#31Songs (8): Best instrumental solo
‘In the Mystery’ by The Blue Aeroplanes, from Spitting Out Miracles (1987)
Spotify link: The Blue Aeroplanes – In The Mystery
The Blue Aeroplanes are primarily a guitar-based band, and there are plenty of guitar solos on their records. On Spitting Out Miracles there often seems to be a Richard Thompson influence. But the most interesting guitar playing actually occurs outside the formal ‘solo’ spot, and often lies in the interweaving of different guitars. The most surprisingly instrumental by some stretch is the clarinet solo on ‘In the Mystery’, attributed on the sleeve to ‘More Armadillo Traces’: Richard Bell in his notes tells us that the player was Peter Blegvad’s producer Tim Hodgkinson, who was in the Cold Storage studios (Acre Lane, Brixton) mixing Blegvad’s latest album, and who, hearing ‘In the Mystery’, offered to contribute some clarinet (*). There’s a frenzied quality to it, scrambling up and down scales at speed, which is entirely consistent with some of the guitar playing on the band’s songs around that time, but which with the richer, warmer tone of a clarinet creates a different effect. (Imagine those notes played on an overdriven fuzzy guitar: it would sound more like some aspiring heavy metal guitarist in the style of Yngwe Malmsteen.) The combination of the clarinet the clanging guitar line is an unprecedented combination of textures.
The lyrics are more than usually baffling, but they seem to incorporate a fractured hard-boiled detective narrative: note the non-standard ‘don’t cure a thirst’ and the tough-guy ‘we got calls to make’; the collars turned up, the references to the ‘elements of ‘the case’ and a ‘clue’. On top of that, the telegraphically abbreviated count of a journey (‘much bumping, some darkness’) also recalls some of the 1930s poets, especially Auden; Auden too liked to play with popular forms. There’s an atmosphere of alienation and cultural dislocation, of not being one of the locals and of having to interpret the smallest things carefully. The sea sparkles ‘like the / sequins on her dress’, and nature ‘is Hollywood tonite’ (the sleeve notes give that spelling rather than ‘tonight’): everything familiar has become artificial. At some level, though, I’m not sure quite of what logic is supposed to hold these elements together.
Diving into an ice-broken river don’t cure a thirst
so quit this house, we got calls to make. Shut up
in a room, turning inside out. A long journey, much
bumping, some darkness.
Then, the steam on the windows
kept people in like raffia chains, everyone was local
and we didn’t fit the elements of the case. A clue
to this extraordinary behaviour, a hand in some
politic embrace, gingham cloth, a crack in the cup.
Now when you cheat, you watch that hand for bites, when
you cheat I watch in admiration.
I could drink your
dishonesty like tequila, to indiscretion, in madcap
chase of enlightenment, collar turned up. Your face
a way station. If you’re so young, don’t say such
clever things. [If you must be clever, please learn
about holding and circling.*] Oh, oh baby, but drink is
a blessing we ignore at risk. What can I say about
any love in these times?
The sea sparkles like the
sequins on her dress, and nature is Hollywood tonite.
[*these phrases are in the printed lyrics, but not recorded.]