Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Bass Bits #2 - New Wave Bass

Before I get started -  a flurry of first responders:

Dominic Fox at Code Poetix goths it up  
Carl Neville at the Impostume punks it up

Graham Sanford at Our God is Speed funks it up
(and before that Wrecks it up)

Phil Knight at Phil Zone progs it up


Okay, New Wave bass.... talking of Phil, I knew I had to act fast to get in first with The Stranglers

It may well  have been Jean-Jacques Burnel who first made me aware of bass as a distinct and discernible sonic presence on a record.  

Dirty, gruff, muscular, obnoxiously in yer face...

With the 'Glers there's just too many bass bits to pick.

Rattling, pummeling, yet emotive

High-toned, melodic - and a clear contributor to the Peter Hook sound, albeit more ornate and almost rococo here:

Strange crabwise motion across the groove:

Propulsive, raspy


Rolling, panoramic:

I feel I must have missed out many bass beauties in the Stranglers corpus - plenty of scope for Phil K left, then!


Now The Cure are a band that in all honesty don't matter to me much at all, but if they had a real moment of originality I'd say it was circa Seventeen Seconds and the singles that flank it. Above all "A Forest". A song that felt gauche even to 16 year old me at the time, but despite that remains fantastically atmospheric - and propulsive. The latter largely due to the bass of Simon Gallup.

According to my bass playing buddy Chris Scott (of Monitor / Talulah Gosh), it also has one of the absolute simplest basslines for a novice to play.


Devo are so interesting conceptually - the Spenglerian spudboy spiel - and in terms of the visual presentation, the artwork, the videos, etc - that you can sometimes forget how fantastically musical they are - how inventive their redrafting of rock was.  As so often, this came because they were steeped in traditional rock skill sets that they then determinedly set about misapplying and mangling.

This is nowhere more evident than in the bass playing of Gerald Casale. He was a blues fiend, had listened to tons of electric Chicago, along with Beefheartian and other warpings of the blues.

As with Stranglers/ Burnel, there are too many examples of dynamic and strangely graceful playing, especially early on.

Casale goes for this peculiar rolling-bulging effect on "Sloppy". Then oozy-creepy-slimy and almost impudently sinuous on "Shrivel Up":

There's a similar sort of rolling 'n' chiming effect as on "Sloppy" with the bass riff to this next one -  which is overall as immaculate and as radical a rearrangement of rock syntax as "Marquee Moon:"

More conventionally forceful:

Devo must have chosen this Rolling Stones cover not just for its icon-desecration symbolism but to display A/ their difference from Old Wave B/ the fact that within the terms of the new language they were inventing they could play as well as Old Wave musicians. The bass is fantastic, but then so is everything else.

Cannot convey how strange and unnerving it was hearing the original 7-inches of these tunes as brought round our house by my friend Anthony. The bass has a lot to do with the ominous and aberrant feeling of these tunes.

There's probably some things on the second album....


I'm going to file Talking Heads under New Wave as opposed to Postpunk (later for that).

Too many Tina Weymouth bass bits.

This is what I wrote in The Wire for their Bass Special a few years ago, about about some of Weymouth's goldfinger (and goldthumb - she devised her own unique version of slap bass) moments.

So dominant was David Byrne as the front-and-center figure in Talking Heads – voice, wordsmith,  mesmerizingly awkward physical presence—that it’s  always been too easy to underplay the vital contributions of the instrumentalists. (Including Byrne’s own instrumental role as marvelously inventive guitarist).  Props due to drummer Chris Frantz and to Jerry Harrison for his keyboard colorations, but DB’s only serious rival as charismatic focus was always Tina Weymouth.  Her bass is often the primary melodic voice in the songs, while the unfettered joy of her playing provides a vital counter to the singer’s neurotic unease.  Talking Heads’s classic first four albums hold an embarrassment of four-string riches.  The nimble pretzel-funk of “Cities”. The rubbery ache of “Heaven”.  The languid lope of “Warning Sign”. The lurching anti-groove “Drugs”. The virtually iconic unchanging bassline of “Once In A Lifetime” (whose composition Weymouth generously credits to her husband Frantz but which has her fingerprints all over it in terms of the use of space and silence). The quirky quiver of “Mind”. The uncharacteristic hypno-drone of “The Overload.” In sheer desperation, I plump here for the first B-line of Weymouth’s, and possibly of anybody’s, that caught my young (16 years old) ear: the corkscrewing earworm that is “Found A Job,” a bass-riff that sings in your head like pure pop and pummels you in the gut like the toughest funk or hardest rock.   During postpunk, I never played air guitar (too phallic, too masculinist and metal). But I did play air bass.  And Tina Weymouth got as much mime time out of me as that other great bass hero of the era, Jah Wobble.