Soundheads: Loop reissued
By Andrew Stevens.
That Loop’s long out of print albums have now been reissued is interesting for a number of reasons. While the band may not be on the lips of any NME cover acts of the moment, they remain a critics’ favourite and their albums often changed hands for £50 a time on eBay until late last year. It’s also probably the case that Loop mainstay and vocalist Robert Hampson, who remains active in other guises to this day, was dutifully aware that while he has no intention of following other bands of the era and reforming, five years or so of his life stood a fair chance of remaining wedged down the back of rock’s sofa if this was allowed to continue. My teenage self had no actual exposure to Loop’s music at the time: I once glanced at an advert for their Peel sessions album Wolf Flow in the NME and decided the lone soldier on the cover looked ‘nerdy’ and gave it no more thought. It wasn’t until a friend’s recommendation post-break up of the band that I had any chance to listen to them in an objective setting.
A few years back, I mentioned to a label boss who will remain nameless that I was interviewing Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, whose own revival was beginning to generate reissues to avoid second mortgages courtesy of eBay. “Never liked them myself, was always a Loop man then.” came his reply, as if two bands’ existence could be pared down to the sort of rivalry between city football teams. It was only when I delved deeper into their respective pasts through the archives that I was able to build up a picture to comprehend what I viewed as a pretty ridiculous statement (since repeated to me by others active in the music press at that time.) From the Spacemen 3 camp (or at least one half of it) the principal objection which fuelled the rivalry were claims of copyism and some personal shit surrounding Hampson’s time working for S3’s first label. Other claims extend to the similarity of record sleeves etc. but manufactured rivalry helps sell music papers, clearly (Hampson reportedly slammed the phone down when asked to elaborate for S3′s biographer Erik Morse.) As Simon Reynolds has noted, Spacemen 3 weren’t exactly a guilt-free zone in the shameless copying of influences department, but at least there’s now the realistic prospect of being able to appraise both bands in relation to each other (it’s cheaper, at least) and debunking any idea of the two being so similar at all.
In his earlier considerations on the Spacemen 3/Loop rivalry / dichotomy call it what you will, Reynolds elaborates on their role in the trajectory of indie rock music in the mid-1980s, that their retro pastiche represented a retreat into the past and the end of the innovative post-punk era. While this charge was routinely levelled at the Jesus and Mary Chain during their ascendancy in 1985/86 (“record collection rock”), it’s something Reynolds highlighted at the end of his landmark Rip It Up and Start Again and something clearly occupying his thoughts at the moment too. I suppose however, I ought to get on with reviewing these albums rather than engaging in a debate with myself. Loop however does strike me as an apt band for loneliness, something about the deep consciousness, almost an emphatic rejection of the spiritual bent of Spacemen 3, with a darker, more menacing edge. See, I told you it was bollocks.
Heaven’s End opens with ‘Soundhead’ (which gave their fanclub its name), an arresting build up of heavy drums and guitar riffing which appears to go off in several different directions at once. It’s evident early on in the album that their derided copyism achieves some purpose and thankfully goes beyond what many perceived at the time during the media slanging matches (as noted by others, the sheets of noise is more akin to No Wave than psychedelia). The slow tempo of ‘Straight to Your Heart’ retains the complex drum patterns and wall of sound guitar coupled with free-form riffing. It’s only on the title track ‘Heaven’s End’ itself that the psychedelic influence comes out. ‘Forever’ achieves a shimmering depth akin to that of lead single from the album ‘Head On’, for which the band are best known among certain sections of the shoegazer community. Again, the arresting almost hypnotic quality of the drumming meets guitar noise is brilliantly offset by Hampson’s gruff vocals here.
Fade Out, the band’s second album and second in this series of reissues (to be followed by singles comp The World In Your Eyes and third album Gilded Eternity), marks a progression in both outlook and production, as well as personnel. The bass is given more prominence and parity with the drumming, but the guitar remains unrelenting. Rhythmically it’s less solid and the song structures are a lot looser on the first outing, again the insistence on giving the bass more prominence and toning down the sheets of noise effect so audibly put to good use. This is entirely evident on ‘This Is Where You End’, replete with trademark gruff vocals and the almost charming blank, solipsistic demi-nihilism which marks the band out. You don’t get into Loop for lyrics or an ethos really. ‘Fever Knife’ is probably the most Krautrock-influenced song ever to be recorded in the British isles, again a conscious influence coming to the fore. But it acts as something of a bridge on the album, a few moments of deep consciousness before the driving guitar of ‘Torched’ hits us. ‘Fade Out’ also keeps to the signature spaced out guitar exploration, a lot more slow tempo and drone-led. The album ends with ‘Got To Get It Over’, which in many respects stands out as something which could have featured on Heaven’s End with its noise effects and drumming, albeit with an oceanic fade out of several moments.
Loop’s history as a band was marked by successive personnel changes, which brings a different character to each of the albums and signifies why their 1991 break up was probably for the best. Inasmuch as it’s hard to imagine a Loop now, it’s harder to imagine them surviving the music press’ mid-1990s affiliations, even if they were the original Blur vs. Oasis in that regard. Robert Hampson soldiers on with his various projects a million miles away from Loop’s sound and the last I heard of James Endeacott he was handling The Libertines et al. at Rough Trade. Still, the next time someone says you have to choose between S3 and Loop, you can at least objectively come to a decision now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Stevens is contributing editor to 3:AM and lives in London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, February 8th, 2009.