Of all the many bands to get the reissue treatment of late, Glasgow’s a.c. acoustics might seem an unlikely choice. In the mid-to-late Nineties, they were the archetypal indie also-rans – revered by John Peel listeners but remaining resolutely under the radar. By the time Understanding Music appeared in 2000, even the indie cognoscenti could be forgiven for having missed the memo. Yet it’s the very unlikeliness of the reissue that helps justify Fire’s urge to put it out again – it may have passed you by first time round, but it’s a record that truly deserves to be heard.
Nostalgia really isn’t the name of the game – guitarist Mark Raine is bang on the money when he claims in the press release that 'the songs...could have been produced yesterday, or even next year.' It’s only really the presence of Brian Molko’s backing vocals on ‘Crush’ that gives the game away. The reissue sees the original release’s running order slightly reijgged, finding room for the additions of ‘Like Ribbons’ and ‘Lemon’, with the total running time extended to a slightly unwieldy 70 minutes. But while there is some fat that could be trimmed from the bone, the majority is compelling stuff.
Chief amongst the band’s assets is frontman Paul Campion’s beguiling vocals – his understated tension is somehow both uncomfortably tangible and strangely otherworldly. Alongside the meaty production, it’s Campion’s fascinating contribution that helps elevate songs like ‘Chinese Summer’ and ‘Dry Salvage (God Knows My Name)’ – songs that could easily fall flat in less-capable hands – into essential listening.
But crucially, Understanding Music also has its share of flat-out classics. ‘Crush’ is the indie-disco smash that never was, while the breathtaking eight minutes of ‘Waiter Strains’ that bring the album to a hugely cathartic conclusion had your correspondent kicking himself for never getting round to seeing the band play live. Even more remarkable, though, are some of the record’s less-obvious cuts. ‘B2’ brings with it a real sense of doomed terror which is all the more powerful for its elusiveness, while ‘She Kills For Kicks’ is the fairground carousel ride from your worst nightmares, but one which you somehow don’t want to get off.
It’s difficult to predict whether this reissue will trigger what would surely be 2010’s most unlikely musical resurgence, but without doubt Understanding Music and the a.c. acoustics deserve a second crack of the whip. After all, as Mark Gaine says, 'good tunes are timeless.'
8Dan Cooper-Gavin's Score