Glasgow’s Urusei Yatsura, a distorted bubblegum pop masterpiece
Monorail Exclusive Edition
‘Round here It’s easy to be swallowed up by the yawning maw of nostalgia, not least because Glasgow’s mid to late 90s underground rock scene was a febrile, adventurous jungle of creativity, inspiration, substance abuse and casual brilliance. As we approach the 25th and 30th Anniversaries of records and releases that were milestones in much of our lives, the temptation is to sink into a warm, fuzzy cocoon of remembrance but often these records have already had ample oxygen and attention. Enter We Are Urusei Yatsura.
Urusei Yatsura weren’t the most attention-seeking of groups, weren’t the group that went on to sell out arenas. They were a group of misfits who made music that bristled with energy, abandon and pop mastery delivered in a carefree, unglamorous fashion. Taking the nihilism of late 80s and early 90s American underground guitar music, No Wave/Post Punk inspired dissonance bent upwards into melody, Sub Pop-adjacent super fuzz, even some mirrored Yummy Fur pop culture vampirism and we’re cookin’. So far, so normal, right? Yet listening to We Are Urusei Yatsura now, some 30 years after its release, I’m struck by the songs. They had songs for daze, hooks like a pink chandelier of barbed points.
Granted, Urusei tickled a lot of the British independent press and had a loyal following but were sometimes dismissed as a kind of baby Sonic Youth and honestly right now this makes me raging. With their debut album Urusei Yatsura seemed to throw all of their influences into a cauldron with a truck load of Japanese pop culture, post-industrial Central Scotland boredom and a knack for writing power pop songs that are almost supernatural in their pure, ecstatic FUN element. They boiled it all down into one of the best – and most underrated – debut albums Scotland ever released. The ideas pour out of this record, each song is reduced downn into hard, diamond-sharp pop nuggets making their debut sound more like an Art Rock Nuggets, but it’s all the same band. Like, Sonic Youth had 4 or 5 great pop songs on most of their pre-naughties albums but Urusei had 13 absolute smashers.
The problem with posterity, or at least the gaze of the modern music industry is it tends to favour the survivors. Inspired groups form, release and dissipate and the dinosaurs that hang on into mundanity are recognised as having a pedigree to champion (I’m talking about no one specific, please understand.) Nostalgia helps these guys sustain careers. What about the misfits, the losers, the be-fringed, wiry groups that came, spent and went with no big Mojo feature?
Urusei Yatsura, to me, deserve their place in the canon of great indie rock. They came a little bit after (and were probably influenced by) the American underground groups like Pavement, SY, Truman’s Water, Royal Trux and were separated by the Atlantic ocean sure. But listen to punked-up flames like opener Siamese with its almost UK 82 pogo beat and staccato vocal fried from both sides by guitarists Fergus Lawrie and Graham Kemp; that the sound of youth not knowing what else to do but be brilliant. First Day On A Brand New Planet, Black Hole Love could have been hewn from Slanted & Enchanted but (whisper it) are even more fun and affecting.
There are points where the band sound like they don’t give a fuck and you gotta live for those times. Barely in-tune, cheap Woolworths guitars almost harmonising on Death 2 Everyone make it a cut that Mudhoney would have been proud to have on Superfuzz BigMuff, Motorik driver Road Song stretches out like the M8 overgrown with grit and weeds, Pow R. Ball screams with vocals and guitars, a stinking, fun mess that, wait up, breaks into an absolute belter of a chorus that this cesspit doesn’t deserve. They don’t give a shit and it’s incredibly fun.
But it’s the songs. Maybe they’re obfuscating and bordering on casual as on Kewpies Like Watermelon but goddamn it another catchy chorus and you’re snagged. Phasers On Stun sounds like Polvo if they had a sense of humour (OK, I’m being deliberately provocative, I love Polvo). Plastic Ashtray documents, maybe, cigarette-smoke stained Glasgow flat parties, pop cultural flights of fancy decorated with fuzzed up guitars that pivot from heavy distortion to crystal clear dissonance to delirious effect. They must be one of the only bands that can do a “free form noise section” and, with the duelling guitars, underpinned by pounding, loose rhythm section courtesy of Elaine and Ian Graham, have it come out like any other groups long lost chorus.
Maybe it’s nostalgia that’s thrown me so heavy into this record 30 years after picking it up on CD but I don’t think so. On We Are… Urusei displayed as much chutzpah, songwriting skill, silly, brilliant inanity, slanted intelligence, geek-a-zoid colour and fun than any of their forebears and I think it’s time they were placed firmly in that canon. Put it on for anyone that likes a battered guitar or pop music, or whatever and they’ll see what I see.
All Hail Urusei Yatsura