Is What They Want
‘I thank the maker for The Chords. They had the energy and attack
that’s stayed with me through out my life as a musician. It was a good
time to be a British Pop Kid, and The Chords were slap bang in the middle
High praise indeed from someone who should know what he’s on about. Miles’s comment is one of many in the sleeve notes for The Chords’ retrospective double CD compilation that is ‘This is What They Want’.
So what is ‘This is What They Want’ and what is it trying to achieve? The double CD set comes in a slip cover – inside the CD is a 16-page booklet containing a track-by-track breakdown, with anecdotes from the band and their contemporaries. Included in the booklet are many pictures, some seen before, but many new ones.
What is important though is the music and from the opening track of the first disc, the ride is an interesting one.
Lasting impressions of the track are that everything is better played and mixed stronger. This track alone makes the compilation worth buying.
Most of the tracks on disc one have been available before, and are the singles and the ‘So Far Away’ LP.
‘Now It’s Gone’ is the ‘free single’ version, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ as before.
'Happy Families' is the longer version. The LP’s version was edited down in the mixing sessions for the LP. Andy Arthurs managed to cut a whole verse from the song, rather than the intended last chorus. At first it sounds odd and perhaps it loses a little of its impact coming out of the middle eight. Also notable is the louder backing vocals with a very deep sounding tone – who supplied this?. You make your own minds up about it.
The next thirteen tracks have been discussed before and are as the original versions. The next track though is one of the most significant tracks on the CD set.
‘Empty Dreams’ is the legendary lost single. Somewhat of a departure to the normal Chords sound the beat is in ¾ time for most of the song. The timing changes into the more normal 4/4 timing for the bridge and back to ¾ for the rest.
Traces of Dexys’ ‘Geno’ and The Kinks, I personally find the timing change a bit forced. It’s certainly a departure for the band and sees them going into the direction of Madness, more than the Jam. Had the single been released I think The Jam comparisons may have been dropped and this would have allowed the band’s sound to continue developing further. The story as to why it wasn’t released is …
The band recorded both ‘Empty Dreams’ and ‘In My Street’ as the potential next single. As with most groups they have a show of hands as to which one of the tracks should be released. It goes without saying – two hands for ‘In My Street’, two hands for ‘Empty Dreams’, so who should make the decision? The decision falls into Polydor's hands, they prefer ‘In My Street’. Now I’m not saying this was a bad move, but it was one of the contributing factors for Billy’s departure.
The band had been releasing singles every two or three months and had Billy not left, then perhaps it may have made it out as a single and the Chords story may have been very different. Personally I find the song interesting but not that strong. It is very reminiscent of The Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’ era and of all things ‘The Size of the Cow’ by the Wonderstuff. I think a remake with more instrumentation would take it to the fairground sound that it aspires to achieve. Anyway enough ‘maybe’s’ – let’s move on.
At last ‘One More Minute’ on CD; I can now stop playing my own bootlegged CD copy.
‘Turn Away Again’ finishes the first disc, again available for the first time on CD. The CD allows the song not to sound as muddy as the vinyl version. I am not blaming Andy Arthurs because I imagine the band were learning still as well, but the last few singles are technically better produced, One More Minute is so clear.
‘Turn Away Again’ is only really let down by Kip’s singing, it’s not bad, but not as good as Billy’s vocals.
Summing up the first CD is easy as a lot of it’s been available before – the new version of ‘The British Way of Life’ is the highlight and the rest is as you would expect, just as it was before – blindingly good.
Similar to Maybe Tomorrow, ‘Knock on wood’ comes from the same session, again the playing is fast and to the point. Martin shouts his way through the song, I have to say that I prefer this to the version of Hold On I’m Coming. You can hear the band chatting at the end, and yes Martin calls Buddy a ‘cunt’, the reason? On the last chorus you can hear that Buddy has in fact dropped his sticks.
The legendary ‘Now It’s Gone’ as produced by Jimmy Pursey. This version is quoted as being the ultimate version. I would have to agree it is certainly better than the single version, but on a par with the ‘free single’ version. The playing is good and the band sound very tight; the production wavers a bit in places, but this certainly would have been a much better version for the first single. For a band that had only been in the studio once or twice before, it is an accomplished recording. It makes me wonder if this version had been the single, would the story of The Chords have been very different?
This double CD collection has everything that the band recorded bar two tracks, the single version of ‘Now It’s Gone’ and the single version ‘Hey Girl’, a version of which is next. Given that Now It’s Gone is already on the CD collection three times I think only the completists must be moaning.
If you own the first Damned LP go and get it now, put on the track ‘Stab Your Back’, this would be the closest I have ever heard any other band sounding like the Damned, in fact it must be The Damned! No it’s ‘Hey Girl’ played by The Chords. The whole song is played at such a speed; it barely starts before it finishes. A fun version, the Mod purist will hate it, but then I shouldn’t think the band at the time would have cared. I do have it on record that Buddy hates cover versions now, I wonder if this has anything to do with it? I hope not as it sounds like a young band enjoying themselves and should be treated as such.
‘Don’t Go Back’ Martins b-side to the first single has been reviewed earlier on in the discography. Note though the backwards guitar, was Weller listening?
‘I’m Not Sure’ demo version, Billy’s voice wobbles a couple of times and the playing is shaky in places, but this is brilliant stuff. The song was new in the set and had only been written a short time before. The bridge to the end is longer than the LP version and Buddy’s rhythm is different on the verse. I particular like the long drum roll into the last chorus. Again the playing is faster than the LP version.
To note, the demos all have a slightly clearer production than the actual released versions, I’m not sure (no pun intended) why this might be but could it be to do with frequencies that a vinyl version can contain and how a producer (at that time) would mix down a song for vinyl ??
‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ and ‘This is What They Want’ are no different than before.
‘So Far Away’ single edit. I’m not sure if this would have worked as a single, it is a bloody good song, but some songs are just not single material no matter how good they are. Singles are not necessarily the best songs, they are the ones that sound right at three minutes long and coming out of a radio. Perhaps its just that it sounds strange to my ears after years of hearing it unedited?
‘The Way It’s Gotta Be’ is fast becoming one of my favourites, I suppose I like it because it’s not so ‘in your face’, I must be getting older! (32 in Jan <<< ED). It is easily Billy’s best song.
The next three tracks are demos and have not been available before in any shape or form. The first up is ‘Who Asked You’. A tale of bitterness, inspired by an argument? This and following two tracks, I would imagine would have been the second lot of songs the band was getting together. ‘Who Asked You’ sounds a little too fast and eager, a good song spoilt by the speed of playing.
‘Me and My Precious Life’ is the most sixties-sounding tune the band ever undertook, I know it’s lazy of me but this sound like The Saints’ ‘I’m Stranded’ era with bits of Revolver. What you can notice on this track and ‘Empty Dreams’ is the band exploring different rhythms. I like this song just because it is a little unusual.
'With My Friends' would have made a good B-side, but that’s all. The recording is good and clearer with David Moores at the controls. This demo was recorded after ‘British Way of Life’ but before ‘In My Street’, could this be the reason the band changed producers? The murky mix of BWOL may have been a contributing factor. It doesn’t have a wall of sound treatment but more clanky (is that a word <<< ED) sounding guitars.
‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’, as discussed earlier
‘Home Sweet Home’ is as it says in the notes, is a demo for the second LP. A lot slower than other Chords songs, the treatment of ‘Home Sweet Home’ leaves the song very open and consequently with more room for the singing. The guitar runs are very Undertones, the bass and drums much more considered and with a faint organ underpinning the song. A well-produced demo, this gives the lasting impression that the second LP would have been a lot slower, but very listenable.
‘Who’s Killing Who?’ Again has already been talked about. Like the song before it though it is interesting how the band were leaving more and more out of the songs, rather than throwing in everything but the kitchen sink. A simple song that reminds me of an LP track by The Police.
‘Turn Away Again (Again)’ I like this on CD, it has more room to move around. Inspired by I think ‘One Hundred Punks’ by Generation X and countless Clash tunes. These tracks are great fun to do, if not necessarily to listen to. I am intrigued as to why the band did this track, perhaps it was just for fun? Answers on a postcard please.
‘Two Weeks In Heaven’, Recorded as recently as ‘97 it shows Chris’s writing is still relevant and contemporary, it reminds me of the Levellers in sound and production. It is well constructed and played. It also begs the question if the band had been given the opportunity to carry on, how would of they sounded? The subject is very Chris, what a bitter and twisted man he must be.
Guy Malkerson wrote to the site asking if the band would get together to record some new songs and make them available through the site, if this song is of the quality the band are capable of, then there should be no musical reason not to. Will this happen??
‘Now It’s Gone’ acoustic version. This is great and should reduce a normal man to tears. I would love to hear this on the radio. What comes over in this version is how close Mr Gallagher is in sounding like The Chords. I would personally love to get the opportunity to ask him if The Chords inspired him. If you play guitar you know Noel’s style is very like Chris’s. It is obvious that they both have the same influences, but Noel really should be giving Chris a royalty cheque soon.
The CDs brings together all the recorded material by the band and only now leaves the BBC sessions to follow. The radio sessions are currently under negotiation and should be available in early part of 2001. Some of you may be wondering where, ‘The Red, The White and The Blue’ and ‘Nowhere Land’ are, the official line is that these are known Chords songs, but really are demos and certainly not suitable for anyone other than the band to hear. I’m aware of other song titles and I am also sure there must be cassette live tapes in people’s collections.
How to sum up the CD collection, it has a lot of highs, a lot of honesty, passion, enthusiasm, youth and power. But the lasting feeling I have is that it is sad.
Why sad? Well, if the last two tracks and the re-recorded version of ‘British Way of Life’ are anything to go by, The Chords should be brightening the lives of a lot more people than they did then and now. There really aren’t that many quality bands, when you actually start thinking about it.
Most music is okay, it works perfectly for that time, songs like ‘British way of Life’ and ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ sum up that early eighties England, football violence and inner city strife. But some of those things haven’t gone away and as I write this review, on the news is a report of young ten year old kid murdered near his home. People walked by not wanting to get involved?
What The Chords said to me in the lyrics of their songs is that it is up to you how you live you life and that you should share compassion for your neighbour and you should get involved. Sorry for my lecture but ….
Some songs still sound right and not out of place, it’s as if they had come out last week. ‘The Way it’s Gotta Be’ and ‘One More Minute’ are true classics. In bands like Supergrass you can hear The Chords.
Go out and buy this CD and stop it from going into the bargain bucket. Play the first CD often and remember what music should sound like, played like it is meant. Then play the second CD and remember what fun is about and not to take life too seriously. Then, when you’re ready for bed, put on ‘Now It’s Gone’
Marks out of ten: Eleven
Andrew Lindsay, December 2, 2000