Elastica, the pop-punk band that became a poster child for Britpop in America back in 1995, has been best known of late for their disappearing act. Waiting five years to offer up a second album is enough to be the kiss of death for even the most promising and successful of musical careers. Just ask the Stone Roses. But Elastica is now back from the dead, and if their new album The Menace is any indication, they’re better than ever and showing few signs of the dreaded sophomore jinx.
Lead singer and main songwriter Justine Frischmann hasn’t let those five years go totally to waste. Elastica was basically rebuilt and the band now features six members and a new appreciation for dance grooves. Synth pop and new wave are the obvious reference points, as on “Nothing Stays the Same”, but it’s no small coincidence Elastica has upped the dance quotient in their sound in the aftermath of the electronic dance pop explosion in the UK in the late 1990s. “KB” is case in point, acid house-drenched rock.
Clearly still sporting an infatuation for old Stranglers and Wire tunes, Elastica serves up a jagged post-punk blast on the trio of hard-rocking opening tracks. But the band has evolved beyond aping these old influences and dug deeper into the well of late ’70s/early ’80s British new wave. With the welcome addition of keyboards, “Mad Dog God Dam” is a slice of pure funky electro punk pop, as informed by the B-52’s as by Gang of Four. Sporting eccentric electronic dog barks and ray gun discharges, “Mad Dog God Dam” convinces me that often angst-ridden Elastica is finally having fun.
Meanwhile, “How He Wrote Elastica Man” has grabbed the most attention from music pundits as Frischmann teams up with an old musical hero, The Fall’s Mark E. Smith. Smith shouts vaguely political lyrics on top of a propulsive beat.
The band was also smart enough to stick the ill-advised cover of Trio’s “Da Da Da” at the end of the record. Volkswagen commercials notwithstanding, this is a rather odd choice for a cover and a song so thin in musical interest that is really nothing better than advertising fodder.
It’s easy enough to look past this lone misstep to see a band finally entering their prime. All in all, a very welcome return for a much-missed band.