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Review: Young Marble Giants’ Colossal Youth by Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero June 3, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Cover of Colossal YouthAn overdue Netgalley review for a long overdue book.

I first read about Young Marble Giants back around 1980. I think Lou Stathis reviewed it and made it sound pretty good. But it was 1980. I never saw a copy of Colossal Youth anywhere, so it pretty much faded out of my mind. Then, in the mid-1990s, I found a copy of Salad Days, a demo collection, in a record store, and bought it. It was pretty good, and by then it was a lot easier to order albums, so I got Colossal Youth on CD, and it was one of those albums that just fits in perfectly with everything else I listen to.

But enough about me. Colossal Youth is one of those postpunk albums that could be called antipunk, given its quiet songs, coolly amateurish and deadpan female vocals, primitive drum machine, etc, but it probably would never have existed without punk, and Hole’s cover of their song “Credit in the Straight World” shows that it isn’t really that hard to bring some YMG into noisier territory.

Everyone from Kurt Cobain to the xx, it seems, has spoken of the influence Colossal Youth had on them; you can hear it in a lot of places, odd though it must have sounded in 1979. This book sets the album and band in context as a trio from Cardiff, removed in many ways from punk, but arguably even further removed from whatever the mainstream was there at the time. It’s not one of those 33 1/3 books that talk much about the studio experience or the gear or any of the technical side of making the album, because all they had was a homemade drum machine, a ring modulator, a bass guitar, an organ, and an electric guitar — and with only three band members, few if any songs used all of those instruments, and the album only took a week or so to record.

Instead, the book talks about the music, about the contrast between the emotional lyrics written by a male band member and the unemotional way they were sung by the female band member; about being from Cardiff instead of London; about the feminism and politics that observers picked up on even when they weren’t intentional. There’s a bit about what the band members did before and after, which is especially helpful for a band with only one proper album in their discography.

The book’s a bit academic at times. You’ll see references to Susan Sontag, Julia Kristeva, Dick Hebdige, and others. But it’s still always readable and accessible.

Overall, a much-needed tribute to an album you should know.

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