I've always loved Spacehog. It could be the fact that they're a glammy bond of Bowie and T. Rex, with bits of Queen and the Stones sprinkled on top. Best known for their hit, the pseudo-operatic "In the Meantime", brothers Royston and Antony Langdon, guitar player Richard Steel, and drummer Jonny Cragg brought a spacy 70's sound back to an angsty mid-90's landscape.
I remember the first time I heard "Mungo City", the lead single off "TCA". I actually saw the video on Much Music one February afternoon before work. For those of you who weren't so lucky, around 1997 or 1998, Canada's Much Music was added to cable stations all over the country. It was MTV, but with a hipper, less image-conscious attitude. One of the VJ's was a fucking sock puppet, for chrissakes. Regardless- the video was the band on a Chinese talk show, and featured singer Royston making ridiculous faces to enunciate every individual syllable while the band played to an audience of unimpressed schoolchildren.
It was a bit strange, but ultimately forgettable, unlike the chorus. Sweet lord, that fucking sing-songy earworm of a chorus. It was the only thing I could remember about it for weeks. Then, one day in March, while on break from Best Buy and wandering the store, I saw it- "The Chinese Album", with its bizarre cover featuring a small Asian girl holding a pig.
I wish I could lie and say that the album was love at first listen, but that would be... shit. I already said I would've been lying. A few songs stood out- the aforementioned "Mungo City", "Captain Freeman", and "Carry On", which all essentially sounded like leftovers from their first album, "Resident Alien". The rest of the album vexed me right from the start. "One of These Days" has a piano intro which abruptly cuts into a sample of the Talking Heads "Seen and Not Seen", which provides the backbone for the downtempo, but still funky, track. Followed by uptempo "Goodbye Violet Race", the album picks up and leads into the dark, almost Beatles-esque "Lucy's Shoe" and then "Mungo". The album gets a bit artsy for a bit here- "Skylark" is a quirky almost-follow up to the last album's eponymous "Spacehog". "Sand in Your Eyes" brings back the darkness with jazzy drumming from Cragg and ominous choral background vocals.
Side 2 kicks off with "Captain Freeman", a rollicking stomper with a 60's style freakout half-way through and gibberish singalong. Up next is "2nd Avenue", a nondescript snog featuring the headscratching lyric "When I see her and you/on 2nd avenue/it makes me want to spew"... but we've all been there. Right? I dunno. Probably. 2nd Avenue, I mean. Following "2nd Avenue" is a song that I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, may be one of my least favorite songs ever, "Almond Kisses". Michael Stipe even sings on it! I can't even explain this song. I hate it. I hate hate hate hate hate it. I can't make it more than 5 seconds into it. After shitty shitty shitty "Almond Kisses", though, comes a triple shot of fucking rad. "Carry On" is another throwback to the first album's sound, with some fantastic lyrics and a great vocal performance from Royston. "If I'm a man/then I'm your fan/and you/are the best thing/that I'm ever gonna have".
The album's penultimate track, "Anonymous" starts off slow, but picks up quickly, with another catchy chorus and a bizarre vocoder vocal saying "nothing's gonna stop me". Closing up the album is the gorgeous but somewhat morose "Beautiful Girl", which is more of a showcase for Royston's fantastic vocal range than anything else. "So call me back one more time/and nail me to your bed/I'll pull my weight/and wear a Monet on my head". It's a love song without question, but I'll be damned if I knew what he was talking about otherwise. That being said- the last sixty seconds of this album may be my favorite closing of any song on any album, save for "Exhausted" by Foo Fighters. One last epic blast as the album ends.
Now, note that I don't mention lyrics on this album as much as I usually do. There's a good reason for it. It's essentially a glam rock album. The vocals sound fantastic singing the lyrics, but I challenge anyone to find a deeper meaning in 75% of what's going on here. I just can't get tired of this album. Except for fucking "Almond Kisses". Fuck that song.