Sunday, 20 August 2017

Volume 19 Tracks 16-20 - Gigolo Aunts, Blue Aeroplanes, Compulsion, Pop Will Eat Itself, Rancho Diablo

16. Gigolo Aunts - Where I Find My Heaven (Fire)

The opening guitar lines of the theme from the nineties sitcom "Game On" - or the film "Dumb and Dumber" depending on your preferred reference point, since it was confusingly used in both - burst through loudly and confidently. From those opening bars right through to the end, "Where I Find My Heaven" sounds like an almost flawless pop song, rammed to the brim with bittersweet lyrics and bouyant but intricately woven melodies. At the time, my first thought was that this sounded like a single Teenage Fanclub could have released if they'd decided to pander just slightly to the mainstream.

What's truly surprising is how, despite its mainstream presence and clear potential, "Where I Find My Heaven" really wasn't the huge hit it could have been. On its 1995 reissue it managed one week in the Top 40 at number 29, then disappeared from view. The finger of suspicion in the UK's case probably points in the direction of Fire Records who never were terribly good at maximising the potential of their artists, but its failure on RCA in the US is truly baffling.

Gigolo Aunts had a long history as a band prior to this point, having their roots in the 1981 power-pop band Sniper. Therefore, they had already spent over a decade penning the kind of effortlessly memorable melodies much beloved of that genre. This makes comparisons with Teenage Fanclub somewhat unfair, since they had a considerable head start over that Scottish band.

"Where I Find My Heaven" remains their most known song, partly due to its mass media use, but the group had a strong cult following globally and managed to sustain their careers until 2002, when one final LP "Pacific Ocean Blues" was released. Despite the apparent finality of this, I absolutely wouldn't bet against a comeback tour of some kind.

17. Blue Aeroplanes - Broken & Mended (Beggars Banquet)

Why, hi there, Blue Aeroplanes! How's it going? Haven't seen you since Volume Two. I think we lost you back at the, uh, junction with the eighties and nineties when you signed a piece of paper in that huge glass building up there. What have you been up to? Oh, I see. So things haven't changed that much, then? You kept the Russian dancer, and you still have those, uh, super-piquant conversational spoken word lyrics? HEY, well I guess, uh, dig the consistency, yeah. [CHORUS]

There's something amazingly stubborn and determined about The Blue Aeroplanes, and what's more astonishing still is how long a career they've been allowed. It's perhaps a tribute to the patience record labels in the eighties and nineties had, however much they were derided at the time. If such a group were to be formed now, they would be saddled to a very small indie label with a limited budget, whereas the Aeroplanes had a cultish stint on Fire Records, followed by a major label deal with Ensign/ Chrysalis, then on to the independent powerhouse Beggars Banquet. All for a group who are almost one of the quintessential arthouse indie bands, whose only real hope of mainstream success would have been to accidentally write a song which made some kind of popular sense. 1990's indie dance remix of "...And Stones" came the closest to that, but still no cigar.

"Broken & Mended" isn't remotely similar to that record, and is effectively the group returning to basics. Jagged guitar work combines with almost beatnik vocal ramblings, and the whole thing slams around the room sharply. For all that, it's not their finest single, and while I can't quantify why this doesn't work as well as the likes of "Jacket Hangs" or "Tolerance" - the group appear to be operating to their own agenda, so it's hard to draw comparisons to anything or anyone else - it nonetheless isn't a track of theirs I feel compelled to return to often.

18. Compulsion - Mall Monarchy (One Little Indian)

Irish punk band Compulsion were actually a pretty big deal for a few months in 1994. Bracketed in with the NME created and frankly somewhat damp squibbish New Wave of New Wave scene, they also had an abrasive, distorted sound and pounding energy which made them palatable to the grunge kids. In another world, at another time, they might have been enormous.

"Mall Monarchy" appeared on the "ITV Chart Show" not once but twice, and received a healthy amount of evening airplay, but perhaps failed to launch the group in the manner expected. It's a snarling piece of work with a distinct anti-consumerist message, and sounds like the stuff of dreams for frustrated teenagers and adult anarchists alike. It's certainly more memorable than the material being offered to us by S*M*A*S*H at this particular point in time.

Unfortunately, it was all a bit of a dead end, and while "Mall Monarchy" is an unquestionable anthem, it would rapidly be usurped in the UK by other groups who wouldn't dream of using the word "mall" in a song lyric. Unless it was used in the context of "Pall Mall", that is.

19. Pop Will Eat Itself - Ich Bin Ein Auslander (Infectious)

The latter stages of Pop Will Eat Itself's career are often baffling. If their confused, hyper-random video for "RSVP" weren't enough to contend with, "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" was an unlikely anti-fascist racket which charted in the Top 40 in the UK and was showcased on the rather staid, beige, pensioner-friendly "Late Late Show" chat show in Ireland. Over on YouTube, there's a clip of the band on the programme looking utterly inebriated, miming over enthusiastically to the song with their faces wrapped in sellotape. It probably didn't even make any sense at the time either, though Gay "Bykers on Acid" Byrne does at least seem to agree with the song's sentiments (rumour has it that the programme's security personnel took a dimmer view of their antics).

While the song itself is no masterpiece, it does capture the group at their most angry and raucous, and reminds you that towards the end of their careers they were heading in an increasingly ferocious and politicised direction. It's hardly the most radical thing you'll hear today, but it is still, unfortunately, horribly relevant, and its defiance is a tonic.

The meshing of the band's electronic, Hip-Hop and sampling influences to this kind of firepower also works incredibly well - almost as if they only realised the group they wanted to be at the point of the original line-up's last album.

20. Rancho Diablo - Plan B (13th Hour/ Mute)

"Indie Top 20" featured a lot of obscure bands during its 23 volume run, but I'd be willing to bet that Rancho Diablo are high on the list of the least known and appreciated. Signed to the Mute subsidiary label 13th Hour, you have to wonder if the group were perceived as some kind of nineties version of Fad Gadget. Wobbly porno trumpet noises meet with thundering industrial basslines, wails of feedback and growled vocals to create something very unique sounding, but sadly not something that works even remotely for me. It's most certainly an acquired taste, and it's possible that their sinister sex dungeon funk might gain new fans after this blog entry goes out, but for me there's no easy point of entry.

Rancho Diablo's recorded career was brief and failed to last very long into 1995, but was proof that Mute's profits from Depeche Mode, Erasure, Inspiral Carpets and Nick Cave were being ploughed back into difficult projects that wouldn't have shamed the label in its earliest days. This seems like a very strange inclusion for the "Indie Top 20" LP, but I strongly suspect a "take Rancho Diablo, get Depeche Mode much cheaper" styled agreement is responsible for their presence here. That or the compiler Tim Millington was just a massive, and very unlikely, fan of their work.

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