Andy Blade- Plastic Penny And The Strange Wooden Horse
Post- meltdown album from the former Eater singer and punk boy wonder. Joe Whyte reviews for LTW.
If you don’t know (and I’m sure you do) who Andy Blade is, I’ll give you a brief resume. Oldest child of part Egyptian parentage in early 70’s London, he was, by his own admission, a strange lad who fell face-first into the early days of London’s punk scene. Fronting Eater, one of the great “should have been” bands, he and his comrades were all early teens (and in drummer Roger Bullen-or Dee Generate as he became known’s- case, pre-teen) and gleefully railed against the punk royalty as being “too old”.
They were staples of the Roxy scene and in fact gave Buzzcocks and The Damned some of their earliest gigs before expiring in typical style. They were signed to The Label which was basically a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs playing at being record moguls and consequently, Eater were chewed up and spat out by “The Biz” in grand fashion and in short order. After a number of wilderness years, Blade wrote his incredibly funny account of those years in “The Secret Life Of A Teenage Punk Rocker” which is sadly out of print. It’s a laugh a minute (and sometimes quite moving) book and the anecdotal tales are part Jon Savage, part Adrian Mole. The stories of the spotty, pubescent band and their unrequited lust/love for punk face Debbie Juvenile as well as Andy’s liaisons dangerous with Nora Forster which culminate in Messrs Lydon, Wobble and Gray terrorizing him are as much fun as the eye-of-the-storm accounts of the danger and speed-fueled blaze of the early punk rock scene in all its glory are illuminating. There’s nothing misty-eyed about Blade’s story; it’s as warts-and-all and as honest as the day is long.
He’s been rattling out albums this last few years, too. “Let’s Burn The Internet Down” from 2010 showed a maturity and sense of humour missing from much contemporary music and the recently re-released “Life Affirming Songs For Those With A Bad Attitude” (originally 2008) took his typically barbed lyrics and added some weirdly psychedelic textures to his English-eccentric serrated pop.
“Plastic Penny” is his first new release in a couple of years. An enforced hiatus was framed by a three year spell where he battled bankruptcy, a bitter divorce and a cancer scare as well as what he himself describes as “a complete financial and mental breakdown”.
As on previous records, Blade has written the songs and played all of the instruments himself. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, I suppose. Complete artistic control over your songs is never a bad idea but I often feel that Blade maybe needs someone to bounce his ideas off, as at times some of the dense, murky production feels over-played and over-layered. A small quibble, however, as Andy Blade ploughs a lone furrow and doesn’t give a rats fuck about what I think, most probably. He describes himself as a “bedsit Phil Spector” and he’s got a good point; the album is packed to the rafters with ideas and it’s maybe cathartic to him that he’s got all of this out after such a tough time.
The songs are as singular and as peculiar as always; he’s more Syd Barrett than Sid Vicious these days (although Eater always were a little closer to the Velvets and Bolan than they were to Thunders and Hell) and his ability to take the minutiae of everyday life, as well as the bigger world issues, and evolve them into his own dark, twisted and playful world is often delightful.
“Welcome To Raqqa” is most definitely the latter; it takes his barbed words to town over a backing track that has walloping drum machine fills underpinning squalls of guitar and a rubber-legged bass. It’s short-they all are, but Blade does what he needs to and leaves it with little fuss.
“Funeral Tips For The Filthy Rich” is similarly smart and glib; there’s something about Andy’s delivery that reminds me of Bid from the Monochrome Set; both out of the punk maelstrom, both of mixed parentage; both arch and wordplay-clever. They’re nothing like each other but to me, oddly aligned. Modern music needs more of these kind of mavericks. The song’s stinging lyrics sit awkwardly well with clanging chords and clattering rhythms. The title track itself is a swarm of overlapping snarl and swooshing effects. I’ve thought this about several Andy Blade tracks over the years; some little parts of his music remind me of a DIY Big Audio Dynamite and they share a similar warm, modern beauty.
Just to get the Eater enthusiasts excited, there’s versions of both “Michael’s Monetary System” (originally a bit of B-side whimsy from ’77)which is now a pulsing, sinister beast and “Thinkin’ Of The USA” which is lyrically slightly updated to include current presidential matters and given an aural lick of paint by Blade. “USA” is a terrific song. It needs little to embellish it and Blade gives it the room it deserves here. Here’s the original in all it’s sarcastic glory;
Given his travails over the last few years, it’s good to see Blade back in the saddle. He’s in many ways the antidote to the sterility and safety of modern music,
Plastic Penny And The Strange Wooden Horse is out now. Andy Blade is touring the UK and USA over the winter. Keep your eyes peeled for in-stores and intimate shows.
Album available here.
All words by Joe Whyte. You can find more from Joe in his author archive.