Agony Shorthand

Monday, October 17, 2005

The 1979 sessions from this exurban British lark of a band are among my favorite ramshackle DIY recordings anywhere, ever. When I heard ANIMALS & MEN's "Don't Misbehave In The New Age" on college radio around 1981, it cemented in my head as genius, and it took me nearly 20 years to find out the name of the band that performed it. The Hyped2Death label has taken Animals & Men on as one of their pet reputation-restoration projects, and we're all the better for it -- if only for the terrific set of early demos that start this thing off. Those first nine tracks are more raw and throbbing than any nine tracks from female-fronted postpunk giants to whom they’ve been compared – AU PAIRS, KLEENEX, DELTA 5, etc. (Well, let’s hold off on Delta 5 for now – they probably had nine tracks the equal of these). A sort of slipshod accidental greatness surround the band, one that’s ever more acute after reading the humble liner notes written by the band 25 years later. Apparently they constantly vacillated between shooting for indie stardom and the comforts of Somerset, UK home & hearth, and even with the half-helpful intervention of ADAM ANT, who took a shine to the band after they named themselves after one of his early songs, ANIMALS & MEN couldn’t quite figure out where it was they wanted to end up.

So after the first batch of 1979 recordings, which pulsate with basement-bred glee and the lessons learned from a hundred sloppy punk bands, Animals & Men tried to graft Chicago Blues onto their jagged, fuzzy teutonic garage rock, and in the process, changed their name to THE TERRAPLANES. In came harmonica (which had been popping up before but really took a droning lead later on) and schlocky covers of “Baby Scratch My Back” etc. They also did some dabbling into surf and girl-group pop with mixed results, before sort of returning to their early roots around 1981-82. This CD does not include their world-beating 45 “Don’t Misbehave In The New Age” – you need to pick up “Terraplane Fixation” for that, which I highly recommend you do – but it does cover pretty much everything else they recorded, with some overlap with the previous CD. They’re one of those bands made up of regular folks who, to me, really define the anything-goes burst of homegrown recording activity across the British hinterlands circa ’79-‘81. Some of their songs are just so alive and exuberant (“The Suspect”, “Waiting For My Stranger”, “Render Us Harmless”) you just gotta hear ‘em. It’s been said before, but not enough – kudos to Hyped2Death for spending cash & time on worthy excavation projects such as this.