(#522: 25 March 1995, 1 week)
Track listing: Line Up/Annie/Connection/Car Song/Smile/Hold Me Now/S.O.F.T./Indian Song/Blue/All-Nighter/Waking Up/2.1/Vaseline/Never Here/Stutter
Elastica’s first album came out in the same week as The Bends by Radiohead and Everything Is Wrong by Moby. I bought all three on Walkman-friendly cassette from Oxford Circus HMV at the same sitting but Elastica is the only one being written about here, and in common with the other two, and in pointed contrast to most of the rest of “Britpop,” it meant something in America, where, as here, it went gold.
I am not really bothered about the exhaustingly-documented underlying story; who did what to, with and/or against whom. What I care about infinitely more is the band’s music. Lena, as ever, got it right when she mentioned the school-age eagerness which penetrates all the way through Art Brut’s “Formed A Band,” and there is plenty of the same fizzy avidity about the younger Elastica. They crunch their way through fifteen songs in just over thirty-eight minutes because – well, look at us, they’re exclaiming; we’ve formed a band, this is what we do, what do you think, isn’t it fun?
(It may be that these were the only fifteen songs they had in their repertoire – “See That Animal,” which materialises in the midst of the U.S. edition of the album, is problematic, given the identity of at least one of its authors.)
Yes, it was bloody exhilarating to have a slam-pack indiepop album on an independent label at number one, much more so than if it had puttered out in 1992 and sold in its dozens. It represented a much-needed clearing-out of somewhat stale air. “Stutter,” the band’s first single and this album’s concluding song, remains their apex, seemingly recorded in somebody’s garage on a 1974 Philips mono cassette recorder, Justin Welch’s drums and cymbals chirping like newborn crickets, Justine Frischmann and Donna Matthews’ guitars snapping through the barbed wire cynicism like kissable alligators. They play the song as though they only have two-and-a-half minutes left to exist, hence its hectic and ultimately welcoming urgency.
The Camden Town Good Music Society – and certain music business lawyers – were quick to bite with the decayed molars of poorly-received knowledge, and missed the point entirely (the subtext was: who do these upstart women think they are – Springsteen?). There are Wire, the Stranglers and Blondie for all to see but also a tower of other unexpected influences. The scarcely-restrained sexuality of Elastica’s work – they made British indie sexy again, or perhaps for the first (and only?) time – is based on a luscious loucheness which stems in part from Lynsey de Paul (if you can get past its thoroughly non-PC lyrics, imagine the band covering “Getting A Drag”) and in great part from a host of “alternative” names more spoken about than listened to.
For instance, the wham-bam rapid sequencing of hit after hit puts us immediately in mind of Pixies (their best manifestation, i.e. Kim-dominant) as well as less ostensibly showy but equally penetrating bands (in particular, Veruca Salt, who at the time were specialising in exactly the same sort of stop/start/go-gone girl bop). There is an obvious Nirvana influence (“Annie”), although “S.O.F.T.” (“Same Old Fucking Things,” since you didn’t ask) experiments with its “Heart-Shaped Box” thrust and comes out somewhere in the region of…Suede. I also note how the (sampled?) deep vocal grunts of “Connection” recur, albeit mutated, in Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker” four years hence.
A lot of it sounds like Blur – unsurprisingly so, since “Dan Abnormal” turns up to contribute keyboard riffs on three of these songs – but, and possibly on purpose, a Graham Coxon-dominant Blur; “Annie” would also pass as a demo for “Song 2.” Only two songs exceed three minutes, the longer of which, “Never Here,” must be one of the bitterest and most rancorous songs to emerge in this era, whoever its target. Then again, this album isn’t just about Justine, especially when the first voice you hear on it is that of Donna.
I am direly aware that many of these songs are responded to and indeed deliberately referred to in subsequent number one albums by another band, one of which occurs later in 1995. I am further cognisant that the quickfire appeal of Elastica was succeeded by a fairly grim five-year silence and that by the time The Menace – a buried gem – emerged, most had forgotten who they had been.
Unlike Veruca Salt, however – but quite like Blondie, the Stranglers and Wire – my feeling is that Elastica were primarily an art project. There is a certain detachment in Frischmann’s delivery and the band’s overall stride which heavily imply the involvement of inverted commas, as well as the record's subtle acknowledgement of the avant-garde (the Solex-via-OMD harmonic clusters of discordancy cascading along the spine of "Car Song," the free improv fumbles decorating "S.O.F.T."). All to the good, since British pop without art would still be marooned in the Craig Douglas tollbooth. There was, at the time, some concern about whether Elastica, the band, would rapidly fall out of date. Perhaps the concept has dated beyond retrieval. But Elastica, the album, remains an enthralling perfume pump of punk-pop, and we should all still be glad that its monochrome and red curtains put paid to staid.