Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Indie Top 20 Vol 5 Side 3 - Pop Will Eat Itself, The Shamen, Wolfhounds, Sea Urchins, The Vaselines

1. Pop Will Eat Itself - Def Con One (Chapter 22)

We've been through five Indie Top 20 albums so far, and Pop Will Eat Itself have featured on every single one. This does perhaps underline how prolific the band were at this point, but also highlights how much of a big deal they were too, featuring all over the music press and radio waves. Never universally critically acclaimed - they were truly despised by some critics, in fact - they nonetheless tapped into a strange demand for loud, sample-heavy, hip-hop inspired indie-rock.

This feels strange looking back. "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore" aside, none of these tracks feel vital or exciting today, and most seem rather too clunky for their own good. "Def Con One" is neat enough with its Twilight Zone samples and Motown drum breaks, and perhaps not as clumsy as some of their output, but there's nothing in it that screams "great hopes of the Midlands".

The chorus of "Big Mac fries to go/ gimme Big Mac and fries to go" apparently originated from a nightmare a band member had about the group doing an advert for McDonalds for some spare cash, thereby costing them their credibility. It's a cheeky hook making light of a ridiculous (and unlikely) scenario, a neat try at beating the devil to the punch, and the track as a whole is entertaining - but never anything more than that. There's a goofiness about early PWEI which is often endearing, but sonically they were always lagging slightly behind many of their compatriots. It's worth noting that at this point The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, aka the KLF, had already released "Who Killed The Jams" and were about to explore Trance and Ambient House, and The Shamen were also about to take to Dance Music like ducks to water. PWEI were instead dancing around to the Twilight Zone theme and chanting about Big Macs.

My mother turned out to be the best critic for "Def Con One", sticking her head through my bedroom door in 1988 to ask incredulously: "Are you listening to Adam & The Ants these days?!" And it did sometimes feel as if PWEI had based their entire early careers on the widely derided "Ant Rap", so full points to her there. She should have had her own column in the NME.

2. The Shamen - Jesus Loves Amerika (Moksha)

"Jesus Loves Amerika" is an angry, irritated stab at American television evangelists and US culture and society in general. "Jesus loves Amerika!" they tell us "But I don't love neither!"

The group were highly politicised at this point, entitling their latest (actually pretty good) album "In Gorbachev We Trust", but there's still not much excuse for this attempt at soapbox ranting. "Yeah, these are the men who put the right in righteous/ Such hypocrisy, stupidity is truly out of sight, yes" they inform us, which does rather undermine any sensible point they're trying to make through forced rhyme. Really chaps... even Duran Duran are blushing in the corner.

There probably are a decent set of lyrics to be written about TV evangelists, but they're not to be found here, and nor can they be found in Phil Collins' "Jesus He Knows Me". For what it's worth, The Shamen just about dodge the Christian Death Adolescent Silliness award by having a half-decent tune beneath their bile, which contains the usual shimmering guitars, sledgehammer beatbox rhythms, and some actually very effective and sickening samples. The Shamen didn't need to highlight the bigotry and smug piousness of these men when their own words speak for themselves, and actually act as some of the most effective inclusions on the single.
By the time we next meet The Shamen, though, their metamorphosis will be complete, and if "Jesus Loves Amerika" sounds like the last gasp of a group due to head off in an entirely new direction, it's because it is.

3. The Wolfhounds - Son Of Nothing (September)

While they were featured on the C86 compilation, Romford's The Wolfhounds were among the more abrasive acts on the cassette who weren't really common-or-garden indiepop. "Son of Nothing" is evidence of that, containing one of the few examples I can think of a furious sounding wah-wah pedal.

Heavily politicised and often somewhat marginalised as a result of their ferocity, The Wolfhounds nonetheless issued a brace of punchy indie singles throughout the eighties, any one of which is worth tracking down. Unlike many bands of their ilk, their work retained an underground punk ethic whilst also containing interesting and mature songwriting. While their travelling companions thrashed and bashed their way through the issues of the day, The Wolfhounds surprised with their often dextrous way with a melody.

4. The Sea Urchins - Solace (Sarah)

It's somewhat peculiar how all the releases on Sarah Records get lumped in with the "twee" tag when in reality, the output of the label was quite diverse. "Solace" by The Sea Urchins is proof of that - this is really under-produced and slightly underheated garage psychedelia. The vocals wail and harmonise like The Gibb Brothers on "Have You Heard The Word", overloaded guitar solos buzz around the room like aggravated wasps, and the whole thing sounds like a sixties demo or outtake.

I can't be alone in thinking that the budget production and distorted elements get in the way of the song breaking through in places, though - I've always had the impression that if "Solace" had actually been given a more sympathetic studio treatment, it could be close to early Primal Scream. But it's also the needles-into-the-red garden shed sound to this single that sets it apart. Very few other bands aping this sound at the time were quite so rough and ready, or so aggressively dreamy.

"Solace" is still very highly regarded as a Sarah Records release today, proof that it was much more than flavour of the month at the point of Volume 5's release.

5. The Vaselines - Dying For It (53rd and 3rd)

The Vaselines couldn't be talked about at a later date without being tagged as "one of Kurt Cobain's favourite bands". "Dying For It" was the single which clearly locked the band close to his heart, as nestling on the flip side were two tracks, "Molly's Lips" and "Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam", which would later be covered by Nirvana.

In a sense, Beechwood missed a trick by not including either of those songs on the compilation and instead opting for the obvious A-side, but who could ever have known the significance of either at the time? "Dying For It" is certainly the most full-on of all the choices available, being distorted and throttling as opposed to twee indie-pop. Once again, it's proof that whatever C86 did or didn't do, it certainly can't be blamed for encouraging a sea of jangly bands to emerge over the hills - the harder, rougher edges of it actually inspired emerging grunge bands too.

Eugene Kelly has gone on record as saying that he's "never made any money except for Nirvana royalties" which have allowed him to obtain a mortgage. It does seem to me as if more successful groups should also cover the work of the underground people they admire.

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