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.
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.
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.