Saturday, 15 January 2011

Laura Branigan - Self Control (1984/ No. 5/ 17 weeks/ Atlantic)

If you're a friend or acquaintance of mine, then you will know me well enough to understand that I might well be the least hedonistic man in Britain. Yet I'm continually drawn back towards 'Self Control', a shining document of a nocturnal life of kicks and thrills. I don't know whether its just the evocativeness of the song that wins me over, or if its teasing out some darker, unfulfilled, urge in me.

What this song emphatically is not - although it ostensibly seems to be - is a lust song about a man who nightly strips away Laura's sense of propriety and self-preservation. Apart from being addressed to a "you", the object of the song fails to function as an individual and instead is seen in terms of the night itself, the city and the artificial light, a vast entity that swallows up the singer until she has no real sense of individuality left.

Oh the night
Is my world
City light
Painted girl
In the day
Nothing matters
It's the night time
That flatters
In the night
No control

Wearing white
As you're walking
Down the street
Of my soul

The lack of self control ought to mean that Laura is finding her true essence, but its easier to find an inner blankness;

I - I live among the creatures of the night
I haven't got the will to try and fight

There are occasionally hints of self-knowledge of the illusory nature of this life;

I'm living in the forest of my dream
I know the night is not as it would seem
I must believe in something so I'll make myself believe it
That this night will never go

- but the pull of the hedonistic world of the music is a lot stronger than the sense of its transience. It's too early for rave but this record easily holds its own alongside 'Weekender' by Flowered Up or The Streets' Blinded By The Lights, say.

This is one of those welcome cases of an eighties production making the song, rather than ruining it. It has fumpingly loud drums, of course, but crucially this is a record full of space. where the sounds are really separated. You don't feel that you're hearing an organic or integrated instrumentation when you listen to Self Control, but that you're getting sounds instead, sounds arranged in Mondrian blocks, supported by a disco framework. All of these separate sounds are thrilling and enticing - big riffs, bubbling keyboards, coked-up Ah Ah Ah backing vocals - sirens to the nocturnal world that the singer lives for.

This sense of the single being a document of a life going off the rails, seeking oblivion, comes across in a detail that only struck me after I'd been listening to this for twenty years. The thing is supposed to be propulsive, "rocky disco" you could describe it as, but it is very very slightly too slow. You sense that this is the precise point where things start to break down, the sensation of a synapse in the brain - addled by drugs and lights - snapping and collapsing reality as you listen.

Self Control presents the listener with a pornographic experience; The aesthetic is over-lit, you get the impression that the performers are on drugs, you're slightly upset to find it exciting you, and the whole thing feels strangely and compellingly impersonal.

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