Alphabetical CD Marathon: P (Part 1)

In this post, which frankly is just a stepping stone towards the real gems of the P section of my CD collection, P is for Pele, Pet Shop Boys, Placebo and Portishead.

Pele
The now sadly defunct UK band – not the US band of the same name – were for a short period of time the life and soul of my student daze. I saw them at least five times and wandered around campus wearing a black tee-shirt with their name in big red, yellow, green and blue letters on the front and the character-summarising lyric “I drink too much and I think too much” emblazoned on the back. That’s of course when I wasn’t wearing Ned’s and PWEI tee-shirts. The Pele tee-shirt perhaps lasted longer than the band and I distinctly wearing it for my one and only army assault course that I completed when I was working for a living and which was so traumatic I will end that particular tale before it begins.

Pele were exceptionally good as a live act perhaps because the production values of their albums were very close to their live sound. Their first album Fireworks is the best by far and some of the singles actually received a fair bit of radio play – for instance I remember the jaunty “Fair blows the wind for France” playing in the car while my dad was driving me back to university after a break. All the tracks are great and bring back great memories for me of sweating away, pissed up on cheap larger moshing around to their essentially angry but catchy tunes. The closest band I can think of in terms of sound is perhaps The Wonderstuff.

The regulars at Loughborough Students Union knew all the words and exactly when the fiddling was going to go manic and when we could go crazy. I find it odd in retrospect that a band with the ‘working class’ politics that Pele possessed would curry favour at Loughborough University given the demographic of the students in attendance. But Pele seemed to love us and we loved them in return. The relationship was such that when it came to recording a live album, A-Live-A-Live-O, Loughborough was the venue of choice. So this album actually has me singing along and some of my friends’ scrawls are featured on the CD slip.

I don’t have the third album on CD, but do have a copy from a friend and it’s also pretty good. The band split up eventually and the lead singer formed another band called Amsterdam who are also pretty good.

Ultimately Pele were one of those bands for whom you can quote whatever war film it is and say ‘you don’t understand, you weren’t there man!’ and if you actually were then good for you – you don’t need me to tell you how good they were…

Pet Shop Boys
For me PSB are a bit like Erasure in that once upon a time they were regarded as quite a cutting edge and trendy act and now seem like a bit of a joke. I was never a big fan – I bought the odd single but never any albums and their stuff was so ubiquitous on TV, the radio and around friends’ houses that I didn’t really need any albums of my own. However I did later buy Discography which is a greatest hits collection up to “DJ Culture” and “Was it worth it?”

For me the early singles are the best – tracks like “West end girls”, “Opportunities”, “Suburbia” and “It’s a sin”. Also I guess I have to say “Rent” because if they hadn’t of made that record then Carter USM wouldn’t have been able to do a brilliant cover version of it. As electronica goes I didn’t think they were as creative as Erasure, Depeche Mode or any number of other bands who were classed in that pigeon hole in the same era. So nice to have a singles collection, wouldn’t part with it but if someone rushed in with a gun now and demanded I hand over a couple of discs from this pile then it would be one of the two (I’ll come to the other one).

Placebo
Tricky one this as I know quite a few people who absolutely love Placebo, but like The Killers I’ll stick to my opinion and beg to differ on some points. Actually it’s not as bad as all that. I love the first two albums, Placebo in particular.

Placebo as a debut doesn’t really put a foot wrong, but I have to say that I think that musically they sound quite a lot like Ned’s. They are gifted with a great lead singer and songwriter and that’s the core difference. The lyrics are completely nuts on a lot of their songs and sometimes it’s probably better not to delve too deep.

Without you I’m nothing is a bit boring compared to the debut apart from “Pure Morning” which is brilliant and “You don’t care about us” (which to me is like the polar opposite of “You love us” by the Manics).

Sleeping with ghosts was even more unappealing to me than the second album and the nail in the coffin for me in terms of buying their stuff. That said I got the double disc version which includes Covers.

Anyone who has read previous posts will know (and I feel I repeat it almost every post) I absolutely love a good cover version and there is almost a whole CD’s worth here by Placebo. Highlights are The Pixies “Where is my mind”, Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You”, Boney M’s “Daddy Cool”, Sinead O’Conner’s “Jackie”, T Rex “20th Century Boy” (which featured on the excellent film Velvet Goldmine) and The Smiths “Bigmouth Strikes Again” with some updating on the gadgets that ‘started to melt’. So because of the second CD Sleeping with ghosts doesn’t get handed over to the armed raider. Intrigued? Well read on.

Portishead
A very brief girlfriend of mine way back in the annals of time told me that when her dad first heard Portishead playing in her room he asked her if ‘angels were singing in her room’. The line may have found its way into one of my books because I liked his turn of phrase and agreed with the sentiment. It’s about the only thing she told me that made the slightest bit of sense. *Smiley*

Anyway Dummy is an album that quite possibly could find its way onto my ten desert island disks. It’s an out-and-out classic and was jaw droppingly different from anything else out at the time (if you ignore Tricky). Love love love love it. Beth Gibbons’s vocals are like melted chocolate being poured into your ear and the music is Go Beat – tastic.

Portishead the second album is pretty much more of the same and I’m particularly fond of “Mourning Air” which I think featured on a version of a charity album called Help! at around the same time (but I might be misremembering). Nice nice nice nice nice.

And then we have to wait about ten years for the third album unimaginatively titled Third. And at last we arrive at the other disc I’d hand over without qualm to the armed bandit. ‘Good luck to you, my good man, now be off while I call the police…’ I’d say and laugh about it in long summer days to come.

In the decade that passed between second and third album something disastrous has happened to Beth Gibbons’s voice – the faux jazz cadences are gone and it sounds wrong. The music is also a lot more industrial than expected and mismatches with the vocals. I was hoping Third would be a ‘grower’ but for me it isn’t. Hey ho – looking on the bright side it means I get to listen to Pop Will Eat Itself next. WOOT!

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