'Sugar Free' & 'Tag'
'Latter Day Saint' & 'Pressures of Modern Life'
Shortly before Channel 6's Nightshift - Ireland's only halfway decent music video show on TV - got shut down by its evil corporate bosses in TV3, I saw for the first time ever the video for Sack's 'Laughter Lines', aka the song that Morrissey said "should be No. 1 forever". Unfortunately, I'm unlikely to see it again anytime soon, because it's not on YouTube - proving a) that good music television is not made completely redundant by the internet (it's not on Muzu.tv either, or (laugh) MTV Music) that b) most things by Sack, one of Ireland's best modern bands, are really hard to find.
So here is Sack's set from (Irish public broadcaster) RTE's Other Voices series in 2006, partially as a two fingers up to TV3 and an illustration of where the license fee actually goes (as opposed to Green Party, government minister for communications, Eamon Ryan's less than fantastic performance in explaining the virtues of public broadcasting against Vincent Browne's disingenuous block-headedness) and also because it's a very good live performance. In fact, it's probably my favourite performance of the several Other Voices series, even ahead of Fight Like Apes.
Self-described as "Frank Sinatra fronting the Pixies", Sack actually fits that description quite well. Crooning vocals revolving around a subtle electro-poppy, shoegaze-y indie sound and, yes, a certain Morrissey/Smiths quality. I wasn't very familiar with the band before seeing their Other Voices performance. 'Sugar Free' starts it off slow and gentle, not even touching the keyboard until three minutes in, and then only to accentuate the gradual curve of the song. 'Tag', by contrast, opens even quieter, yet stronger, with Martin McCann's vocal hook "I've spent this evening, watching you leaving", and from thereon in the song soars ever more upwards. Sack presents a certain sort of combined sonic and visual scenery in their carefully crafted pop. In the background, there is the beautiful musical textures created by the band; and in the foreground, the dramatic gestures of the frontman in his snazzy Suggs-style Fred Perry shirt.
At the time, I was only just getting into keyboards and pop music in general as valid means of artistic expression, something that also went along with discovering Bob Mould's post-Husker Du band Sugar and their first album Copper Blue. It may be an odd association, but it's not one without parallels. Both Mould and McCann are active as DJs in the gay club scene - and both are balding, stocky 30- to 40-something year old men - but what really interests me is the music here and the use of keyboard melodies in guitar-based indie or 'alt-rock' music. There's something about Sack that replicates the expressiveness of Sugar or later Husker Du, when they hit something sweetly poppy yet still obviously alternative.
In the second part, 'Latter Day Saints' is an upbeat, driving, melodic song with a groovy, slightly jazzy - in the showtune kind of way - chorus, "I'm trying hard to be a latter-day saint". The longer, more melancholy 'Pressures of Modern Life' combines instrumental atmosphere - vibrato guitar and keyboard blips and bloops - with the same kind of gentle melody and shoegaze-y drive: "suicide in a college town (ooh-ooh-oooh)". It's an almost defiantly pop sort of song, in its ending lines followed by the last, sugary riffs - "they got him, those demons/they repossessed his soul".