CROOKED MILE
(LP)

 

now all the hotels are fine
and compassion's a crime

TWELVE TRACK LP AND CD ON VIRGIN. CAT NO. V2415 (LP) AND CDV2415 (CD).

Side a- Town To Town, Angels, Our Children, Mrs Simpson, Hey Hey Sam, Give Me All Of Your Clothes
Side b- Armadillo Man, Bullwhip Road, And He Descended Into Hell, Rack, Big Sleeping House, People Just Want To Dream.


'Crooked Mile' saw Microdisney finally entering the big time with their first release on a major label. The LP is a very strong collection of songs with much more specific subject matter than had previously been the case. Unfortunately, whether due to the producer, too little pressure, or the boys unable to resist playing with their new toys, the LP is crucified by its production. Songs which sung live had been full of emotion and feeling were damaged as unnecessary twiddles were added. The vocals too felt toned down as passion lost out to a focus on harmony and melody, trying too hard to blend in with the crafted tunes.

The LP was more overtly political than the earlier releases with targets ranging from the Blue Rinse Brigade ('People Just Want To Dream') to attitudes to sex ('Rack' and 'Big Sleeping House'), corrupt dictatorships ('Bullwhip Road') and war ('Armadillo Man', 'Hey Hey Sam', 'Town To Town') . Even so the songs still have that uniquely Microdisney trait of always seeing the personal angle just as much as the political issue.


In 'Town To Town' we see the aftermath of a nuclear war where Cathal decides to get back with his ex.


why don't you call me-
i've got no body

me and my ex-lover
will accept each other
help reap the dead harvest


A society still unable to see beyond the end of it's prick, as unfulfilment goes arm in arm with the nuclear age and Reagan's finger on the button. A 'make do' attitude that comments as much on the pre-nuclear state of affairs as it does on the fallout (boom boom) afterwards.


Rack is a hugely passionate song about the AIDS virus at a time when there was a great deal of stigma attached to the subject and where you couldn't even get ten 16 year-olds to go to an Elton John benefit. As always with Microdisney it goes well beyond the subject matter with the sleevenotes commenting 'do not have sex ever, do not remember that things didn't need to be this way'. It's an attack on those who used the issue for their own moral crusade, a return to 'Victorian values' and on those who simply didn't want to get involved in any 'unpleasantness'.

i must not do this thing, i'll wreck my social life
they'll disinfect my chair and claim some uncivil rights
they'll say 'you sun of a gun'
old lovers pleading- why?

go and ask your friend the hack
he's putting straight the record track
here comes the sun, 'til black is black

ask him why he turns his back
on the innocents upon the rack
and saves his sympathy for the rats

the doctor is a fool
he's just a callous snob
he had fifteen years in the jesuit school
and now he's not fit for any job

he just sneers and drives a big car
is this my saviour?

go and ask your friend the hack
he's putting straight the record track
'let's spend the night' becomes 'get back'

there's nothing wrong with me
i am just wondeful
i've got pop songs to keep me calm
and faithful friends like you

so if you ever need a few
have my barbed wire rainbow

go and ask your friend the hack
he's dancing to his record track
you're paranoid, you're paranoid

this is what we call the rack
you're just a straight and you ask for it.


Right click ('Save target as') on the lyrics for a live MP3.

Sex and morality also feature on 'Mrs Simpson', where Cathal makes a visit to see Mrs Simpson to find her gone- maybe back to her husband ('but I don't really care').

what we did and said in this place
no-one will ever know so what's your disgrace


It's again a difficult song to interpret- Casual sex? The abdication crisis? A life without meaning? The choice of name ('Mrs Simpson') and references to her 'nazi' husband in live performances suggests using the theme of the abdication crisis to highlight the ludicrous moral attitudes associated with sex. A similar story unfolds in 'Big Sleeping House', where a casual fling 'did for us and for public scorn, in the dying town where we were born'.

'Bullwhip Road' is a strong contender for 'best Microdisney song ever'. For once an unusually straightforward song with South Africa the inspiration if not the entire subject matter. It's the story of a security services imprisonment, torture and killing and the lyrics are strong yet still manage to be original. It starts with an almost 'once upon a time' introduction as Cathal sings 'I am no good for you I can do no right, I've written you this song'. Hugely passionate and heartfelt, the song is summed up by the last line:

i hate the world
i hate my life and this song
now run along


It was suggested in one review that the song was being ironically sung from the oppressor's viewpoint, but it seems more likely that it's about the feeling of helplessness to change the situation. The start and end aimed at a 'why don't you stop moaning and get on with your life' audience (whether political or personal in nature).

'Hey Hey Sam' follows the warmongers back to their homes. A General wages war and worse on innocent civilians and then, trying to block out the memory of his actions, goes back to making kids with his pleasant wife in their pleasant surroundings. 'Armadillo Man', makes a more jokey contribution to the militaristic theme as a Commando single-handedly takes on the Russians. Ending with 'at least he went to see the other side, while other people never even tried', it's mocking the readiness of people to fight a war against anyone they don't like.

While war and sex may be time-honoured subjects for a pop song, Microdisney were also delving into areas which were generally ignored by even the political bands. Fashion and trends were reaching new heights of obnoxiousness. What had previously been a relatively harmless outlet for kids to get through adolescence, by giving them identity, was now threatening quality and substance as big business invented expensive consumer lifestyles for people to invest in. If there was one thing that hindered Microdisney's ability to reach a wider audience it was this refusal to sell their souls and the desire to tell people a few home truths. It was too much to write songs about these issues and then fit into the fashionable world that journalists and record labels had dreamed up. 'And He Descended Into Hell' has a dig at the 'Frankiegoes To Hoolywood' trend towards making protest and rebellion a sexy thing- 'when screaming in the street you use a disco beat, or your audience will flee'. 'Give Me All Of Your Clothes' pokes fun at the art student mentality, art and fashion as a means to a shag.

The LP ends with 'People Just Want To Dream', a story of fashionable capitalist consumption. The song went through several lyric changes before arriving at the LP version, with the original version containing a 'Habitat Lounging Chair' (live mp3)). Sadly this was removed from the LP either through artistic balance or cold feet from the record label. At a time when lifestyle and branding was gripping the nation, it was a welcome rebuff to those placing material possessions and lifestyle image above all other things.

the high street used to be such a slum
'til we prized it away from the welfare scum

we used to play around until we found that
money is everything

While outrageous sex is now pretty much obligatory to any Channel 4 game or chat show, the things that Microdisney sang about lifestyle seem even more applicable today. A world where people pay premium prices for the right to have a manufacturer's name (especially those exploiting third world children) scribbled across their T-Shirt. The sight of Palestinians in their Nike gear on the west bank throwing petrol bombs in protest at American Imperialism tragically demonstrating just how strong a grip those manufacturers' have on people's lives.  


Scanning the web pages for anything remotely to do with Microdisney I found quotes from both Cathal and Sean who were both of the opinion that maybe they should have called it a day after 'Clock Comes Down the Stairs'. I don't know what they were on at the time but, despite production issues, Microdisney were just getting better and better. This LP and their final '39 Minutes' showed depth and maturity to the band and brought songs that are as important to me as any.

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