Back in 1997, David Bowie released a drum and bass single called Little Wonder (Is wonder 2 its spiritual sequel? No. Is the title just a coincidence then? Yes, probably). As with most songs obviously shaped by a pervasive but soon-to-pass musical fad, Little Wonder hasn’t aged well. It’s a testament to Kevin Shields’ originality that wonder 2 (presumably written around that time but only now seeing the light of day as part of an album that took two decades to make) doesn’t sound dated at all. This is probably because nobody else, then or since, has decided drum and bass would sound better if the drums were so deeply submerged under an avalanche of guitar effects that the music is virtually impossible to dance to. And also that the bass bit is surplus to requirements.
It still feels like musical time travel, though. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately, after spotting that someone had put Prefab Sprout’s Let’s Change The World With Music on YouTube. This was a set of demos recorded in the early 1990s, rejected by the band’s label, then buried until finally released, still in demo form, in 2009 – a set of sketches for an album that, if produced by Thomas Dolby and released in the early 1990s as the follow-up to Jordan: The Comeback, as planned, could have been classic Sprout. In 2009, though, it was just a minor relic, an architectural plan for a kind of building that nobody makes anymore.
It’s increasingly rare to hear music this way, in these days of instant accessibility (when, for example, unfinished Amy Winehouse songs surface only months after her death). It usually only happens when people take decades to make albums (like Peter Gabriel, whose 2002 album Up has a song satirising the Jerry Springer Show circa 1994 – a bit bloody late).
I’m starting to think it’s a precious thing. There’s a sense of romance in long-lost songs and missed moments (imagine if wonder 2 was released in 1997). I love Brian Wilson’s version of Smile, precisely because it isn’t, and could never be, the Beach Boys’ Smile, a mythical album still lost in time. And on heavy rotation in my house just now is a rough demo of a duet by Jeff Buckley and Liz Fraser, which surfaced online almost a decade after Buckley’s death. It’s a lovely, fragile thing, all the more so because it will never be finished. «