This is a true story and it’s about how I met a girl I fell in love with. My cousin had been living with this girl for years and I was good friends with both but we were all in Manchester and the girl was originally from brighton and I had never met her family, so one day her sister, whom I had never met, came to Manchester for a party and the sister was a little knockout but around a million miles out of my league but still we became friendly so when I was visiting London a coupla months later we met up for a drink and she brought her boyfriend, her best friend and her best friend’s kid sister and I fell in love with the kid sister within an hour.
Now remember that story while I tell you this one. I follow popular music about as carefully as I can given my limited resources and one thing I do is check out the back page of the Stone and make sure I know everybody on the charts and one day in January of this year I’m doing that and I notice Los Campesionos on the college charts so I figure I’ll buy a song and I buy “We Are beautiful, We Are Doomed” and I flip out and within a week I have bought everything they have released and I read that they are playing at Bowery Ballroom the day before MLK day so I get a tix and a band I’ve never heard of called Titus Andronicus are opening so, etc. And then a coupla months later Marie Lynn remembers hearing Deep Sea Diving saying during their set that they had recorded some songs for daytrotter.com and she remembers daytrotter because she is a fan of Margot and the Nuclear So and Son’s and had bought an EP called the daytrotter sessions and so she tells me there is a titus song I don’t know on daytrotter so I look it up and I find “Waking Up Drunk” and in the notes for the song on daytrotter where you can and sure should download it for free titus mention that the song is by a band called Spider Bags and I am now in love with Spider Bags.
Before I start in on Spider Bags proper I wanna compare (again) the Titus and the Spider Bags versions of “Waking Up Drunk” because both bands matter to me and youll never get closer to digging what Titus is up to then on this cover. Dan McGee is singing a drinking song and Patrick Stickles is singing a drunk song. Stickles is at the most mournful part of drunkenness and his harmonica haunts the song and McGee is at the heigh of drunkeness and the xylophone jiggers the break, he is indomitable and overwhelming. It is a country drinking song like Charlie Daniel’s “Drinking My Baby Goodbye” is a drinking song and more than fitting for the whole of “A Celebration Of Hunger” which, McGee’s caveats notwithstanding, is a great country-rock album. But Stickles is a man who wants to get to the point and wants to express a truth wherever the truth takes him and McGee is a songwriter dealing in the myths and forms of popular music. McGee is misunderstood (maybe he misunderstands himself) because he deals in almost a live first take production ethos and a certain looseness he thinks he is an oeuvre when he is a journeyman. Stickles has a singular vision and it is of a sound, a voice, a band, a way of living but McGee’s vision is of a life as lived.
“A Celebration Of Hunger” is a celebration of a hungry heart and a fatally flawed and damaged romance feeding off itself; a celebration of the edge of romance where it becomes a blue and inky self-fullfilling prophesy of disintegration and Spider bags seem to be decaying in front of your eyes -at least the relationship that haunts the songs appears to be. McGee has gone on record as saying he wrote the songs during a very bad time in his life and it doesn’t sound like a first album at all. It doesn’t have that overwritten and overplayed quality so many, even so many great, first albums do. It doesn’t seem to have lived in the dives and dungeons of rock clubs but in the basement of family houses where the girl is upstairs nursing the baby and the man is downstairs trying to wonder why it feels as though everything has gone wrong. On “Bleed For You” McGee wonders “If I plead for you, would you make me a man or an animal?” and it is question to that plagues this celebration -the song sounds like a country suffle as written by the Richard Hell circa “Destiny Street” -it’s a messy, unsettled extremely unhappy song but all of these songs except maybe the instrumental “Summer’s Waltz” are songs at the breaking point. “Darkness In My Heart,” “So Long A Rope…” (a real good country track), love is, in costellos words, either scarpering or cowering or fawning, and it seems that by the end of the album we are doubting our own ears. Definitely we are doubting Spider Bags.
Anyway, the band name is a reference to heroin and the first song, the completely wrecked “Bad Complexion,” thanks the lord for that heavy medication and the song is like watching somebody running up a flight of stairs and the song happens when they are near the top and not that it’s breathy but there is an emotional lethargy. It’s an odd kick off for an oddly constructed album: on the cowering “Bad Complexion” he doesn’t want to write about the girl -he is just in a fog and while he calls to the girl the song seems almost calming. Next is the end of the hootenany the scarpering “Waking Up Drunk,” and the fawning “Blood For You”. And when you list to them one after the other the details of the relationship emerge and it’s a serious one and a dead end. Just listening to McGee you know he’s trouble and you know he is to blame and more than that you know why she can’t help but constantly love a guy who feels things way too deep and is so fundamentally selfish he could drive you insane. “I’m gonna make you the devil when I go…” he warns her. “Telephones never ringing, Mexican voices never singing…” If I am reading his story right he did leave her.
The album seems to be deeply into heroin and alcohol album -the nervousness pumps it up but the downs slow it way down on a song like “I Am Sorry I,” “We can live together and we can not live apart she’s the shower of my sorrow, she’s the shower of my heart” he sings and things close down again. Slow slow then the rush and confusion. I hate heroin. It’s a killer and a fast killer. And because of that I used to claim I hated heroin albums but it’s not true from “Blonde On Blonde” thru “Velvet Underground” to “Low” some of my fave albums have been junked out any any way, what’s it got to do with me. US Punk used heroin (UK Punk used speed) and the inarticulate gasp of his more extroverted punk band D.C. Snipers is real US Punk.
Which leaves me back with love because I would love to see Spider Bags live (or even D.C. Snipers, whom I just missed opening for Ted Leo) and I love “A Celebration Of Hunger” -one of the best albums of, ahem, 2007.
And it also leaves me falling in love with that kid sister, even getting a coupla kisses before she stepped out of my dreams and back into her life. But that’s the thing about falling in love: you need someone to love you back the way Spider Bags needs someone to listen to them or I need you to read about me listening to them.
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