A lot of people will tell you that music which sounds like it was made decades before it actually was is a pointless exercise, and should not be listened to. Their choice, obviously, and maybe rooted in good intentions, but as a firm principle it just seems smug and self-defeating. Anyone testing it to its limit, and throwing everything under the bus unless it could only be made RIGHT NOW, will probably be left with about three records a year, none of which you’d expect to sound good at a party. The rest of us can bop flailingly to Consumer Complaints, the debut album by London three-piece Shopping.
When I say 'the rest of us,' I am dreamingly exaggerating its likely appeal, and ability to reach listeners. Shopping play a rickety and bassline-driven type of post-punk whose initial time in the sun was the early Eighties: if you enjoy Delta 5, The Au Pairs, Kleenex, ESG or Young Marble Giants, you may well hear echoes of them in these 13 songs. Whether you see value in a group less than two years old mining this era so eagerly is, again, your call, but there are a clutch of terrific songs on here – full of hooks, actively danceable rhythms and lyrics which make clever use of repetition without coming off as lazy or inarticulate. These are qualities which transcend notions of ‘retro’ or ‘modern’, for my money. (One of the best songs on the LP is called ‘For Your Money’, and exhibits all the listed qualities.)
There is, it should be noted, ample modern context in which to place Shopping. Of its members, vocalist/guitarist Rachel Aggs was previously in Trash Kit, bass player Billy Easter in the thankfully-much-better-than-their-name Wetdog. These bands, and dozens of others with similar outlooks, have maintained a healthy and affable UK DIY scene in the last five years or so – one which ideologically links to hardcore punk, indiepop and Upset The Rhythm!-style clattery noise, while being something distinct from all those things.
None of Shopping appear to be musical virtuosos, but collectively they harness the power of simplicity. ‘We Say You Pay’ is maybe their most ESG-reminiscent number, thanks to Andrew Milk’s hi-hat-heavy disco-punk drumming and the way that low-mixed and indecipherable chatter is punctured by bratty shouts of “SHUT UP!” It’s all very controlled and clear-headed, too: the commendably-titled ‘Moyet’s Voice’ is notably faster than the rest of their repertoire, but never feels frantic, or as if it’s about to fall apart. The closest they come to a sonic assault is the closing segment of ‘Santa Monica Place’, which indulges in some unruly no wave scree that brought back very fond memories of Erase Errata circa ‘Other Animals.
Although Shopping do not do what most would term ‘ballads’, on a few occasions they employ a kind of bleak wistfulness which performs a similar function on Consumer Complaints. ‘Hard As Nails’ (“...don’t know where I stand / Will you be my man?”) has a minimal, echoey guitar line and a police siren, the significance of which is not clear, in the song’s latter third. These function as leavening agents for stompy chantalongs like ‘Right Now’, whose lyrics are generally too vague to be called declarations of intent, but certainly feel like calls to arms.
‘Theme’ closes the LP, and it’s Shopping’s theme in respect of their name: a regurgitative garble of the central tenets of consumerism, boiled down to barked slogans. “Need something want something buy something ... BUY! YOU WANT TO BUY!” While this is obviously not enlightening in itself, it has a springboard quality akin to, say, a Jenny Holzer slogan, and makes its point as brashly as the first James Chance LP [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buy_%28album%29]. A better writer than me would avoid the temptation to close his review by writing something like, 'take the song’s advice and purchase this excellent album'; sadly, I am not a better writer than me so that’s what you get.
8Noel Gardner's Score