2 July 2008
Microdisney - 39 Minutes
Year of Release: 1988
"If a power were to lift him up/ make him rich, would he admit it was luck?/ or say he'd earned it/ claim a state of grace..."
We've already been acquainted with Microdisney thanks to my entry on "The Clock Comes Down The Stairs", of course, and in that I claimed that "39 Minutes" was their most satisfying major label album. I might also be so bold as to claim it's the album where their identity became the most solid, Cathal Coughlan's lyrics suddenly finding untold levels of bile whilst the arrangements of the music became more lush and fully realised.
The stories that surround this period of their recording career are legendary in some circles. When I interviewed Sean O'Hagan back in the mid-nineties he claimed that Virgin Records were a particularly "predatory" company to be signed to, and the effects of this environment began to eat away at his psyche almost as much as the salad years on Rough Trade had some years before. The Microdisney who were now being fed still didn't seem any fitter or happier. When they asked to be given control of their own mechandising, they ran off a series of "Microdisney are Shit" T-shirts, an act which may now seem like a rather childish piece of rebellion, but in the context of the marketing obsessed times actually seemed amazing. This was, lest we forget, an age of multi-format picture discs, square shaped records, overpriced CDs, free posters with the twelve inch single, etc. It made complete and total sense to mess with and parody everything with an anti-slogan. Virgin, to their credit, appeared not to mind much.
It didn't end with the T-shirts, however. There's a sneaking sense on "39 Minutes" that the band knew their number was up with the label, and were pissing on their remaining chips. The lead single "Singer's Hampstead Home" was a very thinly veiled attack on labelmate and cash cow Boy George. As Cathal Couglan stated at the time, it's a lyrical tirade against the mentality of celebrities who compain about their lack of privacy then invite the press around to talk about their houses and locations, purely to show off their wealth. Precisely what Boy George was doing in Hampstead at the time, of course. "He only had planned lines to say/ but he said them in a witty and stylish way" sneers Cathal indignantly on the track, mocking the pseudo-Wildeisms of the star in question.
Amidst the lush production of the album, there's also a sense of some very eccentric overspending which at times seems hilarious. Stock Aitken and Waterman protegees The London Boys feature on the anti-Benetton track "United Colours", for instance, although there are some other similar sounding backing vocalists credited elsewhere who are known as The Fabulous Golden Showers. We can only hope that this wasn't a pseudonym. Additionally, there's a joyful tap dancing solo on the anti-Royal Family track "Send Herman Home". Rumours have persisted that they actually hired professional tap dancers to deliver this in the studio, but that seems like an expensive kitchen sink too far.
Whatever, there's no doubt that whilst "39 Minutes" isn't a perfect album (nor the best Microdisney LP, in fact) it is possibly the only one I can think of that marries apparent anarchy with eighties gloss so successfully. It's more or less impossible to see the joins between O'Hagan's soft and sleek (and occasionally orchestrally enhanced) visions and Cathal's seething contributions. At its best, in fact, it's like a savage parody of the worst excesses of late eighties culture - embracing the thing it despises so hard that it shatters its rib cage. You might not like the album, but it's certainly a difficult thing not to admire. More so than any other album of the period, it gives an honest impression of the styles and attitudes of the time, condemning them not long before the cracks began to show. As a cultural artefact, it's worth 39 Minutes of anyone's time.
1. Singer's Hampstead Home
2. High & Dry
3. Send Herman Home
4. Ambulance For One
5. Soul Boy
6. Back To The Old Town
7. United Colours
8. Gale Force Wind
9. Herr Direktor
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