Death of a Minor TV Celebrity
Born of the same Oxford, England, pop scene that produced Radiohead and Supergrass, the Candyskins were formed in 1989 by the Cope brothers--frontman Nick and guitarist Mark. Along with lead guitarist Nick Burton, bassist Karl Shale and drummer John Halliday the group had early success in the UK with "The Submarine Song." American audiences may remember them best (if at all) for the minor alternative hit "Wembley," or from their two Geffen long players, 1990's The Space I'm In and 1993's Fun?
The group's major-label experience was neither successful nor enjoyable, and on the verge of breaking up, they decided to return to England in an attempt to put the pieces of their career back together. After scoring a major hit in England with the single "Monday Morning," the group issued their comeback album Sunday Morning Fever in England last year.
Now, after a five-year absence in the U.S., the band is signed to the New York-based Velvel label, and has just released its American "comeback" Death of a Minor TV Celebrity--easily its strongest effort, and arguably one of the best works to come out of the current Brit-pop movement.
Of course, much has happened since the last time the band attempted to break through in America--specifically the multi-platinum success of Oasis, and a whole throng of other English guitar groups including the Verve, Pulp and Blur. If the Candyskins are concerned about altering their style for commercial considerations, they certainly don't show it, wasting no time in serving up the same type of infectious pop-songcraft that they've been perfecting for nearly a decade. The album's first track, "Feed It," starts off as a dreamy acoustic ballad paced by a pulsating keyboard beat. Midway through the song, screaming Memphis-style horns kick in to punctuate the emotionally charged chorus. (Curiously enough, this sweet-sounding opener was inspired by the Heaven's Gate cult's mass suicide.)
The second song, "It's a Sign," is a Pixies-influenced rocker that builds a momentum unbroken by even the quieter acoustic numbers like "Songbird," and the title track.
The Candyskins' sound contains all the elements you might expect. Post-punk, glam, psychedelia, and the obvious Lennon-McCartney influences abound, but out of those familiar bits and pieces the group strives to create something more than the garden-variety guitar-based sound that often passes for quality pop music these days.
The morning-after confessional "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" and the summer-tinged "Swimming Pool" are the kind of perfect hook-laden nuggets that bands on either side of the Atlantic would proudly lay claim to.
Ultimately, what separates the Candyskins from the paint-by-numbers Beatle-worshipping approach of the Gallagher brothers is a variety in the production, and a less-pretentious approach to lyrics.
Although the band does dabble in the anthemic on tracks like "Teenage Suicide" and "A Song," for the most part they try to stay away from any overly wrought lyrical or musical ramblings. Even at points when the album threatens to bog down, Cope's unabashedly poppy vocals and the band's overall musical dynamic hold together what adds up to a thoroughly satisfying record.
International Pop Overthrow
With a title taken from Material Issue and a pool of 300 eligible bands to chose from, you'd have hoped that this overview would skim the froth of the revisionist power-pop scene and just get to hook-a-rama already.
But sadly, this doesn't sound like a projected Poptopia Volume 4; more like wanna-bes vying to get onto Volume 2 without their stage passes. It smacks more of favors done than of putting quality first when you program FOUR UTTERLY RESISTABLE songs at the start--a pop no-no in any country you can pronounce "yeah" in.
"You're the One" by Stagefright is the first number that doesn't sound by-the-numbers, but even that's not likely to make you forget the Vogues. Reportedly, there was a $500 fee that bands had to cough up to be on this CD, which carries out the reprehensible "pay-to-play policy" of most L.A. clubs to its next ugly incarnation.
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Just about the only song that gets you in the head and the knees is Jiffipop's "Rainbow Station," a sleepy seductive psyche-delight where nothing's going backward but everything feels like it is. This is a record you can hear over and over, put on homemade cassettes for friends and still get suckered in by the soothing background vocals every time. Local boys The Jennys weigh in here with the Smithereens-like swagger of "Remarkable Similarity." While the lure of an okay new track will pull in the converted, the band would've done better to include one of the standout tracks from its last CD as an introduction to outsiders. Ah, well, it's their money.
The absolute nadir of this genre comes in the form of those pop name-droppers who think that the Replacements wrote a Big Star-worthy track simply by naming it after Alex Chilton. A putrid song will stink up the heavens no matter how many times you mention Brian Wilson in it. When a band like Double Naught Spies sings, "I'm in your hair, like Sonny and Cher," it smacks of desperation rather than cultural kinship. And the song doesn't even sound like something Chastity's defunct group would've come up with!
What this pop overthrow lacks is a great dictator like Elvis Costello, a diplomatic strategist like Marshall Crenshaw, even a hapless misanthrope like Wreckless Eric. With few exceptions, this alleged pop revolution should not be televised or broadcast in any fashion until it can pick spokesmen who shake people's minds and not just their heads.