Borderline Lunatics
Dawn Of The Replicants Bust The Trunk

Dawn Of The Replicants are one of those bands you’ve probably heard of but not really heard. Sure they kissed the tail end of the charts a couple of times in the late 90s, recorded umpteen John Peel sessions and released five albums over a ten year period. They largely remain a cult act, vanishing for two years at the start of the century and jumping from label to label. Perhaps their main problem has been one of perception. They appeared in 1996 at the height of Brit-pop but certainly didn’t fit into any of the narrow holes in the squarest of pops pegboards. Perhaps it was the strange song titles, the bands oddball image and their maddeningly diverse range of sounds? Perhaps it was the timing? They were tipped for big things along with alleged peers Ultrasound, Octopus and Geneva, bands only remarkable for the speed in which they vanished again. In the end I guess I don’t know. Perhaps if I did I’d be predicting and propelling pop careers rather than listening to the stuff. To be honest, despite liking a few of their earlier singles I never paid Dawn Of The Replicants much attention although I had a very minor part to play in their story. ‘Oh my word, he’s turning into Mark E. Smith. It’ll be all Dawn Of The Replicants? Oh aye, I invented them. Where’s me royalty cheque?’. Relax folks, I’ll be brief and I promise not to tell my Snow Patrol story. Sitting comfortably? Okay here’s uncle Andy’s story of pop influence…

Around 1995 I was putting out my own paper fanzine (remember those?), the ever-expanding Cute Kids On Medication (if you want copies just mail me, there are a few left although some of the staples are a little rusty) and we ran an interview with Sean of Organ fanzine and Org Records infamy. Said feature inspired a bunch of shady hucksters residing in the borders town of Galashiels to put out their own magazine, Sun Zoom Spark. From there came Dawn Of The Replicants who would go on to briefly threaten world domination while I eventually folded my ‘zine to concentrate on various other activities, none of which threatened world domination but hey!

Anyway, back to the story in hand. This 22 track collection of all Dawn Of The Replicants singles to date is a fine way to reassess the band or find a way into their warped world. It’s largely chronological with the exception of ‘Cocaine On The Catwalk’, two versions of which bookend this disc. Bust The Trunk opens with a re-recorded version of ‘Cocaine On The Catwalk’ and ends with the original version, issued on the debut self-financed e.p. The original is light on guitars, heavy on keyboards; the newer version is Stereolab on steroids circa ‘Superelectric’ with its tight motorik groove, dirty guitars, squiggly keyboards, distorted vocals and dumb/clever lyrics. It’s primitive, infectious and poppy as hell. There are a lot of similar moments packed onto this single disc; ‘Lisa Box’ with its gleeful, barely suppressed mayhem and ‘Science Fiction Freak’, a kind of revenge of the nerds narrative with its sardonic chorus of ‘You may think I’ve sold out / But hey, I’m just checking in’ possibly aimed at those who were critical of the band signing to East/West Records. Ironically this would be the last major label single for Dawn Of The Replicants and indeed, for two years.

Just as you think that you’ve got Dawn Of The Replicants pinned down as a madcap, psychedelic, budget Borders Flaming Lips they hit you with the touching ‘Mary Louise’, a gentle, acoustic led love/loss song with simple but heartbreaking lyrics. Lines such as ‘It’s silly how the tears fall / And the picture becomes a little hazy’ fit the music perfectly and it all ends in gorgeous Beach Boy style backing vocals singing ‘Mary Louise-a’ like an angel. Then there’s the creepy second single ‘Hogwash Farm’, all insinuated threat and a sleazy undercurrent or ‘I’m Leaving Town’, a boastful homage to Lee Hazlewood with its reverb soaked guitar, harmonica and uncluttered but effective drumming. Paul Vickers swaggers through lines like ‘I’m leaving town / There’s snakes in my basket ‘ I’ll never settle down’ with joyous bravado before ending with the payoff, ‘If I have to stick around / I’ll burn the bastard down’. I haven’t had so much fun on record since Lee threatened to depart promptly for Jackson before deciding to stay just exactly where he was…

Oddly enough, some of the East/west material sounds far less commercial or ‘produced’ than the later material for Hungry Dog and SL, and often sounds like mad kids let loose in the sweetie shop or medicine cabinet. ‘Everyone In Heaven Is Afraid Of Heights’ and ‘Won’t Harm A Fly’ sound far more expansive than anything else here. The arrangements are as inventive but the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach is reined in giving them room to breathe, while still sounding suitably off-the-wall. These are two of my favourites on Bust The Trunk. They sound as though they were written and recorded as part of the soundtrack to an early 70s off-Broadway production, familiar but unplaceable. ‘Smoke Without Fire’ relies heavily on keyboards and throws in a drum machine and gentle backing vocals, culminating in a simple and lovely song. There even seems to be theremin in there. Superb! ‘Essence Of Maureen’ is a perfect summer song with its sweet lyric, handclaps and a big fuzzy warm chorus. ‘Oh Bumblebee’ is elegant nonsense, the lyrics verge on the twee-side of surreal but the music and arrangement are perfect right down to the odd time signature at the end. Ricecake Rabbit Soul’ – don’t ask, I haven’t the foggiest – is darker with its heavy, almost brutal chorus and strange atmosphere reminiscent of Magazine. ‘Fix The Air’ is a beautiful plea against the environmental degradation of the planet though in the hands of Dawn Of The Replicants the requests to ‘Fix the air’ sound less like a heartfelt plea than an outright demand or threat.

A few songs don’t really do it for me but there’s nothing on this album that provokes me into leaping from the sofa to fast forward to the next song. ‘Little Driver’ is fine, but slight, ‘Born In Baskets’ interesting enough but sounds a little like a band stuck with a formula/sound they have invented but don’t know how to move on from it, but overall this is a great, varied collection of songs that show the single is still a great pop form in the right hands. Or even the wrong hands! Dawn Of The Replicants may appear to be eccentric and deranged (check out the accompanying Dvd for visual confirmation) but I’d prefer that over your current batch of dressed down lads in casual wear telling you ‘Ooh we’re serious about music’ then sounding like they own two records which usually consist of Definitely Maybe and a Beatles compilation. It’s perhaps this aura of being ‘out-there’ that scares away the po-faced but this is a great collection of songs. Dawn Of The Replicants twist pop up into a strange mess then re-arrange it in inventive, imaginative and often joyous ways. This collection also shows that there is a band with serious intent lurking behind the songs. In amongst the madness there is a strange beauty and a big pop heart beating away.

And I invented them you know!

Now where’s my royalty cheque.

© 2006 Andy Wood

Postscript – or the apologies, I lied to you bit!  The Snow Patrol story is probably even less remarkable. Gary Lightbody and I shared a tutorial class (English) in second year at University. He played in a band called Shrug who were remarkable mainly for their unremarkability. I think I cruelly described them as music for ‘people who wore brown trousers’, a phrase I reserved for especially earnest but dull bands. Gary took this well though he was less happy about me pointing out there was another band, admittedly only slightly less obscure, releasing records under the name of Shrug. Anyway I attempted to get them a few gigs though I lost all credibility for a while when I arranged for them to do a decent support and they didn’t turn up. A few years later my band supported Snow Patrol in Edinburgh and I saw them over half a dozen times around Dundee playing to decent audiences and thought they had turned into quite a cool band. I got my degree and did a PhD, sold 500 singles, Gary scraped an ordinary pass and sold about 5 million albums... Snow Patrol are not really my cup of tea any more but good luck to them. Nice guys and I still dig the first two albums.

Oh, and I still have that Shrug tape in a safe place…