Unspun Heroes – The Nation Of Ulysses, ‘Plays Pretty For Baby’

This week – Martin Robinson gets dewy-eyed over a hardcore manifesto of youth power that never quite got the vote

The Nation Of Ulysses
Plays Pretty For Baby
(Dischord, 1992)

“I’m not talking ’bout a Beatles’ song, written 100 years before I was born/They’re all talking ’bout the round and round, but who’s got the real anti-parent culture sound?”

Three reasons why Nation Of Ulysses are genius: one, they had no respect for their elders (rock legends, parents, seniors); two, they rejected the concept “it’s all about the music, maaan,” by adopting an ideology based around youth as an enlightened state, capable of instigating a social, cultural and style revolution; three, they were really funny.

Led by Ian Svenonius, a sort of Iggy-on-Marx, the band’s lengthy sleevenotes and fanzines declared Ulysses as a White Panther-style youth empowerment organisation. You’d read such things as “The Nation of Ulysses recognizes youth as a class, announces that for political reasons their age will not change from 18, and declares their intent of ‘Total annihilation of the US and all of its weak and infernal pawns’”. You’d also be told to not brush your teeth. They were the sugar-rush Manics, teenage Situationists intent on cola-bombing the Government.

Oh, and the music was sensational. Their second album ‘Plays Pretty For Baby’ sounds like it was recorded in a front-line trench. Svenonius shrieks and sobs about Nuremburg and cough medicine as incendiary hardcore punk erupts into a jazz mushroom-cloud behind him. ‘Last Train To Cool’ is a theme tune to teenage living death, ‘Shakedown’ a riotous leap out of apathy, ‘Maniac Dragstrip’ a defiant rejection of straights. The album is youth aware it has the power to change everything.

It didn’t, of course. …Ulysses soon split after one member had a kid, but Svenonius later blamed grunge. What if ‘Plays Pretty…’ had the ear of all those disenfranchised kids instead of ‘Nevermind’? Would action have replaced introspection, suits replaced plaid, silliness replaced suicide?

Whatever, this album remains an essential blueprint for young insurrectionaries.