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A Pout That Could Sink a Thousand Ships
Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life #1
Manic Street Preachers are easily one of my favorite b-side bands, with "Spectators of Suicide", "Motown Junk", "Sorrow 16", "Patrick Bateman", "Comfort Comes" and "Charles Windsor" easily among my favorites of the band's songs. The Holy Bible was something of a lull for MSP singles, though, half because after Richey's disappearance they stopped releasing them, but partly, too, because a reliance on live tracks, remixes, covers and reissues meant that the seven singles I have from that era, of various origins, only include three new songs. Where on the singles from Generation Terrorists and Gold Against the Soul the band seems to be literally overflowing with songs, incapable of modulating their output sensibly, on the set from The Holy Bible they seem to be merely fulfilling contracts, occupying disc space without their heart being in the process. Of course, given the context of external events they found themselves in at the time, this is quite understandable.
And so too is it unsurprising to find that the era of their new-beginnings fourth album, Everything Must Go, finds them evidencing renewed enthusiasm for their singles, too. I sense this just in the packaging, even before I play one. The pair for "A Design for Life" are in matching cardboard sleeves, one entirely gold and the other entirely silver, the only text being untinted embossing of the band name, the song title, and "One" or "Two". A sticker added to each explains the contents in a little more detail, but is placed over the open end of the sleeve in such a way that it acts as a seal you have to tear or cut to remove the disc. I'm astounded how drastically this changes the character of my relation to these discs. I unwrap lots of CDs, and I unwrapped a lot of LPs before that, and while it's a ritual that I enjoy, the removal of shrink wrap and the various tokens of authenticity that labels have added over the years has never had much connection to the things inside the wrap. Removing the plastic from Cher's horrific last album is in no way different from unwrapping Stuart Dempster's Underground Overlays From the Cistern Chapel. The wrap is not part of the creative work, it's a layer mechanically imposed on everything, whether it's artistically meaningful to or not. And this is emblematic, I think, of a hollowness in our whole society, of the subordination of physical experience to the genericism of mass production. Like the fast-food cheeseburger I ate for lunch today, the identity is only in the idea, not in the instances, as if we're expected to smile thankfully while we bite into our small, flaccid, deformed burger, because in our minds we're still seeing the big, plump, symmetrical, attractive one on the posters. How readily people will respond to something more was perhaps demonstrated by the amazing popularity, a couple years ago, of Nick Bantock's three epistolary Griffin and Sabine books, which featured actual letters you had to remove from actual envelopes attached to the pages. I'm straying out of the medium I'm supposed to be discussing now, but I think the format of those books was easily responsible for 95% of their sales. The story, such as it was, was not particularly impressive or inspiring, but the tactile thrill of opening somebody else's mail was extraordinary. It's almost too bad the envelopes weren't glued shut. Opening these Manic Street Preachers singles, then, is a little bit like that. Tearing the seal, carefully, you are aware that your actions have something to do with the fabrication of the thing you're holding. Opening these packages is part of the experience of them. This impression is further reinforced when you find that the inner sleeves, inside these two obtrusively minimalist outer packages, have incredibly lush photographs on one side, one of a sylvan glade and the other of a verdant waterfall, and pointed quotations on the other ("Copiers do not collaborate", Antoni Gaudi points out), neither of whose existences you could ever deduce from the outside, which in our packaging-is-marketing culture is as rare a surprise as seeing a movie whose trailer didn't blow 80% of it. The phrase "collector's item" has been stripped of all semantic content by repeated marketing abuse, but these are singles you might actually want to "collect", pieces you really might pull out years from now to show friends, saying "Here's a particularly nice specimen" in your best fake-English accent, around the ludicrous pipe in the corner of your mouth.
Mind you, by that time passing the sleeves around may be all you can do with the disc, as nobody you know will still own machines capable of playing CDs. That will be a shame in general, but also for these singles in particular, as the discs inside these laudable sleeves contain some music worth noting in its own right. The first of the pair, the silver one, has three non-album tracks. "Mr Carbohydrate", the first, a bitter anthem typified by the scathingly bleak line "They call me a boring fuckhead, / Say I might as well work in a bank" (this from the band that made "Nat West - Barclays - Midlands - Lloyds", an anti-banking anthem with all the subtlety of that pirate ship attacking the high-rise at the beginning of The Meaning of Life), is a moment straight out of Generation Terrorists, and enters immediately into my MSP honor roll. "Dead Passive", the second, with percolating flutes and cheery acoustic guitars, shrouds its withering litany of dysfunctional celebrity couples in elegant restraint, and the last, "Dead Trees and Traffic Islands", with its jazzy wind figures, is halfway to being the Cardigans' cover of itself, through which Bradfield's anxious wail strains to make its point. Yes, perhaps these last two are a little linear, relying on arrangement flourishes over solid musical structure to an extent that properly disqualifies them from album appearances, but that, after all, is part of the fun of b-sides.
Manic Street Preachers: A Design for Life #2
The second disc, in what is becoming standard MSP practice, is filled out with remixes instead of new songs. The "Stealth Sonic Orchestra Version" of "A Design for Life" extracts most of the rock instrumentation, leaving largely orchestral percussion and strings to carry the original's bass and vocals. I'm not sure this accomplishes much, emotionally, that the sweeping original didn't already, but it's dramatic and exquisite all the same. "Stealth Sonic Orchestra Instrumental Version", the second remix of the title track, is self-explanatory, and probably superfluous unless your scoring needs preclude vocals. And despite the unassuming label "Vocal Mix", the remake of The Holy Bible's "Faster", done by the Chemical Brothers, is radical and intensely rhythmic, with skittering, relentless machine-drum bursts in place of the abrupt slab-like construction of the original, and the vocals swirling brightly in large aural spaces that weren't anywhere to be heard the first time around. Despite heavy reworking of almost all the actual instrumental elements, though, the remix retains the core melody and development of the original, and so ends up being a new version of the same song, not an unrelated musical digression that happens to share its title.
Manic Street Preachers: Everything Must Go #1
The pair of singles for Everything Must Go's title track repeat the format of the first two. The covers this time are yellow and white, and are printed, not embossed, and the inner liners are as stark as the first pair's liners were lavish, but these contrasts seem deliberate to me, and thus powerful. The b-sides here are appropriately desolate and arresting, songs more reminiscent of The Holy Bible than the rock grandeur before or the reconstructed equilibrium after. "Black Garden"'s ragged guitar scrapes over the song's solid, popping bass line as if the two instruments don't get along too well, and the lyrics paint a narrator too weary even to be abusive any more. "Hanging On" skips along on a much less intimidating beat, but the flutes from the last set of b-sides, which I keep expecting to make a cameo here, too, never show, and the squalling electric guitar that joins the bouncy acoustic on the chorus is not jazzy at all. And "No-One Knows What It's Like to Be Me", with its alternation of pounding arena bombast with transcendent interludes of oscillating sotto voce string arpeggios, is like a warped tape-splicer's merging of "Slash and Burn" with the Europeans' "Kingdom Come", and is the second new addition to my Manic Street Preachers b-side pantheon.
Manic Street Preachers: Everything Must Go #2
The same remixing forces are at work here as on the last part-two. The Chemical Brothers version of "Everything Must Go" comes first this time, and is similar in spirit to their remake of "A Design for Life", only even more so. A bed of buzzing, whirring synthesizers gives way, after a long, slow crescendo and accelerando, to two driving kick/snare/cymbal loops, which play call-and-response under a reworking of the verses and chorus that leave about as little of the original track behind as one could while still retaining the essence of the song's structure. I might expect to like this one less than the other, since its connection to the original is more tenuous, but I find in practice that I like it even better, and that the subtlest traces of acknowledged lineage are sufficient to let me appreciate the manipulations here, rather than resent them. The Stealth Sonic Orchestra remixes, on the other hand, again one that is largely the removal of guitar and drum kit, and another that removes the vocals, too, substituting some instrumental melody work in their place, are practically identical transformations, to my ear, to their versions of "A Design for Life", and I begin to feel that I'd like to hear something different.
Ian McNabb: Don't Put Your Spell On Me
Ian McNabb has done a fair number of worthy b-sides of his own over the years, both solo and, before that, with the Icicle Works. This lead single from his recent album Merseybeast, though, doesn't have much to say for itself. The album version of "Don't Put Your Spell On Me" is a surging, bewitching song, but that doesn't mean you need two digital copies of it, and if you got your act together fast enough to grab a Merseybeast with the bonus live disc then you already have the live version of "What She Did to My Mind" that is track three here. The track in between, at least, is a new one, a languid, expansive, mid-tempo gem called "Don't Patronize Me" that, except possibly for a couple isolated moments of melodic irresolution, could easily have fit in on Merseybeast, if the album's pacing had required another song in the vein of "Love's Young Dream".
Ian McNabb: Merseybeast #1
Somebody must have surreptitiously passed Ian a slip of paper with the word "Vault" written on it after hearing that first single, though, because the pair for "Merseybeast" itself come up with a raft of interesting additions. Part one is dedicated to demos for songs we've heard in finished form. The first is a marvelously stiff 1986 sketch for the Icicle Works' "Up Here in the North of England", from their 1987 album If You Want to Defeat Your Enemy Sing His Song. The drum machine part here, a two-bar kick-snare figure that doesn't vary even once over the length of the song, is perhaps the barest rhythmic skeleton over which anybody has ever tried to lay a rock song, but Ian echoes its deliberate pace in his vocals and circling guitar, and the resulting track has a unswerving funereal single-mindedness to it that I find enthralling. The 1988 demo of "Permanent Damage", on the other hand (released two years later on the Icicle Works' ill-fated farewell album of the same name), tosses in a few drum-machine rhythm skips that make Casio's built-in "fill" patterns sound like New Orleans swing, and turns the song into blues like the robot band at Chuck E. Cheese would produce if they weren't being dubbed, except that even mechanical rabbits would have the sense not to sing in Ian's rich, earnest croon over such a blocky accompaniment. This one may make you question the practice of releasing demo tapes commercially, but predictably, I find it charming. The last track here is a 1995 demo for "Merseybeast", a drumless two-guitar walk-through that is surprisingly effective even without the rest of the instruments, but which is really priceless for the hilarious alternate verse in the middle (which I won't ruin for you, except to hint that it involves a train, sensitive body parts and a rather startled bystander), which Ian delivers, as always, as if he's reading "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
Ian McNabb: Merseybeast #2
Part two pokes around a little deeper, under the demos, and finds three new tracks. "Pretty Boys With Big Guitars", a cartoon-boisterous ode to rock and roll and errant youth, is every bit as goopy and inane as the title sounds. Marc Bolan's "The Slider" has so much slow turbine churn to the guitar that the blues changes are nearly swallowed up in the buzz, but the falsetto wails on the chorus are preserved lovingly. And "Snaked", the last track, sounds more than a little like an infinite-repeat Black Sabbath riff until Ian opens his mouth, after which point it sounds like Black Sabbath karaoke being sung by somebody's father who has really no idea what heavy metal singing is supposed to sound like. Following along with this in my head, flipping mentally from my imagination of Ozzy's eerie whine to Ian's resonant baritone and back, makes me smile dementedly.
Crowded House: Instinct #1
After including three new songs on their recent farewell greatest-hits album, Crowded House has appended a final coda to their career by releasing singles for each new song, all of which commemorate the band's passing with live b-sides that didn't make it onto the bonus live album that early editions came with everywhere in the world but here. The first one on this disc is an affectionate, extended 1992 Newcastle version of "Weather With You", marred only by the fact that when Neil calls for the crowd to take a chorus by themselves, nobody thought to actually turn up the crowd mic so we could hear them oblige. The second is an even more extended jam of "Chocolate Cake", from the same show, which features caterwauling guitar solos, screaming, goofy half-rapping, crowd baiting, organ flourishes, cascading piano boogie, blues breaks, some cow sound-effects whose significance eludes me, and a long intro song-within-a-song about a born-again raccoon, a gun-slinging evangelist and a woman with a particularly banal alias. The third song here, the one non-live track on any of these singles, is "Recurring Dream", a big, quick, chiming, ebullient late-Eighties song from the soundtrack to the movie Tequila Sunrise that, though it served as the compilation's title track, didn't actually appear on either disc. To me it sounds more like Then Jerico than Crowded House, but as I like Then Jerico, I don't consider that a problem.
Crowded House: Instinct #2
Part two claims to have an "alternative mix" of "Instinct", but the difference between this mix and the one on the first single is subtle enough that A/B comparisons at the speed offered by my CD changer reveal to me not much more than that this one sounds a little brighter. No matter; the tracks of import here are live versions of "World Where You Live", "In the Lowlands" and "Into Temptation". "World Where You Live", another Newcastle recording, is pure, strong and sweet, electric piano plunking shinily, guitars beaming on the choruses, synthesizers bleating cheerily. The 1989 LA rendition of "In the Lowlands" is moody and a bit strained, the backing vocals swelling dramatically, in deference to local custom. And "Into Temptation", caught in Sheffield in 1992, is hushed and melancholy, reedy keyboards sighing and swaying in the background, drums shuffling drily alongside Neil's calm voice.
Crowded House: Everything Is Good for You
This Australian single repeats two live tracks from the UK "Instinct" singles, "Chocolate Cake" from the first one and "Into Temptation" from the second. The one track unique to this disc, though, is worth some trouble and expense to hear, as it's Crowded House and Pearl Jam, together in Auckland through circumstances not itemized, doing a darkly dreamlike version of Split Enz's fizzy New Wave classic "History Never Repeats". I am not a Pearl Jam fan, at all, and Eddie Vedder's quivery, ingrown voice is my least favorite thing about the band, but I find that it doesn't much matter, here. When Vedder takes over the lead for the second verse, he sings the song as if it matters more than him, and I can enjoy his gesture of respect without having to like his singing style. Somebody else takes the third verse (Neil sings the first), and to me the tentative feel of their vocals, and of the backing vocals throughout the song, is totally endearing. The only accompaniment is a single electric guitar, and the combination of cautious but intent singers, simple instrumentation, slow pace and overall crowd mania turns this into one of the more remarkable remakes I've heard in a while.
Crowded House: Not the Girl You Think You Are #1
The two discs for "Not the Girl You Think You Are" close the old-concert vault, finally, and write the last few lines of the band's history with six tracks taken from the band's final UK performance, back in June. The first part opens with a live version of "Instinct". This song is too new to have metamorphosed much since its composition, but the intimate recording, with the snare head buzzing in the wash from the guitar amps, makes up in detail what it lacks in grand-revision gestures. "Distant Sun", second, is much smaller in this setting than it was on Together Alone, but the song transcends production, and Nick Seymour's fluid bass seems to me to come through more clearly here than on the album. And the falsetto chorus harmonies of "Fall at Your Feet", the last of this triad, are airy and self-possessed.
Crowded House: Not the Girl You Think You Are #2
The second batch begins with "Private Universe" and "Fingers of Love", as the band continues to bid farewell to their final studio album. "Private Universe" is much more guitar-centric here than in its original form, jangling acoustic etched into the wall of electric behind it. The drums clatter more like somebody banging around at the back of the stage than a real groove, and the band coils around Neil's voice like painted dancers whirling closer on every ritual pass. "Fingers of Love" focuses on the ring of acoustic chords, electric figures drifting past on the periphery like wind-blown spirits waving as they're carried by. The atmosphere that Mitchell Froom fabricated on the album is here sketched just in the tones of Neil's vocal, and he manages to fill a small space in such a way that it feels as endless and open as the cosmic expanse in which the album seemed to be set. The last song here, and the last Crowded House recording ever, I guess, until they recant, is "Better Be Home Soon", the sad and oddly menacing finale to their second album, Temple of Low Men. They sing it beautifully. They don't sound, as they sing it, like it's their last moment, and when they say "That was fun, thanks a lot", just before the numbers on the player reset, it's hard to believe that they mean not only the last hour or so, but also a decade.
various: Common Ground
The end of Crowded House is only sort of half of an ending, of course, since Neil and Tim Finn are already on to their next life as a brotherly duo. Assiduous collectors should be alerted that the two, despite being been born about as far away from Ireland as it is physically possible to get without a booster stage, show their heads here on producer Donal Lunny's "Voices of Modern Irish Music" compilation Common Ground. Their song, a somewhat hastily assembled ode to their mother, called "Mary of the South Seas", with Lunny, Andy White, Davy Spillane, Mairtin O'Connor, Eoghan O'Neill and Ray Fean adding Celtic nomenclature and musical parts, does feel Irish, but isn't much as a Finn song.
The whole album, it seems to me, is content to be rather blandly Irish, without taking much advantage of the individual players involved. Maire Brennan's "O' Bhean Ati" is elegant, with some particularly nice button accordion by Sharon Shannon, but at least a tad lifeless. Lunny and Spillane's "Whistling Low/Errigal" tries too hard to modernize timeless traditional motifs. Bono and Adam Clayton's "Tomorrow" never quite gets going. The central accordion jig in Sharon Shannon's instrumental "Cavan Potholes" seems straight-jacketed by Fean's conventional drum track, and can't ever wriggle free, and Rickie Buckley's reprise of the theme on tenor saxophone feels painfully New Age (as does all of Brian Kennedy's "As I Roved Out" to me). Sinéad O'Connor's "On Raglan Road" is unnerving in that way that Sinéad always is when she puts her singular voice to ostensibly traditional material, but the song, aside from that effect, doesn't seem very remarkable. The grisly traditional lyrics of Elvis Costello's "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched" seem like ideal fodder for a crazed celebration of black humor in the spirit of the demented Pogues/Kirsty MacColl collaborations on Red Hot + Blue, but he sings it like the sense of the lyrics has not registered at all. Christy Moore displays the same sort of bizarre incomprehension on his "Bogie's Bonnie Belle", whose hilariously detailed narrative I would have thought irrepressible before being confronted with such irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
On the brighter side, Paul Brady manages to evict most of the incidental musicians, with the result that his soft-spoken "Help Me to Believe" seems much more true to him than most of the other work here. The harp and orchestra on Kate Bush's "Mna Na H-Eireann" have no new-age cloyingness to them, and Kate's Gaelic vocal is completely unapologetic, as if she fully expects the listener to know Gaelic, and is telling them a story, not using the foreign language as an excuse to let her voice turn into just another instrument. Andy Irvine's plain-voiced and wordy "My Heart's Tonight in Ireland" unearths some of the genuine native charm of Celtic folk music. And Liam O'Maonlai's droning didgeridoo rave "Cathain", which takes a rather pan-continental view of what Celtic encompasses, is charged and life-affirming. Other than these few, though, I can't see how the album functions as anything other than genre filler, and while it represents a committed effort and may be a viable commercial proposition, it doesn't seem calculated to actually excite anybody.
Midge Ure: Breathe
And the great shame is that excitement doesn't demand effort and logistics, at all. Witness the three solo acoustic takes that accompany the title track of Midge Ure's last album on this single. The fervor in his performance of "Cold Cold Heart", from his previous album, Pure, is palpable, and "Trail of Tears", my favorite song from Breathe, the album, survives this translation to guitar and voice better than even I would have expected. The coolest of the three tracks to me, though, is Ure's cover of Tom Rush's "No Regrets", which retains some of its rustic folk character even as Midge adds his own ethereal presence, and so is a strange amalgam that might be what acoustic folk music created by people who happened to grow up on space stations would sound like.
Sleeper: Sale of the Century
Sleeper is hardly profligate with b-sides, but they do manage to scrape up two for every single, and there's something to be said for reliability. "Package Holiday" is a last minute deletion from The It Girl, I'm pretty sure. Its strangled guitar and revved choruses are perfectly in keeping with the album's vibe, and the credits list it with the same Stephen Street production as "Sale of the Century". The argument for leaving it off the album I can't reconstruct from hearing it. Sounds fine to me. The other track here, the spindly "Oh Well" (not the Fleetwood Mac song), sounds more like a b-side, drifting along lodged firmly in recovery mode.
Sleeper: Nice Guy Eddie
"Pokerface", the first of the two b-sides here, is muted and passes up several perfect chances to burst into explosive action, and I begin to wonder if the band even brought their distortion boxes to these sessions, but then about two-thirds of the way through they stomp on them for a few seconds, and I'm reassured, and by the end the song has evolved into a much more substantial piece than it seemed to me for the first minute. "Blazer Sleeves", on the other hand, is Sleeper in their unmitigated Elastica-esque jerky punk-pop mode, squeaking around the chord-change corners and surging up the straight-aways flat out. Except Elastica would never have put in the parts of this song where it suddenly slams to a halt and squirts out a series of erratic beeps and twinges borrowed from the minds of marauding Andromedans.
Scarlet: Bad Girl
I don't understand why Scarlet aren't huge stars here in the US yet. More than that, I don't understand why neither Naked, their debut, nor Chemistry, the new one that, apparently, is already out in England, have even been released here. I saw one of the songs from Naked on a soundtrack somewhere recently, but other than that, nothing. Even the import stores here have never heard of them, and I've yet to see a copy of Naked on these shores other than the one a friend brought me back from England, personally. I don't get it. These songs sound like megahits to me. Wouldn't Roxette be more popular here with Aimee Mann's underground credibility, and wouldn't Aimee Mann sell more records with Roxette's pop bombast? Wouldn't people buy a grunge-less Alanis Morissette? Wouldn't somebody want a brash cross between the Indigo Girls and Bon Jovi? The Cardigans and Guns 'N' Roses? Okay, maybe it isn't obvious, but if I had a label I'd sign Scarlet in a second.
At least the album embargo isn't quite tight enough to keep singles from trickling across. I actually found the jewel-case version of this one, but I knew from some random aside on the Loud Family mailing list that there was another part, because this one didn't have Scarlet covering Aimee's "Stupid Thing", which I wanted badly. As it turns out, there are two versions of this single, but they aren't complementary. The jewel case version has "Bad Girl", "I Lay My Love in Your Hands", and yet another reprise of "Independent Love Song", which no single of theirs seems complete without. The one in the digipack, which Tower filed as "part two", is actually just a better edition, as it has those same three songs plus "Stupid Thing".
Between them, "Bad Girl" and "I Lay My Love in Your Hands" are everything that made me so thrilled about Scarlet when I first discovered them. The two women, Cheryl Parker and Joe Youle, write songs that are gleefully excessive and unmistakably human at the same time, their frail and engaging voices passengers on the wings of their ecstatic, fire-breathing, guitar-charged pop dragons. I don't expect everybody to like Roxette, because there's a layer of loopy phonetic-singing Swedish gelatin their songs always come encased in, and I can understand it if you prefer not to bite through this every time you're hungry for music. Scarlet, though, are the band I hold behind my back when I approach Roxette resisters. If you don't like big, glorious pop songs, or have some other idea than this of what is meant by that, I suppose there's not much I can do, but if your objection to Roxette is the idiom, not the art form, then that's when I play Scarlet. Their fast songs, like "Bad Girl" or "I Wanna Be Free (To Be With Him)", are like "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" on speed and beautiful without makeup, and the slow ones, like "I Lay My Love in Your Hands" and "Independent Love Song", are like "Crazy for You" raised on busking, not dance clubs.
Maybe the most striking thing here, though, is the version of "Stupid Thing", which is arresting precisely because after listening to it twice I can't remember how the original differs. In Scarlet's hands it sounds like Aimee wrote it specifically for them, and if her original is simpler and more contained than this, closer musically to the emotional tenor of the lyrics, then this is the version that happens when you love the song more than you feel the pain that lead to its writing.
Roxette: You Don't Understand Me UK #1
It would be out of character for me to let a perfectly good Roxette segue go unexploited. There's still no sign of their greatest-hits album being released in the US, and the reissue of their debut, Pearls of Passion, which was due in June, doesn't appear to have materialized yet either, but there are always a few more singles. Actually, there could have been three more here, but the second part of this one and an even newer one-part single for "June Afternoon" contain only tracks previously released elsewhere, so I haven't bothered buying them. This one, though, has acoustic versions of "The Look", "Listen to Your Heart" and "You Don't Understand", and I never get tired of new versions of these songs. "The Look" is kind of out of sorts in this format, actually, and so more a novelty than anything else, but "Listen to Your Heart" with just an acoustic guitar is heartache's essence distilled, and the somber piano-and-shaker rendition of "You Don't Understand", with just a touch of harmony from Per, gets at that song's heart perhaps even better, I think, than the far more involved original.
Shampoo: Girl Power
And just to prove I can find an even more disconcerting sentiment to end on than my oft-assailed support for Roxette, the even more fiercely dreaded Shampoo, who are only human because Mattel wouldn't let them legally change their species to Anarchist Barbie, are back. A sophomore album is on the way, and I'm at least as apprehensive about it as you are skeptical, as I have no idea if Jacqui, Carrie and Con can do anything with their one-joke premise other than repeat it lamely. Asked only to sustain it over three more songs for this single, though, they do just fine. "Don't Call Me Babe", the second song here, was the theme to Pamela Lee's movie Barb Wire, and I get the feeling that if they had let Shampoo direct it, instead of just write a song, it could have come out as a hyperkinetic cross between Tank Girl and Clueless. "Girl Power", the new song, is similar in spirit, because surely you need at least two songs to trash the world to. The third one, to my intense delight, is a cover of Gary Numan's "Cars". They don't do anything fancy with it, but they don't have to. Just playing it, in their own style, shows both the surprising element of synth-pop composure that lurks under their vampire-brat veneer, and also the vitality that Numan's song and style still have, despite the rather extended commercial slump his own career has fallen into. In place of his robotic whine, undead pallor and cybernetic diffidence, Shampoo substitute day-glow hair-dye, a tanker full of guitar samples, and a pout that could sink a thousand ships. Nations have been founded on less.
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