Music Features

Used Adventures In Hi-Fi #1

Mark Lanegan: Field Songs (Oxfam, Rochester, £5.99)
Booth & The Bad Angel: s/t (Oxfam, Cambridge, £3.99)

The first of my columns here at the new improved NoRipcord gave me tremendous grief. My brief: a column detailing the gems that can be found when most unexpected: in tatty little used stores, in charity shops, even (if you’re lucky) in a builder’s skip. My problem: lack of available material? Good grief, far from it. The issue was narrowing down my subject, but I think we’ve managed it.
For today’s records, I freely admit I paid over the odds. Usually, one must balk at spending more than a couple of quid on a secondhand album, be it CD or vinyl. There are rules, you know: check the scratches; sometimes you have to walk away; etc. But I had to buy these, and they were worth it – solo albums tend to be tricky beasts, and for every success there’s a dozen embarrassing failures (sometimes whole careers fall into the latter), but these were two I had good reason to look at.
Ah, the 1990’s. It frightens me when I find children at university who were born in the 1990’s. That’s not natural. Likewise it frightens me when I find out that James’ Sit Down was only kept off the number one spot by Chesney Hawkes, a way back in 1991. It only seems yesterday when my teenage centre-parting was swaying to this Brit-indie classic, but the likes of this song, Laid, She’s A Star etc. made James one of the most respected (although unfairly lumped into Madchester) of the island’s 1990’s indie offerings. At the heart of this was charismatic, golden-throated front man Tim Booth, and it’s he who offers up Booth & The Bad Angel. So who is this Bad Angel? In a cunningly-executed play on words we have cinematic composer/arranger Angelo Badalementi, otherwise best known for his soundtrack work for David Lynch (that’s his touch you’ll hear in Twin Peaks, or Blue Velvet, or Mulholland Drive). An unlikely combination for sure, Badalementi adding swathes of synths to Booth’s soaring vocals, over songs varying between wide-eyed debauchery and life-affirming anthems, white-boy electro-funk to straight-ahead rock’n’roll. It’s occasionally patchy, but on the whole was a criminally-overlooked record, and a real showcase for one of the best indie/rock singers this country has produced in the last two decades.
At quite the other end of the spectrum from Booth’s smooth, dynamic vocals, lie Mark Lanegan’s gruff, whiskey-soaked acoustic numbers. There are a number of parallels to be drawn between Lanegan and Booth: both sprung from the creative hotbeds in the late 1980’s (the Seattle of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden for Lanegan, the Manchester of Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Factory for Booth); both rose to fame in scenes that took over the early 1990’s; both released solo albums in the middle of the decade before returning to their previous bands. But aside from that, these two records could barely be more different. Where Booth sweeps along on washes of keyboards and grandiose mock-opera stylings, Lanegan bears his soul on his guitar, producing some of his most beautiful and tender moments to date.
Considerably less bombastic than its stunning successor, 2004’s Bubblegum, Field Songs is nonetheless a beautifully crafted and very worthy record. Opening with the guttural One Way Street and progressing through the very tenderest of heartfelt ballads in Kimiko’s Dream House, Field Songs is Lanegan turning his back on the grunge that made his name and establishing himself as an artist. Whereas Booth’s album is really a slight twist on James’ sound (especially in stand-out tracks like I Believe), Lanegan is stripping back to basics and changing his outlook a bit.
Here we have two albums that couldn’t have been more appropriate for me to open up this column: something I didn’t expect, that turned out to be ace (Lanegan); something I’ve been looking for since hearing it on the Evening Session (Booth). It’s what trawling the racks of charity shops is all about.