The curious case of hating your old songs
One of my favourite bands of all time for sure, glam Nirvana and all that. Mind you, I’d say the universal agreed opinions on Placebo generally boil down to two axioms.
1) More guys that would ever admit think that Brian Molko is a beautiful specimen of a human being (his 2009 era hair is just so shiny ok!)
2) Their old material is light years ahead of anything they’ve put out since about 2006
Early era Placebo is something very…charged. Without going too Robert Christgau on the subject (and I really could), the youthful cocktail of whatever was going through the band’s heads, veins and…other parts, makes it into each nasally pinched line.
A funny aside here is that I had a Shine 8 cassette that I used to play on long car journeys with my family that had uber hit Nancy Boy on it. My parents seemingly trying their best to ignore the hyperactive 8 year old singing “..eyeholes in a paper bag, greatest lay I ever had” or “..woman man or modern monkey, just another happy chunky” (I misheard the word junkie, I was 8).
Here’s the thing though. They don’t like it. They also don’t really play it.
I’ve seen Placebo twice, once at a festival, once at the Bournemouth Academy. Quick pause here to appreciate the Bournemouth Academy, seriously venues like this are the best.
In those gigs I saw a total of 1 song of their first album, 1 off their second, 2 off their third and 2 off their fourth. On both occasions the sets were absolutely piped full of new material. No coincidence, go and read the band’s comments on songs like Pure Morning (“more like Pure Boring”).
Is it ok to hate something that you’ve created to the point where you want nothing to do with it? Yes. Yes it is. I’m gonna use the worst song that I have on Spotify as an example.
Things were different back in 2016.
2016 at the time was seen as bit of a naff year by all accounts (HAHAHAHAHAH!!?!??!?! JUST YOU FUKN WAIT!!!!) what with y’know, basically everything in the world of people voting for things, but I was recording my very first EP with the very clunky title Amateur Cartography (it’s funny how easy it is to misspell the word amateur…). In fact that title in itself is a window into what my mindset was at the time.
I wanted to make an EP that was wordy, full of little lyrical snippets that people could paw over and dissect. I wanted to mix the world of rock music with singersongwritery cos nobody was doing that right? It didn’t matter if a reference to a line from Run Fatboy Run or references to Ancient Greek culture fitted into actual SONGS, all it mattered was that they were in there!
Some of the songs I feel I balanced out OK, I like how Mary-Jane turned out musically and lyrically. Oh and the bonus track the Shinjuku Line serenade is one of the more sincere things I’ve written, albeit it was recorded live and before I’d really learned how to sing properly. It’s a song about a relationship that had finally fizzled out on a bench overlooking Mount Fuji (obviously!), but it’s a bonus track and the girl who I’d written it about had done all the artwork for the CD (example below)! Is that a dick move? Maybe..
One track though captures everything I don’t like about that project and that era of my writing. Powderkeg.
Speak to Kriss, who’s recorded everything I’ve ever released bar one demo, and he’ll say he spent much of the recording process with this face on.
Not only did it take time (I probably owe him a mountainous debt of chocolate digestives), but it’s just….so silly. The lyrics are about spirit and getting out a situation where your back is against the wall, but told like someone has taken a knife to a thesaurus. The rhythms in the chorus don’t line up properly. God all the screamy things my voice was doing… It’s just very David Brent with a bit more bite, less crassness but a similar lack of self awareness.
Oh and just to top it off…there’s a line about “powdered chowdered coffee” obviously meaning of a soupy texture. Go and google chowdered. I guess that would be kinda soupy to be fair…
Thing is though, as much as I despite this song, I could easily erase it from digital history, relegated into the digital wasteland like a teenager when he finds out what temporary internet files are
I haven’t though, as much as I hate it, this song, and this era of my songwriting is a step.
Songs are like timecapsules. They have that amazing quality to bring you back to a sense of feeling or emotion. I can listen to Round Here by Counting Crows and I’m back in the backseat of a car somewhere between Zaragoza and Barcelona where I’d downloaded it on recommendation of a friend and that opening riff came up just as the sun was going down, or maybe like…If It’s the Beaches by the Avett Brothers, which came on in the car on a drive from Leicester to Hitchin with a girl that I’d break up with a week later.
There are examples that aren’t just from car journeys as well obviously!
That album though, whilst it makes me cringe a little, reminds me of the person I was back in 2016, how I legitimately thought the world needed a Foo Fighters style singer songwriter when I didn’t even have a band, but how I sung with so much fucking conviction on the matter. It’s an EP that’s the sound of naivety and a pretty ropey idea, but the sound of excitement over this new artistic thing.
That’s the whole reasoning behind not completely erasing my Spotify history. It shows a journey, it’s fucking up along the way and dropping clangers (Over my Head on my next EP is another good example), but hitting the bullseye on occasion (I’ve not come close to writing a song as honest and raw as Thessalonians in 3 years since).
It’s like looking at old photos of you from uni. The photo below exists. I could get rid of it, but I don’t because it makes me smile, because there was once a time where it was OK (standard Monday Jesters night tbf) to dress like that. (* not Jesters! Reflex! tight and bright obviously)
To be fair, there are worse photos of me. I’m DELIGHTED Bebo (remember Bebo boomers?) got the axe I’ll put it that way…
I think I played Powderkeg once live…I got in trouble for swearing at Rock in the Park I remember that much. It isn’t really me anymore, or representative of what I want to do musically. I feel very little joy from it, but it’s there. It’s a bit of a musical scar, but scars are part of your history as much as anything else..(is that a Hawthorne Heights lyric? it should be) I just have the advantage that it didn’t become a top 5 hit.
So yeah. Old songs. A wonderful and care-free musical vignette to a past where you weren’t as good at songwriting!