Our weekly Album A&E feature takes a look back at some criminally underrated albums. This week, we argue the case for looking on New Young Pony Club’s ‘Fantastic Playroom’ more fondly…
The remnants of new rave may have been left in 2007 – the neon garb stuffed in the back of the wardrobe, the permanently dimmed glowsticks gathering dust in the attic and those shameful MDMA-induced memories locked away in the most repressed reaches of the brain – but not everything’s been able to scrub out the association so easily.
New Young Pony Club’s debut, ‘Fantastic Playroom’, was dismissed in some quarters as derivative, lightweight fodder that failed to match the heights of, say, ‘Myths Of The Near Future’ or ‘Cansei Der Sexy Sexy’. Appearing on magazine covers dressed in American Apparel’s most lurid clobber and rubbing shoulders on the road with Klaxons and CSS had birthed expectations that NYPC would blaze a similar new-rave trail, but a lack of celestial bells-and-whistles or disco kitsch led to our own Mark Beaumont warning them not to “expect any Godlike Genius Awards, fellas”.
Even when NYPC dropped ‘The Optimist’ last year – for my money, one of the finest LPs of 2010 – critics such as The Independent’s Rob Sharp fretted over where they would fit into the “post new-rave landscape”. But such myth-making is perplexing because, in my mind, NYPC have always been an unabashed pop band – and one who, as m’honourable colleague John Doran has alluded to, just had the misfortune of being “moulded as new rave scenesters”. Re-examine ‘Fantastic Playroom’ in that context, then – as an album of stonking electropop influenced by Blondie, The B-52’s and Ladytron rather than mere new rave filler – and it’s got a far greater shelf life than any short-lived fad or trend.
Save for the cosmic opening of ‘Get Lucky’ and its intergalactic synths, in fact, ‘Fantastic Playroom’ is pure disco-pop goodness, as evidenced by the jittery-jive of ‘The Bomb’ or the slinky, sultry groove of ‘Talking Talking’.
And for all the barbed references to its wholesale ripping off of the 80s, it’s no lazy new-wave rehash, either; the coquettish rattle-and-hum of ‘Hiding On The Staircase’ and stop-start palpitations of ‘Jerk Me’ show more esoteric invention than Late Of The Pier mustered in their whole discography.
But the most powerful weapon in ‘Fantastic Playroom’s’ armoury was singer Ty Bulmer, who snubbed sub-Ballardian imagery and woolly celestial metaphors in favour of eloquent naughtiness and exuded a genuine sexiness that puts the dead-eyed posturing of ‘pin-ups’ like Ke$ha to shame. The whole album drips with rudeness, but there’s no finer example than the playfully filthy rhymes of ‘Ice Cream’: “Let me give you what you’d like/ I can make your mouth run dry/ Drink me like a liquor/ Come on and drink your dipper”. Bulmer recently told The Quietus that after touring with Katy Perry she didn’t fancy the trappings of global pop stardom, but in some fairer parallel universe, it’s ‘Ice Cream’, rather than ‘I Kissed A Girl’, that’s heralded as a risqué pop-classic – and likewise, ‘Fantastic Playroom’ isn’t burdened with some ill-fitting scenester association to tarnish it.