The Wolf is Getting Married and he’ll never cry again – Sinead O’Connor

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor

Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
Your hope gives me hope

The Voice is back.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - videoSinead O’Connor is not Prince prolific and she is not quite Kate Bush reticent but she takes her time making her music. Her first album The Lion and The Cobra was delivered in 1987, and next month sees the release of her ninth studio album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? on the One Little Indian label. And this one was overdue – prior to this an album appeared every couple of years but her last album Theology is now over five years old. I was concerned she may have sworn a vow of silence and covers of John Cage’s Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds not withstanding this would certainly have not been good for her music career.

There is much hyperbole about Sinead O’Connor’s voice. I though am not prone to exaggeration so let us just say if the spirit of the universe could discharge itself in song and sing along to the music of the spheres its voice would probably sound like Sinead O’Connor’s and leave it at that.

The Wolf is Getting Married is the song that she is back with. And taken from and thus a preview of the alluded to album How About I Be Me (And You Be You) – well how about it reader?!

And what a song it is. A lot for that album to live up to. I hope it does not eclipse it.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - arm tattoo

I have listened to a lot of music in my time, probably too much music in my time. I certainly spent far too much of my teenage years listening to music every waking hour, often non-waking hours too, drifting off to sleep with headphones still welded to me – I was a joy to live with! I wasn’t a joy to live with of course, I was as happy as Larry, as Larry David. At this time I was also a genius, a misunderstood one naturally. The world did not understand me, so how could my parents. My poor parents. And keep in mind that my teenage years did not end on my twentieth birthday but continued well into my twenties, and it was only in my early-thirties that I finally became a grown-up. I think. Anyway you get the picture – well try not to think about the picture too much – I spent a lot of my precious time listening to not always precious music.

And in reaction to that I turned away from music. Though only in to the arms of other obsessions such as film and books. Moderation is I realise my only moderation.

I share all of this only by roundabout way of saying that I am not easily impressed let alone overwhelmed by music these days. Being overwhelmed by a song for me now will mean I will buy it and be entranced by it and perhaps listen to it as much as six times

This song on the other hand I have done something I have not done in decades – I have played it back-to-back non-stop a dozen or so times. And I still cannot get enough of it. And yet I would struggle to explain to you why. I struggle to make sense of it myself.

I don’t know what it is about it the song. It is catchy but no more than say a Pink song is catchy. Her voice is as I modestly described it earlier as singularly evocative-as-time as ever, but there is nothing beyond, beyond that perfection. Perhaps there is though and it is her joy – that she usually has a range of feelings and emotions with a matrix of  melancholy, anger, bitterness, tenderness but not pleasure.

I referred to her album history earlier and which may have implied that with each of those releases I was eagerly expectant. But not so. My first encounter with Sinead O’Connor was with Troy an early song of hers back in the late 1980’s – the first of my song obsessions of hers  – and duly bought the album it came from, The Lion and the Cobra, too. Then shortly after came her extraordinary earth-stopping cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U – yes Prince, visionary as he was, in the 80’s was using Text-speak before there was even Text messaging to make use of it! Maybe his enigmatic squiggle symbol will come to make sense yet. It is perhaps surprising that Prince did not then pen other songs with her in mind as he wrote  many good ones for other artists but perhaps two giant egos were always going to be kept apart by the monsters envy and jealousy.

Yet despite this early impression upon me I was a fair-weather fan only staying with her as far as 1992’s Am I Not Your Girl? A title unintentionally ironic in retrospect.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - video shot

The Wolf is Getting Married is making me catch up on lost time as I start to devour her catalogue between 1992 and now.

Her voice merits a capital v in the same way that Maria Callas, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley merit a V. Okay I have already done the hyperbole!

Your smile makes me smile, your laugh makes me laugh, your joy gives me joy, your hope gives me hope so verses this song, or is it choruses.

These lyrics are pure poetry. Lucid, beautiful. It is strange the artificial distinctions between the genres song-lyrics and poetry as if like two separate species. Poetry is treated with academic seriousness and reverential respect yet by the public at large if not with outright contempt then yawning indifference whereas song-lyrics are treated as frivolous and unworthy of too much academic effort and critical attention with a few venerable wordy exceptions like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello (and where even then a passage of creaking time must lapse first), yet they are loved by us the great-unwashed at large. Granted many lyrics that seem profound and moving when sung and heard can read banal on the cool of paper and cold of the computer screen – and I will resist going off on another digression about the written versus the spoken word.

The song itself starts with the lines

I used to have no wolves around me
I was too free if that’s possible to be

The main chorus is

But the sun is peeping ouf of the sky.
Where there used to be only grey
The wolf is getting married, and he’ll never cry again

Such a romantic notion this latter line. Sad too in light of her recent separation from Barry Herridge after only 16 days – though like the ‘are they on, are they off?’ of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor – I am sure there must be a more contemporary reference! – I believe they are now as I type this ‘on’ – as you read it they may be ‘off’ again – or ‘on’. Toss a coin.

Though this is a new release she was performing this at concerts as early as July last year and so before her marriage in December of that year. And I should perhaps add her fourth marriage at that. So the never-crying-again-wolf is either a sign of her eternal optimism or foolishness, both of which are anyway eternally romantic notions!

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'ConnorI referred earlier to the main chorus because the opening quoted lyrics of “Your smile makes me smile’ is refrained twice and a third shorter variant of it also. As in The Wolf is Getting Married it is not clear which lines are the chorus and which are the verses – perhaps it is a song only of choruses.

Inevitably there is a video with this song, which according to MTV’s Buzzworthy, is directed by Breton, a multi-media London-based outfit. It might be described as Arty. Well the images from that video punctuate this post so you can make up your own mind about that! Feedback to it has been less positive that the song itself. Not so much hostile as hostile indifference – you know that it is boring like watching the paint dry, on Sinead O’Connor finger-nails.

It is shot in one spacious room. Sinead O’Connor bound into a wooden-chair by her wedding dress – a wedding dress were it designed by a young Alexander McQueen long before he was an international brand and Sarah Burton was making light Royal commissions for Kate Middleton in his name I should perhaps needlessly add, as her head is bandaged invisible-man style, threads of strings radiating out toward the nether-edges of the room.  And to give you an idea of the pace of this unravelling even by the end of the three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of this song we have only progressed as far as revealing Sinead’s eyes and her left shoulder.

I am trying really really hard to resist the obvious metaphor about a marriage unravelling before it has barely returned back down the aisle!

I like the video. It does not distract from the song – it allows me to just listen to it without being distracted by the gee-whiz gizmo tricks pop video directors usually try their hands at with Hollywood in their heart.

l like the fact that it is low-budget too, even a little half-arsed.

Believe it or not I did initally intend a brief uncritical-fan post expressing my love for this song and half-love for the video but here we are – or maybe here I am! – near seventeen hundred-words later still meandering around with no end in sight.

When in-spite of all my words just four of them could instead have expressed it succinctly:

I love you Sinead!

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor

Criminal Video – Britney Spears

Britney Spears Criminal Opening sceneCriminal is the latest song from Britney Spears, released last month. The most recent single from her seventh studio album Femme Fatale.

Britney Spears CriminalIn the video that accompanies it a one-couple crime-wave is unleashed by Britney Spears and her boyfriend – I have avoided making the Bonnie and Clyde comparison, damn!

Britney Spears CriminalIt seems another age now since she first burst onto the pop-scene with ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ proving to be more than just a one-hit wonder, more than just another passing pop fad. Like her other pop contemporaries of the time Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake they have all endured, continuing to make great pop music if Britney herself the more hit and miss of the three.

Justin Timberlake indeed has successfully made that usually doomed transition from the pop stage to the cinema screen (think Prince, think Madonna) with The Social Network and Friends with Benefits – nevertheless more of the music please Justin.

Criminal is an unusual popsong in that it has a flute – but please don’t think Jethro Tull! – providing a recurring theme to the persistent beat of the song itself. Lyrically it is in the tradition of the Shangri-Las – Britney running away with a bad-boy and pleading with her Mum not to disown her – remember I Can Never Go Home Anymore? – but musically it has none of the melodrama of those Shadow Morton produced epics.

Britney Spears CriminalThe video though does have pretensions of higher things.

The video director is New Yorker Chris Marrs Piliero, whose most famous pop video to date perhaps is the witty ‘Tighten Up’ by The Black Keys, who sees himself here it seems as a film director – and why not – with Criminal a stab towards his Hollywood CV.

The first clue of this being the inclusion of opening credits, the video later ending with a long credit role.

Add to that it is filmed in 16:9 aspect ratio.

Britney Spears CriminalThe video itself as Britney Spears living a double life – day-job as a lady of high society, off the clock a less than petty-criminal sticking up local convenience stores.

An early getaway scene sees the two partners in crime fleeing a party – Britney Spears having booted her be-floored assailant in the family jewels – on a motorbike in traffic which red Double Decker buses establishes that the City we are in is London. And not the Tourist spots of London either but Stoke Newington – I wonder how this Hackney area came to their attention? It was one of the riot-affected London areas so perhaps that is how?

Her villainous accomplice is her jobbing actor boyfriend Jason Trawick – what’s a little nepotism from your millionaire girlfriend?!

Later in a preposterous scene that might have made even Guy Ritchie blush the Metropolitan Police Armed Response Unit are seen letting rip a hail of bullets upon the couple’s hideout apartment as Britney and her beaux passionately embrace. We then discover that this symphonic salvo of shrapnel was all in vain as in fact the both of them have escaped and eluded the law’s grasp yet again.

Earlier in the video we have even more passionate scenes between them so much that YouTube has age-restricted the video. I do not know if there are many readers of the blog below 18 but I shall ensure I am circumspect with my choice of video-stills!

Inter-cutting the story line we have shots of Britney Spears glamorously dressed and made up wistfully eyeing the camera.Britney Spears Criminal - Gun still

The video was also criticized for Britney Spears sporting a gun – but I feel, a bit like the faux-controversy over Rihanna’s Man Down video, it is not clear why guns are an accepted staple of Television, Cinema and Computer Games but not Music Videos?

The local Hackney Council even criticized Britney Spears for promoting gun violence – a premise only credible if you consider depicting something as promoting something. Then the Member of Parliament for Hackney, Diane Abbot, got involved acknowledging it was only ‘a music video’ but then going on to say it ‘was glamorising gangs’ and perhaps most absurdly of all that ‘Britney should know better’ – why Britney Spears has a popstar should know better I am not sure!

Still on the basis that all publicity is good publicity then no doubt quietly Britney and her record company were pleased with this Yankee storm in an English tea-cup.

The Video Director Chris Marrs Piliero will have also been pleased with the video’s cinematic reception – Rolling Stone going as far to make Hitchcock comparisons. Music critics and their hyperbole hey!

Criminal is not of course anything close to classic cinema. No Oscar will be coming its director’s way – a VMA though most certainly could. Though Britney as leading actor will not I think be walking the MTV carpets should they have had an actors section, which they don’t! Damning with faint praise she acts better than Madonna but no match to her aforementioned ex, Justin…but the video provides a good enjoyable five-minute odd romp for all that.

Britney Spears Criminal

Britney Spears Criminal

Britney Spears Criminal

Britney Spears Criminal

The A Team – Ed Sheeran – White lips, pale face, breathing in snowflakes…

Ed Sheeran The A TeamEd Sheeran The A Team Park benchI first came upon The A Team by Ed Sheeran on Spotify, it was listed at the number one in their UK Singles chart for the week a fortnight back – and still remains there. And so gave it a listen.

In one sense a likely number one – tuneful and romantic. In another sense an unlikely number one – acoustic, introspective and unsentimental.

I knew nothing about Ed Sheeran before writing this post and assumed he was one of the latest batch of Reality TV Popstars – The A Team did not quite feel Indie. And so was expecting the lyrics to be unremarkable fare – sweetly romantic at best.

I was wrong on all counts. Ed Sheeran has never been near a Reality TV Show instead coming to wider attention via the more traditional ways of touring clubs and releasing singles and albums to mostly indifferent audiences.

And the lyrics pack a punch – a crafty one at that – more of a kick than a kiss is pulled.

As on listening to the lyrics more closely it became clear this was no straight-ahead love song or introspective meander – lines like ‘Long nights, strange men’, ‘And go mad for a couple of grams’ followed by ‘And in a pipe she flies to the motherland’ then ‘Or sells love to another man’ – almost as if his soft and warm voice had seduced this difficult content into the ears hearts and minds of its listeners and hoisted it up to the number one spot. Ed Sheeran The A Team The Big IssueAnd then a most unlikely but welcome number one.

Ed Sheeran’s ‘The A Team’ is about a woman whose dreams not so much crashed to the ground as never took flight.

The angel of his song is fallen and stuck, selling her body for sex and using most of the proceeds for drugs. ‘Dreaming of the motherland’ could suggest she is a migrant from Russia or Eastern Europe, dreaming of happier times back home, but could also mean a more general drugged out escapism.

A lot of the lyrics are elliptical and poetical leaving us to draw or project our own meaning.

The chorus:

And they say
She’s in the Class A Team
Stuck in her daydream
Been this way since 18
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries

is memorable as are other lines and couplets like ‘It’s too cold outside for angels to fly’ and ‘Call girl, no phone’.

Ed Sheeran The A Team The AngelThe lines ‘the worst things in life come free to us’ followed by ‘Cos we’re just under the upperhand’ are a striking couplet.

The video for The A Team is shot in black and white and directed by Ruskin Kyle. It plays a faithful narrative to the lyrics – starting with her sleeping and then waking up on a park bench in a cold early morning London, later selling The Big Issue and yet later begging for money. In the evening we see her soliciting for sex and a kerb-crawler picking her up in his car and after having sex and getting paid she uses most of the proceeds towards purchasing grams of heroin. Last scene is her returned home alone using the pipe to smoke the heroin before falling back upon her bed to dream, to fly.

The actress who plays her is Selina MacDonald.

The A Team is a sour pill in a candy coating. Well worth the taking.

Ed Sheeran The A Team

The Glorious Land – PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey The Glorious Land Oak Tree AutumnThe Glorious Land Polly Harvey release from April 2011 is a compact poetic view of the United States of America. Or is it England? Or both? The song proceeds in call and response where Polly is the caller and Polly is the responder –

How is our glorious country ploughed.

Not by iron ploughs.

Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet.

Modern English war poetry – this time subject the Afghan war. Some of the lines are based on extracts from Russian folk songs.

PJ Harvey The Glorious Land LyricsShe makes a link to England as the mother country – and as with the British Empire and its Imperial Power and Overpower and Overburden and Overspend so goes its most splendid, prosperous, courted, envied and feared child ‘America’.

The music accompanies this with faint recurrent bugling of the Regimental March and an acoustic light electric accompaniment again too with the rare autoharp of which she strums and wails. There is also a sample of The Police’s shuffling beat ‘The Beds Too Big Without You’ song of many decades past. Though I have listened to both the sampler and sampled song numerous times and struggle to hear the one in the other.

Nearly five minutes in length it is several minutes before Polly Harvey sings the opening salvo of The Glorious Land.

Taken from the album Let England Shake and as with all songs on that album there is a video for it too shot by war photographer Seamus Murphy – each video a mixture of video and stills.

The video for The Glorious Land commences with an autumnal tree and ends with it Wintered intervened with other unfolding English rural scenes cut against shots of Polly Harvey rehearsing the song. Also entrenched are soldiers preparatory battle scenes.

PJ Harvey The Glorious Land Oak on guitarPolly believes that what makes the USA what it is is not its Protestant work ethic but its Protestant war ethic – not the toiling of its land but the military adventurism in lands of other peoples – not of its working people but its ruling elites – elected politicians and unelected advisors; and other high-salaried members of this crony family – Wall Street, the military industrial complex, the compliant cheerleading media and judiciary. That war not peace drives the USA. And bemoans this fact ‘Oh America, Oh England’. England because America is its child – and where she traipsed before it they now traipse again. But then too as the child follows the parent so the parent follows the child intimately umbilically bound, the special relationship sending both in tipsy lockstep after each other.

But then perhaps England is more her focus that the USA – as she always sings of ‘our’ not ‘your’ – ‘What is the glorious fruit of our land’ – and Polly is a Cornish daughter. So perhaps indeed it is England that is primarily chastised (and notably not Britain with its Parliament, Financial Markets, Media Hub all resident in England, all in London indeed – we Scots and other Northern Britain’s innocent passengers of it all – and the cry of ‘America’ is because they are our offspring ‘Its deformed children’, ‘It’s orphaned children’.

These sentiments are also echoed by English war poets like TS Eliot and Wilfred Owen and Polly Harvey herself specifically cites Harold Pinter and like them all Polly Harvey is taking some poetic license. The sweat of our land not blood and tears is still contemporary but also less prevalent – the sweat of our land today is much more urban than rural, industrial than agricultural. Even heavy industry itself is taking a lesser role to the softer industry of our information age.

PJ Harvey The Glorious Land Field sceneThe military adventurism itself does still avail if less traditional defending of our physical borders from country-enemies instead from individual and collective terrorist groups and imagined and rhetoricised intellectual frontiers – overturning of dictatorships in far of lands that we believe are a threat less directly to our lives and liberties and to the lives and liberties of the inhabitants of those lands and our allies that neighbour them than to our commercial interests.

That Russian folk songs are sampled too merely reminds that imperial powers wherever they are in space and time put their own prosperity in peril with their over-reaching hands.

And here we are today and the US Debt Ceiling is a climbing and both the USA and England awash in credit, overcome by debt and the solutions from the Conservatives to reduce spending (to the poor and the many) and from the Liberals (or Sky Blue Conservatives) to do the same but also raise taxes (to the very rich and few) but no mention from either of cutting back the huge expenditure on the military both at home and overseas and which makes up most of the deficit spend.

An unnecessary hubris – the USA is mighty and wealthy – it need not flex its muscles so – but it continues to do so and who does it make weak and impoverish in so doing? Itself. Living and warring beyond its means – England too the country equivalent of trying to keep up with the Joneses by borrowing to the hilt and punching above its weight – and not borrowing so much for development of its infrastructure and in jobs – not ‘in ploughs’ but ‘in tanks’.

So though I quibble, the gist continues to ring true – the priorities are still to militarism, still to ‘War War’ not ‘Jaw Jaw’ – and pride comes before the fall, of empire – that itself the USA could learn from its ancient parent.

So yes Polly Harvey nails it. Her poetic words nail this delirious animal spirit to the wall.

PJ Harvey The Glorious Land Oak Tree Winter

Kanye West – Runaway – Black Swan Video

Kanye West‘s song Runaway about having it all and losing it all, about magpies loving peacocks, about putting work before your family, about not facing-up but running away.

And for the video the song is put to dance. And as you can see not a dance of slow-burning sweating night-out clubbers or lithe writhing lap-dancers but ballet-dancers. If no typical classical treatment rather a free-form jam, a bevy of black-swans.

To see the ballet performance in its entirety from their running entrance in two rows as the repeated piano-motif of Tuxedo-wearing Kanye West on an old upright chimes the song and the ballerinas in to the exit in same style you need to watch the 8 minutes 29 seconds version. There is a shorter version – a mere 5 minutes 40 seconds and this longer 8 minutes 29 seconds version is itself an excerpt of the video-film ‘Runaway’ of 34 minutes and 33 seconds. Like 1960’s Bob Dylan album-tracks you have to be committed to them to hear them out.

Prior to the ballerinas’ entrance a banquet had taken place in a huge vaulted abandoned ware-house space.

This huge industrial space the stage for the black swan dance, its cavernous dilapidated brick-wall the backdrop.

Only as the piano entrance fades and the synthesised drums kick into life do the swans dance into life.

A brief cut-away to the banquet table for toasting for the douchebags and ass-holes and scum-bags and jerk-offs.

Later in this self-directed video Kanye West steps-up upon the upright but of course the piano chords continue their plangent pace.

The ballet theme was perhaps already heralded by the single with its cover a George Condo photograph of a ballerina. Another cover of the song also featured a ballerina image by George Condo this time a painting. The video in the same year 2010 as the Darren Aronofsky directed, Natalie Portman starred Black Swan film opus clearly left its mark here.

As the orchestra emerges on the soundtrack the video tracks back to his romantic love-phoenix (played by model Selita Ebanks) watching seated at the banquet table.

Cuts back to the ballet and the orchestra dies from the soundtrack and the dancers become statues. The orchestra re-emerges and they resume their dance.

So the dance continues, they exit with the song.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake – in video

I live and die through England…

Let England Shake released by PJ Harvey in February 2011 has produced two single releases so far ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ and ‘The Glorious Land’ yet each and every song from the album is available to watch in video.

Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy montaged every track from that album into one extended video. The videos for Let England Shake are discrete pieces. I hope this is a trend we see more of.

No industry music video productions are these though created as they are by a Battlefield photographer Seamus Murphy whose more usual subjects are Mexican Drug Wars, Mogadishu and Maoists.

All of the videos include brief poetry recited by the English public relating to the lyrics of each of the songs before leading into PJ Harvey’s performances.

The images featured in this post are from the England video and include still photographs among the moving images. The photographer’s eye as we should expect is very noticeable in all these videos – no video-director visions of Hollywood here.

As uncompromising and eyes wide open as the songs of Let England Shake itself.

A Hand in Glove fit.

Undaunted, never failing love for you England