Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Black Tambourine "OneTwoThreeFour" (Slumberland)

"OneTwoThreeFour" is the eye-catching return of the bashfully seminal Black Tambourine, made up of two slabs of 7" vinyl upon which our now firmly trans-atlantic heroes - this record was recorded in Crystal Palace and Maryland - tackle a quartet of works by the Ramones. We have not always made friends with our frank admission that we still prefer bands *inspired* by the Ramones, like the Flatmates or the Rosehips, to the Ramones themselves: for us the Ramones were not the start of punk, merely one of the best things available before punk kicked through all the doors and we could all start again properly. However, given the number of people in our manor swanning around in Ramones T-shirts (about one in three, we'd hazard) and the number sporting Flatmates-related regalia (approx. zero), we accept that the world as a whole takes a different view.

There's no debate, on the other hand, about Black Tambourine's rightful place in history. We readily accept that Black Tambourine would never have *planned* on now being regarded as one of the best and most influential American alt-rock bands of the last twenty or so years: it just happened, a tribute to the hold their sleek pop imaginings took on a cabal of eager indie-pop consumers but also a testament to the strange vicissitudes of history. To get forensic about it, the bare facts are these. In one sitting in March 1991, Black Tambourine recorded seven songs which, over the next year, were released in the States as two 7" EPs (although they came to our attention later and more lopsidedly, originally via "Throw Aggi Off The Bridge"'s inclusion on the "Munch Part 1" international indie-video compilation). Over time, as the band members moved on to myriad other projects, the rest of us belatedly realised just how great Black Tambourine actually were. When those songs got re-released on "Complete Recordings" in 1999, the legacy was cemented. And the good news is that "OneTwoThreeFour", their first wholly-new release since 1992, leaves that legacy fully intact. Um, there is no bad news.

One of the great things about double-singles is you get, in effect, two 'A' sides, and both live up to that billing with the fearsomely good "I Want You Around" and the cascading "I Remember You" being the pick of the interpretations, both instantly recognisable as Black Tambourine at least as much as the Ramones. The former, all honeyed reverb, strawberry wine and brittle shoegaze fragments, bristles with Pop Threat-like fuzz and desperate melodic tension, while Pam's vocals are gorgeously deadpan. Plus, there's a blissfully trilling guitar bit from er, 1'23.4 which reminds us of, ha, the Flatmates. "I Remember You" is less intricate, but near-overflows with the warm caress and percussive rushes of Mary Chain-meets-early MBV which made the Tambourine such an essential band in their first incarnation.

By way of contrast, "What's Your Game ?" gives its target an altogether more tender treatment: it takes early Slumber Party's golden appropriations of slowed-down Shop Assistants and overlays them with a choral sheen credited to the 'Rinettes, a veritable Dick Kerr's XI of songstresses including all-conquering heroine of ours Rose Melberg, former Harriet Records star Linda "Gorgeous Weather" Smith and someone out of Dum Dum Girls. And "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" - neatly deployed as closing statement rather than gung-ho opener - is stripped down to its purest essentials, the original's sense of longing floating serenely to the surface.

Black Tambourine's welcome return illustrates how the wheel has turned full circle over the course of a generation: part of the magnetism of hearing (and, in particular, seeing) the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart for the first time was the realisation that a new wave of groups were playing music that seethed with the nervous energy, anticipation and contradiction which Black Tambourine once brought to the party. As we understand it, Black Tambourine aren't hanging around: "OneTwoThreeFour" and some associated shows are just a one-off, before they retire to luxuriate once more in the annals of indiedom. After all, the history of Black Tambourine shows they're smart enough operators to know that you should always leave the punters wanting more.

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