Thursday, 19 March 2015

Sigue Sigue Sputnik - The F1rst Generation / 2econd Edition (1997)

Number are also letters! Yay!

I seem to recall that I first encountered Sigue Sigue Sputnik as we were all sat around the telly watching The Tube or one of those shows. We all watched in bemused silence, and then Martyn Smith sneered, 'did I hear someone say Toxteth?' Toxteth was a song by Churchill's Shoe, a band featuring my friend Carl on vocals. The joke was that Carl had a ton of dyed hair and Sigue Sigue Sputnik were therefore just the sort of hopeless crap that he would listen to.

What a loser.

Ha ha!

A month or so later we were at some party and Love Missile F1-11 was playing. It took me a moment to recognise it. I didn't wish to appear too knowledgeable just in case anyone took the piss out of me for liking that which was quite obviously hairdresser's music. 'Is this what I think it is?'

'It's Sigue Sigue Sputnik,' said Steve McGarrigle.

'Oh,' I said. 'They were on the telly.'

'I didn't see that but I bought the single,' he laughed without a trace of shame.

Peculiarly, my friend Carl ended up designing a few of Sigue Sigue Sputnik's record sleeves, including this one. Martyn Smith on the other hand became known, I suppose, as the guy who drew Bastard Bunny, a violent dope-smoking skinhead rabbit - if you can imagine that - and the guy who drew the version of Bastard Bunny which achieved the not inconsiderable feat of having significantly less charm that it's earlier more badly drawn incarnation. He'd never liked Carl, and was probably still stinging from some observation on the general uselessness of Camden-based lifeforms sat on their arses all day smoking dope and listening to Pink Floyd, or whatever shite NME was pushing as the new thing that week.

Anyway, needless to say I bought the singles and the albums as they appeared, and I said oooh and so on when Carl told me about Tony James dropping in to pass comment on some record cover or other. Tony James is a very nice man, apparently.

Many years later I find The F1rst Generation as I trawl the racks of CD & DVD Exchange in San Antonio, Texas. 'Look,' I say to my wife, 'here's another one for which Carl did the cover,' because I am myself still slightly astonished by the fact, and that the thing should have turned up here, and how small the world now seems. I buy it of course, because it's Carl's cover and I have a vague memory of hearing a promotional cassette of early Sigue Sigue Sputnik demos which sounded like some band playing in a village hall, with real drums and everything.

Well, whatever those tracks were, they aren't here, these being proper studio demos. The problem is, I suppose, similar to that of certain electronic bands doing live albums lacking the rough edges, noodling and screw-ups which tend to make live albums interesting. This material is so similar to that which ended up on Flaunt It! as to make very little difference.

Bum ching bum ching - video camera spacecraft heroin ladyboy - bum ching - Duane Eddy riff, and then Tony James twiddling the knob on his digital delay for five minutes...

Sigue Sigue Sputnik were never really about songs as such, so Martin Degville's contribution is more or less singing lists of things which sounded futuristic in 1987 or whenever it was, which tends to preclude anything devastatingly unusual emerging from this lot. Of course, they were basically Suicide garnished with a bit of T-Rex, more about general impression than anything musical in the traditional and potentially self-important sense, which was also what made them exciting during those first fifteen minutes. They were named after a Moscow street gang because the original Sex Pistols had been a New York gang, but despite the undisputed genius of the man who brought us the excellent Dancing With Myself, quickly devolved into a band seemingly gathered on the premise of Sid Vicious having been the most pivotal Sex Pistol. I'm not even sure why this should be, although I suppose the self-conscious futurism was doomed to get old pretty quick as such things always tend to. I suppose it could have been the presence of Martin Degville, seemingly the living embodiment of whatever point Martyn Smith had been trying to make, a man whose charisma and raw talent might best be summarised by the fact that I was once able to reduce Carl to speechless hysterics by using the words Martin Degville solo album in a sentence, and his laughter set me off, and we ended up rolling around on the floor breathless with hilarity for the next thirty minutes.

Martin Degville solo album - just think about it.

From what I can tell, my friend Daphne seems to view Sigue Sigue Sputnik as a parody of capitalism, satirical through being pushed to an extreme. I can see what she means, but I've a feeling her interpretation credits the band with more conscious purpose than is probably their due; and this really was supposed to be just a big, loud, crass, uptempo noise in an era without a whole lot of anything to inspire good cheer, and it dated so fast because it wasn't designed to do anything else. Surprisingly, for all its flaws, the enthusiasm remains fresh and so this is actually a very listenable collection in spite of itself; and it's bloody stupid of course, but bloody stupid in a good way. I just wish they could have found someone a bit less knob-esque to handle the vocals.

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