Year of Release: 1995
If you're the kind of person who gets advance copies of singles for review - which, for a brief time, I was - there are certain sleeves that just guarantee the waxing will be shoved to the bottom of the listening pile. It's not that you don't intend to listen to them at all, of course, it's just you sometimes get the sense that any indie band who is prepared to allow certain designs to dominate their work are simply sending out messages that this is "not for you". And so it went with this particular 45, whose Plath referencing sleeve with Plath referencing song title immediately made me suspect the people behind it were the sorts of folk who wrote very angst-ridden teenage poetry and had decided to set it to music. "Play later," I thought, filing it behind a whole bunch of stuff I was genuinely excited about.
When I finally did get around to spinning the A-side "Bell Jar", I was pleasantly surprised by the contents. It does indeed sound like a tremendously moody piece of work, but the interesting thing I find about many bands who attempted this stuff in the mid-nineties is that they glossed the bleakness over with plenty of production sparkles. Had this been issued in '92 or '93, there's little doubt it would have been a Courtney Love referencing slab of angry, clattering gloom, but the mid nineties model introduces more fragile harmonies and melodic guitars to the mix. It starts off like Hole with clunking bass noises and despairing vocals, then somehow loosens up to take you by surprise. It's the music of a parallel universe where grunge didn't so much die, but was given a thorough sheen, and allowed to become slightly more fragile and snuggle up to its poppy side.
Far, far better than the A-side, however, is the flip, the lengthy, 33rpm spinning "Be", which features Roman Jugg out of the Damned on keyboards and just builds and builds upon a very simple idea, ending on a riot of moaning synth noises and soaring guitars - it's a tried and tested rock formula, and if it's one you don't care for much, this isn't going to change your mind one iota, but it's deftly done and leaves me wondering what Marnie might have been like live.
As for who Marnie were, I'm afraid to say I've lost the press release and can't remember, but seem to recall that they were from Essex, had at least two women in the line-up ("Michelle" gets the credit for the A side of this single, and "Olga" the B-side) and released a string of singles through the nineties which failed to sell in sufficient quantities to register in the upper regions of the indie charts. I never did manage to get to any of their gigs, which always seemed to be advertised as taking place in tiny pubs around the UK, and whilst it would seem that they managed to keep on plugging away until the end of the decade, there certainly appears to be no evidence of a Marnie album out there.
Rave reviews from Melody Maker and NME and plays by Peel and Lamacq were also apparently forthcoming, but one suspects that the band suffered from being associated with a tiny indie, and just didn't have the publicity money to turn those fleeting mentions and snatches of airplay into greater things. But this, of course, is all just speculation again...