E's not just for whizz

Whatever that just meant. Sorry, this yank isn't au courant with British slang (I know it refers to drugs - E for Ecstacy - but what the Big Ben is whizz? Newcastle crank?). So I suppose I'll have to settle for enjoying the music of two au courant Brit-Pop bands. Putting these two on one page was easy: Both have released albums in the past few years, both are British, both owe huge stylistic debts to late '70s New Wave (thereby coining the year before the year before last year's NME movement tag "New New Wave"), and both find a place comfortably next to each in my alphabetized album collection. I'm not anal, but when you have the amount of records I do, a filing system of some sort is a necessity.

Oh, and both are lead by attractive women (actually, Elastica is 3/4 composed of attractive women), which lends them that extra visual appeal for added commercial kick (in the U.K.). Whatever, nobody except the shallowest consumers buys a record because it features a "hot chick", but since handsome frontmen wooing'n'wowing the females in the audience is a very long tradition, I've got no guff against adolescent boys drooling over pictures of Justine Frischmann. Hey, if you're the lead singer of Oasis, you can even stick your foot in your mouth once again about said subject (1)! I'm probably making to much of this, and none of it would matter if the music was shite (2). Call me sexist if you're the PC type. I just get turned on by cute babes with sexy voices and skintight hooks.

1. Liam Gallagher's astute commentary on Elastica's musical worth: "I wouldn't kick her out of bed."

2. Shania Twain

Echobelly: Everybody's Got One (1994) ***1/2

There used to be an adjective to describe much of British pop: Bowie-damaged. Well, Bowie's old hat by now, and there's a new adjective to describe an entirely new generation of British musicians: Morrissey-damaged. Sonya Madan archly enunciates o-so-feyly Englishly as if she spent her youth taking voice lessons from the world's most infamous celibate vegetarian, and I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that can sometimes be rather off-putting. However, her wispy voice happens to be as tenderly melodic as it is mannered, and the band behind her rocks a lot harder than their idols the Smiths. The songwriting's stronger, too - no wallowing in self-pity here. Madan's songs mainly concern asserting herself as an independent, politically committed woman - no big deal in the U.S., but remember that those sophisticated Europeans are a tad behind our society when it comes to feminism. And either that statistic she pulls out in "Give Her A Gun" - half the nation, 1% of the wealth - is completely bogus (probably) or you've still got a long way to go, baby. The rail against arranged marriages, "Father Ruler King Computer," contains a special urgency due to the fact that she's of Indian/Muslim extraction, but the rest of the album isn't as stridently feminist. Take, for example, the irresistibly egotistical "I Can't Imagine the World Without Me," which some humorless souls failed to recognize as irony. The second strongest song leads off side one, the generational anthem "Today Tomorrow Sometime Never,"; the strongest song leads off side two, "Insomniac," which chastises a cocaine trendy. The five songs I mentioned all work brilliantly as hooky, melodic, compressed singles, and the album's main flaw is that the other six songs (while not exactly all that weak) don't catch up: this album works more as a collection of singles than as a cohesive whole. However, as I said, the filler isn't really filler, it's just decent material overshadowed by top notch singles.

Echobelly: On (1995) ***

A slightly disappointing followup, it starts of with three great singles - the Blondie-esque "Car Fiction,"; "King of the Kerb" which I can't figure out 'cause I'm not British; the Smiths soundalike, "Great Things" - and loses momentum. The band does get points for tackling longer, more balladic material with more confidence and competence than before - witness the lovely "In the Year" - but there really isn't any song that rises to the heights of "Insomniac" here. However, this is by no means a weak album - it's just not as good as the debut. And who can fault a song called "Pantyhose and Roses," that deals with Britain's biggest sex scandal of the '90s (trust me, their political sex scandal makes Clinton look like a boy scout). The increasing melancholy is rightly tagged as "Dark Therapy," but it's the warmth of Madan's voice and melodicism of the songs that makes the music so alluring.

Echobelly: Lustra (1997)

After some time off shedding members and regrouping, Echobelly released this LP in the U.K. in '97. However, it's taken an entire year for it to cross overseas; the good part for us Yanks is that it's been beefed up with 5 b-sides as bonus tracks.

Elastica: Elastica (1995) ***1/2

Like most '90s British bands, Elastica can hardly be accused of not acknowleding their influences. Oasis/Beatles-Verve/Stones-Blur/Kinks-Supergrass/Small Faces-Radiohead/Pink Floyd-Teenage Fanclub/Big Star-Suede/David Bowie-Paul Weller/Jam-Prodigy/Ignorant No Talent Assholes. This we know. These are not idle connections dotted by know-it-all critics, but blatantly obvious homages the bands themselves make no attempt to hide. Elastica/Wire - this is a fact. Specifically, Pink Flag. Even more specifically, "Connection"="Three Girl Rhumba". There are three girls in Elastica. Random coincidence? I think not.

Okay, but what about the album? Ignoring obvious lifts ("Annie" lifts the opening chords to "Clash City Rockers" which itself took off from the Kinks' "The Hardway," which took from the Who's "I Can't Explain," which took from the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," which if you notice scans suspiciously like "Louie, Louie," thus reinforcing a theory expounded at book length that "Louie, Louie" is the most important song ever recorded, a theory that may or not be valid, only I don't like "Louie, Louie" all that much, except for that part in Animal House when John Belushi starts singing it at a frat party, not that I've ever been to a frat party except once when I hijacked their keg and spray-painted "Frats Suck!" on their wall as a prank and they were all too wasted to care, not that I condone such vandalistic behavior) - now where was I?

Oh, I was talking about how sharp the guitars hit the listener on this album, and how hooky the songs are, and how iciness never sounded so sexy. By liberal estimate, all of these songs are about sex. By conservative estimate, all of these songs except for the George Harrison tribute, "Indian Song," is. Hard, choppy, angular - those are some nice adjectives to add to my description of this album. They show a nice sense of pacing, too - "Waking Up," follows "All Nighter." The best song on side two, "Stutter," is the only pop song I'm aware of that addresses a subject I'm sure most of us are familiar with: he's to drunk to get it up. Why such vital topics aren't more fully explored by other bands is a puzzle left to deeper pundits than I, and guess what "S.O.F.T." refers to. I wonder just which boyfriend Justine Frischmann is directing "Stutter," at - the lead singer of Suede or the lead singer of Blur. Or both.

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