How NOT to write about music – 118. Madder Rose

Madder Rose

It’s cold and grey here. I’m ill.

It’s cold and grey here. I’m ill – under the weather, at least. I would much rather be in at work: there’s people there, people and warmth. I am typing this blog entry on my laptop because I am currently waiting for an electrician to show up to fix my power which keeps cutting in and out. No power, no heat. No power, no hot water. No power, no fun. So, because I am typing up this entry on my laptop and because my fingers are numb with cold, I keep missing the keyboard and having to go back over my words and re-enter them. No power, no fun.

This is not a good moment to talk about the return of my early 1990s New York sweethearts, Madder Rose. I associate their music with laughter; laughter, hope and expectation; laughter, alcohol and spontaneous performances in the Midwest somewhere; laughter and long van rides and Adamsville TN sheriff Buford Pusser; late nights that never ended and melancholy harmonies and cascading arpeggios of abrasion; the final episode of Cheers – or was it Friends – and fast friendships that felt like they’d last for years, and isolation, and pulsating New York nightclubs and missed chances. Another inch, they – and I – could have been so big. Still. They headlined the second stage at the Reading Festival (1994 – not a good year for me). Their first two albums (bruised beauties each) sold 100,000 copies apiece. But they (and I) could have been so much bigger. Big enough so we might have something to tell our children about on cold grey days in Haywards Heath with no electricity and little warmth.

The past is a foreign country. They do things exactly the same there, fucked by the oligarchy and the system and the ever-declining health system and growing older and… I told you this isn’t a good moment to be writing about the return of my early 1990s New York sweethearts, Madder Rose.

They had songs that matched any.

Their songs held fragile, sparking beauty at the heart of the tumult. Songs, like the rain when it’s gorgeous teeming rain transforming the streets of Seattle and Brisbane and New York City, but also the rain when it’s miserable and grinding away at your well-being. Rain. Melancholy. Beauty. A voice and a searing guitar and a killer rhythm section and some gorgeous songs to give your life away for. The Velvet Underground, Shop Assistants, Mazzy Star, Madder Rose. Is there anything better?

I ask that question today and I already know the answer.

Your arms in a wild rotation. Your arms in a wild rotation.

I am so pleased they have returned.


There is an interview here, if you are interested in finding out more.

You can buy the new album here. If you love Madder Rose (or any of the bands I mention here) there is no way you’re not going to love this.

I Lost the War: I wrote this in my head while on a trip to NYC. My girlfriend and I were down to see the Bowie exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and we ran into Matt Verta-Ray on Rivington Street. Matt and I talked about doing some songs together, just the two of us, and I tried to write one that might be suitable. I quickly realized that we should include it on the Madder Rose record, instead. A lot of relationships feel like war these days – not just romantic ones, but work and spiritual and financial and political and sexual ones, too. How did everyone get so angry? I’m not sure. Maybe they should listen to this song – surely that will help. Rick had been pointedly suggesting that I put more guitar on the record, so there are nine tracks of it on here. No comment from Rick, as yet. Guess I shoulda’ put ten. Matt on bass – this sounds a lot like we used to, back when we were young and new, when Melody Maker would send Everett True across the sea to ride around with us in our van.
(from the sleeve notes)

How NOT to write about music – 55. Robert Forster


I cannot resist this.

I have never knowingly listened to a Robert Forster solo record before – sorry, Robert. I am too entangled with The Go-Betweens for that.

NOTE: don’t mention the fact the video reminds me of my former gardens in The Gap, a few long streets away from Robert himself lives.

NOTE TO SELF: do not mention the fact Robert once stood on Charlotte’s foot in the fruit and veg section of Woolworth’s, or our very convivial meeting down Kelvin Grove market, or watching him recount songwriting skills to QUT students on an otherwise mundane weekday afternoon, or endless weeks spent inside cowering from the sun, the inferno.

NOTE TO SELF, NOTE TO SELF: do not mention ‘Spring Rain’, the way I could only understand that song after I’d been living in Brisbane for a couple of years. Do not mention the heat. Do not mention the heat, the decaying plastic playgrounds and garages full of spiders.

NOTE TO SELF: do not mention The Velvet Underground, the two-note piano refrain, the towering benign shadow Forster casts over The Music I Love, the wicked little asides of synth and silence and madness, the way he brings it all back down, the focus we all have on our ‘lawns’, the ‘jungle’, the guitars, the forest, the green, the languor, the semi-retirement, the warping and bending of guitar notes enough to unsettle, the brilliant brutal simplicity of it all. Do not mention the fact I have now spent just over 52 minutes listening to a 2.46 minute song over and over.

NOTE: I really had no intention of writing about Mr Forster as he reaches yet another peak of artistic creativity. Indeed, I had no intention of listening to Mr Forster (see above). Now I think about it, that must be untrue – my insistence I have never knowingly listened to one of his solo records. (I got in a 3am Facebook argument with Courtney Love and Lou Barlow – among others – a few months back, when I started insisting I have no recollection of seeing Courtney’s band play live. I know I must have seen them. I just cannot recall seeing them.)

NOT TO SELF, BUT TO ALL OF YOU: splurgy-troth brilliance. Place on repeat, let the lyrics and the pronunciation and the guitars soak through you 20 times, the insistent two-note piano, and then start playing it for real. For real, man. For real. I fucking wish fucking YouTube didn’t keep taking me through to Sharon Van fucking Etten at the song’s end however. Do YOU remember the winter at all?

Look at the way the man dances with his mower! Look at him.

We all do that, in The Gap. It’s a weekly ritual, our pastime. Like First Dog on the Moon made corporeal flesh. A suburban death twitch.