It might well be the case that you’ve spent the last twenty years not listening to Urusei Yatsura. Which is fine, I guess, but it does put you and I rather at odds. There’s only one band I own every release of and these are they. I have three copies of their first LP (1x clear, 1x orange, 1x blue, two with “geek rock” tattoo intact). So. Readers expecting the verisimilitude of objectivity might well look away now.
There was a degree of sadness around Urusei Yatsura; or for me at least. They never quite managed to get past “very enthusiastic fans” and into “actually popular”. They had an (excellent) single on Beggars Banquet (the Yon Kyoku Iri EP) which looked like it was going to bring them bigger things, but their next album — the genuinely brilliant, neglected, and ironically named Everybody Loves… — was on their own Oni records. John Peel and Steve Lamacq had been pretty supportive of the band for the first two (full-length) LPs, but either I stopped paying attention to the radio as much as I had as a proper teenager or they just didn’t get their stuff played.One of the big problems the band had — and using a faintly absurd comparison here – was they had something like Jeremy Corbyn‘s curse with the press. The NME, as memory serves, were rarely that supportive, but they were also the wrong side of whatever the fad was at the time. Melody Maker were slightly kinder, but… well, many journalists are fucking lazy. Then the blurb for this record has this: “Journalistic catchphrases: Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Swell Maps…” Glasgow + noisy = J&MC drumsticks on guitars = Sonic Youth. I still to this day can’t hear the comparison with Pavement, except possibly something about Fergus Lawrie‘s esoteric approach to lyrics and, obviously, the song “Kozee Hearts” (says your writer, referencing a monologue the audience likely don’t know). Basically, it was easier for journalists to define what the band were actually doing by referencing something they weren’t doing.
The other side of their uncountenancability (hic) was that they were big in the fanzine world. From which I got a fair few bootlegs and whatnot at the time. And the nature of the fanzine world (that Corbyn comparison holding strong) is that the fans weren’t just “oh, I quite like them”, but they were typically pretty passionate about the bands they liked. I’ve not met manyUrusei Yatsura fans in the last ten years or so, but the ones that do remember them remember them really fondly. One narrative of the band would probably say they were a proper grass-roots band who got lucky with a couple of Peel Sessions.Well, anyway. What they actually sound like is a noisy lo-fi band with leanings towards nerdery. Murky amps, fucked guitars, noise elements, but plenty of pop melodies. I never found a band that quite sounded like them (as is the nature of being a bit obsessed with a band), but there’s a line between the indier side of what happened after grunge and full mimsy and they’re probably closer to the first. I guess a lot of the reason they appealed to a certain fanziney sort of person (and, mostly teenage women in my experience) was because there wasn’t much “I” to the lyrics; there were a lot of references to Japanese culture (dojos, pachinko etc); there weren’t many love songs. Or they were all love songs.
SO WHAT’S THE BLOODY RECORD LIKE, YOU ASK.
Yes, record. So part of the problem I have at this point is that there’s nothing that’s new to me on this record. I still have all but one of these tunes on tape (somewhere) and so I’m pretty familiar with them. The music covers their first two LPs, nothing too b-sidey (except “Dice/ Nae Dice” which turned up on a b-side) and there’s some live recordings. A shame that there’s nothing from the (overlooked by everyone) Everybody Loves… record, but that’s life or whatever. Also a shame that there’s nothing from the b-side world, but it’s arguably pushing my enthusiasm to expect a second b-sides compilation to sell many copies in 2016. Incidentally, the b-sides compilation ¡Pulpo! is cheap as chips on Discogs right now.One of the things to note is that, despite sounding like a louche lo-fi indie rock band, they’re pretty tight — pitched feedback on the go and a great rhythm section. Besides noise outros (of which there are many), they did a sterling job of making really bad guitars work for them. “Siamese” (from the Evening Session, ’96) has this crappy guitar with a drumstick under the strings being hit by another drumstick, making a guitar-as-percussion thing that blew my mind as a teenager (more so than when I saw Sonic Youth do it a few years later, who by that point were far too sensible to enjoy hitting a guitar in the way that twentysomethings do). “Exidor” (Peel, ’97) is probably better than the recorded version — the drumstick-under-strings verse being slightly more savage than the recorded version. As is “Phasers on Stun” — in which sharper-eared fans can hear both the treble guitars falling out of tune. Admirable behaviour, I’d argue.
What this compilation is doing well is being a not-quite-best of — there’s the songs that they played live a lot from the first two proper albums. Given the lo-fi thing that was the vogue at the time (probably still is now), there’s not a substantive distance between these versions and the recorded versions.I’m struggling here to think what to recommend about this. Usually when I’m writing reviews I think of how I’d pitch it to someone who’s sitting in my bedroom. But basically, anyone who came within a country mile of me between about 1995-2007 probably had me playing Urusei Yatsura at them.
In short, the highlight of poppy indie in the ’90s for me. I don’t listen to indie anymore because, y’know, it’s basically shit. But I make a very real and important exception for Urusei Yatsura and so should you. Melodies, noise, fun, non-sexist lyrics (which is insanely rare in my view of guitar music) — it’s probably a bit late for teenagers now, but I imagine those of us getting that mid-thirtiess podge on will lap this up and Urusei Yatsura will finally get the recognition the fanzine ladies always knew they deserved.