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Weekend Wig-Out: Brimful of fuzz

29 Jan 11 | Re: Punjabi-sung song with sempiternal coda

I’ve always thought that if you were invited onto Desert Island Discs, you would want to choose some really long songs in order to get good value out of your eight choices. To get the absolute best value, you would also need to make sure that at least one of the long songs was a proper extended jam, so that you could wig out around the Radio 4 studio with Kirsty Young while the producer reappraised his life’s direction from behind the glass. But which wig-out to choose? Today I present another for your consideration.

Spectral Mornings by Cornershop     Listen and read!

This fine wig-out is taken from the album Handcream for a Generation. It’s track ten of thirteen on that disc, in a slight twist on the wig-out tradition of being the last or second-to-last song; but it still acts as the album’s climax because it’s only followed by a clean, laid-back vocoder ditty, a reprise and a bonus track - once it’s done, the album is winding down.

Notably, the track features Noel Gallagher on guest guitar. This is quite interesting because on Oasis’s own quasi-wig Champagne Supernova, Gallagher got Paul Weller in as supersub to play lead. Clearly Gallagher regretted his decision, because he turns up here to jam with the ferocity of a man making up for lost wigging.

The track starts up conventionally enough, after a bit of noodling and bleeping, with alternating verses and choruses over a mid-tempo drum-led groove. Except that all the words are in Punjabi, and that if you listen carefully you can hear waves of distorted guitar and feedback squealing vaguely in the background. Plus, the verses and choruses just keep on coming. Alert listeners will have realised that something is up around the start of verse 2 when the tabla playing that supplements the drums suddenly comes to the top of the mix and the guitar starts to get more urgent. Even wig-out novices will become aware that this is no ordinary song around verse 4, which is actually just some distorted Punjabi mumbling, because at that point, three minutes in, the band are evidently just getting into their stride and the song shows no sign of either finishing or going anywhere.

After six verses and choruses the vocals finish and it dawns on you that they were just a preliminary - a formality to tick the box marked ‘song structure’ before the real wigging begins. Now the sitar cranks up to full volume and holds down the melody line while Noel’s guitar, which has been revving up for nearly five minutes, finally cuts loose with a proper solo. For the rest of the track, reasonably conventional soloing will alternate with walls of wailing feedback and yowling noise, as the guitar switches from lead instrument to the background for the sitar and tabla and back again. This will go on for nearly ten minutes!

There is one interruption to the guitar noise at around the nine minute mark. The drummer, who up to that point has been doing a sterling job keeping the endless groove going right the way through, is rewarded with a drum solo. These are an endangered species in the modern era, and even here the guitar noise doesn’t completely go away, but this is the proper stuff - and still the beat doesn’t drop out. In fact the drummer may be this track’s MVP, since every time you think the wigging is running out of momentum, he is on hand with a clattering fill to reinvigorate the mix and set everyone going for another couple of minutes of full-belt jamming.

Eventually, though, things start repeating themselves and by the time the sitar figure starts up again some time after the eleven minute mark, one senses that things are starting to wind down. Around twelve minutes there may be some faint chanting in the background. Then the sitar starts plunking away in its upper register and each band member retreats to his own improvisational world for the fade-out. Yes, I’m afraid there’s no proper ending unfortunately, although it does raise the question of how long the guys in the studio actually kept going, as sweat dripped off the ceiling and Noel’s amplifier howled out for mercy.

What’s happening after three and a half minutes, when the pop DJs start talking over you because they know you’re about to finish? The mumbled fourth verse is just ending, with another two verse/chorus cycles and ten minutes of jam still to come.

Time to rate this wig-out:

Total wig-out points: 28

That just gives it the highest score so far, but what will we be wigging out to next week?

Posted by ASHA BHOSLE at 13:31

PS If you want to read more about Cornershop I found this interesting essay, although weirdly all it says about Spectral Mornings is that it “is unremarkable”.

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