Biff Bang Pow! — the music-making endeavor of Creation Records founder Alan McGee — was for a long time a touchstone for the influential label’s definition and development, albeit one that never assumed the limelight or achieved any major hits. (Having named his label for the great ’60s aggro-art-mod group, it was probably inevitable that the Glaswegian’s band, which never used the Creation for specific musical cues, would take its moniker from one of that band’s songs.) From the initial recordings, rife with brisk, neo-psychedelic garage pop, to the spare, acoustic laments at the end, Biff Bang Pow! ambled along, releasing a string of well-conceived and well-executed singles and albums that still sound fresh.
Psychedelia and nostalgia inform Biff Bang Pow!’s records but, as often as not, the wiry guitar pop sounds like a compromise between Josef K, Orange Juice and Haircut One Hundred. Although they would seem spiritually in synch with the Television Personalities or Times (indeed, the latter’s Edward Ball is an occasional member), Biff Bang Pow! doesn’t share those groups’ winsome charm or demonstrative cultural resonance.
The cover photo of Pass the Paintbrush shows a set of Vox gear that would do any revivalist band proud. The first side offers little such personality; noisy interludes of non-chromatic harmonica provide the most noticeable component of the short ditties. Side B has the real goods, containing the rushing Kinksy “Colin Dobbins” and the outstanding “A Day Out with Jeremy Chester,” a lengthy acid-rock trip loaded with wild feedback and exciting guitar crashes. The Paintbrush CD also contains the band’s next album.
Poorly produced with thin, shrill sound, The Girl Who Runs the Beat Hotel reveals much stronger, more attractive songwriting. “Someone Stole My Wheels” and “The Happiest Girl in the World” are convincing period pieces colored in with, respectively, prominent organ and female vocals; “Five Minutes in the Life of Greenwood Goulding” uses crazy backwards guitars. Strangely, McGee’s vocals suggest Robert Smith on “Love’s Going Out of Fashion” and Lloyd Cole on “He Don’t Need That Girl.” The melodies and varied arrangements are stylishly appropriate, but the botched mix prevents them from being fully appreciated. The 12-inch of “Love’s Going Out of Fashion” avoids that sonic pothole and includes three atmospheric non-LP tracks.
Almost all of the band’s remaining sharp edges have been polished off of Oblivion, a handsome effort with brilliant vocals and sparkling guitar uplifting the finely constructed songs. Still, it’s heartwarming to hear “A Girl Called Destruction” devolve into a noisy old-fashioned raveup; “I See the Sun” contrasts acoustic strumming with massive distortion on the solo. If Paul Weller had grown up listening to the Hollies as much as the Who, the Jam might have made an album like Oblivion; fortunately, Biff Bang Pow! did.
Side One of Love Is Forever mixes electric and acoustic guitars (played by McGee and stalwart bandmate Richard Green) with pretty harmonica to yield music akin to the Bluebells’ sprightly folk-rock (but not songs of that group’s caliber). The other side — all-electric and at times loud — is bracing but largely unfathomable, despite the inclusion of such delicacies as “She Went Away to Love.” While remnants of Oblivion‘s appeal and clarity are evident, Love Is Forever is comparatively dull and uninspired.
The Acid House Album is nothing of the sort, but rather an exceedingly enjoyable compilation containing one side of alternate versions (demos, outtakes, etc.). Surprisingly consistent production sound and wise programming makes this a fine place for neophytes to begin and fans to revisit. (A demo of “The Girl from Well Lane” provides a teaser for the group’s next release.)
The seven romantic Songs for the Sad Eyed Girl may be heartfelt, but casual folky underproduction leaves the record a bit listless. (Some of the tracks are effectively McGee solo acoustic turns.) Only the marvelous massed harmonies of “She Kills Me,” “Baby, You Just Don’t Care” and “Hug Me Honey” offer reasons to be cheerful.
The group’s final record, Me, is subtitled More Songs for the Sad Eyed Girl, which makes sense, since it builds on the legacy of 1990’s Songs for the Sad Eyed Girl with a solitary sound unlike the fleshier arrangements of prior albums. The ten songs are, for the most part, acoustic ballads alternately celebrating and crying over love. “There’s only one thing worth living for and it’s love,” McGee sorrowfully notes on “Miss You,” as mournful slide guitar and an uncommonly thick atmosphere well up around his vocals and gentle strumming. McGee’s lovelorn lyrics do become a bit self-obsessed, but as a study in the delicate affairs of the heart, Me works.
“Miss You” is one of two cuts from Me on the American Bertula Pop compilation, which culls Biff Bang Pow!’s entire oeuvre, including The Acid House Album. The five fervently strummed acoustic cuts from Love Is Forever (including the wonderful “She Paints” and “She Haunts”) stand proudly here, as does the jangly “She’s Got Diamonds in Her Hair,” the lone cut from Oblivion. The organ-drenched “Someone Stole My Wheels” (one of two from The Girl Who Runs the Beat Hotel) is a reminder that McGee was once pissed off as well as sad as hell, while Songs for the Sad Eyed Girl‘s lonesome version of the Television Personalities’ “Someone to Share My Life With” is equally effective.