Sunday, 13 November 2016

Volume 7 Side 4 - The Pastels, Lunachicks, Thee Hypnotics, Danielle Dax, Nick Cave

1. The Pastels - Baby You're Just You (Chapter 22)

"Over five minutes of Love, Pain, Dedication and Guitars, taken from five years of the same."

No matter what else happens or happened in the rest of the music world, The Pastels carried on trucking away, in a manner that some critics and listeners find endearing and others downright infuriating. Back in the late nineties, an NME critic explosively slated their work by arguing that nothing in their world ever changed one jot, "and they still hide behind the sofa when Mr Tuneful Singing rings on their doorbell!"

So it was, and so it shall be. The day The Pastels suddenly release an album of polished rock and roll FM radio numbers will be the day the Planet Earth gets sucked into some peculiar, reality-warping vortex where Morrissey records TV adverts for Burger King and Ellie Goulding refuses to ever make an advert again and instead releases a series of three vinyl-only experimental EDM albums with Boards of Canada. Unsurprisingly, then, "Baby You're Just You" could have easily been released immediately after "Crawl Babies" on Volume Two, and we'd be none the wiser. There's no sense of time having passed or the indie scene having moved around them, and unlike many of their old C86 companions, The Pastels would get away with it and retain their cult following.

"Baby You're Just You" is as maudlin and downbeat as "Crawl Babies", actually, featuring Stephen Pastel's mournful vocals and a funereal organ in the background. Just like the best cult punk records, though, it's fragility and the occasional stumbles it takes are a huge part of its appeal. It's a limping, human record and it sounds lovely, though on a personal level I have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to this one, whereas I can pop "Crawl Babies" on the stereo at any time and get some enjoyment out of it.

2. Lunachicks - Sugar Luv (Blast First)

"Russ Meyer's vision brought to life with guitars in their hands and havoc in their hearts".

Lunachicks were around before Riot Grrrl was a commonly used phrase in the punk underground (and possibly even used at all) much less the mainstream, and while what they produced wasn't particularly politicised and seemed to be much more about sheer punk noise for the hell of it, they're ahead of the pack here in terms of sound.

"Sugar Luv" is, of course, simple, fast, furious, and ridiculous. Sounding like it was pulled together in one take, possibly drunk, it's the sound of music colliding into the furniture and falling over itself until something pokes someone's eye out. Lunachicks were never, ever going to be a mainstream proposition, but the fat, rumbling chaos here sounds amazing for the first five or six listens. It probably helps if you're a teenager, though.

The band have been inactive since 2001.

3. Thee Hypnotics - Preachin' & Ramblin' (Situation Two)

"From the twelve-inch single 'Justice In Freedom', the classic debut on Situation Two, Thee Hypnotics take the righteously charged guitar rock of the late 60s into a new dimension."

What is it with garage revival bands and their insistence on using "Thee" at the start of their names? It is, I suppose, a good signifier at the very least. If a band poster appears in your town with a name like Thee Espadrilles, you know without even having to bother to read further that they're going to be giving you scuzzed up R&B or Rock and Roll through vintage valve amplifiers. If they didn't, explanations would surely be owed and refunds due.

Thee Hypnotics, naturally, never disappointed the world with misleading branding and were a powerful force in reviving ancient rock sounds to a new generation. The A-side "Justice In Freedom" is actually a fine, fine track, but "Preachin' & Ramblin'" isn't so bad either, sounding like a full-on MC5 excursion into bluesy chaos. It's so authentic sounding that you could trick someone who wasn't clued up to the band's work into believing that it was a genuine sixties artefact.

In the case of bands like Thee Hypnotics, there will always be naysayers who argue that they're doing nothing to progress rock music, and that self-consciously mining the past is pointless. However, there's always going to be an audience who just want to hear the overpowering noise of this stuff, and indeed, I would count myself among their number. I don't eat, sleep and breathe this music, but I occasionally appreciate a bit of full-throttle garage rock and roll and words like "revolution" being thrown around as if they're confetti, and Thee Hypnotics are deservedly respected for their output in this area. Chaos seldom sounds this righteous.

4. Danielle Dax - White Knuckle Ride (Awesome)

"White Knuckle Ride was written about the Hungerford massacre, as a vitriolic comment on both that and the Manson murders of the late 60s, highlighting the ludicrous gun laws which allow such events to continue."

It's not as explicit as suggested above, of course. "White Knuckle Ride" actually sounds like swaggering rock and roll surrounded by a few buzzwords on first listen, and caused my father to comment "Oh, delightful" in a sarcastic voice when he first heard it. He saw the video and believed that Danielle Dax was actually using the popular slang (of the time) for masturbation.

There is a suggestive, sexual edge to the track, which I would imagine was supposed to highlight the media glorification of violence; the way the John Wayne figure with the loaded gun is always seen a desirable, Alpha A male figure. Beyond that, its lyrical intent isn't clear - unless you're told - and away from the central message, "White Knuckle Ride" is just Danielle launching herself into a straightforward rock song again, and doing a fantastic job of it. Of all the tracks she released during this era, it sounds the most fully realised. The hammering piano lines and "Peter Gunn" styled horns meet with a killer chorus, and just as you think you're completely immersed in what she's doing, it's all over. (Nearly) three minutes of pop perfection.

This would be Danielle Dax's last single before signing to Sire Records. There she treated the world (at the record company's behest) to her rather tepid version of the Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" and probably ending up being marginalised to an even greater extent than when she was issuing material on her own label. You can safely add her to the ever-growing list of mysterious people who signed to major labels who had no idea what to do with them.

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Deanna (Mute)

"Deanna is a song you can almost imagine coming out loud from a car window. Huge in a raucous 'truly devil-may-care' way - it is one of the best songs of '88".

More chaotic rock and roll, delivered in Nick Cave's inimitable style. Deanna was apparently a girl from Melbourne who Mr Cave was rather keen on, and his obsession explodes all over this song like it's just been confessed for the first time. It forcefully springs from his mouth like some kind of emotional vomiting.

Rather like the previous track, "Deanna" also strikes a strange partnership between sex and death, with many of the lyrics referring to "murder plans" and acts. "I come knocking with my toolbox and my stocking!" declares Nick ferociously, and he probably did as well.

This is equal parts Screaming Lord Sutch's "Jack The Ripper" and "My Sharona" - a driving, demanding chant colliding with something downright dark and wrong. In the end, though, it only ends up sounding like something Nick Cave could have produced.

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