Nothing helps a record gain a little extra frisson, perhaps some extra purchase in the long run, more than the sense that there’s some deep-seated reason that you should dislike it, but you just can’t help yourself.
As I recall, I was heavily prepared to find against Elastica. The press at the time did a pretty good job of painting Justine Frischmann as a hanger-on with pretensions. When they weren’t doing that, in what in retrospect was a shocking display of route-one sexism, they were focusing on the band’s magpie tendencies. Where had they nicked this riff from, and whither this drum part? They were classic talentless bandwagon jumpers, surely?
By about the third time I heard ‘Stutter’, none of that mattered. Freewheeling spiky punk pop, wantonly brief and sharp enough to slip between your ribs and cut deep where it hurts. Also, and this may help some, sometimes assumed to be about the drunken impotence of one of the great totems of the scene we were all supposed to be looking up to. It’s a giddy, cocky rush of pure joyful adrenaline described memorably by Spin magazine as “deliver[ing] four brilliant pop songs”. After this, they could be forgiven almost anything. That they followed with the insistent insouciance of ‘Line Up’ and the bopping swagger of ‘Connection’ seemed almost miraculous.
All of which generated enough excitement that even a straight-laced kiddo like me could giddily look past things that would have turned me off alchemists of lesser stripe. An album full of singles, B-sides and stuff we’ve heard before? No problem, I’m happy to have it all in one place. Band being sued by Wire and The Stranglers? Ah well. Who cares when the songs are this damned good?
This point is worth dwelling on before dismissing.
Firstly, fair enough. If you were, or indeed are, Colin Newman or Jean Jacques Burnel and you heard a new band blatantly lifting ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ or ‘No More Heroes’ then you might well dash off a stiff rejoinder of a legal nature. And you would be well within your rights.
Otherwise, forget it. Lifting, appropriating and adapting other works is the essence of pop art and pop music, and Elastica did it with such élan that all we could do was fight to surpress our grins.
QED: ‘Vaseline’, an 80 second track which pares Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’ down to its essence and then smacks you in the face with it, twice. It’s a fabulous piece of work. 6 years later Soulwax and Richard X chums were making merry with mash-ups and nowadays it’s impossible to imagine pop without the joyful liberating of old songs in the service of the new. Elastica led the way.
Also, and here I’ll rest, those reference points are exquisite, especially at a time when were were otherwise being encouraged to revere Lennon at his most bloated or anything with a Union Jack slapped unironically across its rickenbacker. If a hundred people went back to discover ‘Pink Flag’ as a result of ‘Connection’ then good job Elastica, say I. If I had to choose between bands reappropriating Wire and bands trying to be Status Quo, I know which way I’d be heading. In fact, I did have to, and I did.
Listening back now, what comes through with full force is the bristling life and energy of this debut album. By contemporary standards it’s nowhere near as arch and contrived, as knowing and detached, as you might expect or remember. It’s a killer, front to back, armed to the teeth with glinting choruses, razor-sharp guitar angles and enough attitude and disregard for safety to make you fear for what it might do next.
Here’s another way it stands in marked contrast both to its contemporaries of the time and to those who have followed. Elastica understood the power of brevity. Their songs do what they have it in them to do, with bags of energy, and then they STOP. Take ‘Annie’, a belter packed with pogo power and head-banging brio. It zings along for 1min 14seconds and then, its business done, it just ends. Where most other bands would be searching for a bridge to take them back to a point where they could run through the whole thing again. Elastica pull the plug and leave an electric aftertaste crackling around the room.
On its release in 1995 ‘Elastica’ became the fastest selling debut album since ‘Definitely Maybe’ and kept that rather niche honour for a further ten years, a demonstration of just how connected the worlds of pop, art and spectacle were with what people were actually anticipating and buying. Almost twenty years later it still stands up tall.
To my mind there were two truly great britpop records, and this is one of them. And tough luck, Albarn and Anderson. Your ‘hanger on’ made the list comfortably ahead of either of you.
Nick listened: Em brought this into our record collection when we moved in together, too. Great songs, great attitude, great production. Yes, it’s ‘derivative’, but I can’t name much music which isn’t. I can, however, name a lot which isn’t as good as this.
Tom listened: I have never considered Elastica as contenders and, as a result, I was pleasantly surprised by their debut which was punchy and sharp. But whilst I can see why Rob would suggest this to be one of the top two Britpop albums (I’m guessing Different Class would be the other one), for me, the best albums by Blur, Supergrass and (if they are can be ‘genrefied’ as Britpop) Super Furry Animals all seemed to have a certain something (playfulness perhaps, identity maybe) that Elastica seemed – on a first listen – to lack. Enjoyable enough though!