Tuesday 25 July 2017

The rubber soul of Frischmann comes bouncing back

Elastica's self-titled debut from 1995? Barry Egan argues it's every bit as good as Oasis's 'Definitely Maybe' or Pulp's 'Different Class'

Justine Frischmann of Elastica
Justine Frischmann of Elastica

It was an indie soap opera with elements of Shakespeare, a tragic comedy and Class A drugs. The exploits of Elastica singer Justine Frischmann, her ex-boyfriend Brett Anderson (with whom she founded the band Suede in 1989) and her boyfriend at the time, Damon Albarn of Blur, were bleakly entertaining.

For various reasons (jealously, paranoia, self-doubt, depression), Damon gave an interview in November 1994 in which he eviscerated Brett Anderson. "I think heroin is sh*t," he said, "and I know for a fact that Brett is doing heroin, and he is a f***king idiot."

"Was I cross with Damon about that?" pondered the posh, First Lady of Britpop. "Very cross. Damon was a real bully, and he had a real problem with Brett, even though Brett hadn't done him any wrong, as far as I could see."

Brett himself was understandably livid. "I object to a**eholes who should know better putting those kind of stories around," he snarled at the time. (Justine was witnessing the ravages of smack with her own band members Donna Matthews, Justin Welch and Annie Holland on tour. "They were extremely furtive," Frischmann, who along with Damon Albarn dabbled with heroin at the end of their relationship, said in 1995. "It was like, 'Don't tell teacher.' I used to get called the Fuhrer.")

As Andrew Smith wrote in The Observer in 2002, Justine Frischmann was "part of a strange menage a trois that elided into Britpop - itself one of the most peculiar cultural episodes of recent times. One of its seminal albums was made by her, but significant chunks of two others (Suede and Blur's 13) were written about her."

The aforesaid seminal album, Elastica's self-titled first album from 1995, was a classic of the time - 16 sparse, punchy post-punk songs in a pithy 40-minute burst that owed a debt to certain bands.

Re-issued this month, Elastica more than stands the test of time. The Stranglers and Wire were, however, a tad miffed when they heard it, contacting their respective lawyers and subsequently received settlements.

The Stranglers believed that Waking Up was stolen from their track No More Heroes while Wire felt Line Up and 2.1 was too heavily influenced by their I Am The Fly, and Connection an outright steal of their Three Girl Rhumba. Still, Elastica is a great record from that era; certainly as good as the four biggies of a golden age - Pulp's Different Class, Oasis's Definitely Maybe, Suede's Dog Man Star or Blur's Modern Life is Rubbish.

Despite being billed as the Britpop version of EastEnders by the NME, Elastica went straight in at number 1 in the UK and became the fastest-selling British debut album of all time. Justine sang about sex on car bonnets on Car Song, groupies on Line Up and more sex on Vaseline.

It is easy to see why Elastica (with their monochromatic punk aesthetic complete with Justine's monotone vocals) were, for a time, big in America, certainly bigger than Oasis or Blur. For Justine it was doubtless refreshing to be acknowledged on her own terms in America; in Britain she was that bloke from Blur's girlfriend.

"The first gig we played in New York, Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry turned up to it," recalled Justine.

Justine, now a successful artist living with her husband in San Francisco, recently told Uncut magazine that her band's success in America contributed to her split from Damon Albarn: "I think it was hard for Damon when Elastica started getting some success in America. It's funny because we both thought we were too evolved for classic gender roles, but looking back he thought his band more important because he was the guy. And on some level I did, too."

Listen back to Elastica now, and it is difficult to decide. At the moment, I'm going for the rubber soul of Justine's band.

Sunday Independent

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