Tuesday, 22 April 2008

ALTERN-8: E-Vapor-8

Another record which Pick Of The Pops likes to pretend never happened, or play under extreme duress, as witness Dale Winton's catty remarks on "On A Ragga Tip" as he did his worst two days ago to repaint 1992 as a vapid luxury suite of AoR blandness. Even given the programme's innate straitjacket, in view of the immovable Radio 2 Sunday audience accustomed to things (especially Radio 2) as they were, I would note that many at the lower end of the station's intended 35-54 demographic would still just about have been teenagers and lived through the rave boom; are their memories (and in "their" I include "mine") to be trampled on permanently in favour of the obstructive "truth" of the Eagles and the Doobie Brothers?

"E-Vapor-8" was the sixth most popular single in Britain this week sixteen years ago and deserves to be celebrated (a triptych of CeCe Peniston's "Finally" at 8, "On A Ragga Tip" at 7 and this at 6 would have been true retro-heaven indeed). They were from Stafford, they wore Vick's Vapour Rub masks (hence the triple internal pun of the record's title) and neither Mark Archer nor Chris Peat seems to have made much money out of the venture despite their numerous hits; seekers of their one album, the immaculate Full-On Mask Hysteria (a greatest hits compilation, effectively, but most of the greatest albums are), will have to trawl the second-hand shops or ebay for a hard to find and (even if you do find it) prohibitively priced copy.

But they were shiny pop brilliance writ in tablets of a dusty yellow; pulling out "E-Vapor-8" again revealed an unfaded, unfazed explosion of wit, colour and ideas - and this may have been "our" true punk rock, the one "we" were lucky to live through, at (just about) the right age. The football commentary pastiche of the intro - those klaxons linking right back into Northern Soul - sets the scene brilliantly, and thereafter we get explosions, grinding, fuzzed out basslines (alternating subtly with subterranean LFO basses) with a clamorous, yearning female vocal atop, urgently donating the bitonal punctum which so many of the classic rave tracks boasted (no overt theorising; shove the best sounding vocal against the best sounding breakbeat/sample and see what magic transpires) before floating elegantly into the Kevin Saunderson poignancies of the "don't make me wait" section (since she doesn't want this feeling to evaporate - they also did some remixing work for Inner City around this time, most notably the astonishing reshaping of "Let It Reign," and became close friends with Saunderson). Then an 808 State-style overlapping keyboard main theme, minimalist yet expansive, and repeat/blend/shift to end, complete with occasional exclamations from the sidelines ("The crowd's going MAD!"). It's everything that the Sunday Radio 2 listeners long since gave up being, it's as cheerily offensive as Little Richard or John Lydon, it's all over the bleeding place, it's the M6 on a windy but happy Friday midnight, it's a pop Alton Towers, it's the Seeds to the Prodigy's Elevators, and it needs rescue and joyful reminder of what the "real" British pop of 1992 was all about. Nestle it alongside Right Said Fred and Shakespeare's Sister - and with L7 and the Blur of "Popscene" - with pride.