March 04, 2005

The Flatmates "Love & Death"

One of the nicer benefits with the falling costs of CD reproduction is the rescue and reissue of really good, obscure bands. As the market's never going to be overwhelmed by a desire for a long-lost indie-pop bands from the mid 1980s, but thankfully some people are willing to pony up the cash to save their favorites from the dustbin of forgotten and the unfortunately obscure. That's true with Clairecords' latest salvage job, a reissue of The Flatmates' definitive collection, Love and Death. This British group, led by the seductive pop mistress Deb Haynes, were a definitive act on the fledgling indiepop scene of the mid-to-late 1980s, releasing a slew of singles during their brief career.

Love And Death was their singles compilation AND their sole album release. From the first listen, it's easy to understand why someone would want to release this record--it's simply good. The band has a fun, frantic beat; it's kinda pop, kinda mod, too; if you've wondered about the inspiration for bands like Boyracer, Henry's Dress, Heavenly or the entire damn K Records roster circa 1990, then you'll find all your answers here. (I also hear a bit of Stone Roses in here, too, but let's not confuse the issue, shall we?) It's obvious that these lads and lassies were quite influential on those who heard them way back when, and there's no reason why a newer generation shouldn't be allowed that honor today.

Arranged somewhat chronologically, Love And Death finds a band going from pensive pop amateurs whose innocent charm makes up for their inexperience ("I Could Be In Heaven," "So In Love In You") to a strong, confident band of pop stars who can write their way around a great, grooving melody ("Shimmer," "On My Mind"). As with many indiepop bands of this era, part of their charm was watching them grow up and mature over the course of seven inch singles and mini-albums. It was a mentality that produced a "sure, that band might not be genius now, but wait a little while" attitude that was healthy and encouraging.

Let's face it--some of these songs are just damn good, regardless of all that other stuff I've written; this record's worth it for the one-two-three punch of later year recordings "Heaven Knows," "Don't Say If" and "This Thing Called Love"--all three excellent examples of great songwriting performed by a red-hot pop band. Haynes' voice has a punch that goes straight to the heart; husky but not too butch; occasionally she sounds like a less gothic Siouxsie Sioux, but that's a good thing in my book. ("This Thing Called Love," a cover of Pauline Murray's solo hit, is one of the best love songs of the 1980s, PERIOD, and I've listened to it 234523 times on repeat, it's that good, it's that obsession-inducing.)

The only minor quibble is the relative lack of notes about the songs or a history of the band, but that's just me--and you'll find plenty of info at their website, too. Still, Love & Death is a welcome reissue of a band who never got the respect or attention they deserved--until now.

--Joseph Kyle

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