Thursday, February 19, 2009

Because Kurt Said So...

Captain America - Flame On

Back in early-1992, if Kurt Cobain had told me to spray-paint my nutsack metallic green and moonwalk naked down South Street in Dorchester I would have done so without blinking, such was the influence he had over my dope-addled teenage brain. Luckily he made no such demands, instead bigging up a Scottish band called Captain America in an interview, thus leading me to discover a band who remain close to my heart to this very day.

I found this transcript online - it might not be the actual one I read (which I think was in the NME, where he also sported a Captain America T-shirt as pictured above) but Cobain, in discussion with Nirvana bassist Chris Novoselic, reveals his love for the Vaselines, and in turn, Captain America:

Chris Novoselic: "Kurt and I were totally into the Vaselines. I mean, they were my favourite band. They still are one of my favourite bands."

Kurt Cobain: "Definitely our Number One favourite band."

CN: "We finally got to play with them. They reformed, to play with us when we played Edinburgh, Scotland, in, er, early winter of 1990. So we met Eugene, and kind of kept a rap going with them. Then we heard Captain America, the band. We heard the tape, we were totally blown away."

KC: "Yeah, that's his new band, Captain America. They're really good."

Captain America was formed by Eugene Kelly in 1990 after the disintegration of the Vaselines, the Glasgow indie poppers he fronted alongside Frances McKee. The original line-up was a bit of a Scots supergroup, featuring Brendan O’Hare from Teenage Fanclub on drums, the guitarist Gordon Keen (BMX Bandits) and James Sheenan, (The Vaselines) on bass. O’Hare was replaced early on by Andy Bollen. After reading the interview where Kurt namechecked CA, I went straight down to Big Brian's Record Shop in Tudor Arcade and ordered the 12" and then had to wait for a few days before it arrived.

It was more than worth the wait. Captain America were like a grungier Teenage Fanclub - distorted, melodic guitars and Kelly's stoned, lackadaisical drawl delivering his bitter retort to a former lover: "I know what's in your head, I read your diary when you were in bed. Then I threw the pages on the fire...". You can see why Kurt loved them so much. It was tuneful and poppy but also ramshackle, noisy and raw. Even as someone who had never heard of the Vaselines I was totally smitten. Cheers Kurt.

Eugenius - Breakfast

Not content with nicking the name, the band also appropriated the logo of Captain America which was all too much for Marvel Comics who leant heavily on the band to change their name. So Captain America became Eugenius - either a godawful idea or pretty cool (I'm somewhere in between) - for the recording and release of their debut album 'Oomalama' on Paperhouse in 1992. Kelly dismissed the record as "indie-rock-by-numbers" but later declared this judgement to be a bit harsh.

From the nonsensical, chanting mantra of the title track (and album opener), 'Oomalama' had a sunny disposition that didn't really fit in with the angsty vibe that made grunge popular at the time - powerpop chords and soaring, melodious choruses abound. Kelly's voice often sounds everso slightly out of tune and he delivers the words like it's an effort for him to get them out but that works well with the overall laidback feel of the album.

But it was the words that really made me fall in love with 'Oomalama'. Like many of my favourite albums from this time, Kelly's worldview resonated strongly with me and whenever I listen to the album I am transported back to a very specific moment in time. Lyrically, Kelly's major obsessions seemed to be staying in bed ("Back to bed but this time wearing socks" - 'Bed-In'), a can't-even-be-bothered relationship with religion ("I kinda wished I'd found God" - Flame On) but he also writes some killer romantic couplets ("I'll be the words, you'll be the tune" - 'Breakfast'). The album does have a dark heart - the closing track of Side 1, 'Down On Me' opens with the lyric "Jesus take my life from me" and the song itself is downbeat. My only complaint now would be that the production is a bit murky in places but nothing that a good remastering wouldn't fix.

The Vaselines - Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam

It took me a while to get around to buying anything by the Vaselines - I was never really into the twee-pop scene - but I finally picked up 'All the Stuff and More' a couple of years ago. Nirvana covered three Vaselines songs - 'Son of a Gun' and Molly's Lips' (included on the 'Incesticide' album), and 'Jesus Doesn't Want Me For a Sunbeam', part of the intense yet beautiful 'MTV Unplugged in New York' performance, which was recorded in November 1993, just 6 months before Kurt's suicide. The Vaselines have kind of got back together again to play a few gigs.

Buy 'Oomalama' from Amazon - this edition also includes a bonus disc containing the b-sides from the original Captain America single releases plus radio sessions
Eugene Kelly fansite
Eugenius at MySpace