True, Black Tambourine already have a release entitled Complete Recordings that collects all 10 of the tunes released over their original lifespan, so the question regarding the moral integrity of reissuing their material in 2010 seems valid. Fortunately enough, for anyone well acquainted with the current indie pop scene, it’s pretty clear that Black Tambourine is not only appropriate, but entirely necessary. Given Slumberland’s return to prominence and fuzzy noise pop’s recent emergence in the headlines of music blogs everywhere — through the success of bands ranging from Vivian Girls, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Dum Dum Girls, and more — Black Tambourine’s initial consolidation of the strengths these artists have capitalized on provides a sorely needed sense of context and perspective to their fortunes.
Formed as a side project containing members of Velocity Girl and Whorl, and rounded out by frontwoman Pam Berry, Black Tambourine managed to — during their limited time together and even further limited output — supersede their main gigs through their far-reaching influence and continuing endurance. Their ebullient primitivism and willful naiveté afforded a solid jump-off point for the ensuing popularity of the twee pop movement of the 1990s, and their presence on its rise throughout the decade is incalculable. Taking into consideration that, despite their guileless attitude and effervescent charm, the dirt-scrubbed layer of scuzz clinging to the band’s recordings hardly fell in line with the clean, peppy earnestness of the twee bands who followed in their wake, the fact that the kids who took their aesthetic to heart cut through all the grime to arrive at the kindred merits that bound their sensibilities together is a testament to their undying appeal to a generation of pop fans.
Using the Pop Goes Ugly template birthed by the Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Tambourine infused their girl-groups-in-a-vacuum approach with an endlessly endearing sense of everyman personality that, in retrospect, feels elusive in the mythic status of the slew of bands who crowded the indie pop movement of the era. Their forebearers the Shop Assistants and the Pastels were obvious influences, but specks of ’60s songcraft and ’70s punk — in the ghosts of Phil Spector, Love, Motown, the Ramones, and Postcard Records singles that touch their catalogue — float in and out of earshot here. Tying together the band’s reckless yet spirited playing, the feedback-laced soundscapes blanketing their songs, and the sweet-as-pie vocals of Pam Berry, Black Tambourine created a timeless, euphoric brand of indie pop that stands alongside their idols in a reverent manner that isn’t bogged down by its devotion, due in part to the band’s ability to take time-worn fashions and somehow make them feel as fresh as ever.
All of this would add up to an important but ultimately studious history lesson if it weren’t for a cracking set of tunes that still hold up, which this compilation enthusiastically exhibits throughout. From the scorned, tough-but-vulnerable kiss-off of “For Ex-Lovers Only” to the surging sugary rush of the immortal “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge”, the songs collected on this 2010 release withstand the past 20 years of pop music’s progression with a pertinence and relevancy that’s as bracing as it is comforting. Deathless, uncontainable melodies spring through each track’s disheveled slop as the instruments clang and fall together with a ragged charisma that triumphantly displays the innocent nature of the four musicians at hand.
By appending affectionate liner notes from super fan and former Veronica Lake member Tim Sendra and including demos for the aforementioned lost classics along with new recordings of four live staples (two covers and two previously written old tunes), the set attains a sense of completion that even the somehow open-ended-feeling Complete Recordings didn’t quite fully realize. The 2009 version of Black Tambourine may be notch cleaner than they were in 1990, and Pam Berry’s voice may have traded a tad of its attractive girlishness for a smidgen of bold womanhood, but these additions officially complete the circle and lend the assembled recordings an air of knowing vitality and an effectively earned status in the indie universe.
Black Tambourine is indispensable listening for anyone with even a passing interest in indie pop’s past or current renaissance and a wholly welcome reminder of the unwavering greatness of one of the genre’s truly seminal bands. This release lovingly procures their legacy as giants of their era, and with any luck, pop music’s prevailing audience will recognize their essential standing and grant them their deserved position in the upper echelon of indie rock greats.