Looking back at his time in These Animal Men, Julian Hewings – then trading under the inviting-ridicule nickname, Hooligan – claims the band decided early on their venture wasn’t to become a business or a career but would be an “artistic moment to express our defence of rock and roll and the ordinary kid”. There might be some revisionism going on there but there’s no denying his assertion that they “were doomed but we just fucking went out and blazed it.”
Flawed Is Beautiful is a film by Adam Foley and tells the story of These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H; two bands the weekly music press dubbed leaders of 1994’s genre-of-the-moment, New Wave of the New Wave. Ultimately NWOTNW didn’t leave much of an impression but it did – for good or bad – do much of the spadework for Brit Pop to flourish the following year. Through archive footage and interviews with band members, journalists and music biz people two quite separate stories emerge.
These Animal Men wanted to exist in a world where rock ‘n’ roll was king. Three minute blasts of adrenaline-driven pop, dressing up, wearing eyeliner, dying your hair, making a noise, star-jumping on stage, pulling poses practiced in the mirror in front of an audience, getting under people’s skin, taking cheap drugs and having huge heaps of fun; where being in a band was the best possible thing one could wish for and being on Top of the Pops the ultimate achievement. They did it. They lived it and revelled in it. “If someone was gonna do something it had to be someone ordinary, and pathetic, and snidey, and a bit of a prick. And that was me,” says Hewings, his pride obvious. Hewings/Hooligan is the star of this film with his interview segments capturing all that is wonderful about being in a band, balanced with an underlying appreciation of the ridiculousness and transitory nature of the beast.
They courted controversy from the start which is always a double-edged sword; gets attention but invites suspicion which is inevitably impossible to shake. If the lyrics, title and spelling of debut single ‘Speeed King’ weren’t enough, they somehow managed to persuade Virgin Records to throw in a These Animal Men branded (empty) wrap of speed with each copy and have a sleeve depicting a huge bowl of (fake) amphetamines with four straws. And if that wasn’t enough, attempt to play live in schools around the country, with obvious results. To this day, it is a constant source of embarrassment and anxiety for bassist Patrick Murray but sums up the band in one episode.
While These Animal Men had a swashbuckling attitude, blurring punk rock with modish glamour (incidentally, ‘This Is The Sound of Youth’ is the best Mod Revival sounding record ever made, amalgamating Secret Affair and The Chords into something greater than the sum of its parts) and an endless stream of quotable soundbites looking and sounding like a bunch of cut-price Richey Manics, S*M*A*S*H were darker, angrier and grubbier. The Men had style but arguably S*M*A*S*H had more substance. Drummer Rob Hague comes across as a salt of the earth kinda geezer but their story involves suicide and smack addiction, political benefit gigs, awkward punctuation, singles called ‘LadyLoveYourCunt’ and ‘(I Want To) Kill Somebody’ with lyrics about murdering members of the tory government and a video showing John Major having his cock bitten off. That last achievement is without doubt impressive but which band would you sooner have been in? Very little about their tale sounds like much fun.
Flawed But Beautiful is a labour of love for Adam Foley and even if you’re unfamiliar with the bands – or not particular a fan of either – a terrific film capturing dreams, youthful spirit, energy, excitement and white-hot rock and roll. It didn't last long but they did it. More should try it.
Flawed Is Beautiful is out now on DVD.