It seems indelicate to mention the future. Hey, [B]Elastica[/B]. Nice to see you. But God, really wouldn't want to be you...
Of course, if we were keeping in the spirit of things, this review would run in 2004, be credited to at least half-a-dozen people and consist entirely of the lyrics to ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ and a few lines filched from NME’s review of the first album. Poor Justine Frischmann – struck down by a second album that wasn’t so much difficult as almost completely impossible, labouring (in the loosest sense) under an Atlas-like weight of expectation, plagued by a nasty rabble of rumour and insinuation – and now about to release a record that does her band only the most grudging of favours. Ah, the stories this band could tell. Unfortunately, ‘The Menace’ is purely a cautionary tale.
Before the failed affairs and the unhappy drug euphemisms, pity wouldn’t have stood a chance. Their debut might not have been a work of deathless ingenuity, but from the fermented fury of ‘Stutter’ to the ennui-on-the-rocks of ‘Waking Up’, it sparked with attitude, had zeitgeist on cable so it never had to leave the house. Next to the leering excesses of Britpop – the boys scrapping, the regional bickering – Elastica were a nonchalant ash-flick, a perfectly raised eyebrow, real-gone, mixed-up, Flash Street kids who made their persistent plagiarism look as retro-cool as a Grange Hill shoplifting gang. They were skinny, sure, but unlike ‘The Menace’, they were never thin. How much you can put its makeweight fluff and musical IOUs down to the tempestuous line-up changes, the dissipation, that Damon Albarn factor, it’s tedious to contemplate – what is undeniable, is that ideas-wise, it’s like standing behind someone at the checkout as they pay for their weekly shop in two-pence pieces. Take away the starry boyfriends and trad-rock gutter-slumming, it’s that depressingly mundane.
Frustratingly, it’s not entirely bankrupt. ‘How He Wrote Elastica Man’, words and snarling courtesy of Mr Work Ethic Mark E Smith, is a brilliantly cross acrostic (“E! Extra Special!” and so on) but really, it’s like getting your dad to do your Maths homework for you. The ‘Connection’ chug of opener ‘Mad Dog’ is more cunningly passed off as their own work, a splendidly spiteful shrug to an ex-lover – “Don’t need a credit card to make my charge complete/Don’t want you on your back I just got on my feet” – which should keep the Damon-spotters happy, while ‘Generator’ rifles art-school dustbins for a cut’n’paste collage of cynicism and defiance. (“So dead in the water”?”I’m a third-rate imitator”? – you just know she knows that’s asking for trouble, so let’s ignore it.) Yes, it’s ‘spiky’, but without the gritty substance of the first album, it has all the depth of a packet of peanuts.
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The predatory ‘Your Arse My Place’ is admirable for Justine’s glorious mock-rock insouciance, but squealed lyrics like, “Cocaine is crack/Blondie was black” are just a little too self-conscious, a little too Vogue-editor-in-box-fresh-Ramones-T-shirt to score points. The opiated Shangri-Las stumble of ‘Nothing Stays The Same’ (a Donna song) is the only slow track that works, but it’s a question of degree, at least next to the grinding gears of ‘Image Change’ and ‘Love Like Ours’, or vapid instrumental ‘Miami Nice’. Benevolence isn’t fostered, either, by the closing cover of Trio’s ‘Da Da Da’ – ace song and all, but on an album struggling to make 13 tracks, something of an insult, like spending the first night after a long separation from your loved one sitting up in bed watching Match Of The Day. For anticlimax, though, you need high expectations, and by now only the wildest optimist could have raised them above a date on the release schedules.
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It seems indelicate to mention the future. Hey, Elastica. Nice to see you. But God, really wouldn’t want to be you