This article was first published on 2 December 2013 on Louder Than War.


Menswe@r – Nuisance (Laurel)
Released in 1995

Rumours circulated a week or so ago that the much-maligned debut from the pretty boys of Britpop Menswe@r had finally got Platinum status. While it now appears guitarist Chris Gentry got himself a fun disc from eBay to have a laugh about it we thought it was time we gave the album another listen. 

Frenzied. Giddy. Brilliant. Ridiculous. This was the music scene in 1995.

The giants of Britpop were being pitched against each other in the charts, everyone with a pair of Adidas and a feather-cut was claiming to be a Gallagher and every week seemed to see another release from yet another guitar band.

Out of this emerged Menswe@r. Started as a rumour by initial members before any note was even played they’ve come to epitomise the rabid way the industry fell on anything with six strings. They were the pretty boys of Britpop and an easy target for those wanting to rally against the ridiculous race to put style before substance. The guitar band with teenybopper appeal, they became the moment that the Camden-centred scene began to retreat and Britpop ate itself.

As time went on they might have become nothing more than a tongue-in-cheek footnote to the whole Britpop scene, but it turns out they’ve actually been a guilty pleasure for many. It was easy to believe it had been granted Platinum status when the news broke last month – although it’s since been revealed as a jolly jape by the guitarist. Either way it’s one of those albums that lots of people secretly own so, let’s leave the history and pre-conceived ideas to one side, is it any good?

Well, it spawned five top 40 hits, including one which breached the top 10. The band set up to be the whipping boy of press and scene actually produced some pretty good hedonistic pop.

First single I’ll Manage Somehow only charted as high as 49 but is a fabulous example of this. With volume guitar, a slithering bass and a steady beat the vocal line is defiantly London in tone and references. It bounces along though, shimmering but safe. It’s the second track on the album after 125 West 3rd Street, a track which tries it’s hardest to capture the differences between middle England and the US of A. It’s not that it does a bad job of it (American’s dohave whiter teeth than Brits, generally), it’s just that it did it in such an obvious way it was like a sledgehammer to your pop bone after the more subtle handling of the same by Pulp, Suede and even Blur.

And this is a curse which hits time and again throughout the album. It’s by no means bad (put it this way, I didn’t have to look far to put my hand on it to write this review), there is enough to like here, it’s more that it is everything about Britpop viewed through a magnifying glass. It is Camden, it is fashion, it is the music industries wild spending and it is the obsession with the British stereotype. It’s all just a bit over the top.

This becomes obvious on tracks like Little Miss Pinpoint Eyes. Singer Johnny Dean does his best snarl, his best to represent the rough streets of the capital (despite not being a native Londoner), forces lines to scan (is bal-a-ha-a-oon the most stretched out way to say balloon every committed to record?). Drug taking as musical subject matter is in no-way groundbreaking but there’s something to be said for a song which so literally sets out the downsides of drug use while maintaining a facade of glamour. It’s a Little Chef on the road to hell.

And then we get the song for which they are probably best remembered. Daydreamer. A shameless copy of Wire’s Three Girl Rhumba (although they would probably have cited Elastica’s Connection – itself more copy than homage) to my ear this is one of the least appealing songs on the record, not least because it’s been done in a more interesting way elsewhere in the annals of pop history.

It’s followed though by a run of pleasing numbers; Hollywood Girl references Breakfast at Tiffany’s and proves that very few songs aren’t improved by the addition of handclaps. We then head into obligatory slow one territory with Being Brave. We get a swell of strings, a ‘ba-ba-ba-BAH’ sing-a-long refrain and heartbreak described in the most teenage of terms. Somewhat oddly, the whole thing sound more like Oasis’ Whatever than any of the more Anglophile Kinks-esque Britpop bands most of the rest of the record homages.

Around You Again tries to complain about the minor inconvenience and self-esteem issues caused by living near to someone you used to date. Musically though it’s another uptempo bounce along which flows seamlessly into The One. Another attempt at the storytelling in song craze with some subtle strings to carry the chorus along.

Sandwiched between two goes at best-forgotten single Stardust is the semi-acoustic Piece of Me. A drawling lament that stretches vocal prowess but gives a showcase to the softer melodies underlying some of these songs.

Is this an underrated album of the Britpop scene? No, not really. But it is a passable pop album so maybe the view through time just needs adjusting slightly for it to make more sense.

With hindsight Britpop seemed to dominate that mid-’90s era, and yes, it was a big part of music at the time. But there was also a lot of pop. Robbie Williams had gone to be a bad boy away from his band, we were not far off the Spice Girls giving us all their brand of girl power and there were a slew of other teenybopper acts filling the void between the two.

Crossing over from TV we got Robson and Jerome plus the theme from Friends by The Rembrandts; dance still got a decent slice of airplay with Alex Party and N-Trance taking hitting big and there was a landslide of also rans with repeated industry attempts to manufacture a replacement for the faltering Take That.

Set against the pop landscape Menswe@r start to sound alright – lively, vibrant and the sort of edgy you wouldn’t mind taking home to your mum. Maybe it’s just they were put in the wrong box back then?

Or maybe this is an average album, with a couple of highlights that has benefitted from the ‘guilty pleasure’ label and a wave of nostalgia.

All words by Sarah Lay.

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