Radioactive Sparrow: Live and Let Off
Radioactive Sparrow: We're Breaking Through
( Unsound Automatic : UACD004 )
Bill Bargefoot, Tony Gage, Richard Bowers, Chris Hartford (guitars, vocals, keyboards etc)
( Unsound Automatic : UACD005 )
Bill Bargefoot, Tony Gage, Richard Bowers (guitars, vocals, keyboards, drum machines etc)
Oh, this is extremely risky stuff. Where to start? On the face of it, Radioactive Sparrow are a really, really terrible mixture of 60s hippy rock, punk and the most incompetent sixth-form band you ever encountered. Their songs mostly sound like casual mum's-lounge jams between beginner musicians who have no intention of actually playing any proper songs. Nobody seems to practice their instruments much, or to care that the sounds they make are mostly composed of cock-ups.
If the band members individually seem to have no regard whatever for technique or conventional musicianship of any kind, the group as a whole has the consistency of a watery cake mix. Sticky and unweildy, nothing seems able to lift them into anything resembling a groove. Instead, everybody plays deliberately out-of-time and out-of-tune; "Let's dance to the rhythm of the music", they sing, rather ambitiously as a drum machine hammers out sixteenth-notes on the bass drum and two detuned guitars vaguely noodle around. Band members can often be heard holding conversations in the background; the songs are sometimes prefaced by the band tuning up or trying to work out the riff, and end in derailments.
The reference points here are groups like The Doors, Beefheart's Magic Band, the dregs of UK punk and even the Velvet Underground. However, none of these bands' redeeming features is present. This is particularly true of the lyrics, which seem to be improvised (though one suspects they're not) in a deliberate parody of Jim Morrison's rubbish but pompous orations. They sound exactly like the lyrics you wrote for your school rock band but never showed them, because you realised how crap they were. They're sub-sixth-form reject lyrics, and some of them are very funny indeed. Their singer cannot sing at all, although he certainly can burp.
Does it come off? Who can say? It's a kind of arch, high-concept music so utterly drenched in cynicism as to make the Sex Pistols sound like Chris Rea. Yet behind the nihilism -- anything goes, so who cares what we play any more? -- there's also a celebration of amateur music-making. Perhaps not such a potent celebration as Eugene Chadbourne's, say, but a characteristically British, even characteristically Welsh, one. These records were made under drizzly grey skies by the socially and musically stunted. Occasionally -- very, very occasionally -- something of conventionally musical value does shine through, but those bits are probably mistakes.