Drugstore – The Best of Drugstore (Cherry Red)
CD / DL
Recently reformed Mid-Nineties Cult band with Radiohead and Flaming Lips connections release essential collection of doomed romantic chasons d’amour. Ged Babey lights another cigarette and sips on a red wine whilst listening….
Whilst the BritPop Wars were raging some of the greatest bands of the 90s remained on the outside, making great, exotic/neurotic, timeless, dark, romantic music …. Breed, Gretchen Hofner, Drugstore… to name but three.
Drugstore toured the toilet circuit venues from 1993 – 1995 and I saw them at least three times at Southamptons Joiners. Sweaty, memorable gigs packed with a loyal fan base of thrill seekers and hipsters into the Velvets, Mazzy Star, Pixies and Tindersticks. In retrospect these were the last few years when Indie seemed to still mean something genuinely independent and cool …. before the advent of Sleeper, who to my mind marked the beginning of Fake DIY – Gap Year – No I’m Not Posh Indie – that we’ve all come to know and hate.
Drugstore oozed ‘cool’ in a cigarettes and red-wine kinda way. A diminutive Brazillian female singer called Isabel, a personable guitarist called Darren and a gangling Canadian drummer. They had a bit of that Mary Chain, sunglasses-after-dark vibe about them. Songs like Alive owed something to the Pixies. There was an Alt-Country feel to some of their oeuvre and despite having a lot of songs that walked on the dark side; songs about drinking and regrets, they created a real communal feel at their gigs. All the outsiders felt a common bond of unity created by these sad songs of longing and unrequited passion. Much of it hung on Isobels eccentric, lovably shot-away personality. She would chat away to the audience as if they were confidantes, part little girl lost, part wise exotic woman who had seen it all done it all. She was sexy yet boyish, a bit of a vamp and drama queen, yet a fragile soul, a stranger in a foreign land.
My favourite from their live set was a cover of the Flaming Lips She Don’t Use Jelly, which suited Isabels persona(lity) perfectly. It’s not on this does-what-it-says on-the-tin collection, but everything else they wrote that was great, is.
It’s a great album, but personally I can’t help thinking they were at their best during the first-album period when they ‘rocked’ a bit more.
The song where Thom Yorke shares vocals with Isobel is a definite highlight (and selling point) and the story on the band’s website where they tentatively asked him to re-record the vocals in a higher register than his original days-work are a measure of their down-to-earthiness. They were terrified he’d be offended and say no, but he obliged without complaint.
Devil still sounds magnificent, as does Superglider and Solitary Party Groover; sexy exotic indie-rock songs with a distinctive feel. Thinking back it was only really PJ Harvey who was the “competition” at the time and Drugstore always seemed far more natural, unpretentious contenders for the UK Indie Crown. These twenty-one songs (including a beautiful secret track) prove it by being as timeless and eloquent as they are melodic and melancholy.
The later material from the Anatomy album are dark, sad songs, but the epic, brooding Sweet Chilli Girl proves they still have some slow-burning classics in their repertoire.
Drugstore really should be as highly regarded as the Pixies or Bad Seeds as they were a unique, classy band with a bit of emotional depth and a world-weary, tear-stained outlook. As good as this collection is, it serves personally as reminder of what a brilliant live band they were in their original incarnation. Isabel is back with a new line-up and I imagine they intend carrying on where they left off. Which is very good news indeed.
All words by Ged Babey. More writing by him on Louder Than War here.