Brassneck

It’s kind of an odd thing for me to write this entry. Brassneck is the song that epitomises my love for The Wedding Present more than any other song. To try and sum it up in mere words is very difficult. So I will keep it simple.

The first time I played Bizarro, I barely listened to the first track, so desperate was I to get to the others that I’d already heard live like What Have I Said Now? Seems inconceivable to me now but when a friend mentioned that Brassneck was his favourite song on the album I was a little surprised. The album version was great but the pace was a little pedestrian compared to some of the other tracks. Over time I started to invest in the lyrics a little more and realised they were hitting some pretty poignant personal demons right on the nose.

Interestingly (see Q&A below), David Gedge also thought the production on Brassneck could do with being beefed up. Having long-admired the American recording engineer Steve Albini, Gedge elected to make their first collaboration an EP with the lead track being a re-working of Brassneck.  The band and Albini would go on to work together again several times and it’s no surprise given the quality of that initial recording session.

The song was transformed into a powerful pounding beast of a record. Angry snarling lyrics dance on the edge of fizzing guitars and primal beats. The opening riff is one of indie rock’s most exhilarating. The angst-ridden rhymes burn with truth and pain. The song turns on a sixpence in the final furlong, spinning off into a dark moody coda. There’s a charge of electricity that flickers through every line and the song bows out on a desperate final line that breaks hearts.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best song ever written.

Questions and Answers with David Gedge:

How did this song come about? Did you draw on one particular relationship for the lyrics?

DLG: As you know, I don’t discuss specifics… but I think we’ve all been in a relationship where the other person changes over a period of time and you don’t. I wanted to write a lyric which describes the way that someone can feel let down that the other person has changed. It’s not until the very end that you find out that that other person has ‘met someone else’, too.

Was the slowed-down coda always like that?

DLG: Yes, the end bit was always there as a respite from the muscularity of the main body of the song.

Did you realise how good that riff was as soon as you came up with it?

DLG: Ha, ha… well I wouldn’t’ve used it if I’d thought it was rubbish!

Do you enjoy playing it live? It’s certainly a favourite among fans.

DLG: Certainly… I think the tribal drumming really helps drive it along and makes it sound exciting.

This song, of course, has two pretty different versions on first Bizarro and then the single release. What were the reasons for recording it again?

DLG: I personally didn’t think that the album version captured the intensity the song had when we played it live. I don’t think the Bizarro version is bad, or anything… but around that time we’d become interested in the idea of working with the American engineer, Steve Albini, and so there was a feeling that perhaps we could re-record it with him as a way of seeing how an Albini / Wedding Present relationship might work. I think the Albini version of Brassneck added more colour and depth… and sounds more succinct than the Bizarro version.

Between the two versions you changed the final line of the chorus to “I’ve just decided I don’t love you anymore”. Why the change?

DLG: I never feel that lyrics are ‘finished’ and so if I think they can be improved, even after the song has been recorded, I have no qualms about changing stuff. In this case I feel that the alteration adds poignancy.

How did RCA feel about you releasing it as a single?

DLG: I’m not sure we ever asked them, to be honest. In The Wedding Present it has always been the band making those kinds of decisions.

I loved the artwork from this period of releases – how much say did you and the band have into that?

DLG: That was the period when we worked mostly with ‘Hitch’ who was interested in a specific style of graphic art. We felt that his style totally complemented and enhanced what we were doing and so he had pretty much free reign. I mean, he would show us stuff and we’d say “yes, this is great… not too keen on that”, etc., but, by and large, we all loved his work.

I may have mentioned a few hundred times that this is my favourite song ever, how do you feel when people say that about something you’ve written?

DLG: I obviously feel flattered. But then it’s also… kind of… just what I do, really…

Why were you so pissed off during that infamous Top Of The Pops performance? And… were you all equally as fed up filming the video?

DLG: I wasn’t! I was just following an old tradition established by some of my heroes… those punk bands who didn’t take Top Of The Pops seriously and who took the mickey out of the whole ‘miming’ thing. I started doing it during the TV rehearsals, fully expecting a producer or director to tell me to stop messing about but no one did. So with each run-through it became a little more… extreme, ha, ha.

The Brassneck video was the inspiration for the Top Of The Pops performance, actually, with the band looking bored and oblivious to the frantic, theatrical performance art going on around us. The two things aren’t that dissimilar…

Where did the odd title come from?

DLG: I’ve always been a fan of comics [to the point where I even have my own, now!] and Brassneck, the robot, was a favourite character of mine from The Dandy in the 1960s.

How do you feel about the version you performed with the BBC Big Band in 2009?

DLG: I love the sound of that version, even though I was nervous about singing it. I think of all the songs we collaborated on for that concert this works the best. It’s very Las Vegas!

Official Lyrics

No, I sent you that letter to ask you if the end was worth the means
Was there really no in-between?
And I still don’t feel better
I just wondered if it could be like before and I think you just made me sure
But then that’s typically you
And I might have been a bit rude but I wrote it in a bad mood
I’m not being funny with you
But it’s hard to be engaging when the things you love keep changing

Brassneck
Brassneck.
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore

The first time you came over, do you remember saying then you’d stay for good?
No I didn’t think you would
Well we couldn’t have been closer
But it was different then, and that’s all in the past,
There…I’ve said it now at last!
You grew up quicker than me
I kept so many old things; I never quite stopped hoping
I think I know what this means
It means I’ve got to grow up
It means you want to throw up

Brassneck
Brassneck.
I just decided I don’t trust you anymore
I just decided I don’t love you anymore

Oh, I know you weren’t listening, were you?
Oh, just go, whenever you’d prefer to
I said it means a lot, when you use an old phrase
But then so what?
We can’t have it both ways
I know you’re not bothered are you?
Even so, I’m not going to argue
He won’t object; keep writing to me
Just don’t forget you ever knew me

Written and published by Gedge [whose publishing is administered outside of the UK & Eire by Fintage Publishing BV].

Studio Versions:

1 – Bizarro version recorded 1989 TIME: 4:53

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Peter Solowka (guitar); Keith Gregory(bass); Simon Smith (drums);  Chris Allison (producer) and Steve Lyon (engineer)

2 – Brassneck EP version  released 05/02/1990  [RCA PT43404] TIME: 4:19

Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Peter Solowka (guitar); Keith Gregory (bass) and Simon Smith (drums) Engineer: Steve Albini;  Mastered by: Miles Showell

Live Versions:

1 – Montreal single released 13/01/1997  TIME: 3:56

Recorded 25/08/1996 at Reading Festival
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Simon Smith (drums); Simon Cleave (guitar) and Jayne Lockey (bass). Engineer: Miti; Producer: Sam Cunningham

2 – Cinerama – Live in Belfast released 06/10/2003 [TONE CD 015] TIME: 4:46

Recorded 05/09/2002 at The Empire, Belfast
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Simon Cleave (guitar); Terry de Castro (bass); and Kari Paavola (drums).  Live Sound Mixed: Richard Jackson; Mastering: Guy Davis

3 – Shepherds Bush Welcomes…
released 2007 [SECRET RECORDINGS CRIDEBI] TIME: 3:42

Recorded 20/11/2005 at Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Simon Cleave (guitar); Terry de Castro (bass); Simon Pearson (drums). Mixed & mastered: Roger Lomas; Live Sound Mixed: Christopher McConville

4 – Live 1989 released 2010 [TONE CD 034] TIME: 4:41

Recorded 03/11/1989 at Batschkapp, Frankfurt
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Peter Solowka (guitar); Keith Gregory (bass) and Simon Smith (drums). Live Sound Mixed: Joe Hickey; Mastered: Andy Pearce

5 – Live 1990 released 2011 [TONE CD 036] TIME: 4:00

Recorded 10/06/1990 at Maxwell’s, Hoboken, New Jersey
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Peter Solowka (guitar); Keith Gregory (bass) and Simon Smith (drums).Live Sound Mixed: Joe Hickey; Mastered: Andy Pearce

6 – Live 1991 released 22/10/2012 TIME: 4:04

Recorded 30/11/1991 at Barowiak, Uppsala
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Paul Dorrington (guitar); Keith Gregory (bass) and Simon Smith (drums). Live Sound Mixed: Joe Hickey; Mastered: Andy Pearce

7 – Live 1992 released 2013 TIME: 4:16

Recorded 30/10/1992 at Paard, Den Haag
Recorded by : David Gedge (vocals, guitar); Paul Dorrington (guitar); Keith Gregory (bass) and Simon Smith (drums). Live Sound Mixed: Joe Hickey; Mastered: Andy Pearce

8 – Seamonsters Edsel records re-release from 2014 [EDSJ 9006] TIME: 3:47

Recorded 19/01/1991 at The Brits, Wembley Arena

Video Versions:

1 – An Evening With The Wedding Present  released 2008
Live version – same details as Shepherds Bush Welcomes cd as above

2 – Bizarro – Edsel records re-release from 2014
Brassneck promo video & Brassneck Top of the Pops appearance (27/09/1991) – see below

Brassneck EP
Brassneck EP
Bizarro
Bizarro

Live:

As you can tell from the number of live versions available, Brassneck has been a staple of the live set ever since its debut in 1989. Even when Cinerama were in full force, this song was one of the first TWP tracks that returned to the set. Generally, unless it’s an album-specific set, it’s almost unusual to NOT hear Brassneck played at a gig.

Video:

Please enjoy the marvellous video for Brassneck:

 

and here’s the Top of the Pops appearance recorded off telly by yours truly:

 

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5 thoughts on “Brassneck

  1. I too love Brassneck. One of my favourite songs by one of my favourite groups. But the “grow up”, “throw up” rhyme still makes me wince. Sorry, David.

  2. Both versions are monstrously good but I actually prefer the Bizarro version over the Steve Albini collaboration. I know I’m probably in the minority on that.

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