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DARLING BUDS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Pop Said ... (Columbia) 1988
Crawdaddy (Columbia) 1990
Tiny Machine EP (UK Epic) 1990
Erotica Plays EP (UK Epic) 1991
Erotica (Chaos/Columbia) 1992

This Welsh quartet (whose name comes from a Shakespeare sonnet) emerged in the late '80s as part of Britain's resurgent girl-group update. Along with Voice of the Beehive, Transvision Vamp and the very similar Primitives, the Buds looked to the past (not that far: they settled on Blondie) to forge a derivative yet likable sound that, taken in small bites, should satisfy the cravings of any neo-bubblegum fan.

On the relentlessly chirpy debut, singer/lyricist Andrea Lewis and guitarist/songwriter Harley Farr offer a dozen upbeat songs about love (of the puppy, crummy and lost varieties), all well sung and solidly played. The gorgeous "Let's Go Round There" and the Bo Diddley bop of "Things We Do for Love" (not the 10cc song) highlight an album full of highlights. But proceed cautiously, as repeated listenings may cause a sugar rush.

Opening with distorto-feedback reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Crawdaddy reveals a more mature Buds, a group that has learned the value of a little variety. With Smiths/Blur producer Stephen Street twiddling the knobs, there's a lushness on "You Won't Make Me Die" and "So Close" that was absent from Pop Said... In addition, the band hops aboard the then-trendy Madchester bandwagon, coming up with "Tiny Machine" and "Crystal Clear," the disc's most memorable tracks. Some now-tired Blondie-isms remain, but this fine sophomore effort is mostly a forward-looking, groove-heavy delight. (The subsequent EP features "It Makes No Difference" plus three self-produced non-LP tracks.)

Lewis comes into her own on the aptly named Erotica (also made with producer Street), on which a fine band matures in sound yet still capitalizes on its original strength—namely, brilliant hookcraft. (Coincidentally, Madonna's Erotica also appeared in '92.) With vaguely menacing distortion added to the seductive sugar-pop attack, practically every track (especially "One Thing Leads to Another," "Gently Fall" and "Angels Fallen") sounds like a possible hit single. And the absolutely lovely "Please Yourself" beats "I Touch Myself" and "She Bop" as modern rock's most joyous ode to carnal solitaire.

[Doug Brod]