Tuesday, April 12, 2005


One of the many bands signed to a major label during the "alternative" 90's in a rush of excitement only to be forgotten about and dropped soon after. Slowpoke were always better at writing songs than albums and they only really began to find themselves at the very end, when no one was paying attention anymore and they were using another name.

Started by Arlington, TX med student David Gibson and a friend on a lark, the band released a single on Direct Hit ("Limestone Friend/Plays Clean No. 5") a year or two before signing with the Dutch East India owned fake indie Grass Records and releasing Mad Chen in 1994. The single was derivative post punk that would have sounded at home on any number indie labels at the time. Early Am Rep comparisons missed the point - the sound flirted with a sort of droned out, dazed hardcore that was closer to early Sonic Youth if only there wasn't really anything to compare it to. This sound came the closest to being fully realized with the song "Ice Minus" which appeared on the We're From Texas compilation in 1992. The music seems to flow by in a haze as if it's all just a big insinuation. While recording in a cheap studio may have had something to do with this, it was nevertheless pretty interesting and fairly unique.

Mad Chen evened out the dynamics and fleshed out and mellowed the noise to the point that the comparison that popped up most in the few reviews it got was the Afghan Whigs. Imagine that band with all the angst and none of the pretend soul. This is where the problem with cohesion first became apparent. Listening to Mad Chen all at once left little impression, it sounded phoned in (a deeply inferior re-recording of "Ice Minus") and very much of its time, like the least interesting parts of a million other bands rolled into one. The bland production, Dulli-esque vocals and sour relationship lyrics heavy on the gun imagery ("Shotgun in the house/'Keep it for protection'/Or so you say") could have been any band at that point in history. Hell, it could have been your band. Revisiting it a little at a time, however, reveals some pretty interesting songs tucked away. Overall it still seems a little too heavy on the overplayed angst, but tracks like "Lopez De La Gomez", "In Time For Celius", "Coral" and especially the fantastic closer "(Sudden Death) Overtime" show definate personality. Mad Chen is the kind of forgettable album that would have made a wonderful EP.

The band was sidelined for awhile after the release of Mad Chen by Gibson's schooling. When they decided they wanted to make another record, Grass, who were in the middle of the buyout talks that would turn them into Wind Up, kept putting them off... So Slowpoke began recording anyway. It was mentioned later in interviews that at least three albums worth of material were recorded during this period only to be set aside. By the time Grass finally sent the band into Fort Apache studios with producer Wally Gagel to work on a proper follow up the few people who even remembered who they were had probably figured they weren't together anymore.

A three song tape from the Fort Apache sessions began circulating among industry people and Slowpoke, a band that even the most versed underground music fan still knew nothing about, found themselves in the middle of a minor bidding war. Grass/Wind Up spent months trying to bilk this supposed windfall for all it was worth before finally giving in. In October 1996 Slowpoke signed with Geffen and were told their album would be in stores in no time. The only new material the band had released in the two years since Mad Chen was Belated Valentine, a split single with the Toadies on Grass. Slowpoke's contribution, "She Fainted", was easily their best work up to that point. They didn't even sound like the same band anymore. Gone was the reliance on manufactured rage and sound alike histrionics. The song is driven by bass and keyboard. This new Slowpoke was all about groove and melody.

The band spent another two years waiting for Geffen to release their album. In early 1998 a CD single was released by Geffen and Last Beat Records containing the album track "Am I Shade?", "Shouldn't Be Out Late" ( presumably a song from the post Mad Chen/pre-Fort Apache recording frenzy) and a 4-track demo recording of the closest thing Slowpoke ever had to a "standard", "You Can't Trust Me". "Am I Shade?" basically sounds like a beefed up, more grooving version of one of the better tracks off Mad Chen. "Shouldn't Be Out Late" is a noisy pop song with loping bass and jazzy piano breaks. The version of "You Can't Trust Me" here was described in one review at the time as sounding like "Sebadoh covering the Pixies" and well... that pretty much nails it. It seemed like Slowpoke were really coming into their own.

In April 1998 the album, entitled Virgin Stripes, was finally released with little promotion and support and promptly bombed. Apparently the only thing Geffen really did for Slowpoke was give them hairstylists and new wardrobes and take plenty of pictures. Sadly, the album is a bit of a letdown. There are some real standout tracks, like the opener "Railroad" with it's siren like lead guitar and "Hey! Alma Mater" with backing vocals from the girl from Fuzzy (?). The problems are the stifling radio-ready production and a general nondescript feeling. Slowpoke seems to have traded one formula (angry post punk wailing) for another (modern altera-rock emoting). The album does so little to distinguish Slowpoke from every other "alterative" rock band at the time that you really have to wonder if promotion would have made much difference. Where are the bursts of personality and style (not to mention the keys) found in "She Fainted" and "Shouldn't Be Out Late"? Where is a full band recording of "You Can't Trust Me" (one would show up much later on a local music compilation)? Even "Am I Shade?" seems less interesting in this context. Geffen reportedly sent Slowpoke back into the studio to do some more work on the album before releasing it and one can only guess exactly how much was added or changed. Was Virgin Stripes a brilliant record that was ruined by too much label tinkering or a lackluster effort given an uncalled for radio sheen?

Not that it's all bad. As I said there are some nice tracks, but they only make the rest of the album that much harder to take. It's another average album that would have made a great EP. The band hoped to be in the studio again within a year of Virgin Stripes release working on another record... after all, the songs on the record were pretty old at this point. That never happened, though. Slowpoke were kept out of the studio and handed their walking papers within a year. The song "Lorraine" was apparently a bit of a minor radio hit for awhile in Florida but it was too little, too late. It's ashame because a song like "I Can't See You Anymore" would have sounded great on the radio, for whatever that's worth.

After vanishing for a while, the band re-surfaced in 2000 with the name Prize Money, released the best album of their career on a small local label, played some shows and then quickly vanished again... but that's for another post.

Limestone Friend [MP3, 3.1MB, 128kbps]

Plays Clean No. 5 [MP3, 3.5MB, 128kbps]

(Sudden Death) Overtime [MP3, 2.1MB, 128kbps]

She Fainted [Mp3, 4.7MB, 128kbps]

Shouldn't Be Out Late [MP3, 4MB, 128kbps]

I Can't See You Anymore [MP3, 3.6MB, 128kbps]

-Old Geffen Records Slowpoke Site (via Internet Archive)-

-Last Beat Records Slowpoke Site-


Post a Comment

<< Home