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by Jennifer Cooke

13 Sep 2009


Sitting in a coffee shop the other day, I heard “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken” by Camera Obscura, and while I knew the song, I couldn’t immediately recall if it was from a recent listen or something from high school. The song put me in mind of the female vocalists of my youth, all the Clare Grogans (Altered Images), the Hope Sandovals (Mazzy Star), the Margo Timminses (Cowboy Junkies). And I was suddenly seized with a fever to run home and listen to some Shelleyan Orphan Thankfully we live in the age of the internets, so I can just Google them rather than trudge through the milk-crates of vinyl in my mother’s garage, which have no doubt fallen prey to spiders and mildew and Mom’s random Goodwill donation sprees.

It has been 20 years since the release of no-hit wonder Shelleyan Orphan’s shimmering and beautiful album Century Flower. The Bournemouth, England-based duo of Caroline Crawley and Jemaur Tayle made fanciful and complex pop music in the 1980s and ‘90s, and brushed up against more famous shoulders (the Cure, This Mortal Coil) on their road to eternal obscurity. 

Contemporaries the Sundays have “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, Mazzy Star have their “Fade Into You”, but Shelleyan Orphan can’t even hang their hats on a song that might turn up on a show like Nina Blackwood’s New Wave Nation.  It’s a shame, too, because the music more than holds up against any of the floaty, ethereal dream-pop that girls like me listened to back then.

With vocalists like Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell and even Arcade Fire’s Regine Chassagne sounding so much like Caroline Crawley, I don’t think I’m the only one who has Century Flower lurking in their collection.

by Jennifer Cooke

20 Aug 2009


For some acts, even the title of “One Hit Wonder” is too extravagant an honor. For self-proclaimed “scabby witches from Glasgow”, Strawberry Switchblade, OHW status can only be claimed in Europe and Japan—in the US, they didn’t even rate as a blip on the radar screen, unless you were a moody teenager who subscribed to Smash Hits and bought creepers and Communards 12” dance singles at import shops with names like the Berlin Wall.

To such a teenager, however, the heady mix was unbeatable: morose but danceable electronic pop about certifiable anxiety disorders and unrequited love, sung by the Scottish love children of Siouxsie Sioux and Frida Kahlo after an explosion at the squaredance costume factory. Rose MacDowell and Jill Bryson wore getups and hairstyles so massive, so elaborate, it was a wonder they could even stand up, much less strum guitars or shake maracas. They covered songs by the Velvet Underground and Dolly Parton! Their record label (Korova) was named after a reference from A Clockwork Orange! I couldn’t have found a more perfect duo to worship if I had constructed it from whole cloth myself. My favorite subjects were depression, polka dots, dolls, strawberries, fishnet stockings and obscure British pop music. What were the odds of finding such a tailor-made treasure?

Strawberry Switchblade scored a #5 hit in England in 1985 with “Since Yesterday”, but by 1986, collapsing under the weight of all those ribbons, silk flowers and pancake makeup, they were history. Their eponymous album remains one of my favorite of that decade, and one that bears surprisingly frequent listens today. So even if your adolescent fantasy wasn’t to look like Blueberry Muffin working behind the MAC counter… give Strawberry Switchblade a try. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it was their version of “Jolene” and not Dolly’s that first inspired Jack White to cover it.

“Since Yesterday”

“Jolene”

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