Monday, January 26, 2009

They Know Exactly What They're Doing: Helen Love's It's My Club and I'll Play What I Want To

The question is how did I manage to miss out on the Ramones-obsessed Welsh girl group Helen Love for so long? They've been around since 1993 and released four albums prior to the latest one, It's My Club and I'll Play What I Want To, which released last year. With a blend of punk, glam, bubblegum pop and electronic elements, Helen Love feel like the predecessors to bands like Robots in Disguise and Chicks on Speed. They don't take themselves seriously, and they come with some brilliant pop songs. With a pastiche of references from the 60s and 70s, Helen Love fuse the past with the future perfectly. At any rate, I'm going to review their latest album despite the fact it's come about a year late. They're that good.

Like Helen Love's previous work, this album is full of brief, speedy tracks and fantastic little spoken samples that remind me of a Sigue Sigue Sputnik album. The record begins with the title track, which had also been released as a single. It sounds like a Ramones song being played from a bubblegum pink jukebox in a Japanese retro arcade in the year 2050, replete with vocoder and laser sounds. Then the CBGB fantasy Debbie Loves Joey bursts in with guitar-laden pop-punk and cheeky references, including The Stranglers' Peaches. As its title suggests, the following track, Dance On (Solid Gold), takes its influences from disco, but adds an electro-rock feel while You Better Learn Karate is as crazy as anything Polysics could come up with as it kicks the stuffing out of you with hyperspeed. With its repeated snippet of "Great galloping gumdrops," The 1910 Fruitgum Company is an homage to the 60s bubblegum pop group of the same name; it has a bouncy compulsion to it that makes me think of Saturday morning cartoons and the abandon of a Kindergarten class.

After the whirlwind of Transistor Radio, the speed slackens for Jet, which features a snippet of the fantastic dialogue from the 60s Brit comedy The Likely Lads: "In the chocolate box of life the top layer's already gone and someone's pinched the orange cream from the bottom." "Bloody hell." With a springy use of synths, First Boyfriend recalls the ludicrous novelty in the mundanity of a first adolescent romance. A faster, pumping disco beat peppers Rodney's English Disco, yet another brilliant reference, this time to Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, a Los Angeles glam club in the 70s. At under two minutes, Honolulu Superstar is the fastest track on the album while Garage Band uses some jazzy piano interludes and surf rock to tell the story of forming your own band after listening to John Peel. The fun continues with Queen of the Disco Beat, which has blasts of brass and more than a passing resemblence to Rockaway Beach. An anthem to the homebound, Staying In has deadpan verses that are dry enough to peel paint. With 60s girl group flourishes, The New Squad Attacking Formation is a quirky track that makes me think of a gang of teenage girls on scooters terrorizing the neighbourhood. Released as a single, Junkshop Discotheque features a great guitar line as all of Helen Love's musical influences get jammed together very much as the title suggests. The album crashes to its conclusion with Saturday Nite, which surprises with a classical introduction before launching into yet another potential dance anthem.

Now that I'm aware of Helen Love, I eagerly await a new album called Stick It due out this year (it's preceded by the latest single called Calm Down Dad - a song in line with the theme of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but with a sarcastic sheen that mocks adolescence cool and with a hilarious piece of White Riot at the end). There's something old-fashioned and child-like about Helen Love, but they fire obscure and not-so-obscure references on all cylinders, reminding you that they know exactly what they're doing.

Debbie Loves Joey - Helen Love

1910 Fruitgum Company - Helen Love

Calm Down Dad - Helen Love

10 comments:

Rol said...

I'm glad to hear they're still going strong. My favourite song of theirs is 'Long Live The UK Music Scene'... but that's about 10 years old now.

weirdcritter said...

Nice review. My joint #1 favourite album of 2008

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