Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Make Up - Save Yourself

The Make Up
Save Yourself

Released 1999 on K
Reviewed by Bama Lama, 19/01/2015ce

Side One

1. Save Yourself
2. White Belts
3. The Bells
4. The Prophet
5. I Am Pentagon

Side Two

1. Call Me Mommy
2. (Make Me a) Feelin’ Man
3. C’mon, Let’s Spawn
4. Hey Joe

When I cast my mind back to the late nineties, I remember the optimism beginning to fade. I never liked the whole Britpoop thing, but at least folk seemed like they were having some fun in that era. Until the New Labour Golem started to show its true colours. Nah! I don't recall too much excitement occurring in that twilight fag-end of the decade being on my radar.

I did, however, have The Make Up. A band from Washington DC who had emerged from the ashes of the Nation of Ulysses to bring forth a searing pop-psych-garage scream of righteousness that the band had dubbed "The Gospel Yeah Yeah Sound". It was hard to get much info on these guys, they weren't really in the music press' sphere of influence (at least not in the UK), but extensive liner notes did give us some clue as to what they were about. On the sleeve notes you could read singer Ian Svenonius' wild and hugely entertaining rhetoric that saw the music they made as a kind of Marxist alternative to the mainstream music industry. That he managed to make such spiel sound cool and not in the slightest bit po-faced is worthy of praise on its own, and I am yet to talk about the music itself.

Being the kind of person that enjoys listening to the righteous monolithic slabs of rock that would be punched forth by the likes of the MC5 and Stoogies, or the grinding machine-like funk-a-thons that the JB's would pour petrol into and start up at the flick of a switch, I could see where these guys were coming from upon the first listen of the singles collection "I Want Some". I'm always wary of bands who style themselves so blatantly in the past, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, the Make Up could only have existed in their own time despite their retro-leanings. That "their own time" could have occurred in any decade since the sixties is part of what is so great about them, they always sounded fresh and listening to their music, you'd be too side-tracked by the excitement to worry about where the influence came from. No one sounds like Ian Svenonius. That certainly helps, but also, their brand of garage-funk existed in order to serve the NOW!! Get up and dance! Get up and scream! Ian Svenonius can certainly scream. High pitched orgasmic squeals of pain, delight, pleasure and sometimes all at once erupt in unexpected places, dragging you into the groove, making you part of the experience (the band would preach how the audience was a fifth member). The Make Up had put some lead back into my pencil - I wanted to form a band, I wanted to do things in the name of rock and roll!

It was with mucho excitement that I went to the record shop on the day of the record’s release. By keeping my ear to the ground I had heard of its imminent arrival and had made sure to order a copy, and I wasn't disappointed.
The album opens with a two note bass riff from Michelle Mae, a riff bedecked in reverb and accompanied by soft snare and percussion. A steady, hypnotic groove that settles the listener in for the ride that begins with the repeated line "Are you that Doctor of mine"? before Svenonius begins to croon about re-animation from the point of view of the corpse.

"I was frozen, baby
Cold to the touch
Limbs from other bodies
I didn't look like much”

I was nothing, baby
And my blood was cold
'Til you put your mouth to me
Blew right up my nose

I was just a body
Until you gave my life
And now I walk the earth
Sprung from your doctor's knife

You're my Doctor Frankenstein
Oh, yeah"

The middle section goes into a strange walking bass solo covered with orgiastic, multiple falsetto backing vocals before the whole tune erupts and kicks things up a gear with the introduction of the guitar as we're driven on to the conclusion of the song.

"Oh, baby, yeah
You crank me to the sky
You opened up the lids
That covered up my eyes
Baby, you sewed my limbs up all through the night
Yeah, you're my Doctor Frankenstein"

As this was to be the band's last album, and it's title was "Save Yourself", was this song a call to arms for people to resurrect the lifeless corpse of their own creativity?

The next tune, White Belts, is a perfect example of the Make Up's excellence in what I think of as their white-funk-pop-art-psych. Starting with a three note keyboard riff, cyclical and sexy, it all kicks off within seconds with the line:

" Try baby to understand
Why I'm your main man
I've got my belt on tight
It's white...Yeah!"

This is the kind of lyric that made me fall in love with this band - it is tongue in cheek, but it also takes its cue from yer James Browns who had to proclaim their bad selves to prove to the world that they were somebody! But there is also paranoia:

"Try on our own
Can't trace us on the payphone
They never understand why I'm your main man, yeah"

Are the authorities keeping tabs? Has the Marxist ideology alerted the government to these no-goodniks bucking the system? Is Svenonius just fantasising or joking? The fact you can't tell is testament to the performance and execution. Essentially it doesn't matter because none of it sounds fake.

The album slows down a bit for the next track, "The Bells". Not a cover of the Lou Reed song but a brooding psychedelic crawl with its ominous bell tolling in time with the drums, a funkier second-cousin of Black Sabbath's eponymous tune? This leads us into The Prophet, one of the more raucous tunes on this platter.

“I was waiting here my whole life for the Lion to roar
And baby, that’s the sound that I’d always figured that my ears were made for”

I know what you mean Ian! This stomping groover rides along on a wave of distorted electric piano with an incessant, tightly wound; highly excitable delivery that feels ready to uncoil at a moment’s notice. Which it does; in slow motion during the instrumental break’s shimmering arpeggiated guitar over-dubs.

“And he said that I would see and I saw
And he said that I would hear and I heard
And he said that I would follow, and I followed, baby, I followed every single word”

This is the kind of thing I can get behind! When listening to this for the first time, having ceremoniously rolled a joint for the inaugural hearing , by the time this song came on I was very high and began hearing these lyrics as a call to arms (musically speaking).

Side one closes with "I Am Pentagon". Given the band's previous proclamations of state observation, one wonders if this is another government paranoia paean:

"I am pentagon
Which side are you gonna be on?"

But then lyrically, we are treated to the only example of a song about shapes I can think of, set to music that sounds like The Doors covering The Model by Kraftwerk.

"Are you isosceles?
Or is your angle 90 degrees?
Are you dodecahedron?
What plane are you resting on?"

Side two starts things off in a slightly different vein with “Call Me Mommy”, a tune that mellows the pace slightly in terms of instrumentation, though the tune itself is still pretty upbeat. It’s a song that recalls Love’s Forever Changes (this is the band who recorded the protest single “Free Arthur Lee” when the Love frontman was in prison) with its mariachi brass and it’s lyric statement of “Everybody’s got Love inside u-huh”.

The album’s real freak out happening occurs on “(Make Me a) Feelin’ Man”. Opening with buzz-saw guitar feedback, and a dementoid gospel style bass pattern played at full speed, it all kicks in with a clattering drum pattern that is tighter than tight. Yeah, this cooks! It has all the energy of the original version of MC5’s Lookin at You (not the Back in the USA one!) fed through the filter of an excitable child at a birthday party after too many E numbers. Svenonius screams and screams like he doesn’t know how to behave in polite society anymore:

“I lost my feelings, I lost my feelings, I lost my feelings hanging on the ceiling!”

A wah’d up bass groove accompanied by unrestrained yelps of intent lead us into a short, frenzied, maniacal drum break that opens up into a melee of overdubbed guitar solos intertwining with a free-form trumpet that parps in and out of the snaking lead lines that leads us perfectly into the next track, “C’mon Let’s Spawn”, a song that neatly sums up The Make Up’s place in the world near the end of their lifetime:

“I want to be a big fish in a small pond
I went into the ocean once, and baby, I almost drowned”

If Dave Brubeck had been kidnapped, brainwashed into the ways of psychedelic garage rock and then let loose on an unsuspecting world he might have come up with this riff. This track takes a rudimentary Jazz riff and loops it over and over with the clout of The Stooges Funhouse whilst Svenonius preaches to us about the dangers of trying to make it in the big world.

“All those ships casting out their lines
All those eight armed Octopi
All those Gulls flying in the sky
A small pond baby is for you and I”

I love the fact that this band is celebrating its uniqueness and cult appeal in song in such a way – Fame? What do we want fame for? We don’t need the world to tell us how great we are! When you’re a big fish in a small pond, why would you want to be anywhere else? When the chorus emphasises the point: “I want to be a big fish in a small pond, C’mon let’s spawn!” – It reminds me of the impression I got earlier on that the message here is to pro-create musically. Go forth and multiply, sonically speaking.

The album closes with a cover version of that garage band staple, “Hey Joe”. I remember being slightly disappointed on first listen, this is a song that has been covered to death – I didn’t care if I ever heard it again. But there is something to this version. It starts of off familiarly enough, even if it has a slightly creepy vibe to it, but then we see that the lyrics have been changed to represent a conversation between the on-the-run Joe and his girlfriend.

“Hey Joe, where you gonna run to now?
I’m gonna go to Mexico, baby, where a man can be free
Cos baby, I don’t want no federal agent’s noose around my neck”

And from here the song builds to its climax, and where the track would normally fade out it really changes into something else. As the chords progression winds down we are left with a climbing bass pattern that settles into a two note groove before, POW!! For the next minute or so the track takes off on an epic feedback drenched stereo-panned freak out ride until the band take things down a level – and we hear a phone ring, it is Joe phoning his lover from Mexico…

SHE: Hello?
HE: Hello.
SHE: Hello, is that you Joe?
HE: Yeah, It’s me
SHE: Baby, come back from Mexico, come on home
HIE: I wanna come back home, from Mexico
SHE: Baby, come home and when you get here come up to my room
HE: Baby, I wanna come home from Mexico, wanna turn the lights down low, turn up your stereo, baby, walk those stairs, yeah! Go on up into your room, baby wanna come back to you, baby wage the war at home, baby wanna come back to you, come back from Mexico!”

Hell yeah! That’s how to cover a song! Add some drama, literally! It kinda references Them’s Gloria in that monologue, which makes it even cooler in my book. That’s cross-breeding two over-covered garage tunes to make something else entirely. Oh yes, my disappointment in this choice of cover didn’t last long – especially this last segment, that again erupts into a mass of guitar fuzz and excited yelps.

So there endeth the Make –Up. One of thee finest bands to ever make me pick up my guitar. I even got to see them live – in a tiny church hall in Brighton. It was an epiphany. The band got on with the job of delivering the message whilst Svenonious stood first upon a table to tower over the small crowd (there was no stage), then upon their heads to sermonise and preach the gospel yeah-yeah sound. I was entranced, I was besotted, I was mesmerised. Then some over-excited drunk buffoon decided to dive into the band, he demolished the drum kit and sticks-man Steve Gamboa was unable to continue playing. The band’s reaction to this? They simply shrugged in a “oh well, he was having fun and that’s what’s important” kind of way. Absolute legends.

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