There once was a time when UK alternative pop
looked set to rule the airwaves. A transatlantic triumph no
less. The early days of MTV, the British invasion (as they
called it) where bands as obscure (or just plain daft) as A
Flock of Seagulls, The Fixx, and Modern English became household
names in the States. Sweeping synthesizers and tinny, bass-shy
production were the order of the day. Okay I'll admit, even
back in 1982, we somehow intuitively knew that the hairstyles
and suits were beyond preposterous, but man they had some tunes
didn't they? We never knew how good we had it 'til we lost
it - 'til soft rock came and made MTV its own.
These days, post-Libertines British music appetites seem sated
by an endless procession of half-arsed pub-rock and faux regional
accents. There have been various attempts to revisit the early
80s on both sides of the pond, most notably from New Yorkers
(I guess everything is revisited at some point or other?) The
mistake most commonly made by the latest crop of 80s revivalists
is in assuming everything good about that era was doom-laden.
Au contraire. Bands like The Sound, Echo and the Bunnymen,
and the daddies of the lot, Joy
Division, had songs - brave
hooks and unashamed anthems. Thankfully, The Mary Onettes,
like compatriots The
Search, have grasped this fact. Shiny
suits and asymmetric haircuts may be surplus to requirement,
but a triumphant chorus is nothing to be scared of.
The album begins with the positively breezy Pleasure Songs – a kind of 60s meets 80s, melodic sing-along. Here the mood is distinctly early Creation Records or even Pale Fountains. Then we're onto Lost, the jewel in The Mary Onettes crown. This is the one. This is the song guaranteed to ensure that every write-up of these Swedes will include the words "majestic" and "sweeping". "There's nothing I can do to heal you," coos a gossamer vocal, and I'm instantly recalling the classic Melt With You by the aforementioned Modern English. Yet whisper it, but I think Lost could be the better song of the two? You decide.
At times, yes, these Swedes wear their influences a little too proudly. Most blatantly The Laughter drifts a little too close to The Cure's Funeral Party to allow the complete comfort of Robert Smith's lawyers. I don't want to dwell on this. The Mary Onettes will have to develop a thick skin and face down plenty more of this. My own minor criticisms might center on a slight lack of variety. There is only so much fizzing synth-pop even the Spaceman can palate. Thank goodness then for the JAMC-ish Explosions, and for Still which sounds bizarrely but agreeably like Tears for Fears covering Cloudbusting.
Oh it's good though. However you dissect them, The Many Onettes remain quite
lovely and their wonderful debut belies the difficulties the band endured trying
to make it. Cynics should be marched under the guillotine forthwith. The Mary
Onettes are worth a hundred Babyshambles...
And they're getting better all the time.