Heavenly – Heavenly Versus Satan

Heavenly Versus Satan

Although there has probably never been a more poorly defined word in the musical vernacular than “pop,” it’s a good bet that most of us have certain definitions in mind for that most used and abused of terms. Normally, pop has drawn connotations to qualities of accessibility, commerciality, and a general lack of subversion. For example, the Beatles were a pop band when they were on the Ed Sullivan show and the most subversive element of their art was their haircuts. That ended when they started dropping acid, recording backwards guitar solos, and stopped wearing matching suits. Pop is usually light-hearted and easily digestible, and for this reason probably avoided by those who consider themselves “serious” music fans. For the most part, modern indie rock seems to be moving away from the traditional pop aesthetic. We still have artists who make extraordinarily catchy, highly listenable, non-threatening music, but it often has very little to do with pop. Still, we can see the spirit of pop surviving in one, much assailed, genre – twee pop. Clean guitars, cute vocals, a general sense of safety and silliness – this stuff is as close to the original spirit of traditional pop music as anything that exists in our cynical modern indie rock world. And for a time, Heavenly were as good as it got.
Having formed from the leftover pieces of proto-twee-pop pioneers Talulah Gosh, the Oxford band found their footing in the burgeoning twee-pop movement of the early 1990s and became international semi-stars in the process. Heavenly vs. Satan, a re-release of their long out-of-print 1991 debut with bonus tracks, collects their earliest great moments and documents the blueprint for twee-pop in the process. Their songs float atop a glistening brew of frothy melodies and crisply jangling guitar lines that never miss their perfectly formed notes. The bass lines gurgle and weave around impeccably arranged and interweaved choruses and verses. Lead vocalist Amelia Fletcher and her brother Mathew’s lyrics are sweet, occasionally clever, and altogether endearing. Mix in some adolescent glee, tempered with the normal sorrows and frustrations of any sensitive young adult, and you have the formula for one of the most easily endearing forms of independent music.
Tracks like “Shallow” and “Stop Before You Say It” cruise along with an undeniably bubbly energy, with a perkiness that masks the occasionally bleak focus of the lyrics. To an extent, it’s almost as if classic period Smiths have been mixed with early R.E.M giddiness, giving rise to something pleasantly breezy and wistful, free of pretense and stripped to its purest essence. The jerky tempos and frantic guitars of tracks like “Lemonhead Boy” and “It’s You” add a more anxious energy to the dreamy moods that tend to dominate the collection. Largely, it’s music that may not be entirely carefree but provides the setting to allow the listener to believe it is.
If any tragic flaw can be detected in the music of Heavenly, it would probably be the somewhat samey quality of their songs, as they tend to repeat the same textures, rhythms, and lyrical subjects a little too often, leading to a certain number of tracks being somewhat indecipherable from others in the same set. Still, they score undeniably high points for innovation and for carving out a niche distinctly their own, so any lack of musical eclecticism can be overlooked. More than anything it sometimes takes a band like Heavenly to prove that pop musicians can also be legitimate artists, not just choreographed faces with other people writing their songs.