ACCUSATIONS of sexism — from the people who tried to tell us Kensit deserved more than a shudder and a soft, sad shake of the head — are rich, but I’ll rise to them, if only to make a point or two. Women in Pop was never a carte blanche to be asinine or uninteresting. There are women-in-pop — Kristen Hersh, Mimi Goese, Sinead, Siberry, Liz Frazer, Kim Murphy, Björk — who are worked up, who have something to work out of themselves. And there are those — the nouveau power pop axis — who faff around, hide behind outmoded imagery drawn from obsolete pop models. If you want a pat opposition, it’s between dark depths and shiny surfaces (although the surfaces of the new power pop really aren’t that lustrous, more like the dull gleam of some obsolescent Sixties synthetic). Between a special kind of unease with yourself and the world, and being easy-on-the-eye and eager-to-please.
When it comes to “identifying”, it’s never been a question of gender, but of whether anything is going on in there. Hersh et al, at their best, are so involving you’re laid low with a kind of traumatic empathy. But I could never “identify” with an identity as small and sure as Andrea Bud’s (I’m talking about her stage persona — for all I know she may be a kaleidoscope of contradictions. In which case I wish she’d share them).
I mean, we’re hardly talking glamour, are we? I’m all for glamour as reinvention of the self (although eclipse of the self is better), but it’s got to be done with a sight more verve and contrariness. The horror of The Darling Buds is not that the “sweetness” is constructed, but that the fabrication is of such a paltry and precedented nature. Some come-ons are so obvious, they make you cringe. That a few people find this simpering spectacle “erotic”, I can only attribute to libidinal retardation. Avo-8 work up a nice head of bile in your reporter, with their seventh hand reductionism, their ghastly echo of the Tourists, their rewrite of ‘Crash’ (‘He’ll Slip Up One Day’), their punk riffola of the same wattage as the second Pistols album. The hellish spawn of the Prims would appear to be legion. Then, everything is confetti and balloons as the Darling Buds hit the stage. The band are artisans, tight, even fierce, within their self-imposed limits, but everything’s over as soon as the girl opens her mouth.
Andrea’s cooing, dulcet tones condemn her to trace the tritest melodic paths, which in turn demand the worn doggerel of the lyrics, their lazy reshuffling of the lexicon of luv. Unlike Kylie Minogue, however, this is a reduction the Buds have inflicted on themselves. Vanilla was never my favourite flavour.
In truth, this was “unpretentious fun”. Yeah, that miniscule. It was un-sultry, and very provincial — which is to say neither urban nor pastoral (the two poles in rock fantasy), but based in that dreary suburban stretch of reality in between that most of us have to inhabit but few actually want to see celebrated in rock.
Nonetheless, there are those who argue that we writers should try to get inside the provincial mindset, rather than lead it forward. Last week, we were grateful for the revelation that the Nephs are wonderful because of their “paucity of imagination”. That may be, but what’s unwondrous about The Darling Buds is their paucity full stop, their meagreness in every degree. To hallucinate “transcendence” in something this stinting and stunted, involves going through so many intellectual hoops, that really, boys, you shame us theorists. But in truth, this doublethink — “they’re meant to be crap”, “every platitude contains a truth” etc — seems a rather convoluted route to bliss.
But oh, they love to imagine it’s the grim grid of theory that stands between me and the “simple pop thrill”, the “immediacy”, of Darling Buds, Transvision, etc. Arse about tit, again, chaps. First, comes the gut-level reaction: a wave of nauseous indifference. Then comes speculation: what is this deja vu weakness, who does it recur? Then comes theory, and resolve. If the Arsequake League were the Politburo of Pop, we’d treat The Darling Buds, and their male equivalents like the Wonder stuff, like Stalin dealt with the kulaks: uproot them from their dismal allotments of jangle, and force them at bayonet point into sampling factories to forge futurist rock, a la Front 242 and The Young Gods, as part of a Five Year Plan for the regeneration of Britpop. But we’re not, so we’ll heckle on, and sometimes stoop to state the bleedin’ obvious, steamroller over grapes.
The gig? Oh, it was crap.
© Simon Reynolds, Melody Maker, 10 September 1988