Tuesday, October 16, 2018


OK, so it was only when the facebook link to my last post alerted me that I realised Homecoming to be peculiarly and specifically an american concept, relating to (high) schools inviting back past alumni, for a dance to celebrate the existence of the institution in question. And football?! Who knew? Certainly not me, although I suddenly get a whole lot of references from "Romy and Micheles High School Reunion" to the Monkees. Anyway, this piece too, like those of my colleagues, is nothing at all to do with that. (Except, arguably, on a metaphysical level.........)

Soulsavers are a remarkable concept, the idea of Rich Machin and Ian Glover, two british producers who somehow have conjured a knack of getting some of the most distinctive vocalists around to sing on their electronica take on what I would broadly categorise as gospel music, possibly not (but probably) including in any religious sense. Perhaps if a little veiled as to any particular divinity. Sorry, sprawling intro, but it is tricky for modern musicians to overtly ally themselves to any accepted spirituality beyond the vague. Or maybe difficult for me and my generation, avowedly secular, to accept such. I can find little back story as to how these two honed their craft. 2003 saw their first record, 'Tough Guys Don't Dance', the template immediately set out with sombre and dark sounds, sombre and dark imagery and sombre, dark, often lugubrious vocals. Here's 'Love' from that record, a style remaining and in no need of change. The singer is Josh Haden, son of Charlie, and erstwhile lead singer of the short lived 'Spain', well worthy of recommendation in their own right.

Second album, 'It's Not How You Fall, It's How You Land', saw them bring in Mark Lanegan, whose gothic tones have increasingly added a little black, or is it white, magic to any number of artists, as well as building up quite a catalogue of his own. With his back story of gaol and addiction, who better to sing of a curiously old testament redemption and revival?

Third album, 'Broken', again included Lanegan, amongst others including Jason Pierce, whose 'Spiritualised' had been mining, and still do, a similar vein. This took deeper still the atmospheric, exemplified by this version of this Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) track, he also appearing on this and the last record. (And here's Billy's version.)

The song featured in this article comes from number 4, 'The Light the Dead See', which, on the back of the critical breakthrough achieved by 'Broken', had the genius of recruiting Dave Gahan in the Lanegan role. Perhaps as famous for his overdosing near-death experiences as for his fronting of electro-band Depeche Mode, interviews had already revealed his deep melancholic beliefs. When Soulsavers were chosen to support Depeche Mode on a 2012 tour, it was perhaps inevitable he would end up writing and singing with/for them. Not for nothing was the title of his main bands 1993 album 'Songs of Love and Devotion'.

'Take Me Back Home' is one of many highlights from this remarkable album, the references aplenty as to where that home may be. It can move me to impossible places, to states akin to a mystical reverie, almost damascene in intensity. It is only my hard fought for cynicism that enables me to pretend I hear not the beseechments to (a) god. Or to God? As intensity goes it can go little further. And it can't get more overt than the song below.

Gahan has stayed on board a while longer, to the extent of the next release coming under the Dave Gahan & Soulsavers soubriquet, a step backwards for me, experientially, even if the songs, on 'Angels & Ghosts', were nearly as powerful. Strangely, the giving of a name extruded a taste of Mammon. Some of the magic was gone. Perhaps indicatively, the next release was back to the core duo, and instrumental, a film soundtrack, 'Kubrick', no clues in the lyrics, and fewer from the subject matter of the film. But no mistaking the music.

I remain an atheist. I think.

I could just point you toward the named track. Hell, or is that heck, hit the main page.

HOMECOMING: Homeward Bound

purchase [Homeward Bound]

OK. Sorry. With this post I show my age, but I can't help myself.

Simon & Garfunkel's [Parsley, Sage...] was among my first LPs, and for those of us of that generation, it was momentous. It bridged a gap between generations by making folk  ... popular. If not exactly rock. That came next.

For those of my age, Simon & Garfunkel was/were integral - our entrance to the world of pop.rock.

The theme of [Going home/homecoming] carries more baggage for Americans if not for other cultures (maybe think Spring break in Florida).

My choice may be no high school homecoming (that's a separate realm all to itself), but it touches on the theme of going back. Back to a past that you recall, but is probably no longer the same.

The American Homecoming weekend tradition plays upon these emotions: bringing you together with those days (in the hopes that you will stay connected/subscribing)

Homecoming: A Sort of Homecoming

U2: A Sort of Homecoming

“A Sort of Homecoming” is a strange song in the U2 canon. It was not a hit, it is rarely played live (more on that, later), but it has long been one of my favorites—and in researching this piece, I found that there are many U2 fans who really love the song. As most of us know, U2 burst upon the scene with their remarkable debut, Boy, in 1980. I remember hearing it and playing it on WPRB, and being struck by the uniqueness of their sound, their earnestness, and their confidence, despite the fact that they were so young. The next album, October, was a minor stumble—not terrible, but somehow not fully realized. Their third album, War, was, start to finish, a great album, filled with anthems and love songs, delivered with passion, bravado, and musical talent. I saw them on that tour, at the Pier in New York, and was blown away. The album was a huge hit, and the album spawned hit singles—it was U2’s breakthrough into mass popularity.

When the band prepared to record its follow up, though, they wanted to move in a different direction, with less bombast and sloganeering. They wanted to work with Brian Eno, who initially was unimpressed by the band, and was planning to fob them off on his engineer, Daniel Lanois. Ultimately, though, Eno was convinced, and he agreed to work with U2 (along with Lanois), and try to create a more mature sound for the band. Not surprisingly, considering the production team, the collaboration resulted in The Unforgettable Fire, which was a more atmospheric and subtle album, but without losing the power of War. The two records are probably my favorite U2 albums (most critics probably go with The Joshua Tree or Achtung, Baby!, and I like them, too, but not as much).

“A Sort of Homecoming” is named after a line by poet Paul Celan, who Bono had been reading, in a speech he delivered on October 20, 1960, about five months after Bono was born, when Celan was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize. In that speech, Ceran discussed Büchner’s work, art, and poetry, and in his view, the circularity of poetry. He went on to say (in German, but I found a translation):

Is it on such paths that poems take us when we think of them? And are these paths only detours, detours from you to you? But they are, among how many others, the paths on which language becomes voice. They are encounters, paths from a voice to a listening You, natural paths, outlines for existence, perhaps, for projecting ourselves into the search for ourselves. . . . A kind of homecoming. 

I’ll bet you never thought that we’d be discussing German literature when you started reading this music blog post, did you? But critics note that this song, and the whole Unforgettable Fire album, show a more Celan-like spiritual doubt as compared to the more certain religious themes of their prior work.

Although I've never read Celan (but have read a little Büchner), what grabbed me about the song was the sense of yearning, both lyrically and musically, that is palpable from its quiet, polyrhythmic opening, to its more intense end. Note that the song is not called just “Homecoming,” it is “A Sort of Homecoming,” so it is fitting that lyrically it works on so many levels—as a personal homecoming to Bono’s native Ireland, as the “homecoming” of his late mother, as a return from war (possibly the violence that was engulfing Ireland at the time), and as a spiritual renewal. And maybe more. Ultimately, though, the song ends with the comforting thought:

Oh don't sorrow, no don't weep 
For tonight, at last 
I am coming home 
I am coming home 

U2 played the song pretty regularly from 1984-1987, as they toured in support of The Unforgettable Fire and its follow-up, The Joshua Tree. There’s an excellent, if more triumphant and less atmospheric, live version from 1984, released on 1985’s EP Wide Awake In America (which is an odd title, because the song was actually recorded at a soundcheck before a show in London, with the crowd noises dubbed in later). But they basically ditched it from their setlist until a performance in 2001 at Slane Castle, in Ireland, which was described on one site as “somewhat shambolic, with Bono struggling to remember the lyrics.”

It made another appearance that year under very unusual circumstances, in Oakland on November 16, 2001. A devoted U2 fan and guitarist, Scott Perretta, had seen U2 pull people out of the audience on occasion to play guitar, and decided to see if he could make that happen for him. He went to the show on November 15 with a sign that said Me + Guitar = People? Knockin? Watchtower? Anything! and planted himself by the stage. U2 security asked if could actually play, because the band got pissed off when poseurs were selected and couldn’t. Assured by Peretta’s friends that he was legit, the security director said that if Bono was interested, he’d give Peretta a signal. But it didn’t happen.

Until the next night, when Peretta could see Bono and the Edge checking out his sign, and they invited him onstage. Peretta started playing the opening to “Homecoming,” which surprised them (since it wasn't on the sign, and wasn't as noted above, a regular part of their set), but they went with it, despite the fact that Bono couldn’t remember the lyrics.  He started ad-libbing about the song, crediting Van Morrison for its inspiration, before turning it into a prayer for the United States, which only two months before had suffered the 9/11 attacks. The crowd went wild. Here’s the audio of the performance. Here’s Peretta’s detailed recollection of the night, and here and here are short audience videos showing him onstage.

As Peretta wrote about that night: “I can die happy now.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018


Ain't this just the saddest song, a heartfelt plea, no, a searing moan, from a fading and failing heart, stranded out on the road, miles from home, and in probably the wrong direction? Hear it again here, in demo format, and it is way bleaker still, a last gasp, a vainglorious grasping at an unattainable rose-tinted past. Magnificent.

In truth I know little about Rich beyond this song. This version featured here is a late career 1993 reprise which, give or take the choir, exudes just a bit more pathos than the 1973 original or the better known 1975 version. It was quite a shock to discover this song was actually the work of a then quite young man. He first cropped up on Sun records, starting out, nominally, as a rocker, ahead of cementing his name in the Nashville 60s 'Countrypolitan' movement. I have also discovered he was behind this shocker of a song, an ear worm that can destroy any moment: I usually find myself singing it as I go shopping or mow the lawn, then finding it sticks with me for days, to the eternal annoyance of all I come into contact with. (And, no, I am not going to grace it by name, for fear of triggering another bout.) In fact, he had a number of careers, across a number of labels and styles, although all broadly within the country canon. It is also fair to say he was a colourful figure, that euphemism so beloved of obituary writers for unrepentant boozehounds. He died, fairly suddenly, of a pulmonary embolism, in transit for, ironically, not home, but going on vacation.

It is a song that hasn't had that many covers, the ones I have being on a Jools Holland country LP, featuring sometime popstrel Sam, daughter of Joe, Brown and on Mark Knopfler's early side project, the Notting Hillbillies. The first, clearly more a showcase for the bandleader's ivory tinkling, the latter  just a bit too slow for comfort. But the one that stands out for me is the one below, as performed by Scotland's majestic Battlefield Band, where the song seems to be drenched in hues of expatriate regret, almost a genetic memory of the homeland, tugging ceaselessly at the heartstrings of the vast scots-irish diaspora, no matter how many generations since the auld country became little more than a distant dream.