Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Real Tuesday Weld - The London Book of the Dead

If you haven't had the chance, you ought to have a look at the brief autobiography posted to the website of Stephen Coates (The Real Tuesday Weld). If everything he says is true, he's a fascinating character with a vivid imagination and exciting history – a period experimenting with hallucinogens and cross dressing; a period of Buddhist cleansing in Spain; a musical background with at least three or four instruments learned. Coates also reveals here that I, Lucifer, his soundtrack to Glen Duncan's novel of the same name, came to be after the two men (and best friends) spent time as roommates, creating their works simultaneously. Who'd have thought?

The Real Tuesday Weld has a new record that strays a bit from previous works; 2004's I, Lucifer offered a lot of glamour, quirk and zing founded in French pop and Tin Pan Alley influences, likely owed to the idea of modeling music after “the way [he] heard music through the walls of the house [he] grew up in.” 2005 record The Return of the Clerkenwell Kid – this time not told from the Devil's perspective – was significantly mellower and saw the early European influences giving way to a touch of lazy Brazilian pop, as well as heavier reign to soft electronic beats that somewhat diluted the charm which previously separated Coates' music from other groups suffering from KCRW genericalness. But lyrically, it was a personal record undoubtedly influenced by the death of Coates' father, with songs like “Daisies” and “Anything But Love” examples of songs about death, disguised as songs about love.

Now the multi-instrumentalist has got a record called The London Book of the Dead, on Six Degrees Records (as with the others). Song, By Toad recently posted “Last Words” from the album, and my first reaction was along the lines of a “Christ, what is this Postal Service nonsense?” Artists who sample crackling records and mimic the music of yesteryear are no longer new (look for hip-hop in particular, where this is far from new), but the Real Tuesday Weld's appeal used to lie in the fact that Stephen Coates had a genuine affinity for all things old, no irony to speak of, and while he's dabbled with synthesized beats on previous records, “Last Words” has a feel that is very now, meaning that it fits right in with all the indie pop that came alongside and after the electronic pop trend of the last couple years. Synthesized beats take the human touch out of his music, and just as we vinyl purists like to claim that records sound warm and alive by contrast with CDs and digital files, those who prefer the energy of brass and wood might cringe at these damn beats.

But this is a personal preference from a semi-Luddite, and the majority of the new record is not so. “Kix,” the alternate angle to “I Get a Kick Out of You,” is classic Coates, what with the string arrangement and clarinet solo balancing a synthesized beat and dry wordplay, but then there's the lazy lounge and light Tom Waits influence in “I Loved London,” and the simple instrumental “Waltz for One,” which is as it sounds. There's the Middle Eastern influence that lies in “Ruth, Roses and Revolvers” and the beautiful, genuinely retro waltz that is “Bringing the Body Back Home.” On more upbeat tracks, Coates can whisper from a distance and sound like the con man who's trying to charm you before taking everything you've got, but in his ballads, he's got a really lovely croon that's all charm and no con. The record ends with a guest appearance from the Puppini Sisters, whose Andrews Sisters-meets-Be Good Tanyas harmonies perfectly match the balance between old and new on the closing number itself. A perfect ending to a record that's modern for Coates, but retains just enough influence toward the end to keep him consistent with himself.

The Real Tuesday Weld - Bringing the Body Back Home
The Real Tuesday Weld - I Loved London
Purchase The London Book of the Dead

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