The Fount of All Earthly Wisdom (runaground) wrote in u2,
The Fount of All Earthly Wisdom
runaground
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Song of the Day

I've never really been a lyrics kinda guy, so I suppose it's kinda fitting that my first SOTD post features a song that doesn't have any!

Passengers - Viva Davidoff

Viva what, now? This is a largely unknown track because it was only released as a B-side on the Miss Sarajevo single, which isn't all that easy to find in the wild. It's also largely unknown because, as aforementioned, it has no lyrics, AND because it can't even really be called a "song", at least in the traditional sense of the word. If you heard the track anywhere other than a U2 community, you'd probably never even guess that the band was involved. So, what is it? I'll let Brian Eno explain:
With Marius. He sits in a little corner outside the control room, the place he's made home, with computer and sequencer and sampler. He chops up music we give him (things we're having problems with) and sequences them - rearranging them into other things. This is like giving someone a painting and saying "Cut this up and collage it - preferably into a masterpiece." On the one hand I think, "How amazing that you can make something from such fragments," but on the other I find the results emotionally lightweight. Perhaps you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear after all. Perhaps he just needs better information from us up front, a stronger ideological line.
This is an excerpt of Brian Eno's diary entry from June 2, 1995 (which, incidentally, I highly recommend A Year With Swollen Appendices if you can find a cheap copy). "Marius" is Marius de Vries, one of the source programmers for the Passengers album. Brian never mentions what song they're working on with regard to this specific entry, but it very well could be what turned out to be Viva Davidoff, as Marius is credited on the track. It's certainly more of a Brian track than a U2 track - that much is obvious. But again - it's not much of a song. There's a few drums, a lot of synths, MAYBE some vocals buried way in the mix...

To me, the most interesting (and cool) part of the track is the background noise that you first hear at the start and throughout: it sounds like a chorus of insects in a night-time forest setting. It's very evocative. I suspect that this is actually a track that Eno refers to in a June 5 diary sidenote as part of another U2 demo ("Slow Sitar"):
*This is a recording I made several years ago in Tenkawa, Japan, of a small forest there, inhabited by a type of insect that makes everything sound better - which is what led Michael Brook to christen them MSG insects, after the universal flavour-enhancer in Chinese cooking, monosodium glutamate. I've used the tape often.
Getting back to Viva Davidoff, Brian doesn't mention it too often in the diary, and it very rightly (in my opinion) turned out as a b-side because there's just not all that much to it. A June 5 diary entry mentions that he "made [an] ambient mix of 'Davidoff' and 'No Wave Pulse'". Is what was released on the Miss Sarajevo single the ambient mix? Who knows? The most detailed entry in his diary comes on July 6:
'Davidoff' today? ...

Those parasitic worms that cause their hosts to expose themselves to predators (so that the worm can species-jump to another host): are there ideas like that - ideas that make you stick your neck out and set yourself up for demolition?

Worked and failed on 'Davidoff' - just ambient slurry. I put on some vocals and a bass, but in the end abandoned ship. It's emotionally empty.
Ambient slurry! Brian then goes on to talk about how they moved on to working on a song called Tokyo Drift and how that went a lot better.


Too many cooks?

Unfortunately, the Passengers release wasn't too well understood, as he notes on a November 2 entry:
As the Passengers reviews roll in, once again that bad feeling in the stomach at the disparity between the spirit in which things were done -- joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, fascination -- and that in which they are often received -- cynicism, jadedness, resentment. The reviews have been generally reluctantly appreciative, and sometimes very good, but the general feeling is still one of suspicion: "So what are they trying to pull now? Why do they have to be so fucking clever? Who do they think they are?" (The perennial English questions, as though people have to buy your records.) It would be so useful to know where the reviewers were actually coming from: every review should have, below the name of the critic, their ten current favourite works in the medium. That way you have some chance of seeing their prejudices (and they get some sense of what it feels like to be exposed).

I can see it's time for the triennial market correction. My star, having shone unjustifiably high and bright for the last three or so years, must now be snuffed for a while. This is healthy, if uncomfortable.
I suspect many of you will feel the same about this track - a bit of a "who do they think they are" feeling seems almost reasonable, to be fair! I don't know that anyone could actually *love* it... but I think it's a very important track in that it gives you a sense of how far off the beaten path they were between 1993 in Japan (where many of the ideas for OS1 first started to grow) and 1995 (when OS1 was finally released). You can't say that they weren't willing to try something new!

So, what is the "Davidoff" in Viva Davidoff, anyway? Davidoff is a Swiss tobacco company... and while Wikipedia and some other sources claim that the track is an "exultation to the Davidoff tobacco company", I've never seen anything to support or confirm this. Personally, my guess that the "Viva" part of the title refers to the fact that the track was particularly liked by one member of the band who shall remain nameless, and was rescued from the cutting room floor at a very late date. But just like the tobacco thing, it's only a guess.

Get the track here. And if you don't like today's SOTD... I'll post something a little more singable next time, don't worry! :)

Extra reading: "All Passengers Present and Correct" Propaganda Issue 23 - Aug 1995. Key excerpts:
1:15 p.m. Bono is waxing enthusiastic about the experimental noises coming out of the speakers as he plays back some of the new material. At this stage, three months before official release, it has some of the strangest sounds and most jagged noisescapes that U2 have ever featured in. The plastic soundscapes of Zooropa have been warped ever further back into the future.

"A song doesn't have to have a centre," says Bono. "In dance music it is the rhythm that is the centre. We are making music for movies and we're trying to pull that off without seeing the picture."

Edge expands a little: "Often things are set up as instrumentals, but at some point they just seem to turn into songs, which I think is lovely myself."

...

4:45 p.m. A track called "Tokyo Drowning" is being rubbed off the main whiteboard, no longer featuring in the future of U2, the future of Brian Eno, maybe the future of anything. It has been played twice to the general lack of enthusiasm of the Passengers and it has been found wanting.

A track called "Davidoff" goes the same way: "Can we say the same for this old stodge?" asks Eno, not particularly mincing his words.
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