Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Let’s Start A Family (Blacks) b/w A Whorehouse Is Any House 7″, 1999

This single was released as part of a Subpop promotion called the Subpop Singles Club. It’s great that the Prince was still releasing singles that weren’t related to promoting albums. That wouldn’t eventuate in force until Greatest Palace, Superwolf and The Letting Go. The last of those had four singles associated with it, quite an un-Palace-like concept. For Wolfroy Goes To Town Dragcity cleverly released a promo 7” called B-Sides For Time To Be Clear, not actually including the song itself, which was only available as a download. The two songs on this 7” are quite different to the I See A Darkness material. The sound and song quality is all top notch but lyrically they seem to hark back to the Palace style. Matt Sweeney plays drums. Glynnis McDarin provides backing vocals.

Let’s Start A Family (Blacks)… plods in on a soft tribal beat, a faint clicker-clacker blatting away in the background, and a pleasantly, high and light female backing vocal floating behind Oldham. The lyrics suggest a song of domestic drama between the song’s narrator and his (or her) partner. After looking at the lyrics on the back sleeve, I had the feeling that the narrator is female. It turns out that Oldham originally wrote the song for Sally Timms (of the Mekons) to record for her 1999 album Cowboy Laments. So I think we can safely assume that the narrator is female in this song. It’s a Saturday morning, sleeping in late. Oldham’s narrator sings about how there’s no work today, she’s looking forward to a swim in the pool, but her partner was out drinking the night before, not arriving home until dawn. She’s suffering from suburban blues; “lately … forgotten here / Isolated and feeling queer.” Between the lines we sense uncertainty about the relationship, especially when she asks her partner, “When you were looking in the mirror / Did you see the future’s lies?” This is about the only line I can possibly link to the title, which makes me wonder whether the narrator wants to start a family in order to settle her partner down. But there’s something wrong beneath the surface; when the phone rings, she says, “I told my friends not to call / That you were getting well,” complaining to her partner, “you still refuse to tell / Where you’d been out so long.” The song ends with her heading straight for the pool where it’s “so quick and cool.” Carveresque minimalism at its best, this one, sung and played fleecy-soft. In the breaks, both Oldham and McDaris sing a lot of “doo-doo-doo” lines, but there’s one neat touch in here: light electronic flourishes, really pretty warbling/beeping laptop-like effects. Anyway, on the B-side we learn just what her husband/partner was up to last night…

A Whorehouse Is Any House… soft pattered beat, light acoustic guitar with McDaris singing along just behind Oldham. Nice touch that. Anyway, this song forces me to coin the term ‘Oldhamesque’ for the first time. Or maybe ‘Palace-esque’ is a better term. It’s about a drunk who follows a woman home, though whether he’s been invited or is stalking her is left unclear. Let’s say though, given the title, that she’s a working woman who deliberately “catches [his] eye repeatedly.” They leave the bar at four a.m. so that he “may follow her cautiously home,” but it is her that he describes as “stumbling.” He dreams of being some Romeo pining outside her window. When she “slips into bed without thinking” he follows “closely for I have been drinking,” but in a way that “she doesn’t stir,” which again, sounds stalkerish-creepy, and yet wonderful in Oldham’s curly burr. It seems that when they wake up in the morning, things are okay. There’s a very weird ‘solo’ if you could call it that, made out of squelchy wah-wah keyboard sounds, which lasts all of about five seconds. So, “A whorehouse is any house” – the phrase seems to suggest that sex is always a commodity, from his perspective. The chorus definitely hints that he’s using her for sex, although presumably he finds himself falling in love, if you could call it that; “I needed so much to have nothing to touch / And I wanted so dear to have nothing so near / And to render the city unbounded and pretty / So to slip in and out of her and then to slip off.” This chorus fits into the song very easily, but it’s the most melodic part of the song, and more catchy than the A-side. So quiet this one, so soft and feather-light beautiful.

The A-Side appears on Little Lost Blues, a CD-only compilation from 2006.

The next 7″ single was “Little Boy Blue” released in 2000.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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