Various Artists
Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1
Mute
2004
B+



ah, the eighties. When men were men, women were also quite manly—remember shoulder pads and Margaret Thatcher?—and indie was indie. None of this “yeah, we’re on a major label but we’re, like, indie in attitude” nonsense. Most of the bands on Indiepop 1, a bumper compilation from the people who spend their days serving the most indie of customers, never got anywhere near a major label and neither did they want to. These were the days of the independent chart, when hundreds—or even thousands—of anorak and ankle sock-clad boys and girls did everything they could to pretend they weren’t living in the decade of consumerism and built their own movement based around the fetishisation of 7-inch singles and a love of two-minute pop songs. And then the whole came to a head in 1986 when the NME gave away its C86 cassette and ruined everything. Tsk, don’t they always?

These are the songs that soundtracked a decade spent living in squats on the dole in London or Glasgow, the songs that Belle and Sebastian imbibed with their mother’s milk. Most of these bands were so obscure that even their own mums hadn’t heard of them, but there are a few big-hitters here. There’s a pre-Isn’t Anything curio from My Bloody Valentine, “Paint a Rainbow”, and the compilation opens with “All Fall Down” from the days before Primal Scream discovered dance. Speaking of Bobby Gillespie, he pops up on the Jesus and Mary’s Chain classic “You Trip Me Up” too, a reminder of what a brilliant album Psychocandy was.

If you’re still wondering what these songs actually sound like, well, there’s a wide variety in these 46 tracks, but in general think sixties pop, cheaply-recorded with fey vocals and tons of humour. Some of these bands, like Felt, should have been massive—their “Penelope Tree” is awesome and almost justifies the existence of this compilation on its own. It’s made me want to rush out and buy their entire back catalogue. “Gifted”, a cover of an old soul song by Katrina and V-Twin is pretty lovely too.

Another standout track is The Pooh Sticks’ “I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well”, which pretty much sums up the entire scene in that title alone, while there’s some more unashamed pop from the Darling Buds who were part of the ‘blonde’ movement (I’m not making this up) along with the Primitives and Birdland at the end of the eighties. And Franz Ferdinand fans will be interested to hear how much their faves have been influenced by Josef K.

There are a few stinkers here. Dan Treacy from the Television Personalities must be the worst singer of his generation. He’s in prison now—for vocal crimes, possibly—but is reportedly planning a comeback. Be very afraid. Pop Will Eat Itself were rubbish before they discovered sampling (and some might say they were rubbish then too). Then there’s Bis, whose squeaky, icky vocals make me want to scweam and scweam until I’m sick. They were the first unsigned band to appear on Top of the Pops, don’t you know. And the last—yeah, they had to ruin it for everyone else.

The whole thing is lovingly packaged, with several essays by the compilers, including egomaniac The Legend! and the people behind the much-maligned Sarah Records. Each song has a little explanation of why it’s so great, and the list of those that got away is interesting too: Orange Juice, the Mighty Lemon Drops, Fuzzbox, and Belle & Sebastian, who won’t allow songs they’ve already released to appear on compilations. Now that’s what I call indie. Over its entire length, some of the songs on this album do tend to blur together, but overall it’s a fantastic souvenir of a time before the Stone Roses came along and made it okay to want to sell lots of records. And if you can’t find ten or twelve songs you like on here then you can’t think much of pop music. Personally, I can’t wait for Indiepop 2.



Reviewed by: Mark Edwards
Reviewed on: 2004-10-18
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