he British music press has got a lot to answer for. At the tail-end of 1999 Terris released their debut EP, a four-song electric-shock called The Time Is Now. The press loved it, immediately labelling them The Best New Band Ever. Terris themselves obliged with the kind of rent-a-quote "everything else is shit" soundbites that nascent careers are made of. Sure enough, NME stuck them on the cover at the start of 2000 just as they embarked on a tour of the UK that saw them blast joint headliners Coldplay offstage every night. Since then, however, the two bands’ fortunes could not have been more different, because while Coldplay quickly released a debut album that the post-Travis soft-rock loving public lapped up like ambrosia, Terris quietly self-destructed.
Live they were awesome, a furious, psychedelic explosion low on tunes but high on volume, a mystical punk maelstrom somewhere between early Verve and even earlier Manic Street Preachers. The drummer was a smacked-out Animal from the Muppets, the bassist a fat man pumping irresistible rhythm lines from an analogue synth, the guitarist the most miserable man ever to take to the stage. As for the singer... Gavin Goodwin twisted around the stage, eyes closed and hands flapping like burning angel’s wings, chanting and yelping his prophecies and bitterness like he was exorcising demons from his fragile frame. Teenage girls transfixed by his intensity, sweat rolled from his face till the stage was sodden with his own perspiration.
Terris disappeared for the best part of 12 months after this initial flurry of activity, seeking to get away from the crushing weight of hype and expectation that the press were frantic to lumber them with. Britain was overloaded with bloated rock bands desperate to fill stadiums and have people wave lighters at them, and Terris were going to be the antidote to this, were going to smash the old guard down like The Sex Pistols had all those years ago. But Terris didn’t have a Malcolm McLaren or a Johnny Rotten, they weren’t London scene-makers with the nous and wired charm and luck to ensure their place in history. Terris were provincial Welsh kids from council estates rife with violence, drugs and petty crime, a hopeless wasteland bordering on the underclass. Compared with early tour-mates Coldplay, middle-class fey indie kids with Oxbridge degrees and encouraging parents, they didn’t stand a chance.
Pixies producer Gil Norton was brought in to make sense of Terris’ noise and anger, to try and lend them some degree of character beyond the inverse negatives that constructed them and their songs. And while Learning To Let Go sounds big and intense and angry as hell it’s also hollow and unsubtle, as much because of the songs as the production. Too many times Terris sound like a heavy metal band who’ve heard Happy Mondays and want to be funky, too often their protestations of smashing things old to make things new sounds like the whining of indie kids keen to mark themselves as eclectic and vivacious by sticking loathsome funky-drumming on top of everything. "Shapeshifter" and "Vegetable Days" are half-hearted stabs at electric ballads but they fall far short of their ambitions. The storm of guitars is never fully realised on record as it live, when pummelling volume and colour can overwhelm the senses with deceptive ease. Away from the stage, Gavin Goodwin is just a wordy, shouty and coarse singer who sounds far too close to a young Jon Bon Jovi, spitting over-complicated lyrics, pseudo-profound and faux-intellectual, the frustrated poetry of a lost child with a thesaurus. "Fabricated Lunacy", "Beneath The Belt" and ridiculously overblown album-closer "Deliverance" are the best moments, respectively tuneful, maniacal and fraught, but still too gauche, too clumsy and too misjudged to really make the grade. "Lost October" is the only survivor from the debut EP, mysteriously chosen over the far better "I Am A Bomb", and its messy, characterless sprawl sees it fade into an unmemorable blur along with most of the other songs. This is not the work of new messiahs come to save us.
Needless to say, Learning To Let Go (dreadful title, worse sleeve) sank without trace when it was released early in 2001, and less than a year later Terris split up. No one cared. The official line is, of course, musical differences, the drummer gone off to make electronic music, the other three still working together, forever planning escape somewhere in a dusty Welsh practice room. But looking at the lyrics in the record sleeve, with their recurrent references to spoons and needles and veins, remembering the drummer’s sunken eyes and tallow skin, I wonder if maybe Terris were simply unable to free themselves fully from the heroin-drenched towerblocks where they grew up.