Heavenly - P.U.N.K. Girl EP
published: 20 / 9 / 2008
New Pennyblackmusic writer Rachel Williams reflects on Oxford-based twee pop act Heavenly's dark 1993 'P.U.N.K. Girl EP'
"Here you go" said my friend, handing me a CD. "I made you a mix tape." I took it from him sceptically; little knowing that it would lead me to discover one of the most brilliant things that I had ever heard. I must be honest. I am not easily impressed nowadays. Perhaps this is due to the inevitable cynicism that occurs alongside no longer being a teenager - when things are no longer shiny and new. Everything seems to sound like something else. As I have said, however, this mix tape was to provide me with a sample of something truly great. Heavenly stood out to me immediately as a band that wrote wonderful pop songs; my friend’s compilation contained the witty and extremely catchy ‘C is the Heavenly Option’ which had me almost instantly singing along and hence I felt compelled to delve further into their catalogue. I did not, however, realise exactly what it would lead me to find. Heavenly were born out of Talulah Gosh, the Oxfordian 80s ‘twee’ punk pop band fronted by Amelia Fletcher (keyboard Cathy Rogers, guitarist Peter Momtchiloff, bassist Rob Pursey, and Amelia’s drummer brother Matthew). They have appeared numerous times in Pennyblackmusic and Amelia has even given an interview about the development of her career. Unlike Talulah Gosh, Heavenly are more pop than punk. Amelia Fletcher commented that even though Heavenly contained much the same line-up as Talulah Gosh they "were less obsessed about being punk rock and more about just making nice songs and playing them well" and this definitely comes across when you listen and compare it with the brash DIY sound of Talulah Gosh. Heavenly were a deliberate attempt to counteract the laddy Manchester rock and Acid House that dominated the indie scene at the time; they explained that even the name of the band was chosen as "something that was as feminine and as unmanrock as possible." And it was perhaps this sentiment that lay behind the 'P.U.N.K. Girl EP'. It proves this ethos so perfectly; it is so well thought out; so wonderfully crafted. It is essentially a pop record about something much darker and repulsive - a concept album about date rape. Your superficial instinct is to dance, to sing along happily without a care in the world, but however as soon as you listen you realise that this is more than a pop record. The lyrics tell the story of a relationship between a girl and a boy; of how the boy becomes obsessed with the girl, who is leading him on – flirting with him, pretending she loves him - and how this leads him to rape her. The E.P. opens with the title track, 'P.U.N.K Girl'; a fast paced energetic pop- punk song with prominent drums and bass; written from the frustrated point of view of a boy who is obsessed with a girl who doesn’t return his feelings. It uses the traditional pop feature of alphabetizing the sentiments that the boy feels that spell out P.U.N.K ("P is for the pain she makes me feel some days / U is for Utopia, the other times with her."), effectively portraying how this boy has put her on a pedestal. 'Hearts and Crosses' is the stand-out song on the E.P; it is pure brilliance. It describes the rape of a girl; Melanie (who we can only assume is the girl described in the title track). It is set to an ironic cheesy keyboard riff which serves to successfully enhance the sense of romantic naivety within the song; “She wasn't so naive to hope for Keanu Reeves/ But still she thought a boy could make things right”. And as you realise what the song is really saying, it sends a chill down your spine; “Why does it feel so horribly real/ when images of him float back into her mind”. The wonderful juxtaposition of the absolutely shocking lyrics with the sweet sound of Amelia Fletcher and Cathy Roger’s voices alongside perfectly formed pop riffs provides a sense of the naivety which corresponds to the characterization within the song. “Then one romantic day he took her hand and led her away He pushed her down, removed his clothes, and put his body Closer than close He held her mouth when she tried to scream It was all so different from in her dream He never smiled, he never whispered He bit her hard, but never kissed her” The rest of the E.P. is dedicated to the aftermath of the rape. 'Atta Girl' provides a counterpoint to 'Hearts and Crosses'. It has a much more punky and exhilarating feel, providing a fitting backdrop to a song that voices anger and resentment. The simultaneous contrasting melodies of Fletcher and Cathy Rogers create fantastic tension and as they join together at the chorus create an absolute sense of defiance. With kind of wry satisfaction Fletcher sings; “I’m not yours and never will be now/ You tried too hard to smother” - it is pure female empowerment. Similarly 'Dig Your Own Grave' concentrates on the intertwining of contrasting melodies sung by the two girls which emphasise the contemptuous animosity of “Don't come to close (Don't stay round here)/ And please Don't phone (Even that's too near)” Ultimately this is a perfect piece of pop that packs a punch – and a feminist one at that. The last track on the E.P. consists solely of Amelia singing; “So I flirted a touch So maybe I laughed too much So I teased you So I said lots of stuff you interpreted as love I didn't mean to So you felt sure you were mine, I was yours So I was dumb, not to make things clear before So you hurt deep inside when I talked to other guys So I noticed So you gave me your time, love and hope but I kept mine So I'm selfish But nothing I did Or could ever have done Would justify What you did to Me Last Night” Her voice quivers determinedly through the song; it is full of angst and power delivering its message loud and clear. It provides a brilliantly satisfying closure to the record. Perhaps this record was a deliberate attempt to prove that they could be more than “twee” pop – the genre that both Talulah Gosh and Heavenly have been heavily brandished with - a label that they have spoken out against, calling it “the pathetic, wilful femination of men and women into kind of children”. Whether it is a derogatory label or not there is no doubt that there was more to Heavenly than twee and this E.P. is a perfect example of the brains behind this band.
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