Saturday, July 20, 2019

Summer of Subway: Sex Clark Five

Diving deep for the first of four straight Saturdays featuring bands from the Subway Organization that came from the other side of the pond. Sex Clark Five hailed from Huntsville, Alabama. I know what most of you are thinking.


This is what may have happened. SC5 had but one release for the Bristol label, the 1988 album 'Strum and Drum!' (SUBORG 7), which the band had already self-released in their home country a year earlier. By that time John Peel was a huge supporter and had been singing the praises of this album and preceding single "Neita Grew Up Last Night." 'Strum and Drum!' would have been a tough get in the UK (as it was in the United States, for that matter), and Subway stepped in to sell it to those legions of fans who had heard it on Peel's show. Of course, I may have it all wrong... especially that part about legions of fans. I do know Peel continued to support SC5 on his program for decades to come, and they recorded sessions for him in 1990, 1994 and 2000.

What did SC5 have in common with other Subway bands? Short songs. Fifteen of the 20 tunes on 'Strum and Drum!' clock in at under two minutes. Often, they are more like 90 seconds. Oh, and lo-fi. You won't hear the fuzz of a Shop Assistants or a Rosehips, however. This is shambolic and manic power pop. Acoustic and electric guitars clashing at the goal line like 'Bama and Clemson for the national title. In 1990, SC5 shared a 7" flexi with Pixies, and that's a pretty fair pairing of their sound at the time. Principal songwriter James Butler is equal parts silly and cerebral. You can be learning about how WWI started one minute and the bad girls in high school detention the next. I always felt like if the timing had been right SC5 would have been a nice fit as part of the Elephant 6 collective. Then again, maybe they had to march to the beat of their own drum. Bottom line: 'Strum & Drum!' is one of a kind and an album that should be remembered as more than a Subway footnote.

The Men Who Don't Know Ice
Detention Girls
Modern Fix

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