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REVIEW – Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’ single, 2001 (“a glorious Moulin Rouge gesture”)

27 Apr
Holy Roman Empire: 'Dante's Inferno'

Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’

“Well, you got so down you went to town and bought a brand-new top. / They can take your will to live but not your will to shop. / Try to eat more ‘cos you’re hungry, and less because you’re lonely, / and don’t let that feeling fade away…”

Oxford pop pixies Holy Roman Empire seem cheerful to sell themselves as being crap. Their press-kit is full of reviews slating their appalling clothes, their mimed performances, their (allegedly) pitiful singing and their clunky tape recorders hidden inexpertly under keyboard stands. Yet they don’t half shoot themselves in the foot by coming up with such good songs.

Bloody hell – if this had shown up in 1989 it would have swept all before it. Not every song blends – so successfully – lyrics like a playful junior Morrissey with mock-pomp Carter USM Casio orchestrations and rounds it off with the cruising freeway feel of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. Back then this would have been a small Holy Grail for student radio, ghosting through every university bar across the land. Here and now it can only settle for being classic, timeless pop – whatever the clothing.

In case I’ve not made my point yet – Dante’s Inferno is marvellous. It’s one of those rare songs which fey critics, hung-up on the sublime disposability of pop, always whiffle on about. Well aware of the ludicrousness that lies at the heart of obsessive passion – and of the dramatic pretensions of pop music – it still goes at it full-tilt because it knows that that’s all that matters. (As a bonus, I can still believe in the song even as I reel off this kind of posturing shite… that’s high camp for you.)

Holy Roman Empire ‘s Ste Fleming and his two foils sigh as milkily as Prefab Sprout and deftly nail the paradox of all-consuming unrequited love. “You go to the doctor, and the doctor feeds you pills. / You know you need them, but you need the pain they kill. / All because you lost somebody, but never lost the feeling, / and daren’t let that feeling fade away.” Inevitably the other two songs are anticlimactic after this glorious Moulin Rouge gesture. After all, how do you follow up a song which has a ringmaster on the chorus?

Still, Holy Roman Empire can quick-march a long way on what they’ve got. What they’ve got happens to be a batch of cheesy keyboard puffs, an upbeat chirp of melody, a vocal style best compared to a pomp version of Rod, Jane & Freddy, and some of the sharpest lyrics this side of Paddy McAloon’s teenage-fluff drawer. I Bleed Petrol (punctuated by cute car-crash sound effects) could almost be a children’s singalong. Then again, there are lines like “city kids with sicknesses, and flowers placed by roads, / melting polar icecaps and the flooded southern coasts”, suggesting that the trio have made a noose out of a skipping rope and are trotting out in search of a symbolic motorist to lynch.

No Tomorrow is a bizarrely happy-sounding love song about… yes… everything turning out shit in the end. It’s a fiddling-about with goodbye ribbons as the city burns. “I was sort of wishing – yeah, I was kind of hoping, / as the ground got closer, that my parachute would open (but no…) / ‘You have to be strong now: you have to let me go,’ / so it’s off with my head and it’s on with the show.”

You have to reckon that as long as that tinselly backcloth is still there, Ste Fleming will stay happy. Supercheese wins out, then – and mighty tasty it is too.

Holy Roman Empire: ‘Dante’s Inferno’
Bluefire Records, BLU017
CD single
Released: 2001

Get it from:
Best obtained second-hand.

Artist online:
MySpace

April 2001 – EP reviews – The Scaramanga Six’s ‘Are You One of the Family?’ (“shrouded in threatening, paranoid twilight or caught in the jaws of mean streets”)

27 Apr

The Scaramanga Six: 'Are You One of the Family?'

The Scaramanga Six: ‘Are You One of the Family?’

Sidle into the world of The Scaramanga Six carefully. When it’s not simmering in darkness or in the threat of chucking-out time aggro, it’s shrouded in threatening, paranoid twilight or caught in the jaws of mean streets. There’s a jagged, brutally slashing organ; guitars that bludgeon and swipe; heavy beat-downs of choruses; and voices that crack and fray nastily with the surge of the music. This is hard-centred pop music, made by five tough-looking guys in suit-and-ties and a woman who looks like the gang boss’ daughter, taking her own team out to batter the husbands of her schoolday rivals.

Or maybe it’s in the mind. Though the Scaramangas seem steeped in a very English, Godfathers-style violence of petty brawls, drink-fuelled action (“give me some courage, and make it Dutch”) and frustration penned-up in hometown limits, they aren’t numbed by it. Instead, they use it as the spur for a fierce, dramatic rock with the fierce intensity of Pixies, Cardiacs or – most precisely – Six By Seven. There’s an explosive force to Paul and Steve Morricone’s band that equals that of Nottingham’s hard poets of anti-glamour. And if they’re not as sophisticated as Pulp (another ready comparison) they’ve got bigger claws.


 
The jerking brutality of Are You One of the Family, in which Paul’s grim vocal balances on shards of gasping organ, sets up this EP’s general atmosphere of dirty surrealism. It’s a nightmare of social claustrophobia in which “everything is family – / the cars that pass, the crazy gas that’s surrounding me” and where “everything you see and do / comes back to someone who you are related to.” A place in which there’s no escape from surveillance: “a man will stop and ask my name / I needn’t answer – our names are the same. / I have cousins in the trees; / and, in the bushes, uncles watching over me.”


 
Ladies and Gentlemen is also family business – ostensibly, it’s a sentimental song, but Paul sings it with a battleship-grey clang which suggests that someone at the party will be going home in a box. “We are gathered here today, in a room sitting comfortably. / Let me shake your hands. / You want to be entertained, you want to be out for fun / and there is someone amongst us here / who I can never forget.” Beyond the funereal organ and the leaden-weight crash of guitars, nothing actually happens… but the Yorkshire Mafiosi atmosphere soaks the air.

Relief from this tension is briefly found in the pop-eyed psychobilly of Grasp the Candle, in which Steve Morricone is let off the leash to trade screams with guitarist Julia Arnez, going for the debaser vote in a shambles of scuzzy drums, Birthday Party crashes and throbbing veins. “I’ve been sharing my bed with the drones from the hive, / I think I’d rather be buried alive… I hear you moaning and groaning – / my love is ripe for the dethroning.”


 
For Disenchanted Melody, the tension is back – although this time it’s in the even-more implicit shape of a hushed, mantric Slint-meets-Velvets thrum; a hauntingly sour psychedelic vocal drone, filled with foreboding. A guitar sets up a ceaseless metallic shiver behind the murmuring, harshly lovely harmonies and the gathering darkness of the words. “Night collapses suddenly… disenchanted melody / gently washes over me – / the sound is there, / the sound of air…” Even before the final burst of clanging guitar racket and hellish chorale, the air’s been sucked away around the song, whipped off down the streets where the family prowls.


 
This is a dark and powerful band, who hang around like a threatening cloud even after the music stops.

The Scaramanga Six: ‘Are You One of the Family?’
Wrath Records, WRATHCD01 (barcode unavailable)
CD-only EP
Released:
April 2001
Get it from: (2020 update) buy CD from The Scaramanga Six Shop; download from Google Play; stream via Deezer, Apple Music or Spotify
The Scaramanga Six online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Amazon Music
 

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