Radioactive Sparrow – On Th Bed (1985)
How do you forgive a band? For many albums, bands have been prone to aesthetically knobbing around, delivering a gauche porridge of nodes. The way the industry evolved in rock, contracts would often squeeze from a group ill-founded chodes, drab rides scraped from the rectal weird. Far from not being an exception to this gruesome litany, Radioactive Sparrow have made a necessity of such misadventure over their years. Quite simply because otherwise there is no other way to arrive at the next great plateau of achievement.
What I’m getting at is this: we are all lucky that Radioactive Sparrow have produced many moments worthy of the most distinguished 21st century playlists, no doubt. But there is a handful of albums that really have little to spike the tread with any waxy nuance.
Sometimes it was due to overstepping a qualm; others it was sheer greed for the accumulation of a covetable back-catalogue; sometimes laziness (especially here); but above all, potentially duff chaff was bestowed album status because of the heroic, collective recognition that the course must be ran.
And 1985 was a crucial year for allowing the Kak shrub to truly become engorged with dynamos that would subsequently yield much, much great product. The first of two trilogies, the Bed, Beach & Bollocks trilogy, was kicked off with On Th Bed, whose titling was every bit as lazy as the improvising that took place within its ends (it was recorded on the bed in Bargefoot’s room). Two months after the remarkably pertinent, concise and articulate bedroom sessions that made up most of Not On My Balaclava, You Bastard, the same groupèd people moped out a lazy set of jams in which virtually no lyric/vocal content was entertained – the main reason that much of it returns in the third part of the trilogy, Pros & Cons of a Popular Vicar as backing tracks for another Adamsdown session.
No-one in the band at the time seems to have been very enthusiastic about the results. Bargefoot’s bizarre closing remarks (listed here as ‘Album Appraisal’) indicate that he was the only one remotely pleased with what was deemed an ‘unsuccessful’ album. However, it seems obvious with canonically enhanced hindsight that there were manoeuvres the band needed to pass through in order to get to the next stage: many of the music’s timbral components – the wiry guitar and distinctly anorak-polemical bass set against the legendary Mattel Synsonics drum machine (the first of many contributions by drummer Ceri Davies, which would be a Sparrow centre piece throughout the second half of the decade) get a far better treatment in Dai & Will Sessions ’85.
There are some OK moments, but at its thinnest, the album asks the listener to endure some 19 minutes of ‘Red Thursday,’ an endlessly half-arsed visit to ‘Blue Monday,’ instigated purely because the kick on the Synsonics was such a good mimic of that Manchester hit’s opening bench-lint. And if one were to be generous, the whole trilogy is characterized by a sense of slightly aimless goons colourfully plopping out an apology for artness – which has to be worth something, right? At least anthropologically…
Having said all that, the album does, of course, turn out to be a masterpiece: a masterpiece of utter aimlessness taken to a level not only unprecedented but as yet (to this writer’s knowledge) unsurpassed. The opening four tracks have an unbelievable, unfathomable even, lack of direction – to make matters worse they all instrumentals except for some random vocal interjections during ‘Freddie Jeans’ which are so irreverent that the pointlessness simply gets deeper. For a point of interest, look out for Dai Cox’s formidably ahead-of-its-time avant garde guitarring on ‘Freddie Jeans’ and ‘Th Gunfight At No Thanks Coral’ – avant garde because that’s the only style he knew: the playing is like the mind of a baby, finding meaning in the most crinkly crevices of dog-eared endeavour, building to an incredible blacking of the contours at the close of ‘… No Thanks Coral.’ Also, look out for the reprisal of ‘Chariot Races’, Sparrow’s first ever song, during the second half of the haplessly titled ‘Green Colours.
1) Stroke Th Bowl
2) Freddie Jeans
3) The Gunfight At No Thanks Coral
4) Green Colours
5) Red Thursday
6) Freddie Jeans (Live)
7) O, Makin Love To Th Cat
8) Arabian Bikes
9) Album Appraisal
Recorded at The Old Mill, April 1985