I remember it well. It was 1982 and I was in my mate’s bedroom listening to records. He was particularly excited about a band he had discovered called Modern English and their single ‘I Melt With You.’ He must have played it a dozen times in a row and we both wallowed in that child-like feeling that we were the only ones who knew about this band and they were ours, all ours. Nothing much has quite matched that feeling ever since.
Just over 10 years later, Elastica’s debut single ‘Stutter’ came over the radio airwaves. A track that instantly grabbed my attention with its grinding, angular guitars I was desperate to know who it was by. In those days, you had to wait for the track to finish and hope the radio DJ would make it clear so that you could make a mental note to buy it on your next visit to the record store. Luckily for me, she did.
When I bought Modern English’s 7”, Elastica were not even an idea in someone’s musical brain. And when I bought ‘Stutter,’ I didn’t immediately think ‘Ah, they remind me of Modern English!’
And in between those years, although I wasn’t as familiar with them, Lush and Moose even appeared on my ‘cool music’ radar.
Never in a million years would I have associated these bands or linked them together in any way. It’s like two ingredients you’d never think of trying together. Chilli and chocolate? Yuck! I was surprised then when I first learned that members of all 4 of these bands had formed a ‘supergroup,’ called Piroshka.
I’m not sure how, where or why the term ‘supergroup’ was coined but I’ve always turned my nose up at it. There’s a whiff of artificiality about it, that it’s purely a commercial venture. What’s super about that? So when bands split up, that’s it in my mind. Reforming or going back is never quite the same (I’ll make an exception for The Specials) and we move on to other sounds, bands and discoveries.
But I’m changing my mind. This particular super ‘supergroup’ seems to have evolved organically. As fans of music, we’re not always cognisant of the relationship in and between bands (apart from, maybe, the mainstream ones or unless you are a ‘superfan’).
Piroshka are Miki Berenyi (from Lush), Michael Conroy (from Modern English), Justin Welch (from Elastica) and KJ McKillop (from Moose) and the seed for the band was sown at the end of Lush’s reunion tour of 2016. It had been a successful tour but just before their final gig, the band announced the departure of their bassist and informed their fans that Michael Conroy would be drafted in for the final gig at Manchester Academy. This wasn’t as a result of a call out to just anyone to step in; Michael was best friends with the band’s original drummer who tragically took his own life in 1996. On drums for Lush throughout the reunion tour was Justin Welch, former drummer for Elastica. At rehearsals they knew they had something and then started sharing ideas and tunes. What about KJ McKillop though? How does he fit in? Well, he and Miki have been partners for 20 years and have two children together. So there you have it, a recipe for something tasty.
And their debut (I hope there’s more) album is lip-smacking. It’s a smorgasboard of tunes, a perfect blend of the 4 bands. There’s the dream like synth reminiscent of some Modern English tracks, the driving drums of Elastica, the melodies of Moose and the dreamy vocals of Lush.
But not only that, you can hear other genres and influences too, probably as a result of their vast experience. Parts of ‘Never Enough’ for example reminded me of the Thompson Twins, but elsewhere on the album I was also reminded of Echobelly and The Cure. This is not to say Piroshka have not forged a sound of their own, far from it. The album still manages to sound contemporary and modern and the range is an indication of how vast the musical landscape these musicians have traversed. The tracks are predominantly the classic line up - guitars, vocals, bass and drums but there’s also keyboards, violins and sax at times all adding a glaze like an extra layer of flavour.
The subjects covered are wide ranging too, not surprising for a band who have seen and lived life - and they’re not afraid to address topics such the calamity of Brexit, the greed of the elite, the inanity of consuming 24 hour news as well as more tender topics such as what it is like to be a parent (spoiler: anxiety inducing.)
The album introduces itself with a screech of feedback on its opening track ‘This Must Be Bedlam,’ something that always makes me sit up and listen. The lyrics are bang up to date, talking about fake news and scrolling through social media and trying to distinguish between what is real and what is illusion.
Shit on both sides is doing my head in but I’m in my bubble so what the fuck do I know?
‘Never Enough’ is aimed at the rich and powerful, and the ‘I’m all right, Jack’ society we’re living in.
Why should I share, if I don’t care? I make the rules because I’m smarter than you are
I want what’s yours and I never give up
Why should I feel guilty, what you’ve got is plenty
Keeping right up to date, Brexit is the theme in ‘What’s Next’ and the mess our political parties have gotten us into - this is about as up to date you can get, a song for now.
When Miki sings, ‘I’m terrified that the long forgotten days where we were divided are back again’, the nail is hit well and truly firmly on the head.
What makes these songs more poignant is that they’re not coming from a place of anger, like a young band such as Idles would put them across, but from a place of lived experience thus adding instant gravitas. The ‘oldies’ can still do it you know, we’ve been there, seen it and done it and we’re still expressing frustration at the government or those in charge.
But the album isn’t all about raging against politics and what’s wrong with modern society, there’s good old fashioned relationship stuff too. And, once again, they’re perfectly placed to write about it.
In ‘Heartbeats,’ for example, Miki writes about the emotional upheaval of being a parent, and how difficult it can be losing that protective closeness you have with a young child. The best song lyrics are those that can stand on their own as a poem, like these do;
I can see so clearly your tiny smile
I can feel your heartbeat in tune with mine
It breaks my heart that I will never have that time again.
Memories are left behind
Stranded in an ocean with no control
Tossed in all directions, ebb and flow
I wish I could wrap up and hold you in my arms
But I have to let you go.
The lyrics are starker in the stand out track ‘Everlastingly Yours,’ a song about being trapped in a relationship that you want to be out of but there’s nowhere else to go.
Tramples my dreams in the ground, tear up my flowers and scatter the petals around
There’s something within me that gives me the power to fight, to rip out his heart
The tune itself is a belter and had I been playing it on vinyl, the groove would be over an inch deep by now.
So, my aloofness in avoiding so-called ‘supergroups’ could have meant me missing out on an album of this quality. My previous assumption that a super group could never be greater than the sum of its parts has been spectacularly missiled to pieces by Piroshka’s ‘Brickbat’ and I am very grateful for it. It means that I can go on a new journey of musical discovery and instead of immediately passing over bands that have formed from ex-members of other bands (I still don’t like the term ‘supergroup’), I will delve right in and listen as though they’re a brand new band with ideas and tunes to meld together. It's a win-win situation.
I think I’ll make a start with Minor Victories, made up of members of Slowdive, Mogwai and Editors.
Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?