Sprawl of Sound

From '90s Detroit to '00s Bergen, Via Long Beach: Majesty Crush’s Sole Music, The Scando-Retro-Future of Rock

MAJESTY CRUSH: STUDIES IN MUSIC-BIZ HEARTBREAK, PART 13,421

I saw Majesty Crush perform about 60 times during their 1990-1995 lifespan. And it wasn't just because my brother Michael Segal played guitar for the Detroit quartet. Familial obligation only goes so far; after a certain point, I just wanted to catch these Motor City dream popsters as often as possible because they were generating sounds very few American groups mustered during that half-decade marked by grunge's hegemony: the sort of shoegaze rock exported with gauzy grandiosity by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse and other introverted U.K. souls.

Majesty Crush—which also included singer/lyricist David Stroughter, drummer Odell Nails and bassist Hobey Echlin (now an OC Weekly freelancer and yoga instructor who lives in Long Beach)—possessed a distinctive chemistry (two extroverts, two introverts; two African-Americans, two Caucasians) and quickly became a hot draw on Detroit's bustling live circuit. They opened shows for then-hip acts Royal Trux, Mazzy Star, the Verve and . . . Jesus Fucking Jones. Heavy radio play on Windsor, Ontario's 89X (especially "No. 1 Fan," from the band's self-released Fan EP) further raised the Crush's profile, and by 1992, labels were swarming. Dalí, a Warner/Elektra subsidiary, signed the group after a '92 CMJ show in New York and issued their first and only full-length, Love 15, in '93. Dalí folded a month later, and Majesty Crush's momentum stumbled and never fully recovered, even though they self-released another strong EP in 1994 titled Sans Muscles.

I Love You In Other Cities: The Best of Majesty Crush, 1990-1995. Photo courtesy of Full Effect Records.
I Love You In Other Cities: The Best of Majesty Crush, 1990-1995. Photo courtesy of Full Effect Records.

While Majesty Crush would be the first to recognize their technical limitations, they wrung maximum pop sublimity from their rudimentary skills; their memorable melodies fuzzed and fizzed with lascivious languor. Just as memorable was their horndog front man Stroughter, whose obsessions (female tennis greats, Italian porn-star politicians, Uma Thurman, Jodie Foster), belligerent stage manner and alcohol consumption became notorious.

The new best-of compilation I Love You in Other Cities (Full Effect) offers 14 reasons why we should still care about this footnote in shoegaze-rock history. Echlin's snaking bass lines (think a Midwestern Peter Hook) carried the Crush's indelible tunes, while Segal's Edge-meets-A.R. Kane guitar dispersed moody rays of Fender sunshine, and Nails' stickwork toggled between tribal-Gothic thump and rock-solid propulsion. Meanwhile, Stroughter (now residing in LA) possessed a truculent charisma, radiating charm and creepy repulsiveness in equal measure.

But the unhinged vocalist could achieve genuine poignancy: see "Boyfriend," "Sunny Pie," "Horse," "Seles" and "Space Between Your Moles." Dude was one of shoegaze's true romantics in his own sinister, twisted way. "No. 1 Fan"'s "I'd kill the president for your love" comes across as an ultimate act of chivalry rather than a felonious threat.

Majesty Crush had a rough ride in the music biz, like hundreds of other bands. Shit happens—and often. But they left behind more than a dozen songs that could/should make you a No. 1 fan. (For more info, visit www.myspace.com/majestycrush and www.fulleffectrecords.com.)

'THEY'RE LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN DEVO AND TALKING HEADS'

How many times have you read that line in a mag or paper or heard it from somebody describing a band that's emerged over the past five years? Too many. Yet I'm about to use the same hoary description for Bergen, Norway's Datarock—and I'm going to use it affectionately. Datarock sound like a cross between Devo and Talking Heads—during both American groups' early, ravenously adventurous phases. Thankfully, these Norwegians are not replicating the sounds of Shout or Naked, but rather feeding off the nervous energy, jagged, flinty guitars and wickedly clever songcraft of Devo and Talking Heads' first three LPs.

Datarock's Oct. 4 show at Detroit Bar was a rambunctious rush. Would we love these Scandinavians so heartily if they weren't all sporting cool-as-fuck red-hooded tracksuits and Nordic stunna shades? Probably not. It's such a great look. Nevertheless, Datarock exude so much energy and friendliness while they shake maracas, slap bongos, jump a lot and write some of the hookiest tunes going, so it's impossible to remain immune to their charms.

A song about Molly Ringwald became an epic jam with sax blats and relentless cowbell clonks. A pretty paean to popular avant-garde performance artist/violinist Laurie Anderson ("Laurie") was aptly Velvet Underground-like (she dates Lou Reed). "Computer Camp Love" paraphrased the bass line from "Psycho Killer" but is less frantic and more ebullient than that Talking Heads classic(k). "Fa-Fa-Fa" is one of those songs that become ubiquitous but, miraculously, never wears out its welcome, even if it does lean heavily on the Heads' ominous "Cities" while brightening it with fibrillating, diamond-glint guitars à la King Sunny Ade. Datarock extended this winning track live, driving the audience into a sing- and clap-along frenzy, and conventional wisdom would have them concluding their set with this unsurpassable high. But they followed it with a new one called "True Stories," which contained the line "Don't worry about the government." (Oh, double Byrne!) And then, WTF?! A mass sing-along with "Time of Our Lives (Dirty Dancing Theme)." Detroit's previously packed house—now considerably less-populated—became a karaoke bar of absurdly cheesy yet impossibly poignant dimensions. The floor was slick with tears of joy.

After the show, Detroit Bar's Jon Reiser enthused to me that Datarock would be playing Coachella next year. I think his prediction's gonna be right-on. These guys generate instant aural gratification—crack packaged in crimson sports duds, flash shades and fresh retro dance-rock maneuvers.


DSEGAL@OCWEEKLY.COM

 
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