I remember the posters first. I was stuck in a warehouse job after university, my degree qualified me perfectly for unloading and loading lorries all day, every day for 45 hours/week – I ended up being built like Conan, but tired, disgruntled and demoralized. Walking home one evening I remember passing Leeds market and seeing a raft of posters featuring the likes of Michael Hutchence and Mick Hucknall in monochrome, with ‘Young, Stupid & White’ written across them in red. Cool, I thought before trudging on my weary way again. In fact the band were getting fans to vote for who should feature on the advertising that week, which if I had known at the time, was even cooler.
It was the work of a new band called CNN formed by Tim Bricheno of All About Eve fame*, who was last seen in the chrome rock incarnation of, my beloved, Sisters of Mercy. Needless to say, by sampling Ian Astbury singing ‘Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby’ without his permission and the track title it did generate quite a bit of publicity at the time. Then CNN got a bit grumpy with the band for appropriating their name and Mr A threatened to sue, so the band changed their name to XC-NN in a brilliantly surly gesture and singer David Tomlinson sang the ‘Baby’s himself – never quite managing to quite hit Astbury’s own vacuous heights.
I picked up XC-NN in May 1994, I’m guessing pretty much the day it came out and whilst I remember reviews being a bit sniffy about it being Industrial-lite, I rather liked it although it’s barely remembered today.
Kicking off with ‘Biroland’ was a great choice, great riff and a really interesting blend of light and shade sounding a bit like an angry, sarcastic U2, David Tomlinson makes the words ‘Sweet Caroline’ sound really menacing, somehow. ‘1000 Easy’ sounds, ironically, an awful lot like the Cult in places – the lyrics are nonsensical but the driving melody, particularly over the chorus just soars – I’d forgotten how much I liked this, just ignore the bit about, ‘There’s a thousand Vikings here / In the mezzanine today’.
I like the basic sound of XC-NN, as shown in both ‘Monarch’ and ‘Broadway’, samples, churning bass, ranting obscure/pants lyrics and some really good churning guitar** and I do stand by my ‘angry, sarcastic U2’ comment. The quality dips a little towards the end of side 2 and this is a good, unfairly forgotten album, rather than a bona fide lost classic; there are a couple of really great moments though.
First up ‘Wrong Thing’ is downright nasty. Based around a chunk^ All About Eve’s version of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ as Julianne Regan’s vocals float up, they are suddenly slashed by a grinding, sleazy beat and scabrous vocals as the singer of the new band of her ex-guitarist and ex-beau sneers,I bought a new fast car With the money so far For doing the wrong thing You would never listen Nothing is forgiven For doing the wrong thing
It’s as compelling, thrilling and disconcerting as listening to the couple next door arguing through the wall. As an act of airing your dirty laundry in public it is pretty jaw-dropping.
I’m also VERY partial to ‘Young, Stupid & White’, opening with a steal from Bowie, ‘This ain’t rock ‘n roll / this is … stupid’, it gets better on from there,What do you do in your ivory tower? Bathing in your golden shower?
This track is an arrogant, sarcastic comment on all those rock clichés we know and love and a rip-roaring tune in its’ own right; I can’t get enough of it – why haven’t I listened to this for about 8 years?! Surely it had to be about 98.8% better than most things happening back in 1994? All this and a video that got banned too – unclear whether it was for gratuitous pretension, or gratuitous nudity and drug-taking. SPOILER ALERT: contains scenes of people sitting on toilets, possibly for metaphorical reasons^^.
My other highlight is the slightly unsettling ‘Looking Forward’, a jaunty, upbeat rocking track about looking forward to dying, of course. It’s a young man’s song; the sort of thing that I look at today and think about those I’ve lost and think is in poor taste, but back then I was immortal, along with everyone I knew, so I thought it was funny and clever. I’ll be charitable and look at it, as I once did. The version on XC-NN is missing the intro the band stole from Dutch novelty techno popsicles 2 Unlimited, that was released on the Copyright EP – basically, it makes it even more upbeat and deranged.
As no lesser authority than, umm, me once said, the quality dips a little towards the end of side 2 and this is a good, unfairly forgotten album, rather than a bona fide lost classic. Like a lot of things in the UK music scene at the time XC-NN were bull-dozed out the way by Brit Pop, which was lurking just over the horizon as bands realized that playing music that appealed to more than 50 students in Leeds could be done without forsaking some of their indie kudos, whilst raking in some proper cash.
In November 1995 I was given a promo copy of a new track Cocaine. A cover of that hoary old Dillinger line ‘Cocaine running around my brain’, it was a strange hybrid of a groovier Ministry, almost intruding on Crystal Method^* and some absolute doggerel for lyrics. It sounds suitably wasted, which was surely the whole point? It was good too, I’d have danced to it. The B-side features an edit of ‘Cocaine’ missing some of the guitar bursts from the longer, better version and a belting little track called ‘Lovesick’, which hurtles out of the speakers like an indie take on techno. It’s an interesting promo, partly because it never was released commercially in the end and because it shows XC-NN heading in a noisier, dancier direction which they were clearly good at.
Unfairly forgotten, is my two-word summation of these guys.
PS – a bit more heavily dependent on Youtube than normal, but XC-NN’s stuff was harder to find than normal.
*remember them? Drippy female-fronted folk goth band with a couple of very good tracks. Lots of hair, expensive flowery shirts, leather necklaces and bangles – I did my best to look like a member of them for a while.
**couldn’t think of a better word than churning, again.
^the word sample isn’t adequate, ‘Wrong Thing’ doesn’t take a slice – it rips off a whole chunk skin, gristle, blood and all.
^^this could easily have brought down the establishment / capitalism as a whole in 1994 – good job they banned it!
^*I really liked Crystal Method, never got around to buying an LP though.