Those old parental fears—matches, alcohol, a rough crowd, drugs—are passé. What seems to send UK (especially Scottish) bands spiraling over the edge of sanity and sanctity now is that demon dancebeat. Two years’ worth of singles and EPs (collected on the Hang-Ten! album) had identified the Soup Dragons as Glasgow’s junior Buzzcocks; that image ended with the release of This Is Our Art, a closet full of try-on styles. Wittily subtitled Useless, boring, impotent, elitist and very, very beautiful, it offers ’60’s garage psychedelia (“Great Empty Space”), hard rock (the Black Sabbath-sounding “Passion Protein”) and Scottish funk (“King of the Castle”), among others. It’s an amazing range, yet there’s something insincere about these songs, which seemingly don’t know when to end.
Then the quartet—which had its genealogical roots in the BMX Bandits—abandoned any residual punk edge and embraced young Britain’s acid rave culture with grooved pockets of electronically aided crossover pop rhythmatism. A lazy, Madchester-styled cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free” (featuring guest toasting by Junior Reid of Black Uhuru) became a career-making hit, sparking the success of the otherwise original Lovegod, an effective, accessible (if ultimately tedious) trip of house-geared rhythms, semi-firm melodies and singer/guitarist/programmer Sean Dickson’s obviously mind-expanded lyrics. “Dream-E- Forever” is only the most blatant Ecstasy fan letter. In small, er, doses, though, percolating ditties like “Backwards Dog” and “Kiss the Gun” are primo dancefloor fodder. (The CD adds a dub mix of the title track and the “Crotch Deep Trash” single.)
Hotwired isn’t as druggy or clubby as Lovegod. The group integrates danceable rhythms into moderate, engaging pop productions rather than using them as the album’s structural building block. Dickson’s commitment to hedonism and freedom (“Pleasure,” “Running Wild”) remains unabated, but he appears to have moved beyond simple ideas of oblivion by ingestion (searching for a way to solve someone’s problems in “Absolute Heaven,” he still can’t find anything “to take you out of your mind”). And “Mindless” is a love song to a person, not a pill. Consistent in tone (except for the mushy strings on “Forever Yesterday”) and occasionally strikingly good (the sharp, memorable “Dream-On (Solid Gone)” and the crisp, snappy “Everlasting”), Hotwired is the first Soup Dragons album to live up to the band’s increasing potential.
But someone’s ego was evidently on a steeper growth curve, and guitarist Jim McCulloch, bassist Sushil Dade and drummer Paul Quinn soon found themselves de-mobilized. Dickson recorded the awful and excessive Hydrophonic as a solo album under the band name, getting abundant session aid from Bootsy Collins, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Kick Horns, Lynval Golding, Neville Staples, Tina Weymouth and Mickey Finn. A soggy hodgepodge of lunkheaded rock, would-be hip-hop, blues, soulful backing vocals and chants, extraneous disco strings, limp, stupid songs and mechanical drumming, the self-produced disc sounds like it’s either about to break into a chorus of “Brother Louie” (or “Gimme Shelter”) or rebuild Pink Floyd’s Wall—neither of which is a viable option for the salvation of this once-happening band. Flush it.
Dickson subsequently launched a band called the High Fidelity.