1983 / 2006
he mere idea of the Meteors was far more compelling than anything the group ever committed to vinyl.
Intent on burying the living with spadefuls of psychobilly—a genre that grotesquely hitches American rockabilly with 1970s punk—the South Londoners were staunchly apolitical during an era of rampant pop politicking. They also exhibited a tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek fetish for B-grade horror flicks, black magic, and ‘50s/’60s trash culture—nasty people doing nasty things to other nasty people.
Despite a predilection for rockabilly, the Meteors weren’t singing about bopping with their baby. They were singing about eating babies. Ghoulish, with a touch of camp—like Murnau’s hunched, shadowed form of a celluloid Nosferatu creeping up that set of stairs. This was the Meteors.
Naturally, countless came to the trough to feed, giving the band its very own army of the living dead: yellow-quiffed zombies “wrecking” in leather jackets and indulging in spittle-flying chants of “OTMAPP!” (“Only the Meteors are pure psychobilly!” if you’re scoring at home.)
In 1982, two-thirds of the original lineup, bassist Nigel Lewis and drummer Mark Robertson, finally grew tired of the cult-band circus and departed to form the Escalators. Free from the Meteors’ Wes-Craven-meets-Carl-Perkins aesthetic, Lewis, Robertson, bassist Bart Coles, and infrequent vocalist Woodie blended neo-psychedelia with pop punk and crafted one of the early ‘80s lost gems, Moving Staircases.
A shine-little-guitar-lines-glimmer approach (think the Psychedelic Furs’ eponymous debut), a driving rhythm section, and plenty of brain-worming hooks highlight the output. Unfortunately, Moving Staircases—reissued as part of Ace Records’ Hip Pocket series—is a one-off, as the Escalators were a mere layover on the way to Lewis and Robertson’s longer running Tall Boys.
In “Dog Eats Robot,” one of the album’s top-flight tracks, the skittering melody evokes an image of pebbles bouncing across jackhammered asphalt. Lewis only adds to the song’s twitchy tension by rapidly repeating the three-word chorus. This number and the ensuing “Eskimo Rock” find the Escalators influenced by Scottish punk legends the Rezillos, hammering out animated two-minute punk ditties, eschewing the Meteors’ gallows humor for silly lyrical piffle: “His body's turned blue from his nose to his feet / Headache and flu, he feels more dead than alive / He takes no pills because the sub-zero jives.”
“Flanders Field” brings a touch of gravity: With machine guns ack-acking in the background, Lewis coolly recites the World War I poem “In Flanders Field” over a baleful sounding melody. His disjointed vocals leave the listener picturing him as an observant veteran returning to Flanders decades later, red corn poppy pinned to lapel.
“Slumberland” and “Starstruck” are rescued from a gloomy demise thanks to glinty, psychedelic helpings of guitar, while “Video Club” continues the Escalators’ exploration of pop punk: glassy-eyed consumerism detailed over spidery melodies and elastic bass. Only the instrumental “The Camden Crawl” derogates from the Escalators’ established template, hinting at earlier dalliances with its flecks of rockabilly.
The feting of influences, however, is a tad shameless. “Cut Up” is pure Joy Division from its barbed punk days: a torrent of drums, brooding guitar, and Lewis belting out watered-down Ian Curtis missives: “I do my best / To get back in the race / But I live my life in darkness / I don’t want to show my face.” “Monday” is a near carbon copy of The Skids’ “Of One Skin.”
All its tiny faults aside, Moving Staircases is a welcome inclusion to what was U.K. post-punk’s final chapter—it’s the shimmering, engaging result of two artists shedding the shackles of an oftentimes prosaic genre. Even them yellow-quiffed zombies would have to agree.
Reviewed by: Ryan Foley
Reviewed on: 2007-01-03