History has unfortunately dictated the La’s as one trick ponies, as the only song of theirs that you still hear these days is the bittersweetly romantic There She Goes. And, of course, they only have that one self-titled album to their name. Which is a crying shame because the La’s were a band with so much potential, and indeed had they stuck around for the Britpop era they could have easily been the kings of the jungle.
However, as I have talked about before on A-Side Glance, they were undone by the perfectionist attitude of frontman Lee Mavers. The band had been trying for years to get their debut recorded, went through several producers trying to capture that perfect sound and no matter what they tried they just weren’t satisfied. Eventually, their label Go! threw their hands up, said ‘stuff it’ and had one of those producers, Steve Lillywhite, mix it all together into a fully fledged LP. Put it this way: If the album that was eventually released at the tail end of 1990 was, as the band claimed, nowhere near as good as it could have been, and was only a fraction of the sound in Mavers’ head translated to tape, then a good chunk of artists’ a-games pale in comparison to the b-game of the La’s. This album is one of my most frequently played in my collection. It’s an album that you can hear again and again and never be bored by.
But is it all it’s hyped up to be? Most things cut short way before their time like Firefly or Fawlty Towers leave you wanting more, wondering what could have been and treating what we did get as gold. Thus we get a trope known as the ‘sacred cow’; something untouchable from criticism lest you bear the brunt of a rabid fanbase. I have never really seen any criticism for the La’s, and I don’t plan on starting today, but I wonder what it is that makes this album so very special. Let’s have a look.
Track #1 – Son of a Gun
And we open with a psuedo-character piece about a man who seemed destined to live a busy life but now doesn’t, having been ‘burned by the 20th century’. Considering the band’s, and more specifically Lee’s, immediate future, that sounds like foreshadowing. But anyway, this is a decent opener, and sums up the album ahead; short, sweet, jangly. Plus, we don’t get the full package just yet as it’s a straightforward acoustic with minimal drumwork.
Track #2 – I Can’t Sleep
The electric guitar rears its head to create a slightly gritter second song, one that suitably seems to be about a drugtrip. The journey is made clear with Lee Mavers’ songwriting and his vocal chops, with his little yell at the end of the fourth verse indicating the narrator may have just peaked.
Track #3 – Timeless Melody
Gorgeous song, this. Quite possibly my favourite overall from the La’s. You can tell this one came from the heart as Mavers goes romantically meta on us by writing a song about struggling to write a song. And who says perfectionism can be a mental brick wall? Instrumentally, this is also a corker, love the guitar riffs and John Power’s bassline, and the urgent tempo is the icing on the cake. Bonus points aswell for being one of the longer tracks at three minutes, which allows Timeless Melody to truly sink in.
Track #4 – Liberty Ship
I’ve said in the past that a lot of albums seem to have that one song that could have and maybe should have been a single. Liberty Ship is one of two from The La’s that I feel would have made a good single. It’s a nice jaunty number, and I must confess that as I type this I have this mental image where the La’s, not taking themselves too seriously, sing the song atop the deck of a ship in sailors outfits. Regardless of that, I’d argue that of the many ear worms to be found on the album, the line ‘Sail away on the ocean wave’ and the accompanying simple acoustic guitar chords will be stuck in your head for a good while.
Track #5 – There She Goes
This song is over 30 years old now and is still ingrained into the brains of a lot of people, regardless if they’ve heard of the La’s or not. Play any bit of it, whether it be the opening or Mavers tugging at the heart strings as he laments ‘There she goes…’, and chances are a person will immediately recognise it. There She Goes is iconic. What else is there to say?
Track #6 – Doledrum
I think this is the first song on the album that doesn’t quite work for me as well as the others. Not sure why, maybe it’s because it has the unenviable task of coming after There She Goes. But then again to me it is just a song that amounts to ‘don’t be sad’. Or ‘don’t be on the dole’, which ever you think it is. One thing I can say for Doledrum is that certainly resonated with Noel Gallagher, who would later namedrop it in the pushed-under-the-carpet Oasis song Who Put the Weight of the World on My Shoulders?
Track #7 – Feelin’
On the flip side of the coin, I really really like Feelin’ and again I’m not entirely sure why. Because it’s the shortest song on the album? The bluesy guitar riff? John’s bassline? Neil’s drumwork? Lee’s vocals? It’s all there, and I love it all. In fact, as I’ve mentioned that this is the shortest song on the album, I’ll say right now that the playlist is paced to perfection. Nothing outstays its welcome, and they all feel like they have gone for a lot longer. The song comes, the band say what they need to say, then stop. No pissing about, just a bit of music. It’s also worth noting this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about Feelin’ on the blog, I did an entry on it last October:
Track #8 – Way Out
A song that started life as the La’s first single, years before the release of the album. It’s fine, again not as good as most of the first half but still a decent effort.
Track #9 – I.O.U
Regardless of the overall quality of an album, you have to choose a song that’s your least favourite and for me that is I.O.U. And unlike with Doledrum, I do know why I’m not that fond of this. The fade in opening is a bit jarring and then once we get into the thick of it, it just sounds like an amalgamation of earlier songs – a similar guitar riff to Feelin’, the single strums which halt the melody at the end of a verse like in Doledrum and I Can’t Sleep. Sorry if you like this song but it ain’t doing it for me.
Track #10 – Freedom Song
This is though. It’s refreshing to get a slower song to contrast with the urgency of the rest of the album. There’s some fascinating lyrics to be found in Freedom Song such as ‘fate is sealed inside a bomb’ and ‘until the web is spun/people must have some fun’. I highly doubt a band so focused on the bueaty of music like the La’s would be topical and write about the outside world, but that is the impression I get. Feels like it may have been inspired by events of the time such as the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. It’s a bit of change in direction compared to what we’ve had so far, but it’s a welcome one in my book.
Track #11 – Failure
Here’s that second song that I believe could have and should have been a single along with Liberty Ship. At the risk of sounding cliched, this rocks and having it come after the morose Freedom Song is the perfect choice. The music screams anger and panic in the face of failure, and helps add to the relatability of this song. Makes me think back to those times when I had cocked up royally at school and had to face the music in front of my parents. The times where I thought I could luck my way out and throw the failure over my shoulder but no. That English mock exam still haunts me…
Track #12 – Looking Glass
After short and sweet songs across the board, we’re confronted with a near 8 minute epic that seems destined to be the magnum opus of The La’s. I wrote down in my notes that the band are on top form here but let’s be honest that has been the case for the entire album. This feels like a song which if performed by any other band would have the kitchen sink thrown at it with layers of sound or some mellotron if they were more modern. But no, this is the La’s and they would be damned if they abandoned their quest for the raw sound which they seek. Also, can I just take a moment to gush over that final minute? As the tempo goes from slow to Sonic the Hedgehog levels of fast, and we hear previous songs in the background, cementing this as the gold-encrusted full stop to the album…c’est magnifique. It’s a close second for my favourite song overall, and part of that is once again down to relatability. Right now more than ever wouldn’t we want to turn the last page and look through the looking glass? We do not know where we’re going next. Did the La’s? Who knows?
So I asked the question, is The La’s all it is hyped up to be? Yes. Yes it is. No question about it. It’s a quintessential listen, an album which everyone should hear at least once. If anything else, regardless of your tastes, it is one of the most easy listens you will ever have. Every song has passion and drive behind it, none outstay their welcome and all leave you wanting more.
But as I said at the beginning, we never got more. We should be grateful for we got, yes, but we all know that the La’s had a lot more in the tank. They would have happily given us more if they had just nailed that right sound, and done so sooner before John Power got sick of playing the same stuff over and over again. However, let’s not forget, we live in 2021. It’s the age of the internet. And if you take a few seconds you can find songs that never made it onto the album. Songs that could have been the basis of that mythical second album.