|Sea Air||Rooms Of The Magnificent|
|Everything I've Got|
Belongs To You
|Honey Steel's Gold|
|La Di Doh||Character Assassination|
|Car Headlights||Electrical Storm|
|The Way I Made You Feel||Honey Steel's Gold|
|Little Fiddle ...||Character Assassination|
|Palace Of Sin||Electrical Storm|
|Without Your Mirror||Rooms Of The Magnificent|
|When There's This Party||Everybody's Got To|
|No Regrets||The Return Of The Mail-Order Bridegroom|
Contributor: Glenn Smith
It’s forty odd years since Ed helped pop out a little 45 called I’m Stranded. Forty albums later it is time to appraise an astonishing career that traverses through The Saints, The Aints, Laughing Clowns, The Yard Goes On Forever and a stack of solo records.
A prolific songwriter, Ed has a sound that is truly unique. An iconoclast like Weller, each stage of his career has seen some dramatic shifts in style and tone. Hurtling out of that first furious (and finest) incarnation of The Saints, he moved on to the avant, free form whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it jazz of Laughing Clowns. If you want to get a taste for what he went into there have a listen to Theme from Mad Flies, Mad Flies and you’ll hear what I mean.
Having cleared his head with the Clowns in the early eighties, he recorded his first solo album Electrical Storm in 1985 and then formed a band, The Yard Goes On Forever, touring and recording his second solo album Rooms Of The Magnificent in 1986. And so began his long and acclaimed third act, the solo years which encompass his greatest work.
So what is this unique sound and style? As we know from The Saints, Ed can play guitar, he’s a riff meister who can play with power and subtlety and who can solo with the best of them. The driving guitar sound is married to inventive arrangements and eclectic instrumentation: Wagnerian horn arrangements, lonesome blues harmonicas, fluttering and skittering mandolins and violins and other instrumental esoterica feature in his tunes.
And then there is the song writing. And yes, as befitting his Teutonic roots, there is something of The Threepenny Opera in his writing, as well as the occasional Wagnerian bombast in his arrangements. And he knows his Germanic heritage; this is the guy that named one of his best tunes Also Sprach The King Of Euro Disco!
As a lyricist he writes with an emotional punch, he’s never backwards in coming forward about his and his betters foibles and failures. And he marries his great words with a recurring penchant for some la di das and dos and la la las, all of which are a perfect fit for the Weill-ian mood and feel of his work.
Sea Air (Rooms Of The Magnificent 1986)
A lonesome harmonica, glissando bass and some classic Ed da di dum lyrics send us hurtling along an Australian ocean drive somewhere, somehow. Sea Air is pure love and lust; this girl is “like a kite slipping from my hand” with his frustration played out in a superlative twangy guitar solo, dah di dum, dah di dum, da di day.
Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You (Honey’s Steel Gold 1991)
I’ve always loved the fact that Rod rhymed ‘jokes’ with ‘coax’ but here Ed tops it by acknowledging to the one he loves that not only is he “churlish and rude” but that he “gets a real contentment in bad moods”. Hats off to anyone who can not only get the word “churlish” into a pop song but make it rhyme. And for good measure he adds in “comeuppance”, brilliant. This is Ed’s anthemic sing-along love song, a simple three chord strum with a startlingly personal lyric, perfect for that last drink of the night as the sun comes up and she/he is by your side.
La Di Doh (Character Assassination 1994)
Only Ed could open with didgeridoo, jews harp and harmonica and it works as he takes us to the chorus he’d been threatening all his career, the ultimate in la di da de doh doh. Don’t relax though, Ed’s still got something to say, being lured by some siren who wants to puff him up with who he ain’t, while he’s needed somewhere else, to do his la di dohs. This is an ungrateful world for Ed, spears are being chucked by a press gang having a field day with him, while he’s busy making sure his rents not in arrears. This music business is pretty miserable, better off singing la di doh.
Car Headlights (Electrical Storm 1985)
This rolling apocalyptic thunderclap opens the Electrical Storm album, guitar scorching, hi hat scattering as whatever dark journey he’s on gets under way. Blinded by lights, a body lying by his side and his brain plastered like a cane toad, Car Headlights smashes up against the listener, swirling around a driving rhythm as Ed howls about his regret in someone not being shot down. Somehow, Ed makes it eerier than Johnny by not taking the shot; it’s the regret in the moment that makes it all the more ominous.
The Way I Made You Feel (Honey Steel’s Gold 1991)
An ode to suburban love gone right and wrong, only Ed could start a song with “It started when I was cleaning dishes, and the phone rang in the hall”. The mass destruction he describes in seeing her and the resulting chaos and mayhem in the way he makes her feel, that the earth didn’t move so much as Ed moved her. A four chord progression sustains the turmoil with yet another twangy solo worthy of the dissonant tension.
Little Fiddle (And The Ghost Of Xmas Past) (Character Assassination 1994) This will send shivers down your spine. Everything sounds wrong, the fiddle off key and discordant, Ed’s voice is jarring, edgy and impatient. A Teutonic blues, the recurring guitar riff gnaws away as the fiddle saws away. Meanwhile someone is getting theirs, the things they want have a “noticeable stink” and their reputed sexiness is questioned when compared to Ed’s. Their troubles are all part of the little fiddle that’s bringing Ed down and he’s not standing for it. Brecht and Weill would have been proud, every home should have one.
Palace Of Sin (Electrical Storm 1985)
The Electrical Storm album was written when he was married and honeymooning in the early eighties and Palace Of Sin like so many of the tunes on that record highlights the fear and excitement of the new, both musical and personal. A bluesy guitar opens things up, strumming slowly into a thunderous drums intro and a killer riff. Here’s Ed giving up and giving in, but the Palace Of Sin is a new kind of paradise, where he once shied away he’s now going in.
Without Your Mirror (Rooms Of The Magnificent 1986)
Minor key horns open this moody mini masterpiece, they set the inharmonious tone for what is to come. A chiming guitar riff leads us out of the sadness of the horns into clap sticks, which are metronomic in their insistent and creepy repetition. Here comes the dark lyric with a bit of blues harmonica; Ed’s burning letters and listening for the bedroom mumbling, breaking vows. An ominous do do de do do female chorus/ harmonica holds out through to the last of the song, as he tells us with no conviction and a whole lot of menace that he is the friend of the happy ending.
When There’s This Party (Everybody’s Got To 1988)
This smacks of “Hey Ed we need a song for radio”, as this cracking pop tune has everything Ed could pack into an uptempo tune. Smashing em up guitar riffs, a bit of Simple Minds synth and some female backing singers on the chorus. And being Ed he makes it work, which is probably why it wasn’t a hit. The build from verse to chorus is powered by his guitar work and a solo built around the main riff, thumping good.
No Regrets (The Return Of The Mail-Order Bridegroom 1997)
I’ve held off referencing the moody gloomy genius of the Walker Brothers and their obvious influence on Ed’s work. Here is his Scott Walker tribute, he can’t quite dip as deeply low on the basso profundo as Scott could, but he matches him for feel, as sad as Scott could hope to be, beautifully backed by the high drama of his acoustic guitar work.
Glenn Smith lives in Sydney and teaches high school English, plays very bad guitar with his bass playing son and spends far too much time thinking about The Beatles….