Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Astronauts - Peter Pan Hits the Suburbs

The Astronauts
Peter Pan Hits the Suburbs

Released 1981 on Bugle/Genius
Reviewed by Klaus Trofobya, 26/09/2008ce

Ah, The Astronauts. Key their name into a search engine and you'll see the term "semi-legendary" at least a dozen times. A dubious honorarium to be sure, but one whose "Semi-" prefix is only wedged in place due to the long-term scarcity of their (surprisingly large) catalog of music, not to mention the zonked headspace most of the folks who saw them in their heyday existed within being fairly prohibitive of accurate recollection.
For the Astronauts were (and are, after close to 30 years and a history of lineup shifts only bested by The Fall) THE definitive Psych-punk ensemble, though even that title doesn't do 'em justice. Their sound culminates the post '77 punk dabblings of Head forbears Twink (his "Do It 77" single and The Rings' "I Wanna Be Free" platter), Nik Turner (the outstanding Inner City Unit and the "punkier" late 70's bits of Hawkwind) and Daevid Allen's Planet Gong (with fellow Acid-punkers Here and Now) all woven in with an earlier Robert Wyatt/Mellow Candle-y psych folk vibe...While not sounding like any of those things at all. Get it? I sure as hell don't, even after listening to their records till the grooves were stripped clean through and only the finest Damascus steel tweezers had to be employed to unfurl the remaining Millimeter-thick strip of wax from my monumentally confounded turntable.
Okay, a bit of history... I became aware of The Astronauts through this, their first full length lp (they had three ep's under their belt before its recording) which my close friend Steve had purloined a copy of back in the days (about nine years ago) when you still actually had to order strange music from far-flung locales like Frankfurt, which, for a wart-faced teenage pothead from New Jersey is pretty fuckin' far-flung, I assure you.
Being the hardline "chugga-chugga" punk purist that I was at the time (I.E. an asshole) I was a bit reticent to spin the album with the wispy pencil-drawing cover, but was placated a bit when told that "They usedta play with CRASS". Well, ok then, pass the bubbler and press play.
She opens with "Everything Stops For Baby" which quenched my thirst for that familiar U.K. first-wave Anarcho sound (like being wrapped in ones favorite anti-nuke patch emblazoned comforter) and loosened up for the remainder of the album. Then, BANG. Curveball. "Protest song" unfurls with the sound of Walt Whitman and the fury of Sinclair Lewis (not to be confused with "The Sound and the Fury" BY William Faulkner), except, err, more British...(?)
It was at about this point that I remarked that their sound was like Jello Biafra singing for Pink Floyd, which I still use to describe them to the uninitiated from time to time.
BANG! "Sod Us", a rallying call set to a lilting carnival organ, riding victorian carousel horses over the barricades, curveball #2.
And then it hits. Everyone has at least one magical song that the mere opening notes of inexplicably shoots a jolt up their spine and makes them fell as if they are about to jump out of their skin and dance completely beside themself. Its like the sensation one gets when one sneezes while urinating, but stretched out to two and a half minutes. "The Traveler", for me, is that song. If, as I previously stated, The Astronauts are the culmination of the "Acid/Hippy Punk" aesthetic, then "The Traveler" is the culmination of that sound. Loud guitars, a perfectly weedy synth bit, elliptical lyrics...Speaking of which, it was at this point another curious thing happened. Steve and I actually began discussing the lyrics, which is something ya just don't do with most classic U.K. punk lyrics. I mean, they're generally direct, clipped (sometimes to the point of retardation, ahem, D-Beat) shouted polemics. No Q and A session with Tea and scones necessary. Mark Astronaut changed all that for me with lines like:

"And sometimes I feel I really don't care
Then I'm just a dreamer, just pretends to be aware
Say you've got a lot of problems to share
Well there's apathy behind my sympathetic stare"

Not cocksure sloganeering, but genuine admissions of guilt and doubt, and sometimes, -GASP- optimism.
I'd continue to describe the rest of "Peter Pan" track by track, but chances are, if you aren't familiar with it, its best to open it up for yourself and work at its riddles and find your own solutions, which are countless. Let it charm the hell out of you while it picks your pocket and afterward donates the money to the Hunt Sabs, then shuffles back to the squat it shares with lps by the Apostles and the Mob to sleep hungry yet content that it did its part that day to thoroughly warp the mind of another unsuspecting young straight.
Matter of fact, pick up any of their records, they're all just as good. The official cd re-releases from the mid 90's (which are now also scarce) contain the a-sides from the first three eps as well as other non-lp tracks and demos (the b-sides can be found on the half lp/half "odds and sods" record "Soon", which is you guessed it, tough to find). check out the official website for leads: http://www.astronauts.org.uk/
as well as their Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/herestheastronauts
Also, check out Mark's other excellent band "The Otters": http://www.myspace.com/theottersband

....Or don't. it is, despite what some would have you believe, still a free world.

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