The joke, of course, may well be on me if fifteen years from now
everything on the radio sounds like this.
But it wouldn’t surprise me too much.
—On Second Edition, from the
August 1980 issue of
Simon Reynolds’s justly hailed (and newly released, stateside) Tear It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 [the book’s website is here, on Amazon here, and flogged on Slate here] has shone the spotlight on PiL’s first big American single, “Death Disco” (later redubbed “Swan Lake” for its Metal Box/Second Edition release on LP) : Reynolds cites the television performance on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops”—the UK’s answer to “American Bandstand”—as one of the seminal musical moments in his young life. Inevitably, a clip has surfaced on YouTube, and a small viewer is posted here for your listening pleasure (and more, with Lydon’s plaid suit and Wobble’s leering, toothy grin—he’s sitting on a dentist’s chair for the duration).
“Swan Lake,” 7" sleeve (1979)
“Swan Lake” still
sounds great—it feels as alien and as winsome as it did in 1979, when I’d sit, hunched over a speaker, trying to make sense of what seemed like pop, but also quite unlike pop. Cannily transposing Tchaikovsky’s theme to anchor the composition, they are the only notes given to the guitar (Wobble’s bass shoulders the lead). But it was the new end tacked onto the LP version—and not heard on the TotP
clip—that really got me, and still does: it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before. Some 3:50 into the selection, a passage that is anchored by a bubbling, atonal bass line and punctuated by a shimmering synth aurora borealis
(foreshadowed a few dozen seconds prior) is clipped, and cut-and-paste-repeated four additional times. More than a decade of studio magic—overdubbing and looping—had preceded the release of Metal Box
, and yet there was something radical about the simple juxtaposition of the clip with itself, and its abrupt beginning and end that seemed to herald the dawning of a new pop. It may be that all music crit is an elaborate justification of taste, but Second Edition
—hey, it’s less than $7, new!
—is worth sampling at twice the price.
Labels: books, crit, music