Wednesday, December 22, 2004

THE HOMOSEXUALS – Astral Glamour 3CD
I only just bought this yesterday and have given the entire set a spin probably twice, three times at best, but I’ll give a brief, possibly premature, review.

The Homosexuals were a band I had never heard of until Jason Willett from Jad Fair’s band raved on about them to me on their tour in 1997. We had hours to kill in the tour van and the amount of verbal crap we both spilt on music and favourite bands could fertilise a football field for a year. He is not a man of few words, and nor, for that matter, am I. His words regarding the band as I printed them in a fanzine at the time: “This record proves that when you’re the best in the world at something – the absolute best – no one gives a shit.”

I don’t know whether the Homosexuals were “the best” at what they did, because what they did defies categorization. But whatever classification one may care to throw at them, the truth is this: this 3CD set is one of the most eclectic and inspiring surprises I’ve come across since that other one from a while back. The surprise element comes from the fact that I have a handful of Homosexuals songs on tape from 5 or 6 years ago (given to me by old compadre, Richard Mason, who writes a gushing review of this in the latest Ugly Things), and said tracks never left much of an impression on me. So why would a doubting Thomas splurge on a 3CD set when he remains unconvinced from a teaser? What the fuck, it’s Christmas.

Essentially a part of the UK DIY movement of the late ‘70s/ early ‘80s, the band was a mixed bag of ages and influences. Bruno McQuillan, whom I suppose was the leading figure in the band, came of age in the late ‘60s and spent a good portion of the next decade mucking about in squats, taking drugs, jamming with friends and listening to dub reggae, only finding the nerve to start a band “for real” when punk hit. And to cut a long story short – for the long version and related nonsense, one needs only to stop here – after a brief stint as the Rejects, they regrouped as the Homosexuals and spent a good eight years releasing and/or recording a plethora of some of the most curious and baffling tunes to hit a tape machine.

You’ve got 3 CDs, 81 tunes and over 3 hours of music here, so any attempt at summation is going to cut corners. What struck me first with their music is the heavy Gong/Robert Wyatt influence. Not a mention of any such sounds is made in the liner notes, though I found the resemblance uncanny, especially in the pot-smoking pixie, Daevid Allen-esque vibe of the earlier material. Stew it up with a bargain-bin lo-fi mix of the Pretty Things and Hawkwind, a dash of Buzzcocks-style power pop and murky dub, then serve. Now that’s just the first disc. Throughout the other two there’s also blind stabs at disco, afro-beat (“Woman/Man” – a killer), retarded heavy metal, angular krautrock, psychedelia, musique concret, no-fi folk, flower-pop and a few dozen other pigeon holes. I could go on and on. I won’t.

To dumb it down to the essentials: if the sounds of the Swell Maps or This Heat have ever set your blood racing, the music of the Homosexuals will give you a bump in the night. The most staggering element of the band was their ability to write great songs. This is not art-school disaster territory. I played it to my wife yesterday and she started humming to it. Yes, nearly every song played collapses or transforms into something completely different before completion, but there lies the beauty of the Homosexuals. This set is a treasure chest, an excellent document beautifully and informatively presented. Ask me again in a year’s time whether I consider the Homosexuals to be “the absolute best”. Now let me digest further…

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