if you were around to enjoy it’s streamlined pleasures, Elastica was actually a fairly important album in 1995
Today, if remembered at all, Elastica’s self-titled debut album (Geffen, 1995) is remembered as something of a cool one-hit wonder (as opposed to the usual novelty kind), a sartorial British blip hanging on the tail of the Alternative Rock comet barreling through the 1990s.
But if you were around to enjoy it’s streamlined pleasures, Elastica was actually a fairly important album.
1995 was a kind of apex for the Slacker Nation. It seemed every week, another batch of torn-flannel fellas with questionable demi-dreadlocks were moaning about some personal distress through louder and grungier productions – most of which cost in the high six-figure realm to make, via increasingly irresponsible major labels paying for rounds with the last few coffers of CD money.
Punk supposedly “won” because grunge was considered ostensibly dirtier and angrier than the similarly watered-down metal of the hair metal tsunami at the end of the ‘80s.
VIDEO: Elastica “Stutter”
Then here came Elastica, actually looking and sounding (a bit) like a punk band from pre-mohawked 1978 – shorter hair, skinny frames, simple B&W cover art, and most importantly, pants that fit. It may seem silly today, but giant clothes had so dominated rock / pop culture since the early ‘80s, that these pasty, lanky limeys in tight black jeans stuck out strong from the goofy Fruitopia world of mid-90s MTV. Their bored visages and monotone color palette was a sexy relief – as pop punk’s dorky skater shorts and neo-hippy’s floppy hats and hackysacks were embarrassing thoughtful 20-somethings everywhere. It was so refreshing to see a major label band that looked like they’d rather puke in an alley garbage can than land a gnarly ollie.
VIDEO: Elastica “Line Up”
Now this may be where I should remind that there actually was a huge underground world of real punk at this same time, played by snarly cranks in jeans and tees and flailing away at music far trashier than Elastica’s minimalist pop. (I might also note that Elastica’s record probably cost in the six figures, too.) But Elastica were not from NYC, L.A., or even Austin. They were a major label “Next Big Thing” from London, featuring singer/guitarist, Justine Frischmann, who’d formed Suede a couple years earlier with then-boyfriend, singer Brett Anderson; only to quit them and Brett, and move on to Damon Albarn from Blur (who plays some keyboard on Elastica). So there was a deep, gossip column-ready pedigree of Brit Pop, which had infiltrated American charts a couple years earlier. And, with their obvious debt to Wire’s angular riffing and yalping, they exemplified the then-au courant vintage influence, late-70s new wave.
VIDEO: Elastica “Car Song”
That was a sound bubbling up a bit at that point, but here was a major label act with mostly women (then still a rare sight) revamping that sound and laying out lyrics like, “I’m much too much for you.” So even me and my subculture vulture pals couldn’t resist Elastica. I saw them in Cleveland on that tour, and they were great–though, per most new, over-hyped, young British bands–they played their album almost exactly through and had little left for an encore. Or they just felt like walking off. Oh those smarmy Brits!
True (came the always reliant naysaying chorus), Elastica quite literally stole a few Wire and Stranglers riffs and melodies, to the point where Wire was later publishing paid for that theft. But then this was also the exact moment where we were all getting over the fact that the next dominant pop music form – hip hop—unapologetically ripped off, aka sampled, as a course. If Elastica were not that post-modern, they were as modern as you could get in 1995.
VIDEO: Elastica “Connection”
And to reiterate, they were great at what they did. Elastica is a super catchy record, every song a choppy chunk of new wave-sliced Brit-pop, a mini-monolith of that particular moment which merits repeated listenings.
In the quick wake of Elastica – it seemed from first hearing their name to seeing them in a bar in Cleveland happened within six months, a finger snap in pre-digital times – there were a slew of similarly choppy Brit Pop acts taking their taut trousers to late night MTV. Powder, Republica, Catatonia, Sleeper, Kinickie. Some were better than others, but most with a gloss that aimed for possible post-Supergrass UK chart action. It was Elastica’s relatively rough-hewn production and stellar songwriting that set them apart. And their debut’s brevity (about 30 minutes long) keeps it fresh, perfect as a quckie to get you in gear while trying on your best outfits before going out.
Elastica did what we always ask our British insta-stars to do – be a pop band. And that means not just songs/sound, but a uniform look, consistent interview demeanor (approachably arrogant), and cool videos that exude droll nightlife joie de vivre. And do that for only one or two albums then leave, please.
Like many an infamous British pop band, touring the U.S. was apparently akin to getting a root canal while hovering over an active volcano. So far as I remember, they never properly toured America again. And then of course, given the oh-so tiring rigors of stardom, there were the ubiquitous in-band fights, member changes, numerous, expensive scrapped recording sessions, and finally five years until their sophomore album that, in a proto-Strokes manner (who they clearly influenced), sounded not much different than their debut, just with a little less life.
And that was that. Which will make you “infamous” in England (see Stone Roses, The La’s, Sundays) but in America kind of leaves you a one-hit wonder. But what a hit! And Elastica’s curve-leading style kept rock/pop bands out of clown pants until about three years. There really should be an expanded reissue by now.