Note: This week's installment will see the introduction of a new grading system. I know these posts can get a little long winded, so I thought it might be easier for people to go to the bottom and check out a grade. Both the first and second single will receive a letter grade: A, B, C, D, or F, minuses and pluses will be added where necessary.
I'd like to start this installment with a quick note about one-hit wonders. While many of these artists weren't really deserving of even that one hit, but rather were the product of intense marketing and payola on the part of the record label (or maybe just a novelty video that got into heavy rotation on MTV and VH1) some of these artists did in fact make a genuinely great song. It just might have been the only one good enough (or catchy enough or marketed enough or had a sexy enough video or any number of reasons) to connect with the US audience at that specific moment in time. Thousands of bands are started on a daily basis, and to even get far enough on your own talent and merit to connect with the US radio audience, even if it's only once, is a feat that should not be scoffed at--even if it only lasts the standard issued fifteen minutes. So for as many artists that don't really deserve much respect, there's a few that do.
One of these bands that I feel deserves this respect is Spacehog.
Spacehog came around in that post-grunge world when America was falling in love with everything British and poppy just like they had 30 years previous. All those crazy Brit movies like The Full Monty, Trainspotting, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Wings of the Dove were being released and winning Oscars, and America was falling in love with the likes of Ewan McGregor, Hugh Grant, and Gwyneth Paltrow--who was and is American, but enjoyed pretending she was British, and it delighted American audiences so that we collectively accepted her as such.
The music that became popular during this Angophilic time was mostly part of the Britpop invasion (the electronic/techno scene was just beginning to bubble over stateside). Bands like Oasis and Blur were gods in the UK--their chart battles, not to mention the verbal barbs traded by Oasis's Noel Gallagher and Blur's Damon Albarn are the stuff of legend-- and that was bound to bleed over to the states, albeit in a less intense form. The UK's brand of hooky throwback pop was a welcome diversion for US audiences after years of listening to rockers moan about the adverse effects of the crispy Seattle weather.
But while Oasis, Blur, and second tier bands like Supergrass, and Travis would make their own respective splashes that would continue to ripple throughout the decade in the US, Spacehog made one big splash before being forgotten by the mainstream almost immediately thereafter.
Spacehog was formed in 1993 when two British ex-pats--Anthony Langdon, a guitarist and drummer Jonny Cragg--met in a coffee shop in New York City. Langdon's brother Royston soon joined along with second guitarist Richard Steel. The group soon garnered the attention of Sire Records who released their debut album, Resident Alien, in 1996.
Their first single, "In the Meantime" became an instant hit on alt. rock radio. After a short intro of spacey keyboards and a prominent bass solo, the song takes off with a killer hook that melds a searing guitar lick with howling vocals (and you have to love any song that opens with its hook) it delves straight into spacey glam rock, '70s era Bowie to be exact, eschewing the likes of The Beatles and post-punk artists that influenced Oasis and Blur respectively. It was also decidedly less Brit-centric than those artists offered up; Langdon's voice owed a lot to David Bowie and Ian Hunter (of Mott the Hoople), but was far removed from the more foreign sounding Lennon-if-he-were-from-Manchester-whine Liam Gallagher offered or the Kinks-inspired vocals of Damon Albarn. In that sense, Spacehog was probably easier for Americans to swallow than the other UK bands, but may not have appealed as strongly to their Anglophile side. This point is underlined by the fact that Spacehog did not achieve much success in their homeland, and actually turned out to be more popular in the US.
The song also spawned an appallingly boring video. For guys weaned on glam-rock and knowing both their band name and album title, you'd think there'd be a bit of a sci-fi theme...maybe some kitschy '50s B-movie theme or a cool remake of Dune or 2001? No. It's just a performance video where a lot of people stand around listening to the band looking bored.
"In the Meantime" was a huge hit on rock and pop radio formats--hitting #1 on Mainstream Rock charts, #37 on the Top 40 and #32 on the Hot 100. A follow-up single was released soon after and, as you might have guessed, didn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor.
"Cruel to Be Kind" (not a cover of the Nick Lowe classic of the same name) was the follow-up, and frankly, it's a pretty good one. Where "Meantime" is all space-rock production and took advantage of alt. rock's loud/soft dynamic, "Cruel" is just a straight forward pop song. Under all the walls of distorted guitars and more Bowie vocal inflections is a catchy, bouncy bubblegum pop song that seems to tip its hat to '70s power-poppers wrapped in glam packaging, Sweet (who released singles like "Fox on the Run," "Ballroom Blitz," "Action"). For all the talk of Bowie, Spacehog were really just an updated version of Sweet--taking the popular sound of the day, adding a little Bowie to it and throwing the sound on some fun pop dittys.
They at least had a little crazier video this time.
But perhaps it was too much of a throwback tune. Despite its timeless feel, the song failed to adhere to any of the current trends of 1996. If Spacehog had waited a decade or so, they probably would have made it a little further, because they were essentially doing a variation on what The Darkness would do only a few years later, only with less camp value and a tad (maybe just a smidge?) more originality. Although looking at that band's success maybe proves that there's only a limited market for this brand of classic rock aping.
"Cruel to Be Kind" hit #29 on the Mainstream Rock charts but didn't chart on the Hot 100 or Top 40.
Spacehog released another album in 1998, The Chinese Album (1998) and were dropped from Sire/Elektra soon after. In 2001, they signed with Artemis Records and released their last album to date, the WTF titled Hogyssey (2001).
Things were relatively quiet for a long while. It seemed that Royston Langdon was content with being a kept man, being married to the elvin princess, Liv Tyler.
In 2004, Langdon joined a short-lived band called "The Tender Trio" that featured two members of the band Blind Melon. After an aborted attempt at touring, the Trio called it quits in 2006 and Langon joined his brother Anthony and his other brother Christian along with Spacehog drummer Cragg in a new project called "Ackrid." Since then, Anthony has left to form a solo project and collaborate on an album with Joaquin Phoenix (yes you read that right. Should probably note that Phoenix is also Liv Tyler's ex-boyfriend). Ackrid has yet to officially release any material.
In the summer of 2008, Spacehog played two shows at the Viper Room and a sold-out show at the Troubador in LA. Soon after, an interesting and brand new rumor mill started. The rumor was not that Spacehog would go on a full-fledged comeback tour or record a new album, but rather that Royston Langdon's name was being bandied about as a possible replacement for the um...unreliable Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver. Those rumors seemed to have died out by the end of the summer, and few announcements have been made about the future of Spacehog, although the band has created a MySpace page offering up "exclusive tracks."
Will the Hog bring the fans more of their special brand of post-grunge glam-rock or will we be left hungry and stuck with these three albums? Only time will tell...in the meantime (chuckle!) enjoy this crappy video of Slash and Royston Langdon rocking out to David Bowie's "Suffragette City" this past July.
FIRST SINGLE: A-
SECOND SINGLE: B+
Download: Spacehog - In the Meantime
Download: Spacehog - Cruel to Be Kind