You might have heard of John Robb (pictured). Perhaps through his associations with various punk outfits – he was a founding member of The Membranes, and formed the band Goldblade in the mid-‘90s, with whom he still regularly performs.
Or, perhaps, you’ve seen the name through Robb’s numerous articles and books on music – he’s written at length on bands like The Charlatans and The Stone Roses, and been published by the Guardian, Melody Maker, the Independent and several prominent websites. He now runs the website Louder Than War (find it here).
This week, Goldblade re-release their 2008 Christmas single, ‘City Of Christmas Ghosts’, featuring vocals from the late X Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene (Clash news on her 2011 death).
Profits from sales of the reissue will go to St Michael’s Hospice – where Poly was cared for – as well as FoodForLife and anti-war charities.
Robb’s opinions on the week’s new-release singles follow the video for ‘City Of Christmas Ghosts’.
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Paul McCartney – ‘Queenie Eye’
There’s a much-quoted Alan Partridge joke about “Wings being the band the Beatles could have been”, which dismisses Macca McFab’s post-Beatles output with a truculent yet amusing flick of wrist – but it’s not quite as simple as that. While this song, from his recent 16th solo album (‘New’, Clash review) is not quite the work of a top-of-the-game Beatle-oid genius (I mean, what is?) it’s certainly sprightly enough to hold the attention and remind you that Paul can still do the best job of sounding like Paul after all these decades. Still armed with that outrageous gift of melody and that distinctly Beatle-ish descending piano thing, the song – named after an old Liverpool slang word for a long-lost street game – is proof that, even at 70, Macca can still deal out the exquisite pop with a track that could have just about slotted onto ‘Rubber Soul’.
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Charli XCX – ‘Superlove’
I remember, a few years ago, seeing the teenage Charli XCX deal out a preposterously confident set in a half-full pub in Camden, and post-gig I told her she would be a big star. I figured that she would be like some sort of hip, youthful version of the goddess M.I.A., with her quirky and cool, brattish leftfield pop. Since then she has broken big, and is even making a big noise in the USA with some (more conventional than I thought it would be) girl pop – the kind which still packs a teenage, gum-chewing brat appeal in its tightly constructed strut. This sounds like the soundtrack to a whole new generation of bus stop-dwelling yoof – great pop, but I’m looking forward to the return of her getting her quirk on.
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Arcade Fire – ‘Afterlife’
The sound of modern indie or alternative music that fills stadiums is a polished one. As a form it’s moved a long way from the hypnotically crude, mewling brawl that birthed it in the punk wars – through to Arcade Fire’s sensible jumper with a knowing eccentricity bolted on. Not that this is a bad thing – you don’t have to make a racket to tell a story, and Arcade Fire are certainly more interesting than most of their librarian lookalike peers. But sometimes it does make you yearn for the days when alternative meant Crass records trying to change the world, John Peel shows crammed full of freak nuggets crackling from the radio, or even more recently Nirvana’s guttural scream couched through Beatles melodies. A time before the whole form was commodified into a lifestyle choice with radio mixes, and polished almost to death.
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Yuck – ‘Lose My Breath’
On their second album (track-by-track), from which this track is taken, Yuck prove that losing your frontman is not necessarily the death of your band as they still lock successfully into the late-‘80s US alt-rock groove of colliding Sonic Youth at their most transcendental and Dinosaur Jr at their most droned-out. Somehow Yuck have managed to make their own scuzz out of this much-mined seam, and have also translated their hypnotic live performances into great studio action. It’s always great to be reminded of a time when lo-fi was not an insult, and getting lost in a haze of gorgeous guitars was a good thing.
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Superfood – ‘Bubbles’
When I coined the phrase Britpop in 1987, at a La’s and Stone Roses gig in Liverpool, I had no idea that nearly 30 years later it would retain its fascination with another generation of skinny kids in thrall to the line of classics that now stretches from the ‘60s through Madchester and on to the Britpop central of the ‘90s. Superfood tap into the quirk of a B-Town Blur, but also bring a touch of the Nirvana noise crank to their tales of scuzzed council estate Blighty. The band looks fantastically nondescript, but the music screams “we are here” on this catchy rabble-rouser that would have been as big a hit as their Britpop forefathers if UK radio had any interest in supporting homegrown music played on guitars instead of roundly ignoring most of it.
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Placebo – ‘Loud Like Love’
Placebo are a conundrum wrapped inside an ego-shell wrapped inside a mascara smudged glam goth that instantly places them as outsiders within the indie-centric UK music media. Like most music writers Iive had my run-ins with (frontman) Brian Molko, but that’s never stopped me liking a clutch of their singles and their overwrought live displays, which appeal to the inner goth in me – especially in Europe, where they are the stadium gods they never quite were in the UK. ‘Loud Like Love’ is the title-track of their recent album (Clash review) and is as brilliantly overwrought as ever, with Brian doing his Peter-Murphy-doing-David-Bowie thing over muscle-bound production, which is no bad thing for a writer who still loves Bauhaus after all these years and has a soft spot for the awkward, out-of-sync performers of any generation.
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Goldblade featuring Poly Styrene – ‘City Of Christmas Ghosts’
When we first recorded the song five years ago we brought in the great Poly Styrene to make it a duet, because she was one of my best friends and the song, with its melancholic take on Christmas as a time of year to think of lost friends mixed in with its commentary of the tack and strangeness of the season, seemed perfect for her genius vocal stylings.
Poly came down and did her vocal in one take over our Spector-drenched song, and we fell on the floor at the pure joy of hearing her sing like she had done in X Ray Spex so perfectly after all those years.
When I got her to jam out the Hare Krishna on the end section we knew we had something in the song’s euphoric climax that made it really stand out – kind of like George Harrison nodding his karma head with Phil Spector aiming his gun at the console over Black Flag jamming with the Ramones of the backing track: my kinda music and pure pop in a sense.
In the last few months we started getting a clamour of voices yelling at us to re-release the single because people loved the tune, and also to release it as a tribute to Poly, who I would like to put on the record as one of the great British lyric writers and iconic presences in the punk-period – something Morrissey once emailed me to agree about. The single is for Poly’s favourite charities as well, because it’s Christmas and we want to do our bit – and also because we are not The X Factor...
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Find more on ‘City Of Christmas Ghosts’ on Facebook.
Buy the track online here.
Read more Singles Round Ups (with guest critics) on Clash, here.
The current issue of Clash magazine is a doozy and looks like this.