It was the Johnny Marr guitar flourishes at the start that first sucked me in. Here is the moment when a band who’ve been doggedly plying their guitar pop trade since the early 90s actually wrote something worth a damn.
I remember when I first heard this (which would’ve been sometime around January 1997), turning to my flatmate to ask who it was, and upon answering I uttered with a look of complete surprise ‘No shit! The fucking Earthmen?’. The Earthmen writing a hit single seemed about as likely as You Am I recording a rap album.
If I were to be incredibly unfair, The Earthmen were a second rate Britpop-sounding band in a country that unless you were actually cuppa-tea-mate British you may as well pack up the instruments and go home. It’s a very lazy pigeonhole to drop them in, but when you stick yourselves in button-down suits and throw in a guy on Hammond organ, you’re either authentic 60s revivalists or Britpop fair game. The Earthmen actually pre-dated the rise of Britpop, but after having released a bunch of EPs and singles their sound quickly became aligned with that of the sweeping guitar-led pop bands of the UK and Australian audiences seeking a similar sound found refuge with The Earthmen. The songwriting partnership of singer Scott Stevens and guitarist Nick Batterham, one a diminutive, golden-throated frontman and the other a geeky looking, spec-wearing muso helmed the band through thick and thin. Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon they weren’t (and I’m sure such comparisons only made their blood boil) but for a while they were as close we got.
If it isn’t already apparent, I didn’t particularly like this band to begin with (blame it on the usual Sydney vs. Melbourne rivalry) and the singer didn’t particularly like me either (I think I borrowed his girlfriend once), but there’s no denying the classic pop song appeal “Whoever’s Been Using This Bed” has in spades. This song could actually sound like a long-lost Blur single recorded inbetween Modern Life is Rubbish and Parklife and something that would stand up easily when measured against their UK counterparts. The gorgeous melodies and rich arrangements matched with Steven’s soaring vocals really elevated this song to a point where you just had to stop and listen, and what could’ve become a spiteful lyric takes a more endearing, heartfelt turn. In indie clubs across the nation, this was the one song guaranteed to bring all the barrette-wearing girls and Ben Sherman-wearing boys onto the dance floor as if it were the adopted national anthem for the Australian club kids.
If anything, “Whoever’s Been Using This Bed” signaled the sudden rise and then even more sudden death of the Australian Britpop (Auspop?) scene, something that most bands influenced by the current UK trends tried to replicate and create some momentum within their own respective club scenes, but for whatever reason or another (major labels cashing in on a dying fad/record buyers who weren’t convinced) couldn’t make it happen to any profitable degree. The Earthmen never came close to repeating the success they had with this single, and their debut album Love Walked In released a couple of months later received positive column inches by critics but failed not only to meet public expectation but also the charts — blame here could be shared on the appalling album cover of a pixelated photograph of a boy and girl sans clothes — and thus after a final EP the following year, with nails and coffin in place, The Earthmen troubled the music industry no further.
They probably deserve a much more kinder and better thought out tribute than this, and I’m sure in a different time and place they could’ve been huge, but given the lack of overwhelming hype that is often visited on many an undeserving band in the UK, The Earthmen did well with what they had and gave us more than a few good songs to remember them by, this being just one of them.
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