Heavenly

Heavenly Versus Satan (K)

With the allergy season in its denouement, pharmaceutical companies are turning their attentions to the newest in-vogue ailment: stress and anxiety. Instead of supporting commuters venting via their SUVs, the companies are suggesting that the solution to all of life's stresses -- Whitney Houston rereleases, fourth-quarter losses, biochemical warfare -- is just a tiny pill away.

While the stresses may be valid, there's no need to call your doctor for an appointment. For the first time since its initial release 11 years ago, Heavenly's debut mini-album Heavenly Versus Satanis finally available in the U.S., and unlike other remedies, this one's side-effect free.

In 1990, the members of Heavenly emerged from Oxford, England, and the sugar punk act Talulah Gosh, releasing this collection of delightful, tightly delivered pop songs on Britain's Sarah Records (the reissue contains six additional tunes from early singles). Monumental in the U.K. indie scene, Heavenly went on to release three other albums before regrouping as Marine Research in 1998 following drummer Mathew Fletcher's suicide. While the band members showed an increasingly sophisticated range of studio techniques and -- particularly in their Marine Research incarnation -- a serener sense of movement, Heavenly Versus Satan features the best of the group's high-energy guitar work and adolescent prose.

Ironically, while these songs juggle lost love, missed opportunities, and other worries, their end results are unmistakably feel-good -- like Morrissey minus the twisted self-deprecation or Weezer minus the dudes. At first listen, the lightheartedness of the jingle-jangle instrumentation seems no-frills; over time, however, "Don't Be Fooled," "Our Love Is Heavenly," and the rest prove more intricate than most pop songs nowadays, with rushing guitars that warm your ears like hot apple cider.

As important, though, are the words, which are endearing and innocently frank. On the delicately grinding "Boyfriend Stays the Same," Amelia Fletcher hisses in her kitty-cat tone, "Don't want you, don't need you at all/ I will never fall for you." "Wish Me Gone" shows that girl power is about more than hip-huggers and bleach: "She's just a newer type of me/ With a better haircut/ Is that all you wanted?" And on "Lemonhead Boy," Amelia's proposition -- "Are you ever going to be brave/ And tell that girl you're happy holding my hand?" -- is a classic case of love torn between two. Over a decade old, these songs sound as stark and as universally painful as if we were still wearing braces.

The antithesis to nu metal, Gucci rap, and all that hootenanny in between, Heavenly Versus Satan accomplishes the work of 100 psychiatrists. The album offers smart, empathetic support with carefree, bouncy rhythms -- and no prescriptions required.

 
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