Elastica

6 Jul

Paul Forster

I don’t know what it is but I’ve always preferred music made by women, I think the female voice is much more interesting. Women have a refreshing way of addressing common themes that can appear clichéd when men approach them. My adoration started pretty young, with Madonna, Kylie and Gloria Estefan all taking centre stage in my musical heart. The older I got however, women started to fall by the wayside. Listening to Madonna when you’re 11 is not cool, so I listened to Prodigy, The Stone Roses and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – all very masculine and aggressive bands without even a hint of permeating oestrogen. I was really drawn in by the punk ethos but also really entranced by melody.

In 1994, when I was 12, both The Cranberries and Lush took me by surprise by mingling the two, but the balance wasn’t quite right… Roll around 1995, just as I’ve turned 13, and BAM! Sleeper and Elastica release their debut albums within a month of each other. Whether it was marketing or just instinct, I bought these two albums with my saved birthday money from John Menzies. I won’t pontificate on the myriad differences between the two bands or the fact that some people can’t see any differences at all, I’ll only say that I didn’t know it but on that day I bought my favourite album by my favourite band.

Elastica’s debut album was the fastest selling debut of all time in 1995, in no way am I suggesting that the shifting of units has anything to do with my love of music but the scene needs to be set. Justine Frischmann was, arguably the muse of the Britpop era, having long term relationships with both Brett Anderson and Damon Albarn. She inspired the scenes’ birth (Suede, Suede) and death (Blur, 13). Her attitude and connections were a massive stepping stone for Elastica and to be caught up in the middle of Britpop marketing madness meant that they were the new ‘something’ that people were latching onto that week. They never scored a Top 10 single but still the album sold over a million copies, helped by ‘Connection’ featuring on a Budweiser advert during the Super Bowl in America but also because of the quality of the album as a cohesive whole.

What I really love is that they succeeded where the male bands did not. Elastica comprised of three women, Justine, Donna Matthews, Annie Holland, and one man, Justin Welch and it was only Justine and Donna with named song writing credits.

The soaring angelic/demonic harmonies, angular guitars, the taught bass lines, frantic drumming and heaving keys brought together a snotty attitude and pithy lyrics about impotence, groupies, rock star relationship paranoia and petroleum jelly. Their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, Elastica conquered America where other bands couldn’t, their immediacy and universality were such that Courtney Love believed them to be better than sliced bread… Oh wait.

Elastica have had many forms, their fans know them in three guises, Mk1 (1992 -1995), Mk2 (1996 -1998) and Mk3 (1999 -2001) and they all stand for a time and a band member contingent. It’s no secret that Elastica had some serious problems with drugs, primarily with heroin; the inspiration to Blur’s ‘Beetlebum’ was a despondent and smacked up Justine. It was the reason Annie Holland had to leave mid-Lollapalooza tour in August 1995, leaving Elastica briefly without a bass player before Abby Travis stepped in. Her permanent replacement, Sheila Chipperfield came in the spring of 1996. But heroin led perfectionist songwriters and recorders, Donna and Justine, into eternally seeking the impossible.

Between 1995 and 1998 only four new songs were widely circulated via Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session on Radio 1. The promise that these songs showed proved that Elastica weren’t past their best, the Matthew’s penned ‘Human’ and ‘Love Like Ours’ are dark, brooding and atmospheric, whereas the Frischmann written ‘The Other Side’ and ‘I Want You’ had Top 10 potential in hook driven droves. This fracturing of their song writing styles was the demise of their partnership and Mathews left the band in 1998. I still hate everything about heroin for robbing me of an album of unheard Elastica material.

1999 brought me unbridled joy as it was a prolific year compared to the previous dry four years, the ‘6 track EP’ came out and managed to give me hope and confuse the fuck out of me. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith guested with Justine on two songs ‘How I Wrote Elastica Man’ and ‘KB’. The lyrics were pretty muffled, the production was lo-fi and the melodies that I’d fallen in love with were replaced by yelping and heavy keyboards. But I fell in love all over again with Elastica over these 6 tracks; Annie was back, Donna was gone, new keyboardist Mew provided backing vocals and Paul Jones’s lead guitar was punk. Combined with Justine’s still-snotty-timbre they produced ‘Generator’. This song is so good, so quick and so immediate that it feels like an electronic punk accordion playing inside your head. Elastica may have sounded different but I still swooned.

This was the year I got to see them live for the first time, only a few weeks after the ‘6 track EP’ was released, at my second Reading Festival. They headlined the Radio 1 tent on the Friday and I sneaked off from my shift stewarding and bounced around like a mad person, only to leave before they finished so no one would notice I’d been gone. If I’d known they would have split so soon afterwards I’d have stayed in that sweaty mêlée till the end. I saw them twice after this in 2000 and then they were gone, with The Menace relying heavily on songs from the ‘6 track EP’ as well as Donna’s compositions, ‘A Love Like Ours’, ‘Human’ and ‘Image Change’ . It was clear that Elastica were running out of steam. Don’t get me wrong, I love the album and I’m glad the production is different from the EP tracks but when you get a new album that really only has four new songs on it you’re allowed to feel cheated.

But then Elastica weren’t always an albums band, their B sides are phenomenal and when you listen to them combined there’s possibly an album and a halves worth of music. Elastica were never about the epic pop song, three minutes was usually pushing the boundaries a bit. I don’t begrudge them any of their failings, any of their bust ups and drug problems, I understand that this just how life happens sometimes and they’ve taught me a great deal. I love how ahead of their time they were concerning ‘sampling’ in rock music, their out of court settlements with Wire and The Stranglers wouldn’t have happened now because they’d have been approved. I mean, at least they added to the riffs instead of stealing them as they were. Musical mining I like to call it.

Elastica bid  us farewell with ‘The Bitch Don’t Work’ ‘which is about as tongue and cheek as they could have gone with a farewell single, a 7 inch clocking in at 1 minute 30 seconds. Chewed up and spat out by the machine they still retained their humour but couldn’t carry on as they were.

I still adore them and still think they’re relevant and culturally important, MIA was Justine’s flat mate for a while and Justine programmed the beats on ‘Galang’, but maybe their legacy is something more poignant. All the press inches, album sales and drug binges are irrelevant, the music they made, all of it, every single song bar one (‘Indian Song’ from their debut is widely known as a damp squib) has made me a so much of a fan boy that I can hear their influences elsewhere and all the time, from The New Pornographers’ ‘Twin Cinema’ to The Long Blondes’ ‘Lust in the Movies’.

I still miss them.

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