Ruby Tuesday: Mega City Four, “Anne Bancroft”

The ’90s were flooded with a ton of UK-based bands who made precious little impact on the U.S. charts…mostly because the few of them who scored Stateside release for their debut albums rarely got a chance to build an audience by getting to put a second album on our shores. But if it was bad for the British bands who were just getting started, you can imagine how rough it was for the artists who’d already been around for awhile and still couldn’t get an album released over here.

Such was the case for Mega City Four, the pop/punk/grunge band who got rolling in the late ’80s and went on a three-year streak of releasing an album a year – Tranzophobia (’89), Who Cares Wins (’90), and Terribly Sorry Bob (’91) – yet with none of them finding American distribution. Finally, in 1992, high-profile indie label Caroline Records cut the band a break and delivered Sebastopol Rd. onto our nation. Were we grateful? Not so much. Those who actually heard the album were thrilled; unfortunately, their numbers were few, and that was the last America heard from Mega City Four. (The Brits, meanwhile, were gifted with two further studio albums, a live record, and a collection of the band’s Peel Sessions.)

One of the highlights of Sebastopol Rd. was a unique love song, one sung to – of all people – Mrs. Mel Brooks, a.k.a. Mrs. Robinson herself, Anne Bancroft. We’ve all had an unrequited and ultimately pointless crush on a movie star at some point in our lives, but MC4 frontman / songwriter Wiz put pen to paper and, in three and a half minutes of bouncy pop bliss, captures the feelings that might happen if you never had that inevitable realization, “I am never, ever going to actually meet this person.”

To put it into prose form…

I get some second looks, but they can’t hold a candle to you.
Your photo’s in my book.
I’m wearing it out.
I gaze into your eyes.
The distance gets me down; I just want be around you.
My friends think I’m a fool, keeping it up for such a long shot, but I don’t care who knows it: I’m right here waiting for you.
My latter years are strewn with broken dreams and delusions; I hope like any fool, but this time I’m sure it’s coming true.
I don’t care who knows it: I’m right here waiting for you.
I don’t care who knows it: I’m right here waiting for you.

Alas, Wiz isn’t waiting any longer: he passed away from a blood clot on the brain on December 6, 2006. But if there’s any justice in the afterlife, he and Ms. Bancroft have already had a good laugh over how she inspired one of the finest moments of his songwriting career.

Mega City Four – “Anne Bancroft” (Sebastopol Rd.)

  

Ruby Tuesday: Simple Minds, “Stranger”

It’s August 2005, and a press release lands in my inbox about an upcoming Simple Minds album, Black & White 050505. I’m rightfully skeptical, since the last album I had bought from the band, the 2001 covers album Neon Lights, was up there (down there?) with Duran Duran’s Thank You as one of the worst covers albums (worst albums?) of all time. But my love for the holy trinity of New Gold Dream, Sparkle in the Rain and Once Upon a Time ruled out, and I requested a copy, hoping against hope that they would not disappoint me yet again.

And holy smokes, was I glad I did. The album is amazing, easily their best work since Once Upon a Time and quite possibly better. Suddenly, I can’t wait for this album to come out so I can set up an interview with Jim Kerr, even though I knew that even if I were able to score such an interview coup, there’d be no way in hell I would be able to translate it. Seriously, have you ever heard him speak? For as crystal-clear as he sings, his speaking voice is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a drowning Scotsman.

Alas, my hopes were dashed when the album was bumped to January of the following year, and when January arrived…it was removed from the schedule altogether. Dude, not cool. To date, the album has yet to grace US shores, and that is nothing short of tragic. Witness today’s Ruby Tuesday selection “Stranger,” which combines the present-day ideas of a couple aging divas (Madonna’s song, Cher’s vocoder) and gives them an old-school Simple Minds once-over. Sha la la la, indeed.

Simple Minds – Stranger.mp3

  

Ruby Tuesday: Bis, “I’m a Slut”

When I first heard Bis, I was pretty sure I hated them. I mean, it was on a tribute album to the Smiths, fer crissakes. What on earth were they doing there?

I still don’t have a good answer to that question. Bis, after all, were the ‘90s equivalent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which means they were the ‘80s equivalent of Berlin and the Human League. Do any of those bands have a single thing in common with the Smiths? No, which is what made their version of “The Boy with a Thorn in His Side” both fascinating and maddening. On the plus side, they gave the song the danceable beat that it begged for all along. On the other hand, they also stripped Johnny Marr’s lovely chord progression out, effectively turning the song into a dub mix. Not what this Smiths fan was looking for.

Fast forward three years, and Bis releases their second album Social Dancing. Somehow, it catches my ear – I’m guessing they landed a track on a CMJ compilation, as I was a subscriber at the time – and I find a promo copy cheap…and in the process discover a song that still pops up on Medsker mix discs. Short, fast, funny and insanely catchy, “I’m a Slut” gleefully pokes fun at gender roles – “Have I done something to upset you / Was my dress a bit too see-through” – but had a Shirley Manson badass-ness to it as well. In a musical climate that was still suffering a hangover from what Alanis Morissette hath wrought, it was a most welcome breath of fresh air.

The band’s 2001 EP, Music from a Stranger World, was even better than Social Dancing, but it wasn’t good enough to stop them from breaking up two years later. Wikipedia says that they recently reunited for a few gigs in England. You have to think that they’re watching this whole ‘80s retro thing and thinking, “WTF?”

Bis – I’m a Slut.mp3

  

Ruby Tuesday: Duran Duran, “Breath after Breath”

My childhood idols are releasing a new album next week, and I am fearful that it is going to suck donkey donkey donkey donkey. I base this concern on two things: the flat-as-a-pancake lead single “Falling Down,” and the album’s title, Red Carpet Massacre. One of these days, Duran Duran will learn not to write the punch lines for their critics. You’d think they would have learned that lesson after the dismal 1995 covers album Thank You, but no, they called their 2000 album Pop Trash, to which most reviewers said, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

The band’s last album, 2004’s Astronaut, was better than it had a right to be, since it had been almost two decades since the original band had written together. We should have known not to get too optimistic for a second helping: Andy Taylor, once again, wasn’t happy with the direction the band was headed – and anyone who’s heard “Nite Runner,” the band’s collaboration with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake, knows exactly where those fears surfaced – and he left in the middle of recording. Hello, 1985, nice to see you again. Your hair seems…bigger than I remember.

Nevertheless, I will eagerly await the arrival of Massacre in my mailbox, hoping against hope that the band merely chose the wrong song as the lead single. It’s happened before – “Electric Barbarella,” wow, was that song awful – so you just never know. In the meantime, I’m paying tribute to my favorite song from the band’s 1993 second eponymous album, a.k.a. The Wedding Album. Unlike anything the band has recorded before or since, “Breath after Breath” shows the band dabbling in Latin music a good three years before it was trendy to do so. Plus, Milton Nascimento has a voice like butter.

Duran Duran – Breath after Breath.mp3

  

Ruby Tuesday: Les Rythmes Digitales, “Soft Machine”

Oh, that silly Stuart Price. Not content to see the French get all of the headlines and hit singles during that big wave in the late ‘90s (Daft Punk, Air, Dmitri from Paris), the Reading, England native christens himself Jacques Lu Cont and records a French house music-style album under the name Les Rythmes Digitales. It would be years before anyone was wise to his ruse, even though he left a pretty big clue at the very beginning: one of the collaborators on LRD’s only album, 1999’s Darkdancer, was…Nik Kershaw. Yes, that Nik Kershaw.

Our Ruby Tuesday selection, “Soft Machine,” was not released as a single, a decision that baffles us to this day. Perhaps its mid-90s BPM (that’s beats per minute, by the by) was considered too slow for a club scene that was all about speed – go back and listen to the remixes for Madonna’s “Music,” where the warp-drive beat track renders the song unrecognizable – but damn, check out that drum track. Stop, start, thump, backwards snare, fat-ass keyboard squawk. It’s like Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All the Way” on steroids. Take that however you like.

Les Rythmes Digitales – Soft Machine.mp3

  

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