Sunday, June 9, 2013

Any Trouble: Where Are All the Nice Girls? (1980)


(Stiff)

!! CAUTION !!

So many "promising young" white Power Pop bands sprang up in the early '80s in the wake of New Wave and New Paisley and whatever else, the only way you can keep up is to take a trip to your local record store's $1 bin and keep a list in your thinkpiece notebook. Why is it that so many of them seem more than vaguely sexist? Assuming the Knack with their disgusting tomfoolery as being the tip of the iceberg, here we have "promising young" songwriter Clive Gregson dripping condescension in even just the LP title. But why should I depress you. Any Trouble was recommended to me, given my Big Star leanings and somewhat less strong (at the time, now almost nonexistent) power pop leanings, and I've always been tempted to write it off based on the girl-baiting Men's Rights shit in the title alone.

But on a preliminary listen to this record, it seemed hard to dismiss it, which in its way is even more unfortunate. Because yes, Gregson can write a great melody. That's how they get you into their apartments, these power pop dudes. "Why don't girlz like me, I can write MELODIES." This record's "Second Chance" is a pretty impressive one, white reggae new-wave riffing and all, so is the lilting "Foolish People," and there are others too. There's variance in the writing more than in the clipped, highly compressed and dry-as-all-hell sound, very much of the time, but there is variance, more at least than on the Knack's records. Any Trouble aspire to a slightly more high-minded context: Elvis Costello is everywhere, especially on the opener "Yesterday's Love" (though Costello'd never allow such awkwardly pseudo-confessional lyrics), and it's only fair to point out that a litany of critics have called Gregson out on more or less aping Joe Jackson. (It may or may not be relevant that I enjoy both Costello and Jackson far less than I feel I'm probably supposed to; they're both great writers but seem unreasonably smug to me as performers. We will no doubt be reevaluating both in the context of this blog at some point.)

Early on, Gregson's desperate verbosity is sort of charming and a good fit with the relaxed band atmosphere, giving songs like "Playing Bogart" an interesting, oddball intensity and drama. But then he starts singing, uh, "expressively" and the results are a little contrived and a lot sexist, as he's chosen his most impassioned numbers to be the ones that reveal his true colors: "The way that girls act is a problem to me / Everything they do is to bring misery." Uh... huh. And later, there's a song called "Girls Are Always Right," and you can probably gather how sincere that shit is.

The tunes on the back half all sound basically the same; the slow ones are dimly-lit-toolshed-housed-by-angry-fedora-wearer death, the fast ones are insufferable "smart" "pop." Melodic or not, Gregson's idea of a hook turns out to be perpetually annoying and endless repetition of things like "the heat THE HEAT the HEAT the heat THE heat" or "oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh," and this after it initially seemed like a fun feature that the songs had no space between them and began to seem to run into one another. So: a lot of ugliness in such a tiny package, but if you like this sort of thing, I guess go for it?

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