Thursday, 31 May 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #197 - John Cooper Clarke, "Disguise in Love"

The foothills of Punk Britannia appeared out of the mist on BBC Four last night with a doc on John Cooper Clarke, the Bard of Salford. I haven't watched it yet, Sky+'d for tonight; but I realised I haven't listened to the album that he did with fellow Greater Mancunian culture hero, Martin "Zero" Hannett. It's called "Disguise in Love" and it features a band called The Curious Yellows, I think, which were a combination of whatever musician pals were knocking around at the time. I'd always avoided it a little bit in the past because I'd preferred JCC as a spoken word phenomenon. But the time has arrived!

Did he name himself after the manhole covers by the way? I keep seeing them around Manchester, and I figure he would be "from the streets". Could be his real name, I suppose; but that seems a wasted opportunity.

Torrential word play and the subject matter "Salome Maloney", "Psycle Sluts" and "Readers Wives" suggest that the poetry is a sexual sublimation, yeah? I can certainly go along with that option. Very much what the CocOen was about during and before the Delicate Hammers era - and since, but without the performative outlet. And what poet couldn't be peered out through sex-stained spectacles? JCC's a bit too big of a subject matter to cover though, too good for me to dig my dirty little critical fingers into. (Now who's subliminating sexuality, eh?) He's there in the firmament with Viv Stanshall and there's no-one quite like him. But perhaps that's because pop culture only has room for the one, and he picked up at the right time to be carried on with the current to where we are now.

In an effort to engage critically, I could focus on the music, but it works well. Slightly spooky, slightly alienated, a touch of the soft rock. Big elastic sounding bass sounds. An air of late Roxy Music; louche and paranoid. Perhaps it was the smack talking through nodding fingers and mumbling thumbs. "Valley of the Lost Women" has a lovely Lou Reed drift about it, even some "Oh, oh" backing vocal sounds towards the end.

"In which I fill the auditorium with popping phenetics," he snarls eloquently as he introduces "The Pest" in front a leery crowd that laugh at the piss and seem to miss some of the cleverer parts; but that's the nature of the crowd. I'm really glad there are live bits of his performances because it's electric and cunning and lithe stuff. He records a battering from "an embryonic Bruce Lee" the size of "two penny fart" on "Kung Fu International" and the album closes with drunken claps and cheers. That is correct.

There's more industrial styles as well with lumpen bass and shot-blasting keyboard squalls and scratching guitar. "Gimmix! Play Loud" ends with a weird sea-lion-copying loop of his nasal twanglets. "I Don't Want to Be Nice" has an expansive, millenarian skank going on, while Johnny shares pearls like "A friend in need is a friend in debt". "Teenage Werewolf" is like lift music, Teletext funk - with JCC's bizarre, parallel autobiography. An inexhaustible to narrate and re-invent and describe himself: "I've seen the world, I didn't like it/What's in it for me?"

But the words are the best bit - "Psycle Sluts" is a spoken word version to give the words all their power. And to include his gawky, breathless chuckles when he does something especially clever. So fucking hard and shiny and dense: "the tough Madonna whose Cro Magnon face and Crab Nebula curves haunt the highways of the UK ... their lips pushed in a neon arc of dodgems". Do people still put words together like this in public?

Rating: Crystalline Restless Self-Mythology out of Manholes

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