Sunday, 3 February 2013
Top 102 Albums. No 57. Babble
Top 102 Albums. No 57
Babble - That Petrol Emotion
First there was the rumour that the O'Neill brothers were together again. Then there was Keen, and quite possibly my favourite band name, That Petrol Emotion which paid its respects at one and the same time to improvised devices and incendiary passions. The first time I saw them the tension was generated by a rump of Undertones fans who just kept on calling for Teenage Kicks. But it was clear that this was a very different band to The Undertones, darker, murkier, angrier with Pere Ubu the closest thing to a benchmark. They regularly played Ubu's Non Alignment Pact, a song that would form part of The Knocking Shop's small repetoire of covers*.
I couldn't wait for an album and Manic Pop Thrill hit the spot, a freewheeling, exciting record that showed that the O'Neill's were firing on all cylinders again. I thought long and hard about selecting it for this list but gradually Babble edged it out. Babble has a thicker punchier sound and big beats that seemed set to push The Petrols into the rock aristocracy. However their singles all seemed to stall just outside the Top Forty and there were rumours of blacklisting by the BBC, all of which referred to the 'infomercials' on their records about issues such as internment.
I saw them live in London in 1988 (I think) supported by an incendiary, earsplitting Young Gods and it was one of the greatest concerts that I ever attended.
I remember reading somewhere that Damian O'Neill regretted that the lyrics of It's Gonna Happen, written about the Hunger Strikes, weren't clearer. This time they made politics a big part of what they were about. There were echoes of The MC5 in their calls to arms, political friction adding an extra edge to their thrilling pop/rock mutations. But sharing information about political inequality in Northern Ireland was seen at the time (and still is by many) as being the same as advocating terrorism. Hopefully most of us have learnt the errors of this viewpoint, which allows terrorists to own resistance, and pushes many towards violence who would be happier with other forms of resistance.
But the music survives all this meta information. Influences included Beefheart, Can, the above mentioned Pere Ubu, Africa Bambata and even The Beatles. They wore these influences on their sleeves, covers always playing a part in their concerts. The same infatuation with music and sound which made Teenage Kicks the almost perfect encapsulation of garage rock drove them to try to find a way to synthesise their influences into a sound big and exciting enough to pay proper tribute to those influences. They did. More people should be paying tribute to them.
And for pig iron here are a few of their cover versions from YouTube, and their medley of Helter Skelter/Loose from their final concert, released on the live album Final Flame.
*The Knocking Shop were a band who featured my own small skirmish with rock music.