Marsheaux – E-bay Queen

Marsheaux are, for me, fascinatingly enigmatic. They’re a Greek female duo, who I really know nothing about. Their debut E-bay Queen was released fifteen years ago this week, and it’s really hard to know what to make of it. It encourages you, somehow, to just close your eyes and enjoy it at face value – and that can only ever be a good thing.

It opens with M.A.R.S.H.E.A.U.X., the beautifully squawky band manifesto. Apart from the eponymous initials, it’s a thumping electro instrumental, with some great acid noises that appear halfway through. You would not, I think, buy an album just for this, and with that in mind, it’s confusing that anybody bought this in the first place, because there weren’t any singles either, but it’s definitely good.

It isn’t until Flash Lights that things really start to make sense. We know now, of course, that this isn’t Marsheaux‘s finest work, but it’s still enough to hook you in as a listener, and even if the “follow the tits” instruction in the lyrics is somewhat crass, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

And it keeps getting better – for the first time, Shake Me is a track that quickly shows itself to be brilliant. With its catchy chorus and rippling synth lines, this nods sweetly to the past without actually being retro, and yet it isn’t exactly contemporary either. This is music for uncomfortable and awkward misfits, the world over. Which, by the way, is very definitely a good thing.

So wouldn’t it be really clever if Marsheaux threw something contemporary and familiar in at this point, just to subvert the pattern the have built already? Something like, say, the Lightning Seeds‘s lovely Pure? So that’s what we get – a great song, given new life with a female vocal and gloriously “pure and simple” synth lines, if you’ll pardon the pun. It’s a fantastic rendition of the song, and really deserved to be a huge hit by itself. If only it had ever been released as a single.

Play Boy keeps the run of great tracks going. It’s slower, and perhaps also a little darker, insofar as darkness ever really shows up on this album. It’s hard to define in a way – this is really a pure pop album, but it’s also slightly challenging, subversive pop – something that only comes as an import from Greece. Who knew that Greece had a strong music scene with its own synthpop artists? And with budgets to release items with packaging as beautiful as this, too?

Computer Love is, of course, a bit of a nod to the track of the same name that Kraftwerk debuted in 1981. While there’s little direct homage in the lyrics or sounds, and I’ve never seen them talk about it particularly openly, a lot of the sounds on this album seem to take inspiration from the Düsseldorf quartet – the focus is on tight, clear sounds, not broad pads or sweet, mellow atmospheres. Yet despite that, there’s a certain soft charm.

Tonight is one of my less favourite tracks on here: somehow the synth line is a bit too manic; the hand claps a little too heavily distributed; and for the first time it feels as though you’ve heard this all already. This is a consistent album, certainly, but that comes at a price of some tracks being a little too similar to one another at times. Then, of course, Marsheaux subvert their own form by covering the vocals with some crazy and unusual effects, and you start to wonder whether anything really makes sense any more.

The Game quickly picks things up again, though, with a brilliantly odd blip that doesn’t quite ever seem to be hitting its beat. It’s a lovely song, and possibly for the first time uses softer pad sounds to change the mood somewhat. They aren’t prominent, by any means, but this is a great song. Then comes Analyse, somewhat less subversive but every bit as much fun.

Ola Girizhoun is next, the only track to be sung in Greek. That’s a bit of a shame, really – they’re singing in English in order to make themselves seem more accessible to global audiences, and that absolutely works in their favour, but not without anonymising one of the things that makes them special – they aren’t native English speakers, and hearing them singing in their own language is a treat. Which makes it all the more interesting that this is actually a Chris & Cosey song, where Marsheaux have added their own lyrics. Work that one out.

Hands on Me is a lively piece with resonating synth sounds, but honestly a bit less actual melody than some of the earlier tracks. Then we’re onto the final track already – another cover, this time of the eternal instrumental Popcorn. This was, apparently, a huge radio hit in Greece at the time, and it’s a worthy cover, somehow just managing to stay on the right side of being extremely cheesy. It’s great, but at the same time hard to take very seriously. Maybe that’s a good thing, though – while lovely, and occasionally a little subversive, this seems to have been a pretty serious album up to now.

Five or six albums on, Marsheaux remain enigmatic, always taking unexpected steps. E-bay Queen, with its odd name and entirely unpredictable packaging, is a great debut. It has its weaker moments, but nothing that you could actually call a flaw – which is a very impressive way to kick off your career. But will we ever see them gracing the charts? It seems unlikely, somehow.

Your best option for hearing E-bay Queen is to find the mp3 download.

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