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.