Our Mum and Dad, they look straight down the lensKnowing what’s coming, those opening lines make me gasp, I can’t get enough breath in; and yet the sound is lighter than the gloomy Christmas song. There’s humour and a ton of affection in place of that song’s despair. It’s so beautiful, like Hüsker Dü’s ‘Hardly Getting Over It’ with more attention to detail, and I’m always in bits by the time it gets to:
In funny flared trousers on the banks of the Thames
On holiday June ’75
The ’90s flew by and Dad moved to his chairSide one ends with some deft synth-string twirls, and you sit, not knowing what hit you, and not wanting the people you love to ever get old. You need the vinyl version, because you need the pause.
And Mum left the choir as she couldn’t get there
And nobody came to the house
Around the core of this deeply moving song blooms what is probably Helen Love’s best album. It follows the fluid, glitzy 1970s of It’s My Club with a starker, clunkier 1980s, which pop music is at once a part of and an escape route from. The instrumentation seems crude at first: a pseudo-Fairlight staccato clatter, which mimics the bombast of mainstream ’80s pop, but never mocks it. Simultaneously, the lyrics move from eulogising a heavily mythologised 1970s to dealing directly with a far more down-to-earth 1980s, reserving the right of course to eulogise discos within that (see ‘You and Stacy’). ‘We were the useless kids from the hard estates’ sings Helen on the title track, explaining at a stroke why the Ramones and Rodney Bingenheimer and Gibson Les Paul Deluxes, and that whole glorious world she’s spent years constructing, were necessary in the first place. ‘Shy Girl’ is part of the explanation too, actually:
Now I’ve fallen for a shy boyWhilst also being definitive on the subject of shyness (and a big YES! for that), it’s surely implied that the Helen Love masterplan is partly facilitated by shyness: either you can get into fights with the bad kids, or you can retreat and make something amazing (cf. Kristin Hersh’s ambition for Throwing Muses to ‘leave a big, fancy present on the table and tiptoe out of the room’). Shyness can let you say all the things in life you’d like to, under certain circumstances.
What a dumb thing to do
’Cause he’ll never be my boy
’Cause I’m just a shy girl too
‘Spin Those Records’ is a virtual re-write of Dead or Alive’s ‘You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)’, and is, as such, incredibly catchy. This and the single ‘Atomic’ go either side of ‘Our Mum and Dad’ in the album sequence; both are great pop songs, and both are set decades in the past. ‘Playing Dare / Everywhere’ is one compact couplet from ‘Spin Those Records’, making it 1981 or 1982; and ‘Atomic’ is about teenage love: ‘Don’t tell your Mum and I won’t tell my Dad / That when we are together it all goes atomic’. Mum and Dad again, but it’s alright, because it’s thirty years ago, and they’re still young themselves.
And all around town more shops are closing down every weekendNothing in real life, maybe, but there’s always pop music to escape to. Turn up the synth and the Linn drum beat.
And I’m staying on the bus with you
’Cause there’s nothing else we can do
The illustrations are my niece’s entry in Elefant’s colouring in contest, the original art being by Jean Duprez, who I hadn’t realised was also behind the BMX Bandits in Space cover.