The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Baker's Dozen

Stewart Lee Selects His Favourite 13 Albums
Simon Jablonski , May 25th, 2011 10:15

Comedian Stewart Lee talks to Simon Jablonski about his thirteen albums of all time, including The Fall (obviously), Ted Chippington, Guided By Voices, REM (who are a disappointment) and why Miles Davis and jazz are like stand-up

Gbv2_1306323775_resize_460x400

Guided By Voices - An Earful o' Wax
I put down Ear Full OF Wax, which probably isn't the best - the best for me is probably Bee 1000. But there used to be a shop that ran for years in Portobello Road; there were two record shops in the same building, one called Minus Zero and another called Stand Out, and they were both run by blokes called Bill, and one Bill had a beard and one was bald. They used to run a shop together and at one point they had a falling out over god knows what - a 13th Floor Elevators b-side, I expect. People from all over the word used to come to this shop. It was the psychedelia, power pop, punk hang out. So they ran these two counters opposite each other in this shop without ever really speaking to each other. It was a really strange atmosphere, but the stuff in there was superb. What I think a lot of people want from being nerdy music fans is a sense of belonging. You'd go in and they'd be almost like drug dealers. They'd go, 'We've got some new stuff, this is the kind of stuff you'd like.'

Anyway, in 1993, Bill with the beard gave me a German only vinyl compilation of the first five Guided By Voices albums. And it was pretty good, but it was in the next couple of years that they became utterly fantastic. I think it's very male. I don't know any women that like Guided By Voices. It's smelly, and it's like men in a basement drinking. And it's also men who are massive record collectors.

Robert Pollard is always trying to recreate the things that affected him as a teenager, but because he's got such a distinctive voice of his own, it doesn't just become imitation, it becomes this other thing. Like The Who, but made by a mad bloke from Ohio who's a bit drunk and also has an incredible vocabulary and a massive ability to store up words, the meaning of which he doesn't seem to care about. It's all about sound. And that's another great thing about Guided By Voices. As someone who speaks for a living, a lot of people say, 'What are your jokes about, what are your targets?' But it's not just about that, it's about rhythm, it's about what words sound like. And Guided By Voices - more so than any other band in the English language – are about that. He's got a brilliant feel for where a consonant goes or whether to extend a vowel. Them and The Fall are the best bands of the last 30 years.

This album is particularly good because it's still lo-fi and he'd really mastered the arts of the four-track and choosing where to bounce things down. Now that everyone can get amazing recording quality on a home computer, it's worth remembering that part of what's great about the sound of records is that the choices you make about what to degrade, what to move forwards in the mix… a lot of what's great about that is the sound of the edits or tape drop outs or things that are missing and mistakes.

The mistake can become the core of the thing, and certainly with stand-up, you find that the thing that doesn't work on stage can become what's good about it - that becomes the bit you concentrate on. When we were doing Jerry Springer The Opera with the associate director Julian Crouch, I'd want to cut things if they weren't working and he'd say, 'Before you cut it, do it more, because it might be that you haven't done it enough.'

With comedy at the moment, it's supposed to be chopped up to fit on mobile phone or to be viral links on things, or to be seven minute sets for the Michael Macintyre Road Show. And it's not about that; it's about how it breathes.

There was this great bit on Jools Holland the other week. They had McCoy Tyner on, who was John Coltrane's pianist, him and his little quartet were trying to find the right chord to resolve this jazz improvisation. They'd probably hit their time, but they couldn't quite find this resolution, and Jools Holland had to just walk across and introduce Elbow. When the dust of culture settles, that will seem like an amazing moment.


If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.