Thursday, 9 June 2016

Oliver: Swervedriver - Jesus (3 February 1992)

Back in the day when I was getting to grips with David Bowie's BBC sessions, my cultural attaché, David Stent, brought me a vinyl compilation album by The Velvet Underground, a band I knew of but didn't know.  Of all the records that David turned me on to, I think this one may have been the best.  I mixtaped it, just as I did with Bowie at the Beeb, leaning heavily towards The Velvet Underground and Nico album tracks, which dominated the compilation.  Brian Eno famously said that not many people bought The Velvet Underground and Nico, but that everyone who did, went on to form a band.  I can believe him.  For here was the group who showed up un-announced and initially un-noticed at the start of 1967 and who showed a pop scene that was moving towards some kind of peak-era state of ecstasy, just where it could go to when the comedown started.  They were a year too early with their street and drugs stories, but what a band!  The excitement, if you were one of those who had chanced upon this group which could turn its hand to deceptively catchy pop songs about prostitution and  drug purchasing one minute, before laying on dark, intense but gloriously wonderful songs about drug taking and sado-masochism, serving up the most compelling song of the 1960s in the process, must have been as euphoric as the drugs they sang about.  Peel loved them and played them on Radio London both on The Perfumed Garden and on his afternoon show. And in the years that followed he played scores of bands who would cite The Velvet Underground as an influence, either unconsciously or blatantly.

At the start of the 1990s, the reverence in which the Velvs were held spilled over into a series of tribute albums called Heaven and Hell.  There were three volumes released over three years, starring a number of bands and artists featured on this blog including Nirvana, The Fatima Mansions and The Telescopes.  In cueing up this track for NachtExpress listeners, Peel summarised the albums as ones where "3 tracks will be great and the rest, awful."  Oxford's finest, Swervedriver, got the nod from Peel and from me with their version of Jesus, originally a low-key duet between Lou Reed and Doug Yule on the band's eponymous 1969 album.  While the V.U track casts the song as a a moment of truth between an individual struggling to make sense of their place in the world and worried about their lack of peace within themselves, Swervedriver drag this out of the confession box and apply the sentiments to the whole congregation.  The private conversation between man and spirit becomes a full blown prayer meeting.  It's an apt metaphor.  At it's most epic, shoegaze music, like rave music, sounded like it wanted to soar through the earthly membrane into the heavens above.   Check the number of times the word, "ethereal" gets bandied about when talking about the shoegaze sound.  Despite the pyrotechnics, which are impressive, Swervedriver can't quite supersede the original because Adam Franklin can't match Reed and Yule's cracked and wearied vocals, but it does a good
job of trying to take the listener to that point where, to quote Anthony Burgess, God becomes
manifest.  It even manages it's own Lucifer like fall back to earth In the last 40 seconds or so.

Has that Leonard Cohen-like ability to sound like they have the ear of the unknowable force that they're talking to.

Videos courtesy of rareshoegaze (Swervedriver) and pardalalucinado (Velvet Underground)

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