Is New Zealand the new Canada, which is in itself the new Scotland? Or does it just seem as if the land that became Tolkien’s filmic playground is finally being recognized for its musical endeavors? It’s perhaps a little of both as several bands have seemingly come out of the Entish woodwork in addition to labels such as the storied Flying Nun have regained prominence. For years, the only Kiwi band that anyone recognized in the slightest outside of their native land was the Finn brothers’ legacy of Split Enz, Crowded House and their `together alone’ projects. Now, acts such as the Clean, the Verlaines and the Bats are getting the recognition they always deserved while new acts such as the Brunettes and comedic folk-duo the Flight of the Conchords are turning heads as well. Add to that list the Shocking Pinks, a band whose name sounds as if it could alternately be the moniker for a fifties’ doo-wop group, a seventies’ era all-female punk band, or a porn website. It also has absolutely nothing to do with Neil Young’s made up band who backed him on the controversial 1983 rockabilly album, Everybody’s Rockin’.
The Shocking Pinks, which is essentially Nick Harte, started out a bit differently, sounding incredibly dance oriented, a la LCD Soundsystem, which could have prompted them to be signed by DFA. But their succeeding two albums, put out by Flying Nun, were more in line with the sounds that once came from that label, as well as onetime bandmates the Brunettes (for whom Harte played drums) and influential acts such as My Bloody Valentine. The Shocking Pink’s self-titled debut for DFA is actually a remastered compilation of songs from those two Flying Nun albums, and is a fantastic introduction to the rest of the world. Harte’s choice for a moniker came, from his own admission, from a combination of the Pretty in Pink soundtrack and a desire to keep listeners on edge, always guessing. In other words, this band sounded right up my alley. Harte’s mother bought him Loveless when he was young, and that formative purchase’s effect is apparent in the short instrumental opener, “Wake Up,” with washes of white noise and calming sounds. Then, Duckie’s mixtape soundtrack comes in with “This Aching Deal,” a song that resonates with Peter Hook basslines, Bernard Sumner vocals, and an overall feeling of 80’s teen melancholia.
That feeling is echoed in “How Am I Not Myself?” in which Harte sings what is sure to be an infamous line, “I love you when you’re happy, I love you when you’re sad / But I’d rather be your retard babe than be your motherfucking dad.” Besides the John Hughes sounds of the high school set, each song also has a flavor of Nico’s husky vocal style and the Kiwi bands that Harte shares a label with. “End of the World” perfectly blends the wistfulness of Nico’s songs from Chelsea Girl with the sense of the celebration of love despite coming Armageddon in the Reagan era. Since Harte was previously best known as the drummer for the Brunettes, it’s no surprise that the drum tracks on this album are stellar. “Yes! No!” stands as testament to Harte’s driving drum lines and innovative percussive techniques, while also being one of the few songs that would satisfy James Murphy’s dance jones and Robert Smith or Peter Murphy’s inherent tendency toward spookiness.
“Emily,” “Blonde Haired Girl” and “Victims” show even more sides to Harte’s musical repertoire, giving credence to the likeness of the name to a late ’70s punk act. The guitars and drums are fast and furious, and the guitars more Kevin Shields-esque than almost anything else on the album. “Girl on the Northern Line” and “Jealousy” take different tacks, still wistful and melancholy, but with less of a rock feel, and more emphasis on atmospheres. “I Want You Back,” not to be confused with the Jackson 5 or N*Sync songs, borrows more from the wall of guitars noise that the Jesus & Mary Chain creates. Follower “Smokescreen” could be a b-side to LCD’s “Watch the Tapes” or “Us vs. Them” with its incessant cowbell dance grooves and repeated spoken lyrics. “Cutout” is a particular standout, being an atmospheric instrumental as well as a showcase for Harte’s significant drumming talents. Closing cover song “You Can Make Me Feel Bad,” originally by Arthur Russell, sums everything up nicely, and is quite lovely in Harte’s lo-fi style.
Shocking Pinks is an album that one would imagine is a musical love letter from Duckie to Andie, influenced by the music at the time, and incredibly lovelorn and heartbreaking. If Jon Cryer’s character had been as moved by Loveless as he had been by Otis Redding, then maybe his lip synch scene could have been changed from “Try a Little Tenderness” to “Soon” and Molly Ringwald would have had no choice but to fall for the Duckman. I’ve written this before, but originally, Duckie was supposed to get the girl, not Blane (that’s a major appliance, not a name!), and Hughes later rectified that concession with Some Kind of Wonderful. But Duckie will forever be the one on the losing end, and maybe that’s what makes the film so popular. Songs and films of sadness have a particular appeal, and that’s only one aspect as to why the Shocking Pinks are so good.
Various Artists- Pretty in Pink
New Order- Low-Life
My Bloody Valentine- Loveless