‘Scuse Me While I Kiss This Galangal

I couldn’t believe my ears. Someone I couldn’t see in a room nearby had just broken out into what sounded like a line from one of my most-played songs of last year. In almost exactly the same way I’d gabbled the line in countless mad solitary post-midnight subwoofing dances in my room, she was saying “Galang galang galang”, and even managing a fairly good approximation of MIA’s singsong.

My first excited thought was that there might actually be someone in the office who listened to non-mainstream music. Although over the years I’ve grown used to having almost no friends who listen to the same sort of music I do, it’s still really nice to meet someone who does. My second excited thought was that with my now-pathetic grasp of current music affairs, maybe I was just unaware that by now Galang is mainstream music and it’s a hit! Either possibility would be cool.

And then the next line of the conversation burst both my hopeful little bubbles. She walked out of the room, followed by her friend, who was insisting “No lah, the best tau huay is at Selegie Road!” And what, then, did my ostensible fellow MIA-lover say? She repeated what she’d said before, same rhythm, same singsong – “Geylang geylang geylang!”

I’m crushed, but I might as well get something out of this disappointment – if you have a view on where the best tau huay is, please share.

[Note: This post is better understood if you are a) a music geek or b) familiar with places in Singapore, and best understood if you’re both.]

KLF Uh Huh Uh Huh

It was 3 AM, and I’d been reading the same sentence on the page of my IT law textbook over and over again for what seemed like forever. This triggered obscure skippety synapses in the Random Useless Music Trivia part of my increasingly bored mind and I found myself typing “KLF 3 AM Eternal” into Google just for the hell of it, only to reel back in shock at the discovery that after all these years of thinking they were saying “ACtion so GROO-VEE”, they were actually apparently saying “ANcients of MU-MU”.

Pet Shop Boys (Singapore Indoor Stadium, August 2002)

At some point I really must write about the Sonic Youth gig I went to in my last weeks in London but for now I will be content with swearing undying love for the Pet Shop Boys, who I saw on Monday.

Due to my brother’s obsession with them, they were the soundtrack to my childhood. Before I was snarling Who’s bad? into hairbrushes I was crooning I love yoooou, you pay my rent, though obviously not even remotely understanding what the song was about at the time. I learnt the meanings of “suburbia” and “left to my own devices” from the Pet Shop Boys dictionary before I ever came across them in books. I think a big reason why I like vocoders is because they make everyone sound like Neil Tennant.

I will not make cowardly attempts to maintain indie cred and pretend I only like PSB because of their kitsch appeal. I did not sit coolly back at Monday’s gig, quirking my lip occasionally at oh, the 80ness of it all. No, I pumped my fists in the air and jumped around crazily for the I love you bay-bee section of Where The Streets Have No Name, pointed west for Go West, screamed out ALL the lyrics to Left To My Own Devices and would generally have domino danced the night away if they’d gone on that long.

Yish and I had initially been quite dismayed at finding out, after we’d bought our tickets, that this tour wouldn’t involve Lycra-clad dancers and other high-campness. But seriously, completely discounting what I just described myself doing in the above paragraph, there’s so much more I love about the Pet Shop Boys than that. I think the aspect of songcraft that involves matching lyrics with music that’s right for them is deceptively simple, and rarely well achieved. I’ve written about this before but let me elaborate: enjoying some bands really is all about the music for me – I don’t know most of the lyrics to my indie rock albums because they’re much less relevant to my appreciation of those albums than, say, the sound of a warping wall of guitar. Pavement can (and does) sing whatever meaningless burblings they want and I’ll still like listening to them. But there are other bands where the lyrics, even if they’re unimpressive on paper, are somehow so enmeshed with the music in my consciousness, that without those words the song is not the song I love. And apart from the Silver Jews and Simon and Garfunkel, no one else seems to do that as well for me as the Pet Shop Boys.

I think I just lost a lot of musical credibility. With, like, everyone.

Very Occasionally A Lyrics Person

I’m not really much of a lyrics person. It doesn’t really matter what Sonic Youth or Fugazi are singing to me as long as it sounds good with the guitars. Other Tori Amos fans gape at me in disbelief when I confess that I don’t really bother reading her lyrics. Apparently they’re deeply meaningful. I’m generally indifferent to the sort of music review where the reviewer quotes extensively from lyrics and concludes that the album is about redemption or tortured love or dark nights of the soul or whatever. I tend to home in on descriptions of how it all sounds and ignore analysis of meaning and themes.

I’ve always felt a bit guilty about this – sort of shallow and non-indie. Most people I’ve mentioned this indifference to lyrics to have certainly reacted with surprise and a little bemusement, and I suppose I’d get raised eyebrows from the A-list music bloggers as well if any of them read this blog (ha, I think not). I can’t really figure out why this is either – I love words intensely in every other context, but the pleasure I derive from most of the music I listen to is overwhelmingly sensory rather than emotional or intellectual.

This doesn’t mean that music lyrics are completely meaningless to me; they do affect my appreciation of music but in a limited and asymmetric way. If I already find a song musically appealing, lyrics I like make me like it more, but bad lyrics have negligible effect.

Which is why it’s unusual that I love Silver Jews’ American Water. There are lines throughout it that jump out at me and elevate what would otherwise feel like exceedingly pleasant but humdrum alt-country to an album of moods and stories and places. Random Rules has In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection; I know that a lot of what I have to say has been lifted off of men’s room walls; and But before I go I gotta ask you dear about that tan line on your ring finger, which are all quite amusing, but something in the ending gives it a similar sort of poignance as Papa Was A Rodeo (Magnetic Fields) except perhaps not as sharp. Wild Kindness closes the album saying I’m going to shine out in the wild silence and spurn the sin of giving in, later I’m going to shine out in the wild kindness and hold the world to its word, and I don’t even really know what this means, but it feels good to hear him sing that.

This happens elsewhere too. I’ve written about Papa Was A Rodeo before. Lyrics are more important to me in rap, and are the absolute essence of why I love 8pt Agenda (Herbaliser featuring Latyrx) madly, and rather enjoy Eminem. Lyrics (and okay, I admit, my secret hopeless romanticism. Stop laughing.) are big reasons why Somebody (Depeche Mode), Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill) and Annie’s Song (John Denver) render me weak-kneed, sappy-smiled and mushy-hearted. My enjoyment of Hefner’s The Fidelity Wars is equal parts funny lyrics and appealing melodies.

But most of the time lyrics don’t mean that much to me, which is why I went hmmmm while listening to American Water last night. Funny how these rambles of mine get triggered.

Placebo Poetry

Oh God, I have discovered one of the greatest comedic writing geniuses of modern times. The only problem is that I don’t think Brian Molko of Placebo means to be funny.

I was brushing my teeth this morning when Xfm played Placebo’s new single, Special K. By the chorus I had ingested half the toothpaste and sprayed the other half onto the mirror. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t expect every song to be Strange Fruit, and one of my favourite singers did start an album by confessing “Father, I killed my monkey” and my favourite band did give the world My Friend Goo, but really, Brian, leitmotif?

SPECIAL K (words in bold are particular gems IMO)

Coming up beyond belief
On this coronary thief
More than just a leitmotif
More chaotic, no relief

I’ll describe the way I feel
Weeping wounds that never heal
Can the savior be for real
Or are you just my seventh seal?

No hesitation, no delay
You come on just like special K
Just like I swallowed half my stash
I never ever want to crash

No hesitation, no delay
You come on just like special K
Now you’re back with dope demand
I’m on sinking sand
No escaping gravity
No escaping… not for free
I fall down… hit the ground
Make a heavy sound

Every time you seem to come around

I’ll describe the way I feel
You’re my new Achilles heel
Can this savior be for real
Or are you just my seventh seal?

No escaping gravity
No escaping gravity
No escaping gravity
No escaping gravity
Gravity (x4)

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, Brian, friendly note: calling a song Slave To The Wage and having this chorus –

It’s a maze for rats to try x2
It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die
It’s a race, a race for rats
A race for rats to die

– does not make for penetrating social commentary. It sounds asinine.