It’s hard not to place at least a bit of importance on BMX Bandits, and with the 30th Anniversary of their Star Wars LP, a new reissue gives a reason to celebrate the Scottish indie band’s particularly pure pop. The band included members of quite a few heavy names from the Scottish indie songbook, including Norman Blake and Francis Macdonald as the rise of Teenage Fanclub was imminent and Eugene Kelly as the sun set on The Vaselines. Star Wars acts as a turning point for the band. They were always centered on the songwriting of Douglas Stewart, whose jangled joy comes across in every note of the Bandits’ catalog, but the players he surrounds himself with on each album color the music in very specific ways.
The band rose out of the C86 crush, even cheekily naming an album after the comp, but post Star Wars Blake and Kelley would exit to be replaced by John Hogarty (The Clouds, The Pastels) and Jim McCulloch (The Soup Dragons) while also bringing in Macdonald’s brother Findlay and fellow TF mem on bass for their debut on Creation, Life Goes On. There are arguments to be made for both Star Wars and Life Goes On as their best moment, and while some might gravitate towards the band’s rawer youth, I’ve always found the swing between the two albums to be the most endearing moments in their catalog. In 1991 on Star Wars, Stewart’s songwriting is lighter and leaner. There’s an ennui to the album, a last look at youth before the power pop of its successor comes pushes away the autumn tones.
For a moment the band floats, supported on sighs and absoutely in love with the time they’re inhabiting. Star Wars is celebratory, and in many ways simpler than what would come, but the hooks it hangs on are undeniable. Stewart is, for the most part, looking to a crystalline pop from the past, with allusions to The Beach Boys and The Everlys, but there are inklings of what’s to come with songs like “Disguise” and “Think Tank” putting a bit more plasticine pop in the mix. This album would mark the end of their tumultuous flux, but the temporary lineup gives it a one-off quality. The group would never sound the same, but it made the most of the assembled pop hearts that beat in the studio as it was crafted. The album was re-released on May 4th (get it?) in the UK and is just now making its way Stateside. An essential pickup if there ever was one.
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