Saturday, 16 November 2013
Top 102 Albums Minus 12 Like Flies on Sherbert
Top 102 Albums Minus 12
Like Flies on Sherbert - Alex Chilton
While the first two Big Star albums seem to strain for commercial greatness and the third attempts to see how far the mix of strained emotions and beauty can be pushed Chilton's first official solo album mixed a sense of collapse, the decayed body of rock'n'roll and the electric jolts needed to get the corpse to kick again.
Chilton had been hanging around the CBGB's scene, playing in a band with Richard Lloyd and releasing an EP on key New York punk label Ork Records. He was producing The Cramps and founding Tav Falco's Panther Burns. He throws out chords with a couldn't give a fuck shrug but its some shrug.
There are two versions of this and I grew to know and love the UK version on Aura Records which has the following running order:
Side 1 - Boogie Shoes (KC & the Sunshine Band); My Rival; Hey! Little Child, Hook or Crook; I've Had It
Side 2 - Rock Hard, Girl After Girl, Waltz Across Texas, Alligator Man, Like Flies on Sherbert
Starting with a song from Saturday Night Fever was not what was expected and in some ways Chilton's career from Sister Lovers / Third onwards remains an essay in refusing to do the expected. (The song wasn't on the original version of the album as Alex pulled it when it became a hit on the back of SatNiteFever.) The sounds on Like Flies and Chilton's Bach's Bottom (recorded in 1975 but not released until later) suggest that it was Saturday Night Fever from Monday morning to Sunday night in Chilton's world. That these records contain so much chaos and still work (for me anyway) is a testament to Chilton's genius and his love for music which led him to sometimes treat the songs with a lack of reverence bordering on total disdain in order to wrench some life from them or even just to show the impossibility of injecting new life into the dead without first acknowledging it was dead.
This is also a very funny album, not something I say about too many rock albums. It sounds like the musicians are having fun, even if it is graveyard fun. The mixes wage gonzoid guerrilla warfare on the whole idea of radio friendly. One way to accept failure is to embrace it, maybe even celebrate it.
The first Chilton song is My Rival, an essay in jealousy and the desire to take revenge on the man who has taken his girl. The video above is a version filmed by the acclaimed photographer William Eggleston and the one below shows it morphing into the version on the album. Strange shrieks and random noise generate the sonic equivalent of a chaotic mindstorm of jealousy. Chilton sings about the man who took his girl away, moving from his height, hair and eye colour through character assassination ("sells little children drugs in bars") to imagined assassinations ("My rival, I'm going to stab him on arrival, gonna shoot him dead, my rival") You're not invited to take these too seriously, these are the sort of words that erupt from a whiskey jealous on the rocks. The sort of pinballing banter that can serve to cover a small part of the pain. And anyway, the fact that his girl was 'easy prey' suggests that the singer may be more than partly to blame.
This is followed by the syncopated call of Hey! Little Child, where the riff is so good you ignore the little part of your mind that asks is this not a little creepy. And anyway, the voices in this album are those of a bunch of losers and lowlife - they are not straight confessional pieces. It sounds half like he's trying to chat up a schoolgirl and half like he's consoling her and one third like he's trying to warn her off him and men like him and one quarter like he's just passing on the useless knowledge that life is shit but school is even worse. Hey!
This is followed by Hook or Crook, which is throwaway in the best way, with Alex riffing on his criminal urges. "I only rarely rat / I only seldom snitch / Ain’t it such a shame / I ain’t got no shame". It's followed by I've Had It, and both are driven onwards by the tension of their immanent collapses. Of course they never quite do.
We've then got two minutes forty five seconds of sexual innuendo as Alex auditions to play the Kenneth Williams and Sid James roles simultaneously in Carry On Rockabilly. - Rock Hard? That old Elvis vibrato (with a little lot of Lux Interior) is smeared across the landscape of barstools and motels as Alex growls throatily at Girl After Girl.
In Waltz Across Texas it's as if Alex wakes up from a dream on the stage of the Grand Ol' Opry. The old Ernest Tubb tune is stretched and warped until. after almost five minutes Alex falls back asleep. Then we slide into the swamps with Alligator Man, a cover of an old rockabilly/country classic with the immortal opening lines "Mosquitos buzzin' round my head / Spanish moss for my bed /
I very seldom see dry land / 'cause I'm an Alligator man". No existential crisis here, just some 'gator wrasslin'. If that's not good enough for you then you're not good enough.
The album ends with Like Flies on Sherbert with its repeated refrain of It's So Fine, and it is. This sounds not a million miles from being on Sister Lovers / Third which means it is of course brilliant but it is also looser, drunker and more dangerous. You wouldn't like to hear it following you down a dark alley.
And then it's over and I flip the record over and drop the needle back into the well worn grooves.
If you ain't got it you can Youtube it. This version ends with the sprawling epic that is No More the Moon Shines on Lorena, which along with Baron of Love Pt 2 were on the original US version.
Here's a great interview with Alex carried out by Swell Map, City Solution and Immortal Soul Epic Soundtracks. http://whatanicewaytoturn17.blogspot.ie/2011/01/alex-chilton-by-epic-soundtracks.html
And here's some 'making of' videos.