Angelica - The End Of A Beautiful Career/The Seven Year Itch
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.
There are very few things in this world, very few things indeed, that become more tedious to the minor student music journalist (read: twenty, skint yet can always seem to spare a tenner or two if the Super Furries have a new album out, will faintly praise Gemma Hayes for food) than bands moaning about the media. Britain has a wonderful propensity for churning about mediocre four-piece guitar bands fronted by moany wanks who hate manufactured pop and won’t shut up about it and reckon George Bush is a bit stupid and think that this makes them poets or something, and who reckon they’re ‘proper music’ or ‘proper pop’, which means they will in their entire career come up with one tune that might be maybe a bit halfway reasonable if you really can’t think of anything better to do, and it will almost certainly sound like a half-rate photocopy of something Menswe@r rejected for not being groovy enough. Each year our fair isle churns out at least fifty of these bands, who will get signed to subsidiary bits of major labels and knock off a minimum of two singles, one of which will be re-released at least three times (getting played on Radio One at least twice by either Lamacq, Whiley or Lowe) until it gets propelled to number 59, and an album, which will always somehow end up in the hands of the least competent writers on the staff of university newspapers all across the country, who appear to have confused having Grade 6 Piano for having a clue. They give the album eight out of ten. The band are dropped, then split, moaning about the media and the record label and bastards in general just being bastards. No-one will remember these bands, because next year there will be another fifty of them coming along, three-quarters of which will be composed of the members of the previous year’s crop, and they’ll all sound exactly the same, except with sound altered slightly to fit in a little better with whatever is trendy at the time.
Which would all be fine and dandy, were it not for the fact that occasionally they have a point. The British record industry is obsessed with trends, and sometimes, when they sweep away the detritus, they end up doing for a lot of stuff that really doesn’t deserve such shoddy treatment.
Angelica originally surfaced in the late nineties with the single ‘Teenage Girl Crush’, which led to (deh-duh-DUHHH!!!) Evening Session favourite ‘Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?’ being unleashed upon the world at some point early in the year 2000. The year 2000 was a particularly shit time for shit British guitar bands, because some of them were starting to get successful in a somewhat minor way. Before the year was out, My Vitriol would play Top Of The Pops twice, and occasionally would be joined by King Adora. Unless my brain is badly distorting, Crashland made the top 40. Meanwhile, up the business end of the charts, everyone was going, “Uh, Coldplay, uh”. Jesus Christ, JJ72 were popular, for fuck’s sakes… In short, British guitar bands were in dire need of A Fucking Kicking.
You can’t help but think that Angelica should have given them one. ‘Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?’, which appears on their debut mini-album The End Of A Beautiful Career, is an utterly fantastic single, being as it is about two-and-a-half minutes of girl group heaven-hell. The intro is a little girl asking “Why did you let my kitten die?” It is then followed by some recorders (think flutes but ten times shittier), leading into a turbo-powered shang-a-lang about how all Sunday school teachers are bastards, resplendent with handclaps, gorgeous harmonised backing vocals, overdriven bass drum, bit of glockenspiel, and a good three or four separate choruses. The song catapulted them to reasonable indie fame, but therein lay the problem. Four girls, from The North Of England, play sparkly sounding indie-punk-pop with sha-la-la’s and ultra tight harmonised vocals, with witty lyrics about men being shit.
Yep, everyone thought they were the new Kenickie.
Now, this isn’t a bad thing necessarily, because at their height Kenickie were one of the best bands ever to have come from these shores (true, when they were bad it wasn’t much fun, but ‘Punka’, ‘Nightlife’, ‘In Your Car’… in fact, more or less all of At The Club remains almost peerless), and ‘Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?’ is just as good as them at their peak. However, this was the year 2000, and everyone was starting to decide that Britpop and the mid-nineties was a load of shit. Kenickie were dumped in with this. Then, the Strokes come along and the NME decides that what the world needs now is Heat magazine with guitars, and everything was all new rock and shit, and the New Kenickie were only suitable for laughing at, along with the rest of The Past, because hey, you know, we were only kidding when we tried getting you excited about Shack! I mean hey, they’re old, and they have beards! No, what you want are Starsailor… no, come back… come back…
And thus Angelica got lost to the world, destined never to be remembered as anything more than some band that sounded a bit like Kenickie, if indeed they were to be remembered at all.
The End Of A Beautiful Career is far, far better than all of that. Seven bites of shit life, about the way in which the Church will never really be there for you, the downright misery of the British seaside town, shit attempts at spicing up joyless sex, the grindingly formulaic ritual of being chatted up by self-adoring bores, fantasising about mutilating your feckless significant other, then decapitating your ex’s new partner and burning his car. It’s riddled with anger, frustration and bitterness, but knows there are ways to express it other than moping about and playing LOUDLY AND SLOWLY because you are DEEP, because by doing that people will immediately have you down for being the boring mardy bastard that you in all probability are, then shrug their shoulders and look elsewhere.
Angelica were not a shit late-90’s-early-00’s British guitar band. Angelica had a clue. Angelica had ideas and knew how to use them. Angelica had brains and knew that they weren’t much good if all you could do with them was show them off like you’re expecting people to give you a medal for having them. Obviously they read books, but used them to fire up their imaginations, as opposed to coming out with lyrics like “The fridge is full of just desserts.” (Dear god I hate My Vitriol.)
Perhaps most importantly of all, at a time when everyone decided to sound like either Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley or Some Nondescript Squally Cunt From Camden and failed painfully (whoever said Mark Greaney had the voice of an angel requires some severe slapping), Angelica had proper vocal artillery in Holly Ross’ soft as butter Lancastrian tones and Brigit Colton’s Northern Riot Grrl growl, coupled with vocal harmonies that were deployed to devastating effect. Witness the swelling of the “oh, uhhhhhhhh, oh” backing vocals on ‘Sea Shanty’. The civic community choir-esque chorus of “Bring her head back to me” on ‘Bring Back Her Head’, as though you could buy them at the greengrocers with half a kilo of Granny Smith’s. In the same song, the instrumentation stops, leaving Ross’ vocals alone, dripping the line “Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut off her head,” the ‘u’’s flattened chillingly just in case anyone was wondering if they were pissing about or not. The chopping up of alternate verses and choruses on ‘Concubine Blues’ between Ross’ glockenspiel-backed refrain of “Do you believe in fairy-tales? Do you believe in fairy-tales?” and Colton’s scowled yells, demanding “Is it supposed to please me that your touch is always the same?”, the momentum increasing as the rage at the numbing ritual of titillation rises.
The songs were fantastic too. Note to guitar bands – ‘perfect pop’ does not mean a bit where you go “Ba ba ba.” Pop is ideas, pop is… well, whatever, people write fucking essays about what pop is, and they write books and novels and plays and articles for The Sunday Telegraph and get paid for it an’ all. Me, I’m twenty, single, unemployed, and sat up at 3:15 on a Friday morning drinking a pint of orange juice the milkman has just delivered. Bring it. That’s how good these songs are, that’s what Angelica are worth. ‘Bring Back Her Head’ and its march of doom, Holly Ross twisting the knife slowly and painfully as she commands her ex to “take out the carving knife and cut off her head.” The glue-gun staple-gun indie-glitter-pop of ‘All I Can See’ and ‘You Fake It/You Make It’, tearing up the indie disco while cutting out your eyes because, well, that’s what you deserve. ‘Fireflies’ and its slightly peculiar ritual – “Take one salted fish and/Bathe it in black ink/And put it under your skin/For safe keeping” – married to a dark and confusing song of rock, dark arts and flames and fire whizzing around as Colton sings of “the sparks that fly when two hearts collide.” That’s pretty pop too. ‘Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?’, the song that sort of started it all, the song that was so good it sounded like Kenickie but better, the irresistible run of choruses and hooks, as the repeated chant of “We know somewhere where you can’t go” runs into the repeated chant of “And then he slapped her bang bang bang”, before they both start going at the same time, and straight back into the main chorus of “Why did you let my kitten die?” with the recorders and everything. ‘Concubine Blues’, as Angelica let the angst out with extreme vengeance, kicking off innocuous then winding up and roaring loose, the mantrafication of “Then I put on my Chinese dress and you tell me to get undressed” going over and over and it gets louder and louder and louder.
And maybe most of all, ‘Sea Shanty’, the song that sparked the idea in my head on a train back home to London that Angelica needed writing about, that something this good couldn’t just be overlooked like so much bargain basement material. ‘Sea Shanty’ is slow and heavy. It starts out with some slightly off key plucked guitar, then the washing wave sounds, then the vocals, overlaying each other with elongated “Ahh”’s, and then Ross starts with the only lyrics of the piece:
Take you down, up to the sea,Back to the “ahh”’s, then lyrics, then out of nowhere comes a very loud guitar, playing the song’s central riff over and over again, a minute of pure intensity, the rest of the song sounds like it’s struggling to contain it, Ross’ vocals get frayed and ragged, then suddenly it’s gone, the “Ahh”’s return, this time louder than everything else, then they go out. Then the plucked guitar line goes too, leaving just the sounds of the waves to pull it out. It’s amazing, three minutes forty of atmosphere, dark, bastard, intense atmosphere, the kind of song that leaves you backed up to the walls with the sheer occasion. It’s a song that would justify anyone’s existence, regardless of the six other pearls on the record.
Oh come and sail, away with me,
Your battleships, and submarines,
Your eyes are blue, your eyes are green,
Cheap music on, the radio,
I play it loud, I play it slow
Your milky skin’s as cold as cream,
Coldest skin I’ve ever seen…
But no, Angelica were forgotten. They then came out with a full-length album at the end of 2001, The Seven-Year Itch, produced by Kat Bjelland from Babes In Toyland. It’s the sound of a band who, to be blunt, were mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore. Away with the glockenspiels, and in comes ‘Golden Lilies’, a thirty-second screech-fest, with the refrain “Pin her down or pin her up/All she’s good for is a fuck,” which ends with all of them yelling “FUCK” very loudly. Angelica had changed, and not necessarily for the better. At times, their anger at the world that dismissed them does push them a bit closer to the edge of averageness than one would hope, edging them nearer the bracket of bog-standard guitar schmucks than they deserve. Sometimes, though, it keens the edge. The echoed chorus of ‘Your Religion Is Me’ sounds like an army coming over the hills, “YOUR. RELIGION. IS. ME” the unifying chant, as guitars go a bit tunnel like, three separate vocals coming in out over the top of each other, then in the middle switching to solely drums and vocals, as two coo and one shouts “Exorcise your demons, I will try to heal them,” then back to the main thrust. You could launch ships with it. ‘Evergreen’, with two separate vocals, gunning along hard and fast, then stops, and they start singing “Evergreen, evergreen” over and over again like they’re The Sundays or something, then back to bass and drums, the intertwining vocals of the chorus, then back to the full on run for the finish line. ‘Reynard The Fox’ almost sounds like Belle & Sebastian for a bit, if Isobel Campbell could sing above a whisper, then suddenly starts sounding like Idlewild if they weren’t shit and actually fucking rocked, and all in all is very good indeed. ‘Liberation Is Wasted On Me’ is possibly the cream of the crop, as Angelica give their pop tendencies more rein, and Holly Ross decides to stop shouting, as she does for most of this album, and remembers she can actually sing a bit, on a driving, indie-esque lament for rubbish teenagers who fuck and drink and nothing else. A hit single for most other bands. But no-one noticed anymore.
The Seven Year Itch was largely ignored by the media. Angelica continued playing shows, including a blinding set at the London Ladyfest in the summer of 2002. Their website hasn’t been updated since then, aside from a notice that their gig in Lancaster on September 14th 2002 would be their last for a while. Apparently they did split, some gone to university, some in other bands, some… who knows. But they need remembering. It’d be difficult to argue they changed anything, certainly. But that doesn’t matter. Angelica were far, far too good to be forgotten.