Davey Macmanus Vocals, guitar
Owen Hopkin Drums
Andy Norton Guitar
Andrew Stafford Keyboards, backing vocals
Joseph Udwin Bass, backing vocals
Who knows what goes on in her pretty little head?
- "White Russian Galaxy"
What goes on in Davey Macmanus' head is not always so pretty. But as frontman for The Crimea, he turns it into beautiful and sweeping rock'n'roll. TRAGEDY ROCKS, the London-based band's debut album, is both lush and lacerating; 13 edgy and melodic cocktails sweetened by sonic ambition and spiked with Davey's debauched, bitter-funny tales of mean streets, meaner romance, good gin and not-so-good times.
Attractive head seeks guillotine.
- "The Great Unknown"
Having already received high praise from John Peel (the legendarily impassioned British DJ called "Lottery Winners On Acid" "one of the best songs I've heard in years"), SPIN (which deemed the band's 2004 SXSW showcase "an arena-worthy performance") and the Austin Chronicle ("consolidates all three Kinks eras – Sixties, Seventies, Eighties – in a slick '00 lathering of wit and whimsy"), The Crimea are poised to make more headway in America – certainly more than the Light Brigade did in the Ukraine.
"We want to be a timeless rock band, lyrically, musically and aesthetically," says drummer Owen Hopkins. "I don't want to be pretentious and compare us to the Beach Boys, but we really like Brian Wilson's term 'pocket symphonies.' We're trying to do something that isn't just drums, bass, guitars. Something intricately woven, but always sort of skewed."
Yes I was a fool and yes you were a fool. But who can name a penny that has not been in the pocket of a fool.
- "Opposite Ends"
Though The Crimea now includes guitarist Andy Norton, keyboardist Andrew Stafford and bassist Joseph Udwin, much of TRAGEDY ROCKS was hashed out solely by Macmanus, an Irishman who doesn't use the Internet or listen to other bands but is already a published author. Unamazing Disgraces, his book of stories and poems, came out in 2000 from Shiny Beast, and he performs solo under the name Kernel Krok. Welsh native Hopkins, who moonlights as a journalist for such publications as Kerrang and NME, co-founded the band and was there for most of the recording.
That happened at a house in Plaistow, the oppressive East London 'hood where Macmanus developed something of a Travis Bickle complex during a succession of tedious and unrewarding jobs. When he wasn't stocking the supermarket freezer or sweeping up the park, he worked maniacally on songs, honing the lyrics down to maximum sparseness while building up the music on an eight-track recorder, using E-bow, a toy piano, various guitars and an aging Roland synth. Along the way, the living room collapsed right into their Shepherd's Pie -- about all they could afford to eat – and they had to boot a housemate who used to steal everybody's milk. Happily, they got a bassist in the deal when Udwin, who came to England from Zimbabwe, moved into the house.
Takes one black cloud to spoil the bright day. I was the black cloud she was the bright day.
- "Opposite Ends"
"I knew how I wanted to do things, and didn't stop until I'd done it," says Macmanus of the recording process. Album opener "White Russian Galaxy" -- which he sums up as "man cannot understand woman, what the fucking hell?" -- came to him so easily it might have been a dream, "but all the rest were like mathemetical equations. Six months of killing myself 24 hours a day."
His secret weapon was his voice – instead of composing and arranging the material on actual instruments, he'd sing the different parts, then turn those vocal melodies into guitar and keyboard lines. "That's why I think they're a little bit more hooky than your average guitar solo," Macmanus says.
Even though they eventually got themselves a 16-track recorder, The Crimea remain amazed their Wall of Sound and vivid lyrics found the U.K. press comparing them to such greats as The Flaming Lips and Leonard Cohen. Or that they were handpicked for opening slots with the likes of Kings of Leon, Dashboard Confessional and Ash. Or that their third single, "Baby Boom," came in at #8 on John Peel's 2003 Festive Fifty, just ahead of "Maps" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and "Seven Nation Army" by the White Stripes. Or, most of all, that they disproved a music business myth by getting "discovered" at SXSW.
On a scale of one to ten, let's pretend that life's a six or seven.
- "Howling At The Moon"
Jetlagged from the flight and shoehorned onto the tiny deck of a faux-Irish Sixth Street bar, both Hopkins and Macmanus say their Austin show was terrible. But Macnanus is a notorious performer – "not quite the guy out of the Doors, but I'm baring my soul up there, giving absolutely everything," he says. Adds Hopkins, "He's very, very, very full-on. Some of the shapes I see him pull don't really comply with the physics of the body."
So sure enough, after SXSW, a swarm of A&R men checked out two subsequent gigs in New York City, with Warner Bros' Perry Watts-Russell as the winning suitor. "It was really really exciting," says Macmanus. "The music actually did the work, which I never thought would happen in my lifetime."
You can call me Fred Flintstone, Tarzan King of the Jungle. I guess I was a little prehistoric, pumpkin, at your place this afternoon.
- "Baby Boom"
The music is still doing the work. From the wry and unsparing evocation of male lust in "Baby Boom" to the epic despondency and Dusty Springfield references in "The Miserabilist's Tango", TRAGEDY ROCKS is an impressively realized debut album that lives up to its title and then some. Ever the brooder, Macmanus admits his personal preference is for the dark complexities of songs like "The Great Unknown" but he knows why people fall for the woozy jangle of "Bad Vibrations," or the carnival-ride lope of "Lottery Winners On Acid."
"It's the only happy song on the album," Macmanus says of the latter tune. "That's why it's my Mom's favorite."
If she gets a disease, I want a disease.
- "Lottery Winners On Acid"
Click Here For The Free legal MP3 of "White Russian Galaxy"
This Doctor won't be saying 'goodbye' in the same way as those who have left the series in recent years.