Tuesday, September 25, 2007

THE DARLING BUDS, Fulham Greyhound, London
Melody Maker, 1988

Accusations of sexism* - from the people who tried to tell
us Patsy Kensit deserved more than a shudder and a soft, sad
shake of the head - are rich, but I'll rise to them, if only
to make a point or two. Women In Pop was never a carte
blanche to be asinine or uninteresting. There are women-in-
pop - Kristen Hersh, Mimi Goese, Sinead O'Connor, Jane
Siberry, Bjork - who are worked up, who have something to
work out of themselves. And there are those - the nouveau
power pop/xeroxide blonde axis - who faff around, hide behind
outmoded imagery drawn from obsolete pop models. If you want
a pat opposition, it's between dark depths and shiny surfaces
(although the surfaces of the new power pop really aren't
that lustrous, more like the dull gleam of some obsolescent
Sixties synthetic). Between a special kind of unease with
yourself and the world, and being easy-on-the-eye and eager-

When it comes to "identifying" it's never been a
question of gender, but of whether anything is going on in
there. Hersh et al, at their best, are so involving you're
laid low with a kind of traumatic empathy. But I could never
"identify" with an identity as small and sure as Andrea Bud's
(I'm talking about her stage persona - for all I know she may
be a kaleidoscope of contradictions. In which case I wish
she'd share them).

I mean, we're hardly talking glamour, are we? I'm all
for glamour as reinvention of the self (although eclipse of
the self is better), but it's got to be done with a sight
more verve and contrariness. The horror of The Darling Buds
is not that the "sweetness" is constructed, but that the
fabrication is of such a paltry and precedented nature. Some
come-ons are so obvious, they make you cringe. That a few
people find this simpering spectacle 'erotic' I can only
attribute to retarded libido.

Support group Avo 8 work up a nice head of bile in your
reporter, with their seventh hand reductionism, their ghastly
echo of The Tourists, their rewrite of "Crash" ("He'll Slip
Up One Day"), their punk riffola of the same wattage as the
second Pistols album. The hellish spawn of The Prims would
appear to be legion. Then everything is confetti and balloons
as The Darling Buds hit the stage. The band are artisans,
tight, even fierce, within their self-imposed limits, but
everything's over as soon as the girl opens her mouth.

Andrea's cooing, dulcet tones condemn her to trace the
tritest of melodic paths, which in turn demand the worn doggerel
of the lyrics, their lazy reshuffling of the lexicon of luv.
Unlike Kylie Minogue, however, this is a reduction the Buds
have inflicted upon themselves. Vanilla was never my
favourite flavour.

In truth, this was "unpretentious fun". Yeah, that
minisucle. It was un-sultry, and very provincial - which is
to say, neither urban nor pastoral (the two poles in rock
fantasy) but based in that dreary stetch of reality in
between that most of us have to inhabit but few actually want
to see celebrated in rock. My interest is divided equally
between the special agonies of those who have never lived,
and those who have lived to the limits of life. I have no
time for those who have lived a little.

Nonetheless, there are those who argue that we writers
should try to get inside the provincial mindset, rather than
lead it forward. Last week, we were grateful for the
revelation that the Fields Of The Nephilim are wonderful
because of "their paucity of imagination". That may be, but
what's un-wondrous about The Darling Buds is their paucity
full stop, their meagreness in every degree. To hallucinate
"transcendence" in something this stinting and stunted,
involves going through so many intellectual hoops, that
really, boys, you shame us theorists. But in truth, this
doublethink - "they're meant to be crap", "every platitude
contains a truth" etc - seems a rather convoluted route to

But oh, they love to imagine it's the grim grid of
theory that stands between me and the "simple pop thrill",
the "immediacy" of Darling Buds, Transvision Vamp, etc. Arse
about tit, again, chaps. First, comes the gut-level reaction:
a wave of nauseous indifference. Then comes speculation: what
is this deja vu weakness, this aural shandy, and why does it
recur? Then comes theory, and resolve. If the Arsequake
League were the Politburo of Pop, we'd treat The Darling
Buds, and their male equivalents like The Wonderstuff, like
Stalin dealt with the kulaks: uproot them from their dismal
allotments of jangle, and force them at bayonet point into
sampling factories, to forge futurist rock a la Front 242 and
Young Gods, as part of a Five Year Plan for the regeneration
of Britpop. But we're not, so we'll heckle on, and sometimes
stoop to state the bleedin' obvious, steamroller over grapes**.

The gig? Oh, it was crap.


* Champions of "Blonde" (copyright: Chris Roberts) had implied that the Arsequake League's opposition to The Primitives/Transvision Vamp/etc was rooted in masculinist chauvinism

** this reissue dedicated to the great Neil Kulkarni

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