Metro Music is for the most part untouched by the pretensions and angst that afflicted...
Peter Marsh 2003-05-23
It's a safe bet that anyone over a certain age with an ear to the charts will remember Martha and the Muffins' "Echo Beach". Though it was (in my humble opinion) one of the best post punk pop records of the era (and certainly the best by a Canadian outfit featuring two women called Martha), the band never managed to trouble the compilers of the top 20 again.
Fronted by keyboardist/singer/trombonist Martha Johnson and guitarist Mark Gane, M+M (as they were later to become) spun dispassionate, witty tales of boredom, longing and paranoia in a manner not dissimilar to that of Talking Heads. However, they had a pure pop sensibilty that put them in a slightly different bracket from the hordes of Art school rockers doing the rounds at the time, coupled with an unwillingness to let themselves be taken too seriously (that disappeared later when they hooked up with producer Daniel Lanois).
"Echo Beach" is of course a pretty good encapsulation of all these qualities, but all the tracks on this reissued and remastered debut show that their one hit wonder status wasn't for lack of good material. The formula is pretty consistent throughout; taut, metronomic rhythms topped off with Gane's chiming, minimal guitar figures add up to pared down powerpop heaven.Andy Haas's raspy tenor sax recalls Andy Mackay's work with Roxy Music, and Johnson's occasionally cheesy keyboards prefigure the Farfisa driven ironies of Stereolab. Johnson sings in a slightly detached fashion, while Martha Ladly (later of the Associates) goes for a more emotive approach ("Hide and Seek", "Revenge") with more mixed results.
Most of all, the Muffins had good tunes; "Paint by Number Heart" and "Indecision" are viral in their catchiness. While the slightly dour "Sinking Land" prefigures their later ambient experiments, Metro Music is for the most part untouched by the pretensions and angst that afflicted many of their greatcoated contemporaries.Oh, and it's got 'Echo Beach" on it too...