A Riot Of Colour
‘Faded Glamour’ by Animals That Swim (Snowstorm)
Like most people I change my opinion on my favourite
artists and records almost every day. This is to be encouraged, of course.
I mean, what’s the point in standing still, after all?
Today the answer to those questions then would be ‘Animals That Swim’ and ‘just about any record they ever made’. But if we are going to pin it down then what better place to start than this fourteen song collection that casts an eye over their ten year plus life span and finds it gloriously stuffed with strange pub tales of grimy colour and oddly uplifting melancholia. I mean, how many groups can you think of that can take songs about wakes, car accidents, and ghosts of gun crime and turn them into awesome moments that make your heart ache and soar in the space of three minutes?
I first heard Animals That Swim in 1993 when their ’50 Dresses’ EP fell into my hands. It changed my life. It was marvellously strange, the kind of literate Pop I’d longed for for so long without really knowing it. The cover was all mad colour, a garish Gothic tableau of stuffed foxes and melted candles. The record had four tracks, and the lead song cut my heart to ribbons, poured salt in the gaping holes, and kissed it better in the space of barely three and a half minutes. What more could you possibly want?
Their Workshy album was one filled with equally great moments and was one of the greatest debuts ever, dotted with some of the greatest singles ever. ‘Pink Carnations’ was a bittersweet tale of hospitalisation after a car crash that culminated in a dryly cynical glance at the lustrous facade of fame; ‘Madame Yevonde’ was a triumph that illuminated the work of the great pre-WW2 champion of colour photography and suggested parallels between her work and that of the band ‘let’s have a riot of colour’ indeed. Animals That Swim records were invariably that. Then of course there was ‘Roy’, a great imaginary conversation with Roy Orbison in the local all night place. Great lines were bandied about that told of Roy's feelings towards Elvis: 'that Presley was the dumbest shit I ever met, he couldn't write a fucking note, it should have been me with the songs that I wrote' but really the song was about that feeling that rises up when we reach a certain age and it seems as though all of our chances have flown away; that no matter how hard we examine it, it all just doesn't make any kind of sense and we just feel lost and desolate.
Their I Was The King, I Really Was The King album was even better; simply one of the greatest albums ever, dotted with some of the greatest singles ever. ‘The Greenhouse’ told the unlikely tale of an asthmatic chap growing Marijuana in his greenhouse, being grassed up by ‘some miserable old geezer’, being busted by the coppers and eventually ending up picking olives with a bunch of Geordies in Sicily, there drinking the village dry of wine ‘for the first time since 1869’. It sounded like the kind if Pop single you always wanted to hear, all bruising guitars and mournful horns and gyrating beat noise. Magic. Then of course there was the epic ‘Faded Glamour’, all cheap tequila, garbage riots, unlabelled tin cans, dressing up as mermaids, sunglasses stuck with sequins, stupid art school ideas and the gently soiled long lost magnificence of Teignmouth ballroom in the rain. And if ever a song captured the very essence of its title, it was ‘Faded Glamour’. Elsewhere there was the heart destroyingly perfect ‘East St O’Neill’. With horns and piano lines that picked out vapour trails of sublime restraint, the song spun a yarn about the ghost of a shooting victim making ‘a mess of fag butts and tea leaves’ in the home of the person who salvaged all the flowers left at the site of the tragedy. Sounds kind of depressing? Not a bit of it. It’s one of the most beautiful, touching songs I ever heard and it moves me close to tears every time I hear it. And the line that goes ‘he’s not grey nor wraithlike, but bright and solid like a new bike’ is so damned perfect I hate it with a passion. Naturally I have stolen lines, ideas and images from Animals That Swim songs liberally down the years.
Their Happiness From A Distant Star album was almost as good, was one of the greatest albums ever, with some of the greatest songs ever. Single ‘The Moon And The Mothership’ had more trademark swirling organs and horns and recited the tale of an acquaintance going a bit mental on a transatlantic flight and thereafter becoming an aliens obsessive: a bit like Fox Mulder from Hackney. It included the epic line 'it changed his life he said, with seven Phil Dick books in a pile’ and was like all the best Animals That Swim songs funny and sad in almost equal measures. Then there was ‘Dirt’, a downbeat gem with misty keyboards; a heavy shouldered mumble down the lanes, weighed down with too many memories and too few hopes. It had another of those great lines that went 'my feet will understand the layers of ages in the soil', words that always seemed to me to get to the root of what made Animals That Swim so unique and so utterly special: You see, Animals That Swim were always about getting in touch with the earthiness of humanity; understood implicitly the value of personal histories and the way in which those very personal and specific tales can become so much more universal than vague generalisations like ‘all you need is love’. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a sucker for a great story.
Animals That Swim were certainly one great unravelling story, and whilst for sure there will be arguments in the pub between fans about the track listing (‘What?! No ‘Vic’?! No ‘Sixteen Letters’?! No ‘Near The Moon’?! No ‘A Good Day For Everyone’?!’) Faded Glamour is a wonderful introduction to a magnificent pleasure.
© 2004 Alistair Fitchett