Neil’s Children and Help She Can’t Swim
I remember having a conversation with a friend that concluded with us agreeing that there were no good band names left. I think we had even flicked disdainfully through a dictionary to emphasise the point. This was seven years ago. And yet occasionally a name appears in the listings that does everything a good name should: it is legible and quickly understood, it sums up certain aspects of the band, and it lingers on the lips. Of the latest crop of bands, I particularly like the following names: The Libertines, British Sea Power and Simian. It’s just a shame about their music.
Actually, the more I think about the subject the more I realise that most band names gain their aura only retrospectively, increasing in resonance as the music secures them authority – The Smiths being an example of a bad name made good. All of which bring me tonight’s opening band, Help She Can’t Swim.
Like Dogs Die in Hot Cars and the irritatingly named . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead, Help She Can’t Swim have taken a phrase as their name, perhaps attempting capture the flux they find themselves in. Or perhaps they are referring to their singer, Leesey (she of the flabby belly proudly displayed through wearing a T-shirt three sizes too small)? I don’t know. But I do know that as swimmers in the sea of garage rawk, Help She Can’t Swim look in need of a lifeguard’s assistance.
With songs called things like ‘Money Shot’ – which is, apparently, “about men cumming on women’s faces” – they want to be edgy. The sad thing is that they do it with neither attitude nor panache. Sounding like the an even duller Yeah Yeah Yeahs with a singer who somehow manages to be even more shrieky and grating than Karen O, Help She Can’t Swim are dreadful. Whilst they have the energy of youth, they also have its fear of originality. They are an archetypal example of the talentless crawling in the slipstream of a moribund genre.
Now, if any future offspring of mine decide to form a band, I hope they don’t look to me for band name inspiration. The one that I was saving for them, Neil’s Children, has been taken by tonight’s headliners; and that one took me long enough to come up with. So, what have Neil’s Children done with this inspired name? Would I be proud to adopt them as my own? Would I overlook the fact that they look nothing like me and have slightly violent tendencies? The short answer is no, the longer answer is . . .
Neil’s Children sound like the band Liars, with their arty post-punk rock. With deft footwork, singer/guitarist John Linger presses down his boxing boots on pedals like flange, delay and chorus; effects more familiar from Pink Floyd than the Sex Pistols. They are certainly not a three-piece who lack firepower, unfortunately they are firing duds: with guitars squealing in all the wrong places, inaudible vocals and tedious punk rehashes. A simple analogy with Franz Ferdinand reveals their inadequacies, for whereas the bass and drums of Franz Ferdinand are infectiously funky, inventive and clever, Neil’s Children’s are staid and stodgy.
They have been bizarrely categorized as art rock (they met at art college) and they go to great lengths to distance themselves from the Strokes, their singer, Linger even saying “if you’ve looking for another Strokes wannabe you’re going to be disappointed.” As if anyone wanted another Strokes. The original Strokes are bad enough.
Neil’s Children end their set with a half-hearted kicking over of the drums, trashing their instruments to mild applause punctuated with some perfunctory shouts of “more”. The man on the right with the teeth – who had coincidentally been DJ-ing earlier – took the microphone and demanded more. Unbelievably, the band came back almost immediately.
In London, where audiences are sated with gigs and diverse cultural events, the cry for the encore has become fainter and fainter. Popular bands generally play one no matter how tired their set has been. There is no justification for small bands playing cramped club nights to play them; they should view their set as something more than a random collection of songs, elevating it to the level of a performance. Linger even said, dispiritedly, “are you sure you want us play more, cos it’s going to take us a while to put everything back together?” But put everything back together they did.
Art Rock is many things, but it should never compromise itself for the sake of its audience. If Neil’s Children were my children, I would have disowned them there and then.