About five years before Oasis brought sunny Britpop back to American shores (and about seven years before we were sorry they’d bothered) an album came out so packed with hooks you’d have to be careful not to get punctured. Yet despite its brilliance, its creator disowned it, despite the well-deserved accolades, and he’s barely performed since.
Granted, the eponymous first album by The La’s came after several years full of singles and performances, while lead singer/songwriter Lee Mavers chased an elusive sound only his head could hear. Apparently it takes a certain kind of genius to resent almost universal accolades for something which he feels he’s unworthy.
Which is too bad for him, because The La’s is indeed a fantastic album, even if they insist they’re nothing more than glorified demos that Steve Lillywhite produced despite not clicking with the band at all. Part of this can be supported by the predominant acoustic rhythm and lead guitars throughout. But that’s not to suggest that the album sounds remotely unfinished. Before the retro Merseybeat sound became fashionable again, it could best be described as what might have happened had Gerry & The Pacemakers been crossed with the Clash and the Sex Pistols.
In true pop fashion, most of the album tracks hover around the two-minute mark, stating their case and moving aside for the next one. “Son Of A Gun” is a perfect way to start, with a Scouse-thick melody sailing over two chords with a near-Latin beat, ending mid-verse in time for “I Can’t Sleep” to crash in with its chords worthy of early Who. And if you’re going to have a song title like “Timeless Melody”, you better make it stick, and this one does. There’s a brief detour with “Liberty Ship”, which tends to wander, but the backing vocals weave in and out effortlessly. And “There She Goes” (a.k.a. The Hit Single) doesn’t even appear until the fifth track, a single verse repeated three times with an instrumental break that leads into the briefest of bridges. Others have covered it, but this is still the definitive version. “Doledrum” sounds like it took about as long to write as it did to record, but it’s so damn catchy.
“Feelin’” begins with a strum oddly reminiscent of the first Violent Femmes album, and sports a repeated riff whose closest cousin seems to be David Lee Roth’s “Goin’ Crazy”. “Way Out” and “I.O.U.” are understated power-pop, layered in vocals and guitars, making the stark Brecht-like “Freedom Song” all the more striking. There’s time for a proto-punk rave-up in “Failure”, which they need to get out of the way before the grand closing opus. “Looking Glass” has it all—a misleading intro, a sensitive quiet verse/loud chorus combo, the wordless freakout and the long ending, which increases in both speed and reverb before the inevitable explosion. (And it comes in just under eight minutes, too.)
Naturally, in the years since the band went on hiatus, there have been rumors of a follow-up to The La’s, and anytime Lee Mavers appears on a stage the music rags get all in a tizzy. The album’s been reissued a few times around the world, generally adding tracks from earlier singles, or previously unreleased versions and mixes from the album sessions. A box set even managed to collect most of these, along with two full discs of live recordings. Clearly, for the completist, there’s plenty out there. But for simple, understated greatness, you can’t go wrong with the album itself.
The La’s The La’s (1990)—5