Thursday, 18 August 2016

Indie Top 20 Volume One - Tracks 6-10 (Guana Batz, PWEI, Wedding Present, Blue Aeroplanes, Joy Division)

6. Guana Batz - Loan Shark (I.D.)

Anyone enjoying the "Top of the Pops" re-runs on BBC4 will be aware that the one aspect everyone tends to forget about the early eighties was the fifties rock n roll revival. Shakin Stevens and Matchbox were less credible and saccharine attempts to get back to quiffy basics, whereas the likes of The Straycats updated the sound with a modernised, hardened edge which still sounds compelling.

By the mid-eighties, the psychobilly movement was in full swing, and Guana Batz were the prime movers on the club scene, pulling in cramped sweaty crowds. Their crossover appeal was such that their albums regularly graced the top five of the indie charts, although a full-scale assault into the adult, mainstream charts never really occurred. The group remain active on the live circuit to this day.

I wish I could offer a reasonable perspective on "Loan Shark", but sadly this really isn't my bag. It's the last time any track of this nature would appear on the "Indie Top 20" series as well - rather like ACR on track one, it feels like one of the last representations of a movement which was slowly slipping back underground again.

7. Pop Will Eat Itself - Oh Grebo I Think I Love You (Chapter 22)

Way before they discovered The Beastie Boys, Hip Hop, samplers and dance music, Pop Will Eat Itself just created the kind of buzzsaw beery racket as heard above. Their punkish approach was actually surprisingly short-lived, with two releases slipping out which had a primitive, treble-heavy sound before their third, a cover of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11" (more on that soon) began to play with a much broader palette.

"Oh Grebo I Think I Love You" is likeably trashy but inessential, and it's hard to imagine that the group would have been remembered if they'd kept this sound up for much longer. It doesn't help that the idea of Grebo being a youth movement was over before it really properly began, so the daft novelty aspect of this track now seems lost to the mists of time.

8. The Wedding Present - You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends (Reception)

There was a point in the eighties after The Smiths split when music journalists began forlornly hunting high and low for a group who could replace them as commercial British indie figureheads. During that slightly hysterical process, some incredibly unlikely names emerged - The House of Love, for example, who sounded so completely unlike The Smiths as to be irrelevant to all enquiries - but when The Wedding Present were name-dropped, it felt like a distinct possibility. Gedge's angst-ridden, lovelorn outsider lyrics, heavy use of common northern slang and phrases in his songs, the band's way with a jangly pop hook... well, why not? I suppose... if we must... erm...

Like some people sincerely believe that Jeremy Corbyn is a God-like, charismatic leader, there really was a point where people wanted to believe that David Gedge was the next Morrissey, because there were no other obvious options on the horizon. Sometimes, when a vacuum exists, you really have to cling on to any hope there is, however unlikely it seems.

At this point in their careers, they were a long way off being feted to such a degree, but the ingredients for what made them a briefly fantastic group are all present and correct in "You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends", from the unwieldy title to the angst-ridden lyrics and simultaneously biting and jangling guitar riffs. Whereas later Wedding Present singles would show a pop sensibility the band have never really been given enough credit for, "Friends" meanders and mopes around indie-land with a scowl, and never quite reaches out in that way. But it's still a fine part of their back catalogue, and deserves a certain amount of respect.

9. Blue Aeroplanes - Lover and Confidante (Fire)

Bristol's Blue Aeroplanes, on the other hand, were almost destined to be a cult band from the off. Spoken word, poetic lyrics collided with angular guitar riffs, and they had a Russian interpretative dancer on stage with them throwing shapes to their music. Such arthouse behaviour was barely befitting a band who eventually ended up on a major label. Indeed, it's interesting to consider the fact that their Fire Records label-mates Pulp were considered oddballs at this point, when Pulp were actually already creating a few dark pop moments which were marginally more straightforward and less eccentric.

Still, "Lover and Confidante", while not being The Blue Aeroplanes at their best - that cheapo sounding recording flatters them not - does have a sharp guitar riff running through its core, and a fantastic central catchphrase in the chorus ("I can't talk to her so I'd like to talk about her") which sums up disturbing, obsessive love or lust more simply and effectively than most tracks of that era... but far better singles would follow.

10. Joy Division - Transmission (Peel Session Version) (Strange Fruit)

Now here's where we stumble across a strange anomaly. "Transmission" comes from entirely the wrong era to be on "Indie Top 20" at all, but Joy Division had recently put out a Peel Sessions EP on Strange Fruit records, of which this was a key track. It slipped safely inside the indie charts, and therefore qualified it for awkward inclusion here. The fact that Clive Selwood owned Strange Fruit records and presumably could cheaply and easily slip a big name band on to "Indie Top 20" through that outlet without much fuss was obviously also a huge incentive.

We don't really need to talk about "Transmission", of course. It's a bona-fide classic of its era, and while the Peel Session version lacks the depth and attention to detail of the studio release, the ideas still shine through. However, the placing of Joy Division straight after a run of scratchy, scrappy indie bands feels jarring and perplexing, and doesn't work as well as you'd suppose it might. There's nothing on this LP it sounds in good and easy company with, except perhaps the next track... and more on that later. 

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