For every band that makes a larger impression on the cultural landscape, there are innumerable acts that burned brightly and fizzled out, were the benefactors of atrocious luck or simply never struck the proper chord with an audience. The latter can often be accounted for in a group’s sound being either too far ahead of its own time—thus becoming a beloved cult act—or simply being too esoteric to really catch on. But those groups who manage to either spectacularly explode or face personal and professional setback after setback tend to be the more fascinating. In some instances, these bands can be viewed as cautionary tales for those looking to break into the music business, showing the pitfalls of poor management, bad contract negotiations, too many drugs or simply too outsized an ego to realistically function.

In this way, the twin ideas of implosion and just pure bad luck can often go hand-in-hand. One of the most famously tragic instances is the criminally short life of British group Badfinger, who, despite receiving a Beatles-approved seal of endorsement and even a hit single penned by Sir Paul, still managed to become little more than a pop cultural footnote with not one but two of its members offing themselves within a short timeframe. Despite being responsible for one of Harry Nilsson’s biggest hits—somewhat ironic in and of itself as Nilsson’s two best-known songs are not the product of the inimitable songwriter, but others—the members of Badfinger failed time and again to make what would have seemed an almost predestined impact on the pop charts.

Running roughly concurrently to Badfinger’s tragic rise and fall is the story of the Hollywood Brats. Largely unknown outside a devoted few, Britain’s unintentional answer to the New York Dolls seemed to have everything going for them: great songs, a devoted following, an iconic look and a management team who believed in the group’s potential. Unfortunately, their dirty-glam punk arrived a few years too soon. By the time the rest of the world had caught up, the Brats had long since fizzled out and were barely even recognizable as an historical footnote, having seen their lone release issued only in Norway.

Fortunately, none of this manages to tarnish former Brats’ leader singer Andrew Matheson’s reminiscences in the highly entertaining Sick on You: The Disastrous Story of the Hollywood Brats, the Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of. More an extended rap with hints of feverish diary entries, Sick on You lacks the formality of most memoirs in favor of the written equivalent of the band’s sound and attitude. Matheson throughout is witty, dismissive of other artists—namely the New York Dolls—and relies heavily on the English slanguage to get his bratty, perpetual punk point across.

Taking the title from the group’s best-known song, Matheson sketches out the early days of the band, auditioning scores of musicians, most of whom fail to make the cut due to their not having the right look or being into the wrong bands. Matheson makes it clear he is well aware of the illogical and superficial nature of his vetting process, but, in keeping with the established tone and attitude, he doesn’t give a fuck; he has a vision for how the band should look and sound in his head and he’s not willing to make even the slightest compromise. This of course leads to a number of uncomfortable interpersonal exchanges in a number of colorful settings—everything from the local pub to some of the filthiest sounding squats then polluting the city—none of which have particularly positive endings short of Matheson ultimately getting his way.

Unapologetic and brazenly confident, Matheson paints himself and his mates as outcasts ahead of their time. By the time they get around to releasing an album, it’s done so only in keyboardist Casino Steel’s (née Stein Groven) native Norway. And this after the band essentially implodes due to a series of the usual personality and artistic differences that find the quintet down to a duo incarnation of the band that exists in name alone.

Throughout, Matheson proves a skilled raconteur, one capable of painting a seemingly endless number of grossly vivid pictures of the world in which the Hollywood Brats existed. Ahead of their time and seemingly destined to fail, Sick on You is a portrait of a band that may well be the greatest band you’ve never heard of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Tony Joe White: Smoke from the Chimney

This retrofit album works out fairly well, all parties involved clearly enamored of White’…