Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Make Up - Free Arthur Lee

Make Up
Free Arthur Lee


Released 1997 on K
Reviewed by Jasonaparkes, 09/09/2007ce


Make Up (sometimes The Make Up) were:

Ian Svenonius - lead vocal; percussion
James Canty - guitar; organ ;keyboards; percussion; vocals; electric piano
Michelle Mae - bass; backup vocals; electric piano
Steve Gamboa - drums; percussion; congas

with various guests/producers including: Adam and Eve (Neil Hagerty & Jennifer Herrema); Brendan Canty; J Chinlund; John Loder; Ian Mackaye; Calvin Johnson; Brian Weber; Alex Minoff; Guy Picciotto; Heather Worley; Fred Erskine & Ted Leo.

NOTE - I saw that there was no Unsung entry for Make Up and felt one was required. I'm kind of enamoured with all their stuff at present, I really couldn't decide what album to go with: am digging them all. In the end, I was going to write on the compilation of singles 'I Want Some', but some dislike reviews of compilations & it might just end up as a boring, "...and then Make Up released a single on 'X' label"-thang (...oh, it still may...). I decided to write around one single and 'Free Arthur Lee' was it - I guess 'cos it had a cool cover, captures much of this band & it might appeal to Love/Lee-fans on here? I think 'I Want Some' is a great primer, if you like 'Free Arthur Lee', you'll like 'I Want Some', and then go off and buy the great albums 'Destination: Love Live! at Cold Rice' (1996; Dischord), 'After Dark' (1997; Dischord), 'Sound Verite' (1997; K), 'In Mass Mind' (1998; Black Gemini Records & Dischord), & 'Save Yourself' (1999; K). I haven't got my hands on their DVD or the live LP 'Untouchable Sound' yet...am sure they rock/gospel/testify! It should also be noted that the Make Up created lots of fake live albums, a bit like that Beach Boys Party! one - only 'Untouchable Sound' was a proper live album!!

(1)Make Up were a band I missed at the time...am not sure what was happening in the late 1990s, perhaps it was actually working at university? I seem to have missed an awful lot, and Make Up were just part of that...my first awareness of them came through the 'Twenty Five Years of Dischord' box-set in 2002. An enjoyable box-set and great historical artefact, though some may find much of the first disc - Youth Brigade, The Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Iron Cross, The Untouchables - that straight edge/hardcore thing and a bit tuneless. It was really a bit later on with Embrace/Rites of Spring (who would later fuse into Fugazi) and the great 'We All Fall Down'-single by Egg Hunt (John Loder's production akin to that he did for the Mary Chain at the time) that something else became apparent. The thing about US punk inspired stuff from their underground scene from the late 70s to Nirvana-time is it's most interesting when it's worked through the bounds of the hardcore idea. I'm pretty sure I've covered this ground in other Unsung reviews, so will try to avoid repetition here...will just say that I'm still finding records from this era, and even after Nirvana-time, that still blow my mind. Make Up have definitely made some of them, incidentally...

(2)the Nation of Ulysses imploded, their job done and wanting to respond to the advent of digital technology and the success of Nirvana. Svenonius carried on the communist vibe, and the true indie spirit - objecting to the mainstream take on indie rock - seeing the Make Up as a response. If you look at all the shit that followed - The Offspring, Sum 141, Blink 182, Limp Bizkit, Nickelback, Fall Out Boy and all that stuff - it makes you sad that what they're doing was really stuff initiated in the underground by bands like Embrace, pre-Warners Husker Du & Rites of Spring. 'That's When I Reach for My Revolver' ended up 'She Hates Me'...Svenonius & co saw the future and how the US underground had gone overground, the Make Up opted to go backwards into rock and roll to create an alternate future. Those White Stripes certainly owe them a career and demonstrate that the cycle of someone doing stuff in the underground will lead to someone else doing it in the overground - I guess that's always happening, but don't tell me the White Stripes are golden pioneers. I might throw a Make Up album at you.

(3)Initially Svenonius, James Canty & Steve Gamboa fron NOU formed a band called Cupid Car Club with Kim Thompson on bass, recording a single for Kill Rock Stars, they ceased to exist by the time of its release. The three NOU members then hooked up with bassist Michelle Mae (The Frumpies) and the Make Up were born. Attention to detail and presentation were apparent, citing Communism, Socialism and Situationism, as the band appeared in matching uniforms (created by Marge Marshall of Slant 6) - the matching uniforms taking away attention to individual members and emphasising unity and one-ness. I'm guessing the MC5 and John Sinclair were an influence here, and I bet that when I get the Make Up DVD I might very well be reminded of the MC5's formation dance thing?

(4)Where the Nation of Ulysses were very politically clear, not many records are called '13-Point Program to Destroy America', the Make Up were different - the politics, true indie spirit etc were all present - but the music was a lot more appealing, a new genre of music they called "gospel yeh-yeh", influenced by bubblegum and French 'ye-ye' music - an early track like 'They Live By Night' (from their debut) taps back into early rock and roll, they wanted to reference rock pre-Beatles, possibly as that was the template for something like Nirvana? Gospel was also used, which was certainly something the MC5 had in mind - watching what's left of the MC5 now at Thurston Moore's ATP show, I was thinking that parts of what they were doing wasn't far from Ike & Tina Turner (as well as what's left of the MC5 being a bit like something from the Blues Brothers!). The Make Up's sound wasn't that limited - they were touching on similar ground to Pussy Galore/Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, certain Royal Trux, Rocket from the Crypt & seemed to be tapping back into older American stuff, the kind of African-American inflections that Jeffrey Lee Pierce did with The Gun Club. Sometimes it sounds like some Blaxploitation soundtrack colliding with The Stooges, or one of Fugazi's later more experimental tracks ('Recap Modotti' from 'End Hits', say) with 'There's No Place like America Today' by Curtis Mayfield. The double a-side single 'Hey! Orpheus' even has keyboards not unlike The Doors!!

(5)'Free Arthur Lee' works as an ideal example of what the Make Up were - call & response vocals, tight angular funk, Svenonius' Mayfield-style vocal (possibly an influence to that guy from Lambchop?), gospel yeh yeh etc. The years in hardcore and Riot Grrl acts seems to have made these guys wild musicians- something primal, something tight - Gamboa's drums, Mae's bass & Canty's guitar are most definitely united and a groove laid down for Svenonius & responders Canty & Mae to rap over. 'Free Arthur Lee' and other key songs like 'Untouchable Sound', 'Pow! to the People', 'Hey! Orpheus', 'Blue is Beautiful', 'Make Up: Is Lies', 'Have You Got the New Look?', 'R U a Believer', 'Black Wire Pts 1 & 2', 'Drop the Needle', 'I am Pentagon', 'C'Mon Let's Spawn', 'I Didn't Mean 2 Turn U On', 'Walking on the Dune', 'Little Black Book', 'Every Baby Cries the Same' etc certainly have it. I've not really heard a bad Make Up record, though they may be an acquired taste and am sure certain aspects might irritate some...but not me! A sign of their greatness, apart from releasing a protest song concerning the late great Arthur Lee (who went down for a relatively minor offence), was how they could take something old and create something new - one of their few covers was the traditional 'Hey Joe' - a song associated primarily with Jimi Hendrix (that rolling bass sounds defintive to me), but also covered by Tim Rose, The Leaves, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and many others. How could something so familiar sound so fresh? - maybe it's the part where Mae & Svenonius share a phonecall and Mae (in character) convinces Joe (Svenonius) to return from Mexico and come back to the bedroom. Mae's heavy presence on that one adds lots of pop too, and makes me want to hear more of her in a lead vocal capacity.

(6)'Free Arthur Lee'...and everything else the Make Up produced. It's Unsung stuff, something I only got into due to the fact Fugazi-members produced them. The Make Up were getting very interesting towards the end, the 'Blue is Beautiful' film (which I assume is on the DVD yet to arrive) has a fictional element where the band become part of an underground scene - in coffee-houses and night clubs - cultural refugees pursued by sinister agencies. That White Panther vibe? (I am yet to read Svenonius' book The Psychic Soviet, which probably should be tracked down for its title alone!!). Svenonius & co decided to call it a day after five years, citing Stalin's Five Year Plan (!!!) and pointing, but not naming, a number of acts who were copying them. The White Stripes seem an obvious candidate with the blend of gospel, blues and garage rock and the matching uniforms. Svenonius & Mae, along with late Make Up member Alex Minoff would go on and create Weird War, who certainly aren't a million miles from Make Up - though have a Stones-vibe (as well as guest appearances from both principal members of Royal Trux). 'If You Can't Beat 'Em - Bite 'Em' is equally fantastic and probably worth the Unsung treatment too, though much more primal and to the point (one lyric is "I want to call you/I want to ball you"!) and then there's 'Intro (Music for Masturbation)' - which is the kind of thing someone like Prince has done (e.g. 'Orgasm')...but hey, that's another record.

(7) In the meantime: the Make Up is: Unsung.


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