Better Than Ezra were a stunningly bad band. When you think of the most witless, gormless, reheated alternative rock of the mid-‘90s, Better Than Ezra elbow their way to the head of the queue with aplomb. Their playing is edgeless, featureless. Their lyrics are fresh from a high school creative writing workshop. The way they namedrop R.E.M. in the chorus of this dreadful song makes me understand why so many people started to hate that band. But I’ve reached a point in my thinking about music where I wonder if I don’t have to burn away the last of my taste prejudices. For people who think thinking seriously about music is a relatively serious matter, the current critical milieu is one in which we begin to deny the fantasy of objective judgement of popular art. It gets somewhat less pretentious from here!
Tag Archives: pretentious
Ultravox – Vienna (1981, Chrysalis)
Why It’s Perfect: When I was younger, I somehow got it into my head that Vienna was actually Austria’s national anthem. Can you imagine if there were a country whose anthem sounded like this? What a strange place it would have to be. The thoroughly processed majesty of its chorus sounds like a kitsch Also Sprach Zarathustra, the climax of an old commercial for high-end consumer electronics: BEHOLD the new Phillips Magnavox CD player! The most pristine digital audio device on Earth, now no larger than a toaster oven!
The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary (1985, Beggars Banquet)
Why It’s Perfect: Because it makes me feel like sprinting along a beach, and I am fond of neither sprinting nor beaches. My feet might get wet and my shoes wrecked, but as Ian Astbury so memorably hollers, “I won’t and I won’t and I won’t touch the ground.” The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary is arguably the moment when post-punk finally ran headlong into Stonesy blues rock, ran into it like someone smacking into a redbrick wall at such speed that it becomes unclear which was person and which was building. But in a good way. Even though a lot of post-punk moved at a reasonable clip, by virtue of the genre’s general mood and production tropes it was seldom this kinetic, this suggestive of those wonderfully absurd windtunnels which were a hallmark of the ’80s rock video. I may consent to dance to Echo & the Bunnymen now and then, but when I do it’s in a shambolic, eyes-downcast sorta sway. I’m not convinced I could dance to She Sells Sanctuary given its insistently forward (onward?) rhythm, but I know it makes me think of duckwalking like Angus Young. The thing is pop, yeah, but the key is that it pops. From Nigel Preston’s triggered drums, which snap unnaturally on the eardrum (bonus points; he died young) to the emphatic acoustic guitar overdubs on the chorus, everything just feels irresistibly peppy, and this pep helps reveal what a commercial goldmine the goths had with dreariness so long obscured. Suddenly, Billy Duffy’s ringing, flanged riffing seemed aim to lift rather than to depress, and the effect swells your lungs like jubilant balloons (or some equally embarrassing purple phrase). And as the song jangles and glides and swirls into motion around him, Astbury is admirably still, singing at his own pace, taking his time, waiting until the chorus to allow himself to be swept up in the moment. His dramatic vocals, never so carefree as the singers he imitates (*cough* Steven Tyler, Jim Morrison *cough*), in this case push the song towards the transcendent state suggested by the subtly Eastern riff which begins the track. My head fills with clouds.
Defining Moment: When Preston starts smacking the hell out of his cymbals a few beats before the chorus picks up. Once you’ve heard the song enough times, it’s like the first tingle of an imminent orgasm. Sure, when the chorus/cum hits it’s the best part, but I love both when they’re still making promises.
Other Great Songs by The Cult: As far as singles go, the AC/DC-riffed Love Removal Machine and the swaggering Fire Woman stand out, but goth enthusiasts should look to other strong early singles like the Native American-tinged Spiritwalker. Those who want riffs to crash cars to should head to the underrated Beyond Good & Evil, which features RATM-sized tracks like War (The Process) and Ashes & Ghosts.