Thursday, December 01, 2005

Early Hardcore Gay Sound Of Young Glasgow

They came from Glasgow, bespectacled, skinny things with Jerry Hall fixations, a healthy amount of Fall records in their dusty collections and the trebliest, wobbliest guitar sounds heard since the Golden Age of the C86 heyday. Weird kids. Wired kids. They were, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Yummy Fur.

Bursting onto the already vital Glasgow pop scene in 1992, the Yummy Fur began life performing short, sharp, spiky songs about things like "British Children on Smack", "The Optical Meat Dress" and obscure 70's-era character actress "Candy Clark". The band's aesthetic was wonderfully ramshackle, lo-fi and smudgily-Xeroxed. Much like the Nation of Ulysses, their liner notes were ripe and bursting with weird, completely self-contained manifestos and "political" "communiques". The whole thing was firmly tongue-in-cheek(y), but it was so utterly realized and delivered with such fervent conviction that you couldn't help but be hooked in.

The Yummy Fur, however, were truly in a world of their own, a sort of tawdry, 3 A.M. post-clubs land of overflowing ashtrays and "ten million liters of red lipgloss". Lyrics were cryptic, dense and obscure, but frequently hilarious, featuring sinister references to Deathclubs, prostitutes, Ultrabras and various other sundry, sordid topics. Lead singer and guitarist John McKeown would yelp out his surreal lines in a thick Scottish burr over a spindly, Fall-circa-Grotesque-era slash 'n' scratch, and many of their earliest tunes didn't even last over a minute in length. Kinky Cinema: Early Hardcore Gay Sound Of Young Glasgow, the band's 60-song, 78-minute anthology of early singles, compilation cuts and reworked, mutant versions of previously-released favorites is a beautiful example of pure economy in action. The songs get in, they do what they need to do and then they get the hell out. One track, "The Yummy Fur vs. The Stooges" is eight seconds long. It sounds like a medium-sized cat being sucked into a jet turbine. It's like the sonic equivalent of a pea-sized chunk of wasabi on the back of your tongue, and it's quite funny.

Instead of swamping their songs in distortion and noise, the Yummy Fur followed prior bands like the Fire Engines and the Minutemen (both of whom McKeown's cited as key influences) in keeping their sound clean and sparse; the guitar lines carved the melody straight into the song, and there was a gritty, simple directness to these early efforts that was both bracing and refreshing.

The Yummy Fur's proper debut album, Night Club, came along in 1996 on Guided Missile, adorned in a lurid pink sleeve with drawings of disco balls and scribbled references to Alfred Jarry and Bryan Ferry on it. I was intrigued, to say the least. "Comedy permeates this record like shit ideas permeate most indie LPs" lept out at me from the overload of information on the inner sleeve, and there was certainly no denying it - this band, and these songs were acidly, buzzingly razor-sharp and hilariously droll. From the paranoid narrative of "Kirsty Cooper", with its "housing scheme goths", to the sweaty, shifty Cassavetes-tribute of "Chinese Bookie", Night Club was thirty-five minutes and fifteen seconds of something entirely fresh, new and funny. And, honestly, any band that can kick out a pop song about a Pasolini film ("Republic of Salo") in under two minutes - and make it catchy as an ice-cream-truck jingle - is alright by me.

The band's sound thickened up with their ensuing efforts, including the swaggering Policeman 7" single (featuring the lyric, "oh, Policeman, I'd love to spend an evening / snorting cocaine off the stomach of your girlfriend"), the Male Shadow at 3 O'Clock mini-album, and their final full-length, Sexy World, where they brought in the buzzy synths and nudged up the electro-robots-in-skinny-ties chic long before the Williamsburg kids ruined the joke for everyone else.

Sadly, the Yummy Fur never quite made it to America, either via a domestic record deal or an actual tour, but there's at least been a flicker of recognition for them in the press over the past couple of years, due to both Alex Kapranos (going by "Alex Huntley" at the time) and Paul Thomson of Franz Ferdinand having been members of the band's final line-up.

Oddly enough, the first time I heard Franz Ferdinand, I was instantly reminded of the Yummy Fur -- the stompy, playfully sinister vampings of "Van Tango" (and, to a lesser extent, "Shopping for Blood") are pure Fur, and it was too on-the-mark to be either just a homage or a coincidence.

(l-r: Huntley, McKeown, Clare Gorman)

The Yummy Fur broke up in late 1999, and many of the other bands associated with the early 90's Glasgow scene also fell off the map in the years since. I've heard McKeown's in a new band, the Mars Hotel, but I have yet to hear or find out much about 'em. With Domino's new Fire Engines collection, Codex Teenage Premonition having just been released, and renewed interest in the rich history of Glasgow Pop coming back around lately, now seems like as good a time as any for some much-needed Yummy Fur reissues.

Our featured tracks today are "Policeman" (a rip from the 1996 seven-inch single on Guided Missile, featuring some delightful vinyl pops and cracks during the first 10 or so seconds) and "Department", from the aforementioned 1998 Male Shadow at 3 O'Clock release. "Policeman", to me at least, is quintessential Fur, sparklingly smart-arsed and brimming with attitude, while "Department" finds the band in a more muscular, propulsive mode than usual, and features some fetching wah-wah guitar and nifty machine-gun drumming.

The Yummy Fur - "Policeman"
(MP3, 192kpbs, 2.6MB)

The Yummy Fur - "Department"
(MP3, 192kpbs, 4.3MB)

Until our next installment, keep dancing on the coffee table and playing it loud.

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