“We’re not mods at all – we just like to dress smart. And we don’t make mod music – we make pop music.”
(Chris Gentry, 1994)
The November 4th 1994 edition of the Melody Maker was, heaven help us now, dedicated to the “Mod revival” that, in truth, wasn’t actually happening. The very phrase “Mod revival” is enough to make grown men weep, conjuring images of The Lambretta’s mincing on Top of the Pops and teenage boys in 1981 trying to convince themselves that The Merton Parkas were really great. That particular revival is memorable now for being utterly forgettable in terms of bands and fashion. Quite why anyone thought we needed another Mod revival is anyone’s guess. Britpop was never about Mod and it certainly wasn’t a revival of anything, it was a reaction to and rejection of the prevailing cultural norms in fashion, politics and music.
The decision to place Menswe@r in that edition of the paper is probably the single biggest reason behind their inability to get beyond the white noise and ruby red rage that accompanied their being handed a record deal without really being a band in any meaningful sense. That, of course, wasn’t the fault of the boys in the band…the whole reason for starting a band is to have as many people hear your music as possible. Well, it’s not the whole reason. The whole reason involves casual sex, adoration, your face on the front of magazines, drugs, more casual sex, music, a bit more adoration, alcohol, casual sex, rehab, critical resurrection…repeat.
Menswe@r were chancers.
Blaggers with attitude.
It was impossible to avoid them at that point in time. Just ask anyone who was a music journalist at the time. Or who was in a band. Or who went to Blow Up! Or who drank in The Good Mixer. Or who took a walk up Camden High Street. They were, to put it mildly, driven.
I was hooked right from the get-go. They were young, they were cocky, they were dapper and they looked like a band. They could have released a single of animal impersonations and I would have bought it. The power of marketing! I was convinced that this band were going to be huge. So convinced that when their debut single “I’ll Manage Somehow” arrived in 1995 I didn’t buy just one copy, no Sir, I bought two because I was sure it was going to be a collector’s item worth many hundreds of pounds. I wish I could tell you that I’m joking and that at 22 years old I was beyond such ridiculousness but I can’t. What can I tell you? I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. I love it.
“I’ll Manage Somehow” was a giddy, guitar soaked, glam enthused, globule of fun. It wasn’t very good but that didn’t matter. The band didn’t sound like they were very proficient but that didn’t matter either. The lyrics were a bit, well, rubbish but that really didn’t matter. Normally these are the sorts of things that do matter to people who fall in love with bands but what you have to remember is that this wasn’t earnest or pretentious…it was pure, delirious, silly pop music from a bunch of young chaps who thought it would be a terrific wheeze to be pop stars. So when Johnny Dean sings “Trying jolly hard to see if we can catch him ’round the bend” I was laughing with him, not at him.
At this point it was already obvious that I wasn’t going to make a fortune off of my mint condition copy of that debut single and the critics knives were not only sharpened but were buried deep in the backs of these kids who they had elevated to the position they occupied. Then they did something that nobody expected, I’ll wager not even the members of the band, and released one of the definitive singles of the entire era.
“Daydreamer” is worthy of a place on any “best of…” list when it comes to mid-90’s British music. Lots of people get all dewy eyed about the likes of “Parklife” by blur…actually, change that, lots of people get all dewy eyed about “Parklife” by blur. I don’t mean the album, just the single, they hold it up as a classic of the time. I’m going to tell you a secret, but you have to promise not to tell anyone else, alright? “Parklife” (the single) is utterly awful. Please don’t get angry about that…remember, the truth will set you free. “Daydreamer” though is a fabulous record. It’s got a bass line that Peter Hook would cut off his thumbs for. It’s got a vocal that sounds like a young Robert Smith on ecstasy. It’s ripping off Wire and Elastic who were themselves ripping off Wire. Best of all it’s got “Breathe deeper…(pause)…daydreamer” and all delivered with a level of camp that has rarely been bested in British pop.
In my fantasy Britpop world Menswe@r would have released just that one record and then disappeared. Had they done so then people would have been writing gushing articles about them for decades to come. As it happens they will just have to settle for this gushing article.
Then another very unexpected thing happened. Menswe@r decided to release a song that sounded a bit like “Rocks” era Primal Scream crossed with The Monkees. “Stardust” also seemed to be gently taking pot shots at Mr Robert Gillespie…he’s a supernatural lover, wearing leather trousers, full of bravado and with a girlfriend who looks like Brigitte Bardot. Cheeky pups. It was another really good pop song. Now it was beginning to look like people like me had been wrong…maybe these kids were not just opportunists, maybe they didn’t just care about being famous, maybe, just maybe, they were actually serious about the whole thing and, more shockingly, they could write proper pop songs.
Two singles does not a summer make as my Gran used to say. Mind you, she also used to say that saluting a magpie was good luck…but only if he was on his own, so she was probably just a bit bonkers.
If two cracking pop songs isn’t proof of anything other than luck what about three? “Sleeping In” was a nod to The Beatles and, not that this is tricky, was actually better than almost anything the likely lads from Liverpool ever committed to vinyl. Gotcha! But, and I do mean this, it was another record that hinted at a group who had a genuine ear for melody and a desire to craft ear worms. Further proof of their ability arrived with single number four; the maudlin, dreamy, delicate and shuffling brilliance of “Being Brave”. “Hug my pillow and try not to count the days” is a line that Morrissey would have declared as his finest work had he come up with it.
All of these singles were found on their debut album “Nuisance”. The truth about this album is that it is five lovely pop singles supported by songs that should have been left on the floor of the studio. It’s a massive disappointment. Some killer and a little too much filler. I have to cut them some slack here though, the pressure to record and release before the media interest in them had died would have been intense. That sort of pressure rarely lends itself to good music. A more supportive label may well have taken a different approach and had they done so I have a feeling that they may have been rewarded with something better.
What happened next is all too familiar…an unsuccessful second album (only ever released in Japan), fall-outs, being dropped by the label and then off to pastures new. There were a couple of shows back in 2013 with Johnny being supported by a different cast of musicians but nothing much came of that. I’d like to see what magic the good people at Starshaped could work with the original members…a reunited Menswe@r on the bill of the next Starshaped festival would be a wonderful thing I think. It seems unlikely but stranger things have happened…