THE BETA BAND-THE BETA BAND.
The Beta Band-The Beta Band.
Label: Regal Records.
Buoyed by the success of 1998s critically acclaimed The Three E.P.s compilation, The Beta Band’s thoughts turned to recording their debut album. Initially the plan for the Edinburgh-based band was to record parts of the album on different continents. However, financial constraints put paid to this plan, and instead, The Beta Band, which has just been reissued by Regal Records was recorded in various locations. It seemed like the members of The Beta Band were determined to live the life of a seventies rock star.
Unlike many seventies rock bands, The Beta Band hadn’t any songs prepared when they entered the studio in early 1999. That wasn’t they way they worked, and instead songs were developed from either an idea or melody. The closest The Beta Band came to being prepared was working out chords and melodies for some songs. Sometimes a drum beat or sample was enough to begin recording a song. This left the lyrics.
Lyricist and vocals Steve Mason took a unique approach to writing lyrics, and like a percussionist followed the rhythms of the songs. However, unlike most songs the lyrics had no narrative. Despite that, The Beta Band disputed that their songs were pastiches and claimed their lyrics were honest and serious. That was despite taking an unusual approach to recording.
While The Beta Band’s budget didn’t stretch to recording on different continents, the band decided to head to a very different location. This was a small hut owned by John Maclean’s grandfather in the remote North West of Scotland. What must have seemed like a good idea quickly became chaotic. After packing so much musical equipment into The Beta Band realised they had no room to sleep. It wasn’t the best start to the recording session, but things improved and eventually they had recorded ten tracks.
Regal Records scheduled the released of The Beta Band for the ’21st’ of June 1999. The Beta Band’s eponymous debut album was much-anticipated by critics who wondered what direction their music was heading in?
When critics heard The Beta Band it’s was an ambitious and innovative genre-melting album. Elements of alternative pop, blues, country rock, electronica, experimental music, folk, hip hop and psychedelia. The music was dense, experimental, intricate and multilayered as musical influences and instruments were combined with sound effects as The Beta Band used different song structures on an album where the songs were much more based on beat and rhythm. This was very different from the music on The Beta Band’s three E.P.s
Dig deeper into the music on The Beta Band, and there are samples, Can-like editing, surreal lyrics and raps hat were part of The Beta Band’s musical arsenal, as they combined the most unlikely genres. Proof of that was the album opener The Beta Band Rap where a marching band intro gives way to rap that tells the band’s story to date. It’s a Marmite track that listeners either loved or loathed. Much better was the country rock of Round The Bend where The Beta Band combine sadness, pathos and humour on what’s the album’s highlight. Dance O’er The Border is fusion of a traditional and electronic jams while Steve Mason’s lyrics are like a stream of cosmic consciousness. The Hard One is another highlight where The Beta Band pay homage to Bonnie Tyler’s hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart and is another of the album’s highlight.
The Beta Band was released to widespread critical acclaim and included a bonus disc. Everyone at Regal Records celebrated as The Beta Band reached number nineteen in the UK, However, not everyone was happy with the album.
Despite their eponymous debut album giving them a hit in the UK, The Beta Band called the album: “fucking awful” and “it’s definitely the worst record we’ve ever made and it’s probably one of the worst records that’ll come out this year.” Steve Mason then said in an interview with NME that the album had: some terrible songs,” and they weren’t e “fully realised or fully even written. Half-written songs with jams in the middle” The Beta Band seemed determined to sabotage their career at Regal Records.
EMI’s chairman was furious and wanted to know: “what the fuck is going on with the Beta Band?” This was the start of a three-sided argument.
Miles Leonard who was in charge of Regal Records and The Beta Band’s manager, called their complaints, “lame excuses” as “they had as much time as they wanted to have to make it, they were not forced to do anything they didn’t want to.”
Already it was obvious to music industry insiders that The Beta Band weren’t suited to life on a major label. They were more suited to a small indie label, but having signed on the dotted line had to make the best of life signed to Regal Records.
The Beta Band’s 2001 crucially acclaimed sophomore album Hot Shots II reached number thirteen in the UK and 200 in the US Billboard 200. Three years later in 2004, Heroes To Zeros was released to plaudits and praise and reached eighteen in the UK. Heroes To Zeros was The Beta Band’s swan-song and they split-up later in 2004.
Looking back at The Beta Band’s eight year career, their eponymous genre-melting debut album was their most underrated. The Beta Band was innovative, and featured numerous musical influences and genres. However, many record buyers found the album too experimental.
It also didn’t help that The Beta Band Rap opened the album. Here was a track that was musical Marmite. and may have put many record buyers off The Beta Band. Despite the inauspicious start to The Beta Band, it’s a vastly underrated album that nineteen years is being reappraised by critics and cultural commentators. They’re belatedly realising the importance of Scottish cult classic from folktronica pioneers and musical mavericks, The Beta Band.
The Beta Band-The Beta Band.