At best, the latest campaign to move English pop bands back atop the American charts has netted mixed results. So far, Oasis is absorbing a majority of the platinum benefits, while other U.K. groups are left to the cult-sized remains. And now, just when all the talk of the next British Invasion is about to capsize under the weight of its own superlatives, along comes Spacehog, a band of English natives who see no cause to invade. Why should they, when they can immigrate instead?
The four members of Spacehog have a good vantage point to view the hype spilling out of Britain. As Englishmen who've taken up residence in New York, their rapid rise has come minus the aid of their countrymen and the supposed benefits of invasion affiliation.
"To me, it really doesn't matter what we're associated with," says Royston Langdon, Spacehog's lead singer and bassist. "That whole Brit pop thing was manufactured by the press, anyway. We've pretty much kept ourselves to ourselves, really."
Thankfully, Spacehog didn't keep their recent single, "In the Meantime," to themselves. A meteoric spew of glam-metal conviction, "Meantime" is a flawless start to a near-flawless debut, Resident Alien (a title that refers to the band's present living status). Though the term "glam-metal" may evoke unkind images of spandexed hair bands tonguing the cameras, Spacehog's melding of high drama and crushing licks couldn't be farther from that sort of mascaraed machismo. In fact, the MTV Buzz Bin clip for "In the Meantime" shows the band performing to an audience of disinterested transvestites. How's that for insinuated androgynous content?
Spacehog's glam sensibility is culled directly from the life-source that fed bands such as T. Rex, Mott the Hoople and, most memorably, David Bowie. Brothers Royston and Antony Langford are Spacehog's dueling creative temperaments, Royston being the one with the cultured, over-the-top vocal theatrics and the psycho-dramatic songwriting and Antony providing grand-scale guitar work and tendencies toward the sexually outrageous (urges he has disturbingly attributed to childhood sexual abuse he experienced while a member of the same church choir in which Royston developed his bold voice).
Royston's songs take up a bulk of Resident Alien, and they tend to be defined both by his imitative instincts and the seemingly permanent union of his tongue with his cheek. A cagey sense of parody pervades the CD's considerable craftsmanship, with echoes heard of everyone from Bowie to Mott the Hoople's Ian Hunter and the Kinks' Ray Davies. Indeed, picking through Resident Alien for references to other bands is part of the fun, though Spacehog's copycat methods have irked some critics. Maybe it would irk this critic more if it all didn't go down so easily and with such a knowing wink -- as if the band is simultaneously ridiculing and celebrating its debt to its influences.
"We're taking in things," admits Royston, sounding surprisingly nonchalant, "from all over the place."
The Langdon brothers never cared much for England. So, with little fanfare, they did the obvious thing and left. You might say that the two abandoned the glum prospect of menial jobs or a life on the dole in their working-class hometown of Leeds for fame in the United States. It's a story that certainly makes for good copy, though it's not completely accurate.
The expected path British bands take to the States begins with success at home; they then ride the buzz all the way to America. Spacehog's scenario was quite different. Before they ventured overseas, the Langstons were an unproven commodity. By the time Royston had grown increasingly frustrated with his role in the Leeds outfit the Zeroes and was ready to cross the Atlantic, Antony was already living in New York, having followed a girlfriend there a few years earlier. When the brothers finally joined up, they were without a band and ill-equipped to conquer.
"I was getting a bit bored. The whole thing in England was real stale at the time," recalls Royston. "The whole rave thing was going on, and nobody went out to see bands. Everybody just saved all their money to buy drugs all week and did a weekender -- that was the thing to do."
In England, the Langdons may have stalled with their respective musical projects. But in New York, they appeared, at first, to be going backward. When they weren't partying or working monotonous day jobs, Royston and his brother spent their spare time sequestered in an apartment writing songs and jamming. In their search for collaborators, the two met up with drummer Jonny Cragg, another Brit who had escaped to New York, and Spacehog was launched. The band was reinforced eight months later with guitarist Richard Steel, who flew in from England at Cragg's request.
"It's been quite speedy since then," says Royston. "We never sent out any tapes; we did record, but we were always so disorganized."
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Despite themselves -- and thanks, in large part, to their outlandish live shows around New York's Greenwich Village -- Spacehog was picked up by Sire Records within months of its formation. "We're punctual," says Royston with laugh, trying to attach an adjective to the band's on-stage persona, which often shifts wildly between tight professionalism and unseemly chaos.
Of course, it's all in fun -- even if some folks back in the U.K. fail to find the humor in Spacehog's flashy ways.
"To tell you the truth, I don't think Spacehog would have happened if we were in England," Royston says. "New York's such a busy place, and you can really get a lot of stuff done here; you've really got to bust your balls. Back there, people are completely out of touch with that."
Spacehog performs Tuesday, May 7, at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Tracy Bonham opens. Tickets are $10.50. Doors open at 8 p.m. For info, call 629-3700.