Released: 1989 (this version 2010)
Bought: Piccadilly Records, Manchester, 2010
Galaxie 500 are one of those bands that, if you’re a “proper” music fan, you’re really supposed to like. So, when I read the reviews that were published around the time of the recent reissues of the band’s three albums, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and bought On Fire, widely regarded as their best album. I’m not convinced.
Sounding like a castrated Noel Gallagher, singer Dean Wareham’s vocals are just one of the many reasons why I struggle to like this album. His voice is forced, feeble and his falsetto really hurts my ears. It fits well when he’s singing about agoraphobia and being unsure about queuing up in the pharmacy, but it’s an acquired taste and it grates from the very start of the record.
Add to this the fact that almost all of the songs begin in exactly the same way (lightly and slowly strummed guitar chords, some tappy drums with the kick only coming in once the song starts moving towards the chorus), and I find On Fire a real drag to listen to. It’s not completely without merit, with the sax-led second half of “Decomposing Trees” and the guitar freakout ending to “Another Day” helping to pick things up and move them along. These moments are too few and far between though to really save the album.
The standout on this first disc is one of the bonus tracks, and a cover at that. Their version of New Order’s “Ceremony” shows how much better this record would have been if the production and vocals had been a bit meatier and stronger. As it is, On Fire sounds to me like a collection of demos that need to be fleshed out.