And so to Spector, the latest collection of sharply clad young men to roll off a conveyor belt marked “the London indie scene” into a box marked “Big time?” Yes, Ma, the boys are growing up, becoming men. All that needs to happen now is the release of a thought-provoking video, one that finds favour with this island’s most decorated (with badges) music writer. Well, wouldn’t you just know, the Fiction Records five-piece have put out a moving picture to accompany their beguiling anthem “Never Fade Away” and here am I, the monkey at the keyboard, to say “Arise, Spector, and take your place in the pantheon of indie legends.” What of the video?
It begins. From my brief exploration of the 1920s Shanghai origins of Cantopop and the influence Zhou “Singing Film Girl” Xuan had on a young Buddy Holly, I would say the words that accompany this image are spoken in Cantonese. The image appears to be from an advert for Honey Nut Loops or some local variant. It is apt. Spector are farmers, farming the grain of words and music. They take this grain, these chords, these samples, beats and lyrics, and turn it into honey-covered nutty loops, or songs. From basic ingredients come beautiful things. The equation is simple: A (grain) + B (farming) = C (Honey Nut Loops). Or: A (words and music) + B (time in a studio) = C (songs). For more on this, see my 787-word pamphlet on Rosemary Clooney, entitled All we had was 23 Instruments and the Truth.
We are in parts Eastern, this much is clear. The script is Katakana, a Japanese syllabary usually used to transcribe foreign words. Spector are the world’s band, a band of translation, a band with a universal message, one that can be transcribed easily. The sly move from spoken Cantonese to written Japanese is a delightful joke at the expense of the occidental buffoon, the weekender indie fan whose cultural knowledge extends no further than the latest Hard-Fi single. Of course, the tongue-in-cheek reference to the traditional, long-running popularity of British indie bands in Japan goes without saying. See you at Fuji Rock, chaps.
We are in some kind of internment camp run by schoolchildren. All around are the ghosts of Vietnam, of the stricken jungles and burnt-out villages, of Charlie and Kurtz, the heart of darkness and the Sheen family (not literally, of course – such things are implied). Two band members are being marched forth at gunpoint. Singer and band mouthpiece Fred Macpherson is in the blue jacket while axe-wielder Christopher Burman, he of the bouffant highlighted hair, is in the white jacket, as befits his status as the band’s premier ladies man. This is a story of power. A story of heartbreak and of childhood: are we doomed to be trapped in our school days, forever held hostage by the love we gave but never received? Will we forever be beseeching but never be receiving?
The scene rewinds as fire flickers, burning books, killing knowledge and celebrating the unruly. We are being shown the vacant howl of the Jessie J generation, here delightfully skewered by the Pacey Witter generation. The rewinding runs through the video. Time repeats, is cut up, as in a Stockhausen loop. The singer will always be at the bar, will always be looking on from the sidelines. Life’s spectator until the moment of redress, his pride has flown out of the window. There is only honesty, piercing, searing honesty, left in the room.
Images of enslavement abound: handcuffs, guns – it’s all here. “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains,” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau – and here we see a perfect illustration of this dark vision. For rock and roll is freedom but to be enthral to a fickle other, to love but not to be loved back, to watch from the side, to “never fade away” (unless asked) – why, to know and experience these things is to be in prison. Spector are Sharpe and his loyal boys, taken by an unfeeling gaggle of Frenchmen on their way home from war. They are the doomed lovers, forced to suffer the oppression of teenage romance again and again. This is the Groundhog Day of the soul and body in which Macpherson is Bill Murray and Sean Bean all at once.
Rounded up, taken away, fading away. The schoolchildren-come-prison guards in their face masks, a nod, surely, to the hysterical SARS outbreak of the noughties. The band, in their defiance and sartorial splendor, gifting to us a devilish, playful and yet somewhat cruel wink at the expense of Coldplay’s “revolutionary phase”…
Behold this grey horizon, this stricken panorama now bereft of human life. We have faded, all faded… away.
As told to OSCAR RICKETT (@oscarrickettnow)
Previously: Paul Morley gazes at Grimes