Haywains

A37 Revisited

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England's southwest region was a hive of pop-punk activity in the late 1980s, much of it never reverberating much beyond the country's borders and most of it long since faded into obscurity. The scrappy Cider City label is making an admirable attempt to bring some of the best of this music back to the public's attention, notably with this very fine 20-track retrospective look at the Haywains. Consisting of album tracks, singles, and previously unreleased items from 1988-1995, including a few songs that have never been issued on CD before, A37 Revisited (the album title a sly nod to Bob Dylan ) makes a solid argument for the Haywains as a band worth hearing while also demonstrating pretty clearly what kept them from making an international splash. This is a band that suffered from what might be called the Jangle-Pop Disease: a brilliant sound combined with a dearth of really compelling hooks. This is the disease that killed the Feelies, Let's Active, and any number of other objectively great-sounding '80s guitar bands that never quite figured out how to write truly irresistible tunes. On the other hand, the Haywains had something that more successful bands in the same mode -- say, the Housemartins -- lacked, and that's genuine joy. No matter how sunny and captivating his melodies, the Housemartins' Paul Heaton always sounded like he was sneering, because he always was. By contrast, no matter how headlong the tempos, how implicitly punky the themes ("Don't Try to Educate Me," "Why Do I Get the Feeling Your Mother Hates Me?"), and how despairing the lyrics, the Haywains sound not only like they're really having fun, but like they're happy people. This may be a ruse (as Heaton's dyspepsia may have been), but if so, it's a convincing one. And their sense of humor makes a big difference too: "Kill Karaoke" may be dated, but it's still pretty hilarious (and note the subtle chordal shoutout to "Miss American Pie" that coincides with the lyrical citation of that song). Also note how the hardcore punk tempo of "Now I've Got One Up on You" adds the perfect edge to the song's jangle-pop sweetness. That's not a bad combination. If more of these songs really compelled you to sing along, this compilation might be one of the best pop albums of all time.

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