When it comes to groups, the word ‘underrated’ is subjective. At least it would appear so, given the doozies – some better known than others – chosen by our writers.
The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse
It’s a tricksy one: what makes a band underrated? Not being pick of the pops in the hit parade? Still playing toilet venues 34 years into a career? Scarce to non-existent radio play even on the coolest wireless stations? Saying their name to blank expressions from your pals? For the purposes of my choice, let’s go with the last one.
Because, really, Scottish post-punk mope-rockers The Twilight Sad are doing alright: decent crowds in good venues and a forthcoming stint supporting The Cure. Hardly under the radar. And yet, no one seems to know who the fuck they are. AND YOU SHOULD.
Imagine the darker aspects of 1980s music had been abandoned in a car park on an industrial estate in Glasgow for 25+ years. Et voila. James Graham, Andy MacFarlane and Mark Devine produce a burr-soaked wall of sound that’s so sulky and brooding, you expect to find it skulking in the corner, smoking a fag and squinting through the fug like a surly teenager. Mainstream success? No thanks.
During the band’s (ear-)smashingly loud live performances, Graham’s eyes roll back in his head and he sways as if in a trance: a dervish who’s forgotten how to do the whirling that made him happy. And yet. The whole melancholy racket is somehow joyous. Tribal. Uplifting. Crank your stereo as loud as it’ll go, play Cold Days From The Birdhouse and gaze at those shoes.
Dirty Pretty Things – Bang Bang You’re Dead (and Deadwood)
In the aftermath of The Libertines’ divorce it was needy child Babyshambles who got all the attention. And that’s a shame because even those of us who love Peter Doherty can’t deny that Babyshambles were shite. Half-baked lyrics, aimless vocals and Doherty’s signature sound – that of a man tripping over a drum kit and tumbling down a flight of stairs – feature heavily.
Meanwhile, the other half of the Pete‘n’Carl duo (Carl) put together Dirty Pretty Things with the Libs’ drummer Gary Powell and Doherty’s erstwhile stand-in, the impossibly gorgeous Anthony Rossomando. Their first album, Waterloo to Anywhere, is spiky, punky, driven: you can stick it on shuffle without exasperatedly stopping to skip half the tracks, which is more than you can say for Doherty’s post-Libertine output.
Honestly, I’m torn between Bang Bang You’re Dead and Deadwood. Both are worth a listen, but after a cup of coffee and several Sunday morning relistens, I’m going to go for Bang Bang You’re Dead. It opens with a trumpet solo from Rossomando (is there anything that man can’t do?) and a Clash-ish riff. And it reminds us that Barat can sing. Untwined from Doherty’s wistful harmonies, his voice is smooth, lyrical and the heartfelt lyrics – the Libs always did confessional so well – resonate.
Album sales and tour tickets failed and DPT split up in 2008. It’s a pity because, to paraphrase Alan Partridge, Dirty Pretty Things are the band The Libertines could have been.
“Underpass was accompanied by a video showing John Foxx in all his chiselled and strange beauty, looking like a villain from a 1960s Hammer Horror film, half in shadow, half in neon light.”
John Foxx – The Garden
Ultravox! began life as Tiger Lily in the early 1970s with innovative graphic designer and artist John Foxx at the helm. They were simply the best punk band around, not least because at the height of punk popularity, they still didn’t cut through to the mainstream. If you’ve never rocked out to ROckWrock or Young Savage, or daydreamed to When You Walk Through Me or Just For a Moment then you have a life half lived.
John Foxx injected synthpop into raw punk with an unashamed nod to glam rock. He saw the future of music and spread it over three great albums: Ultravox!; Ha! Ha! Ha!, and Systems of Romance. The band had little more than a cult following, doing better at gigs than in the charts.
Systems of Romance was a gently futuristic album that led John Foxx to pursue his solo career with the (almost) successful albums Metamatic and The Garden. Underpass, the single from Metamatic, with its odd refrain “click-click drone” was accompanied by a video showing Foxx in all his chiselled and strange beauty, looking like a villain from a 1960s Hammer Horror film, half in shadow, half in neon light.
A plea: Seek out LP The Garden, lie in a dark room, forget about the world and let the monastic melancholy sounds of the last track from which the album takes its name settle your soul. This is the song to die to.
Fat White Family – Breaking Into Aldi
Confrontational swagger and noise have propelled this burgeoning unstable bunch into the music world. Formed in Peckham in 2011, Fat White Family are former squat-dwelling, drug-fuelled, written-off, thin lads who have mushroomed out of the haze to haphazardly rock the bollocks off anyone who’s found them.
The boys have two albums under their belts (or not – performing starkers is not unusual), and hope of recognition now flows in the veins. Still, with guitarist Saul Adamczewski currently out, we pray the fat white force holds strong; more exposure is all that’s needed (but not in the full frontal nudity sense). With a front man as mesmerising as Lias Saoudi by rights they should own Waitrose and be quids in, not Breaking Into Aldi.
Vicky Lindsay Warburton
Tucked away between punk and new wave, and the rise of glossy 1980s music to ride around on yachts to, there was the ska revival (roughly 1979 to 1982). Inspired by early 1960s Jamaican ska music, and directly oriented towards the dance floor, this included extremely cool bands like the Specials and much loved popsters Madness.
I saw The Specials on TOTP and thought YES! I was 13 and ska music was the first music that I felt like I’d discovered. The Selecter were so tight, the Beat crafted really original pop music but the biggest band of them all in chart terms (111 weeks in the charts between 1980-1983), and the only ones who’ve never enjoyed much critical appreciation since, were Bad Manners.
This is partly because they looked like a stag party in Southend gone horribly awry and maybe because they were turned towards ‘hilarious’ tracks like the Can Can and My Girl Lollipop. Oh and possibly because the lead singer was called Buster Bloodvessel, and was prone to sticking out his tongue a lot and using inexplicable codpiece imagery on the record covers.
But when they were left to their own devices, they turned out some smashing pop. Special Brew is a sweet song that goes completely wild and is ridiculously fun to dance to. Lip Up Fatty still sounds like an early summer evening in 1980, and remains my favourite running song. I can recall a Smash Hits review of Walking on the Sunshine, which bemoaned that Bad Manners were so good musically when they were such a visually disappointing band. Harsh! But possibly, also true, looking at the video, where the stag party have made it into the sea with all the musical instruments.
You can still find Bad Manners touring, as Buster’s hotel, Fatty Towers, was not a lasting success. You can also join the Facebook page for Bad Manners’ splendidly named harmonica player, Winston Bazoomies. But probably you should just listen to some of their top pop music. And dance.
The Gaslight Anthem – Old White Lincoln
I was at Reading Festival when I first heard the Gaslight Anthem, three days into the five days of brushing my teeth with Fosters and drawing layer upon layer of eyeliner on like I was Jack Sparrow (like rings around a tree, this is always a strong indicator of amount of drinks taken). It was love at first note.
Laid-back bluegrass vibe, a little bit pop, a little bit folky and with a Springsteen growl to Brian Fallon’s effortlessly smoky, frankly filthy voice. My tune of choice, Old White Lincoln, is from an album called The 59 Sound, and if said album was a man, I’d have married it. Every time I hear it is like the first time.
It was really hard to pick a defining song so I just took it right back to the aural equivalent of that very first moment my eyes met them across a crowded bar: Old White Lincoln.
The Divine Comedy – If…
The Divine Comedy is essentially Neil Hannon, a man who’s a lyrical genius with a voice like Scott Walker. The song of his I love most is If… from 1997’s A Short Album About Love. It begins like every standard love song in the world ever, wobbles enough to make you think ‘huh?’, rights itself, and then plunges into full-on terrifyingly obsessed man territory; not romantic, oh dear god no, NEIL, STOP, don’t say these things, euwww, NEYUL.
It’s a list of all the things you never want someone to say to you. It makes me laugh – and not least because of the horse references. (Hannon also wrote My Lovely Horse for Father Ted’s Song for Europe. See? Lyrical genius.)
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