March 17, 2002

Miaow "When It All Comes Down"

We've happily and rightfully extolled the virtues and greatness of Cath Carroll's recent albums, both old and new. Both albums are shining examples of Carroll's singing ability, and both are records that should be sought out. As curiousity often does, it's easy to ask the question, "where did she come from?" A talent such as hers simply doesn't come from nowhere, does it?

Of course not.

Thankfully, her roots have been gathered and packaged together all nice and neat in one compact collection., and it's easy to understand why those lovely folk at LTM would want to save Miaow from a painfully wrong burial in the dustbin of pop obscurity. Despite massive searches on my part, I've only been able to find one of them, FAC 179, "When It All Comes Down." After hearing Unrest's cover of it on A Factory Record, I wanted to hear the original version. Three years later I found it, and immediatly wanted to hear more Miaow, though every search turned up nothing.

Miaow was on-again and off-again band for several years under different names. Starting off in Manchester as Glass Animals, Carrol and company moved to London and regrouped under then name Gay Animals, before changing the name once again to the safer yet still animalistic Miaow. For two years, they were Miaow, and in that time, they managed to release three singles, (one for a one-release only label, two for the esteemed Factory Records), a track on the now-famous C-86 compilation, as well as two Peel Sessions.

Their first release was a three-track EP entitled "Belle Vue," and was a charming debut--"charming" meaning cute in a child learning how to talk; they're precious for trying, but they're not succeeding, and the only thing that can help them is growth and maturity. Perhaps it's the sloppy playing, perhaps it's the terrible organ that sticks out (and is explained in the hilarious liner notes), but these first-step moments are a far cry from what was to come--though I was charmed by "Grocer's Devil Daughter," where all of these slips and trips really work well together. When they appeared on C-86, they'd dropped that organ and were all the better for it. Not too long after, they recorded their first Peel Session, and these songs reveal that Miaow had refined their sound even further; "Did She" and "Following Through" are both rather strong numbers--much better than anything they'd previously done. The other two songs from that session, "Three-Quarters of the Way to Paradise" and "Cookery Casualty" never really gather much momentum; the experiments don't quite work, and the most clever thing about them are the titles.

By the time they reached their Factory debut, "When It All Comes Down," Miaow really were at the top of their game. They had set aside a lot of the more "experimental" moments, and focused directly on their songwriting, and it showed. Compare Peel Sessions and the studio version of "Did She" to witness how tight they had become in such a short amount of time. It's best to ignore the remixed version of "When It All Comes Down," from the 12" version of FAC 179. Thankfully, it's separated from the other two songs, because it's terrible, and it takes away from the original version. (Since I've had the 12", I've listened to that remix version only twice--the second time was when I listened to this collection!)

If ever Miaow were poised for something greater, "When It All Comes Down" should have been that stepping-stone. Should have been, but alas, it didn't happen. It's sad, because their second Peel Session is fantastic, and their final single, "Breaking The Code," was a great record, even if it didn't have quite the magical punch of "When It All Comes Down." I'm not exactly sure, but I'm pretty certain that their demise had to do with age. Carroll's singing was getting better; the other musicians were also growing stronger, and by their final recordings, you can tell that Carroll's voice had outgrown the twee pop of Miaow. The solo experimenting that the rest of the band were doing didn't help, either; Carroll admits that when she heard some of the others' solo stuff, she liked them better than Miaow's! Their two album demos show that Carroll and company sounded bored; Carroll, for one, doesn't sound particularly enthused. Their demise was not unexpected; before you bemoan it, though consider this little fact: Miaow couldn't have made England Made Me.

Miaow's legacy may be barely a footnote of a footnote in the annals of pop history, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that Miaow never once sounded like they weren't having fun, and isn't that more important than a legacy? When It All Comes Down is a fun listen, too, and if you're a fan of Cath Carroll (or Unrest!), then this little record will certainly please you.

--Joseph Kyle

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