It makes me sad that some of my favourite songs are almost unknown. Songs from bands like Leicester's Perfume, who I heard a few times on Radio 1, bought a single, and never heard of again. Or Nilon Bombers, a band whose Britpop-era support slots blew me away but never went beyond a first album. And These Animal Men, a Brighton band who wrote one of the greatest songs ever.
The Animal Men were part of the New Wave of New Wave, described by Wikipedia as "a sub-genre of the British alternative rock scene in the early 90s, in which bands displayed punk, post-punk and New Wave influences". It has been cruelly mocked by John Harris as "Britpop without the good bits".
The time before Britpop was fascinating. The British music scene was flooded with American imports but in the background something was happening. The music press were desperate to create a scene and jumped the gun a little when they invented the New Wave of New Wave which roped in bands like Sleeper, Echobelly and Menswear who later successfully jumped ship to Britpop.
At the time the New Wave of New Wave seemed contrived. For a start the name was unwieldy – even the abbreviation NWONW was unwieldy. It might have gone better if New Wave of New Wave had a snappier name – like, say, Britpop. (Or, um, Romo, another synthetic scene that didn't fare at all well but somehow has a much longer wikipedia page than New Wave of New Wave (although, to be fair, history has proved Simon Price right))
(The pre-history of Britpop is more interesting than Britpop itself, filled with characters like Luke Haines who toured with Suede in 1992 and lost the first Mercury prize to them in 1993. By 1995, as the country revelled in fake cockernee celebrations, Haines had moved to darker places. His Christmas 1995 release was an EP featuring songs about child murder, followed by a funk concept album about terrorism. Haines' contempt for commercial opportunity seems heroic).
These Animal Men were one of the bands who failed to move from New Wave of New Wave to Britpop. John Harris's history of Britpop, The Last Party, makes a single mention of the band on page 98, in a section about the retro bands that were around pre-Britpop. In a list of bands it mentions These Animal Men, "whose camp macho poses were redolent of the Clash".
I wasn't a huge fan of These Animal Men as a band. Their interviews were funny but they seemed an example of style over substance. It didn't help that their early single, Speed King, was a tabloid baiting hymn to amphetamine use. Still, they were entertaining enough and I saw them once supporting Carter USM at Sussex University's Mandela Hall. Most of the stage was taken up with Carter's equipment but These Animal Men used the cramped space they had as if they were the Who at Wembley. (Carter's gig was reviewed by Everett True in that week's Melody Maker. True ignored the gig itself in favour of reviewing a discussion he'd had with Carter beforehand about authenticity or something, which seemed a little unfair).
I may not have been a fan of These Animal Men, but I love their single You're Not My Babylon. It tells the story of Billie Frechette, who spent two years in jail for hiding the notorious bank robber John Dillinger. I don't really know the story, and I have no idea what it means to be someone's Babylon, although it sounds epic and important. The lyrics tell a story of last stands, misplaced loyalty and domestic violence, looking back on the past with sadness.
When I hear the song it brings back a flurry of memories of being younger, with a million futures bursting from every moment. You're Not My Babylon is as great a song as Halleluliah or Hey Jude. It is a greater song than any single track Nirvana ever wrote; a song as great as Hole's Malibu or Le Tigre's Eau de Bedroom Dancing or the Beach Boys singing Wouldn't It Be Nice or Luke Haines singing Bad Reputation. It is one of the greatest records ever made.
The song reached number 77 in the charts. And I wonder how many songs I would love as much as this one if only I'd heard them.
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