Elastica's anxiety of influence

David Peschek
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:12

"Record collection rock": that's what the music press dubbed what was seen as a peculiarly Nineties phenomenon. Typified by Primal Scream's magpie revivalism, it confirmed the gloomy diagnosis of several critics that rock was either dead or had nowhere new to go, while simultaneously allowing the same critics to revel in music created from the best bits of their favourite artists' back catalogues. It was nothing new, as the Stranglers' JJ Burnel points out: "If some of the old blues men had had zealous publishers, a lot of great rock records would never have been made."

But when Elastica bounced, fully formed, into the glare of media attention they seemed to take the flak for all the creative thievery that had gone before them. What set them apart was their reference points: particularly early Wire, circa the angular post-punk album Pink Flag, and early Stranglers.

Lead singer Justine Frischman made no bones about this, and when "Connection", Elastica's third single and second Top 40 hit, came out, the band offered Wire a small percentage of royalties on the grounds that the percussive keyboard intro had been borrowed from Wire song "Three Girl Rhumba". "Pop is self-referencing," says ex-Wire man Colin Newman, who says he has no personal dispute with them. "They're genuine fans who probably see themselves as bringing the music they love to a wider audience."

The trouble really started, however, with "Waking Up", the important fourth single that trailed the debut album. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Stranglers' "No More Heroes", their publishers, Complete Music, pounced on Elastica, asking for 40 per cent of the royalties. The band were hamstrung: haggling for a more reasonable figurewould have delayed the release of the album; they were forced to comply. Given that Elastica, the album, has now sold in the region of 80,000 copies, Complete Music must be rubbing their hands.

"Yes, it sounds like us, but so what?" says Burnel. "Of course there's plagiarism, but unless you live in a vacuum there's always going to be. It's the first thing our publishers have done for us in 20 years, but if it had been up to me, I wouldn't have bothered."

Colin Newman is somewhat harsher. "Wire were a group whose policy was never to repeat ourselves. Pop music now is culturally defunct, too much dominated by spurious retroism.Anytime Wire got close to commercial success we took a nosedive into obscurity," he adds. "But I'm just playing the cynical bastard. They're only kids and we're old gits."

David Peschek

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