Friday, July 28, 2006

Music for the missus (part 4)

After scoring a trio of top 40 hits in the 1980s, Hue And Cry returned to the public consciousness last year when it was part of the ITV reality show "Hit Me Baby One More Time." The program's premise was simple: each week, five former pop stars sing their biggest hit along with a cover version of a contemporary hit; one winner is then picked from each via a phone vote.

Hue And Cry performed "Labour Of Love," which went to No. 6 in the U.K. in 1987, and ultimately won its group, besting performers such as China Black and The Real Thing. The Coatbridge duo, comprised of the brothers Pat and Greg Kane, ultimately finished second to Welshman Shakin' Stevens.

However, the Kane brothers did use their television stint as a means for reevaluating their careers ("The show revealed something surprising to us," Pat Kane said here, "which is that we could be a 'Saturday Night' act again, rather than a 'Tuesday Morning' one.") and eventually they parlayed the peformances into a string of sell-out dates in Scotland, including a support slot for Jamie Cullum at the Live On The Lawn festival, and a set in front of 25,000 at Glasgow's Hogmanay festivities.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Looking For Linda" by Hue And Cry. One of the group's bigger U.K. hits, the track was inspired by a true story of a woman who left home to buy cigarettes -- and ended up boarding a train to find a new life.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Music for the missus (part 3)

Dogged comparisons to The Smiths have nipped at the heels of Trashcan Sinatras since the release of their first album, 1990's Cake. Such comparisons were frequently unfair, though, as Trashcan Sinatras lacked the noted urgency of a Johnny Marr and the lyrical irony of a Morrissey. (This, however, didn't stop the band from performing a Smiths' tune, "I Know It's Over," for the 1996 compilation, The Smiths Is Dead, which was released by the French magazine, Les Inrockuptibles.)

Regardless, Trashcan Sinatras -- who are more in line with acts such as fellow countrymen Travis -- have enjoyed a rather successful career (spats with the NME aside), emerging in the 1990s as one of the leading adult alternative pop acts in the U.K.

After following up two renowned first albums with the haphazard -- both for its songwriting and production -- A Happy Pocket, the Glasgow fivesome got back on track with 2004's Weightlifting. Filled with both uplifting, uptempo numbers and tracks of reflective melancholy, the album harkened back to the group's earlier, stronger days.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Got Carried Away" by Trashcan Sinatras.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Music for the missus (part 2)

The Blue Nile are a study in contrasts. Crafting soundscapes with traditionally "cold" instruments (synthesizers and electronic percussion), they still manage to achieve a warmth in their music thanks to the tender, affecting voice of Paul Buchanan and his all-too-human lyrics. Also, there exists a geuine love for the songwriting craft, however, the Glasgow trio has released just four LPs in over 20 years of being together.

Hats is widely regarded as the group's masterwork album. Here, the band's character sketches of lovelorn and lonesome souls trapped in an urban purgatory are more vibrant than ever. "Hats is a synonym for people in all their faded glory," Buchanan once said. "A hat gives them a character and comes to represent the individual."

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Let's Go Out Tonight" by The Blue Nile. A song with a deceiving moniker, as it doesn't detail a couple celebrating their association, but rather, a relationship in its death throes.

"I know a place/Where everything's alright, alright/Let's go out tonight." Buchanan could be singing about an old stomping ground, a locale where heavenly memories were once forged, or the very past itself: the relationship's dizzying, early days, alluring to the protagonist for their purity.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Music for the missus (part 1)

Wife: My cousin was talking about blogs the other day. You ever heard of these?

Me: Sure have. I got one.

Wife: Really? What's it about?

Me: Pop music of the obscure and tartan kind, from Scottish artists that only myself and roughly a dozen others scattered across the globe deeply care about.

Wife, rendered speechless for probably the first time in her life.

Me: Basically, it means I won’t be writing about "American Idol."

I won't fib: I've been mired in general blog malaise as of late. So, rather than disappear for a few weeks and return with the customary "I'm sorry I haven't been around much, but I promise to update more in the future!" response, I've decided to shake things up. (The scant few of you who were expecting posts on say . . . APB, will be disappointed. Bear with me here.)

This week, I'm dedicating songs to my lovely wife, who's forever been a fan of them ditties of the fluffy and airy, radio friendly, soft AC variety (excluding that two-year NKOTB phase I’ve heard so much about).

And, keeping in mind my wife's affinity for all things "American Idol" . . . . I'll kick things off with a quote from good ol' Simon Cowell.

"If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning."

Simon would have never uttered this about Ricky Ross' smoky voice. Ross was the lead singer for Glasgow's Deacon Blue, who made a big splash (pun intended) with their 1987 debut, Raintown. Chronicling everyday life among grimy urban sprawl, Raintown was a masterpiece, both for its deft blend of melodies and melancholy, and its stunning visuals. (Raintown features some of my favorite album art; the cover shows a view of a dreich Glasgow skyline -- including the famous Finnieston Crane –- while the back features a long-exposure shot of the M8.)

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Chocolate Girl" by Deacon Blue.