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The Fresh And Onlys – Play It Strange (In The Red)

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Little things can make a big difference. Sometimes, it’s the difference between loving something and thinking it’s just OK. Or thinking it’s OK and hating it. Or hating it and wishing syphilis on it.

I was enjoying The Fresh And Onlys‘ third album in a medium-sized way. Its fuzzy, lazy grin, garage-psych. Its goofy romance and hypnotic jangles. Its tunes that recall Australia (Nick Cave, The Go-Betweens) and Liverpool (Echo & The Bunnymen, Shack) as much as America. There are some good tunes here, some simple sunny stamp-along grooves with a hint of the forlorn, the recognition that summer ends, couples split up and bands get old and fat. Although, neither new nor challenging, Play It Strange is pleasant and fun. It’s OK. But that was until the sixth track, ‘Be My Hooker’, revealed The Fresh And Onlys as tedious frat-boy idiots.

I now dislike The Fresh And Onlys’ third album in a medium-sized way. Its groggy, lazy-arsed, garage-psych. Its inane lyrics and repetitive jingles. Its tunes that reference lots of other bands more interesting than they are. There are some good tunes here, but there are plenty of other bands with better ones who don’t need to fall back on tired misogynistic drivel. There’s a chest-beating Iron John man-camp of a song called ‘Who Needs A Man’, perhaps attempting an ironic comment on masculinity to equal out the other song? Or maybe not, who knows or cares? It’s too little too late to neutralize the sour taste left by ‘Be My Hooker’ and the sense of exclusion that it creates.

Luckily, garage rock no longer has to be a big dumb spring break for boys only. Female-dominated bands like The Vivian Girls and Best Coast do this sort of thing with a thousand times the charm, verve and freshness.

Who needs a man, indeed?

14 Responses to The Fresh And Onlys – Play It Strange (In The Red)

  1. DC October 20, 2010 at 9:30 am

    Hear! Hear! Utterly fake.

  2. Everett True October 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

    [Editor’s note. This review was originally intended for another website, but got rejected for the reasons listed below. I’ve also taken the liberty of reprinting the Facebook dialogue that followed Tamsin’s announcement of the rejection. If anyone has any serious issues with this, please contact me. I have removed the name of the offending editor and website.]

    Everyone’s a critic/No-one has an opinion = Discrimination unchallenged
    by Tamsin Chapman on Tuesday, 19 October 2010 at 04:46

    As predicted, my Fresh and Onlys album review challenging a misogynistic songtitle has been rejected. For those who are interested in the state of music criticism today, here is the rejection email and my response:

    Rejection Email
    Hi Tamsin
    Hope you had a good weekend
    Listen I liked your Fresh and Onlys review but it was a little harsh, I can’t really post stuff that opinionated as we just won’t get anymore from the label. We really don’t want to lose you as you are one of our favourite reviewers so hoping you are cool with this?
    We good? You up for another?

    My response
    Hi
    Yep we’re still good. I wondered if you’d have problems with it.
    I am a little disappointed as I think the music industry is riven with misogyny (as an example, how many female music producers are there compared with female business leaders?), and as a girl who loves music it’s always frustrated me that something I love so much can leave me feeling excluded. Because of this, I think its important to challenge these things and not let people get away with it, it’s never just words, every little bit counts. I did a quick Google of other reviews of the Fresh & Onlys album and not one person had challenged that song title, in fact those who mentioned it all thought it was a cool title. So it’s a real shame. One of the themes I’ve noticed so far with the records I’ve been given to review is the real dearth of lyrical content – shallow and banal and “that’ll do” with precious little fire and conviction.
    I hope one day soon, when *your website* has established itself as a more powerful force, it will be able to be more independent. Record labels and bands shouldn’t be able to get away with putting anything they like out and it being uncritically accepted. There should be places people can go where they can read independent opinions. Perhaps the rise of internet blogs and ‘everyone as critic’ has spelled the death of the opinionated critic with a unique voice but I mourn that and those critics are the people whose writing has inspired me to love music and buy records. Everyone agreeing that everything’s lovely just isn’t as *fun*.
    Yes, keep on sending me records to review. I’m using it to practice my own writing so it’s a useful exercise for me. I always try to be fair, but also honest, I just can’t go against my own convictions I’m afraid. So I can’t guarantee we’ll never have another skirmish like this again but hopefully it will only be every 4 months or so!
    Cheers,
    Tamsin

    You, Maureen Quinn, Chris King and Andrew Hitchcock like this.

    Andrew Hitchcock
    You have more patience than me
    Yesterday at 05:39 · Like ·

    Hannah Chapman
    Obviously, I’ve never heard of them, although I have heard of Echo and the Bunnymen (but only beacuse they’re mentioned in the Young Ones) but I liked your review. Yur usual humorous, well written stuff.
    Yesterday at 07:27 · Like ·

    Maureen Quinn
    Grrr, I object to the casual sexism that is just dismissed as being a “larf” . This song title seems a perfect example. So much is accepted these days. I walk into a newsagent and some girl’s boobs are flashing in some cheap degrading pose at my wean’s eye level from some rag or I can buy wee Lou a “Future WAG” t-shirt from Primark.(what horribly low expectations to wish on a child).Good on ye Tamsin;we do not live in a society where we have equaliTy of the sexes and music is still full of wanky men. Xxx
    Yesterday at 07:42 · Like ·

    Maureen Quinn
    Ps. They are lucky to have you as a reviewer.
    Yesterday at 07:43 · Like ·

    Tamsin Chapman
    Thanks Mo, I know it’s a small thing but it spoilt my enjoyment of the record and left me feeling a bit shit, it may not matter to other people but it matters to me. And every single small thing adds up to a big fat injustice. And now proper writers like Everett don’t have the same platform & anonymity rules, there’s no-one to challenge this shit, it will only get worse. Glad I’m not the only one who feels this way x
    Yesterday at 07:47 · Like ·

    Andrew Hitchcock
    When does a review site become an endoserment site?
    Yesterday at 08:11 · Unlike · 1 person ·

    Everett True
    Very good question, Andy – think I might post that up and ask folk
    Yesterday at 08:24 · Like

    Andrew Hitchcock
    endorsement I mean, well you know what I mean. Its dead important to discuss and present new music to an audience, but Id rather someone do an honest piece of writing about an Anthony Newley single they bought in a YMCA shop than feel they have to self censor at the behest of an owner merely to satisfy a business agenda. Even the Metro got its claws into The Wanted and Belle and Sebastian today. Do you really want to become blander than the Metro?
    Yesterday at 08:33 · Like · 1 person ·

    Everett True
    it’s tricky. on blogs, anyway. because – on the whole – you write a blog to talk about music you love. so you wouldn’t even bother engaging with the vast majority of PR-promoted mediocre shit. but what about if you’re writing in the mainstream media/for specialist magazines/sites? Surely, to ignore the crap is as good as condoning the system that lets it exist. It’s a conversation I’ve been having, on and off, with my Australian colleagues for quite some time now. And I’ve got to say, I feel like I’m in a very small minority.
    Yesterday at 08:36 · Like

    John Doe
    I am troubled by all of this. I think your review was pretty well balanced really, and the rejection was overly paranoid. Surely the core *your website* commodity is that you speak your mind- that’s why people would read a review on “your website* rather than NME. *Your website* is not the media, it is the meta-media, it exists in the hinterlands, and I believe it has the ability burn some bridges if it needs to.
    Furthermore labels want reviews no matter what final flavour they come in – Warhol said don’t read em, weigh em of course.
    16 hours ago · Like · 1 person ·

    Tamsin Chapman
    @John – they are scared of anything contentious at all. Changes they’ve made to my past reviews include removing my comparison of a frenetic chasey-around record to a tabloid hack pursuing an albanian paedophile rimming an urban rat, and calling Phil Selway from Radiohead balding and middle-aged!
    Gav’s response to my response was ‘I understand what you are saying and like you said when we are a more powerful force (which we will be one day) we will be calling the shots. Saying that I do not want us to carelessly hand out 7’s and over all day long, if something sucks then we can say that’. So it’s almost like he’s scared of anything with any political overtones. He’s mega-paranoid and like you said, I don;t think he needs to be. There’s such a lot of music that the labels need him more than he needs them.
    12 hours ago · Like ·

    Andrew Hitchcock
    I want a critic to engage with the material if that means I get Everetts enthusiasm for Nicos Bike cool, if I get Tamsins ire for the fresh and onlys attitude then cool. People can see a mile off when a house style is stifling what people really want to write, you can feel the tedium. Its self defeating paranoia and cheap compromise. No ones asking for controversy for its own sake just good writing with a sense of authorship and integrity as opposed to worthiness.
    11 hours ago · Like · 1 person ·

    Cassius Longhands
    ‎”Listen I liked your Fresh and Onlys review but it was a little harsh, I can’t really post stuff that opinionated as we just won’t get anymore from the label.”
    – I find this ridiculous. Unless the site makes its revenue from selling the CDs in question as part of an online store (like Pennyblackmusic) then I don’t understand how this would be an issue. All labels and all PRs get negative (or ‘honest’) reviews of all records they promote all the time. It takes a fuck of a lot of work for a journalist to get blacklisted simply because of a negative review. I can only assume the site is a new venture by people who haven’t had much experience in this industry previously.
    They’d suffer far more in the eyes of their peers for censoring a writer who was trying to carefully draw attention to why political thoughtlessness on the artists part had ruined her enjoyment for a band she previously held in esteem and of a record she was expecting to love.
    11 hours ago · Like · 2 people ·

    Tamsin Chapman
    That’s it in a nutshell. I was actually liking the record a great deal until Hooker-gate and it left me feeling really let down and once again with the feeling that I, as a girl can never be fully invited into the ‘rock & roll boys club’ . Almost a feeling of being small and stupid for it even being an issue (so much so, that the online Tesco order I was doing at the same time ended up having an impromptu bottle of Jack Daniels added to it). So it was an emotional response. And perhaps in these days of ratings-based anonymous reviews and ‘this’ sounds like ‘this other thing’, an emotional response is out of place. Music, the ultimate emotional art form is no longer allowed to provoke an emotional response. Shit.
    11 hours ago · Like ·

    Cassius Longhands
    Hang on to the review. Give it to someone else. Seriously there’s loads of outlets out there looking for this kind of stuff – whether it’s sub cultcha, the quietus or someone else. These guys just sound naive.
    11 hours ago · Like ·

    Andrew Hitchcock
    set up yer own site/blog as well
    11 hours ago · Like ·

    Everett True
    I’ll take it.
    3 hours ago · Like

    Tamsin Chapman
    You’re welcome to it, if you can use it. It would be cool to see the song title challenged *somewhere*.
    2 hours ago · Like ·

  3. Everett True October 20, 2010 at 10:13 am

    (from Facebook)

    Liz Gaye and Sive Rhodes like this.

    Chris Estey
    Wow, was not aware of that track. (“Be My Hooker,” ick.) You have made me reassess the band, sir. BTW, amazing first line of that blogging. So good.
    21 minutes ago · Like

    Everett True
    not me, dude. from one of our new writers, Tamsin Chapman
    20 minutes ago · Like

    Chris Estey
    Great work! You always find the sweetness.
    19 minutes ago · Like

    Niall Bomb
    Very interesting – there’s a free mag a lot of my friend’s have worked for that will nix reviews, edit them, even boost their star rating so as not to piss off the PRs and record companies. I rarely bother to check it out now as I feel it will mostly contain rehashed PR. What I don’t get is how a paper like Stool Pigeon can get away with some very scathing reviews, yet the mag I’m talking about feel like they can’t – that’s why I still read it.
    11 minutes ago · Like

    Niall Bomb
    Also she was making a very valid point in her review, it wasn’t an over-reaction or some kind of grudge based bias, so to nix it on the basis of being “harsh” sounds like codswallop.
    10 minutes ago · Like

    Jodi Biddle
    I thought it was fair enough. It’s not like she’s even explicitly calling the band misogynists, she’s saying “this made me not like the record any more.” Personally, I doubt I’d be offended by such a thing (I guess I’d have to hear the song) because I believe in the supremacy of context over all offense but I still appreciate her opinion and it did make me think.

    I find this whole “pandering to the PRs” thing a bit odd. If anything, shouldn’t we be “pandering to the audience”, PRs and magazines alike? Andrew made a very valid comment, that audiences can spot shallow endorsement a mile off so what’s the point?
    1 minute ago · Like

  4. Chris Saunders October 20, 2010 at 10:23 am

    i despair at this!! the review was a fair and well written one, to have it rejected on the strength of someone having an opinion of they’re own is pretty disgusting, what a sorry state the music industry is in!

    on a side note, the reply to the email, is for want of a better term, class

  5. Tim Footman October 20, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Perhaps they should quantify exactly *how* opinionated a review can be before it becomes too “harsh” for the poor, sensitive record biz to bear. 50% opinionated? 30%? 10?

  6. tomfiend October 20, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I think Jodi brings up a fair point, was the context of the song actually misogynistic? I’m a big fan of creative wordplay, alienation in language is one of my favorite tools for engaging a certain type of reader. It has been said before, but I’ll say it again, you can say the word hooker (or racist/sexist slur of your choice) all you like but it has no power until it is given the power of intent.

    Interested to see whether the song was actually worth such a hubub though. I do like the review too and of course condemn the whole silencing etc.

  7. Jack October 20, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    A couple of things:

    First of all, your editor is an epic scaredy-cat for not running the piece on the grounds that it is too opinionated. (notice I didn’t use the word ‘pussy’: trying to keep gender-charged words out of this)

    Secondly: I had a listen to the album, and broadly, I agree with you: it’s soggy, sloppy, soporific wank hiding behind its lack of focus behind psych rock while ignoring that the best psych-rock still has an edge.

    But I’m not convinced it’s a well-written review at all: Accusations of misogyny notwithstanding, the review is almost literally half one way, half the other.

    It’s like you were listening to this thinking “Gee, I should be liking this more, because it’s basically unthreatening sexless jangle that might sit nicely at the tougher end of my twee indie cd collection, safely away from whatever sickly sweet and safe sounds I’m listening to this week. But they’ve used this one word in a flippant way that makes me feel like they’re not the fuzzy adorable boys I thought, so now I’m going to spend 52% of this album review changing my mind completely. But I’d better leave in the other 48% just in case.”

    Kinda weird given you cite Nick Cave as one of the sounds you were pleasantly reminded of: a songwriter whose output seems to involve quite a lot of murdering girls in gruesome ways.

    Of course, you completely failed to notice that the song in question has an intro not radically different to All For Swinging You Around by the New Pornographers.

    Anyway, for me the album completely failed in its function as Garage Rock, simply because it was too soft and polite. Good garage rock, from the MC5, The Stooges and Radio Birdman onwards has had a hard edge backed up by roaring guitars and an aggressive beat. Frankly, after listening I needed to blast some Babes in Toyland through my headphones just to wash away the bad taste.

    Really. I could take all the MDMA in London and my penis still wouldn’t shrink enough for me to like this record.

    Regarding the Big Bad Rock’n’Roll Boys Club: the politeness of Indie has blinded you to this: you will never be invited in. Because nobody is. Male or Female. You get in by claiming your space and staring down anyone who acts like you don’t belong there.

    Of course, I haven’t read anything else you’ve written (about music), so this might be completely unfair. I invite you to prove me wrong.

  8. Darragh October 20, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Perhaps the band were referring to “John Lee Hooker”

  9. Tamsin October 21, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Jack – actually agree with quite a lot of what you say, bands like this sure as shit aren’t going to be backing up Billy Childish any time soon. They nod to the garage but spend most of their time in the drawing room. As you rightly say, they are too “polite”.

    You have made some massive assumptions about what music I usually listen to. You’re completely wrong, but I can’t be bothered to give you a list of what I do and don’t like. All you need to know is I love dissonance, I hate Belle & Sebastian and I only buy vinyl.
    Indie pop is as full of discimination as other genres, it just hides behind a floppy fringe so is more insidious- the song title didn’t supprise me, though it disappointed me. And yes – Nick Cave – another one that makes me feel weird and confused – love the music, uncomfortable about everything else (from misogyny to moustache). And it’s that sort of feeling my review is trying to explain. You like something or at least think it’s OK, but when you start to think about the politics, it brings you down. It’s an emotional response – I’ve already said that.

  10. Tamsin October 21, 2010 at 7:54 am

    “Sickly sweet and safe sounds”, “twee indie CD collection”
    Jesus, I must change my photo.

  11. Everett True October 21, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    thoughtful blog entry from Tim Foootman over here.

  12. luke November 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    no real offence intended but i cannot fathom how a song being titled “be my hooker” could offensive to anyone. to be fair i listened to the song and i could barely make out any of the words so i don’t know what they are; but isn’t it quite possible that they aren’t intended in a misogynistic way at all and you’ve only interpreted them that way. if that was indeed the case then you would have discounted an album that you actually liked for no reason at all……

  13. Chord November 25, 2010 at 5:12 am

    While, the editor was wrong in his reasons to dismiss your review, perhaps he thought you were also just wrong on your assessment based on the song title. Instead of challenging you, he probably went the wrong way about what to do with your “writing”.

    Honestly, I think this was an epic FAIL on your part to dismiss them outright because of a song title. I mean is everything bad if it offends your obviously delicate sensibilities? Or were you just trying to score some false feminism points? This is a good band and the song is not even close to being about what you think it’s about. It’s not meant as misogynistic. You just have an agenda, which you pretty much admit to in your response. I mean, is James Brown’s musical legacy compromised because he performed a song called “It’s a Man’s World”?

    Ridiculous.

  14. gary busey January 21, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Waaaa!!!
    Waaaa!
    such mean boys!!!!
    I’m a blogger and I have feelings too!

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