ballboy: Club Anthems

Steve Lichtenstein


Club Anthems

Label: Manifesto
US Release Date: 2002-02-05

Even in their self-pitying mire of daily life, the Scots have given us Yanks a lot to enjoy. We owe them for Belle & Sebastian, Trainspotting, the mystery and lore of Loch Ness. Oh, and Sean Connery, kilts, and Ewan McGregor. Not too bad a pedigree, and least compared to a country whose proud exports include Jim J. Bullock, Rollerball, and the Flowbee. And now Scotland has bestowed upon us ballboy (lower case "b," mind you) and asked for our appreciation. Like them or die, they've declared.

Well, not entirely. The young group from Edinburgh (three men, one gal) has already made heads move across the UK, inciting NME's praise (which they don't give to just anyone) and winning over radio one's John Peel with the #13 hit "I Hate Scotland". And their full-length debut, Club Anthems, is really a collection of songs from previous EPs, as well as some new tracks.

And while the songs have a vaguely Belle & Sebastian feel (complete with appropriate levels of "twee"), with their moody twang and mid-'80s Britpop swagger, it's the sequencing of songs that were never intended to constitute an album proper that hurts Club Anthems. "I Hate Scotland" opens the disc with a thumping beat and skittery guitar riff, all the while with lead man Gordon McIntyre's dreary monologue over top. It's despair and frustration, plain and simple. And it's also the album's stand out track. McIntyre professes his hate for "The way we expect to fail / And then we fail / And then we get bitter because we fail . . . Maybe it's Scotland I hate / I know I hate so many things about it / I hate the way punishment is the heart of everything / I hate the way parents beat their children / I hate the way everything always has to be someone's fault / Even though some things just happen." It might as well be Mark Renton telling us to "Choose life . . ." It's an invigorating song, gritty and passionate, essentially with the same plodding feel as Belle & Sebastian's "Dirty Dream Number Two". But if this is the equivalent of a dark hurricane, its successor, "Essential Wear for Future Trips to Space", is a lollipop of sunshine, the very core that which some call "twee". "Control yourself / And you will be OK / Control yourself / And you will be OK / Even polar bears / Need warm hearts / To make it through the snow / Even polar bears / Need warm hearts / To make it through the snow." Come again? Either song on its own, and in its own regard, is quite fine, but the pairing just cheapens them both.

On the other hand, this is a collection of songs culled from prior sources, so what's continuity, anyway? It's really too much of a good time to fault it for pacing and structure. The bouncy (agreed, you could attribute this word to most songs here), Hefner-esque "Sex Is Boring" mixes S&M and the berating of a particularly choosy music fan/lover into a glitzy acoustic stew. And the fluffy pop of (again, see: everywhere) "Donald in the Bushes with a Bag of Glue" and "Postcards from the Beach" are pure '80s XTC and early Stone Roses, and delightfully so.

(Aside: since we haven't yet discussed these song titles, let's. There's "I've Got Pictures of You in Your Underwear", "One Sailor Was Waving", and "They'll Hang Flags From Cranes Upon My Wedding Day". Oh, and lest we forget "Leave the Earth Behind You and Take a Walk Into Sunshine" and "Dumper Truck Racing". That is all.)

Mildly imperfect, Club Anthems is a bouncy bit of fluff which aspires to little more, and succeeds wonderfully. And who cares if it's flawed -- they're Scottish!

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