Monday, September 08, 2008

Last guy on the planet apparently... 

So, wow.

I was listening to local radio station WCBN in the car and they were playing this totally jagged, angular song. I had to grab an old gas station receipt and a pen and scratch out as many of the lyrics as I could, because I knew I really wanted to hear it again. Part of me thought it was Television but it also had elements of Bowie and to be honest, I really was a little bit terrified I was listening to (and enjoying) the second Killers song I've stumbled across in a month.

Turns out it was "Why Can't I Touch It?" by The Buzzcocks:

Wow did that hit me in just the right spot. Reminded me a lot of Marquee Moon by Television:

The vocals are so panicked and insistent, and the bassline/snare combo should really have been sampled in hip-hop by now. The scattered jangle of guitars stumble all over each other in a way that you never hear anymore, with a stupid/awesome blast of distorted guitar in each chorus. Effing sharp and brilliant.

The song review from
A reggae shuffle of sorts forms the rhythmic basis of this infectious pop tune from the Buzzcocks. While most of the band's songs were infused with a healthy dose of punk rock energy and aggression, "Why Can't I Touch It?" is a relaxed, albeit angular groove, approaching punk only by way of the Clash's penchant for Caribbean beats and dub-style production/arranging and perhaps Pete Shelley's astringent, high-register vocal delivery; it is punk maybe in the way of some white English boys trying to play dub via Krautrockers Can. While it is actually a collection of singles spanning the last few years of the '70s, one would be forgiven for mistaking the relentlessly melodic LP Singles Going Steady (1979) for a concept album. The recurring themes and concerns of songwriter Shelley are mainly limited to young-adult (specifically male) sexual and emotional dissatisfaction. Along the way the listener is treated to often humorous expressions of the existential angst of a narrator (the protagonist seems to be the same guy in each song) stymied -- at times by his own inherent limitations -- in his efforts at real human connection in a cold, post-industrialized society. Shelley plays the part of this emotionally retarded narrator convincingly again in 1978's "Why Can't I Touch It?" Suffering more setbacks as he inches palpably closer to his desires, Shelley, asking yet another of his musical questions, whines, "Well it seems so real I can see it/And it seems so real I can feel it/And it seems so real I can taste it/And it seems so real I can hear it/So why can't I touch it?" Each verse repeats the same lyrics, interchanging phrases like so: "Then it looks so real I can feel it/And it feels so real I can taste it," until reaching the final conclusive verse, "And it is so real I can hear it/And it is so real I can be it/So why can't I touch it?" The song ends on a droning jam on the looping groove, sound effects echoing into the ether as twin guitars bounce off each other in a Television-like call and response. The beauty of the performance is that it is in real time, an approximation of a loop. The drums and bass lock into a groove that is humanly imperfect. If the song was recorded post-1985, say, it would probably have been digitally sampled and looped via computer, which would have made it less human and probably less musical. The ears of listeners became accustomed to perfect, machinated beats and loops.

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