When I read them back, I can’t help but be more than a little embarrassed by the stories and music criticism I wrote twenty odd years ago. I wince at the callowness of the pieces, their fixed view of the world. But there were readers who liked what I did, and I know this, because they occasionally tell me so even now. The people they have become still hold within them that youthful application of affection, and I expect if they were to read back what they liked then, they would be reminded afresh of the characters they were, and accept that though they might now think their tastes then flawed, it was at least taste. It came from somewhere and meant something and stood for something, even though the grounds upon which they read – or listen – have almost certainly long since changed.
This is how I feel when I listen to ‘All fall down’. It’s definitely callow. Certainly it betrays a fixed interpretation of the musical world. Sure, out of context, you could find the feyness of Bobby Gillespie’s voice just as irritating as his later mid-Atlanticisms. But on the other hand, it remains a great tune, a perfect aesthetic statement delivered in a little over two minutes, and both my mind and my heart still warm to those not inconsiderable achievements for a debut single. Perhaps Bobby and his co-writer Jim Beattie look upon it now with a greater degree of fondness than they would publicly admit.
There were four pillars which supported the somewhat shaky edifice of 1980s indie-pop – not that we called it that then, being resistant to any label and preferring to spell out that the groups we liked were ‘punk rock’; independent rather than indie. And ‘pillars’ is probably too grandiose a term for what was held up by these four aspects. Regardless, they were:
- Sixties pop
- Seventies punk
- Animosity towards the prevailing culture and standard fare of the eighties
- An adolescent take on love
The best groups of time transcended these pillars, and built structures and a musical world of their own (thinking of say the Go-Betweens, McCarthy, Felt) but as ‘All fall down’ shows, it was still possible to make a great record using the above model, which after all, was newly minted at the time, despite some of the retrospective tendencies it espoused. Simon Reynolds to mention just one critic has lambasted the genre and the period for its slavish devotion to the past, but I think this is a problem of degree. No music is created in a vacuum; there are always nods to what has come before. Certainly indie had strong fixations, but there were plenty of groups whose vitality lifted them clear of the worst excesses of imitation (Biff Bang Pow!, Big Flame, the Wolfhounds).
The adolescent take on love is hardly surprising, given that the music was being made largely by people fresh from or still in the midst of adolescence, and likely as not more obsessed by pop music than pursuing relationships. The animosity towards the prevailing culture ranged from groups turning their backs on the times to others fronting up against what was going on politically in the eighties. There are arguments for trying to put yourself outside of the times, just as there are for engaging with them. In 1985 Bobby wanted out, in the same way the Byrds did in 1965. By the time I saw Primal Scream play in 1987, the Byrds influence was fading and that of the Stones was gathering, and I suspect as much to Bobby’s frustration as ours, they had somehow managed to misplace or lose what was magical about those early recordings.
After that, for me they faded in and out of view, peaking with Screamadelica (simultaneously managing to transcend and pinpoint the times) and grounding themselves at the bottom of the Atlantic with Give out but don’t give up. Their subsequent more politically motivated stuff has always seemed simplistic to me, holed below the waterline by being the lyrical equivalent of the Stooges’ noise, and far worthier of ridicule than that everlasting trio of perfect miniatures, ‘Velocity girl’, ‘It happens’ and ‘All fall down’.