“For all the promises, you’ve never known a loneliness quite like this”

This is another one for which David wrote pretty much all the music (the quiet strings from the second verse are mine). There’s something really dysfunctional about it, deliberately so: the timing of the main keyboard part has a great tension to it, which really makes the song.

It’s another really close-miked vocal, and again it’s designed to be almost uncomfortably intimate because that’s what the song’s about: me as the elephant in every room, the thing you wish wasn’t there.

I wrote it about the period after I’d come out as trans, but it’s just as relevant to anyone who’s faced challenges or sadnesses: sometimes you’re going through something that other people just can’t cope with, not because they’re bad people but because they don’t want to put their metaphorical foot in it. So the conversations you’re included in avoid the elephant in the room, but you overhear the ones that do through the “doors ajar” I mention in the lyric.

“You didn’t like the decor, so you burned the place down”

David wrote all the music for this one. It’s great, and very claustrophobic. I love the way some of the keyboards sound like breathing lungs. The vocal is really close-miked to give it an almost uncomfortably intimate presence.

Barren Ground is about somebody breaking things that can’t be put back together again.

“You’re four hours gone. I guess tomorrow brings another excuse”

I wrote the lyric to this a few years ago about a friend of a friend who was acting like a complete arse, apparently convinced that he was getting away with it. He wasn’t.

Where Do You Go? is one of those songs that has a difficult evolution. It began as an angry, retro guitar stomp in a Hives or Dr Feelgood vein, but musically it felt too much of an homage to be its own thing. I had a lot of fun reworking it as a Lady Gaga disco stomp, but again that didn’t quite work.

It took me a while to realise the problem. Sometimes having music that’s at odds with the lyric can work really well, so for example Robyn’s Dancing On My Own is a desperately sad song with a joyous tune. “Crying on the dance floor” is one of my favourite genres of pop music.

But sometimes you need the musical and lyrical moods to match, and that was the case here. This is a song about sitting by yourself, wondering what pathetic excuse you’re going to get, the realisation that not only is somebody going behind your back but that they think you’re too stupid to know they’re doing it. That’s not going to work as a hands-in-the-air disco banger.

I’m pleased with this one. I like my singing, and I think I’ve nailed the mix of contempt, anger and for-fuck’s-sake exasperation that I was trying to get.

As for the friend of a friend: he got busted, and now there’s nobody to come home to.

“Nothing feels safe, and nothing feels the same”

This is Pianothing, a song whose working title suited it so well we didn’t want to change it. It started life as a little electric piano riff and turned into something that’s musically poppy and lyrically bleak.

It’s about the helplessness I often feel reading the news, the horrors large and small that dominate social media and make me want to scream. We live in what should be a golden age of humanity and we’re encouraged to feel angry and scared. And that’s not who we are. Again and again we’re shown the very worst of humanity and told it’s a mirror, but it isn’t. I feel like Howard Beale in Network, yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”: my version, “This is not who we are!”

The full rant from Network is a superb bit of dialogue. Here’s an extract.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

“Every day I pray for rain”

I wrote this song about an extraordinary man, Yukio Shige. He’s a retired policeman who patrols Japan’s “suicide cliffs” every day, and who has talked more than 600 people back from the edge. One line in the LA Times story about him (which I can’t link to; its publisher currently blocks EU visitors) really stood out: he said that “almost nobody jumps on rainy days”.

Musically this one’s me channelling my love of raucous guitar music, especially Nirvana and Pixies. The chorus reminds me of New Model Army, a band I love.

“I want to walk on water, or just walk unafraid”

Let’s have some new music from David and I.

I can hear echoes of Elbow and Talk Talk in this song: I usually throw everything including the kitchen sink into recordings, so this is exceptionally sparse by my usual standards. That’s something you’ll find runs through a lot of our new stuff.

Lyrically this one is about masculinity: the pressure to conform, the calls to “man up” when life treats you badly, the policing of roles to make sure you don’t stand out. It’s a bittersweet song, I think: musically it’s quite sad but the message is positive, a rejection of limits: “this game is rigged, I don’t want to play…”

I’ve been waiting for yesterday all of my life

I don’t usually travel for gigs, but I made an exception for The The’s Comeback Special: this is a band whose songs I’d long given up on ever hearing live. So off I went to the Royal Albert Hall.

It was worth the trip. The sound was exceptional, the performance magical, and me and the guy next to me pretty much blubbed our way through the whole thing.

The The had a huge impact on me: Infected came out when I was 13 and I was obsessed with it. As I got older I became obsessed with other The The records, many of which were about heartbreak and sadness and loss. The older I get, the more those songs resonate.

But it’s not just a nostalgia exercise. The Beat(en) Generation (1989) predated social media with its call to people “reared on a diet of prejudice and misinformation”; Sweet Bird of Truth (1987) is just as pertinent to US foreign policy today. Love Is Stronger Than Death (1993) is timeless. And Heartland (1986). My god, Heartland.

This the land where nothing changes
a land of red buses and blue-blooded babies

If you get the chance to see the tour, it really is something special.

“Who can really stop a black god dying to be white?”

Every writer thinks they’re brilliant, and then Ta-Nehisi Coates comes along and shows how the grown-ups do it. This is about Kanye West and many other things, and it’s just astonishing.

And he is a god, though one born of a different time and a different need. Jackson rose in the last days of enigma and wonder; West, in an accessible age, when every fuck is a tweet and every defecation a status update. And perhaps, in that way, West has done something more remarkable, more amazing than Jackson, because he is a man of no mystery, overexposed, who holds the world’s attention through simply the consistent, amazing, near-peerless quality of his work.

“This has been me since yesterday”

A lovely, poignant post by Raymond Weir about releasing his dad’s debut album. His dad is 77.

My dad was born in 1940. In his early twenties, he was part of the Bob Dylan generation and his devotion to that cause is overwhelmingly reflected in his record collection, but he was also influenced by Scottish folk artists like Hamish Imlach and Matt McGinn. He played guitar and wrote his own songs and it’s clear that my interest and passion for music is inherited from him. He loved playing, but -apart from family parties- he never performed in public. His three kids, at some point or another, all ended up playing in bands, so I suppose we took his musical interests just a little bit further.

A fascinating tale, beautifully told.