Ben, Tom and Mal(l) – Some more classics that should have been bigger hits than they were

So bands who don’t use guitars (by that I mean the electric lead ones I’m ignoring the bass), all of them are rubbish, right. Let’s look at the case for the prosecution. Keane. Yup, Keane. Terminally piss poor, much maligned Keane. Keane made a big fuss about big different because they used a synth or a piano instead of a guitar. Essentially Keane were middle class, fairly well to do lads from Sussex then achieved massive international and mainstream success based around the piano rock sound. Sadly, they suck massively they just peddle out bland, tuneless donkey wank and need to be stopped. Here endeth the prosecution.

The defence for bands without guitars begins and ends with one band. Ben Folds Five. A quirky indie band from North Carolina who were known for their humour as much as their tunes. When asked why they were called Ben Folds Five what with them being a threesome, Ben Folds replied it sounds better than Ben Folds Three. They formed in 1993 at the height of the new explosion in US sound brought about by Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam and described their music as ‘punk rock for sissies’. Despite having no lead guitar, Ben Folds Five did rock, they did have a punk sound, with raw energy, passion and perhaps best of all, tunes. Ben Folds Five also made a record with cast of Fraggle Rock. Keane never did that (Fraggle Rock wouldn’t have them).

They are best known perhaps for ‘Brick’ which gave them success in the States and here in the UK, but for me the standout Ben Folds Five track in ‘Underground’. An ode to the moshpit and the scene that Ben Folds Five were up against, this peaked in the Uk at Number 37. I remember reviewing it as ‘the bastard son of Randy Crawford and Fleetwood Mac’. I was 19 and admit now to have never heard Randy Crawford, so I was probably trying to be clever. It is great though and should have been a much bigger hit.

mp3 : Ben Folds Five – Underground

Staying on the American Indie Rock theme, next up we have ‘Velvet Roof’ by Buffalo Tom, The Robster has already waxed lyrical about this record on his increasingly excellent blog ‘Is This The Life’. Everything he put is right of course, but for me, Buffalo Tom, are one of the greatest bands to come out of the USA in recent years. They are very much on a par with the likes Dinosaur Jr (good mates, I believe) and that alt rock scene that we all fell for in the early 90s but they had something different, perhaps sit was that not many people (at the time) were fans, or because they seemed like nice guys, I’m not sure. I remembered being really annoyed when aged 18, some guys in my college who thought they were cool because they wore ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ Soundgarden T Shirts starting listening to Buffalo Tom. It was almost like I didn’t want this band to be cool, that and the Sondgarden fans were cooler, more attractive, taller, more muscular, and more popular with the girls than me. One of that crew went on to form middle of the road indie band ‘Airhead’ so I’m certainly having the last laugh now. They were awful.

‘Velvet Roof’ is a tremendous record, and should have been a massive hit. It’s a simple song, built over one gigantic riff, and it’s that riff that sells it. All of their singles were pretty good, I’d recommend their singles collection ‘Asides’ not something I would usually do, because it’s a singles collection, but it’s really worth a listen.

mp3 : Buffalo Tom – Velvet Roof

And finally, we come to ‘Mall Monarchy’ by Compulsion. What. A. Tune. This was staple indie disco fodder for every indie club in the mid 90s and was the nearest thing Compulsion got to a hit record, all their other records were scuzzy, punk rock rackets – bloody brilliant mind you. They came to be around 1992 and were lumped in with The New Wave of New Wave that the bloody NME invented. What Compulsion essentially were was a four piece from Dublin (with a Dutch drummer) with a tendency for shouty vocals and fantastic live shows. The debut album ‘Comforter’is excellent, and I still wear (just) my Comforter Tour T Shirt with pride (well when cleaning the car).

‘Mall Monarachy’ should have done very well, it didn’t, I remember watching it on The Word in 1994 and thinking, ‘Yup their time is about now’. Looks like I was wrong, or the public was. They released a second album a few years later called the ‘Future is Medium’ which saw them all dye their hair orange and wear black boiler suits. The idiot singer from My Chemical Romance did that a few years ago and everyone hailed him and them as geniuses. For Compulsion it just meant that they didn’t sell that many records. They split soon after. Garrett Lee from Compulsion turned his hand to production and dance music – using the name Jacknife Lee – who some of you will have heard of. He produces Snow Patrol now. I’m devastated that Compulsion split so that Snow Patrol could have decent production.

mp3 : Compulsion – Mall Monarchy