Monday, 15 July 2013

The Embarrassment - 'Heyday 1969-83' (Bar/None)

The Embarrassment are about the ultimate definition of 'product of their time'. In the early 80s, when you're stuck in Kansas and you're into punk rock, there's not a lot of outlets. Though they put out records til 1990, this twofer collects material from their early period and contains essentially all the Embarrassment you need - unless you're a completist. I'm not, but I would be thrilled to come across their debut single on vinyl one day, because both 'Sex Drive' and 'Patio Set' are unlike anything else out there. 'Sex Drive' deals with an oft-trodden topic but explodes with a chorus perfectly suited for adolescent sexual frustration. It's on par with Devo's 'Uncontrollable Urge' in greatness, except I don't play air drums along to Devo. As we get into their more developed material (much pulled from their Death Travels West mini-LP), there's a bit less bile and a slightly goofy side actually emerges, as well as a great deal of melody and guitar interplay. 'Celebrity Art Party' is based around a silly joke, basically, and 'I'm a Don Juan' wears it's self-awareness big and loud. 'Wellsville' is pre-Adventures of Pete and Pete but says it all perfectly. There's not much actually that punk about the Embarassment, especially as the disc goes on, but they lean just enough towards R.E.M. and the Feelies without being too jangly; it's a balance that seems perfectly suited for the Midwest at this time. I grew up not knowing anything about the Embarrassment, but about bands like them, who represented some ideal to me. I was in college by the time I heard this so it was like discovering a long-lost familiar concept. I admit I rarely ever throw on disc two, the 'scarcities', though I have to for the purpose of this writing; and it's solid, certainly justifiable, though I wish Bar/None would have gone more for completeness (the liner notes mention a cover of 'Pushin' Too Hard' from this period, which is not included). The scarcities seem to follow chronologically too, at least in terms of sound; 'After the Disco' is clearly from the same jagged irrationality of the 'Patio Set' era, and though it goes on a verse too long, is a worthy tune. Another version of 'Jazzface' lurks at the end of disc two as well as a bunch of live tracks. The live recordings aren't necessary and I wonder what else could have filled this disc out.  But again, I'm not a completist, nor am I even that big of an Embarrassment fan, but whenever I throw this on, I'm delighted.

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