Agony Shorthand

Friday, November 07, 2003

One of the first 45s from the “new wave era” that I ever bought was the MO-DETTES' “White Mice / Masochistic Opposite” in 1980, and it remains one of my favorite records of any era. Played to death on my local college radio station back in the day (KFJC), the song “White Mice” arrives at the perfect intersection of rough English D.I.Y. and pure golden girl pop, and has one of the most lilting harmonies you’ll ever hear. Among the more charming aspects of the band were the mushmouth vocals of Ramona Carlier, she being of Swiss descent and a then-recent UK immigrant (which helps explains it). It’s hard to put a bead on exactly what she’s saying beyond the song’s chorus, which starts with the first-rate couplet, “Don’t be stupid, don’t be limp / No girl likes to love a wimp”, and contains a throbbing bassline that leads, rather than follows, everything else in the song. The guitarist is practically invisible throughout – her ineptitude in moving from chord to chord is part of what’s so special about “White Mice” and indeed, the small handful of other good tracks this band produced in their short life.

So let’s talk about that, shall we? This CD-R – or bootleg CD, I’m not sure – is a complete-works (1979-1981) collection of the MO-DETTES’ one and only album and their 45s. “The Story So Far” LP followed the “White Mice” 45's lead and contained exceptionally crude, poorly-drawn cover art that was sort of a cartoonish, Archies-like version of something you might have found on Fuck Off Records or by THE DOOR AND THE WINDOW. I also bought the LP in high school, and sold it back to a used record store the same year. That’s because outside of a couple of hot ones that’ll charm the pants off of ya (“Fandango”, “Dark Park Creeping”, “Masochistic Opposite”), the band really hid in the shadow of their one and only naïve-pop masterpiece. They knew it too, as the LP contained not only the de riguer “White Mice”, but a sped-up version called “White Mouse Disco”. Kind of sad, actually. There’s an awful STONES and an awful EDITH PIAF cover, too – yet I still have a real big soft spot for the band overall. They honestly sound like a case study for the D.I.Y. archetype: young girls, raw ambition, out-of-tune guitars, lots of stumbling and fumbling, and presto : an instant, all-time classic 45. That the rest of their career didn’t live up to it is fairly beside the point, I reckon.