In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This time around, we’re picking our favorite songs that feature s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g.
Elastica made one of the most solid albums of the ’90s Britpop explosion, but chances are if you ask anyone, they’ll say that’s only because it was stolen. Plagiarism charges dogged the group from the get-go, as its songs borrowed so heavily from its heroes that eventually they came looking to be repaid. Most notably, Wire sued over riffs and melodies that were lifted for “Connection” and “Line Up,” while The Stranglers did the same over similarities in “Waking Up.” Those charges resulted in out-of-court settlements and, among those who cared about such things, a legacy for Elastica as an unrepentant band thief. It’s a fairly hilarious retort, then, that Elastica returned with a second album that saw it nicking not just inspiration from late-’70s post-punk, but one of its loudest voices.
The Fall’s Mark E. Smith came to Elastica through its recently added keyboardist Dave Bush, who’d been rescued from the still-growing heap of musicians Smith has fired. The fact that getting sacked by Smith is something of an honored English tradition probably helped assuage any hard feelings that would have prevented their reteaming on Elastica’s 2000 record, The Menace (as did the fact that Smith will come and rant over a song by just about anyone who asks).
Besides, Elastica was itself in a Fall-like state of disarray at the time, with several years of hard partying, the tabloid relationship drama between singer Justine Frischmann and Blur’s Damon Albarn, and the stress of touring having caused most of its founding members to leave. What remained was just the sort of ramshackle, barely hanging-on group Smith was used to captaining.
The result of that brief stewardship and the accompanying writing and recording sessions were “KB”—which is, despite Frishmann’s vocals on the album version, more accurately a Fall tune, as the rendition on 1999’s 6 Track EP proves—and “How He Wrote Elastica Man.” A play on Smith’s own “How I Wrote Elastic Man,” the song is nevertheless a perfect balance between his and Elastica’s sensibilities, which is not always the case with his duets.
And it’s definitely all about Elastica: As group vocals shout out the band name, letter by letter, Frischmann interjects oblique, often bleak asides in her kittenish snarl. (Smith lightens things up a bit with his wordplay on “L”/Elle, offering a deadpan, “A magazine.”) It’s a corker of a tune, with Frischmann spitting some abstract fatalism about there being no way out and “last chances,” which resonate even more knowing that Elastica would break up shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, Smith barks about breaking through “glass barriers/class barriers,” which could possibly be read as commentary on Elastica being held down by a boys’ club music scene that saw it as irredeemable. Or, maybe it just sounded good. Either way, “How He Wrote Elastica Man” spelled the end, but it also spelled out the fact Elastica was deserving of a listen, even by the people it had stolen from.