Sympathetic Stupid

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Orange Juice: The Glasgow School

It's important for my street cred that I buy something that Pitchfork reviews, at least one a week. Once a fortnight at the outside. After all, if I don't know who Wolf Parade are before their first album is released, then the world must have passed me by. (No, don't even mention PopMatters.)

And any review that even peripherally mentions Belle and Sebastian is guaranteed to get my attention. So I bought the beautifully packaged The Glasgow School by short-lived Scottish post-punk band Orange Juice. I'm not sure exactly what qualifies as post-punk, but these guys were recording mainly in 80/81, and they call themselves post-punk.

(I actually just saw a doco at MIFF on the Sheffield Scene. This was going on in Sheffield around the same time, producing more or less talented bands like The Human League, Heaven 17, ABC and Cabaret Voltaire. And Def Leppard. And Pulp, later. This gave a good background to the time; punk dying, music springing back up in its wake. So I guess that's post-punk.)

They definitely have my most recognisable characteristic of post-punk; barely musical vocals. I'm a fan of adventurous, musical voices, whether it's Glenn from Augie March or Bjork or Stuart from Belle and Sebastian or Mike Patton. The boys from Orange Juice have half-spoken, almost-monotonal, low-timbred styles, and the lyrics have lines where the metre doesn't quite add up. 'Melodramatics' squeezed down to 'meldramtics' is one I just heard. I found this off-putting. At first.

But there's some great tracks on here. Consolation Prize is my favourite at the moment. I like the line: 'I'll be your consolation prize although I know... I'll never be man enough for you'. Seems somewhat pertinent right now. Not to mention Lovesick, Poor Old Soul, um, I Don't Care...

This makes the band sound much more early Belle and Sebastian than they are. While early B&S is decidedly melancholy, the feel of Orange Juice is in fact a long way from that. It's mostly upbeat and, if not quite happy, at least optimistic. Poor Old Soul is a great track which apparently was a single but didn't quite hit the big time. Three Cheers For Our Side changes up to a funky chorus backed with a choir. Wan Light, belying the slightly depressing title and refrain 'Is this what life is all about?', comes away with a lively feel, similar almost to mid-eighties New Romantic. This is in 81, remember. Blokes On 45 has a great rhythm section, electronic hand-claps and a big bassline, under some funky rhythm guitar work.

As the booklet says, 'Orange Juice's Big Idea was to somehow try to combine any disparate influence we felt like embracing...'. From this distance I've got no way to know whether they were actually pioneers. It stands up pretty well to the test of time, though.