December 9, 2009


 Aaron Matthews is a thief with taste. 

Appropriation has always been a touchy subject in the world of pop music. The biggest bands to emerge from Britain in the last half-century largely built their careers on rewriting other people’s songs. Led Zeppelin, Oasis, and the Stones are all offenders, sure, but these acts all added something to the hooks, chords and lyrics that they cribbed. Appropriation and self-reference have been inherent in pop since Chuck Berry’s heyday and the advent of sampling only simplified the process – see Arulpragasam, Maya. Coincidentally, it was the soon-to-be M.I.A. who got her start on tour with Elastica, a band who made their name revamping post-punk and new wave classics–flipping the methodical pop deconstruction of Wire into actual pop songs, turning the Stranglers’ impassioned lament “No More Heroes” into an ode to sitting around the house. (For a more in-depth comparison of Wire’s songs with the Elastica songs that plagiarized them, this video is a helpful aid.)

Elastica was created by two ex-Suede members, singer Justine Frischmann and drummer Justin Welch in London, 1992; later that year, the band added Donna Matthews on guitar and Annie Holland on bass. Elastica were picked up by indie label Deceptive Records in 1993, and released their first single “Stutter” the same year. After charting two UK top 20 singles with “Line Up” and “Connection” in 1994. Elastica released their self-titled debut a year later to critical acclaim, a number one chart spot and a Mercury Prize nomination.

Elastica are thieves with taste, cribbing the best parts from their favourite Buzzcocks, Blondie and Wire records and refining them into spiky punk-pop gems. The band learned from the best to prize pithiness in songwriting, so they omit unnecessary bridges and repetitive hooks, running through 16 songs in 38 frenetic minutes. Never is it more evident than on sub-two- minute gems like “Annie” and the self-explanatory “Vaseline”. As with their influences, the singles are the best tracks: “Stutter” is a viciously dismissive kiss-off to an impotent boyfriend with a fantastic chorus, and “Connection” is a superbly simple and catchy tribute to either fame or love. Album tracks like the detached creep of “2:1” and the scathing “S.O.F.T.” show the band’s diversity, while Frischmann’s ’s icy cooing perfectly fits the band’s sharp, hooky playing.

These days Elastica are better known for their meteoric rise and fall from fame, and Frischmann’s dalliances with Blur singer Damon Albarn and Brett Anderson of Suede. All this obscures a damn fine rock record that was released about a decade too early to make the mid-2000s post-punk revival. Elastica is well worth another look, especially for fans of the aforementioned Interpol/Editors/Franz Ferdinand axis. The band’s stream-lined, hooky take on post-punk feels more relevant than ever with the current onslaught of overly-reverent, underwhelming U.K. buzz bands. I mean The Editors still have a career.

MP3: Elastica – “Vaseline”
MP3: Elastica – “Stutter”

Video: “Connection”

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