apples and razor-blades
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


[Sasha Frere-Jones is a member of The Sands, a rock band, and the pop critic for The New Yorker, a weekly magazine. He has a website and lives in new York City with his wife and two sons. (He also has a really, really cool name. - Ed.)]

UB40 - "I Won't Close My Eyes" and "Love Is All Is Alright".

I got UB40's UB44 for Christmas in 1982. My mom bought me the limited edition LP issue with the kick-ass hologram cover, but then my finicky dad used a razor blade to remove the price sticker, producing a shallow but permanent hashmark in the upper right corner that still drives me bananas.

Two years later, in my freshman year of college, I heard the frat boys blast Labour of Love and with it, UB40, right out of the hipster's circle (where they didn't have more than a month-to-month lease anyway). Even more damning (for some), UB40 decided to keep Cliff Richard's adult pop dollar, dialing down the reggae and dialing up the covers. I thought they worked fine as a pop band, though they eventually jumped the shark and let pop's conservative tail sneak through the cat chute behind the pleasure-seeking head. Forget all that for the moment. UB40 were born in that killer late 1970s convergence of British reggae: Steel Pulse, The Specials, Linton Kwesi Johnson, etc. There's a common thread of melodic suspension tying these groups together beyond geography, from "Chant A Psalm" through the unfuckwitable "Ghost Town" to much of UB40's first four albums. I miss the melodic sensibility these groups had ? which still feels distinct from contemporaneous pop and reggae - and I sure as fuck miss the willingness to step up with some political valence.

UB40's purview was predominantly political until they switched abruptly to love songs and covers. There's a distinctly European aspect to their political songs ? Stephen Biko and sub-Saharan starvation were closer to London than Newark in 1978, sure, but there's a general politicization of youth in Europe that helps explain why so much of the hot political shit (at least records coming from live bands) from the last twenty years is not American. (I would post "The Earth Dies Screaming" from the first album if I had it to hand, but I don't.)

"Love Is All Is Alright" just floats, daring you to notice the chorus: "Love is all is alright, but you've got to find a little more hate." "Fuck off, hippies," says my translator. "I Won't Close My Eyes" is a similar combo platter: "Our cries for justice are shots in the dark/But our strength's in our bite/And not in our bark/It's time to stand." My translator says "Bricks, not sit-ins," but the words suggest a range of resistances. As much as I love the band feeling self-assured enough to bring the hate, I love equally the rhetorical trick of hiding razor blades in the apples. It sure as hell doesn't sound like they've found a little more hate. The music is just laughing gas ? it never fails to make me a little high. Ali Campbell ? along with Terry Hall, Martina, Tracey Thorn, and Roland Gift ? is part of a mixed race (aesthetically and literally) team of singers that just makes me want to up and kiss England on the schnozz. And I never get enough of the production style: that Dennis Bovell dry slapback with the 6 against 2 Sly and Robbie delay trick (check "My Jamaican Guy"). Old dudes up in the place today! [buy]

The Fontaine Toups "Who Told You".

(That's funny when you add "The" to anybody's name. It's like cutting out someone's head from a magazine and making it say stuff. Always funny. Here, the article tells us this is a band, not just a person, which is kinda cool, though not all that funny.)

I don't know much about Ms. Toups and I would not be able to I.D. her old band if I had an hour to do it. This song, though, is my kinda shit. It is made from ingredients I am always happy to see on my plate: sharp, simple drumming with a good foot, flat and clear vocal delivery, nasty but not overly huge guitars, more than two hooks and concrete, audible lyrics. I get similar things, in different doses, from Spoon, The Fall, Wire. You know this steez.

In "Who Told You," Fontaine is hearing the gossip folks talk shit. This all makes her want to get away and remember what she thinks before she hears another word from someone else. "Who told you that I was leaving? Who told you I was your friend? I have a feeling that I'm losing everything I once had, but I'm not sure what that is." Let Calgon take you away, girl! Fuck those haters. "I don't want to drink every night and smoke all the cigarettes" is a recurring line, a sort of pre-chorus, and it is two things: An accurate reduction of what it feels like to confront a night out in NYC; and a perfect use of the small words "all" and "the," which make the line very big and very good. "I don't want to follow anyone without seeing what I'm doing." She's wide-awake and so's the band. The whole thing just bustles my hedgerow. (No, it sounds nothing like that.) [more Fontaine Toups]

Posted by Sasha F-J at August 25, 2004 12:30 AM

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Posted by Online Poker play poker online at August 25, 2004 7:51 AM

Glad to see early UB40 getting some recognition. I saw them live back in 1980 (supporting The Pretenders) and they were fantastic.

Posted by LondonLee at August 25, 2004 8:43 AM

Wow, I never knew UB40 had an edge (came too late to the party). This is great.

Posted by tuwa at August 25, 2004 9:29 AM

i don't think the new yorker is weekly. it's odd that i'm not sure though, cause i've had a subscription for 10 years.

Posted by george at August 25, 2004 9:31 AM

funny, my initial response was also Online Poker! strange......

thanks for the post Sasha, enjoyed it.

Posted by bmr at August 25, 2004 10:28 AM

damn I wish I could write as well as him. Or play poker as well.

Posted by Chuck Klosterman at August 25, 2004 11:04 AM

It's worth digging back and listening to Versus. Particularly their record "The Stars Are Insane," which was a small monument of rock for me the year it came out.

Posted by J at August 25, 2004 1:22 PM

someone just mentioned versus, the band from which fontaine comes from, but don't forget containe, another band she was in which is a sort of sweet and mellow acoustic driven band (did they only release 1 album?). I would also recommend the Stars are Insane album as well, quite good. I saw versus back in 91 and they were beautiful live, they had an energy and edge that was wonderful.

It's also nice to see early UB40 discussed...they were such a good band until that labor of love thing gave them a taste of money and stardom and they just kept doing it...what happened? Did they lose their political morality? oh well...

Posted by darren at August 25, 2004 2:00 PM

hmm, ub40 scares me slightly, but two music blog entries in one week?

the toups & bluebird were both great tracks. i kinda like the nickleback mash-up Because haterz are nameless. haterz are made, not born - the reception of it assumed the message of how dull the two songs were, without taking any other reading into account. does it automatically mean nickelback sucks by giving everyone twice the nickelback material?

i guess i never saw the mp3 named "nickelback sucks" so that skews the perspective a bit...

sasha - the public must know whether you will do a music blog for everyone to drool over? it'll be a sensation...

Posted by nate at August 25, 2004 2:31 PM

of course the New Yorker is weekly. it just takes a week off every now and then throughout the year and publishes a double issue. sometimes these are faux double issues, technically spanning two weeks but containing the same amount of content as a regular issue. those chap my hide.

Posted by Hillary at August 25, 2004 2:47 PM

Containe, the other band of Fontaine had two CDs out, and though it'll be awhile before I post another track by her, I sometimes put postings up by related bands at the MP3 of the week for the Teenbeat Mailing List.

Posted by Five Seventeen at August 26, 2004 3:49 PM

Hey, have any of you guys ever heard of a dj named Sasha? He is the best dj ever! I heart Sasha since I am Sashas biggest groupie. You can read more about him at . Also, if you want to learn all about blogs, I am also the king of the internet.

Posted by sashas biggest groupie at May 18, 2006 8:29 PM

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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