One-time peers of REM are exhumed, and still sound remarkably fresh.
Mike Diver 2010-03-11
“A band that I must have seen play 100 times,” is one description of Athens’ The Method Actors, courtesy of REM’s Peter Buck. Another, from the same man and one-time peer of these wiry, fidgety and itchy, but perfectly pop-savvy, post-punk-informed musicians: “They had it all, [and] amount to a kind of secret history of the Athens scene”.
The liner notes accompanying this release of complied material from the long-defunct two-piece – Vic Varney and David Gamble – provide a valuable insight into a band that history has largely forgotten. With just a single, hard-to-find album to their name, 1981’s Little Figures – “the best album of the year,” read a Sounds critique – The Method Actors have long sat idle in the shadow of both REM and The B-52s, as well as the reformed Pylon. This Is Still It won’t spark demand for a reunion – well, it’s unlikely – but it does open ears previously oblivious to an act that clearly warrant discovery by anyone taken with the above-listed groups, and the likes of Wire, Magazine and Television.
Subtitled Early Recordings, one is led to believe that these tracks precede the 17 that made up Little Figures. But there are inclusions that appear on both long-play releases: closer Hi-Hi-Whoopee – like Devo swept up in a surf-rock fever – the scratchy simplicity of E-Y-E, and the elastic, Rapture-prophesising funk workout of Commotion, which finds Varney expressing how little he cares about making the bucks to cover next week’s bills, so caught in the moment is he. Whether the versions differ or not, I can’t say – as noted above, Little Figures isn’t exactly something you can just pick up from HMV.
Ultimately, a cross-album comparison not presenting itself doesn’t detract any from an assessment of a record that was only ever going to conclude on a positive note. If the seal of approval courtesy of Buck wasn’t reason sufficient enough to lend This Is Still It an ear, then let this writer echo the guitarist’s sentiments. I may not have been there in the early 80s, but hearing these songs today, the excitement, the fever, it’s all still in there. The pair can knock out enormous, memorable hooks from limited resources, the instrumental make-up stripped-bare in the extreme, just drums and guitar. But scarcity of equipment never once hinders their considerable ambition and inventiveness.
A closing quote from Buck: “something to be treasured”. Go dig it up.