Me is we.
Me. It’s gotta be one of the worst names for a band, but also one of the best. Indistinct, yet distinct. Question: “Who are you listening to?” Answer: “Me.”
The band (not to be confused with the Australian band of the same name) had their heyday in the early ‘90s, just as the Internet was exploding. Would they have named themselves differently had they formed now? After all, it’s a band name that is not exactly search engine friendly. Yet, it’s also a name that creates instant solidarity with the listener, a “we’re all in it together” vibe. As the liner notes of their first release Harmonise or Die state: “In time’s great music river currently swelling, Me is an innocent, ignorant swimmer and we would like to acknowledge all known and unknown makers of good music living, dead, or yet to be. We truly simply hope you will fully enjoy the music, feelings and expression of these here songs and wonder if occasionally you might like to listen to this here album alone. You’re like me. Together alone on tiny living ball of cosmos-shrapnel we call earth to harmonise or die.”
You wouldn’t be mistaken in reading that and thinking Me’s music was more than a little hippie-centric. But Me were not drug-addled, incense-burning drop-outs. They were a band with oodles of talent and energy, an overflowing trough of ideas, as well as a clever – if at times goofy – sense of humor. They were often classified as power pop, yet ventured into psychedelic, folk, Britpop, rock, and, to a lesser degree, jazz and world music as well. As such, it’s difficult to compare them to other bands, though they shared a similar sometimes-accessible-and- sometimes-eccentric spirit with bands like the Swimming Pool Q’s and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci.
Bursting from the Bristol, U.K., scene in the late ‘80s, Me was led by George Claridge, Francis Kane and guitarist Paul Bradley. They issued two full lengths: the aforementioned Harmonise or Die, Fecund Haunts, plus a handful of EP’s before parting in 1995. Harmonise or Haunt was issued by the now defunct power pop label Rainbow Quartz and is a combination of both albums and some of their additional EP tracks. As a whole, the collection works well on its own, displaying the many sides of the group.
From the experimental first track, “Wide Awake in a Beautiful Field,” you know you’re in for something different. Backwards tapes and an urban funk beat are joined by chiming electric guitar and a rap, before harmony vocals –a hallmark of their sound – and horns come in. Immediately following this cut, they dive into a heartfelt nugget of power pop perfection, “Sweeping Dust,” complete with emotive slide guitar set against a jangly background. Never mind that the lyrics are a bit obscure (“Touch your painted essence and hope your love will last”), it’s one of the best songs in their catalog. Later on, the mellower “It Isn’t You” has a crystalline shine recalling the rich 12-string textures of the Byrds and the Beatles.
Guitar is one of Me’s distinct calling cards, and Bradley’s playing shines particularly on “Guilty Feet Fall Foul.” Here the band gets esoteric in a quest for God…. or aliens. “I haven’t seen many faces / but yours is the one I want to see / you haven’t left many traces / but I’m searching for them endlessly.” The track ends with the line, “Let’s go to the stars / you never know what happens there.”
Our place in the cosmos is a common subject for Me. “To the Stars…” is a spacy coda to “Guilty Feet Fall Foul” featuring sitar-like guitar. “Hubble,” named after the high powered telescope, has a late-‘60s Pink Floyd feel in the bass line and also displays some of the band’s humor, rhyming “hubble” and “bubble,” and with the lyric, “I am so infatuated with my own demise / Believe me I’m delighted with my constellation prize” (instead of “consolation prize”.) “Vladimir” follows a similar path with a visitor from another planet who’s come to earth to find “the one true lover.” This song, however, isn’t one of their strongest, faltering with a misguidedly cutesy spoken word section.
Me gets in touch with their folkie side on the acoustic guitar strummers “Don’t Paint Me in Your Colours,” “Funny Thing,” and “Hiding from the Sun,” the latter of which also includes a brief jazzy sax solo. Some of these lighter tracks, as well as the brooding “Oona Moon,” highlight the harmony vocals that are so much a part of Me’s work.
Harmonise or Haunt ends with the dizzying combo of “Here Comes Everybody” and “Windows.” On their own, they’re two of the band’s most spirited, high-energy songs, utilizing all their strengths from tight instrumental interplay to synchronized vocals. Paired as Rainbow Quartz has done here, the effect is nothing less than exhilarating.
Me’s detours into outright oddness may be off-putting to some (witness the schizophrenic acapella companion to “Wide Awake in a Beautiful Field” called “Face Down in a Beautiful Field”), and that sometimes thwarts a cohesive flow. But for those willing to expand their listening parameters and follow a band enthusiastically exploring various musical avenues, there is much to enjoy here.
Post-Me, Paul Bradley played in “postrock / nu-jazz” group the Organelles and now is part of chamber pop-folk Three Cane Whale. Information on the other band members is harder to come by, though Claridge issued a solo album soon after Me’s demise. They occasionally reunite for one-off shows and Radiohead has cited them as an influence, but Me has joined the ranks of countless other creative bands now lost to the collective memory. Yet Me’s music has a certain timelessness, addressing the spectrum of what makes us human – love, war, harmony, aggression, and all our other foibles and strengths. Me is we.