There exist two basic kinds of British pop acts: those who sing with British accents and those who don't.
In the old days, that distinction had little effect on a band's ability to score big in the United States. Lately, however, the Pet Shop Boys notwithstanding, a British accent has meant commercial death for many acts intent on getting mentioned by Casey Kasem.
So what do Oxford, England's Candyskins go and do on their new DGC album, Fun? The same thing they did on their fitst DGC album, Space I'm In--sing with British accents.
"It's what you grow up listening to," explains Nick Burton, the Candyskins' lead guitarist and frequent background singer. "If you grow up listening to Kiss and you've got a band, you're going to sing like that."
The Candyskins did not grow up listening to Kiss. They grew up listening to the Clash and the Buzzcocks. Punk was exploding just fifty miles down the road in London, and they made the trip often. "We were all twelve or thirteen when it happened," bassist Karl Shale recalls. "So that influences you. We'd never heard anything like it before. My brother used to like Genesis, Rick Wakeman, and Elton John, but I found that boring. I liked football."
And by "football," of course, Shale means soccer, a sport, incidentally, that figures indirectly in Fun?'s first single, the energetic power-of-romance tribute "Wembley." The British, it seems, won the World Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1966, and since then that victory has come to hold a place in British memory analogous to the place that the Pirates' 1960 World Series win has come to hold in Pittsburgh lore. Hence, when Nick Cope, the lead-singing Candyskin, sings, "It's 1966 again, / a love as big as Wembley," a crowd can be heard erupting into a stadium-sized cheer.
But, Cope's British accent aside, "Wembley" doesn't sound so much like an heir to Clash-Buzzcocks punk as to the edgy, jangly power-pop that evolved out of New Wave in the early '80s and gave birth to college radio--where, not surprisingly, Space I'm In did pretty well a couple of years ago.
"I think that by having a four-guitar-and-drum band," Burton observes, "you're going to fit somewhere in that. It never sounds completely original. But I'm not certain that's a bad thing. It's pretty timeless."
It's also often just plain pretty. Each of Fun?'s dozen songs rides a hummable hook, with "Everybody Loves You" and "All Over Now" registering as downright mellow. Taken together, these traits give rise to the suspicion that someone among the Candyskins spent his wonder years listening to more than punk.
Enter rhythm guitarist Mark Cope, Nick's older brother. What first made him want to form a band? "The first time I saw the Osmonds, I think. I was seven, and it looked as if they were having a lot of fun. They were always smiling."
"Rows and rows of teeth," says Burton.
"They were getting paid," Mark continues, "and they were all brothers having a good time. I haven't got any of their albums, but I always like 'Crazy Horses.' That's one of my favorite songs."
The Candyskins also profess a love of '70s disco--they cover Hot Chocolae's "You Sexy Thing" in concert--because, as the elder Cope puts it, it was "larger than life." "It was larger than life. It wasn't serious. And they were good songs."
"Brilliant songs," adds Burton. "Seventies disco beats anything."
The group's love of fun music helps explain its refusal to surrender melody to the currently omnipresent guitar squall of alternative pop. It also helps explain its consternation over the sudden political clout with which the U.S. has imbued many rock stars.
"We hate bands that take themselves seriously," says Mark, "because it doesn't change anything, being in a group. If you want to change the world, become a politician. It's as if America has given up on politics and religion and looks to pop stars for answers. It's ridiculous, you know?"
"Look at this whole Inaugural thing at the White House," says Burton, by way of recent example.
"What the fuck was Michael Jackson doing there?" drummer John Halliday wants to know. "It just seems too showbiz."
"Politics is a very serious business," says Mark. "And to us it seems very strange to see Bill Clinton playing the saxophone."
"It's like the idea of John Major playing the drums," says Burton, "or when your dad starts dating a younger woman and pretending he likes rock music."
In fact, a younger woman has played a role in the Candyskins' sonic evolution: Nick Cope's five-year-old daughter.
"I sing her to sleep with Beatles songs," he says. And perhaps that intimate connection to the Beatles--more than Brit-punk, the Osmonds, or disco--accounts for the fun quotient in the Candyskins' music. "Tired of Being Happy" even kicks off with the "Ticket to Ride" guitar riff, albeit sped up a little.
But what accounts for the question mark after the word fun in the album title?
"Sometimes being in a band isn't fun," Burton admits. "Sometimes it's hard work. Sometimes you feel unloved, and sometimes you feel as if you're banging your head against the wall.
"But at other times," he says, "it can be the best thing in the world."