Review: The Pooches – Heart Attack EP
by Thomas Blake
Nostalgia is an inauthentic manifestation of an idealised past. It is an act of cherry-picking. When we listen to T-Rex, as Mark Fisher points out in his excellent book Ghosts of My Life, we are not listening to the 1970s, or even an accurate historical document. Instead we are creating an appearance, inventing the 1970s as a one-dimensional event. In the endless postmodern recycling of cherry-picked cultural references we risk repeating our nostalgia – essentially becoming nostalgic for a time that we were nostalgic for something – in a narrowing spiral that is a cultural-artistic version of Yeats’s historical ‘gyres’. In this light The Second Coming could be read as a critique of (or rather a preemptive strike against) the wormhole of postmodernism, the beast ‘slouch[ing] towards Bethlehem to be born’ representing the collective cultural consciousness.
I use this argument to defend my dislike of like T-Rex and the Ziggy-era Bowie, not because they were guilty of fashioning nostalgia at the time (Bowie in particular was genuinely ‘new’ at various points in his career) but because the bands that aped them, and continue to ape them to this day, do such a good job of their mimicry that they sound like precise but lifeless simulacra of their heroes. I could justifiably enjoy the glammier music of 1972 but I don’t, and I’m certain that one of the reasons for this is the fact that, as soon as glam was born, it was copied and stopped being new, a process that is still going on. Also, for all glam’s dystopian/utopian references, all its starman schtick, it always strikes me as a retrogressive musical movement at heart. Marc Bolan is particularly guilty, refracting the simple pop melodies of Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly through some spurious hippie-lovey-space-dust filter.
(Actually, the reason I dislike Bowie-as-Ziggy is also partly down to that ridiculous but cynical space-shit, but that’s another argument for another time. Hunky Dory, Low and Station To Station remain exciting and enjoyable albums for me.)
Glasgow band The Pooches sound like Belle and Sebastian. Or at least that’s what their PR people seem to want us to think. But Belle and Sebastian still sound like Belle and Sebastian, so where does that leave us? Do we condemn The Pooches as some kind of 4G ripoff version of Belle and Sebastian’s worn-but-working Nokia 3310? Well, no. Firstly, although Belle and Sebastian are influences, they are not the most prominent influences. The Pooches look further back – to C86, the Shop Assistants, the Field Mice, Orange Juice. A whole host of historical signifiers are present in their new four-song EP Heart Attack. The Velocity Girl brevity (average track length is about two minutes), the jangle of the guitars (itself lifted by 80s indie bands from the Byrds), the lyrical preoccupations with love and loss and the rain and sitting in your bedroom moping, the emotions that veer between childlike and childish. On Pierre there is the lilting, almost African rhythm favoured by Orange Juice (and more recently the Wave Pictures). The lead track marries some Felt-like guitar lines to a happy hand-clappy chorus. It all screams ‘hashtagTWEE!!!’ at the top of its voice.
This all points to one thing: nostalgia in its most derivative guise. But why do I like it so much? Is it hypocrisy on my part? Am I indulging in (one of the most horrible expressions you’ll ever come across) a ‘guilty pleasure’? I don’t think so. Against all odds this record feels current, and its currency stems in part from its universality. There is nothing universal about Bowie’s moonage daydreams and encounters with starmen. These things are anchored in a specific time which, despite every effort, can’t (and shouldn’t) be retrieved, or they are a rock and roll fever dream in the mind of one man. When The Pooches sing about loss or melancholy, they do so from a modern perspective, and it is not couched in anachronistic metaphor. Sadness is a valid emotion in early twenty-first century Britain. The sadness can have a sociopolitical roots. The current default emotional setting, particularly for young, urban, intelligent people, seems to be a kind of resignation mixed with ennui, all overlaying a hidden fear of a future in which prospects are severely limited.
So, these apparently ‘twee’ lyrical concerns actually stem from a particular political climate. The Pooches’ songs are urban in respect that ‘urban’ implies a historical imperative for music of the city to behave in a certain way, a way that reflects universal political and emotional concerns. When Sarah Records, C86, Talulah Gosh and The Pastels were speaking to a certain sub-section British music lovers they were doing so against a political backdrop that was anti-art and ultra-materialistic. That backdrop hasn’t gone away, and for that reason the music that quietly protests against it should never be dismissed as mere nostalgia. We need music like this.
Heart Attack is out on 29th January on Lame-O Records. You can have a listen of it here.