Radioactive Sparrow – Mystery Turd (1986)
This album (and the one that follows it) from the Summer of 1986 has always been regarded as a relatively unworthy outing by the band. But listening now, nearly 25 years later, it doesn’t sound too bad. The boundless joy that pervades so much of Sparrow’s music-making is certainly in abundance here. However, what the album seriously lacked (as far as Stews and Bargefoot were concerned) was that spontaneous-composition-of-fully-formed-pop-songs element that the group was otherwise developing an unassailable expertise in (see They Don’t Really Mind the Pubes, or The Final Conflict, or any of 1987’s albums, for examples). ‘Recoast’ is a good example, where the spuriously random shifts in focus start to undermine credibility, such as exists for a band like this. Interestingly, where there is some coherence, it comes from a reliance on easy-to-follow I-IV-V progressions, like on ‘Nothing Better In This Life’ and ‘Happy,’ a procedure much more in keeping with the lousy and vastly inferior practice of jamming.
A major problem was the fact that Rory Redking, Bargefoot’s cousin roped in to try and make up for Brooce’s absence, would tend to get bored with songs and allow his playing to dawdle off into random fills, pauses and beat changes. Which is all fine, of course, being very much part of the aesthetic – or is it? (Redking was to make several, far more impressive appearances in the coming years). All of which is useful in how it reveals (because it’s not in evidence here) that Radioactive Sparrow have, throughout most of their history, relied on immanent telepathies between two or more members – at this stage it was between Boyes and Bargefoot (Stews was to attain this level by the end of 1986), and later, most significantly between Bargefoot and Tony Gage.
Mystery Turd seems mildly concerned with class. The band’s members had been variously working-class, lower middle-class, straight-up 8-ball middle-c-ass, with Bargefoot ever the exception in that he was decidedly (at least) upper middle class, if not worse. They all, originally, had gone to the same comprehensive, Brynteg, which also spawned JPR Williams, Gavin Henson and others. Consequently, then, Bill had childhood and adolescent contact with some very posh types and ludicrous caricatures of landed gentry, some of them very sorry specimens indeed. One such was a certain Charles Knight: on what was the last time they ever hooked up, Knight had dropped round to pick up Bargefoot for a pint or whatever, and Bargefoot was watching the video for Sting’s solo debut single, ‘If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.’ For reasons not immediately apparent, Knight kept asking for the video to be replayed, staring with a drilling gaze at the two black female backing singers that cool Sting had adorned the would-be performance ecology with. Eventually, after the third or fourth repeat, he remarked, in some surprise, ‘Amazing… The first spade I’ve ever liked, ever fancied…’ A sordidly lamentable moment, worthy of the most virulent paedophile, a wake-up call to those present which precipitated the second song here, ‘The First Spade,’ whose repeated refrain seeks to carve the nuances of Knight’s public-school accent into an Americanate rock chorus. Quite why Bargefoot renames Knight ‘Sideways Jacksmith’ is not remotely evident, and the attempt to posh up the chorus seems to be the source of much amusement during its performance. Besides that, Stews’ ‘Jumping up and down on the monarchy,’ from ‘Nothing Better In This Life,’ responds to the royal wedding hype contemporaneously being guffed out of the media at the union of Prince Andrew and Ferg-Hue, while the title of the album’s opener, ‘Forklift (St. Tropez),’ nestles a much nattier juxtaposition than the actual song rewards it with.
One of the stand-out tracks, ‘Nature’s Crest,’ also represents two significant firsts: the Kak a capella, a structurally anarchic collective bellowing, was to become a popular vehicle over the ensuing years; as was the use of Bargefoot’s old diaries as a source of lyrics – here the choir reads from an old bird-watching notebook whose language hilariously (and without irony) apes the style of (supposedly) Edith Holden’s A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady (indeed, not the last time this ridiculous book is referenced).
1. Forklift (St. Tropez)
2. The First Space
3. Nothing Better In This Life
4. Mary Taylor
7. Will’s Such A Contradictory Bastard
8. Interlude (Cox Keyb Solo)
9. Nature’s Crest
Recorded in the Hut, Ewenny, 16th August 1986