he super group is a curious beast, one whose evolution has taken some rather baffling turns. Once upon a time it was all so simple. You had Peter Frampton, Lenny Bruce, and Ginger Baker, who were all respectively rather good at the whole making records lark that had become popular in the sixties so they got together and made some more records, they called themselves Cream because they were the “cream” of the music scene. It was a concept that people seemed to like. It had the same thrilling novelty as those comic books where Batman and Superman team up. Now we have Brakes, Brighton’s (er, the English San Francisco?) first indie super group, consisting of both members of The Electric Soft Parade, one of British Sea Power, and one of The Tenderfoot. Even the indie prefix seems stretched here; in what crazy scene would a member of perennial Brighton support act The Tenderfoot be considered the cream of anything?
These concerns colour this record, this is a band quite clearly obsessed with its own parochial milieu. Sure, on “Cheney” they tackle global politics with eight seconds of shouting the title and an order to “Stop being such a dick,” but more than any other release of the last year, this album is as perfect an argument for why what they call indie is the most loved and most reviled of genres. This is indie in the most traditional sense; it’s on an independent label, and it’s by people who are part of a scene for others on the scene who will get all the cutely localised references. It begins with an ascending riff that roars like the insurrectionary clarion of “Anarchy in The UK” devoid of menace, then the rhythm section snaps to life and it’s “Virginia Plain” as performed by The Pixies. The song is called “Ring a Ding Ding.” It’s one minute and thirty-five seconds of babble about “monkey macaroni” and giving blood. It’s frenzied, packing in the drama of a far longer song into its brief burst, but oddly laid back; unlike the current spate of British guitar music it forsakes poise or comment for sheer rush.
Unfortunately there is precious little else here that packs the same recklessly meaningless buzz of the opener. Much time is taken up with diversions into a roughly figured approximation of country rock. One had always hoped British Sea Power would some day helm a voyage into British folk music, musically backing up their lost England rhetoric. This oh so American sound seems a very odd tangent, maybe it’s a cathartic release of BSP’s suffocating Englishness. In any case, it’s refreshing to encounter a British guitar group with a taste or perhaps simply an ability to make each song not sound exactly the same as the last one. They even try “dance”; on “All Nite Disco Party” they seem to pastiche the DFA, a song which manages the impressive feat of sounding even more uptight than James Murphy himself. Unfortunately their dalliances with variety are undermined by lead singer Eamon Hamilton’s reedy whine of a voice. It’s a rather irritating sound when it’s not expressing anything that doesn’t require lashings of sarcasm and disdain.
Luckily sarcasm and disdain are two of the record’s abiding themes. The titles of “What's In It For Me?” and “I Can't Stand to Stand Beside You” alone scream with the snotty impotent defiance that sometimes is known as punk. For many scenes, musical or otherwise, what one is against often becomes a lot more important than what one actually is in favour of. Witness the Kaiser Chiefs and their boisterous denunciations of modern youth culture; so binge drinking in skimpy clothes is bad, great, but what’s the alternative? Binge drinking in a pork pie hat? The Brakes barely bother with the world outside the confines of their scene, but the spite with which they attack aspects of it is breathtaking. “Heard About Your Band” is the masterstroke, depicting a “coked up arsehole” who questions why they bother when they are only earning 10 grand p.a. Basically it’s Blur’s “Charmless Man” with added amusing references to Electrelane and other indie “celebrities”; terrific fun if you get the joke, tiresome if you don’t. Bizarrely the album chooses mainly to attack the hangers on rather than take aim at the more pressing concerns of British rock music’s current vapidity, but the boys still need to play Carlos Barat’s club night; slagging off their gak-fuelled contemporaries rather than the fans may be a bit too dangerous.
On a couple of occasions the group show a bit of heart, most notably on a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sometimes Always,” where the female part originally performed by Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval is taken by the Pipettes. The mix of male / female vocal interplay is delightful and certainly gives an impression of the playfulness and communality that “indie” scenes can be seen to provide. This is not a great album—it is messy, incoherent, and frustratingly narrowly focused—but it doesn’t set out to be great. Indie was never about being great. The Fall, Talulah Gosh, Beat Happening; so many of the original indie stalwarts were messy, incoherent, and parochial, but that was the point. The greatness of indie is its gift in establishing a sense of community between listeners, those in on the “joke”; unfortunately, this often seems to negate the impetus to make great pop music. It’s a deft routine and it’s only funny if you already know the punch line.