Orange Juice - You Can
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Amidst the current wave of early-‘80s reissues, one would think that early Orange Juice recordings will finally get their due—not only as one of the best bodies of work from their era, but among the most resonant in indie history.
The flagship of Glasgow’s influential Postcard Records, Orange Juice—led by chief singer and songwriter Edwyn Collins, James Kirk, and Josef K’s Malcom Ross—have even been tagged as the first indie band. Whether that is true, or even relevant, they did traverse the gap between post-punk and the Smiths, were an arguable influence on New Romanticism, and are among the spiritual fathers of indie pop.
They were fortunate enough to avoid the pitfalls that befall most current Indie poppers. They didn’t only wear their bruised hearts on their sleeves, but humor as well; were intelligent but not overly clever; sung of heartbreak, heartache, and longing without wallowing or sounding wispy or shrinking; and were fey and effete without being twee.The biggest difference between Orange Juice and their contemporaries and followers is that, removed from the frontlines of New York City’s CBGB and Studio 54, they fetishized each in equal measure. Amidst the melodrama and miserablism of Liverpool post-punk; the aggression, one-chord wonder, and overt masculinity of London punk; and the mechaniks of Sheffield’s burgeoning industrial blend of technology and DIY spirit, Orange Juice explored the interchange of disco and punk. They also infused Stax and Atlantic Soul into their sound without pastiche and connected those influences to disco thanks to chunky basslines that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Chic or Stevie Wonder record.
The band, together in different forms since 1976, released four urgent, shambolic singles on Postcard in 1980 and 1981 that combined their unique post-punk meets post-disco shuffle with the outsider literalism of fellow Scot Vic Godard. (Those recordings were later collected on the nearly impossible-to-find, out-of-print “Heather’s On Fire.”) Orange Juice then signed with Polydor and recorded You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. In the process, this potentially “first-ever indie band” became the first band to wrangle a set of indie (rather than punk) fans, abandoning the precious world of pristine 7´´’s for the studio money and promotional experience of a major label. (They were then the first to be burned by the process when a cover of Al Green’s “L.O.V.E. Love”—far from the frenetic, winking faux amateurism and charm of their early seven-inches—was selected by the label to be their fifth single.)
The album was ever more maligned when a demo version of the record— closer to the sound of those early singles—titled Ostrich Churchyard was released by Postcard. Those two hard-to-find albums are as much magic and myth, but so, too, is this record.
Indie before the rules of the willful elitism, pretension is about the last thing on Collins’ mind. Instead these is a self-deprecating paeans to unrequited love. Collins “wants to take the pleasure with the pain” but he seems to have no choice—the pain in his life and songs is a given, it’s the pleasure he seeks. As he does, listeners are treated to his wit, charm, and melody. He “learns to laugh at himself” as he wears fringe like Roger McGuinn, laughs at his reflection in an arcade window, and isn’t afraid to say he’s close to tears over sharp, chugging Velvets guitar.
Far from crying at their faults, the droll Orange Juice flaunt them. “Leapt onstage, though we couldn’t play / Furthermore, we had nothing to say” they admit of their early career and “Only my dreams / Can satisfy the real beat of my heart” Collins laments of loving from afar.
For too long, would-be fans have had to love this record from afar as well. The late-1990s UK reissue of this record (as well as a couple of much lesser-quality subsequent releases), which added two extra tracks, went a little way toward rectifying the continual slight of one of post-punk’s marvel. Yet, Orange Juice sadly remain nestled alongside Vic Godard and the Subway Sect and the Go-Betweens in that era’s troika of underestimated, singular gems. Hopefully, Orange Juice’s genius won’t remain hidden forever.
By: Scott Plagenhoef
Published on: 2003-09-01