#4056 – Various Artists – Uncut Hard Drive: Uncut’s Pick Of The Hottest New Music
(CD, 2003) (Discogs tracklisting)
And on the fourth day, we come to the first of the magazine covermounts – of which there are hundreds, I’m warning you now. Why have I hung onto these? When am I ever going to play them out of choice, rather than self-imposed, random-number-generated necessity? Why didn’t I just chuck them all away?
You can put it down to some residual taboo, which still regards all items of physical music as sacred objects – yea, even unto the poxy magazine covermounts. And yet, I’ve done my share of chucking: an Observer chill-out CD was the first to go, after a single play revealed it as unlistenable, barrel-scraping tosh, and I also got rid of every covermount given away by The Word magazine (terrific publication, piggin’ AWFUL covermounts). But there, I think, the carnage ceased. And so I am left with practically a full set of Uncut compilations from 2000 to 2003, after which they dwindle to almost nothing.
(At least I got rid of the jewel cases. They’ve been slimmed down into plastic wallets, and squeezed into a separate space from the “proper” stuff. In the megalopolis of my music collection, the covermounts are the shanty town on the southern border.)
In 2000, Uncut’s CDs were bloody great, each one containing more than enough gems to balance out the duds. I first discovered Ryan Adams this way; Jackie Leven, too. But by 2003 – the year I stopped reading the magazine regularly – our paths had diverged. I had tired of their roster of adult-oriented singer-songwriters and stunning-returns-to-form-that-manifestly-weren’t, and my fling with New Americana, which Uncut had championed in the UK, was all but over.
The tracklisting for Hard Drive fills me not so much with dread, more with weary indifference. I’m going take this one slowly, spreading it over the day. Deep breath – we’re going in.
1. Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 – Amphetamine
Massively enjoyable high-octane, full-throttle, southern-boogie-goes-to-CBGB-in-1975 ramalama epic. As Mrs. Thatcher once said of the Thrashing Doves on Saturday morning kids’ TV: I liked the electric guitars. 8/10
2. Lucinda Williams – Ventura
I’ve always been allergic to her voice, and this is precisely the sort of bleak mope that I was expecting to dominate the CD. She starts by making soup, and she ends by throwing up into the toilet – which I suppose is a narrative trajectory of sorts. A couple of pleasantly twangy guitar breaks provide the only respite. 4/10
3. Ian McCulloch – High Wires
Gormless swagger, pitched at the Gallagher/Ashcroft constituency. 1/10
4. My Morning Jacket – Death Is The Easy Way
Our second bleak mope: funereally paced and wanly intoned, in that particular kind of post-Neil Young whine which always gets my goat. Good Lord, man, at least Lucinda Williams had the gumption to heat up some soup. 2/10
5. Evan Dando – Hard Drive
Lilting, country/campfire-styled compendium of the singer’s immediate present-day reality (in which almost every line starts with “this is” or “these are”), whose slightness is redeemed by the residual attractiveness of Dando’s vocal tone. 5/10
6. Johnny Marr & The Healers – Need It
As with the McCulloch track, you’re reminded of the long shadow cast by late Britpop’s reclaiming of the classic rock aesthetic. A spirited yet ultimately static “train-kept-a-rollin'” rattle, weakly sung, enlivened by an all-too-brief guitar break that cuts through the fog. 4/10
7. Songdog – Days Of Armageddon
Anguished dirge, lifted by flashes of dark, surreal wit, but lacking any sense of progression. I’d have added a slow-building instrumental freak-out coda, but I’m corny like that. 3/10
8. Richard Thompson – I’ll Tag Along
I much prefer solo acoustic Thompson to full-band Thompson, of which this is a workmanlike example. Best guitar work since the opening track, as you’d expect. 6/10
9. Ed Harcourt – The Birds Will Sing For Us
Sounding like it was mastered from a 128k MP3, we are back in the anguished-troubadour-bleats-about-death zone, in which this CD seems determined to wallow. Save us, Sleepy Jackson! 3/10
10. The Sleepy Jackson – Miniskirt
Imagine a country-rock Lemonheads, and you’re most of the way there. Ten songs in, and I find myself craving the simple inauthenticity of the synthesiser. 4/10
11. Peter Bruntnell – Downtown
I lack the synonyms to describe this in fresh language. All of its ideas have been used in earlier tracks – the soft twang, the doleful strum, the bleating mope – and I’m beginning to feel suffocated by the cumulative defeatism on display. 1/10
12. Dan Bern & The IJBC – Crow
Stylistically, it’s 1978 punk-pop sung by 1977 Elvis Costello: clenched, bitter, resentful. Lyrically, it’s a defiant kiss-off to a shit boss. There have been days in my professional past where this song could have played an active therapeutic role. 7/10
13. The Go-Betweens – Mrs Morgan
I have no idea what they were trying to do here. As far as I can tell, the titular protagonist has been a bit of a blabbermouth – but then there’s other stuff, about rain and sand, which doesn’t work as a metaphor for anything. 2/10
14. Calexico – Not Even Stevie Nicks
Man drives car off cliff, despite best efforts of scarf-twirling AOR icon. Blogger showing early signs of Dour Americana Stockholm Syndrome. 3/10
15. The ‘Burn – Enlightening
Verve/Shack-aping Johnny Come Latelies (from Blackburn) rock up five years too late. They once opened for Oasis, you know. Yeah, that figures. 1/10
16. Black Box Recorder – Andrew Ridgley
But hark, is that the sweet strain of the synthesiser, beckoning us out of the slough of despond and into the sunlit uplands of arch post-modernist Concept Pop, where flaxen-haired Saint Etiennes frolic with wryly poker-faced Boys from the Shop of Pets? The light, it fair blinds me! Pinch my cheeks and call me Kimmy! 7/10
17. Tom McRae – Ghost Of A Shark
“Tell me now, is there difference between a shark and the ghost of a shark? Cause all I have are secrets, and memories of the dark. Oh, rip away the skin, burn my heart.” Yeah, it couldn’t last. This time around, I’m pairing “doleful” with “mope”. Doleful mope! Nearly there! 1/10
18. Buzzcocks – Useless Situation
From doleful mope to nihilistic thrash: “Life’s full of disappointments, wonder where the good times went. Craving for recognition rather than accomplishment. Nobody cares what your name is, and it’s gonna stay that way. Everything is off the record; face it, there’s nothing to say. Life’s only temporary, and then you fuckin’ die.” 4/10, docked a point for burying the vocals in the mix. A Buzzcock should ever be clean, and never be murky.
And so this most joyless of compilations sputters to a close, leaving me wondering if I should place it back in the shanty town, between Uncut’s White Riot Vol 2: A Tribute to The Clash and Uncut’s Sensation Nation (Richard Ashcroft, Interpol, Spoon, Ash, The Black Crowes, The Boggs), or toss it in the bin (hey, catalogue.xls will renumber itself, no sweat on the librarian front).
No, back to the shanty town it goes, saved from destruction by Steve Wynn, Richard Thompson, Dan Bern and Black Box Recorder.
If tomorrow’s randomiser plucks a Mixmag hard house covermount from the southern reaches of my megalopolis, I might just pull a sickie.