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Members included Jan Willem Alkema (born c.1965 inHolland), drums; Garret Lee (born c.1968 inDublin, Ireland), guitar; Josephmary (born c.1964 inDublin, Ireland), vocals; Sid Rainey (bornc.1968 in Ireland), bass. Addresses: Record label-Interscope, 10900 Wilshire Blvd., #1400, Los Angeles, CA90024.
Announcing their arrival with a chainsaw buzz of guitars and an uncompromising attitude,the London-based four piece Compulsion began spreading their punk-like brand of music in early1992. The band was at first lumped together with a cluster of British groups reviving the soundof New Wave acts from a decade earlier but such labels quickly slid away with the release of theirdebut album, Comforter, in 1994. However, the band had a hot and cold relationship with theBritish press, as well as with their record label and virtually ignored in America. "Fortunately forCompulsion, the lows are rivaled only by the depth of their talent," wrote Nisid Hajari inEntertainment Weekly. "They can't bear the next Beatles yoke any better than [Britishcontemporaries] Oasis, but they do have the spunk (and more than enough chops) to be the nextSex Pistols." Unfortunately, any similarity to 1970s punk rock legends the Sex Pistols the groupmay have had included in its rocky existence, and after the release of a second album in 1996,Compulsion soon disbanded.
Compulsion's story began when two Irish natives, vocalist Josephmary and guitarist GarretLee, relocated to London, England in the early 1990s. They formed Thee Amazing Colossal Men,a group firmly entrenched in the sound of classic 1960s guitar rock. After only one release, TheeAmazing Colossal Men called it quits. Shortly thereafter they were joined by Sid Rainey on bassand Jan Willem on drums and emerged as Compulsion in January of 1992. From its onset,Compulsion's tolerance for record company politics was minimal and the band set up their ownlabel, entitled Fabulon. Choosing spontaneous one-day spurts in the studio over drawn outoverproduction, Compulsion committed to set their first two EPs to vinyl after one-take sessions."The important thing is the song and the attitude," Josephmary explained in an internet article."We can't imagine taking a week to record a song that takes three minutes to play."
Despite this attitude, Josephmary and company soon signed to the One Little Indian label,a company known for signing bands with unusual slants on pop music and released the hastilyrecorded Safety mini-album. The violent energy captured on Safety, as well as on the earlierCompulsion and Casserole EPs was matched by the band's live presence as they began appearingin the British club circuit in frenetic displays that resulted in a number of stage injuries. However,reviews of Compulsion's gigs were sometimes devastating, with many British critics seeing theband as a hollow and unoriginal attempt at 1970s style punk rock. "Compulsion ... are a band thatshould never have been signed in the first place," wrote Melody Maker's Colm O'Callaghan inresponse to a London performance in the spring of 1990. "They haven't a song. Or a hope. Look,Compulsion really don't even deserve a critical boot in the groin. It's like stabbing a dead mule,really. Pointless."
To make matters worse, Compulsion was also unfairly thrown into the context of a musical"movement" that was in part created by hype alone within the pages of the British press. Called"the New Wave of New Wave (NWONW)," this small ensemble of groups that included Elasticaand Menswe@r used dated keyboards and sported skinny ties in homage to post-punk groups ofthe early 1980s. Aside from Josephmary's spiky hair, Compulsion had little to do with most ofthese bands musically, yet for several years the group was hounded by the new wave tag.
Some of Britain's journalists slowly began to take a second look at Compulsion by the timeof the group's full length debut Comforter, released in 1994. Musically, the album garnered morecomparisons to the abrasive guitar sounds of groups like the Pixies and the Manic Street Preachersthan to new wave acts of a decade earlier such as Devo or Wire. Through its lyrics, Comforterconstructed fourteen disturbing snapshots of the warped cruelty often underlying the sober faceof middle class society, on songs with titles like "Domestique" and "Mall Monarchy." "By nowyou'll have been distracted by the NWONW tag," wrote Ian Watson in Melody Maker. "Or elseyou've been put off by the assertion that Compulsion are trading on someone else's -namelyPixies'-good idea. No matter. This distinclty deranged long player [Comforter] will iron out thecreases.... Maybe it's time to start taking these guys seriously."
Just as things were looking up for the group, a scuffle with Elektra, Compulsion's intendedlabel for American release, set the overseas release of Comforter back for months. Although theband had made a verbal agreement with Elektra, Compulsion soon found problems with itscorporate philosophies and signed a written contract with Interscope Records, leaving Elektraexecutives fuming. "Their lawyer said he would bury us so deep that no one ever knew the albumexisted," Josephmary admitted to Hajari with a smile. Elektra's threats proved to be idle,however, and Interscope was able to release Comforter in the fall of 1994.
Compulsion continued to make their live shows central to their music, embarking on a tourof the U.S. In response to the small teddy bear that graced the cover of Comforter, fans beganpelting the group with stuffed animals during performances. Upon their return to the UnitedKingdom, critics still didn't know what to make of Compulsion and were, on the whole, equivocaltowards the band. "There's something going on here that I can't quite put my finger on," wroteJennifer Nine in Melody Maker in response to a subsequent gig. "I think it's called embarrassment.But only mine. 'Cos [sic] that's the Compulsion punk rock experience - pretty much shameless.Ninety per cent cheap laffs [sic], maybe, but 100 per cent dedication."
The band's misfortunes only snowballed for the following years, including MTV's rejectionof the big-budget video Compulsion had made for "Mall Monarchy," a satire on American talkshows. Nevertheless, Compulsion forged ahead with their extensive touring, stopped only by theoccasional injuries inflicted in and out of concert venues. In early 1996, several dates werescrapped when drummer Alkema cracked three ribs in a skirmish in the Netherlands.
In addition to the above flak, several British tabloids had followed their New Wave of NewWave hype with a celebration of "Britpop," bands like Blur or Pulp who had much in commonwith the style and self-consciously English songwriting of earlier groups like the Kinks. AsCompulsion had already been associated with punk and new wave, they were again edged out ofthe latest national trend. In response to this, Compulsion released the single "Question Time ForThe Proles," a song which attacked the nostalgia for the past the Britpop fad incurred on manyyoung workers, or proles. "Proles ... are being bombarded by these images of the SwingingSixties, stuff they couldn't possibly remember because they were too young," Josephmary toldMelody Maker in March of 1996. "I think Britpop is just another version of the New Wave of NewWave."
Compulsion's second album, The Future is Medium, was released by One Little Indian.Unreleased in America, The Future is Medium continued where they had left off on Comforter,satirizing the state of British society with songs like "Juvenile Scene Detective." Also as withComforter, The Future Is Medium met with reviews that were positive, even if begrudgingly so,such as John Robb in Melody Maker. "Why be content with one guitar texture, when ten willdo?," queried Robb rhetorically. "Why have just one vocal, when you can have two fightingcrazily for the same space?.... The Future Is Medium is one huge war zone of guitar filth. Big,bright, and brassy, Compulsion are no spent force yet." Unfortunately, Compulsion were unableto prove their staying power to their naysayers, and by 1997 the band was dumped by One LittleIndian in 1997, perhaps illustrating once again the chaos that punk rock and its offspring maycarry. In Compulsion's aftermath, Lee and Alkelma went on to join the groups Sack and ChinaDrum, respectively.
by Shaun Frentner
Band renamed Compulsion after the dissolution of Thee Amazing Colossal Men inJanuary of 1992; signed to One Little Indian , released the Safety mini-album, 1992; releaseddebut album Comforter in 1994; rejected and sued American label Elektra weeks before thescheduled release of Comforter in the U.S., 1994; released final album, The Future Is Medium onOne Little Indian, 1996; disbanded after being dropped from One Little Indian, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Boogie Woogie , Elektra/Asylum, 1994 (compilation of early EPs).
- Comforter , One Little Indian/Interscope, 1994.
- The Future Is Medium , One Little Indian, 1996.
- Billboard, October 22, 1994.
- Entertainment Weekly, June 30, 1995.
- Melody Maker , March 28, 1992; March 26, 1994; March 9, 1996; April 27, 1996; May 25,1996; July 6, 1996; July 13, 1996.
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