Friday Music Focus: 5/27/16

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Today’s post is a concentrated look at the last week in music and pop culture, at least as far as I was concerned. (I would have also included Courtney Barnett performing my favorite song from last year, “Pedestrian at Best,” in her appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” but NBC doesn’t allow their clips to be shared on WordPress.) Friends, get ready for a good time.

February 1/May 20: Primal Scream featuring Sky Ferreira, “Where the Light Gets In” (music video; studio version appears on the album Chaosmosis, 2016) + BBC Radio 6 Music show (hosted by Bobby Gillespie, filling in for Iggy Pop). Primal Scream is a band that defies description; they’ve done dreamy indie pop (“Love You,” one of the finest songs of 1987), acid house-inspired dance-rock (“Loaded,” which owes a lot to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”), more overtly Stones-esque rock ‘n’ roll (“Rocks”) and a lot of other stuff that I have yet to listen to but which I would probably like as much as the songs I already know. Their latest single, “Where the Light Gets In,” doesn’t seem to have made a dent on the UK charts, but it’s one of the catchiest pop songs of the year. And it’s so good to know that Bobby Gillespie still has the best hair in rock music after 30+ years in the game.

I might not have even realized there was a new Primal Scream album, though, if I hadn’t been listening to BBC Radio 6 Music online last week (I had tuned into the Radcliffe and Maconie show, though they don’t factor into this story) and noticed a link to Iggy Pop’s Friday night program. Iggy is on tour at the moment, so for the last few weeks Bobby Gillespie has been filling in as host. I listened to his two-hour selection of songs and was blown away. There were songs I have loved for years, brilliant things I was introduced to and, of course, Bobby’s guiding voice. (The first bit of commentary starts about four minutes in; I also enjoy the mileage that his Scottish accent gets out of the phrase “it was very, very interesting” during the discussions of the Pop Group and James Brown at 1:22:44.) The widget I have posted here on the blog doesn’t seem to offer the option of rewinding – sorry about that! – although fast-forwarding works as long as you’re careful about not overshooting the mark, and you can always refresh the page and try to get to the right place again. This particular show’s playlist can be read on the official BBC website, where you can also listen to the program with rewind and fast-forward capabilities, but there are only 23 days left before the ability to listen to that specific broadcast expires.

May 22: PJ Harvey, interview and performance of “The Community of Hope” (live on the “The Andrew Marr Show” on BBC One; studio version appears on the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, 2016). It’s pretty amazing that English singer-songwriter PJ Harvey scored a #1 album in the UK with her newest album; the work is absolutely deserving of such success, but it’s a little surprising since she’s been around for so long (her first solo album, Dry, came out in 1992) and many of the albums that have topped the charts in the UK in 2016 are from younger and/or more commercial acts: Adele, Beyoncé, Drake, Zayn, Coldplay, the 1975, the Last Shadow Puppets, the Lumineers. I also assume that PJ has a lower profile than most media-saturated superstars these days, but despite this her fans evidently thought it was a big enough deal that she had new music out that the sales were raised to such a high degree. That’s why it is especially inspiring to hear her talk about the sociopolitical issues that fueled the making of her album, and why it’s so interesting that she describes herself as a writer and a journalist as much as a singer. Even though this stripped-down version of “The Community of Hope” doesn’t have the drums and other instruments that the album recording contains, all Polly Jean needs are her voice and her guitar to get her point across.

May 23: Garbage, “Empty” (music video; studio version will appear on the upcoming album Strange Little Birds, to be released 6/10/16). I must admit somewhat ruefully that I’m not familiar with most of Garbage’s oeuvre, although I love Shirley Manson’s voice and I know some of the band’s classics, like 1995’s “Stupid Girl,” the title song from The World Is Not Enough (1999), which I consider one of the top five best themes in the history of the James Bond franchise, as well as the single that Garbage released on Record Store Day last year, “The Chemicals” (a duet with Brian Aubert, frontman of Silversun Pickups). Now, with “Empty,” pink-haired Shirley and the rest of the gang have made a song that’s catchier and lyrically/emotionally deeper than most of what’s being done by performers half their age (the members of Garbage range from 49 to 65 years old).

May 23/May 16: Nicky Wire interviewed by Edith Bowman (live on Virgin Radio UK) + Manic Street Preachers, “A Design for Life” (live at the Royal Albert Hall, 2016). For the ultra-obsessed: all the best Manics fans surely listened to Nicky Wire’s interview on the radio this past Monday, in which he discussed (with the delightful Edith Bowman, who has a great way of laughing) topics including skirts, hair, long-lasting friendships, parenthood, recent music by Bill Ryder-Jones and Cate Le Bon, sports, children’s movies, politics and “lyrical integrity,” the last of which connects back to PJ Harvey and having “something to say.” You can see how much the working-class anthem “A Design for Life” (being performed on the twentieth-anniversary tour of the Everything Must Go album) still means to the audience in 2016 as the stage’s overhead screens flash images and messages from the song’s 1996 music video: “Hope Lies in the Proles,” “Tomorrow Is Too Late,” “Make Your Choice,” etc. As Nicky shouts during the solo break: “This is working-class empowerment!” (In the same breath he also gets in a dig at the Britpop album Parklife by Blur.)

May 25: Argument City, “Spirit of 58” (music video; written for the Wales football team competing in Euro 2016). The Manics recorded the official single for Welsh footballers but the up-and-coming band Argument City released their song, which is another we-can-do-it sing-along, first. Now that the accompanying music video has been uploaded to YouTube, I’m pleased to see that the band is having just as much fun as the audio had suggested. Plus those schoolkids are adorable!

May 25: James McAvoy interviewed by Stephen Colbert (on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” 2016). What could be cooler or more rock ‘n’ roll than wanting all kids to have access to an education in the arts? James McAvoy’s statements on the matter are articulate, persuasive and obviously heartfelt.

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