mardi 26 février 2013

Cover Love Is Heaven Sent

I don’t always love a cover version.  Often I think they are pointless and boring.  But a cover version done well, when it brings something new to the song, is a beautiful thing.  These are my all-time favourites.

Hole – Gold Dust Woman (original by Fleetwood Mac)
Every element of this is so perfect to my sensibilities.  Love.  Nicks.  Gothed up to the nines.  ‘Did she make you cry/make you break down/shatter your illusions of love?’  Yes.  Yes, she did.

Nick Cave – Tower of Song (original by Leonard Cohen)
One of those covers where the synergy is so right you could have dreamed it.  Cave doing his best psychobilly crazed death swagger, to one of his hero’s (and mine) most darkly hilarious and sexed-up songs.  ‘Well, you can stick those pins in your voodoo doll/I’m sorry honey, but it don’t look like me at all… THEY DON’T LET A WOMAN KILL YOU IN THE TOWER OF SONG!’

Cat Power – Metal Heart (original by Cat Power)
Yes, you read that right.  Metal Heart was a song on Cat Power’s breakthrough album, Moon Pix.  At the time, she was seriously depressed and alcohol-soaked – she famously wrote most of the album during a fever-dream hallucination in a remote farmhouse, where she thought demons were trying to possess her, writing and writing songs to protect herself and keep them away.  Fast forward a few years – Cat Power has been sectioned and released, taken up Pilates and pretty much given up alcohol, grown up and got seriously glamorous.  So it was incredibly fitting that on her second all-covers album, Jukebox, she should cover one of her old songs – transforming her own work into a song of triumph and brilliance.  Hat off, Chan.

Sonic Youth/Ciccone Youth – Get Into the Groove (original by Madonna)
This is getting into territory dangerously close to the novelty/ironic cover version – but, for once, in a good way.  Yeah, it’s a deadpan version of a disco classic – and it’s sung by Thurston rather than Kim, which somehow heightens the effect.  But here’s the crucial thing – it’s really, really good.  It’s a great song, done in a sludgy lo-fi style that actually really suits it.  It’s a good piece of work on its own, with or without the hipster factor.

Tori Amos – I Don’t Like Mondays (original by the Boomtown Rats)
You’ve got to love a cover if it is part of a pretentious concept album, right?  Yes, dear Tori made a whole album of very specific cover versions – songs written by men about women.  This is very different and even better than the original – it brings out the spookiness and heartbreak of the subject matter so far that it’s almost unbearable.  The Eminem cover’s pretty bloody good, as well.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (original by Leonard Cohen)
Leonard Cohen himself has acknowledged, in typical understated style: ‘I think it’s a good song, but it’s been overdone now’.  He is, of course, so very right.  However, I do have a favourite version and it’s the divine Jeff Buckley’s.  On Grace, this is positioned next to the sublime and wonderful Lover, You Should Have Come Over – I swear I nearly wore out those two tracks.

Evan Dando – I Ain’t Missing You (original by John Waite)
The charming Evan does a lovely line in charming cover versions.  To give you a general flavour, I will tell you that he usually whistles and winds it up by making some funny noises.  This is a particularly nice one – Mr Dando’s jovial nature somehow adds to the poignancy of this sad, sad pop song.

REM – First We Take Manhattan (original by Leonard Cohen)
God, there are a lot of Leonard Cohen covers on here.  Fuck it.  I suppose that’s because the man writes songs that other songwriters covet.  This is such a dark, sinister song – and the 80s doom-pop tones that REM bring to this one add to the atmosphere.  ‘I don’t like your fashion business, mister/I don’t like those drugs that keep ya thin/I don’t like what happened to my sister – first we’ll take Manhattan/then we’ll take Berlin.’

Satisfaction – PJ Harvey and Bjork (original by the Rolling Stones)
Oh, how I miss the days when the Brit Awards were all like this.  Polly and Bjork standing up, both dressed in black, doing the sparsest, sexiest cover I have ever heard in my entire life.  I hero-worshipped them both – still do – so this was mind-blowing to me at the time.

The Man Who Sold The World – Nirvana (original by David Bowie)
An obvious one to end on – but it’s only obvious because it’s so bloody good!  Nirvana Unplugged is one of the most perfect (and poignant) sets ever played in history, and every cover on it is divine.  However, it was this one that first grabbed me.  Strangely, I have to admit – despite being a Bowie fan, the first version I heard of this song was the Nirvana one.  I knew it was a cover (because I knew the Nirvana catalogue backwards) but I had to find out who did the original.  And then, of course, it seemed obvious.  KC had a particular talent for knowing the covers that suited him the best, almost like telepathy.  I must have died alone, a long long time ago…’  If that doesn’t reduce you to tears, or at the very least give you serious goosebumps, then there is no hope for your soul.

mercredi 20 février 2013


Things cheering me up on these dark, dark, getting-lighter days…

  • My new Kitchen Aid blender.  It is red and it is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen.
  • St Tropez gradual tan moisturiser.  Yes, I’m afraid it’s true.  I have never used any fake tanning products (any fake anything products, really?) but I am now a convert.  I was fucking sick of looking so dead, and I have now gone from undead to nearly-dead in the space of a couple of days.
  •  My upcoming holiday to Istanbul with my best friend – the thought of hot hamam steam soaking into my bones, views from our hotel’s roof terrace, the call to prayer in my ears over Easter…  Things will be better after Easter.

lundi 18 février 2013

Why Can’t I Be You?

I am in (the very early stages of) my 30s.  Unfortunately, I am still as easily influenced as I was when I was 15.  Maybe even more so.

My friend Ruth and I have been on beginning-of-the-year health kicks.  We were discussing exercise classes and kale smoothies via email, and Ruth randomly mentioned that she was listening to Youth and Young Manhood by the Kings of Leon – which sparked a whole new conversation about how this was unquestionably their greatest (and in my opinion: only great) record.  It brings back brilliant memories for me of hot boys, wild parties, dancing in the mud at Glastonbury in a magenta cocktail dress that belonged to my mum in the 80s, with a beer in each hand and a fag balanced on one corner of a lip.  You know, that kind of stuff.

Ruth said it before I did.  Damn, but Kings of Leon was not good music to soundtrack a health kick.  By California Waiting we were both gasping for a double whisky and a Marlboro Red, followed by a greasy hotdog on the way home.

Over Christmas, I fell into a black hole of Cat Marnell.  I unwisely spent a whole day reading her old beauty columns on xoJane.  By nightfall, I was considering: fake tan, snapback caps, white jeans and ketamine.  Seriously.  What the hell is wrong with me?

Last night, I started Googling pictures of Liv Tyler in the 90s, and instantly started wondering if I could pull of a long-sleeved midriff top with a low-slung jean these days.  I reckon: maybe.  But then I started wondering if I should have some collagen injections in my top lip – maybe even less advisable than midriff-baring.

Since Cat Power cropped and bleached her hair, I have been left with quite the dilemma.   I used to spend hours – and, OK, still do – Google-imaging photographs of Chan with her long brown hair and fringe, being inspired as to how I could look even more like her.

I’ve been worried about her lately, and I desperately want her to stay well because – selfishly – her getting well and happy has been such an inspiration to me.  We can both do it!  (Oh, and with the hair – I’ve come to the decision that when I turn 40, just like Chan did, I will chop and bleach my hair.  I will restrain myself in the meantime.)

Fortunately, I’ve learned – only lately – that it works both ways.  I can try to make myself obsess over things that make me healthy and productive, and still appeal to my sensibilities.  They might sound weird but here they are:

Natalie Portman
Seriously.  She is so pretty, I love everything she wears, and I am still obsessed with Black Swan.  She also seems so sensible, so sorted.  She is exactly the same age as me, very nearly to the day.  After reading a few archive interviews with her, I am usually left wanting to be similarly sensible and sorted.

Not even kidding.  I know everyone else seems to find GP and her constant quest for self-betterment grating.  I find it very honest and refreshing – so much better than claiming that one can look like that through funtimes and pure fluke.  And some of the advice in her newsletters – yeah, OK, she’s a bit out of touch with ‘civilians’ but that makes it extra fun – is actually really helpful.

Frame blog
Frame is a trendy exercise studio in Shoreditch.  Unfortunately, I have never been there, as I do not live in trendy Shoreditch.  However, I do occasionally badger them via the medium of Twitter to open their next branch in Brighton.  In the meantime, luckily for me, they have an excellent blog that provides me with constant motivation to keep healthy, fit, trendy and Shoreditch-y.  Honestly, it’s the only website I’ve ever encountered that makes being super-healthy look cool and aspirational, rather than boring and pious.  Praise be.

Emma Forrest
I know I’ve talked about Emma Forrest here before, but she is worth mentioning time and time again.  Her beautiful, brave and brilliant memoir, Your Voice in My Head, has become a self-help book to me – the only one I’ve ever actually used.  I’ve given it to so many friends I’ve lost count.  I keep it nearby at all times – by my bed, in my handbag – and spent an hour last night re-reading it in a hot bath.  I have a whole paragraph highlighted on page 98, which has become my mantra – I suggest you buy the book and you’ll know which one I mean.

vendredi 15 février 2013

Forgotten gems: The Reality Bites soundtrack

The two most famous songs on it – My Sharona and Baby I Love Your Way – aren’t even from the 90s, but this album in its entirety reminds me of nothing but.

Ali and I selected Reality Bites for our video viewing on a Saturday night sleepover circa 1995 and quickly became obsessed.  Basically, we wanted to be Lelaina and Vickie when we grew up.  Who didn’t?  (Well, until Cher and Tai from Clueless took over after we went to see it twice at the cinema that summer.)

As well as the video, we bought the soundtrack album and listened to it constantly.  When we weren’t singing along earnestly to Lisa Loeb, we were dancing around my bedroom in sunglasses and teadresses with stripy T-shirts underneath, pretending we were in a petrol station (‘Can you turn this up, please?  You won’t be sorry…’)

I still listen to it today, usually now dancing around my kitchen and pretending it’s a petrol station.  There are some genuinely good bands on there (Dinosaur Jnr, Juliana Hatfield 3, The Posies) and also some that I don’t love-love but am fond of because of the era (Lenny Kravitz, Crowded House, World Party).  Weirdly, also the only U2 song that doesn’t totally make me want to gouge my own eyes out in horror (All I Want is You).

There are some other of-their-time gems, not least Ethan Hawke’s hilarious in-character turn as Troy of ‘Hey That’s My Bike’ with his masterpiece I’m Nuthin’.  But the best song on there, though, is still Stay (I Missed You) by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories.  It’s lovely, immensely singalongable, and perfect.

lundi 11 février 2013

Navel Gazing

We’ve all got our weird body issues/hang-ups/anxieties, right?  Right.  This is a gigantic issue and as such might be a gigantic review – make yourself a sandwich or something for this one, OK?

I honestly don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have a single problem on this front.  This has been the case pretty much since secondary school.  For me and everyone else I know, varying in severity.

For me, I spent the ages of 13 to 16 wishing I wasn’t so ridiculously small, skinny and flat-chested.  I would will myself to miraculously inflate to a pneumatic size 10, ideally with the cleavage of a Wonderbra model and the legs of a much taller person than I actually am.  Size 10 was the perfect size, I was convinced – size 10 with 34C breasts.  I ate very unselfconsciously (my equally skinny best friend Ali and I were infamous for being able to eat an entire KFC family bucket – complete with Viennetta – between us in approximately 30 seconds flat) and to no avail.

There was one golden summer when I turned 16 and felt OK.  The boy I had been in love with for years became my boyfriend, and I was obsessed with Gwen Stefani, who was about as flat-chested as I was.  I started doing 100 sit-ups every night, whilst listening to Tragic Kingdom, and soon had the Stefani abs I now coveted.

Then from 17 to 23, I developed some low-level eating issues that had little to do with my appearance and much more to do with the fact that I was pretty depressed.  I went away to university and once ate nothing but tinned tomatoes for three months.  I smoked more than I ate, and drank vats of diet Coke (and quite a lot of vodka).  I had some nasty bulimic habits that took a long time to shake off.  Weirdly, when I started mucking around with my eating patterns in such cavalier fashion, I often became less skinny, more bloated (interspersed with periods of serious boniness).

It’s only in the last few years that I’ve started exercising regularly, eating reasonably healthily and stopped cannoning from one extreme to the other, so that my weight has become pretty stable.  I can say now with a degree of shaky confidence that I am ‘normal’, so these days I only have the same boring, nagging worries that everyone else has.

You know the sort of things.  Now that I am a grown-up size 10, I spend quite a lot of time thinking that an 8 is probably the perfect size after all.  My boobs are still small but I’m more pear-shaped – unfortunately bony of chest and sturdy of arse.  No matter how thin I get, I have stubby Shetland pony legs; I spend a lot of time wistfully Google-imaging Alexa Chung.  I wonder if I do my Tracy Anderson work-out DVDs a bit more religiously then I might actually look like Gwyneth (or Gwen, who remains one of my many physical icons).  I sometimes have to force myself to run at least three times a week, but sometimes I have to reign in my extreme nature and stop myself from running more than five times a week.  For someone who bangs on a lot about eating normally, I feel a weird thrill if I don’t fancy eating dinner, and can pointlessly beat myself up for days over a spell of overeating and overdrinking.

So, whatever your version is of the above – and I’m sure all/most of us have one – Navel Gazing by Anne H. Putnam is a book that we can all relate to (subtitle: One woman’s quest for a size normal).  It’s not about the specifics, but the feelings and the often-murky reasons behind them.

Anne’s story is nothing like mine but I could relate to it so much and I am so glad that she has written this honest and fascinating memoir.  She became seriously overweight from her teenage years onwards, and then had gastric bypass surgery at the age of 17, when such procedures were not at all well-known or commonplace.  She dropped 10 dress sizes and embarked on a personal journey that was mental as much as physical.

She is unflinching and the story manages to be universal yet completely her own.  The style is compelling and, despite covering some obviously serious issues, entertaining enough that the book never gets bogged down in grimness.

It’s had a lot of press attention and rightly so – this is a timely book and a really good one.  I recommend Navel Gazing totally.  And now I’m going to eat that sandwich and try not to worry too much.