The Ordinary Boys
Over the Counter Culture
n this strange scene with no name that we’re in the middle of at the moment, one of the central themes is shameless unoriginality—it’s a kind of fancy dress party with every band coming as their favourite artist from the past. So Interpol enter as Joy Division, Brodie Dalle sports a Courtney Love wig and Jet have rummaged through Iggy Pop’s old dressing-up box. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—not when exciting bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand take vintage threads and do Fairy Godmother-like acts of magic on them. The trouble occurs when latecomers to the party run out of greats to emulate. So here are The Ordinary Boys, hoping to make a grand entrance, and who are they dressed as?
Of course, they don’t want to sound like Shed Seven—they want to be like The Jam or Morrissey, even naming themselves after a song from Moz’s debut solo album. Still, it could be worse—they could have come dressed as Menswear—another band The Ordinaries, as I like to think of them, remind me of, mainly because of their position in the music scene. During Britpop, Menswear were in exactly the same situation as The Ordinaries are now—cashing in on fashion, getting positive write-ups from the NME and picking up the crumbs the big boys toss down from the table. Menswear disappeared quickly. But can the Ordinaries transform themselves into something more? Can they adapt and survive?
They’ve certainly got youth on their side. And confidence. Despite the name, these Boys think they’re pretty special. “Let’s see…what can we be now? That hasn’t been done before?” Preston sings on the opening title track. So they strive for originality; they really want to say something—which is refreshing. They’ve got energy too. Over the Counterculture surges along at a furious pace—these songs were made for moshing—and Preston is clearly very angry about stuff. Very annoyed indeed. Once could even say he’s peeved. What’s rattled this young man’s cage? Well, the media, for a start, especially those glossy magazines. He’s pretty miffed about consumerism too. Shops. He doesn’t like shops much. Worst of all though, are people who go to work in offices and spend their days staring at “computer screens and fax machines”. They’re like robots, or maybe monkeys. They work 9 to 5, and Preston is quite clearly terrified of leading such a mundane life, so it’s lucky he’s in a band. Oh, maybe I’m being harsh here, but it’s hard not to because the Ordinaries are so frustrating. There’s such a big gap between their ambition and what they actually achieve.
Because although Preston is angry and seems clever in his interviews, he hasn’t found anything interesting to rail against apart from the aforementioned banal topics. Is anger enough if you don’t have a target? His heroes, Morrissey and Weller, became heroes because they were so articulate and good at hitting their targets. Preston just hectors boring people without saying anything particularly interesting. His voice is actually very good for hectoring, but it lacks flexibility, and at times he even sounds like Martin Rossiter from Gene, another Morrissey impersonator.
There’s one song on Over the Counterculture where it all comes together: “Seaside” is brilliant—three and a half minutes that say more than the rest of the album put together, lyrically and musically. Preston implores a friend who’s stuck in the office to join him on a day out by the sea. It’s a classic pop song with fabulous trumpets. This song alone suggests that the Ordinaries could make a great album one day. It’s such a shame the rest of the album is so average. Most of the songs are identikit, chugging along at the same pace, with two exceptions: a hideous ska monstrosity, “Little Bitch”, which is as ugly as its title; and “Just a Song”, a so-so slow “number” in which the Boys sit down for a nice cup of tea.
If Preston can take his anger and couple it to some real insight, along with a few new musical tricks—or maybe just write some more good pop songs like “Seaside”—then the Ordinary Boys might last and make an extraordinary second album. At the very least, they need to find some clothes of their own. If that doesn’t happen, they’ll quickly outstay their welcome. Again, just like Shed Seven.
Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-09-28