Longsongs #3

by Oliver Rose

7. Losing My Edge – LCD Soundsystem [7:51]

Released as: a standalone single [2002], and later appended to the album LCD Soundsystem [2005].

What’s it about? Losing My Edge is about getting old – not in the conventional way, but in the _James Murphy way. _The ultimate exercise in music snobbery, Murphy demonstrates his exceptional tastes using a series of ostentatious recollections, beginning reasonably but becoming, as the song develops, more and more ludicrous. The deranged narrator claims to have borne witness to “the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York”; he proclaims boldly that he was the first DJ “[playing] Daft Punk to the rock kids”; apparently, he’s “never been wrong”. Later, he dabbles in music-making itself; a series of accusations fly in an exchange with an imaginary musician – “I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that _I _know.” For us musos, all the right nods are there: German imports, arpeggiators, CD compilation boxsets – you name it. Given that we’re such outsiders anyway, it’s particularly special when someone like Murphy comes along and welcomes us to his obsessive, collector’s cult with such beckoning charm. The song, built on an endlessly looping TR-808-style drum machine sound, climaxes with screaming bass guitars and keyboard feedback and at the forefront of the mix, Murphy rants a long list of the musicians he loves most.

Length explored: Barely changing for its 7:51 runtime, Losing My Edge is a brilliant tribute to the disco 12” – to the structural facets of extended dance music and the politics of electronic progression. Murphy’s insistence – his relentlessness – drives the thing forward, too. The list of his achievements and opinions is fantastically characteristic and entirely unique, giving this infamously computational genre music a bizarre injection of human snark. Most impressive of all, are the coy inflections of Murphy’s speaking voice, lending to the driving, motorik rhythm a welcome, tonal variation – one that’s at stark, postmodern opposition to the pulsing music. That Murphy was audacious enough to put this out as LCD Soundsystem’s debut release really says something about the group… _and _indeed, their fiercely brilliant record collections.

Is this the best version? For clarity? Yes – and hey, it’s an historic piece as LCD’s first. However, for optimum energy, manic synthesiser experimentation and some playful changes to the lyrics, try the version recorded live at the bands (once) final Madison Square Garden concert, and released as Shut Up and Play the Hits (DVD) / The Long Goodbye (CD/vinyl/digital).

8. The Asphalt World – Suede [9:25]

Released as: a track on the album, Dog Man Star [1994].

What’s it about? Like a lot of the material on Suede’s sophomore, The Asphalt World is something of a dirge – a sludgy, slow-burning landscape painting in sound of barely-human debauchery. Brett Anderson’s poetic realisation of this dripping universe is beautiful, and the horrors to which he euphemistically refers are romantically grotesque. His characters inhabit a world derived of noir movies and salacious sin: “silent stars of the cinema” by wintery rivers, buckling under liver disease, blood poisoning and cruel sex. Bernard Butler accompanies this bleak imagery with an epic wall of shoe-gazing noise. His prog masterstroke, the song is a sprawling scream, shrieking with reverb and collapsing under itself repeatedly, and flailing atonally. It sits brilliantly at the end of Dog Man Star, and quite forebodingly at the end of Butler’s tenure with the band – acrimoniously, he and Anderson parted ways midway through the album’s sessions.

Length explored: There’s something Pink Floyd-like in the water here… the instrumental-heavy arrangement and bemoaned, glam-rock whine of Brett Anderson set the scene for a kind of Bowie-like melancholy, its enormity nodding directly at the steady, progressive tendencies of records like Wish You Were Here.

Is this the best version? No. As with another Dog Man Star track, The Wild Ones, The Asphalt World is best experienced in its full-length, unmixed incarnation, present on the deluxe reissue of the record. At 11:28, this version features an extended wah-affected intro and a longer, louder outro section, complete with a television samples containing aggressive patches of static. Better still, these extended cuts are unmixed, and are subsequently less compressed than the normal album variants, making for a less tame, more dynamic mix.

9. Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus [9:43]

Released as: a standalone single [1979].

What’s it about? Brimming with idiosyncratic, post-punk drama, Bauhaus’ debut single is a hyperbolic masterstroke, meant to celebrate Hollywood Vampirism, but accidentally pre-empting Goth. Everything from its cover art (a still from D. W. Griffith’s 1926 film, The Sorrows of Satan) to its improvised, noise-based composition is fantastically pretentious – the delay pedals, the bars and bars of broken, near-silent jamming… all of these spacious facets would be borrowed and compressed by Goth musicians in the early eighties, most notably, The Cure whose A Forest bears strong stylistic resemblance to this song.

Length explored: In many ways, Bela Lugosi… goes on too long. Proto-Goth or not, there’s an unacceptable, almost self-righteous, self-indulgency going on that can seem pretty off-putting to newcomers. It’s still not one of my favourite Bauhaus tracks – post-punk stompers like A Kick in the Eye are far superior; better composed, melodically stronger and punchier in the mix. In the context of _these_ songs, then, it’s actually more interesting listening to an early incarnation of the band jamming for nine minutes than it is attempting to extract any meaning from what is essentially, a theatrical experiment.

Is this the best version? The _best _version of Bela Lugosi’s Dead would be the original white vinyl 12”, pressed in a limited quantity of 5000 back in 1979. But in terms of the music – every version brings its own thing to the table. The Tomb Raider mix, present on most of the band’s compilation records, is, for example, a scratchier recording with fewer sung sections, more ‘prepared’ sounding effects and a much looser rhythm. Equally, the live Hammersmith Palais recording from 1981 brings the improvised sections of the song to the fore. Take your pick – but start with seminal original.