Aggressive, sexy, melancholy, damning. Lovely. Five years after overpowering Britpop in England and breaking onto American TV during the Super Bowl, Elastica is back with Menace. Through drugs (heroin), breakups (Albarn-Frischmann), band members splitting (Donna Matthews, co-writer of three tracks on Menace, has left) and a ton of David Geffen’s money, Elastica has risen from the ashes transformed into a dirty pop-punk-plunder-funk outfit, with lyrics just as clipped, perfect and disposable as their previous best (“Stutter,” “Car Song,” etc.).
Starting with the barking dog sample off an old Casio, Menace begins with both bite and charm, as Justine Frischmann (vocals, guitars) trades back-from-the-brink lyrical snippets (“Don’t need a credit card to make my charge complete/don’t want you on your back/I just got on my feet”) with Elastica’s Wire-tapping guitar bricolage. The second song, “Generator,” predicts and destroys any shallow arguments about the band’s originality quotient (“I’m a third-rate imitator/I’m a second-hand fornicator”), while the third, “How He Wrote Elastica Man,” featuring The Fall’s Mark E. Smith, makes the band’s love for post-punk explicit while providing the guilty pleasure of hearing Smith mumble and scream with Justine. Gainsbourgh-Bardot eat your hearts out!
But beyond the updated burnt-fuzzbox-meets-garage theatrics, the true coup of Menace is that once again Elastica has beaten the elder statesmen of Britpop by not only aping better bands (Wire, Blondie, Fall, Stranglers vs. Beatles, Bowie, Kinks) but regularly managing an emotion that neither Albarn nor Gallagher can fathom: honesty. From the unfolding waves at the end of “My Sex,” in which Frischmann drops every last vestige of a mask (“What I want/is a big love two spoons in a drawer/the masterplan”) to Menace’s final send-off, a cover of “Da Da Da” which actually cashes in on the song’s over-it-all chorus (“I don’t love you/you don’t love me”), the absolute feeling that every breakup record should feel this complete and enjoyable is unshakeable.