Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves
Saturday Night Sunday Morning
ix.By Seven’s new album came out on Monday. They split up on Tuesday.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Nottingham, 1996. Five men, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, something approaching singing and some grooves, plus, from time to time, some stratospherically fucking dirty noise. And 15-minute opening songs at A&R; showcase gigs. You could call them avant-garde, if you liked, but you’d be missing something. For once here was a guitar band that actually were alternative to something, and not just desperate for cash-in success on the back of Britpop. Sadly, they arrived at just the wrong moment, and despite critical props the public didn’t take much notice when debut album, The Things We Make, came out on Mantra in 1998. It was a damn good record—weird, crawling, unsettling minimalism (“European Me” ), the sound of Britney Spears being stamped on by God perhaps, coupled with angular guitar pop (“For You,” “Candlelight” [number 62 with a bullet in the UK singles chart]) and the occasional moment of glorious post-rock orgasm (“Oh Dear”).
They made another record in 2000, the thrillingly dirty The Closer You Get, in which they totally sold out to the whore of rawk. NME gave it 9/10. It rocks like a bitch throwing a tantrum in a caveman’s house. One song was called “Sawn Off Metallica T-Shirt,” and the ecstatically deranged 21st century punk opener “Eat Junk Become Junk” was about as far from avant-garde minimalism as you can get without being Elton John (not that it sounds anything like Elton, you understand). The grooves were still present though—“Ten Places To Die” and “England And A Broken Radio,” while not as stark as anything from the debut album, were just as beautiful, powerful, and emotionally desolate, the latter probably still the best thing they’ve ever done.
I hate these bio bits at the start of reviews. Let’s do the last four years quickly. 2002 and another album—The Way I Feel Today, more epic and songbased in scope, marginally less psychotic. Spinal Tap-esque revolving bass-player problems. They leave Mantra and release a single on Fierce Panda. In 2004 they form their own label and release 04, their fourth studio album surprisingly, quickly followed by the internet-only Left Luggage At The Peveril Hotel, which is not a b-sides or rarities compilation, despite the title. Chris Olley runs an Eno-cum-Krautrock-cum-electronica sideproject called Twelve. By this point Six.By Seven are a three-piece with a low profile.
And then I kind of assumed they’d faded away.
Until a month or so ago, when Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves landed on my doormat. After loving them intensely for three months in the winter of 1998/99, I’d pretty much ignored them ever since, which was perhaps silly. Revisiting The Closer You Get today makes it seem like an obviously great record that I missed through disinterest at the time (even though I bought it on the day of release), but the odds-and-sods approach to releasing material since The Way I Feel Today had seemed slapdash and unprofessional. I wasn’t hoping for much.
But Artists… is a bloody good record of brooding, grooving rock, at least the equal of their last two records. At times its simple, crashing riffs and hazily epic choruses seem like the kind of thing Oasis should be doing instead of AOR shite like “Lyla” (I was always in favour of “Columbia” over “Wonderwall”), but then you think about it and realise that Noel Gallagher was never this arch or creative. There’s a bubbling electronic undercurrent here that Oasis could never muster nor master, subdued feedback squalls and oscillating pulses guiding momentum in the absence of a bass player (04 having featured overdubbed bass), making for a tightly-wound album that maintains a sense of raw, primal energy in the face of its partly artificial construction, the aesthetic equally ragged and pre-judged, both a drone and a thrash.
But now Artists… can only ever be viewed as the album Six.By Seven released the day before they split up, and as such every song here is going to be burdened with a weight of pathos (or bathos). But the truth is that Six.By Seven were always miserable even at their most ecstatic, that every song from their first to their last sounded as if they were on the verge of splitting up. The refrain of the opening track on their debut album contained the lines “A quiet life / With my wife / Is all I need / For goodness sake”; their future was never rosy.
The anthemic one-two sucker-punch brace of songs that open Artists… is far more energised and focused than anything on a band’s final album has the right to be (listen to Kingsize by The Boo Radleys again for an example of a once great band totally run out of energy and time). Album centrepiece “Stara Paris Rescued Me,” somehow weightless despite (or maybe because of) the darkness and sheen of grime that surrounds it, is about the best thing they’ve produced since The Closer You Get, while “Let’s Throw Some Mud At The Wall” is as angry and concise and spitting as they’ve ever been. A self-released album of only nine songs that comes less than a year after their previous might smack of makeweight or lack of quality control from anyone else, but Artists… is as good as any other Six.By Seven album.
But the really sad thing about this is that Six.By Seven absolutely fucking slay so many other bands comprising young men with black leather jackets and noisy guitars. Their contemporaries, although higher profile, simply don’t match up. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club? Fuck off, you posing pansies. Cooper Temple Clause? Too much hair “product.” Six.By Seven were always darker, uglier, more committed. Better. And now they’re gone. Oh well.