Although not the first rock band to field two bassists, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin — formed with quickly abandoned goth intent in England’s West Midlands in the late ’80s — got the furthest commercially with such a lineup, riding along the same wave of colorful/dopey Angloslack dance-punk as the Wonder Stuff, EMF and Jesus Jones. The chucked cobblestone sloganeering of “Kill Your Television” (first included on Bite) gets God Fodder off to a strong, provocative start, and the quintet carries through with catchy melodies (the memorable “Grey Cell Green,” remade from The Ingredients), pulsing adrenaline beats and a wool-covered wall of fuzzy pop noise on which able singer Jonn Penney pastes challenging personal lyrics. Derivative to the core, the Neds pinch bits from a random selection of English bands (Wedding Present, Icicle Works, New Order, etc.), but they do so with such breathless enthusiasm that it suits the good-natured cheesiness of the whole endeavor. The Grey Cell Green EP surrounds the God Fodder standout with a horribly recorded live version of the album’s “Until You Find Out” and three studio cuts from a 1991 UK single (the soft/loud “Titch” is a keeper). For further Neds B-side study, O.522 collects most of ’em.
Whether it’s the flat songwriting, dumb samples or Andy Wallace’s otherwise tidy production, Are You Normal? drains the fun out of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, leaving only cloddish conceits (songs like “Not Sleeping Around,” verses like “My childhood obsession/It’s my record collection/So what makes us so squeaky clean?/If we’re food for worms that’s not my scene”) timed to generic stutter beats and sunk by uninspired music. “A Legend in His Own Boots” and “Spring” prove that the band hasn’t completely lost its knack, but the bulk of the album is a tiring waste.
Following a long studio layoff, the Neds returned with Brainbloodvolume (wasn’t that a Red Hot Chili Peppers’ title?), an altogether happier effort. The fivesome seems confident and relaxed enough to enjoy the work; the songs appear to be the result of actual woodshedding, not last-minute whip-ups. Getting it all down in a clear mix of bristling, textured power and slick commercialism, producer Tim Palmer ably follows the group’s minor stylistic perambulations, which display a bit of wit (“Floote” has a jammy flute winding through the pop-hop song; the four-minute finale is entitled “Song Eleven Could Take Forever”) while juggling modern dance beats, driving rock, pinging atmospherics, found-sound silliness and glossy mid-tempo pop. If not as serious and significant as the self-important band would have it, Brainbloodvolume has no shortage of well-crafted tunes and intriguing lyrics, all wrapped up with the élan of skilled and mature chart hogs.
Ned’s wrapped itself up after that, calling it quits until a revised lineup staged a 2000 reunion show, documented by a live album.