Well, given the image shown above, you’d be correct in assuming I will be speaking about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin today. Ned’s (or the NADs if you’re feeling cheeky) were a short-lived ‘alternative’ band from the UK. The UK has an obscenely ridiculous amount of musical genres or scenes, much more so than the US could hope for. This is, in large part, because, as a much smaller country, scenes centered around certain clubs and towns spring up with great regularity, with many of the bands associated with said scenes sharing stage space. At least, that’s how it used to be. This was 25+ years ago, who knows how it operates now. Anyway, Ned’s, while part of the burgeoning ‘alternative’ scene in the US, were part of the ‘grebo’ scene, which featured bands who played a mix of traditional (guitars, bass, drums) and ‘new’ instruments (samplers, turntables). Other notable Grebo groups include Pop Will Eat Itself, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, EMF, and Jesus Jones. The Grebo’s had pretentious names, if nothing else. Even amongst those bands, the sounds were as varied as the bands were.
Amongst the Grebo, Ned’s were about as close to normal as their much more well-known peers, Jesus Jones. Jesus Jones talked about, and utilized, technological advancements to help create their music. Ned’s gimmick was having two bass players in their band. I always felt that was a concept that could work, with one bass playing the traditional band role and holding down the bottom end, with the second bass acting as counterpoint and playing low-end melodies, a la Peter Hook of New Order. Bands have had two guitarists, two keyboard players, two drummers, why not two bassists? I remember reading an interview somewhere with John Taylor of Duran Duran, and his initial idea for the band was two basses and no guitar, as he felt the future of rock music was the bass guitar (given the dancier elements of DD’s music, maybe in his case he was right.)
For whatever reason though, the two-bass attack of Ned’s rarely delivered on that promise. Maybe it was a record company choice, maybe it was the creativity of Rat (that was his name), the guitarist – his melodies were extremely catchy, maybe it was the times – loud guitar sounds ruled the ‘alternative nation.’ Maybe it was the limitations of the format; and in this regard I speak of compact disc. There were no US vinyl copies of any Ned’s albums released here, and even the UK issues are fairly expensive. Maybe the warmer format of vinyl would take out some of the overly-compressed sound of their albums, especially their debut, God Fodder, which really suffers from CD compression.
But a band lives or dies on their tunes, right? Right. And Ned’s had some great songs, especially all the material of God Fodder and the accompanying b-sides. What sets Ned’s apart from a lot of other ‘alternative’ bands is their delivery. Lots of time-changes, almost like a prog-version of alternative rock. Think King Crimson with less musicianship, and dated lyrics about young-adult angst. Seriously catchy tunes like “Kill Your Television”, “Grey Cell Green”, and “Happy” define their first lp. Their follow-up, Are You Normal? was just as good, if a bit less wildly creative than God Fodder. It was on the back of Are You Normal? tour that I got a chance to see them play live, headlining at the Moore Theatre. Great show, and the two-bass concept definitely delivered better in a live setting. The band took a 3 year break and came back with Brainbloodvolume, which, aside from a couple good tunes, was a terrible attempt to ride the burgeoning industrial-tinged scene. This last album featured more traditional two-guitar song structures, and synthesizers. I love synthesizers, but they didn’t sound right within the context of Ned’s tunes. I’m sure a lot of the change in sound was down to record company dictates – record companies of course being the biggest detriment to a musician’s creativity.
After this the band effectively ended, with the obligatory reunions (missing one bassist and the guitarist), and an odd new single here and there. Nothing to match the wild, creative early first two lp’s, where Ned’s was trying to sound an alternative to the traditional ‘alternative’ sound (lyrics notwithstanding). So, go and spin God Fodder, and enjoy a trip back to the very early 90’s.