Ned’s Atomic Dustbin Are You Normal? 1992, Columbia
Suave and Suffocated
Walking Through Syrup
Who Goes First?
Not Sleeping Around
You Don’t Want to Do That
A Leg End in His Own Boots
Two and Two Made Five
Named after an episode of The Goon Show, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin were formed in the West Midlands in 1987. Their sound stands out from that of the britpop crowd that were snapping at their heels as they have two bass players, giving a harder, slightly distorted edge to their poppy melodies. It’s very reminiscent of the pop-punk of the 2000s, but this brief midlands based interlude between Madchester and Britpop was known at the time as Grebo. The word is local slang for a lazy, scruffy, workshy sort of person and the bands who were part of the scene, though all very musically distinct, were happy to be lumped together under the tongue in cheek label. This musical disparity did make them hard for their record companies to market though. The ‘Neds’ were also known for being normal blokes (hence this album’s title) and not involving themselves in rockstar excesses, perhaps another marketing hurdle that impacted on their commercial success. They were simply not interested in doing more than just playing their songs to get famous. They did have a loyal fan base though, the release of this, their second album in late 1992 was preceded by a world tour. They also headlined the NME stage (now called The Other Stage) at Glastonbury 1992.
Now, I know I just told you that this isn’t britpop but Suave and Suffocated does a really good impression of it. It has all the elements of a perfect piece of britpop - cheeky lyrics, thrashing guitars (that bass pair are really in evidence here) and a poppy beat. Walking Through Syrup really benefits from the double bassists (Should I have worded that differently? I don’t want you to think this is getting orchestral…) too, it’s really rocky and sounds much more hardcore than I was expecting, this one does put me in mind of Elastica a little bit. The next few tracks are all enjoyable but the sound is a bit samey. The guitars really soar for the intro of Who Goes First? This one seems to stretch lead singer John Penney’s voice though. Tantrum is an angry fight with a girlfriend where the drums really come to the fore. This band’s rhythm section is just really great throughout the album though. Not Sleeping Around continues in a similar lyrical vein. You Don’t Want to Do That is a highlight with a strong Stone Roses vibe. Two and Two Made Five is another cracker where the band’s many guitars seem to be completely surrounding you. Closer Intact is another great track both lyrically and musically.
Overall I really enjoyed the album. While I do think it suffers a little in the middle from a similarity of sound that makes some of the songs seem to blur together, there wasn’t a track I disliked. It’s a fun record, easy to dance to and enjoy. I’m not sure why the band’s success was so limited. Perhaps because they refused to believe their own hype or maybe just bad timing - they got swept away by the britpop wave that they wanted no part in and when it arrived they hadn’t been around long enough to be properly established. It’s a shame because Are You Normal? is definitely an album that’s worth your time. A slightly changed line up still play live shows (they recently finished a brief UK tour) and I’m sure they’d still be a lot of fun to see live. Be sure to check them out if they go back on the road in 2020.