‘Big Black’ in this record’s title refers to the glory of a twelve-inch piece of vinyl, of course, and not to Steve Albini’s thundering industrial rock band. The Groove Farm were thundering, too, but in an altogether more indie-pop fashion. Thunderingly cute and perky. A twelve-inch record being released by an indie-pop band was a rare occurrence, such was the habit of bands involved in that scene for staying true to the seven inch or album formats. Remember, CDs were very rare things at this time, so I presume the extra cost of twelve inch production was a deterrent, unless it was to be used for a full album. I rememember the furore created when Sarah Records broke with tradition and released the Field Mice’s ‘Missing The Moon’ as a twelve inch, after nothing previously but seven inch singles. Quaint times.
The Groove Farm, of course, begat Beatnik Filmstars, who I loved. This record includes the song ‘Baby Blue Marine’, which I first heard on a compilation tape made for me by the kind fellow that used to run a label called Pillarbox Red Records. One side of the tape was named ‘100% flexi-pop explosion’, as I recall, and was made up of – as you may expect – indie-pop tracks recorded from all kinds of flexidisc releases. The wavering, scratchy nature of the recordings only made the songs sound better. ‘Baby Blue Marine’, on that tape, was taken from The Groove Farm’s split flexi with The Sea Urchins – the latter, of course, having the honour of being the first release from Sarah Records. See how all things are connected?
This record includes a cover version of ‘Red Dress’, originally recorded by Alvin Stardust, with whom The Groove Farm seemed to have an ongoing obsession: a later album of theirs, also on Subway Records, was named Alvin is King. Alvin Stardust would, of course, later appear in the very early days of TV teen soap Hollyoaks, as one of the original owners of the Dog In The Pond pub. He is best remembered though for this kind of thing:
It doesn’t get much more cutesy indie-pop than Confetti. If it does, Sunday Records probably released the records involved. As well as several Confetti singles, they also put out releases by the Fat Tulips, Strawberry Story and Po! in their early days. The American-based label, whose postal address situates them in the excellently-named Rolling Meadows, Illinois, were in the early nineties the USA’s go-to imprint for UK indie-pop, before developing further to put out work by all kinds of international popsters (with a slight emphasis on the American and Australian).
Bizarrely, one of Sunday’s early releases was a now somewhat sought-after flexidisc by Slowdive, collecting two perky, tweeish tracks, ‘Beach Song’ and ‘Take Me Down’, on a richly blue-coloured disc in an appallingly minimal sleeve. I guess that Slowdive were right on the very edge of the twee/indie-pop scene at the time, but I doubt Sunday would’ve expected them to go on to sign to Creation and become, in a small way, legendary.
This record’s sleeve highlights one of the odder habits of early-90s indie-pop, the use of extraordinarily faint colours when having a single-colour sleeve printed. I’ve got a lot of records whose cover imagery is barely visible because of this trait; the pop (music) psychologist in me might suggest that this reflects the timid nature of the music within, and the idea of a secret world available only to those ‘in the know’. Or… maybe it was just cheaper to print this way, who knows.
Upon retrieving this record from my shelves and examining the inserts within the sleeve, I see that it may actually be called the Sea Anemon EP, rather than ‘Whatever Became Of Alice And Jane’, which is the title of the lead track. A chink in my otherwise faultless recording of details in my ‘My Records’ spreadsheet? No! Surely not! I blame that printing – it’s almost impossible to make out the EP title on that front cover. Darned indie-popsters!
This is one of those albums that’s widely held up as massively inspirational, a classic, but simultaneously one that would very likely be unheard of by all but the most informed ‘man in the street’. Suicide were associated with the New York-based No Wave microscene of the late 1970s, but seemed somehow detached from it, defiantly (and definitely) getting on with things on their own terms. I wasn’t in New York in the late ’70s – I was in a sleepy, refined suburb of Liverpool – but everything I’ve read seems to suggest that Suicide’s live performances were something of a trigger to much of No Wave’s aggressive, confrontational stance. I’ve also read, however, that Suicide took things further than their peers/followers may have wished to, with more in the way of actual violence and up-in-your-face shock tactics being employed.
Regardless of history and context, I think Suicide hold up as a 100% cool band for several reasons:
- The name. Single-word band names are often a good thing, but once somebody’s taken the word, it’s gone forever, and may have been wasted. Suicide (the band) seem the perfect match for suicide (the word) – nihilistic, direct, unequivocal.
- The artwork. This record’s front cover is superb. No messing about, just elegantly shattered typography and gory streaks of blood. It could have been a neo-goth faux-artistic statement of a sleeve, but the white background sets it off as such a stark image that it seems as if it’s always existed, and somehow created itself as a direct result of the music within.
- The band members. As the sleeve says: ALAN – Vocals. MARTIN REV – Instrument. Again, stark and direct. Reclaiming the name ‘Alan’ as something cool and otherworldly. ‘Instrument’: that’s all you need to know. Alan’s band surname was Vega; neither Alan or Martin’s band surnames were their own. According to Wikipedia, their original names were Boruch Alan Bermowitz and Martin Reverby. Those in themselves are pretty cool names.
- The music. If you haven’t heard it, well, you should listen. I don’t think anything has ever sounded like the music on this album, beforehand or afterwards. What do you know, it’s on Spotify.
For all their coolness, Suicide almost destroyed their own myth for me when I saw them perform a few years ago. The terror and risk I was expecting was pushed aside and replaced with slightly camp onstage prancing, oversized shades on a man who wasn’t as young as he used to be, and – although this wasn’t their fault – being made to perform on a huge stage that completely usurped the whites-of-the-eyes closeness that I think is really necessary to experience this music being played live.
I say they almost destroyed the myth, but they didn’t succeed. This album is strong enough to pretty much deal with any such assaults on its integrity.