Prolapse - The Italian Flag
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Sometimes reference points aren’t much help, really. I’m really not sure if there’s any records out there quite like this. One day there might be. It’ll probably be successful. The NME’ll like it. The NME liked Prolapse, of course, but back in the dark, distant days of 1998 that didn’t cut much mustard with The British Record Buying Public. At least, not if you were Prolapse. Somehow the idea of a woman from the East Midlands and a big Scottish bloke talking, singing and shouting over, under and at each other while punk, post-punk and shoegaze came together and had an almighty row—somehow, Urban Hymns was more successful. Bizarre.
Prolapse, from what I can gather, were a bunch of C86 kids who met while at university in Leicester and decided to make really depressing music together. The Italian Flag, their third album and the only one that got released on a major label, goes one fuck of a way beyond that. It’s immediate and yet a bit impenetrable at the same time. You could call it pop, but people would give you some very, very strange looks.
One thing you can say with little fear of contradiction is that this is a very grown-up album, not because of the mature qualities of the musicianship or whatever people are saying about Doves this week but because of the darkness of the sound, not in the modern whining sarcasm that passes for wit too often nowadays, but the seriousness of the thing. Guitars are hefty, nervous, oppressive, edgy, scratchy. Linda Steelyard and Mick Derrick’s vocals are… it’s difficult to know what to say. She: clipped, hard East Midlands tones, sometimes lost in the mix, like being called to by ghosts, playing at girlyness, other times irritable, skulking shrugs, sometimes just plain fucked off. He: rasping Glasgae yelling, or low, threatening murmurs and whispers; sometimes he sounds drunk, sometimes he sounds fucking unhinged.
The songs are monsterpieces of repetition and freeform clashing together, not ‘uncomfortable’, not ‘awkward’, just intensely brilliant. The energy is immense. ‘Slash/Oblique’ lunges in early. Steelyard coos “You, will, ne, ver, un, der, stand, me,” then babbles “IknowIneedmyheadexaminedIknowIneedmyheadexamined,” and Derrick throws himself in, yelling incomprehensibly wherever he can. The drums charge throughout, fit to burst, going so fast they’ve forgotten who’s meant to be keeping up with who. ‘Deanshanger’ is slower. Nearly more conventional, a bassline driving it along neatly—there’s some verses, and a chorus… it could almost be normal, were it not for the fact that Derrick is still making Aidan Moffat sound like Stephen Fry, there’s bagpipes that sound like they’re hurling invective at a cabinet minister and the chorus is actually just Steelyard singing some words that sound vaguely French but don’t actually make any sense. Still, she gets to be the shouty one on ‘Day At Death Seaside’, yelling “HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE! HAD TO LEAVE! BOUND TO LOSE!” amid horrible fairground organs and her yelling at someone about Oprah Winfrey and clearing the fucking mantelpiece. ‘Autocade’, on the other hand, sounds like Lush (that’s a very good thing) and doesn’t feature Derrick, because he thought it wasn’t very good. It really is depressing how little influence Prolapse have had on the British music industry.
It’s intense, serious, grown-up, and incredible fun. ‘Killing The Bland’ (“I might have to kill you, which wouldn’t be fair. On me.”) could legitimately have been a proper hit single, We All Shout Together as the backing goes all psycho-punka and decides to race Derrick and Steelyard to see who can finish theirs first. ‘Visa For Violet And Van’ is the sort of song that swallows you completely whole, the pace militaristic and unrelenting for six minutes, a pounding, punishing rhythm destroying everything in its path without blinking. The guitar wanders and wails all over, lost and wounded. Steelyard sounds calm, detached. “My floor, kitchenware, underwear, haircare!” Derrick is on top form, screaming his verses, sneering his chorus (“Ah wis always wan point wan point wan point wan point wan ae thim!”), sounding like he’s making wanker signs right up in your face and could not give a shite what you’re thinking about that. A minute and a half from the end it dissolves into feedback and crashing. You barely notice.
There’s really nothing quite like Prolapse—too complex and hefty for punk, too bold and fast (and, to be honest, fun) for shoegaze, too fucking odd for pop. ‘Indie’ feels like a whole can of worms that doesn’t merit touching, but maybe that’s just what Prolapse were, a properly independent band who didn’t appear to give the slightest fuck for what other people thought of them (as opposed to the kind of band who repeatedly declare that they don’t give a fuck what other people think of them) because they were rather too busy being themselves. It’s annoying that they completely vanished in 1999 after their final album, Ghosts Of Dead Aeroplanes, and that nowadays they seem to exist solely in the memories of music journalists. Despite the fact that Prolapse ran almost directly parallel with my teenage years, I didn’t actually know they’d existed till just before they split up, and I only started getting into them in about 2001, which is fucking stupid. You look at the raft of mediocre British guitar bands around today, all trying to do something new and different, and you realise that only five or six years ago this lot were everything they could never be. And it pisses you off ever so slightly.
(For more on Prolapse, The Palace Of Prolapse is quite definitely worth your time)