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Music Zone - July 2008

Paul Weller portrait by Dean Smith

I'm going to see the great man perform a solo show at Sydney's Enmore Theatre in August and needless to say I am one excited little cookie. As a little tribute to the songwriting genius of the former Jam and Style Council frontman and one of the most influential British musicians of all time, I am going to be posting on some of his greatest achievements, both with the aforementioned groups and as a solo artist.

And where better to start than with the Jam's best known song, Town Called Malice ?

Better stop dreaming of the quiet life -
cos it's the one we'll never know
And quit running for that runaway bus -
cos those rosey days are few
And - stop apologising for the things you've never done,
Cos time is short and life is cruel -
but it's up to us to change
This town called malice.

Rows and rows of disused milk floats
stand dying in the dairy yard
And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk
bottles to their hearts
Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry

It's enough to make you stop believing when tears come
fast and furious
In a town called malice.

Struggle after struggle - year after year
The atmosphere's a fine blend of ice -
I'm almost stone cold dead
In a town called malice.

A whole street's belief in Sunday's roast beef
gets dashed against the Co-op
To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It's a big decision in a town called malice.

Ghost of a steam train - echoes down my track
It's at the moment bound for nowhere -
just going round and round, Ohh
Playground kids and creaking swings -
lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will -
but I'd sooner put some joy back
In this town called malice.

When I was kid in the eighties, I thought this song was called A Town Called Alice, as in the Aussie town calledAlice Springs and the book of the same name. And whilst Paul Weller did indeed draw inspiration from the title of Neville Shute's novel, it is not about life in the Australian outback.

There is actually no town called "malice" (well maybe there is but that is not what Paul Weller is singing about), rather the song is about life in a working class English suburb. A Town Called Malice deals with Weller's experiences with unemployment, poverty and despair as a teenager in urban England.

"It could have been written about any suburban town" Said Weller, "but it was in fact written about my hometown of Woking." (1000 UK Number Hits)

The lyrics point to a uniquely British view of working class life, with lines such as "A whole street's belief in Sunday's roast beef gets dashed against the Co-op", which left American listener's scratching their heads in puzzlement. Hence, the song, whilst reaching number 1 in the UK, failed to chart in the States. But like millions of fans, I'm glad Weller and The Jam did not compromise their storytelling for the sake of commercial success. His is a distinct British voice, describing aspects of British culture and as such his influence on subsequent British artists has been immense. And whilst those of us who are not British may not be able to relate to all the incidents he relates, very few of us cannot relate to the daily struggle of simply trying to get by.

My favourite line in this song is "To either cut down on beer or the kids new gear
It's a big decision in a town called malice".
There are so many layers in these lyrics. It can be read as an indictment to the tendency of some parents to put their alcohol dependence ahead of their children's needs, but primarily it is a heart-wrenching reference to the hopelessness felt by these working class folk. Not enough money to make ends meet and only the numbing effects of alcohol to make the pain tolerable.

Bands who draw or drew inspiration from Weller include The Stone Roses and britpop darlings Blur and Oasis. He is also still affectionately referred to as The Modfather, for his role as the most prominent figure in the 1970s Mod revival.


Lump Kills Grunge

July 10th 2008 06:11

This song came on the radio this morning as i was driving and damn if I didn't feel like the last thirteen years never happened...

Lump sat alone in a boggy marsh
Totally motionless except for her heart
Mud flowed up into Lump's pajamas
She totally confused all the passing piranhas

She's Lump, she's Lump
She's in my head
She's Lump, she's Lump, she's Lump
She might be dead

Lump lingered last in line for brains,
And the ones she got were sort of rotten and insane
Small thing's so sad that birds could land
Is Lump fast asleep or rockin' out with the band?

She's Lump, she's Lump
She's in my head
She's Lump, she's Lump, she's Lump
She might be dead

Lump was limp and lonely and needed a shove
Lump slipped on a kiss and tumbled into love
She spent her twenties between the sheets
Life limped along at subsonic speeds

She's Lump, she's Lump
She's in my head
She's Lump, she's Lump, she's Lump
She might be dead

Is this Lump out of my head, I think so
Is this Lump out of my head, I think so, yeah
Is this Lump out of my head, I think so
Is this Lump out of my head...

1995 saw a world still reeling from the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Whilst fellow grunge rockers such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were still going strong, there was no doubt that the so-called Seattle Sound had reached its peak and there was a giant Nirvana-shaped hole in the music industry.

And then came the Presidents Of The United States Of America (PUSA). Literally bursting onto the scene with Lump, their unbelievably fast-paced and nonsensical debut single, they were one of the bands that signalled the end of the reign of grunge.

In contrast to the alternately melancholy/apathetic and angst-filled lyrics which were a hallmark of grunge, PUSA also hailing from Seattle, chose instead to explore their art by way of catchy, tongue-in-cheek and self-depracating lyrics. The video clip for Lump features the band members dressed in suits and ties and engaging in over the top antics as they perform the song. This was a conscious attempt to distance themselves from their fellow Seattle contemporaries who were, of course, famous for their unkempt appearances, love of flannel and their tendency to eschew any sort of theatrics in their performances.

The theories as to the meaning of the lyrics are as varied as they are many. Some of my favourites include:

*Lump" being a reference to the singer Chris Ballew's penis; "lump was limp and lonely and needed a shove".

*An ode to necrophilia. I'm not quite sure which lyrics point to this however. Maybe the soggy marsh? Is Lump fast asleep or rocking out with the band? She might be dead?

* An obituary to a transvestite whose sex change operation goes horribly wrong as she ends up with a very small penis, gets raped and dumped hidden in a marsh. The "passing piranhas", of course were confused as to her sexual identity. Hmmmm.

Whilst the above interpretations are indeed creative, I always thought it was about a non-too-brilliant groupie who slept around and got into too much trouble for her own good with lines such as, "Lump slipped on a kiss and tumbled into love", perhaps indicating her unfortunate habit of mistaking sex for love. How unusual. I've never done that myself.

For his part, Ballew has said that the lyrics were based on vivid dreams he had whilst on antibiotics for pneumonia and the band did later confirm that the song was indeed about a former party girl who grew up and got lazy.

Whatever you want to make of the lyrics, it's a kicker of a song and as much fun now as it was during the crazy, heady, drug-infused days of my youth.

It also spawned the following parody by Weird Al Yankovic:


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