Wednesday, 31 October 2007



This is a record that always makes me think of Christmas. I actually got the CD for a present in 1992 and it was one of those scenarios where mum just gave me the money to buy it from the shop (Andy’s Records) and I would hand it over where she would wrap it up and hand it over to me a couple of month’s later on Christmas Day. However I knew where she had put it so whenever she went out shopping or something I would sneak into her bedroom and listen to tracks until I heard her returning home.

Singles was a strange film. At the time I loved it and naively I thought the lifestyle on screen was something I could aim and aspire for. No one was ugly in the grunge world. I even might be able to travel to Seattle one day to drink coffee and she all the badly dressed beautiful people making great music and living amazing lives. Can you tell that over the years I have adopted some kind of cynicism towards the piece? And this is probably to my detriment.

The bands on show here were certainly from the more photogenic and glossier side of the city, acts that were already all signed up and were about to make it the show regardless of their coverage from the movie although certainly it didn’t hurt. Then there was the appearance of Paul Westerberg as the alternative rock troubadour who didn’t necessarily have links to the Seattle grunge scene. And then there was The Lovemongers, the nepotistic inclusion of Cameron Crowe’s wife’s spin-off band contributing a live version of a Led Zeppelin song (“The Battle Of Evermore”) which certainly begged the question: why?

Regardless the album opens on a high as Alice In Chains rumble into proceedings with “Would” which remains probably their finest moment. Here was a band being caught at its peak in a motion that was very “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” as their video explicitly implied the movie Singles (including a shot of the poster) without necessarily featuring clips from it (instead clips of people who looked like they should be in it).

To their credit Pearl Jam follow and chip in with two very decent cuts in the form of “Breath” and later “State Of Love And Trust” (which they also opened their MTV Unplugged set with). Whether you give any attention to these songs is a given, at the time most people with passionate were either split into a Pearl Jam or a Nirvana camp while those who liked both were really tourists stopping over before moving onto the next shiny thing. Personally I like both of these tracks here. “Breath” sounds invigorating to me, somewhat representative of the time and when I was young and somewhat more optimistic. I never got the aspect of grunge that was about wallowing, for me it was about being different to all those around me that were making me feel miserable. Whether this conceit was contrived by record labels or genuine from the band was not obvious at the time, all I knew is that it felt like a better direction to take. Both these tracks feel and sound optimistic, which meant more than anything else.

Chris Cornell also got in on the act as he provided various pieces throughout the film including a strange acoustic instrumental version of “Spoonman”. His proper contribution to the soundtrack “Seasons” is quite a piece of work as he plays unaccompanied and delivers an expansive dose of reflective reasoning that boded well for his eventual solo career that never really delivered. Of course Soundgarden had to be on the record also and after the longest introduction of any song in the history of grunge “Birth Ritual” truly chunders out of the blocks in relentless manner and proved substantial enough to feature them in the movie performing the song at a show while Campbell Scott gawped into the abyss deep in thought. What was he thinking?

When Paul Westerberg turns up it is blowing a harmonica. Against so many hulking and distorted guitars this felt wrong as The Replacements were not necessarily early torchbearers of this movement (although I am sure many might disagree). That said “Dyslexic Heart” does fit comfortably into the scheme of things with regard to the romance element of the movie and the lyrics are expertly penned, memorable and easily recounted/recalled. I seem to remember at the time on his morning Radio Five show (back when they played music) Danny Baker would regularly play the Westerberg tracks from the soundtrack and neglect the beef in the sandwich. “Waiting For Somebody” is slightly more sappy and thus less effective but certainly at the time when the wide world was discovering REM wholesale songs that were not so blunt and abrasive were certainly acceptable.

As noted above the song to raise most eyebrows in this collection is the cover of “The Battle Of Evermore” by the Lovemongers. I guess Heart were from Seattle but being married to the director was unforgivably nepotistic. That said with mandolins raining on proceedings (an instrument at the time now made cool by Peter Buck) the ladies made a pretty good stab at sounding like Percy Plant. All in all a pretty decent effort but on that failed from being more crushed velvet than flannel shirt.

I think the presence of Mother Love Bone really displays most which side of the bread this record is buttered. When the scene was beginning to kick off initially the band was just something of a footnote in the history of Pearl Jam to a large extent, not necessarily students of the Sub Pop way of doing things. Sure they were signed to a major label but they were just rock, almost glam, not a band looking to carry the burden of a generation. Then again who was? For starters though their contribution here “Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns” opened with a piano line. There were no keyboards in grunge. Sadly in a time of the anti-star Andrew Wood just appeared to be too brash and too poncy. And then he went and missed most of the party altogether. Green River were always better anyway.

Indie credibility resumes with contributions from Mudhoney and Screaming Trees. Sure they were on major labels by this point but their contributions screamed of remaining true to the course as Mudhoney drop “Overblown”, a thoroughly sarcastic take on proceedings and blatant message to the masses that they are being duped. Likewise Screaming Trees offer up a great selection in the form of “Nearly Lost You” which is just a genuinely balls out, glorious piece of Seattle rock. It’s a heavy heavy tune that tangles the pulse with a serious of heart stopping hooks and thumps.

In many ways Mudhoney should maybe have enjoyed more coverage regarding the movie considering that Matt Dillon’s fictional band Citizen Dick (seemingly him fronting Pearl Jam) had a big hit with “Touch Me I’m Dick”. There is apparently a recording (re-recording) of this song (so say the movie credits) by Citizen Dick however who makes up such a band is not disclosed.

Realistically homeboy Jimi Hendrix had to make an appearance in the movie, Seattle being his hometown and all. Here we get “May This Be Love” which is a trickling, loving slab of song displaying him in a mellow mood. It doesn’t sound out of place.

A final curveball gets thrown in at the end as Smashing Pumpkins deliver the eight minutes plus “Drown”. This was not a band from Seattle, on a major label or strictly on Sub Pop (although there was a single). They were not necessarily connected to the scene and, in a lot of cases, not strictly welcomed or entertained by it either. Corgan had enemies within these ranks. So then just how did they get on this record? Gripes aside I actually do like this song in the same way that a fair few Smashing Pumpkins songs are guilty pleasures for me (once the stinkers have been weeded out). Listened to with a clear conscience this is a glorious and soft sounding track reminiscent at times of Mercury Rev that does not make eight minutes feel indulgent and goes through many waves of joy over the course of its appearance. It’s a good way to close even if seems foreign.

It’s been a few years now since I last watched Singles. I have to admit I am afraid to revisit it, fearful that it won’t have aged well and will feel like a mockery of my supposed youth, my supposed era. How green was my valley?

Thesaurus moment: pretence.


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