Respectable anarchy: Operator Please

by 5:4

Ok, let’s get things going again with a band i’ve been meaning to write about for a long while. i’m assuming Operator Please will be well-known to many, but i’m not sure that would have been the case, say, 9 months ago, as their profile seems to have increased significantly this year. Teenage rock bands don’t exactly have an illustrious lineage, but Operator Please—perhaps due to being Australian, which often seems to inject something ‘quirky’ (i.e. non-British) into the mix—stands apart from the posturing, arrogance and emotional tedium that drench and encapsulate the usual adolescent twaddle. It’s not just their antipodean credential though; the band is an interesting mixture, including a violinist, which has helped to cultivate an individual sound. There’s a certain amount of confusion that surrounds their releases, due to differences between Australian and British versions; this has been compounded by the very peculiar way these releases have been made available on the iTunes Store.

Their output is a small but consistent cluster of EPs and an album, all released during the last year or two. and from the outset, they’ve exhibited an infectious ebullience, from the opening track of their first EP: “Just A Song About Ping Pong”, which has arguably (but slightly unfortunately) become their most well-known song. If it wasn’t for their relentless enthusiasm, they may never have made a significant impression; On The Prowl is, at times, a fairly humdrum first effort. All the same, vocalist Amandah Wilkinson has the most deliciously impish voice, soft but with a palpable (even slightly ominous) hard edge; from her mouth, lyrics become volatile, sounding as though they (or she) might explode at any moment. But she’s capable of real lyricism too; even such a weak song as “One Yellow Button”—the piano part is egregious—becomes something special thanks to her; she’s clearly a talent to watch closely. “Teapot” and “Terminal Disease” are the highlights of the disc, the former inviting some head-banging and arm-waving in its joyous chorus. This early EP is long out of print, and is the only one of their releases i’ve still not tracked down; if anyone has a spare copy or knows where i can get one, please let me know 🙂

Their second EP, Cement Cement, continues in similar vein. Again, there’s an arresting opening track, only this time it’s genuinely fantastic, indie punk at its finest: “Get What You Want”, in my opinion their best song. This is Operator Please’s authentic voice, a kind of respectable anarchy (if that’s not an oxymoron), and it colours the next song, “Crash Tragic” even more strongly. “Two For My Seconds” asserts a more rhapsodic mood, flitting between tempi with considerable skill; unfortunately, the same skill isn’t in evidence on the delay applied to the piano part, which is ineptly-handled, and the track is marred somewhat as a result (particularly through headphones, where it sounds dreadful). Last is “Waiting By The Car”, a track that lacks focus, but is again carried through by the enthusiasm of the band. Cement Cement is also out of print, although i was fortunate to pick up a brand new copy a couple of months back from, of all places, Amazon.

Clearly, “Just A Song About Ping Pong” and “Get What You Want” are the standout tracks on these early independent EPs, and they form the basis of the band’s first official releases. Both songs are honed and polished somewhat, and the results are a noticeable improvement. “Ping Pong”—a brisk song already—is actually speeded up a touch, sounding even more breathless and hysterical than before. It’s a sure sign of record label involvement that the single includes the ubiquitous remix along with additional songs. Although it ejects much of the song’s original character, the “Kissy Sell Out White Stallion Remix” imbues it with a hard-edged quality that is entirely in keeping with the band; it’s a truly brilliant dance version, with echoes of Vince Clark‘s vintage synths a little after halfway through (Erasure, anyone?). Of the songs, “In Motion” is a langorous 6/8 track, with a hint of the blues, while the raw drums and Hammond organ stylings of “Spying” wouldn’t sound out of place in the late 60s. The UK version of the single include a fairly pointless “Radio Edit” of the remix, along with the “Mistabishi Vocal Mix” which attempts to put the band into an uncomfortable drum ‘n’ bass straight-jacket; there’s also an additional song, “Whip It”, rocking out in a slightly mundane fashion, and continuing the long legacy of songs that only use chords I, IV and V.

For its EP release, the main improvement to “Get What You Want” is one of clarity. This has the effect of making Amandah Wilkinson’s vocals sound even more cutting; when she sings “Let’s turn our nose up, become a snob, because we’re treading on roofs ’cause we’re so fuckin’ cool” she genuinely sounds like the coolest person on earth, and her scream shortly before the end is spine-tingling. Forget “Ping Pong”; this is the band’s best song to date. The UK version of the single includes “Waiting By The Car” from Cement Cement, whereas the Aussie version features the more interesting “Icicle”; all the same, beside the title track it sounds rather flat, but this is as nothing compared to the “Wolf and Cub remix”; sounding like the result of a GCSE composition, this is by far one of the very worst remixes of a song that i have ever had the misfortune to hear. Infinitely superior is the “(G.L.O.V.E.S Remix)” available through iTunes, that drapes the song in deliciously edgy electronica.

Leave It Alone is their third EP, and in its marginally more interesting Aussie version, features mostly remixes of the title track. On the one hand, this is actually no bad thing, as this is another of their best songs, slightly more calm than their previous two releases; on the other hand, the offerings are feeble. The “Album version” is mere filler, containing a redundant 7 extra seconds of material; why on earth labels inflict such nonsense on their fans is beyond me (oh shush; yes of course i know it’s all to do with money). Despite their own credentials, New Young Pony Club haven’t added anything of note to their “remix”, which barely lives up to the name; it rather gives the impression NYPC were scared of tampering with the song too much, so again it’s really not worth anyone’s attention. Furthermore, their remix pads out the song, thus destroying one of the band’s best features: brevity; whereas the original is exciting because of how much it crams into just 3½ minutes, at almost 5 minutes it sounds merely ponderous and soft. The last of the remixes is by David E. Sugar, who also pushes the song towards 5 minutes’ duration; he, however, is prepared to do something different with it, and the result, albeit rather gentle (and eventually repetitious) is worth a listen. There’s also a new song, “Mister Mister”, represented in a ‘live demo’ version that sounds convincingly untouched by studio jiggery pokery; it’s a great song, with some rather fancy drum-work from Tim Commandeur.

and so to the album, Yes Yes Vindictive, which includes all the title tracks from all three EPs, plus updated versions of two other songs from the past, “Two For My Seconds” and “Terminal Disease”. A number of the remaining songs demonstrate a nice “indie pop”/”pop rock” (call it what you will) flavour; indeed, some tracks (“Zero Zero” and “Cringe” in particular) are a dead ringer for the B-52s. “6/8” flounces around in its eponymous metre in glorious anthemic fashion; it’s a song that would sound ideal at some generic (read: predictable) critical moment in some generic (read: God-awful) British romcom, but of course it’s better than that, and one of the best tracks on the album. In contrast, “Yes Yes” cranks up the speed once more, before indulging in some playfully punkish call and response shouts. Despite “Other Song” sailing dangerously close to the shores of Muzak, the remainder of the songs are similarly engaging; upbeat “Ghost” is another track coloured by nice retro shadings, and there’s a pair of touchingly delicate final tracks, “Pantomime” (where Wilkinson’s vocals initially sound surprisingly like Courtney Love) and the beautifully intimate “Rocking Horse” (only available through iTunes), pared down to just voice and guitar. There’s simply not a bad song on this album.

All told, these releases paint the portrait of a band that is both inspired and inspiring, breathing some badly-needed mercuriality (and honesty) into the lighter side of rock.

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