davey dreamnation

seething since 2001

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Category: On Music (page 2 of 3)

“Shoegaze(r)” is more than an early 1990s English pop music genre. Come with me and explore the late 1980s and early 1990s on DDN-808AM … where shuffly beats, baggy trousers and fey looks are provided, plus complimentary NME. This category may also contain music created since the 1990s.

Chris de Burgh: Far Beyond These Castle Walls (1974)

Let’s just for a moment pretend that Chris de Burgh never wrote ‘The Lady In Red’; that ‘Don’t Pay the Ferryman’ was never recorded, let alone ‘a minor hit in the states [sic]’ as alleged on his (as of 2007, appallingly designed) official website. Indeed, let’s go so far as to say that Chris de Burgh never existed. Okay, perhaps that’s taking things a bit too far.

However if, like me, you grew up on Chris de Burgh records (thanks in my case to a father and mother who fell in love with his ‘balladeering’, his ‘storytelling period’, his songs of ‘espionage’, ‘crusading’ and ‘womanising’—but I digress), then you’re probably just as likely as I am to get riled by people who mention only those two songs, as if that’s all Chris de Burgh ever did.

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Great Moments In the Modern History of the Handclap

One cloudy day last August, at the Rock En Seine music festival in Paris, me and Kat were lucky enough to see one of my favourite bands, Broken Social Scene, perform to a rapturous crowd in the rain (see the pics here). While we missed the band’s opening numbers, a surge of excitement pulsed through my body when the opening bass lines of “Stars & Sons” crackled over the loudspeakers. It’s my favourite song of theirs, partly because of said bassline but mostly because of the joyous handclaps that kick in at the end of the first verse. The handclap’s not back: it never left.

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Pavement: “Naked, naked, foul!”

At last we come to a band who could be considered serious contenders for EP of the 20th century. I’m talking Pavement, I’m talking Watery, Domestic all over town. With a title that’s almost as cool as my brother’s “spartan, militaristic” tag, this EP is a ripper, clocking in at around ten minutes but boy do they go fast.

There’s no real point talking about the songs, except to note that the recent re-release of Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement’s fabled debut album, has highlighted the band’s applicability to the four song format. To explain, the re-release of this album features two Peel Sessions (each of four tracks’ duration), plus Watery, Domestic and a swag of other releases.

What’s interesting is the way the songs make sense in hindsight: there could have been no Watery, Domestic without “Sue Me Jack” and the delightfully-titled “So Stark (You’re a Skyscraper)” and yet if these songs had been included on the EP (instead of the “Trigger Cut” 7″ single) they would have brought the EP vibe down.

Same for the two Peel Sessions: they’re good and they showcase the band between albums but they do not an EP make. That’s why Watery … is so good: it’s effortless. When I first bought it, I probably listened to it ten times a day.

Mind you, like most other indie kids at the time, I was obsessed with Pavement. I ended up seeing them about five times live (in Australia) – each time they lost a little of the spark that made Slanted … (and Watery …) so utterly brilliant. Interestingly, talking of “between”, the first time I saw Pavement was at Max’s in Petersham (now a pokies venue) supported by Screamfeeder, Crow and indie youngsters Magic Dirt, who played on a stage the size of a handkerchief in the front bar. Wow, what a gig. I was so stoned that I was convinced a guy who was offering me a cheap ticket was about to rip me off.

I entered the venue only to be given a torn-out page from “Jaws” by Pavement’s original drummer Gary Young. I think it’s sad that he’s no longer in the band, because he was the one who created the trademark Pavement slacker drum sound which was later copied by the two replacement drummers (well, I think Bob Nastanovich was actually in the band at the time, acting as Gary Young’s metronome – anyway). But back to between: when Pavement played Oz (1992? 93?) for the first time they were roadtesting songs from what would become their most popular album, the name dropping all over the place Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.

I heard “Cut Your Hair” and it sounded like sacrilege: lead singer SM stating up-front “Only a man can do a real falsetto” – fair enough but for me the song was a clanger. “Hit the Plane Down” was much more fun but if truth be told anything pre-Crooked Rain … rows my boat all day long. I don’t know, it all started to be just too cool for school after that.

They covered REM on the flipside to Cut Your Hair – another source of outrage for me, as they even changed the words of “Camera” to suit themselves. Mind you, I guess they were really tapping that IRS years REM vein, both in cover art and lyrical obliquity (word?). Their tribute to REM, “Unseen Power of the White Picket Fence” (I think it appeared on a compilation album) was pretty freaking good, even I have to admit: “And they’re marching through Georgia – G-G-G-G-Georgia”.

Despite this Watery …, for me, marks a high-water mark (arf) in the band’s history. Other EPs of theirs I bought include the slight rip-off Gold Soundz and the grand finale Major Leagues EP which featured covers of “The Killing Moon” and a Fall song, predictably. RIP Pavement and RIP the EP.

The Undertones

Now here’s a blast from the past: the Undertones, “Derry’s finest” etc kicked some major label teenage butt in the late 70s, while Wire did the art rock collapse. 1978 saw the Undertones’ first EP, containing the just-not-so-subtly-alluded-to track, “Teenage Kicks”, a track that would see John Peel become their finest spokesperson. Fronted by the odd-looking Feargal Sharkey (yes, indeed, “a good heart these days *is* hard to find”), the Undertones released about four albums and a string of hits, none of which summed the band up better than “Teenage Kicks”, a cross between the Ramones and the Buzzcocks (the former in the straight ahead rock department, the latter in the lyrics’ endless obsession with “girls”). I have to admit a lot of the Undertones stuff does very little for me except inspire stomach aches. I can’t wear Ray Bans because they remind me of Feargal. When Feargal went Joe Cocker I was about thirteen, too young for punk to have meant anything to me. I’ll also admit that whatever “the critics” say, the Undertones were never punk. Despite the fact that on most of their tracks Feargal sounded like Jello Biafra (or was it the other way round?), there’s no two ways of reading songs like “Let’s Talk About Girls”, “Girls Don’t Like it”, “I Know a Girl” and so on and so on and such. On the liner notes to their best of, a band member claims they were onto something when they released “Smarter Than U” as a b-side – ie that they were somehow cool for using the letter “u”. They obviously weren’t listening to Wire at the time, whose “12XU” had been released the previous year (and which provides the ultimate retort – someone getting you down? 12XU). The Undertones’ saving grace was their break up: this left Feargal to wearing his white soul ray bans, while the O’Neill brothers formed That Petrol Emotion”, a band for whom the tag “incendiary” was obviously invented. Compare The Undertones’ last album with TPE’s debut Manic Pop Thrill and you’ll see what I mean. This stuff is pure mid-eighties punk, spiced up with some fairly serious references to Britain’s anti-terrorist legislation which was used at that time to imprison Irish political activists without trial. Songs like “Lifeblood”, “Lettuce” and the classic “It’s a Good Thing” proved that Feargal Sharkey was a two-bit poser in Ray Bans. Can you see what I’m feeling? He didn’t write any of the songs, I guess, which makes him less culpable. But the freaking sunnies. I ask you!

The Fauves

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of The Fauves – just take a look at my interview with lead singer Andrew Cox, featured in the current issue of Cordite. I first got into The Fauves as an undergraduate. My friend Dom had bought their first EP, a woeful effort called This Mood Has Passed. At that stage they were struggling to sound like a post-Hunters and Collectors tribute band, complete with acoustic guitars, trumpets and songs about the gold rush. But not enough has been said here. The reason I’m talking about The Fauves is because of two EPs released in 1992, which along with the first two Glide EPs, constitute my favourite early 1990s releases by Australian bands. First off the rank, the brutally titled The Scissors Within heralded a new genre in Australian music, later categorised as art/science rock. Opening tracks “Fracture In the Sky” and “Watching Planets” made telescopes cool again, assisted by some excellent chiming guitars a la Pink Floyd. The production standard on this release was quite exceptional, thanks to Robbie Rowlands, and also included some wicked sound effects work (similar in some ways to contemporaries Ripe). Stand out tracks include the afore-mentioned openers and the should-have-been-a-hit-single “Wilding”. This song took REM’s “Driver 8” and rammed it into the 1990s – it was apparently going to be used for a Phillips TV commercial but that never happened. It did get featured on RooArt’s “Youngblood2” along with most of the other Oz bands I’ve mentioned so far. “Ghosting the Road” (whose title stems, I believe, from a song on Sonic Youth’s Sister – or was it Evol – remember the Lee Ranaldo soundscape/spoken word track?) brings a more sinsiter aspect to the release, but then again, try listening to closer “Hell’s Home Remedy”, complete with sound of band firing a shotgun at one of the songs on the (again) afore-mentioned debut EP. It’s scary stuff – quite metal in fact, and a harbinger of the next EP, released six months later. Apparently The Scissors Within and (get this title) Tight White Ballhugger were meant to be released as an album. I think the jury’s still out on whether this would have been a good move. Considering what would become their first album, the sonically-challenging and over-long Drive Through Charisma, it seems reasonable to assert that if these two EPs had been fused together (they were recorded together in any case), then The Fauves may have had an altogether different career. In any case, “TWB” surpassed “TSW” in terms of musical experimentation, from the opening track – “Misguided Modelling Career”, another SY tribute – right through to the terrifying “Invisible Spiderman”. “Archimedes’ Crown” managed to fuse REM’s “Losing My Religion” and the entire Hunnas back catalogue through its use of a mandolin. I believe this was the last time they ever used a mandolin on a track, none’s the pity. “Sideshow Freak” showcased the band’s darker side, a music hall lurcher featuring some classic lyrics: “twenty towns in forty five days/ slips down a backstreet/ the children behind her all fall down/ the planes of her face like a wounded Picasso.” From memory the EP also featured an unlisted track, basically a demolition of Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner.” Yikes. For me, anyway, no Fauves release since 1992 has matched the out-and-out enthusiasm and daring exhibited on these two EPs. Check em out some time, eh?

Wir(e)

As mentioned previously, one definition of an EP is a record whose length is between 10 and 35 minutes. If this was the case (and I think we’re all pretty clear on where I stand re this definition), then Wire’s first three albums would all be considered EPs, despite the fact that each one contains at least 15 songs (their debut album clocks in at 35 minutes exactly – 21 songs). This astonishing trilogy (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 541) has traditionally been analysed in its entirety, and what an entirety it is. Listen to these albums today and you’d be forgiven for thinking they’ve just been released. 1977’s Pink Flag, with its massive opening track “Reuters”, was an incredible statement of intent, followed within a year by the equally delightful Chairs Missing, with the edgy and experimental nose bleeder 541 brining up the rear in 1979. If Wire had failed to release any more records (they have in fact, many more) then that would still have been okay. Holy wow. Each of the first three albums veered effortlessly between sharp-edged punk (“12XU”), art rock (“Outdoor Miner”), moody experimentalism (“A Mutual Friend”), erm, sharp-edged punk (“106 Beats That”), art rock (“Map Ref. 41?N 93?W”) and – you guessed it – moddy experimentalism (every other track). Not enough said. I’ve just got two words: Elastica. Remember “Connection”? Well that’s “Three Girl Rhumba”, ripped off. And now there’s an even more blatant cover version doing the rounds that’s saved from oblivion mostly because of the interesting video clip. Word for freaking word, line for freaking line. Wire are one of those bands who manage to influence everyone. My Bloody Valentine covered “Map Ref. 41?N 93?W” (can’t remember when) which is convenient for me. One song on “Chairs Missing” even prefigures Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning”. Then again, one can never really isolate influences. I mean, that Elastica song’s synth riffs also sounded like “Funky Town”. Figure that out when you have time. Anyway, Wire are in Melbourne this weekend, I’m hoping I can afford to go. Wire, for me, is the coolest of the punk survivors, outshining the Buzzcocks, the Jam, the Clash, the Sex Pistols. They’ve released some absolute shockers (like, most of the 1980s albums, despite the slight reprieve provided by A Bell Is A Cup Until It Is Struck) but they’re hard-core. On a tour of the US they apparently hired a support band, called them the “Ex-Lion Tamers” after a song on Chairs Missing and then basically got them to play Pink Flag in its entirety every night of the tour as the opening act. You can’t get more arty than that. Oh, hang on: for a brief time in the 1990s, when one of the band members left, the remaining members changed the band’s name to “Wir”. Get it? Brilliant.

Theatre of Gnomes

Don’t get me started about Tumbleweed. Theatre of Gnomes, their first major release, was a five track EP. Enough said. Ask anyone who’s from Wollongong if they’ve heard of Tumbleweed. Then ask them if they’ve heard Theatre of Gnomes. If the answer’s yes, you’ve just discovered a true ‘Weed fan. And of course it was great big dumb Ramones-style stoner rock but hey, Tumbleweed did it well. Stand-out track for me on this release would have to be the epic closer “Shakedown”, whose final few blasted minutes of instrumental chaos and tension represent the zenith of Wollongong music. A friend of mine once told me that a journalist had described the Gong as “the Athens of the South” – ie, a musical scene similar in size to that of Athens, Goergia. And who comes from Athens? That’s right, REM. And the B52s. And bugger all else. Wollongong’s a bit like that too. There’s Tumbleweed and that’s it. They were an incredible live act. I got kicked in the head at their 1993 Big Day Out performance at the Hordern Pavilion, and spent a not altogether unpleasant day wandering around slightly concussed. Apparently they’re all suffering the effects of industrial deafness now. Wollongong’s like that too. For all my cynicism though, the music scene in Wollongong did become, in the mid 1990s at least, quite healthy, thanks largely to the members of Tumbleweed themselves, particularly – help me here, the Curly brothers? were they both in the band? One of them started recording bands down at the Youth Centre anyway, and the number of visiting international bands increased dramatically around that time too. I saw Bikini Kill down there, in what used to be the Art Gallery. It was quite ferocious. Anyway, I still remember the day me and my sister were driving down Burelli Street and “Shakedown” came on the radio. It was her favourite track too. Unfortunately, just when the instrumental part began (ie just when it was getting to the good bit), the DJ faded it out. And thus did Tumbleweed fade also, from my memory, as well as Wollongong’s.

Holy Bloody Hell, It’s David Bowie

Enough said. The man is an alien. I’m talking the Station To Station release which for the sake of a technical obsession with record lengths I’m going to call an EP. I ask you: does it get any better than this? One word: “Wild Is the Wind”. Two words: “Station To Station”. Three words: “TVC15”. Oh did I mention those four magical words? “Golden Years”. Wha happened? So you’ve probably heard Chan Marshall’s version of the track originally made famous by the sadly-deceased Nina Simone, but I’m sorry to tell you Bowie has nailed “Wild Is the Wind” for all time. Bowie is the only man alive who can get away with singing “I hear the sound of mandolins”. Remember The Wonder Stuff? They played mandolins in their songs, and look what happened to them! REM? Now, that’s enough. Although, their Chronic Town EP is a masterpiece – five songs on that one, not a dud amongst them. Anyway, “WITW” is just about the most romantic song ever written, and I should know. Let Station To Station rip on your turntable some time soon, before the cobwebs eat into the vinyl. While I’m on the subject, there might be a couple of other Bowie releases that technically class as EPs, but don’t even get me started on the “mini-album”! According to some, U2’s “Live At Red Rocks” classes as an EP. What was it that the Screaming Jets said? “You know, and I know better.”

Glide

The sad story of Glide perfectly encapsulates the highs and lows of the early 1990s in Australian music. Glide, fronted by the extraordinary singer-songwriting talents of William Arthur, burst onto the Sydney scene in 1991, releasing two breathtaking EPs – Pretty Mouth in 1991 and the huge Shuffle Off To Buffalo in 1992 – to critical acclaim. A girl I had the hots for at the time gave me a tape with both EPs on it and I was soon a fan. Pretty Mouth was a very dark pop record, the lyrics (in my ears) alluding to childhood abuse and an accompanying innocent/ experienced vulnerability. “Dream of Sammy”, the EP’s poppiest moment, with its “should have been me/ could could have been/ could have been me” chorus, counter-balanced the melanchology in a powerful way. The other thing Glide had going for them, a factor which became immediately apparent on the second EP’s opening track, the simply astonishing “Waterfall”, was an intricatly crafted wall of sound that has also been described as a “wall of harmony”, a necessary counterpoint to the industrial, atonal wall of sound manufactured by British counterparts Ride. “Waterfall” was perhaps the best Australian single of 1992, and that’s saying something. How can I describe the song except to say that its sound was simply massive. The band’s lead guitarist at the time was also a phenomenal player, matching Arthur’s melodies with some impressive noodling on both releases. In hindsight, his departure from the band (and from my memory) was the first step in a long and slow descent from grace which culminated with William Arthur’s death in 1999. For a while though, Glide were on the top fo the freaking planet. I saw them wipe the floor with UK misery merchants Adorable in 1993 at the Phoenician in Sydney, playing so well and producing a sound so huge it just wasn’t fair. Perhaps Glide were just in the wrong place. Consider the fact that the “band” they supported produced just one LP and then died in the arse. Enough said. Fittingly enough, Glide’s first LP was a fairly melancholy affair, and was succeeded by several more well-crafted albums, all of which lacked the immediate spark and tention of the early EPs. I never did end up kissing the girl who gave me the tape way back in 1992. In fact, I’m not sure I can even remember her name. I do remember the spirit of that time, however, and the special talents of William Arthur. RIP, man, seriously. I think it was Rachael.

It’s Verve, not “The” Verve

Back in the early 1990s ìTheî Verve were still called Verve, the Charlatans didnít have a UK tacked onto the end of them and Suede sucked the big one. Pardon me for sounding monotonous but Verve are further proof that the old ìthe EP is great but the album is like drinking paint stripperî theory is a valid one. Until proven otherwise of course. Verve started off as a freewheeling, psychedelic, dual guitar and dub influenced, sixties-sounding stoner epic outfit. Then they released ìBittersweet Symphonyî, changed their name to The Verve and began hitting up the middle of the road (in no particular order). Their first three EPs, however, showcased a different band entirely. ìSheís a Superstarî was in reality a single but because of its length (both a and b-sides clock in at around ten minutes) should really be considered an EP. ìGravity Graveî was perhaps their weirdest release ever, also about ten minutes long, with an extended mix of the song recorded live at Glastonbury. The All In the Mind EP featured my favourite Verve track of all time: ìMan Called Sunî, a spacey odyssey featuring some excellent noodling, cavernous echoes and a drum beat so slow it was probably on smack at the time. Together these three releases sum up a band that seemed to have no idea what was going on in the world around them. The music was just so different to a lot of stuff around at the time, itís a real shame that they then went on to become such poseurs. Donít even talk to me about the Richard Ashcroft solo experience. Enough said! But truthfully, I think the reason why I have such a soft spot for these three EPs is the fact that they remind me of the girl I was seeing at the time, whoíd been to England and came home with a tape of Verve songs that proved excellent for smoking weed and pashing to. Unfortunately, part of the tape was erased by her previous boyfriend, who somehow pressed the wrong button on the car stereo one day, or so Iím told. I can still hear the sound of car park noise, a kind of ìOh shit!î exclamation, and then a return to the swirling, dreamy music. I donít think she ever forgave him for that. I’ve still got a dubbed copy of the tape and managed to work the fact into the ending of a poem I recently wrote: “I made sure to dub your tape of early Verve/ second hand memories are all I deserve”. Sniff.

Swervedriver

As Crowded House said, “Now we’re getting somewhere”. Swervedriver were one of the greatest bands of the early 1990s. Full stop. And you know what? Their early success, like that of Ride, hinged upon a series of phenomenal EPs: Son of Mustang Ford, Rave Down and the incendiary Sandblasted EP, all of whose title tracks would feature on their impressive space odyssey debut album Raise. At the time Raise came out, I remember thinking that the album itself was a slight disappointment after the stunning ferocity of those three EPs (think speed metal fused with a Sonic Youth style melodicism). Raise grew on me, however. Opening track “Sci-Flyer”, with its razor sharp guitar lines and driving rhythm, set the tone for a sprawling album which crossed many stylistic boundaries and managed to capture what will forevermore be known as the Swervedriver sound. Second album Mezcal Head was even more adventurous than its predecessor, including “Duel”, the completely bizarre “Last Train To Satansville” and the jazz-metal fusion of “Never Lose That Feeling” (I’m talking the extended 11 minute mix – can’t remember if that one was on the album or not). I kind of lost track after that, but for freak’s sake, the Swervies had already done their job, really. Despite the huge sound, and the inherent possibility that trying to rein it in might have caused problems for the band, Swervedriver (or should I say lead singer Adam Franklin) developed a reputation for quality songwriting as well, the quintessential example being “Harry & Maggie”, which fused a pop sensibility with the traditional dual-guitar attack in a way that was seemingly beyond contemporaries Ride (remember “Twisterella”? Enough said.) I also remember being impressed by the fact that unlike other bands at the time, the Swervies had no problem with naming other bands they liked and promoting the scene in general. How many NME interviews at that time managed to slag off every other band around? Not Swervedriver, who came across as, well, a bit more mature. Or nice, anyway. Finally, and this is perhaps the clincher, the band reportedly hung out with former Husker Du legend Bob Mould around the time of the release of Sugar’s extraordinary Beaster EP, and talked guitars. Swervedriver were one band who took their guitars seriously. As a result, their discography is a testament to well-crafted, sonically-adventurous rock/pop with a science fiction bent. Leave them all behind? Too late, we already have.

(Cherry) Ripe

Last night when I was thinking about who I would profile next in my exhaustive catalogue of early 1990s bands that have, sadly, disappeared, I became aware that I was perhaps being a little too shoe-gazer centric. Hence the inclusion of Ratcat whom, to be honest, I was never really that into at the time, except perhaps for ìThat Ainít Badî. I guess I should also admit that in terms of Australian bands, my listening habits centred around Sydney bands, mostly because I lived there. However, itís one of the worst-kept secrets that Melbourne in the early 1990s was the place to be, especially if you were into indie bands excited and influenced by the new movements in UK and US indie pop. Iím talking bands like The Earthmen, Rail, Ripe and The Fauves. Ripe were a mystery band for me, a band I never saw, but whose influence on the Melbourne scene was palpable. I heard them on Triple J in about 1991/92, upon the release of their Filterfeed LP (if anyone has a copy of this one, Iíd sure love a tape of it) and their appearance on one of the Youngblood compilations ñ their track ìGazeî was for me a standout. Ripe evolved into a heavy sonic outfit, having started out as a sample-friendly band. Just listen to The Plastic Hassle, their second full length effort (released through Shock) and youíll hear what I mean: big dirty guitars, thumping bass, drums with lots of cymbals. Their music was very dark but also melodic, a bit like Straitjacket Fits I suppose, but perhaps closer in sound to The Fauvesí angular ìscience rockî of The Scissors Within / Tight White Ballhugger twin EPs. Lead singer Mark Murphy, who bears a passing resemblance to Pete Townsend, is an impressive songwriter with a real ear for the melancholy. The Plastic Hassle was the definitive Ripe statement, a sprawling effort about fourteen songs long, standout tracks being ìSomething Fierceî, ìLove Your Gutsî and the awesome ìMoondrivenî. Funnily enough, Murphy and fellow Ripe member Kate Dixon now front a band called Moondriven whose sound is fairly similar to Ripeís. The first week I was in Melbourne in 1998 I saw them play at the Punterís. In the last six years I think theyíve probably released about half a dozen songs, total. One of these ìGhostî, is a real standout, though Iím not sure itís on any of their releases. As you can tell, Iím not really as excited about these guys as I should be, probably because theyíre just so damned sporadic. I remember in the early 1990s, however, there was a great deal of buzz surrounding Ripe and their temporary signing to SubPop. Come 2004, however, and theyíve been relegated, just like The Earthmen, Rail, Autohaze, The Glory Box and Pray TV, to the dustbin of Melbourneís musical history. The next time you eat a Cherry Ripe, spare a thought – actually, on second thoughts, scrap that. Just eat the freaking Cherry Ripe, okay?

(Ratcat) Ain’t That Bad

You may notice a pattern appearing: the last two posts have mentioned the seminal influence of a particular EP – namely Ride’s Play and MBV’s Glider on my musical tastes and palette. Well, here we go again.

I cannot emphasise enough the impact of Ratcat’s Tingles EP on both myself and the Australian musical landscape. Put simply, Ratcat were Australia’s Nirvana. I say that only because there were three guys in Ratcat originally, and Tingles came out a full six months before Smells Like … so have a think about that for a second.

Forget those Ride boys and their fey haircuts, Ratcat were the real deal. In fact I’ll go out on a limb (because I don’t care) and say that Ratcat were better than Nirvana. They’d already released one full length album (This Nightmare) and a pile of indie 7-inch singles but no one was prepared for what happened in 1990 when Tingles came out.

As an EP, Tingles was nothing short of a blueprint for the past, present and future of fuzzpop. “That Ain’t Bad”, with its explosive guitar line and Joey Ramone vocals, was one of the smash hits of the year and I’m not talking Kerry Packer. Doubtless, lead singer Simon Day’s stunning good looks won over a lot of fans but it was the sheer relief of the music – power chords, straight ahead drumming (not quite spartan) – in short, three minutes of perfection, that sealed Ratcat’s fate as homegrown rock stars.

The other five songs on the EP were no less impressive, and constituted a huge quantum leap from their previous material. “(Getting Away) From This World”, “Tingles” (a Jane’s Addiction tune if ever I’ve heard one) and the astonishing “My Bloody Valentine” provide me with a neater segue into shoegazing than even I could have hoped for.

The fact that the subsequent second album, Blind Love (containing both “That Ain’t Bad” and their other Number 1 hit “Don’t Go Now”) went to Number 1 on the national charts is simply a testament to how freaking brilliant Tingles was. Another factor in its success was its availability in (cheap – was it $3.99?) cassette/ cassingle format. One must also mention the appalling cover artwork (derived from the lyrics to the title track: “It’s in the cards, the future’s in the cards”.

Alas, if Simon Day had only foreseen that just a few years later he would be resorting to a duet with John Paul Young, he might have thrown his cards in earlier. Still, ask anyone who was around in 1990 and inevitably the genius of Tingles will be brought up.

It’s funny, I actually met Simon Day in the mid 1990s, when I was working for the Electoral Commission, going from door to door checking if people were enrolled to vote. Not only was he enrolled, he was also probably the politest resident I met, and totally enthusiastic about my role as a defender of democracy. Enough said.

“That band is Ride”

Of all the sad remnants of the early 1990s, you’d be pretty hard pressed to find anything sadder than the lead singer of Ride undertaking a tour of Australia, ten years after the band fizzled out, like luke-warm piss floating down an alleyway behind the Punters Club. That’s because the Punters doesn’t exist anymore, and Ride were the shoegazer band par excellence. To make any kind of comeback simply proves how of the moment Ride truly were, and how pathetic they sound now.

Okay, I’m being harsh. They had some good songs. They did to Australian indie rock what Nirvana did to the world – that is, I’m not so sure what they did but at least it was something noisy. They were prettier than MBV and artier than anyone else. Their first EP featured roses on the cover; the second daffodils; the third, penguins. That their fourth (the turgid Today Forever, released in between albums Nowhere and Going Blank Again) featured a white pointer shark suggested that the original shoe-gazing indie boys had learnt the hard way how art doesn’t pay; in fact, is bound to be swallowed whole by both time and money.

“Sharks patrol these waters” said Morphine; and I’m afraid I have to agree.

My brother actually saw Ride before me, at the Hordern Pavilion in 1992, playing on the same bill as what was basically the entirety of Aussie indie pop at the time: Ratcat, the Falling Joys, the Welcome Mat (I think), the Hummingbirds (probably), the Clouds (maybe) and some other Mushroom or Redeye act. According to him, Ride came on (last?) and blew the rest of them apart, which you’d have to expect really, as their trademark was a “wall of noise” – and I’m not talking Phil Spector.

I saw Ride at the Paddington RSL supported by Swirl (perhaps Australia’s all-time greatest shoegazer band). It was a very loud gig indeed. They were very fey, almost corpose-like on stage, all very pretty, la. It’s funny how such prettiness was acceptable amongst straight-acting indie kids, how it’s still okay to adore pasty boys in Doc Martens and obscure-band t-shirts. Whatever.

At the time I think they (Ride) only had about three good songs (this was before Going Blank Again was released – though they did play the monstrous single off that album, “Leave Them All Behind”, making good use of some Aztec-style lights n’ lasers). The funny thing about them was that their first EP (Ride) looked so good but was really just garage crap (the kind of crap the Earthmen managed to record on their first couple of vinyl singles).

The second one (Play) started off with perhaps their greatest song ever – “Like A Daydream” – after which it sank back into turgid territory again; the third – Fall (the one with the penguins on the cover) was perhaps their best – featuring the slightly bombastic “Dreams Burn Down”.

Then came the album Nowhere which in Australia had Fall tacked on the end of it; then came the Today Forever EP (enough said); Going Blank Again; and then two more albums of such ineffable shite I can’t even bring myself to name, catalogue or even describe them (let alone recall what was on the front covers).

The saddest thing of all, apart from Mark Gardener’s impending snooze-fest, is that Creation have just brought out a Ride best-of. Best of freaking what, I’d like to know. Looking for a band that sums up everything that was good and bad about the early 1990s? Look no further. That band is Ride. Thank you, Richard Kingsmill.

My Bloody Valentine: Whatever

I don’t think My Bloody Valentine ever put out a song or album with the word ‘whatever’ in the title but I should be wrong. My Bloody Valentine are the ultimate Whatever Band. If you’re talking nano, they don’t even register. They’re so early 1990s the NME website doesn’t list any of their records for review, because they haven’t done anything since 1992.

Loveless was a blow-away of an album but if I have to put in an early call, I’d have to say the two EPs in between Isn’t Anything and Loveless (namely, the Tremolo and Glider EPs) sum the band up perfectly.

Some recent media attention paid to Kevin Shields (who since the band broke up has done Whatever, although he did guest a few times for Primal Scream. Or was that remixes?), mostly for his work on Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation soundtrack, may well re-ignite interest in the band, with the NME suggesting the band are back in the studio again. Coppola herself in a recent interview name-checked only Loveless, suggesting that she might well be a late fan.

Having listened to their early stuff (which featured a different vocalist altogether- I’m talking pre-“Feed Me With Your Kiss” here), maybe that’s a good thing. I never warmed to Isn’t Anything, I guess because at the time my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend liked it. A friend of mine bought the Tremolo EP on vinyl. Speaking of holy shit! “Honey Power” is just the ultimate in your face!

You may find this hard to believe but I only listened to the Andy Weatherall remix of “Soon” (My Bloody Valentine’s seven-minute dance song) for the first time last week. I’d bought the Glider EP t-shirt (the tongue-kissing transfer) and always liked “Off Your Face”, and “Glider” itself – a sort of cross between what a tennis racquet-stringing factory must sound like and the noise of Ireland itself, but for some reason the Weatherall remix had always passed me by.

I just have so much to say about My Bloody Valentine I have to stop here for the moment. But how can I stop? You may think I’m coming out of left field with this one but having recently listened to Flying Nun’s excellent Straitjacket Fits compilation album, I just can’t. Straitjacket Fits supported My Bloody Valentine on their tour of Australia in – help me somebody – was it 1993? and, in the words of one reviewer, “wiped the floor” with the grandparents of shoegazing.

Straitjacket Fits’ lead singer Shayne Carter was a strange beast lyrically, but at least he had something to say. The night I saw these two bands play, at the Sydney Uni refectory building, Kevin Shields did not say a word the entire set, apart from the words he sort of hummed into the microphone during songs, words you could not in fact hear anyway. At the end he approached the microphone, thought better of it then left, just like Robert Smith when the Cure played the Entertainment Centre a few years later.

Straitjacket Fits were a spooky band, alarmingly intense. They had the kind of drumming my brother would describe as “spartan, militaristic”. At the same time, they encapsulated the spirit of a NZ buzz pop that managed to sound like Elvis Costello and MBV at the same time, right from their first release.

The highlight of their sporadic career was surely second album Melt, featuring classic songs like “Missing Presumed Drowned”, “Down In Splendour” and “Bad Note For a Heart”. Their bass player really freaked me out that night at the Refectory. I was right up the front (you know, because they were the support they had less of a crush). Man, they went off. That bass player drilled a stare straight at me for the entire set. I couldn’t move.

Shayne Carter didn’t exactly jump, like a young Tim Rogers – he prowled. Quite menacing really. But shoegazer nonetheless. Or, should I say, “Nu-gazer”.

I felt kind of sorry for My Bloody Valentine, in the end, when Loveless came out with “Soon” tacked on to the end of it, like the Stone Roses’ eponymous debut repackaged to include “Fools Gold”, never available on the original LP. I guess that’s why the EPs still do it for me, while the albums don’t, really.

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