Oh good, a new hobby horse to savage with my bugbear: No sooner have I finished blogging about how annoying I find a current half-trend of imposing pick-and-mix music decisions on the otherwise private stereoheads of readers, when it starts appearing all over the place. Okay, well, in one place only so far, maybe two if what I’m told about Lapham’s latest is right, but little bloggy subcategories have been built out of far less.

The offender is Wisdom no. 3, which came out some time last year. The reason I’m so hideously late jumping on this bandwagon’s throat is that I’ve only just bought the trade of this fun little series, after being so happy with the first ish of writer Paul Cornell’s ongoing follow-up, Captain Britain and MI-13. Every inch the modern, inclusive British superhero comic book, Wisdom 3 is the Welsh issue, where Pete Wisdom and co. meet the Red Dragon, embodiment of fiery Welsh nationalism and stuff, in a Cardiff boozer, and then send Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu in to beat him up. Send a dragon to catch a dragon goes the marvellously dumb logic here, because Shang-Chi is like Bruce Lee, who was in a couple of films with the word ‘dragon’ in the title. Ah come on, just go with it. You’ll have fun. As you can already tell, it’s a cool and funny set-up for a done-in-one superhero comic, and is in fact one of the undoubted highlights of the series. Amid all the goodness, however, keep popping up these little captions with band names and track titles in them, telling you the musical accompaniment appropriate to the. What? But that sounds like. No. Oh dear no. By the ghost of Aled Jones, please no. No!

Yes. It’s a soundtrack. In fact it’s a ‘Welsh pop mixtape’ soundtrack, and if you are sane you’re already running for your lives (you can itunes it here through Cornell’s blog from back when it first come out).

As I keep saying, Wisdom 3 is a lot of fun, with sharp dialogue and tight action, an interesting, ‘why has no-one done that before?’ central maguffin, and a moment of genuine formal lovelinessness. Everything a modern disposable piece of trash art should aspire to. Apart from the soundtrack, which is really only annoying in a very mild manner, the only problem permeating it is the fishingboatbobbing undercurrent of anti-Welsh racism. Cornell has Wisdom, who, lest we forget, is from Lahndan, make a lot of anti-Welsh jokes, and although the other characters are castigating him for it by the end, however many layers of irony are at work, there they are: anti-Welsh jokes of a sort not seen since the seventies, in four-colour black and white, on the page for everyone to see.

To be frank though, this is utterly forgivable. Why is it OK to be down on the Welsh and all Waleian things from Wales. Why? Why should the Welsh who, due to their careful preservation of Greek and Latin manuscripts basically rescued Europe from the Dark Ages AND gave the world Batman (Batman is Welsh!), be so derided by civilised society? I’ll tell you why: Torchwood motherfucker, the rubbishest TV sci-fi since Baywatch Nights went X-Files. Paul Cornell hasn’t written for Torchwood – he writes instead for it’s parent show, Dr. Who, by general consent the modern pinnacle of British achievement, and is responsible for probably the great show’s greatest moment yet – the brillaint ‘Human Nature’/'Family of Blood’ two-parter from last year. So he’s well-acquainted with the modern Welsh Who-mafia, who much like the medieval monks with the written foundations of Renaissance and Enlightenment thought, through tenacious wangling of licensing rights, audio books, low-distribution novels and wide-distribution fan mags, got the product out to keep the Who torch burning through the long years in the wilderness, to be eventually rewarded by a Cardiff-based production unit for the main show’s return, and more Welsh plots, sets and spin-offs than you can kick a rugby ball at. With this in mind, Wisdom 3 is probably best read as a long, affectionate nudge in the ribs of Russell T. Davies and co., and their unassailable dominance of modern British TV SF, the significance of which really can’t be overstated. Fact is, these Welsh gents are shaping the dreams and nightmares of the next generation of British children, and their influence will be as much an undeniable fact in twenty-five years’ time as it is today.

Wales is brilliant, by the way. Only had the pleasure of going two or three times, bowled over by the friendliness of the folk and the beauty of the scenery. The train route from Bristol to Bridgend is one of the most fascinating journeys I’ve ever been on: on the coastal side, endless arrays of concrete and metal – pipes and docks and factories and warehouses and dumps and cranes. Inland, tiny terraced hamlets perched on the valley foothills, so dainty and fragile-seeming, glittering green valleys beyond, a picture- perfect rural world nestled so close to the industrial icons of a grand and tragic history. Worth the trip all on its own – and the beach at Bridgend is nice too.

On another visit to Cymru, the bouncer in one particular pub on one particular stag-do was particularly lovely – frankly, if I was as hard as he clearly was, I probably would have beaten us up, bunch of pissed-up druggy English twats from London (or wherever). But he didn’t, just smiled and chatted, and told us how to get a taxi – what a hero. (There’s a fine pedigree of Welsh superheroes, while we’re on the subject.) Thanks to that lovely guy’s good nature, later on that evening I think I saw a UFO, and was for definite literally rescued from an eternity of torment in Mephisto‘s infernal realm by… Captain Britain himself, albeit in his less cool original costume. True story. Incidentally, as you’ll know if you’re reading Captain Britain and MI13, which you should be, CB draws his powers from a mystical place called Avalon, where I was in fact born and raised. Perhaps I am Captain Britain. Well, maybe not, but I certainly felt touched by the ‘cross-section of contemporary Brit types react to the death of the hero’ bit in this week’s CB&MI13#2.

If with these digressions into Our National Hero, Welshness and TV politics I appear to have strayed from my ‘Soundtracks are Annoying!!’ theme tune, then I haven’t, I was going somewhere: the obvious love and knowledge of Welsh pop music that Cornell advertises in Wisdom 3, through the use of the soundtrack, serves as an entirely necessary counter-narrative to firmly undercut the ‘comedy’ jingoism displayed elsewhere. Towards the end of the issue Dai Thomas, Welsh-as-fuck Donald Pleasance-alike and perennial moral centre of the Marvel UKU, upbraids Wisdom for his boorish racist banter, but by then the music has done its work and steered the story round to that perspective already, for Thomas to make explicit. It’s okay for Cormell to take a friendly pop at his mates and employers, but it’s not OK to let those sentiments go unchallenged in a comic which is going to be read (fingers crossed) on both sides of the Atlantic. So the soundtrack is an important part of the book’s overall meaning – it’s not just self-aggrandising hipsterism, as these things usually seem. There is a more pertinent reason for its inclusion: the music is the message.

Right then. Enough of all this Pobl Y Cwm, let’s get listening:

CIS Vol. 1.
Wisdom no.3
Page 1 Track 1: Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do by Goldie Lookin Chain
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=xv-2XYOtgCg]
Some things in pop are inevitable, and I think GLC were one of them. Bored Welsh kids, forced indoors by so many rainy afternoons, steeped in an endless adolescence of gangstas, video games, cheap highs, crap telly, bad sports wear and celebrity gossip, fascinated and absorbed by the absurdities on offer from of the latest colonial-cultural overlords. If realness is the measure of good hip-hop`(it’s not really, but if it was) then they would qualify: poor (I guess), smart, funny people making catchy, quickly-annoying music that probably reflects themselves perfectly. I’ve met people like GLC, and this music is what they are like, only in rhyme.

Pete Wisdom is at the bar, cracking jokes and talking shit at the Red Dragon. This pub setting is perfect in so many ways, most importantly for us in that it gives the soundtrack a diagetic context: the songs on the jukebox while all this shit is going on.

Pgae 4 Track 2: Life Becoming A Landslide by Manic Street Preachers
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=N26kgk9nPXk]
I actually own the CD EP – in fact, I actually think I bought it on a school trip to Cardiff. The fourth track is a blistering cover version of Comfort Comes by Stereolab forerunners and 80s indie pinko-pop supremos McCarthy, and is well worth a listen. LBAL is the Manics at the height of their second album idiot savant phase, meaning it ‘s a stupid, enormous rock power ballad like something out of a Rocky film, with a way-over-the-top yet madly gnomic and depressing ‘singalong’ chorus:

‘My idea of love comes from
A childhood glimpse of pornography
Though there is no true love
Just a finely tuned jealousy

Life becoming a landslide
Ice freezing nature dead
Life becoming a landslide
I don’t wanna be a man’

The Manics are like the elder statesmen of Welsh Rock now, up there, legs akimbo atop Mount Snowdon along with Bassey, Jones (of whom more shortly, sadly), Gartside and Church. The Manics are different though. Their third album is basically the greatest record of the 1990s, and despite the enormous blandness of their later years, they’ll always be among a very select elite of completely original bands that at their best deserved every breath of the great fervour they inspired in their fans. Like Public Enemy, Dexys, perhaps Tindersticks, but very few others, they present a weird breed of high-camp and absolute sincerity, mixing obscure and politically or personally controversial lyrics, bizarre fashion choices and a near-religious belief in themselves and the redemptive powers of pop music. Pure Rock and Roll, at its very very best.

This has nothing to do with Shang-Chi entering the boozer to square up to the Red Dragon, although it is good ‘make an entrance’ music. I guess you could draw a line of association between the Master of Kung Fu and the implacable natural power of a landslide, or even compare the heightened, undeniable skilliance of Fu Manchu’s wayward son to the Manics themselves. Those are both silly things to do though, and require effort, so let’s move on / hit skip / turn the page.

Page 6 Track 3: History Repeating by Shirley Bassey
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rz7DhC5_AvA&feature=related]
Surely Bassey’s voice sounds like being whacked around the ears by the flat side of a spade? She’s only good when doing Bond themes, the air-raid noises wrung from her larynx somehow fitting the essential cruelty and ballistic materialism of JB’s Cold War personality.

Luckily, this clanging nightmare of a song comes with a good little page, as we see the Red Dragon’s Secret Origin, spanning thousands of years of history and a particularly telling phrase: ‘King Ludd trapped him in a pit full of mead.’ Lots of layers there: The Ludd/Lludd thing is a bit confusing – King Ludd is one of the many legendary founders of London, so English, though presumably a pre-Saxon, Keltic ‘English’. The historical reading intended here is shirley that the English used drink (indicating literal intoxication and exploitation, which themselves are arguably social symptoms of the greater forces of demography and trade) to subdue the mighty Welsh fighting spirit. The comic takes place in a pub, remember. This reading becomes difficult though when you onsider the cognate figure and likely template for King Ludd is Lludd Llaw Eraint, a kind of solar hero-type from Welsh mythology, a saviour, not an oppressor. Lludd’s story from the Mabinogion, where he vanquishes three plagues of which the red and white dragons are one, is also the clear model for the first three stories of the Wisdom series itself. Lludd’s other plagues are an invasion of dwarf or fairy sorts, (like Tink’s people in issue 1), and the other is a giant whose presence causes an epidemic of strange dreams (the Pantagruel celestial from issue 2. Incidentally, it seems probable that this would also be a key source for Cardiff-born Roald Dahl’s kiddy-favourite The BFG).

So what’s actually being said here? The Welsh nationalist spirit, is self-defeating – drowned in booze, it eventually becomes its own worst enemy? Or that the ethnic identities of Wales and England are basically too similar and commonly-founded for a distinction between the two to be useful? Yummy thoughtfood whatever, none of which tastes like Shirley Bassey at all, which must be good.

Page 9 Track 4: The Bartender and the Thief by The Stereophonics. No video for this one for some reason – oddly, as I’m sure it was a single. Here’s a live version instead, recorded, as it hapens, in Avalon:
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=1OiNdAkPCMg]
The Stereophonics are one of those bands that came along after all the daft and interesting Britpop bands had gone away, leaving these and other sturdy dadrocking pillars to prop up the charts. The kind of stodgy, plodding ‘anthemic’ MOR that they tend to stick to is a fine traditional recipe for bland music soup, the success of which at the turn of the century makes them directly responsible for the unholy likes of Keane, Coldplay, Snow Patrol etc. pissing their bedwetter stadium pop all over this poor bloody decade. Actually though, The Bartender and the Thief is an alright bit of latterday power punk, and the only song of theirs I can hear on the radio without switching channels.

Good fighting music, for a good fighting scene: Shang-Chi, Him Out Of the Seventies, versus a pub full of double-hard Welsh bastards. Hi-Ya! Wallop.

Page 10 Track 5
Sex Bomb by Tom Jones. Don’t click the screen. Seriously – that video is bloody horrible.
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=6KUJE2xs-RE]
If the very mention of Tom Jones’ name doesn’t make you heave a little then you must have had all of your digestive organs surgically removed, and you have my sympathy. This video is really quite vile – a nipped, stretched, and ‘toxed old Tom trying to do ‘urban’ hand moves with his awful sausage-cigar-penis fingers. Just don’t look at it.

Let’s try this: think about sex for a bit…mm, yeah, just there, that’s nice… are you moist or turgid yet, according to your genitalia? Now think about Tom Jones! Yuk, wasn’t that horrid? That face, those fingers!! Whaddayasay Tom?

[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=D-FX9KN7jqY&feature=related]

In the comic, this incredibly erotic song goes with a suitably raunchtastic cunnilingus scene as Wisdom goes down on Mo. Funny, oral sex always gets represented the same way in comics: conspicuous gap to one side, facial reactions and innuendo telling the rest of the shocking story. A kind of safe, tacit convention between comic book producers and consumers: we are all grown-ups now and so we will have muff diving superheroes in a book, only we will always present said act it in the same way to avoid confusion, embarrassment or pubic hair. Grumble grumble – I blame the Authority, superheroes be like rabbits since they turned up. Come to think of it, many of Mark Millar’s characters might sound a bit more believable if you imagine them talking with Sid James’ voice.

Page 11 Track 6 God! Show me Magic! by Super Furry Animals
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=p4e_WYNEPqM]
When the Tories closed the coal mines in the Eighties, the future of Welsh pop music was assured: no local jobs plus a natural climate that couldn’t be more perfect for the natural proliferation of magic mushrooms equals great pop music forever. The best of the best are the Super Furry Animals – probably, all things considered, the greatest British indie pop act of the last fifteen years or so. The problem with rock and roll bands, of the kind a young soul wants to hand their life to in return for a soundtrack for their formative years, is also the thing that historically has been one of their main assets: they’re adulterous, impulsive bastards. Eventually, they will fuck up and disappoint you, make a crap concept album, discover teetotalism or Scientology, split up into murderously boring side projects and retire to a farm to make cheese or some bollocks.

Not, I repeat NOT the Super Furry Animals – twelve years in, they’re still going strong, and they’ve done the side projects and the concept albums and for none of that do they deserve shotgunning in the face, like so many of their contemporaries (yes, I mean you, Blur.) In fact, lead singer Gruff Rhys has released two spin-offs in the last eighteen months alone (the pastoral, acoustic, psychedelia of ‘Candylion’ and the retro-electro soundtrack dirt of the Neon Neon collaboration with Boom Bip) and they’re both absolutely fab, establishing him as a proper modern neglecto-pop genius. Last year the band also released their tenth album Hey Venus, and it’s ace. Here’s the second single off it, a blissful Spectoresque pastiche called ‘Runaway’. (The version on the video is stripped right back to its sweet skeleton, so not Spectoresque at all – still good though):
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=otAIYvIiJXc&feature=related]

Back in comicbook Wales, the other three from Wisdom’s MI13 gang, Tink, John the Skrull and Captain Midlands, sit around and not much happens, although the daring Dudley Destroyer, the brave Brummie Battler, that loveable Coventry Kraut-Crusher, gets in a great one-liner. These three characters are real fine work by Cornell & co., fresh and effortless-seeming, the kind of fancy backup that a new superteam needs but rarely gets.

Page 16 Track 7 I’ll Be Your Mirror by Velvet Underground & Nico

So what’s the best American band of the sixties? It seems like a difficult question but it’s not. Like every sane human I need a Beach Boys day every now and again; you can’t beat The Isley Brothers for raw stomping Northern Soul mania; the way The Monkees and their story continue to predict every twist and turn of pop culture still regularly delights me; and the 13th Floor Elevators are the only good reason for the existence of Texas that I’ve ever heard (check the bottle-playing on that clip. God, aren’t drugs brilliant?)

Really though, there ‘s only the Velvets – a better group in its design, and a sound in its conception and execution, really can’t be imagined. Aside from a bunch of four skouse Skrulls, there doesn’t need to be any other band from the sixties. They may of course have been the epitome of New York cool, of New York everything, but amazingly one of the Velvet Underground, in fact the one most responsible for their musical eccentricities, was Welsh ! I know!

According to Google video, there is no extant film of the Velvet Underground and Nico performing I’ll Be Your Mirror. Isn’t that sad? Have this instead, and feel emptiness and regret at how you were never at The Factory:
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rmwBHcgbI24]

This track, the best on the album, accompanies probably the best page of the issue. Things get all deep and meaningful, as Shang-Chi uses the powers of ultraviolence to enlighten the Red Dragon as to his true nature. The action shifts outside itself, casually but quite wonderfully using the forms of cave art, Medieval Christian iconography and traditional Japanese art from I-don’t-know-when to illustrate man’s eternal struggle against, erm, Dragons. The only singular thing about Dragons is that they are a multi-purpose symbol for whoever wants it when – Dragons essentially stand for ‘spirit’, and are as fit for as many contexts, impressions and (re)interpretations as that word. This being a superhero book, albeit a witty one, a dragon is something strong, resistant, and entitled to its own existence, as long as its prepared to struggle for it against apparently oppositional concepts of equivalent strength. Both man and his mutable, reptilian, symbol-system other, derive form from one another. By virtue of their conflicting yet mutual natures is the balance of life and its challenges struck. That is the lesson.

(Stirring theme tune aside, it would have been good to have a little more questioning of the Rorke’s Drift episode – there’s lots to get your brainteeth into there, to do with how the ‘fighting spirit’ of Wales, presented in Wisdom 3 and other contemporary narratives as a nation suffering under colonial rule, itself became a tool of oppression during Britain’s C19th South African adventures.)

Page 17 Track 8: Shinobi Vs. Dragon Ninja by Lostprophets
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=U9cHR8vRgCg]
I know it’s way trendy lately, but I just can’t get with Metal, in any of its permutations, although that said I’ve been introduced to the Black and Death subgenres lately and they do raise a smile, as well as a sort of baffled admiration for the eardrums of those who love it. I dunno – when I came up KISS t-shirts were highly embarassing items, to be ‘lost’ at the back of the wardrobe, never something you’d find gracing a supermodel’s front, doing a bit of grungey slumming. That’s because: KISS are a rubbish band, and anyone who reckons different are an idiot and can fuck off. Lostprohpets, however, sure know their way around a cool song title, amazingly apposite for the comic, raising interesting ponders on how informed Cornell was by the music here when he was writing the script. But I just can’t get with the track, my ears don’t know how to hear it. My loss, no doubt.

Red Dragon punches Shang-Chi off the page and almost into orbit. The inherent nobility of the King of Karate is only accentuated by the play of sunlight on his unconscious form, so much so that even the Dragon, who’s miles away by now and facing the wrong direction, has a change of heart and flies to his rescue. It sounds like I’m taking the piss, but actually it’s quite a touching scene, with excellent work form the art team – Manuel Garcia and Paul Neary, I think, who really should have been mentioned before now – making the Dragon’s facial expressions work so convincingly within his cartoony stylings.

Page 21 Track 9
Bulimic Beats by Catatonia
[youtube=http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=LvDXy1wThYM&feature=related]
The fights over now, and we’re in reflective post-battle analysis mode, so we get this surprisingly nice little track from Britpop also-rans Catatonia. Their lead singer, Cerys Matthews, has recently made a change of career direction, from indie folk singer to reality TV celeb type, more known now for her slightly predictable on-off romance with an extremely bad ex-soap actor than her undeniable singy-songwritey talents. I saw Catatonia in a tent in, yes, Avalon once, and their music has always left me cold – easy, bouncy indie, perfect for shit nightclubs and bad beer – but watching them made me realise one thing: Matthews has got soul. It’s simple, elusive and impossible to describe, but when you see it you know it, and can’t help but be moved by it.

On a beach, presumably somewhere on the aforementioned, beautiful South Wales coast, Tink and Wisdom rake over their politically contrived marriage and weird love-lives, and Tink decides not to let her hurt feelings provoke a war that could wipe out two parallel Britains. Good on her. Shang-Chi shows up, and does a brilliant impression of his holiness guru rinpoche Steven Segal.

And that’s where the record ends, with a quiet moment where we can look back fondly and consolidate our memories on the musical and comicsy memories we’ve just shared. Tom and Shirl aside, it was pretty great, and we didn’t even get to Cate Le Bon or Los Campesinos!, or quite have the time to relax and trip over Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. I think I’ve learnt something y’know – comic soundtracks aren’t always innately and horrifyingly annoying – sometimes they can be just fine. Although, if you know of any particularly try-hard stinkers, please do write in and let me know, so I can pretend to get all angry again.

Thanks for listening. Thanks Youtube. Thanks Paul Cornell for picking the tale and the tunes, and most especially, thanks Wales.

There’s lovely.

Bookmark and Share

2 Responses to “Collected irritant soundtracks vol. 1”

  1. amypoodle Says:

    I just want to say that this is a BRILLIANT post. I think we need more music stuff up and I’ve got a post blithering away in my mind….

  2. The Beast Must Die! Says:

    Excellent indeed.

Leave a Reply