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Welcome to the official Distractions website. We will be aiming to record the history of one of the greatest, but least heralded, of all Manchester beat groups.

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Monday, December 21, 2020

Nearly perfect

Continuing our round-up of all the reviews we've seen for the Nobody's Perfect reissue, this one from A. S. Van Dorston was an early review over on the Fast n'n Bulbous website. 

The Distractions – Nobody’s Perfect (Island/Occultation, 1980)

Talk about a long road to recognition. I first learned about The Distractions when they released their reunion album The End Of The Pier in 2012, which I mentioned in my The Greatest Post-Punk Bands You Never Heard piece the next year. Their 1980 debut Nobody’s Perfect, despite being released on Island alongside the debut from U2, Grace Jones’ Warm Leatherette and The Buggles, was a lost classic because the band broke up by 1981 after lack of success, and the album was deleted and all but erased from history aside from a tantalizing entry in the Trouser Press Record Guide, which said the band had an “abnormally broad palette,” their eclecticism drawing on “everything from Chuck Berry to Phil Spector to psychedelia — often within the same song — and the vocals tend to be more somber than carefree.”

Formed in Manchester in 1975 with '60s mod, soul and garage influences, they were later inspired by the Buzzcocks to evolve toward a unique hybrid sound of Motown, garage psych, power pop and post-punk. After recording the Ramones-ish You’re Not Going Out Dressed Like That EP in 1978 , they released the “Times Go By So Slow” single on Factory records, arguably one of the best the label ever released. They had already signed to Island before the single was released, and put out two more singles, “It Doesn’t Bother Me” and “Boys Cry” before releasing Nobody’s Perfect. Island seemed to have dropped the ball so they released three final tracks on the And Then There’s EP on Rough Trade in April 1981, and broke up. While fellow Mancunians Buzzcocks, Joy Division and The Fall would become legends, The Distractions were simply lost.

In 2016, it was announced that HiddenMasters would reissue the album, singles and demos as a box set called Parabolically Yours by the next year, but it didn’t happen. Fortunately it was announced last year a crowd funded joint effort between Occultation Recordings and Man In The Moon Records would finally make it happen. The CD and LP will be available March 20, but early funders are already receiving it, and it’s in my sweaty eager hands right now. It appears you can stream or buy the original 14 track album (remastered) on Bandcamp now, but need to order the CD or record to get the bonus demos, EPs, singles and bonus remixed version.

After years listening to a shitty vinyl MP3 rip, it’s a glorious experience hearing the remaster. While the original recording was flawed (so much so that fan and eventual member Nick Halliwell vowed to remix it if given the chance, which he did, on disc 2, tracks 13-26), I’m not one for revisionist history, however, and while the remix is meatier and brings other elements more up front, I prefer the more spindly, ethereal feel of the original. A great example is the opening track “Waiting For Lorraine,” which starts with a guitar riff similar to Blue Oyster Cult’s Byrdsian “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” before launching in a more up-tempo pace that’s poppy yet haunting. Elsewhere, staccato keyboards recall 1977-79 era Elvis Costello & The Attractions, new wave synths on “Sick And Tired,” and the post-Motown pop soul cover of Eden Kane’s 1964 “Boys Cry” is given some grit with Mike Finney’s textured, soulful vocals. The stop and stop riffs at the beginning of “Leave You To Dream” could easily be a Vampire Weekend song before sailing into a melodic organ-driven gem combining mod pop and Felt. “Looking For A Ghost” is truly spectral, featuring an eerie orchestral choir that Brian Wilson would have been have proud to have arranged. The lovely, languid piano intro makes you think “Valerie” will end the album slipping gently into the night. No chance of that, as within 20 seconds, it explodes into a frenetic, riotous pop punk tune.

I can understand why the album fell between the cracks. Some moments it would appeal to fans of The Jam or The Last, but others would confound them. Ideally the band would have been nurtured by their label for three or four releases to gain converts to their unique style. The band did eventually record more, with two EPs in 2010, then The End Of The Pier (2012) and Kindly Leave The Stage (2017), which sound completely different. But now we finally have the definitive, exhaustive version (if you order the CD or LP — the download is only the original 14 tracks) of the debut that’s of its time, out of time, and nearly perfect

(C) A. S. Van Dorston

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