Last week I did something I hadn’t done in about a decade — listen to a new Ned’s Atomic Dustbin single.
See, the band split up in the mid-90s, due to record label trouble. And for a long time, there was nothing. Several band members started other projects, some just left music entirely. Then in 2000, they were invited to perform a set at a multi-band showcase show celebrating the birthday of the local club where they got their break.
They must have enjoyed it, because the following year they played a couple of other gigs. In fact, they were scheduled to play in New York on September 14th (or 15th?), 2001 — I was unable to travel up there to attend, but did persuade the then-local Alisa Cooper to purchase tickets. That show, of course, never happened, given what transpired a few days before the scheduled event. The Neds never returned to the US.
But they kept doing more and more regular shows — Christmas every year is a staple — while maintaining that they only wanted to remain event-centric, not “reunited.” But then they released a couple of live CDs, and a concert DVD, then last year, a couple of new songs began to appear in the setlists. Finally, a couple of weeks ago (on my birthday, no less) they released a new single. I preordered.
Reasons to like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin? Legion. For one thing, they straddle genres in some unique ways. I say it’s like punk music if it had been invented by youths non-angry and (lacking a more polite way to put it) non-stupid. Most non-fans remember them only as “the band with two bass players” — although that doesn’t really describe the sound. One plays rhythm lines, the other lead. Yeah. Lead on bass. Don’t think Primus; nothing like that. The chap’s name is Alex Griffin, and he plays the bass like a guitar — either the melody or a countermelody to the lead guitar. But unlike with two guitars playing lead, the bass and guitar lines are in different enough registers that they don’t step on each other (I’m not a musicologist, if you hadn’t guessed). It’s just different.
That and Jonn Penney, the vocalist, who is a reason unto himself. The most upbeat individual in the music biz. He’s clever, he uses wordplay, he writes introspective, optimisticly-melancholy lyrics, and no matter what he says, he wins you over. I’m serious; in the Ned’s hiatus he founded an indie record label and in a one-page interview about it, he had me excited about indie music and local artistry — through talking about Stourbridge England, and how positive he felt about its music scene. I’ve never been to Stourbridge.
The Neds today are a little different; two of the original five — though invited, and still apparently on good terms — are not playing with them, replaced instead by volunteers from Jonn’s other hiatus project, Groundswell UK (whose album and single are also worth hearing).
So, how’s this new single sound? It’s good. Hibernation; for the fans I’d say it falls into the Are You Normal? spectrum, but not exactly. Beyond that it’s catchy enough that it sticks in your head. It seems to be well-received, too — according to MySpace, Ned’s are (temporarily) the number-one merchandise-selling artist.
Lucky for us, the band’s Web site says they’ve now headed to the studio, recording more new material. Perhaps that means a full-length album. If so, whichever direction they take it, it’s always fun to see those first-time reviewers grapple for a new way to comment on the two bass players.