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Melody Maker | Album | 20 August 1988 | Photo: Tom Sheehan
THE WONDER STUFF
THE EIGHT LEGGED GROOVE MACHINE
Somewhere up in the loft of every virtuous home there’s a tea chest brimming with a squashed, half-forgotten magic. Here there are toys, metal, plastic and fluffy, the rags once used for cowboys and indians and doctors and nurses, a scrapbook or two. Sometimes it’s good to climb the rickety ladder, to disturb the spiders, to rummage and flick through the pages of one’s personal past.
The Wonder Stuff know this. They have no qualms about peeping through the hole of a kaleidoscope or chasing old Slinky down the stairs. They understand the value of a distorted, brightly coloured perspective, of an inanimate coil which takes on strange shapes and has its guts twisted by its own kinetic energy. Apart from everything else, there’s the sheer thrill of it all.
The song titles of “The Eight Legged Groove Machine” – the likes of “Red Berry Joy Town”, “Like A Merry Go Round” and “The Animals And Me” – are the first pieces of evidence. The languages and the references are the second. In The Wonder Stuff wonderland, there are clown-arounds and park games with specific, strict rules of play.
There’s the persistent demand of “Give Give Give Me More More More” and, of course, it’s not only a question of finances, a string of wishes upon stars. Nor, with “Ruby Horse”, a bright new moon and a sun that shines down like marmalade, coating all below in a sticky yellow glue. Sure, they take lyrical liberties. That’s a big part of the big idea.
The Wonder Stuff’s orchestrations toe the line a little more. They are largely simplistic – which is only fitting. The band sculpt a blithe, blistering power pop for the latest crop of daffodil-headed children. They spoonfeed a pandemic paregoric. Take it and forget. Songs suddenly stop at craftily inopportune moments and from these tiny gaps they kick off again, building one brick of sound atop another until the next round of knock-down.
There is an emphasis on sharp, clear melodies, guitarists Miles and Malcolm repeating chords and clutches of notes, leading an exhilarating skip away towards the distant sunset, occasionally tripping over on the fuzzy effects which scallop, flutter and fold and litter the pathways. It matters not – the drip of tears upon a grazed knee are just as important as the laughter. It’s a price to pay for such boisterousness, for being out there, up there, sniffing for a high, lashed body and soul to the bumpy groove thing.
But despite the humour and flippancy of “It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby” and “Unbearable”, the lyrics of which are given on the sleeve as “I didn’t like you very much when I met you – far out” – although there’s actually more to it than that – this album proves The Wonder Stuff are not one-dimensional gigglestick-slapping popsters. “Some Sad Someone” and “Rue The Day” both have a gently mournful, acoustic lilt and a sporadic, listless, rhythmic tambourine rattle. The latter even has the morbid chimes at midnight running throughout.
“The Eight Legged Groove Machine” incorporates a degree of humbug alongside the hedonism too. There are spanners in the works, an awareness of some indescribable malaise stalking the youthful innocence with malicious intent to taint the hippy-go-lucky love of flowers and bees and all things bright and beautiful.
For now though, a confidence and an optimism prevails. The Wonder Stuff believe in make-believe and funny-me and funny-you, and also in making an effort to find a channel of faith to take them through the rot and stink of different sorts of necessities and responsibilities. They want it all ways, to live both a righteous and a riotous life. For now, they can have it.
This is a proud, perfect triumph. Happy days are here again.