Elastica – The Menace

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

God bless the difficult second album. Drugs and personality disputes led to the departure of guitarist Donna Matthews and bassist Annie Holland (who actually left twice); the timelines are unclear but this all happened between 1996-98. It wasn’t until 1999 that Justine Frischmann gathered a mostly-new set of musicians (Holland returned, as did drummer Justin Welch) to record The Menace. Elastica then broke up for good in 2001. Frischmann moved to the US and became a visual artist. Matthews is a pastor. Welch and Menace-era keyboardist Sharon Mew are married.

What I Think of This Album

This is an album that arguably shouldn’t exist, but I am so glad it does. I find this dark, disorienting, and dissociative work to be exponentially more interesting than the debut. Justine Frischmann was sharing a flat with Kingmaker’s Loz Hardy and supposedly he encouraged her to pursue this path (she was also inspired by all the Brian Eno the pair were spinning in the living room).

The album opens with electronic sounds that mimic robotic dogs and things do not get any less weird after that; indeed, the album ends with one of the oddest yet appropriate covers ever. In between, Frischman and her cobbled-together band (including keyboardists Sharon Mew and Dave Bush of the Fall, who basically dominate the proceedings) spit out a collection of atonal, abrasive, garish Rorschach glyphs that somehow cohere into a unified whole. A bizarre and elastic whole, but a whole nonetheless.

The whole is the point, actually. No one track really matters any more than any other – it’s how they play off of and flow into each other that compels repeat listens. There is certainly no single or radio hit present, and given what the band had produced before, this can only be intentional. More than just a reluctance about or rejection of fame, and far removed from petulance, Frischman’s effort to unsettle listeners seems almost flippant. Perhaps relatedly, the Wire theft this time around (“Human” borrows from “Lowdown”) comes across as an explicit middle finger to critics, as by now Elastica could no longer plead either innocence or homage.

The album closes with a spiky, steel drum adjacent cover of Trio’s two-time hit “Da Da Da,” which by all accounts functions as Frischmann’s statement on the end of her relationship with Damon Albarn (who gamely or perhaps ignorantly contributed keyboards on it under the anagramed alias Norman Balda). Trio was a delightfully minimalist, almost avant-garde German trio (of course) who first had a hit with “Da Da Da” in 1982, and then thanks to its use in a Volkswagon commercial, again in 1997.

Hardy co-wrote two of the songs, and two Fall members – Mark E. Smith and Julia Nagle (nee Adamson) – also get songwriting credits on two tracks. For what it’s worth, Wire is also credited for “Human.” Alan Moulder (Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Swervedriver) did some mixing and production; Phil Vinall (Auteurs, Close Lobsters, Aztec Camera) also mixed. 

Interesting tidbit:  Adamson rescued a bunch of master tapes from a studio that was closing due to bankruptcy (and where she worked as an engineer), including recordings by Factory Records, and she was eventually sued by Warner Brothers and Joy Division, just to show you that no good deed goes unpunished. Adamson also runs the Invisiblegirl label.

The Best Thing About This Album

For all that about the sum being greater than the parts, I have a soft spot for the surprisingly gentle (but still monotone-delivered) “Nothing Stays the Same,” which also sounds a lot like Wire (and reminds me of late period Slumber Party, too).

Release Date

April, 2000

The Cover Art

This photo is by MIA (Maya Arulpragasam); Frischmann repaid the favor by assisting MIA with her single “Galang.” I cannot tell what the tiny text under the album title says. This is an ideal image to accompany this very strange album.

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