Monday, July 18, 2016

Smash Hits: Helen Love's Pop Scrapbook

When I was little, I had a friend named John who kept a scrapbook of all his favourite things. Its pages were filled with drawings of the Power Rangers, stats about Liverpool Football Club, pictures of his favourite wrestlers, and all sorts of other stuff like that. It was basically a physical document of everything that was going on in his seven-year-old boy brain.

Helen Love's new album, Smash Hits, came out a few weeks ago on Alcopop! Records, and brilliantly enough it seems to have been written and recorded via much the same approach as John used when he was compiling his scrapbook. The cover art is a gaudy collage of stars and guitars and goodness knows what else, with the band members pulling their coolest and most punkily aloof faces in the middle of it all.

This image is the perfect representation of what Smash Hits actually sounds like. This album is simply twelve tracks of punky cut-and-paste pop par excellence. Euphoric opener First Girl from Wales in New York samples a plethora of famous NYC artists like Chic and the Ramones, while You Can't Beat a Boy Who Loves the Ramones (they're a bit obsessed with the Ramones, this lot) features snippets from Ghostbusters and Bonnie Tyler's Holding Out for a Hero.

Helen Love herself doesn't so much wear her influences on her sleeve as tattoo them all over her face. In addition to the various Ramones references, Smash Hits also includes tributes to X-Ray Spex (on Thank You Polystyrene), The Modern Lovers (Long Live The Modern Lovers), Sheila and B. Devotion (Sheila B. Devotion) and Blondie (We've Got a Formula One Team). Like John and his Power Rangers drawings, Helen and her eponymous band spend much of this album paying wide-eyed homage to their heroes via an exhilarating blend of punk, disco, pop and video game music, all of which is served with a dollop of garishly colourful '90s nostalgia that should prove quite hard to resist if you grew up in the age of the Nintendo 64.

I, and plenty of other people I'm sure, spent much of my adolescence writing out lyrics in my school planner and fantasising about playing gigs with my musical heroes. The members of Helen Love were clearly the same, but unlike most, they actually managed to follow through on the ambitions that were forged while doodling the Ramones logo and watching interviews with pop stars on MTV. Unlike previous album Day-Glo Dreams, there doesn't seem to be any hint of cynicism or hidden darkness under the sparkly veneer of Smash Hits - it's just pure, joyous headrush from start to finish. These are the songs you dreamt of playing to a crowd of adoring fans when you were holed up in your bedroom with a stack of CDs and music magazines for company, and thankfully they're every bit as shiny and compelling here as they were when you imagined them.

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