It’s Beyond Our Control
hey once toured with Coldplay, you know. And appeared on the cover of the New Musical Express. Their 1999 debut long-player Bon Chic Bon Genre was a genuinely idiosyncratic oddity— though in a relatively similar vein to skunk-rockers the Regular Fries and Lo-Fidelity Allstars—crossing Mondays grooves with Gallagher sneer, all topped with loony front man Pete Voss’ stream-of-consciousness wordplay. At least half of it sounded like one of the decade’s silliest records—indie-dance’s very own Spinal Tap, complete with rickety drumming and pretentious blather. The group liked to combine their love of extended guitar wig-outs, cycling and A Clockwork Orange, a mixture that repelled more than it intrigued.
Amid the nonsense, though, there were a handful of dazzlingly accomplished and confident tracks. The insidious grooves on “Sauntry Sly Chic” and “To Lose la Trek” showed that the early buzz around the band was not without precedent.
The album’s reviews were mixed, but the public refused to distinguish between the group’s strengths and weaknesses—instead opting to ignore Campag altogether. The band disappeared (seemingly without a trace)—abandoned even by their initially enthusiastic followers, joining the likes of Terris and Gay Dad on the scrap heap.
Why would anyone release a Campag Velocet record at this point in time? They were a joke band whose punch line had been delivered at the start of the decade. Do we really need a second attempt? Regardless of whether we want or need a follow-up, it has arrived. And, surprise, it’s excellent. Of course there is not going to be great public interest in this record, but those who care enough to listen again will be pleasantly surprised. The group is making the most of their second chance—the silliness is kept to a minimum, and there is a tightness (particularly in the rhythm section) that was absent the first time out.
A cursory listen to opener “Instinct-Tension” will (hopefully) be enough to convince skeptics that Campag mean business. A squealing burst of garage rock, Voss’ half-rapping, half-singing is more focused and deadpan than before, yet retains a distinct comic quality. A storming start, but the group manages to keep the momentum going throughout.
Highlights come thick and fast. “Motown Clic” finds Voss in uncharacteristically direct and pensive lyrical form (“I’ve been around / Knocked down / Now I’m back again”) over a melancholy guitar figure. Comeback single “Vindictive Disco” is bracingly melodic—some sweet harmonies on the chorus, counter-pointed by Voss’ gruff delivery. “Metro Boulot Dodo” is charming and elegant—a mid-paced groove focused around a relaxed guitar riff. The only cringe-worthy moment, in fact, comes courtesy of “Me And A Foe”s naff wordplay (“Are we moronic? / Or are we more on it?”).
But it’s a minor blip. Campag’s return is a triumph, and it’s surprising how good it is to have them back. If Chris Martin is eager to perform more charitable acts, he should bring these boys back on tour with him. Campag live at Wembley—it may happen yet.
Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2004-08-05