(LAUNCH) By Lesley Holdom.
As it turns out, it was indeed too good to be true--that classic Behind The Music-esque cliché of too much, too soon.
After hitting the zenith of their newfound fame, followed by a grueling two-year stint on the road, Elastica simply vanished. But now at last they've resurfaced, with a new six-piece lineup (minus two key original members, lead guitarist Donna Matthews and bassist Annie Holland) and a sophomore album, The Menace (Atlantic). It's the long-awaited follow-up that took five long years to complete, yet just six weeks to record. What could have possibly made this album so long in coming?
According to lead vocalist/ guitarist Justine Frischmann, "The whole chemistry of the band broke down with all the touring and people leaving--at that point, we should've taken a break, but we didn't and we carried on. I wasn't happy with the way things were going, so I took a year and a half out and I felt like I had get away from the band and just not worry about the record. Towards the end of that, I started to feel whole enough to actually put myself back into the music arena again. I think it's really hard for any band to cope with their first album being as successful as ours was."
Elastica's disintegration began with Holland's departure, but it was Matthews's absence that ultimately left Frischmann with a sense of hopelessness. "There's that indefinable something that people have when they play together, and Donna and I started blaming each other for the fact that it wasn't working out, when really it wasn't either of our fault. We were doing everything we could, but it just wasn't there. Again, we should've just taken a break right then, but we didn't have enough perspective on ourselves to do that."
But now Elastica is finally back, and with a vengeance. Thankfully, it turns out that The Menace was ultimately worth the wait. The new six-piece lineup, and freedom from the pressure of other people's demands and expectations, have added much diversity and texture to the band's sound. "When I was writing this record, I was writing for the hell of it, without a release in mind. At that point, my understanding of what Elastica could be opened up--I didn't feel like we had to be anything people expected us to be," Frischmann explains. "We could be whatever we wanted to be. It was a really healthy time for me."
Still, Frischmann's sometimes difficult life experiences during the past five years have definitely added a certain distinctive moodiness to the music as well. Where Elastica's first album was light and fresh, The Menace is quite dark at times and more diverse--it even features a not-too-surprising guest spot from the Fall's Mark E. Smith. The first single off the album, "Mad Dog," is hardly a piece of lighthearted pop fun: Rather, it's a rousing, chaotic, guitar-driven screech, complete with barking dogs.
Frischmann laughs. "It was so hard to make the decision for the first single! There's so much different stuff on the record, I felt like whatever we chose would alienate some people. It was such a hard record to sequence, so in the end I just thought, 'F--k it.' A dog barking just about sums it up, really--mad bitches, you know?"
The Menace ends with a kicky, delightful version of Trio's "Da Da Da," the odd '80s novelty tune recently yanked out of obscurity by a popular Volkswagen car commercial. But Frischmann swears she wasn't aware that VW had beaten her to the punch on this one--apparently, U.K. advertising agencies don't liberally pillage artists' publishing catalogs the way they do in the States.
Though the overall darkness and chaos of the new Elastica disc makes it obvious that each song was written during a different period in Frischmann's psyche, it still avoids airing her dirty laundry regarding her highly publicized breakup with Blur's Damon Albarn, the longtime boyfriend with whom she parted ways in 1998. This is quite the opposite approach of Albarn's post-breakup offering, the Blur album 13, which was basically a thinly veiled therapy session about their ultimately doomed relationship. Frischmann explains, "I didn't want this record to be too explicitly personal, because I felt like I really didn't want to try to make a reply to 13. I was a little upset with Damon and the way he'd handled it--their album had crossed over into being something a bit too personal for my liking. It's intentional that you won't hear about it on our record, and I think that's a good thing. But then, I've always written more covered lyrics--it's just kind of the way I do things. I definitely reacted to the way 13 was done a little bit."
Understandably, Frischmann is wary of discussing anything too intimate in interviews, since the unforgiving British press has been quite hard on her, but she does reveal that the ending of her eight-year relationship with Albarn was ultimately her idea. "It had been my idea for quite a while. It's kind of complicated; it's a difficult thing to do. We were together eight years, and the first four years were really fun, then the other four was...I think it took me that long to kind of get him to accept the fact that it was over." The U.K press dragged their relationship through the mud so many times that Frischmann considered just quitting music permanently to avoid having her private life dissected under the media's microscope. "The media has been one of the things that at one time almost put me off doing music entirely. If I've learned anything, it's that I just have to keep private space for myself. It's probably a slightly different ballgame in America, but in Britain the music press is so tabloid and so obsessed with celebrity and private lives that it starts to be more about that than the music, and I think as a result of that, I feel like I want to keep my personal life more private than I have done in the past. And the thing is, because I was the female in the relationship, the Elastica articles tended to be more about the relationship than the music, whereas, ironically, the man in the relationship spends more time talking about it, but their story comes out less focused on it anyway. It's that weird kind of double-standard thing--I think it's a subtle form of rape at the end of the day."
But now Frischmann finally feels freed from the demons of her past, and she's quite hopeful about the future. Proving that the old adage, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger," is true, she raves about the new incarnation of Elastica: "We've got a stronger sound live now, and it's more like a family. We've got a really cool support thing happening with each other. Now we've known each other longer, and we're a bit older and wiser. It feels more like a gang than it did; it's more fun than it was."
And further demonstrating that she has moved on, Frischmann adds, with relief, that even her damaged relationship with former bandmate Matthews has been mended. "I've recently become good friends with Donna again, I'm glad to say. But it took a while." Well, some things are obviously worth waiting for.