Arrogance and mean-spiritedness are not two traits you’d normally offer as key ingredients for a successful pop band. But then, most pop bands don’t have half as many hooks as this Birmingham foursome led by sneering smartass and self-important singer/lyricist Miles Hunt. With its clever self-explanatory title and crisp production (by ex- Vibrator Pat Collier), The Eight Legged Groove Machine is a fine showcase for the Stuffies’ memorable British punk-pop, which is stylistically not all that far removed from Collier’s old band. The record’s fourteen nuggets (each clocking in at under three minutes) offer ingratiating melodies and, on such tracks as “It’s Yer Money I’m After, Baby,” “Give, Give, Give Me More, More, More” and “Unbearable,” some of the most comically selfish and snotty lyrics you’re likely to encounter. The band continued to mature musically and expand its thematic repertoire, but nothing the Wonder Stuff did later could match the biting humor and cleverness of this thrilling debut. The CD and cassette add four tracks, including the essential “Astley in the Noose,” a death wish dedicated to one of 1980s England’s plastic pop-singing icons..
Again produced by Collier, Hup finds the Wonder Stuff getting serious and attempting to diversify stylistically, incorporating psychedelia (“Let’s Be Other People”), acoustic folk (“Unfaithful”), bluegrass (“Golden Green”), even a spot-on PiL soundalike (“Good Night Though”) into its ever-pissed-off repertoire. Although commendably ambitious, Hup lacks the peppy charm of the debut and contains some cloying filler.
By the release of Never Loved Elvis, the Stuffies were stadium-filling UK superstars. They were also without the Bass Thing (aka Rob Jones, who moved to New York City, where he died of drug-related causes in 1993); the arrival of multi-instrumentalist Martin Bell and a new bassist transformed the band into a ten-legged groove machine. More than any other album, the Mick Glossop-produced Never Loved Elvis proves that this angry lot sure did have a sweet spot. There’s the lovely, fiddle-filled “Mission Drive,” the bouncy, accordion-powered “Welcome to the Cheap Seats” (with guest vocals by Kirsty MacColl) and the slavish Madness soundalike “The Size of a Cow,” a hooky singalong tailor-made for adoring festival crowds.
Clearly enjoying its commercial success (though US fame always eluded them), the band took no artistic leaps on Construction for the Modern Idiot, a spotty collection whose chief flaw is its uninspired songwriting. In addition to an embarrassing rant against pedophiles (“I Wish Them All Dead”), the album offers a grotesque bit of Charles Bukowski idolatry (“A Great Drinker”) that would likely have made the writer cringe. Providing a break in the filler, however, is “Full of Life (Happy Now),” a catchy complaint against drunken violence, and the gloriously anthemic “On the Ropes,” the perfect swan song for a band that would soon throw in the towel.
Hunt became a host for MTV Europe and then started the aggressive hard-pop Vent (quickly renamed Vent 414) with ex- Senseless Things bassist Morgan Nicholls, ex-Eat (and Clash) drummer Pete Howard and, after a bit, ex-Cult guitarist Billy Duffy. Steve Albini produced their lone album in 1996. Three other ex-Stuffies resurfaced backing Eat singer Ange Dolittle in We Know Where You Live (the name sometimes appears all run together), whose debut EP, Don’t Be Too Honest, sounds not much like the Wonder Stuff but an awful lot like Eat.
The worthwhile posthumous Wonder Stuff hits compilation offers eighteen tracks, some of them previously non-LP, including the band’s playful remake of Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” with British TV comedian Vic Reeves.
Following some solo work by Hunt, the Stuffies reformed in 2000.