Menswe@r - The Menswe@r Collection Music Album Reviews

Menswe@r - The Menswe@r Collection Music Album Reviews
This 4xCD retrospective of a group synonymous with Britpop’s worst excesses captures their pop peacocking and genuine charm, accompanied by a lingering feeling of trying too hard.

Pop music’s history is best written not by the winners or the losers, but by the bands who fall in between: the latecomers, coattail riders, and almost-made-its whose relatable success gives the closest insight into what a musical scene was really like after the outliers and innovators had blazed their trail. In this sense it is Menswe@r—well-connected London scenesters whose moment in the sun was as brief as their rise was meteoric—who, more than Pulp, Blur, or Oasis, epitomised Britpop in all its plasticky glory.
Formed in 1994, the year of Our Lord Parklife, Menswe@r signed a v@st record de@l after a handful of gigs, appeared on Top of the Pops before their first single was released, and scored a Top 20 hit with their debut album, Nuisance, before heading into sharp decline. A flagship single flopped, the band parted company with their label, and a second album, the Camden country-flavored ¡Hay Tiempo!, was only released in Japan. In 1998 Menswe@r called it a day, their name a lingering reminder of the worst excesses of Britpop, as British music fans en masse tried to pretend they had actually always been more into Radiohead.

Menswe@r’s persistent infamy, while perhaps inevitable in the UK’s fast-moving music scene, was not entirely deserved. The Menswe@r Collection, a 4xCD box set that rounds up almost everything the band recorded, does unwittingly highlight a number of Britpop’s glaring faults, packed as it is with retro obsessions, dry production, and a lingering feeling of trying far too hard. “Daydreamer,” the band’s best-known song, sounds so loaded with naked commercial ambition that it is hard to imagine it was born out of actual human emotion. At the same time, the song is a telling example of Menswe@r’s Wire-meets-Roxy Music pop peacocking, with enough sultry hooks, glam strut, and suggestion of sexual misadventure beneath the radio-friendly sheen to make it an acceptable bedfellow to Suede’s poppier moments. If you were a major-label A&R in London during the Britpop era, you would have bid big money for them too.

Nuisance, remastered for disc one of this set, is essentially more of the same Britpop bombast: acute pop hits, angular attitude, and one-paced gloss; music for trying out cheap copies of expensive shoes. That the band eked three Top 20 hits out of the album is a sign of both how dominant Britpop came to be and Menswe@r’s infectious commercial confidence; the hooks on “Sleeping In” and “Stardust” are as sharp as the band’s mod suits and twice as well worn.

Disc two, A Sides and B Sides, while considerably more varied, largely proves that the British music industry’s taste for endless new chart-eligible formats in the 1990s was tinged with delirium—would any sane record company executive have greenlit Menswe@r’s drum’n’bass-driven cover of PIL’s “Public Image”? Menswe@r evidently picked their best songs for their first album, although the spaghetti Western boogie of “26 Years,” a B-side on Sleeping In, shows that the band could be considerably more interesting when they rolled up their shirt sleeves and let down their hair. The disc is also home to the deeply unloveable “We Love You,” the song that sunk Menswe@r’s career by stalling at a then-unacceptable 22 in the UK charts. It’s the kind paper-thin faux epic British bands were so keen on at the time, a song that strains every artless sinew in an attempt to be anthemic.

The feeling of fruitful relaxation that runs through “26 Years” continues toward the back end of disc four (Rarities and Demos) as we see the band reach beyond the Sta-Prest glam punk of their debut album on their way to ¡Hay Tiempo! A promising set of songs from the second album’s sessions shows the band dabbling in Small Faces-style blues psychedelia (“She Makes Him”), the baroque pop of the Zombies (“Is This the Way”) and Valium-era Beach Boys (“Pick Me up on Your Way Down”). It’s sweet, unoriginal, and rather intimate—a drunken bearhug to Nuisance’s cocaine stare—although the band’s light-fingered approach to melody once again lets them down on “Something for Nothing,” which is like Radiohead’s “Planet Telex,” telexed.

¡Hay Tiempo!, in solitary majesty on disc three, isn’t quite the abrupt left turn the band would like it to be. Menswe@r singer Johnny Dean recently described ¡Hay Tiempo! as “a punk/indie band, suddenly making five-minute acid-tinged country-rock pieces.” But, as ever when a British band shoots for country, the results end up closer to the Rolling Stones’ rootsy dalliances than to country music itself, while the acidic touch of ¡Hay Tiempo! is more the citric suckle of home-pressed lemonade than a full-on psychedelic freak out.

You can understand why a conservative record company got spooked. ¡Hay Tiempo! often feels like Menswe@r trying on other bands’ clothing, rather than finding themselves: “Lower Loveday” is Menswe@r does Spiritualized; “Holding Tight” is a second-hand Sweetheart of the Rodeo; “Shine” is Menswe@r on potent early Verve—and so on. It’s a rather faceless release for a band who once traded on image. But ¡Hay Tiempo!’s gilded grooves are far more listenable in 2020 than the band’s overly brittle debut album, thanks to some emotive songwriting (“Silver Tongue” especially) and reassuringly expensive production, including contributions from Pee Wee Ellis (once of James Brown’s band) and the High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan.

¡Hay Tiempo! isn’t a lost classic, then, and The Menswe@r Collection won’t propel Menswe@r to the top—or even the top two—shelves of British indie rock. But it should help musical history look more kindly on a band whose vaguely androgynous charm and sharp edges have aged a lot better than the Oasis-lite and bedwetting indie that came along in Britpop’s wake to hold the UK charts in a relentlessly beige headlock.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Menswe@r - The Menswe@r Collection Music Album Reviews Menswe@r - The Menswe@r Collection Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, November 02, 2020 Rating: 5

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