Nostalgia. It’s a messy business. The type to get stuck in one’s throat. It wraps itself up in your mother’s net curtains, then proceeds to perform that saucy silhouette dance from Tales of the Unexpected – except that it’s naff, and you’re only impressed because you’ve been at the cooking sherry again.
And then there’s the debut Darling Buds LP, released in 1988 on Sony imprint Epic. Think common or garden indie-pop, flash-fried in jangly, and served with a side order of twee. The problem being that Pop Said… arrived a year or two after the C86 hide tide, and on a major label to boot, which meant those twee indie-pop, Sarah Records types never took them seriously.
It’s been said that your average duffle-coated music snob has little time for facsimile of scene – with a fair chunk of justification, I should point out. And should that bandwagon be sponsored by evil corporations waving substandard product as they sniff out another cheap buck, hackles are invariably raised. “Never cross a twee-popper,” as my old grandma used to say. “They may appear docile and compliant, but riled, they can break an arm with one swoop of a wing”.
Nostalgia, scene… this dish needs another ingredient. Youth (which if nothing else, is good for the lolz). Youth, drinking Malibu down the park, then sicking it all back up again. Youth, falling in love with all the wrong things. For records hit us hard at 15, 16, 17, and I’m not sure we ever fully recover.
Take, for example, a track such as ‘Let’s Go Round There’, the third of four singles from Pop Said… that the nice Uncle Sony foisted upon the record buying public.
That swirl of intro, Andrea Lewis cooing against the whirligig of Harley Farr’s picked guitar. Four strident chords as conduit to verse, and then we’re in; “We don’t have to walk on water, but let’s go round there.” The lyrics, they’re ‘Love Shack’ for those wearing anoraks – “Not too far, it’s a special place, oh don’t you wanna go there?” – whilst the chorus is a haze of summer affirmation:
“Oh, turn and face the sun
Oh, my dreams have just begun
Oh, are you on my side
Oh, will you run and hide.”
I’d hold it as a wonderful record precisely because sixteen-year old me held it as a wonderful record, and because nostalgia is not a progressive mode of thought but a form of cramp, the appeal here is tainted by association. Even the outro. Especially the outro, the protracted call and answer of which being the aural equivalent of looking in the mirror, only to find a spotty young oik with questionable hair staring back. Pop Said… – to this listener at least – functions on narrow wavelength evocation, which is all rather awkward when trying to study an LP in a 2015 context. The opening hook of ‘Hit The Ground’ and I’m away, trapped in the tempo of it all, stood at the cusp of adulthood like a hitch-hiker you’d never stop for.
This is how the “magic” happens. I sit on the couch with a large cup of black filter coffee at my side, jotting down thoughts and barbs in a Moleskine notebook as the vinyl revolves. The idea being that after four or five listens I’ll have enough words to string something together; an article perhaps, or a cry for help. And looking at scribbles formed as The Darling Buds did their thing, I’m noticing an ambivalence. Not simply the struggle to stay away from fishpaste subjectivity of knowing an album well, and all the long-held devotion that arrived at time of release. Phrases such as “glib and mono-textual” abut others such as “I do very much like the guitars on this.” “Ooh, that chord change in ‘Uptight’ sure is tasty.” And “Andrea Lewis once drew a flower on my leg.” The latter being a true story (post-gig, Bournemouth, 1992, a few weeks before they released third LP Erotica. Which was itself seven days before Madonna released an album of the same name, thus consigning the DB concoction to obscurity).
The point being that I (still) like Pop Said… A great deal. Despite its many flaws. There’s a curious lack of ambition, underlined by a production that’s tinny and unsympathetic (follow-ups Crawdaddy and Erotica had a far fuller sound, even if they lacked some of the charm of the band’s early material). Certain tracks (‘Big Head’; ‘You’ve Got To Choose’) suffer from a naivety common to many debut albums in that they sound like they were written on the final day of studio time, the lyrics all back of the fag packet. And above all else, adherence to template is perhaps its biggest fault. Fey vocals beneath an allegro rhythm section and noodles of doodled guitar. Stir, then serve. Or rinse, repeat. Here’s the words of unappreciation, and there’s teenage LGM, preparing to kick me down the stairs.
By which we can conclude that youth is a chump and The Darling Buds were single-faceted; tell me something I don’t know, the inevitable yet the vinaigrette by which we listen. Yet that facet presses buttons. Yet there’s a joyous element to wrap yourself up in. The bounce of ‘Burst’. The vigour of ‘Spin’. And yes, Harley Farr (who probably wisely opted out of the recent karaoke circuit reformation) does indeed weave all sorts of nuance of out what, at first glance, are some fairly shallow foundations. My head can’t really be bothered with all this, yet my heart loves it. See, that’s the price of nostalgia for you. I’m going to play this again and pretend I’m young.