Saturday, 19 April 2014

50 albums to take to my grave #3: The La's

Promising scally upstarts form band, play gigs, get record deal and release debut single that finds favour with everyone's favourite misanthrope Morrissey. So far, so good. But from that point, things go a little awry...

The La's[1] have become the stuff of legend. Look at their discography and you can see why - just the one album but at least half a dozen compilations! How? It's partly because that sole album was, and still is, one of the best British albums of all time. Yet its story is complex and bizarre to the point where truth and fiction have become ridiculously blurred. For instance, among the stories that surrounds the La's self-titled debut is the tale that frontman Lee Mavers refused to work with a particular authentic 60s mixing desk as it didn't have genuine 60s dust on it! That one's a myth, apparently but such was Mavers' obsession with the band's sound that they never completed a full recording session with the same producer. John Porter, John Leckie, Mike Hedges and Steve Lillywhite all took the helm at some point or other, all were deemed unsatisfactory by the perfectionist Mavers. Another 'story' is that Mavers directed the band to play really badly for Lillywhite so that the sessions and the material they yielded would be scrapped.

It was only when the band's label put their foot down, frustrated at the money they had spent with nothing to show for it, that an album was cobbled together by Lillywhite. Mavers fumed, the rest of the band weren't terribly chuffed either.

You'd think then, under these circumstances, that the resulting record would be a piecemeal collection of unfinished songs, informal studio jams and some general fannying about. Instead, 'The La's' was a triumph. It could have been one of the great sixties records had it come out 20-odd years earlier. Released as it was in the autumn of 1990, it fell between the beginning-of-the-end of the baggy era, and the hinterland that bred the Britpop explosion a few years later.  A bit like the period in the mid-late 60s between the peak of psychedelia and the advent of the mod movement.

It was a record that sounded so out of time and of its time all at the same time. Feelin' felt like a retread of the Beatles' I Feel Fine; Liberty Ship and Doledrum sounded like Captain Beefheart with a Bo Diddley groove; Failure had early Kinks written all over it, while Freedom Song could easily have been written by Ray Davies circa '66-'67; and the closer Looking Glass basked in the autumnal sunshine following the Summer of Love, building steady to the angry explosive coda signalling the death knell for peace and the hippy ideal.

Of course, the record is primarily remembered for its smash hit single There She Goes, which sadly tends to overshadow the rest of the work. While it cannot be denied what a wonderful song it is, it has become, somewhat irritatingly, the focal point of everything the La's were. But what exactly were they? The myth of the La's outlived the band by many years, and even today the stories surrounding them are told as often as the music is remembered. Mavers reformed the La's some years ago and occasionally plays gigs, but the fabled second album has never materialised. Again, numerous theories abound: it exists but Mavers has never released it; only demos were recorded; no recordings of any of the songs exist... The only man who knows for sure isn't talking. It all adds to the mystery, but this mystery continues to sell the re-issues, compilations and box sets and anything else the money-men can package together and call 'product'. Incidentally, tracks from those other abandoned debut album sessions have appeared on aforementioned re-issues, box sets etc; by-and large, they're nothing to get excited about.

But far from just leaving us a single album, the La's do have a legacy. While they themselves were heavily influenced by the Beatles, Captain Beefheart, Bo Diddley and others, they in turn became massive influences on the likes of Oasis, the Coral, the Zutons, Paul Weller and Pete Doherty among many others. Not bad for a one-off.

There's not a single track on this album that I skip. In spite of the numerous flaws the band perceives it to have, I personally think it it remains the most perfect imperfect record released in the 90s. Oh, and another reason I like it so much is because Mrs Robster and I shared an *ahem* intimate moment while we played it early in our relationship. But that's a story we're keeping to ourselves...


[1] If you're a grammar geek like myself, you could be forgiven for being irked at the seemingly erroneous use of the apostrophe in the band's name. But actually to their credit it's spot on! In Liverpool, 'la' is a common term for a male friend or relative, as in 'lad' with the d dropped. For instance: "Alright la, gerrus an ale in, nice one." (trans. "Hello old chap, would be so kind as to buy me a beer please? Thank you so much.") Therefore, The La's is basically The Lads with the apostrophe correctly replacing the d. Here endeth the English lesson.

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