Song Of The Day 10/26/2015: James – “Skullduggery”

Halloween Week – This is one of my favorite album-openers of the 1980's, from one of Britpop's more offbeat custodians, originating slightly before the '90s re-invasion of bands with one-word names describing abstractions and textiles. At least James' one-word name was an actual name. Stutter was the name of the Mancurians' album from 1986, and it also contained one of rock's greatest half-sequel songs, "Johnny Yen," which I almost chose for this week but decided it wasn't graphic, violent or ill-conceived enough. It's a sarcastic wink to the cult of self-immolation that pervaded entertainment in the '70s by manly men who could never quite pull off the final act because the guarantors would never allow.

"Skullduggery," a metaphor for just about anything you want, is about insect consumption. It's the insects doing the consuming, I hasten to point out. Like the bereft zombies who have rediscovered their "it" factors and become popular yet again, the earwigs in James' parable head straight for the brains, after they polish off the narrator's earwax and ear hairs en route to the nerve center. That's an appetizer that would never fly at T.G.I.Friday's. Well, hold on, let me think about that for a second. "Skullduggery" is a nice, effective and tormenting blast of literal buggery that cuts off right at the point where it must.

James later had an American modern rock hit in 1993 with the similarly economical and messed-up song "Laid," and tawny magnet Tim Booth trucked his considerable charisma into a collaboration with Angelo Badalamenti called Booth and the Bad Angel. Spooks abound.

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