Sunday, May 1, 2011

Classic Album Review: Elastica – Elastica (1995)


Back in 1993, before there was Brit-Pop, a number of UK radio DJs were hyping something called the “new wave of new wave”, and Elastica were right at the forefront of that supposed new scene. As someone who thoroughly appreciated the first wave of “new wave”, I recall the sense of excitement generated by a number of “vital” new bands around at that time, many of them adopting something of a back-to-the-future approach to their signature sounds.

When Elastica released ‘Stutter’ as a single that year it received ample airplay but the fact that it was (initially) of limited stock and quite hard to find, meant that hype about the band – and the “scene” – went into overdrive.

That vampish lead singer Justine Frischmann was also reportedly in a relationship with Damon Albarn (of then fledgling band Blur – whose ‘Chemical World’ single of the same year conveniently sat snugly within the confines of the NWONW sub-genre) didn’t harm Elastica in the short-term credibility/publicity stakes.

The romance would turn out to be as fleeting as the scene itself – and I guess in reality the whole NWONW thing was just a figment of some hype merchant’s imagination and just as quickly swamped by Brit-Pop when Oasis and Blur suddenly found themselves bigger than Benhur.

‘Stutter’ was certainly a great choice as a lead-off single, a brilliant two-and-a-bit minute slice of pure velocity – thumping percussion, hard-edged bass, buzzsaw guitar, and angsty lyrics. ‘Stutter’ was followed by the Wire-influenced ‘Line Up’, ‘Connection’, and what would turn out to be – in my opinion – the second best track on this album, ‘Waking Up’ (a ditty dedicated to the delights of unemployment).

If I recall correctly, the self-titled album was somewhat belatedly released, perhaps as a consequence of the band not having much material to work with initially. It could be said it rather missed the zeitgeist of the short-lived scene, rendering it more of a follow-up to Elastica’s initial impact rather than a concurrent supplementary release. I’m fairly certain all four singles (listed above) had run their course by the time the album hit the shops (but I could be wrong about that, it’s all a bit of a … erm, blur).

It is nonetheless a pretty decent album, if a little one dimensional at times, even listening to it some 15 years later. The aforementioned Wire influence is huge (and the source of a few accusations of plagiarism at the time), as is that of Gang of Four and several other prominent early 80s post-punkers. The singles represent the stand-outs but few of the 16 tracks compromise on quality and the only surprise is that this is as good as it got when it comes to Elastica.

The band followed this up with an EP that morphed into an album called The Menace (2000), but for all of the initial hype and promise, somewhere along the way Elastica lost crucial momentum, and the self-titled debut now stands as a document of a band that time forgot. They really could’ve (and should’ve) been a contender.  

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