The Woodentops

“Swingin’ to the rhythm / the rhythm of the…love train!”

Album Year Rating
Giant 1986 2.66/pi
Well, Well, Well 1986 2.87/pi

Forget cockroaches—in the 80’s, it must have seemed like jangle-pop bands would be the only remaining life after a nuclear war. The Woodentops (not pictured above) could theoretically be lumped into that category, but their strange, chugging 872 bpm pop maelstrom stands out from the competition like Dick Cheney at a sneering contest. During their all-too-brief existence, Rolo McGinty and his bandmates created some of the funnest music of the decade.

Main lineup: Rolo McGinty: guitar, vocals. Simon Mawby: guitar. Alice Thompson: keyboards. Frank de Freitas: bass. Benny Staples: organ.

GIANT

1986; Rating: 2.66/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: ~ / Production: + / Innovation: +

  • 01 Get It On [A]
  • 02 Good Thing [A−]
  • 03 Give It Time [A−]
  • 04 Love Train [A−]
  • 05 Hear Me James [A−]
  • 06 Love Affair With Everyday Living [B+]
  • 07 So Good Today [A]
  • 08 Shout [B+]
  • 09 History [A]
  • 10 Traveling Man [A−]
  • 11 Last Time [A]
  • 12 Everything Breaks [A−]

After a couple years of tossing off singles taking cues from folks such as the Feelies, Icicle Works, Smiths, and XTC, the Woodentops released their debut album. It’s a relatively subdued affair compared with those earlier tracks, with horns, accordion, and mounds of acoustic guitar slathered lovingly over it. But don’t go thinking the hundred-hand-slap beats have disappeared—they’re all over tracks like “Traveling Man” and the almost mbaqanga-ish “Hear Me James”, and even softer songs like “So Good Today” have the same components fizzing brightly just below the surface.

In fact, it might be that those softer songs that are the highlights here. If one or two rockers like “Shout” come off as a bit rote, more restrained songs like “History” and “Last Time” find the band stretching out their melodic wings while still allowing time for the occasional explosion of weirdness.

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WELL, WELL, WELL

1986; Rating: 2.87/pi

Composition: ++ / Lyrics: ~ / Production: ++ / Innovation: +

  • 01 Move Me [A]
  • 02 Get It On [A]
  • 03 Do It Anyway [A]
  • 04 Steady, Steady [A]
  • 05 Well, Well, Well (long version) [A−]
  • 06 It Will Come [A]
  • 07 Special Friend [A−]
  • 08 Cold Inside [A−]
  • 09 Plutonium Rock [A−]
  • 10 Plenty [A]
  • 11 Have You Seen the Light [A]
  • 12 Everybody [A]

This fabulous early-years singles collection features 12 tracks covering 1984–86. Only “Get It On” is repeated from Giant (and in an alternate version), making this far from a cash-in: it’s simply an excellent album in its own right. The material here is noticeably harder-edged (and perhaps more diverse) than Giant, and it makes for easily their most consistent set of songs.

The intriguing b-sides featured here include such experimental tracks as the watery, Suicide-channeling “Steady Steady” and the echo-laden “Cold Inside” (both produced, as were several other tracks here, by XTC’s Andy Partridge, under the pseudonym “Animal Jesus”.) But its backbone consists of the stuff the group always specialized in: catchy rollercoaster rides like “Do It Anyway”, “Move Me”, and the band’s 1984 debut single “Plenty”. With “Everybody”, the band seems to be making an attempt at a simple, unadorned acoustic ballad, until a warp-speed drum ’n’ violin break suddenly takes over the song. That’s just how things go in Woodentopland.

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