The Abs -- Mental Enema
Like many people, my first exposure to the Abs was their (in)famous and frequently anthologized "Grease Your Ralph," the band's infectiously poppy paean to the combover Ralph Coates (pictured with hair to the right) sported towards the conclusion of the midfielder's career with Tottenham Hotspur in the seventies. Although Coates hung up his cleats in 1980 after playing a few years for London's Leyton Orient, the Welsh pop-punkers thought it would be a great idea to pen a song about Mr. Coates and his tendency to "drape those greasy strands" across his "shiny" pate nearly a decade after the fact.
And, you know what? It worked. Unlike Coates's "absurd" combover (seen to the left), which, as Nicky Clark explains in The Observer, could never "stick to the scalp" because "[h]owever much grease or lacquer you put on . . . it'll just matt it all together." The end result, of course, was that "[w]hen Coates tore down Burnley's wing, his hair travelled a second or two behind him."
Indeed, it was this weird tendency of Coates's hair to trail his head as he ran downfield that seems to be at the heart of the Abs's song. "Grease Your Ralph," then, is an order of sorts; it is a plea to those men whose attempts to mask their male pattern baldness with combovers (as futile as that endeavor may be) to use the proper amount of grease to keep their plaits from lifting off and streaming in the wind as the bearer moves about. After all, as the Abs point out in their song, a failure to properly grease one's Ralph may very well result in a Mr. Softee-like appearance.
Anyway, it was the quiet contemplation of of Ralph Coates and his ice cream logo doppelganger, among other things, that got me to smiling this evening.
As far as the actual record goes, Mental Enema is pretty damn good. As profoundly sophomoric as the title may be, the Abs are a remarkably intelligent band. True, they sprinkle the album with a bunch of silly bits of immaturity, but they are such talented musicians that what would pass off as buffoonery when handled by less capable hands comes across as delightfully light-hearted and even a bit witty.
What's perhaps most satisfying about this record, though, is the unceasingly fun feeling it produces. Between Baz and Bryn, the Abs gave us some of the most impressively melodic vocals you'll ever hear on a punk disk, by turns soft and impassioned. I mean, you've a pair of guys capable of singing The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna be (500 Miles)" as well as some of the grittier, bluesy fifties' style rock 'n' roll vocals the group parodies on "Wreckoning Hour" (on which Little Richard's famous opening to "Tuttu Frutti" is transformed into "a wop bop a loo bop a cough wheeze fart"). Buzz's bass-playing recalls the best of the Rezillos (think "Flying Saucer Attack") and, actually, may be the album's strongest suit after the vocals. Great stuff, through and through.
Track 1. "Popular in Bradford." One of Buzz's jauntier performances, but the lyrics are what really stand out on this number. The rocking subject of the song is "being delivered by caesarian birth" and comes coursing "down your tubes" before "ripping out your pubes." Indeed, the band promises to "rock your tits off/ Blow 'em clean from your chest." And they sing it in such an innocuous-sounding way, too.
Track 2. "Grease Your Ralph." The only way this song could be better is if the Abs took a nod from Gang of Four and started singing about poststructuralist theorists. Seriously, imagine "Grease Your Jurgen [Habermas]." On second thought, forget that. This is perfect as is. Pop-punk genius, a jumping bassline, and Mr. Softee. You really can't go wrong. . .
Track 7. "Wreckoning Hour." Oh, if only the Proclaimers were a punk band!
Sobriquet Grade: 87 (B+).