." This is from '96, y'all.

It's also interesting to hear because it sounds like a strain of our musical past (relatively speaking) that remains almost entirely unre-explored. You hear it, too, in Scott Walker, but what Friday's doing lyrically is very different from, say, Portishead, and musically it's way different from what we hear today. Sure, people are doing the cabaret-pop thing, but they're almost always doing it with much more of a wink and a nod than you see here--Momus and Stephen Merrit come close, but they both have too much of a tendency towards dittyism to qualify, and we won't even get into the way that electroclash vocalists have totally misinterpreted the point of cabaret. Dan Bejar comes really close, but he's never seen fit to go whole-hog with arrangements the way Friday does here; certainly you'll never hear something like "Mr. Pussy," which starts off with a oom-pah band before a full, huge string section swoops in for a minute or so before ducking back out for a spoken-word interlude. Tom Waits does the Weill thing well, but there's always seemed to be almost no sex in his worldview. (If there is sex, it's only there as a blink between arguments or the more interesting, to Waits, bits of pickups or passed-out nights or freakshows, etc.)

Of course, it's also interesting because, while I never listened to the album very much, one song on it has a very strong resonance for me. The second track, "Caruso," had a favored place on one of the first mix tapes my friend Vanessa Floyd made for me, and it was pretty much those mix tapes that introduced me to the wider world of music. (I lied, Vanessa--I didn't own Parklife at the time...) If I recall correctly, Vanessa liked that song so much that she wrote her college entrance essay on it, which yes, is pretty much the coolest thing I can think of. It still sounds amazing today--it's just a plain old great song. So is "You, Me, and World War III," if you're P2Ping for tracks.

I kind of miss Vanessa--I think she more or less permanently abandoned our hometown, and I haven't heard from her in quite some time. If you happen to read this Ms. Floyd, drop me a line--I owe you a mix CD or two...

So anyway, I think I'll be putting this disc into regular rotation, and maybe I'll have a thing or two additionally to say in the coming days. We shall see...