CD REVIEW: Pop Threat - Dirt & Dust

Caroline and Darren playing with Blanche Hudson Weekend.
Caroline and Darren playing with Blanche Hudson Weekend.

Pop Threat: Dirt & Dust, 1999-2003 (Squirrel Records)

WHEN I first met the strangely belligerent Caroline and Darren Lockwood of Pop Threat in some dive of a pub in their trademark dark shades they didn’t seem to like me much, though it probably wasn’t anything personal and it only made me like them more.

Of all the bands trying to ‘make it’ in the fledgling pre-Kaiser Chiefs Leeds indie scene of the late 1990s the quietly truculent Pop Threat seemed most like the real thing to me.

The first time I caught them live on stage at the long-gone Duchess venue, dressed all in black save for Caroline’s leopard skin coat and ermin trimmings, (a real venus in furs), they reminded me of the Jesus & Mary Chain or the Velvet Underground.

As much as I liked them, at the time I thought Pop Threat were behind the times, all that 1980s rumbling bass and fuzzed-up guitar, angelic vocals and spiky attitude.

Feedback and Mo Tucker drums didn’t smack of the future like Radiohead or a then up-and-coming group called Muse did.

Despite attracting fans such as the late, great John Peel and Steve Lamacq and my own support through Charm magazine and Charm gigs at The Tube in Harrogate and The Library in Leeds, the recorded work collected on this recent compilation from indie labels Squirrel Records and Mook Records, took Pop Threat’s career, such as it was, nowhere.

Rather than an act of nostalgia, however, this spiky little band were actually ahead of their time.

Within just months of the band splitting up, into the limelight sprang Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Ravonettes and The Cribs and suddenly that whole dark and moody psychocandy thing wasn’t history anymore.

Suddenly the question whether a track sounded like The Shangri Las trying to be The Velvet Underground or The Velvet Underground trying to be The Shangri Las wasn’t academic.

And the best answers to those questions are provided to this day not by BRMC but by Pop Threat - and the further bands Caroline and Darren went on to spawn such as Manhattan Love Suicides, who were also the subject of a recent compilation, and The Blanche Hudson Weekend, their current outfit.

I suppose you could say they’ve mellowed a bit in recent years. The shades are still there but their sound has become a little less scratchy and a little more jolly than the take us or leave us Pop Threat ever were, a bit more classic girl-led indie pop.

Despite this partial mellowing, however, they’re still good enough at what they do to have had two of their recent tracks featured on influential Rough Trade Shops compilations, the ultimate seal of approval.

Amazing. Thirteen years after they first formed in a pop vacuum, their modern ventures can occasionally recapture the sweet menace and dark sex oozing out of my two favourite Pop Threat tracks; the gloriously slinky D 4th S, a demo from 1999, and the delicious Vivia, a track from their only album on Mook Records.

They sounded great then, cool and natural as desire, and they sound great now.

The brilliance of Pop Threat? They never felt the need to give me, or the audience, what they wanted.

Graham Chalmers

l Also available: Manhattan Love Suicides - Burnt Out Landscape (compilation).

The Blanche Hudson Weekend - Reverence, Severance and Spite.