Quirk Your Enthusiasm (4)
August 4, 2016
One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite New Wave songs from c. 1977–1982. Josh Glenn’s series introduction is here, and you can listen to the QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist here. Enjoy!
“SAVOIR FAIRE” | FAMILY FODDER | 1980
I plucked Family Fodder’s single “Savoir Faire” out of a dollar bin more than a decade after its 1980 release, attracted by its odd graphics and the memory of a puzzled but approving Trouser Press Album Guide review. When I got it home, I played it five times in a row and decided it was pretty much the best thing I’d ever heard. Then I tracked down all the other records I could find by them. (I later ended up getting in touch with Family Fodder’s leader and chief songwriter Alig Fodder, a.k.a. John Pearce, and releasing a handful of recordings by them, including a greatest-hits collection named after it.)
I cling tightly to the fiction that experimental and avant-garde music is a research-and-development pool for pop songs — or, if not actually popular songs, at least music whose primary purpose is to give immediate pleasure — and “Savoir Faire” is a completely delightful song assembled from elements that were developed outside the fields of delight. Its perpetually shifting meter is the kind of thing that gave progressive rock drummers night tremors (“is there such a thing as math-pop?” a friend of mine asked on hearing it for the first time) — in fact, the “Savoir Faire” musicians included Charles Hayward and Charles Bullen, both of the stellar prog-punk band This Heat. The entire multi-layered percussion track has been run through timbre-mangling deep dub effects (those actually suggest the influence of the Flying Lizards’ David Cunningham, credited as the song’s “executive producer”).
Singer Dominique Levillain — with her Lucite block of a French accent and un-pop British vowels — enjambs line after line as the beat keeps twisting away from her (“First you learn to be with me in someone/Else’s dream and then you learn to be a-/Lone with me again…”). Then there’s a refrain where she makes octave leaps four times in quick succession, and a bridge (in French!) with notes high enough that she barely hits them. Somebody spends most of the song aggressively sawing at a couple of tones they can’t decide between. There are weird-ass chords, played as if they’re as punk rock as E minor. Every repeated element is a little different with every repetition. On the single version, the recording itself falls away just as the bridge is kicking in again; all that’s left of it is a single snapped-off fragment of a Levillain syllable, echoing and fading. “Savoir Faire” could have been a hostile gnarl, and instead it’s a joy, because — like it says — Family Fodder know what they’re doing, and they play it with certainty and gusto.
QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Mark Kingwell on Soft Cell’s TAINTED LOVE | Joanne McNeil on Gary Numan’s METAL | Devin McKinney on Suicide’s FRANKIE TEARDROP | Douglas Wolk on Family Fodder’s SAVOIR FAIRE | Elina Shatkin on Marianne Faithfull’s BROKEN ENGLISH | Steph Burt on Altered Images’ HAPPY BIRTHDAY | Greg Rowland on Jilted John’s JILTED JOHN | Gordon Dahlquist on XTC’s RESPECTABLE STREET | Adrienne Crew on D-Day’s TOO YOUNG TO DATE | Jonathan Lethem on The Blue Nile’s I LOVE THIS LIFE | Josh Glenn on Tim Curry’s I DO THE ROCK | Molly Wright Steenson on Missing Persons’ WORDS | Anthony Miller on The Nails’ 88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN | Luc Sante on The Normal’s WARM LEATHERETTE | Mimi Lipson on Dolly Mixture’s HOW COME YOU’RE SUCH A HIT WITH THE BOYS, JANE? | Tim Carmody on Talking Heads’ LIFE DURING WARTIME | Ingrid Schorr on Ian Dury’s CLEVOR TREVER | Adam McGovern on Lene Lovich’s LUCKY NUMBER | Deb Chachra on Rough Trade’s HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL | Tor Aarestad on Oingo Boingo’s LITTLE GIRLS | David Smay on The B-52’s’ DANCE THIS MESS AROUND | Jessamyn West on Blondie’s HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE | Drew Daniel on The Human League’s MARIANNE | Erik Davis on Tuxedomoon’s TIME TO LOSE | Dan Fox on Thomas Dolby’s EUROPA & THE PIRATE TWINS.
#SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.
MORE DOUGLAS WOLK at HILOBROW: LIMERICKANIA series | HERMENAUTIC TAROT: Dexterity | KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Todd Klone | HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Busy Bee’s “Making Cash Money” | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 2001: A Space Odyssey | SEE ALL OF DOUGLAS’S POSTS, including HILO HERO items on Karen Berger, Rakim, Sheila E., Chester Gould, and others.