Fierce Panda, for those not familiar, are the London independent record label that set many of the great and good of nineties/noughties indie rock on their way. Everyone from Ash to Death Cab For Cutie to Super Furry Animals have at some point graced Fierce Panda vinyl. Even Coldplay and Keane got a leg up from them. Not that there are any of those arena-bothering types here, mind you. This compilation presents some choice cuts from the second decade of the label’s existence, when the artists have, probably not through preference, failed to trouble the mainstream.
I feel a bit short-changed by the album, if I’m honest. It has been promoted as a collection of sad songs and when I’m promised sad songs, I want revolver-in-the-mouth, staring-into-the-abyss, my-life-and-everything-in-it-is-utterly-meaningless misery and pain. Most of the stuff here, meanwhile, is a tad tame, a touch ‘Sunday afternoon down B&Q’. Woodpigeon’s ‘Saddest Music In The World’, opening the album like a manifesto promise, is in fact the sort of bland everymusic you’d find on a Richard Curtis rom-com soundtrack (cue Hugh Grant gazing ruefully on a post-break up stroll through the park). The Raveonettes ask us if it’s the last dance and they seem positively happy about it. Yes, if you like your rock a bit weedy, it’s all here – Goldheart Assembly, Acres of Lions, Tom Hickox. Milo Greene’s ‘Son My Son’ opens tantalisingly with the same tremulous tension as Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady and then wimps out into gap year backpacker music.
On the positive side, ‘Softly Softly’ by The Hosts is enjoyable in an Ed Harcourt/Rufus Wainwright overblown indie cabaret way, its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production delivering a sliver of charm. Art Brut’s Rusted Guns of Milan is more like it too. An overly personal tale of erectile dysfunction, Eddie Argos’s spoken word delivery might be gimmicky to the point of irritation, but at least his frustration is palpable, not like some of the dialled-in performances elsewhere on the album. The Walkmen offer another moment where the album sparks into life, although ‘In The New Year’ isn’t the ideal jumping off point for a newcomer to their music. Dingus Khan’s ‘Made A List’ has a certain edge too, with its C86 guitar jangle and Paul McCartney Pipes Of Peace military whistling.
There are glimmers of invention on this album, then, but overall it just exemplifies how stultifyingly dull ‘indie’ music has been in the past decade. As Melanie Pain asks on track 15, ‘How Bad Can I Be?’ The answer is 4/10.