Stuart Moxham learned guitar as a child growing up in Wales. He convinced his brother, Phil, to do the same, and some years later they formed a band called True Wheel. Phil’s girlfriend at the time, Alison Statton, provided backing vocals. When the band disintegrated, Stuart, Phil, and Alison formed a new unit; they named it Young Marble Giants after the classic Greek statue known as a Kouros. After a bit of gigging, they signed to Rough Trade and recorded Colossal Youth, also named for the statues. The sound is minimalist, with Phil’s bass and Stuart’s organ providing melody and Alison’s light but strong vocals riding over them. Stuart occasionally contributed guitar as well; percussion was supplied by a drum machine. Building on this deceptively simple base, they recorded almost every song in one take, creating a lively, immediate sound that belies the almost mechanical feel of the music. Stuart wrote most of the songs, providing clever lyrics that often read like inside jokes or references made between longtime friends. The result is intimate but slightly askew, creating a distinct mood unlike anything else.
The album starts off strong with Searching For Mr. Right, a yearning song that makes the most of Statton’s vocals. More straightforward than most of the tracks, it’s a wish for the right guy with an acknowledgment that the searcher is as critical a part of the searching as the sought. Include Me Out is a powerful testament to independence, rejecting materialism and demanding an authentic relationship. It features one of Statton’s most potent vocals with a screaming guitar bit that underscores the emotion of the message.
Up next is The Taxi, a curious instrumental, something of a mood piece. It works nicely in conjuring the feel of a taxi ride, with a garbled vocal bit toward the end anchoring the experience. The album ends with Wind In the Riggings, another experimental instrumental that shows off Stuart’s sense of atmosphere. Neither piece is critical, but they help illustrate YMG’s approach to making music.
Eating Noddemix is a wonderful juxtaposition. Most of the lyric depicts a woman getting ready to leave the house. She snacks on a Swedish cereal bar, the noddemix of the title, and goes about other mundane activities. As a counterpoint, Statton sings about a horrific accident and the reporters to rush to cover it. The pairing is jarring but powerful and works extremely well. Constantly Changing is an urgent, brief song, featuring Statton’s higher register.
N.I.T.A. serves as the virtual anthem of the band. It stands for “nature intends the abstract” — a line in the lyric — and captures the brief, often fragmented nature of the perfect songs that surround it. Statton sounds pensive and determined as she celebrates this cerebral but emotive concept. Appropriately, the title track is next. Colossal Youth is an existential romp that sets up a series of world views and then knocks them down, concluding that “Colossal Youth is showing you the way to go.” It feels like a message that the album is intended as a road map to successful living but offers only the most abstract of clues.
Up next is the lovely Music For Evenings, a brilliant kiss-off song and one of Stuart’s finest lyrics. The Man Amplifier is a love song to an android. Statton celebrates the wonders of the perfect automated boyfriend as Stuart provides a carnival-inspired organ riff that creates a delightful counterpoint. Choci Loni is one of the most impenetrable of the songs, a brief, repeated lyric about a character out to roam. Phil and Stuart provide a wonderful spaghetti Western soundtrack for the narrative.
Two nostalgic tunes come next, the aching Wurlitzer Jukebox, featuring more perfect organ work, and Statton’s one writing contribution, the meditative Salad Days. They’re followed by Credit In the Straight World, a stinging indictment of consumerism and another highlight of the disc. Brand — New — Life is the final vocal track, a nice ending that declares independence and rejects the negative power of a former lover.
These 15 tracks form a brilliant, cohesive whole that has had significant influence beyond the minimal sales numbers. The late Kurt Cobain declared it one of the five albums that most influenced his music. The stripped down sound presages the lo-fi movement and the simple, direct core of much of alternative rock that surfaced a decade later.
The band released only a couple of singles and EPs, so reissues of the album tend to be fairly comprehensive. Les Disques du Crepuscule’s 1994 version includes all the official output of the band, appending an early track, the six instrumentals from the Testcard EP, and the brilliant Final Day single with its two B-sides; it’s the best way to capture the full spirit of the band. A three-disc reissue from 2007 includes rough demos of most of the tracks, a Peel session, and a few other tidbits.
FURTHER LISTENING: Young Marble Giants imploded during their U.S. tour in 1981. Phil Moxham has done a bit of studio work but mostly left the music business. Alison Statton formed Weekend, a quiet jazz-inflected group which also lasted one album. She works as a chiropractor and occasionally records, mostly in duos with Ian Devine or Spike. The Devine and Statton release Cardiffians and the Alison Statton and Spike disc Weekend In Wales are her strongest post-YMG offerings. Stuart Moxham has recorded under a variety of names. The Gist offered only a single album that featured the delightful single Love At First Sight. He mostly records with a loose aggregation called the Original Artists. His strongest work is the demo-inspired disc Fine Tuning and a wonderful pairing with the Original Artists that features the vocal work of alt-superstar Barbara Manning.