Amid all the hand-wringing over the state of the record industry; how company bigwigs can no longer budget for exclusive launch parties, Hollywood-style music videos and surplus cocaine, what sometimes gets ignored is the shocking standard of music we’re fed through most of the mainstream media outlets. To put it another way; if I were a young ‘un, told by the taste-manipulators the cutting edge of modern pop / rock now comprised Kasabian, Kings of Leon and whatever disposable moron fodder comes up through this Autumn’s karaoke down-swerve (sometimes known as The X Factor) then I wouldn’t pay for music either. And yet, just outside of the curve, lost in the mists of time simply because things went horribly wrong somehow, lie dozens of great bands. Bands of talent and ideas, bands that produced classic albums which contain thrilling and addictive pop. That’s where this column comes in. It’s a kind of personal testimony, an attempt to get you listening to the kind of un-popular beat combos who should have made it big, yet never did. I first encountered Creeper Lagoon’s sophomore record in the remainder and secondhand section of Exeter institution Martian Records on a visit back after moving to London in 2001. Purchasing this CD wasn’t much of a gamble, I’d read positive things about these supposed ‘indie-rockers’ in the pages of NME during my post- student years, a time when the New Musical Express featured writers of the calibre of Steven Wells (R.I.P.), Johnny Cigarettes and Kitty Empire, before it turned into a kind of hipster Smash Hits. A quick glance at the CD inlay revealed ‘Take Back…’ to have been partially produced by Dave Fridmann, a studio genius responsible for some of the Flaming Lips’ greatest records who, most recently, has turned MGMT from wannabe psychedelists with two good songs who sound a lot like Soulwax into the TV-soundtracking success story they’ve suddenly become.
Within a couple of listens at Clint Panzerdivision’s bijou flat it became apparent this was one of the albums of
2001, released on a massive label (Dreamworks) with all the finest elements of life-affirming pop, capable of
lifting the gorge and making you want to spend time in the Lagoon mindset. From the thrilling rush of opener
‘Chance of A Lifetime’ to the anthemic ‘Wrecking Ball’, through the less crescendo-y but still addictive
romantic ballad ‘Cellophane’ and swoonsome closer ‘Here We Are’, I listened to this record an awful lot.
Shortly afterwards I picked up their debut album ‘I Become Small And Go’ in Soho’s now-defunct Mr. CD.
It was a record that proved to be half-brilliant and half-filler, but illustrated exactly why some big label took
a chance on them. Subsequently I learnt that the two frontmen, co-founders and dual songwriters, Ian Sefchick and Sharky Laguana, played together in a high school punk band called The Rottweilers back in Cincinnati during the late eighties. Creeper Lagoon, named after a horrendous, low-rent hotel where Sharky worked, came into existence after the old friends moved out to San Francisco, Sefchick having initially played with the Brian Jonestown Massacre for rent money (see the movie ‘Dig’ rather than any of their records).
The first Lagoon LP came out on the Dust Brothers’ label and aroused enough attention for them to achieve that pact-with-the-devil-style industry manoeuvre, at which point pressure on the band was ramped up. According to NME, a publication not renowned for fact-checking beyond what a publicist writes on the press release, ‘Take Back The Universe…’ was recorded on an ostrich farm under the influence of magic mushrooms. It’s a nice image, although the finished album is a coherent artistic statement of the kind that goes against romantic depictions of such a chaotic gestation.
Still, it’s hard to argue with reviewer April Long that the end result is “uplifting and transcendent”, giving a new twist to well-worn lyrical concerns. Lagoon’s males are held enrapt by unattainable girls and the twenty-something quest for identity, Sefchick and Laguna managing to evade cliché at every turn as they create a backdrop of dead man saloons and wasted losers, walking home “dressed in sheets” and forever up all night over-indulging.
Come the latter half of 2001 and it seemed like everything was in place for the band. They toured widely, songs were licensed to big-budget romantic comedies, and the American press called them “the natural successors to Third Eye Blind” (although presumably that was the retarded part of the American press…)
But circumstances conspired against Creeper Lagoon. Late 2001 was no time to be peddling upbeat songs
about “falling airplanes” and jets “coming down like a wrecking ball” while the music scene consisted mainly
of big-shorted sports metal and puerile pop-punk, a “dreadful time for a band to release an intelligent,
well-written album” as one reviewer of their live show noted.
Sales of ‘Take Back…’ failed to build in spite of the critical acclaim, and the writing was on the wall as far as Dreamworks were concerned. There was little attempt to break the band in Europe, just a muted release meaning the CD ended up in discount shops and bargain bins around England. By the end of 2001 Sefchick had experienced enough of banging his head against the wall of public indifference, departing once touring commitments ended and leaving Sharky to continue the musical experiments by himself.
A final album bearing the Creeper Lagoon name would eventually appear half a decade later on Sharky’s own label. ‘A Long Dry Cold’ sounded nothing like its predecessors, consisting mainly of female vocals meandering their way over pointless static fuzz. The clarity and melodicism of the band’s earlier incarnations was replaced by unmemorable longueurs and what sounded like random electronic discharge recorded on a Dictaphone. Typically, Pitchfork loved it.
But during Creeper Lagoon’s lifetime they gave us two records worth owning, one good and one great, and that’s surely enough. Within the melange of powerful tunes, inspired effects and perfectly judged experiments that make up ‘Take Back The Universe…’ you hear what might have been. But those fifty minutes also comprise their legacy. It’s one every fan of pop music should share in.
Take Back The Universe And Give Me Yesterday by Creeper Lagoon was available on Amazon for just
over a pound (plus postage and packing) the last time I looked. Or you could probably go to one of those
naughty download sites I hear so much about. Not that we condone that sort of behaviour you understand,
but it isn’t as if you’re taking bread out of musicians’ mouths here. As long as you give due consideration
to the moral dimension it’s probably okay. Unless Dreamworks’ legal team are reading this, in which case
I would say: Tough. You contributed to the failure of a great band. I’m not helping you line your nasty, corporate pockets.