Watching Terrorvision playing in a small tent at the 2010 Sonisphere Festival feels a bit like having your mates come and play at a particularly rowdy summer party. By the time Terrorvision take the stage, sometime after 11pm, that evening’s main attraction, Alice Cooper, has finished performing his morality play – soundtracked by so many of his classics – and left the stage. Normally, after the headliner has vacated there’s little more to see, but for this particular festival, the small Bohemia stage has been set to go on for a few hours longer.
As Tony Wright beams “We’re Terrorvision from Bradford”, I’m transported back in time, having last seen the band at the 1997 Reading Festival and fronted by a seemingly worse-for-wear frontman (four years before disbanding – eventually reforming to play sporadic live dates in 2005 and beyond); earlier memories of seeing them headline an NME sponsored night at the London Astoria also come flooding back – remembering the extremely pumped audience bouncing in unison to ‘Oblivion’ and the building (by then not the youngest, or indeed safest, of London’s venues) feeling like it’s floor could give way under the immense enthusiasm of a crowd caught in a moment of togetherness. I’d seen Terrorvision at other times too, but the details of where and when aren’t so clear now.
At the late night Sonisphere show, Terrorvision are surprisingly on the ball and as a result, I’m thinking about listening to them when I get back home (something which has happened to me previously while watching them playing). As always happens after seeing Terrorvision live, their second album, ‘How To Make Friends and Influence People’ makes it’s inevitable journey into the CD player and I come crashing back to Earth, since, although brilliant in its own way, the album never sounds quite urgent enough.
Recorded in New York with producer Gil Norton at the helm – then best known for producing albums by Pixies and Echo & The Bunnymen – Terrorvision’s second album, ‘How To Make Friends and Influence People’ features Terrorvision as a far more confident and musically varied unit compared to their debut. As the staccato chords build tension behind ‘Alice What’s The Matter’ and Wright begins his slightly shouty delivery, the opening of Terrorvision’s second outing promises we’re about to embark upon a fun journey – and despite that lack of immediate energy of their live set, the album’s not short on fun moments. It’s immediately obvious that ‘How To Make Friends…’ stretches beyond Terrorvision’s previous works and despite some rather silly lyrics which appear to have been thrown together for the sake of simple rhymes, ‘Alice…’ gives the album a confident opener and at under three minutes it’s brevity made it a deserved hit single for the band.
The ultimate party anthem, ‘Oblivion’ – scene of much live energy – lumbers out of the speakers like something that’s slightly low on batteries. The structure of the song is great and Wright delivers its fun lyrics with a suitable amount of enthusiasm and Mark Yates’s guitar work alternates between rhythmic choppiness and an almost old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll twang; however it struggles throughout, since the drum work just doesn’t cut it. You can almost imagine drummer Shutty sticking out his tongue as he plays, concentrating hard and trying to keep a steady pace. The mid-pace of ‘Middle Man’ makes the track one of the album’s highlights. Shutty doesn’t have to struggle here; the band’s love of seventies rock shines through – and combining a great guitar riff with a memorable chorus, Terrorvision hit their goal square on. The addition of some gentle orchestration adds a bit of sophistication (okay, sophistication Terrorvision style) and each of its winning elements ensures that ‘Middle Man’ holds its own. Rather interestingly, it’s not a case of Shutty not being able to hammer out a fast rhythm, since he drives ‘What The Doctor Ordered’ at full pelt, against something that occasionally resembles a Metallica riff. Rather heavy for Terrorvision – possibly even heavier than most of previous album ‘Formaldehyde’ – at just over two minutes, there’s no messing with its combination of punk speed and metal riffs.
‘Stop The Bus’, at first, isn’t as instant as some of the album’s tracks, but another simple, classic Terrorvision bouncing riff, slightly sneering lyrics and hard bass line from Leigh Marklew means it’s not without charm. It was never going to have the longevity or ‘Alice What’s The Matter’ or ‘Obliviion’, but what it lacks in good time spirits, it makes up for with musical ability. The slightly harder sound is far more in keeping with Terrorvision’s earlier work and the guitar solo shows more focus than some of the others on the album. ‘Discotheque Wreck’ has the amount of punch the studio recording of ‘Oblivion’ really should have had. Another tough, bouncing rhythm combined with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about a bloke in a nightclub who’s hopelessly out of place but still thinks he’s cool make it classic Terrorvision. A chugging guitar riff and a spirited vocal make it decent enough, but once they’ve thrown in a reference to ‘Do You Love Me’ by The Contours – while sporting huge grins, no doubt – and it’s a winner.
The middle of the album presents a huge curve-ball in that the fun rock elements of Terrorvision’s sound take a back seat, as the band tinker with a few more rather grown up styles: For ‘Still The Rhythm’ a sparse arrangement featuring twangy guitar gives Wright’s vocals plenty of room during the verses, while the band bring a rock element to an almost non-existent chorus. A bridge section is also uncharacteristically shouty. The verses work well, but combined with those other elements, ‘Still Is The Rhythm’ is the album’s weakest point. ‘Ten Shades of Grey’ combines an almost fifties doo-wop sensibility with a couple of bluesy edges – Yates’s guitar solo making good work of a wah-wah pedal at first, before descending into a handful of long, seemingly un-connected notes. His wah-wah steps to the fore of ‘Stab In The Back’ which has verses echoing the funk scene of the 90s, while the chorus – although not lyrically memorable – rocks in a simple but effective way that makes me think this could have roots dating back to the sessions for ‘Formaldehyde’.
Following that, it’s business as usual, as Terrorvision turn up the fun with ‘Pretend Best Friend’ (arguably the best of the albums five single releases). Tapping into a memorable riff, sounding not unlike a hard rock version of the theme tune to “The Munsters”, it respresents one of the few times that ‘How To Make Friends…’ captures the real essence of a Terrorvision live performance. Coupling this with a lounge jazz element – complete with flugelhorn – on the pre-choruses, the great contrast shows that someone in the band isn’t short of great ideas; it’s just a shame that in various places on this album they struggled to arrange the songs in a manner which brings out their best qualities. ‘Time O The Signs’ employs some decent funk chops but doesn’t end up being too memorable, despite one of Wright’s most urgent vocals and a great groove in places. It’s possibly a case of bad album sequencing – it’s hard to follow ‘Pretend Best Friend’.
The slow pace and orchestration of ‘Some People Say’ (the closest the album gets to an epic rock ballad) lends a sense of moodiness lacking elsewhere. Wright’s vocal is one of the album’s best, capturing the spirit of the arrangement very well, pushing his voice beyond it’s usual flippant rock shoutiness. Not sure what Mark Yates was thinking though: he’s chosen a completely inappropriate guitar solo, comprising of discordant notes – heavy on the whammy-bar. The pace and mood may be right, but the style is very misplaced. Since ‘Some People Say’ has a melancholy vibe – something generally not associated with Terrorvision – you’d hope he would have managed something a little classier.
Closing the album, ‘What Makes You Tick’ employs a huge guitar riff in a style which, again, displays an obvious love of seventies rock. Wright seems fairly at home vocally with the increased volume, although it sounds as if it was a slight strain on his limited vocal skills. A multi tracked vocal on the chorus is a nice touch (presumably used at the suggestion of producer Gil Norton) since it balances out the simplicity of the hard rock riffing. The track threatens to build to a climax but stops short of a big crescendo, resulting in only the multi-tracked vocal being left. This is, in fact, the same multi tracked vocal that appears briefly at the beginning of the album, before the proper opening of ‘Alice What’s The Matter’; I assume it was designed so they’d (almost) link up if the CD was left on repeat… Sadly, this idea (used to fantastic effect on Pink Floyd’s album ‘The Wall’), goes straight out of the window since someone in the band/at the record company decided to include a bonus track on the CD after several minutes of silence. As far as “hidden” bonus tracks are concerned, this one is a complete non-event, since it comprises six minutes of distorted voices (presumably over a telephone recorded on a Dictaphone). Supposedly, parts of it feature Wright and the chaps on the wind up with a few New Yorkers, but the sound is so poor most of the words are inaudible. Aside from a mention of Jimi Hendrix and a woman unhappy with her recent hair appointment, it’s near impossible to make out any of it.
‘How To Make Enemies…’ isn’t an especially coherent listen, but what it represents is an album brimming with decent ideas and brilliant choruses. The arrangements could sometimes do with a bit of work, but generally, it’s easy to see what the band were attempting to achieve musically with each of the album’s thirteen numbers, even if things don’t always work out perfectly. On record at least, Terrorvision never bettered it (the subsequent album, ‘Regular Urban Survivors’, contained brilliant singles coupled with instantly forgettable album tracks). Now, if only they could have captured the extra pace and spark of their live show on record, they really could have been on to something…