Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Marky's song #3: The Would Be's - "My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark"
As Michael Azerrad adroitly pointed out in the epilogue of his fine book Our Band Could Be Your Life, major labels stopped derisively ignoring the American independent music scene once Nirvana’s Nevermind album dropped. For a couple years, the ‘underground’ effectively disappeared when the search for the “next Seattle” began. Various locales around the United States were proffered up as places for the music behemoths to send their A&R people in order to strip mine the area. At one point, some executives who felt they were slightly more enterprising than the rest of their cohort poked around in places across the ocean for the next big thing. And for a (very) short while, that place was Ireland.
That the entire country of Ireland could be considered a “scene” is amusing. Not because there isn’t a vibrant musical community there – quite the opposite. But it’s such a diverse musical environment that the notion of there being some sort of immediately recognizable sound – for an entire country – is downright absurd. Could you imagine anyone claiming there was an American scene? I mean, besides me doing exactly that in the first paragraph?
In light of that attempt at humor, let me offer a sidebar: any such search was futile right from the get go. At the time, enough interconnectedness had been constructed into the network to prevent stylistic regionalism to be fostered in complete isolation.
Anyway, Nevermind was released when I was a senior in high school; a couple years later I found myself putting in a few hours a week at the campus radio station. In retrospect, it probably was the worst possible time for a person to be in college radio, with endless corporate product deluging our mailboxes and slick label people deluging our voicemails. But that’s neither here nor there. As you might expect, much of what we got was dross. But we still sifted through everything that arrived in the hopes of uncovering a gem in the midst of the mediocrity. One day, a compilation titled Straight Outta Ireland (released by California-based Scotti Bros. Records) came into my possession. Ignoring the lame N.W.A. joke there, the music inside showcased a slew of tracks that had appeared on Irish labels that had yet to secure any sort of distribution in the United States. This was the lead-off track. Maybe that’s why it made the most impression on me.
(The album turned out to be so popular that Scotti Bros. went back and released a Straight Outta Ireland 2. Because, you know, the fact that the first volume omitted both Hothouse Flowers and An Emotional Fish wouldn’t have anything to do with it.)
The Would Be’s never had an ice cube’s chance in hell of achieving anything beyond a small cult following, but they were OK with that. I mean, look at their faces in the video. It’s like they can’t believe they’re getting away with this. “Really? A video on 120 Minutes? Us?” Maybe that’s why The Would Be’s never caught on across the Atlantic: they lacked the resolute flamboyancy of well-known Irish acts like U2 and The Cranberries. Three verses and choruses without any middle break, bridge or solo. It’s about as unassuming of a pop song as you can get, even with the trombone in there. Even though this song is almost two decades old, it’s still a wonderful listen. It’s fairly typical of what you’d expect from an early 90s “alternative” act, but I revisit the song often just to re-experience the charm of the thing.