J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Return Trip: That Petrol Emotion - Manic Pop Thrill


That Petrol Emotion
Manic Pop Thrill
(Demon ; 1986)


A friend and I were recently discussing what made Pavement albums great. And in discussing the various post-band projects, specifically Spiral Stairs' Preston School of Industry, we hit upon the idea that, while a full album of his noisy, scrappy rock wasn't the most amazing thing, in their role as small bursts of relief from Malkmus' songwriting, they truly did help to make Pavement's albums great. I've been really focused on this idea of albums that present all sorts of faces during their running time. And this week's Return Trip focuses on one of those records, a type of album that, sadly, just doesn't seem that common anymore.

That Petrol Emotion featured John O'Neill and Damian O'Neill, both former members of UK pop-punk legends, the Undertones. (You know, the band who wrote John Peel's favorite song of all time, "Teenage Kicks?") So with a definite pedigree intact, they crafted their debut album, 1986's Manic Pop Thrill. The title couldn't have said it better.

Manic Pop Thrill is as brilliant a post-punk record as you can imagine. Shifting from noisy, dynamic rave-ups to twitchy, jittery punk to lovely, subdued pop, this record covers the gamut of popular music in the post-punk world. If you're familiar with the Undertones, you may want to prepare yourself. This is not the silly and good-natured frustrated teenage anthems of yore. There are vitriol, despair, cynicism, passion and idealism strung throughout the record's songs. "Fleshprint" opens the album with blistering, accusatory lyrics, augmented in verses by ooh-ooh-oohs supplied by the band. It's like an even more pop-oriented version of what Husker Du was going across the pond at the time. Juxtaposed with the rage of guitars and lyrics, the offsetting pop elements make for an even more unsettling affect. "Can't Stop" continues the anxious anger with pounding, military-precision drumming and a guitar that doesn't come down from the high register the entire song. The album is full of these songs ("Mouthcrazy," "Tightlipped") that keep the record buoyed with their manic energy.

Next there are the songs of noise. Some are simply rock songs with brilliant guitar work laced along the tips ("Lifeblood"). Some are traditional pop elements in swirls of noise and distortion ("Lettuce"). Others are jittery, dismantled punk taken to its extreme ("Cheapskate"). These unbalanced, obliterated tracks are just as essential to giving the record its unique edges. Where the rockier tracks are designed to keep the album's pacing, here the noise gives the album its sharper, weirder edges. Without these, Manic Pop Thrill wouldn't be half as original sounding or, dare I say, as thrilling.

But for me, it's the pop songs that truly put this album above the fray. Evenly spaced throughout the album, these moments of sheer pop are the true brilliant marks of this record. Closer "Blindspot" is a precursor of some of Blur's softer moments that would come a decade later. "A Million Miles Away" (not to be confused with the Plimsouls' song of the same name) is gorgeousness turned up to eleven. I also think that, if I were actually a stickler for copyright issues, Spacehog would owe That Petrol Emotion some serious writing credit for their song "Almond Kisses" which is so eerily similar that it's either beautiful coincidence or ingenious robbery. "It's a Good Thing," is the great, lost 80s indie-rock single that should've been a massive hit - the infectious chorus, hooky guitar licks and fuzzy sonic overtones.

I promise I'm not trying to be silly here, but the manic, the pop and the thrill are all three very evident in this album, a record so perfect from stem to stern that it's heartbreaking how little you hear it discussed. This is a record well worth hunting down in whatever format it's available.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

That Petrol Emotion - "Fleshprint"

That Petrol Emotion - "It's a Good Thing"

That Petrol Emotion - "A Million Miles Away"

Check out the bonus song below - compare and tell me what you think in comments.

Bonus: Spacehog - "Almond Kisses"

Sadly out of print here in the U.S., but you can find new and used import copies over at Amazon.

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