Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Orange Juice. The Glasgow School (Domino, 2005)

"I looked deep within my pocket/ For the note you sent to me/ To put it in a nutshell/ You're a heartless mercenary."

Scottish twee-punkers Orange Juice emerged from late-'70s Glasgow to pave the way for a slew of like-minded, fiercely pop-obsessed pansies from rocky Caledonia. Their brash, aggressively naive, and incessantly catchy style can be heard in later Scottish acts like the Vaselines, Bell and Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, and especially -- given Orange Juice's love of and penchant for thumping disco rhythms -- Franz Ferdinand.

Orange Juice adopted punk's reckless amateurism and outsiderness but abandoned its macho, nihilistic posturing, turning the genre inside out for their own ends. Instead of bellowing nonsense about anarchy in the UK or whatever, they looked inward, loudly, joyously moping about girls and their inability to pull any. But instead of coming across as fey (well, ok -- it's a little fey), it comes across as funny and brave.

Plus, because the music is so winning -- Orange Juice SOP was to crank up the treble on their Gretsch semi-hollowbodies (no Fenders or Gibsons for these boys, no) and strum maniacally as the hi-hats and kick-drums pounded and fluttered, the bass punchy and elastic in vintage R 'n' B mode -- it more than carries the day. Which is good, since the vocal stylings of Edwyn Collins (he of "A Girl Like You" fame) can be a bit of an acquired taste: uber-arch and stylized, self-consciously dramatic and very, very wimpy, Collins clearly didn't care to meet anyone's preconceived expectations of what "good" singing might sound like.

Orange Juice -- their name taken after their favorite beverage, as apparently they were too delicate for alcohol (true story, if Simon Reynold's excellent post-punk chronicle Rip It Up and Start Again is to be believed) -- were some of the first stars of Glasgow's legendary indie pop label Postcard, for which they recorded their seminal tracks from 1980-81. In 2005, Domino reissued some prime Postcard-era OJ tracks in one handy-dandy, bargain-priced comp, The Glasgow School. One disc, 23 tracks, representing a handful of 7"s, one LP, some early demos, and an '81 Peel Session, The Glasgow School is as fine an introduction to these irresistibly charming Scots as you could reasonably ask for.

There's an embarrassment of riches on display here, and every song is pretty much a gem. That said, there are some clear highlights: Falling and Laughing's agile rhythm chords, flinty and dry, drive the song, as the bass bounces all about. "Lovesick" is a lovely raver, slashing and pounding. Sit still through Blue Boy and I'll give you a Coke: it chugs and jumps behind its trebly charge, begging the wallflowers to get off their asses and out on the floor. And Consolation Prize is a heartbreaker, a vaguely country-and-western lilt backing up po' boy lines like, "I don't mean to pry, but didn't that guy/ Crumple up your face a thousand times?/ He made you cry/ I'll be your consolation prize," before Collins launches into a Smiths-worthy refrain of, "I'll never be man enough for you."

Orange Juice were true pioneers, basically inventing the kind of indie pop that would become the bread and butter of U.S. indie labels like K and TeenBeat in the '80s and '90s. They challenged what it meant to be punk without forfeiting punk's best bits: excitement, a thrilling DIY-ness, and an emotional honesty that continues to resonate. Three decades on, we can all learn something from The Glasgow School.