Dear God in Heaven, they were a magnificent band, weren't they?
The only thing that took the sting out of the death of David Bowie for me was to hear these records from inveterate Bowie-acolytes again in January. Earl Brutus put out just 2 albums and they are both, thankfully, back in print now in fine fashion thanks to the folks at Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music. For those of you who know these albums, the bonus discs on each release will only further solidify your appreciation of these glorious unhinged bastards. For those of you who have previously only read about this lot, prepare to have your minds blown.
The 1996 debut album was called Your Majesty... We Are Here and, in some weird way, that title nodded in the direction of both Queen and The Sex Pistols, as did the music within the grooves. In some similar style to what Oasis managed to pull off on their early, rowdy, rafter-shaking and raucous flip-sides -- the ones where they sound like they are finally admitting to being Slade and not trying to be the Beatles -- Earl Brutus took the previously contradictory glam and punk legacies of their native England, threw them up against one another, rubbed, and...rawked. Gloriously.
Your Majesty... We Are Here seems more direct and simultaneously more experimental than parts of the next album. The result here is a sonic slap in the face but one which you love, from a dominatrix you will gladly pay again and again. The brash and cheeky "Navyhead", "I'm New", and "Male Milk" send the album off to regions of glory before the decidedly disturbing "On Me Not In Me" -- a tart's description of services, if one's to believe the press materials with this reissue -- takes things into areas last explored by Throbbing Gristle, or even Pulp before they hit the big time. The singalong "Don't Leave Me Behind Mate" pitches the late Nick Sanderson's vocals down a deep well and the overall effect is like Joe Meek producing The Jesus and Mary Chain...while playing a Mud record. Did anything else sound nearly as imaginative as this in 1996? Has anything since?
For all the bold, upbeat stuff here on Your Majesty... We Are Here, there are also tracks that veer into the realms of nearly-dark electronica ("Curtsy"), and others ("Life's Too Long") that seem like big choruses that never need to end.
The bonus disc of Your Majesty... We Are Here offers up treasures like the wickedly-titled "Mondo Rotunda" or "North Sea Bastard", but it's stuff like the sly "Like Queer David", all faux-string passages and near-Jarvis-cooing, that makes a listener marvel. One of the highlights here, this track mashes up about a dozen things into a blender to produce the sort of indie-pop that made the Nineties not entirely a waste.
Elsewhere, there are a few remixes on this bonus disc, and the most interesting is probably Suicide's Alan Vega's take on "On Me Not In Me" which renders the already odd song a bit odder and colder still. Bold but not nearly as essential as the original version.
The band -- Stuart Boreman, Nick Sanderson, Jim Fry, Gordon King, and Rob Marche, and Shin-Ya Hayashida - took their act to Island Records for 1998's Tonight You Are The Special One. Rather than suck up to the majors, the Brutus lot managed to amp up the weirdness, even if the thing sounds a bit cleaner in audio terms. Big album opener "The S.A.S. and The Glam That Goes with It" -- named after a videotape that had footage of an S.A.S raid jutting up next to a glam doc -- is the sort of thing that makes me want to flip over a table every time I hear it. Gleaming and sleek keyboard lines underline a thoroughly raucous rock-noise whirl as Sanderson rails against "quiche lorraine attitudes" and such. If the rabble ever storm Parliament, one can only hope that they are playing this on boom-boxes as they march through London. As radically abrasive and catchy as "God Save The Queen", this cut gives me chills and remains one of the weirdest ways to rock that my iPod holds in its bowels. This one is bliss, really.
If "Midland Red" continues the experimental excursions of the softer songs on the first record, then "God, Let Me Be Kind" refines them into something heartfelt -- dare I say that? -- and beautiful like Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie with a metallic underpinning. "Come Taste My Mind" is a noble stab at the charts but it's up to the absurdly lovely "Don't Die Jim" to prove the genius of Earl Brutus once and for all. Sanderson's treated vocals warble over an acoustic guitar as tinkling keys behind him lead the song higher and higher to make this the sort of song that, oddly, is like some punk version of a Brian Wilson ballad. Warped, out there, and yet gloriously adventurous and affecting, this is pure Brutus; I have little idea what Nick's going on about here but, dammit, when that Ronson-esque guitar kicks in, a little tear wells up in this old rock fan's eye every single time. Yeah, I know, that none of this makes sense on paper, and what I'm grooving on here is the sort of thing that would be a tough sell to new listeners. Still, I'd put this one up against anything in the Radiohead canon.
The album still contains its share of rockers ("East"), but the glory of Tonight You Are The Special One lies in those numbers that push the envelope -- the Numan-on-Bolan weirdness of "Edelweiss", for instance.
The bonus disc for Tonight You Are The Special One contains a few live rarities, a William Reid (The Jesus and Mary Chain) remix of "Come Taste My Mind" and the glam-stomp of "Larky", a 1999 one-off single. They probably had little inkling at the time but this, the sorta last official Earl Brutus release, perfectly sums up the charms of both albums in one cut. "There are no times like these ones" the late Nick Sanderson roars and he's certainly right. There would be nothing like this lot again, try as the surviving members might in the still-admirable The Pre New. Grab this release again if you already have it for this cut and wonderfully-titled oddities like "Gypsy Camp Battle" and "England Sandwich" -- you know as well as I do that somewhere Morrissey was grousing that he didn't come up with that title first, eh?
Taken together, Your Majesty... We Are Here (1996) and Tonight You Are The Special One (1998) are 2 of the best albums that unfortunately found themselves released in the midst of the Britpop boom. Thoroughly and wonderfully more British than any Noel Union Jack axe, the tunes on these releases are the products of English eccentrics with amps, goons with chops, yobs with a vendetta, the last drunk in the pub blaring his way through "Starman" with tears in his ears and bitter spilling out of his glass.
Perpetually underrated even after the tragic early death of frontman Nick Sanderson, Earl Brutus remain the great lost U.K. band. Thank God in Heaven that Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music resurrected these. Hey, the albums have never been far from my side but I was happy to get them again for those bonus discs alone. Superbly assembled and remixed, these 2 records contain more wit than most Moz releases, more bluster than a brace of Slade singles, more edge-riding than Thom Yorke's so-called risky music. Earl Brutus had no equals and one realizes how hard it is to even compare this music to any of the band's peers from the era, or even earlier eras despite some avowed Bowie, Bolan, and Numan bits sprinkled throughout. Your Majesty... We Are Here (1996) and Tonight You Are The Special One (1998) by Earl Brutus are both available now via Cherry Red and 3 Loop Music.