The third release on John Peel’s Dandelion imprint was this ambitious art-rock outing from a collective of one-time Exeter University students whose classical instrumentation, archaic literary themes and erratic time signatures rendered them too weird for mainstream notice, despite light shows and pretty stage dancers. Their debut heavily features Vivienne McAuliffe’s precise operatic vocals enveloped by staccato Indian-tinged arrangements. The hard rock Shakespeare adaptation is an amusing, if overwrought, novelty, with some lovely medieval vocal passages, but like the rest of the disk, gears shift before one can get comfortable. Live, with the visual treats of twirling girls, swirling oils and psychedelic costumes, these elaborate set pieces might have held the audience’s interest, but on record, something’s missing.
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Sex Clark 5 Strum & Drum! (Records to Russia, 1987/ Beehive Rebellion, 1996)
Hailing from Huntsville, Alabamaâ€”the place where Wernher von Braun traded rocketry know-how for immunity, but perhaps more significantly birthplace of â€œEight Miles Highâ€â€”these lo-fi pop wunderkinder had one of the eightiesâ€™ great lost discs in Strum & Drum! Their name is one of the broad strokes forming a sly humored sensibility, this from a group also given to titling a noisy piss-take â€œGet Back Yoko,â€ and producing an electronic loop of the phrase â€œGirls of Somalia,â€ apparently a 5th dimensional play on the Beach Boysâ€™ celebrations of regional pulchritude. But these are the oddities on a disc thatâ€™s 95% ebullient, near-perfect Beatlesque pop, delivered with careless glee all but unheard of in the power pop ghetto. None of singer/guitarist James Butlerâ€™s twenty songs clocks in above 2:43, giving them the opportunity to charm without boring. SC5 leaves you wanting more, but with the next unforgettable melody never far away. Take â€œDetention Girls,â€ a reductive micro opera with a cheerleaderâ€™s chant giving the if-you-blinked-you-missed-it bridge that extra jolt sending the whole marvelous package into sugary hyperdrive. â€œModern Fixâ€ is at once daffy and poignant. The powerfully delivered line â€œWhy donâ€™t we take all our gimmicks, put â€˜em all in one box/ And trade â€˜em for a bag of tube socks?â€ seems (and is) absurd on its face, but in context itâ€™s the possibly final plea of a lover trying to make a rough love work. â€œValerieâ€â€™s singsong melody seems somehow backwards, an exquisite medieval meander fused with a sweetness straight out of the McCartney songbook. Lightning-paced â€œAlaiâ€ is blessed with one of those hooks that wonâ€™t quit, though what the â€œalai-lai-lai-laiâ€ the band is on about may never be revealed. Sometimes bassist Joy Johnson sings in the sweet, slightly flat voice of a serious little kid, but mostly Butler leads the show, mouth racing to keep up with the shambling, ecstatic rush of his band. These dizzy, precise little tunes are like musical meringues, each one a brilliant gem of an idea whipped to soft, gooey peaks. Look for the out-of-print 1996 CD reissue that includes the magical early â€œNeita Grew Up Last Nightâ€ EP. (Kim Cooper, from the book Lost in the Grooves)