Label: Rough Trade
Year of Release: 1984
Long-term readers of this blog may remember that last year I went through a period of uploading a whole host of Microdisney albums, only to stop dead, leaving you all with "39 Minutes", "The Clock Comes Down The Stairs", "The Peel Sessions" and not a lot else. I must confess there was a method in my madness - I do own all their output, but frankly I don't think the remaining two studio albums ("Everybody is Fantastic" and "Crooked Mile") are great introduction points for the band. (If you're reading about the band for the first time, STOP - hold it right there - and go back to my entry on "The Clock Comes Down The Stairs" immediately, which contains an overview, as well as a download of arguably their finest album).
Nonetheless, I appreciate that there are Microdisney completists out there, and that of the two albums, precious little of "Everybody is Fantastic" is available on the career round-up compilations which seem to constitute their available catalogue at the moment. And in truth, there are far worse albums you could download today - it's just that what you're going to be hearing here is a skint band with limited studio time who hadn't quite realised their strengths yet, although on certain tracks they sail extremely close to the heights of their later albums.
The Microdisney technique of savage lyrics combined with West Coast guitars and harmonies is the first thing which doesn't seem apparent on this album. Cathal Coughlan's lyrics, rather than being frothing, fevered poetry on the state of everything eighties, are more like pocket book observations in places. The despondent youths in "Escalator in the Rain" sound shrugging and cartoonish in their thwarted political ambitions, rather than genuinely furious, and Cathal even manages to sound passive himself. "This Liberal Love" is also a tale of a fast bohemian relationship which owes more to the Ray Davies songbook than anything else the band would ever produce, Coughlan playing the detached observer rather than the emotive lyricist we would later come to know him as.
However, there are moments on here that clearly show the direction they were heading in - by far the most impressive track here (and the sole single) is "Dolly", an acoustically plucked, warped ballad referencing bitter drunkenness and poverty, featuring the fantastic kiss-off line "Send me love and peace/ two more things I can't afford". "Dreaming Drains" follows a similar pattern, the spite against eighties decadence shining through the slightly muddy production.
The overall problem with "Everybody is Fantastic" isn't just the band's incomplete sense of identity, mind, but the lack of structure to the album. Most of the tracks are world-weary and backed by a metronomic drum machine which, by track thirteen, really makes the record feel stale and airless. Even when they threaten to soar, they frequently just end up a few metres from the ground instead, the slightly lumpen approach to the arrangements and production preventing the songs from reaching their full potential (indeed, some of these tracks sound far more impressive in their Peel Sessions incarnation - a common problem for a number of indie bands in this period, apparently). "Everybody Is Dead" even features some totally inappropriate slap bass playing, for the love of all things sacred, and is so inferior to the slightly disturbing John Peel recording that they may as well have just swallowed their pride and tacked the session track on the end of the album instead.
There are better albums to introduce yourself to the band with, but if you've already heard those, there are moments here which should also be savoured - it's just you'll probably appreciate hearing them more through casual dips than you will in the context of listening to the original longplayer from start to finish.
Apologies for the slight jump in "Everybody is Dead", by the way. I tried.
2. A Few Kisses
3. Escalator in the Rain
5. Dreaming Drains
6. I'll be a Gentleman
10. Come On Over and Cry
11. This Liberal Love
12. Before Famine
13. Everybody is Dead