Ah, the milieu of excess and sleaze of the mid ’90s, when it was all Oasis vs Blur and Blair romping to victory. Post-Cobain and post-shoegaze – bollocks out, fingers up machismo and loutish rhetoric were the dishes flying out of the rock ‘n’ roll kitchen and dear me didn’t we eat it all up. Granted, Jarvis’s underdog, Woody Allen meets Morrissey style of neurosis and waves of nerdiness had a brief reign of supremacy and Radiohead were quietly plugging away being bigger across the pond and probably better than any band out there, but the real zeitgeist, certainly in Britain anyway, was a sensibility rooted in football, the lads and lager, lager, lager, lager, shouting…
‘That’ NME cover
It was a time when being twenty-something, white and male meant you were the king of the world. It was strange then, that in 1995 of all years, a Britpop band fronted by a cute, Anglo-Indian girl with a penchant for poetic turns of tongue had any success at all. But they did. OK, Echobelly were never as big as their contemporaries really, but a number 4 album, a number 13 single and public admiration from Madonna and R.E.M. (probably the actual biggest band in the world at the time) all point to a period that was largely prosperous for the band.
Anyway, as is often the case with large-scale youth movements, most people now look back on Britpop as being generally about the big boys (Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede and The Verve). But hidden in the depths of the Britpop canon is a song with a chorus so brilliantly infectious, a timbre so wonderfully razor-edged and a lyric so acutely satirical that it’s a crying shame that it is ever overlooked for ‘Roll with It’ or ‘Country House’.
As you’ve probably guessed, that song is indeed ‘King of the Kerb’; Echobelly frontwoman Sonya Madan’s superb comment on homelessness, drugs and prostitution or her nod to chavs on street corners (depending on how you read into the lyric). Superb lyrical waxes such as “Sugar smile savvy/the king of the kerb/got a temper in the style of a bomb/got his friends in his pocket/or safe behind bars/all the local boys know what he’s done” give the song an undertone which it would have been fine without, given that it is such an addictive and perfect melody. That its lyric has a point and poetic phrasing only serves to put a cherry on top of this sonic cupcake.
The old single cover
Echobelly never again did something as tremendous as this, and never really did before, but for one brief moment they had a song which could easily could have graced the Cocker, Albarn or Anderson songbook and not been dwarfed by the others. As we move into the 20 year cycle within which things regurgitate in pop, and Britpop has a proper, NME-backed revival, then maybe – just maybe – folk will re-engage with this fine forgotten gem and resurrect its status a la ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ or ‘Enola Gay’.
It’s probably abundantly clear that I love this song (and if it isn’t then you really should re-read the above), but I also feel that we should all love this song. It is a forgotten gem, but a gem nonetheless.
Echobelly – King of the Kerb