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The inexorable decline of Glasvegas

Kicking someone when they are down just simply isn’t cricket, which is why there were no fanfares at ELM Towers about the news that Glasvegas had been dropped by their record label. Oh, sure, there was relief that we wouldn’t have to hear from them any time soon, but it was tempered with the knowledge that this probably wouldn’t stop them for long.

A few months on, it’s probably the right time to look at the wider implications of the whole thing and try to move on. For it is only if we learn from painful lessons of the past that we can avoid them in the future.

Glasvegas arrived at the peak of landfill indie and cleverly marketed themselves as the much hipper end of the market. You’ve bought Employment and Sam’s Town? That’s so uncool. Buy this instead and save yourself. It was a neat trick – making the gullible feel stupid for buying bad records then using that to guilt them into buying a bad record. Their self-titled album was aided by an almost euphoric press – the NME laughably described them as ‘the Joy Division of their generation’ at one point. They couldn’t miss.

For anyone caring to look past the hype, there wasn’t much to get caught up in. The records were reverb-soaked, Mary Chain-lite classicism. James Allan had an occasional way with a killer couplet, but too often resorted to the worst clichés of working-class life, which was furiously tossed over by the guilty middle-class white boys of the London media. ‘The deprivation!’ they chorused lustily, without bothering their arse to actually find out how much of it was true.

One couldn’t help but feel that Allan – whose styling of every other aspect of Glasvegas was almost metronomically perfect – knew exactly what he was giving them. It may also explain their lack of penetration in the under-25 market. It wasn’t the world they knew; it was the world a very narrow bunch of commentators wanted to know. It doesn’t exist.

Inauthentic and hollow they may have been, but the machine worked well and Glasvegas sold an astonishing 300,000 of their debut. Even if the second record flopped and only did half that, they’d still be doing very well. Euphoric/Heartbreak was scheduled to hit the shops in March, a quiet time of the year chosen for a lack of serious competition in the market. The racks were ready for Glasvegas v2.00.

Except the second record didn’t do 150,000. It sold a dismal 30,000. A tenth of what its predecessor had done. This despite the NME loyally giving it 9 out of 10. To put that another way, 90% of people who had bought Glasvegas would not buy the next record. That’s one hell of a drop-off.

So what happened? Well, the market changes almost daily. Sales of albums are dropping all the time, of course. Landfill indie is nowhere near as viable as it was a few short years ago. The Kaiser Chiefs, the very emblem of rubbish rock, sit cheerfully without a label after seeing their sales drop from 800,000 with their debut to a less than impressive 100,000 with their fourth album. But that’s a gradual decrease across a career. Lots of bands have that. How do we account for Glasvegas’ near total collapse?

There’s an old truism in business about overpromising and underdelivering. Do that to your customers and they will feel burned. When that happens, they don’t come back. Glasvegas set up impossible expectations. Here was the band you were going to tell the grandkids about, apparently. In reality, here were a fairly turgid bunch with a middling-to-poor record. People bought, listened twice, regretted the purchase then got on with their lives.

Glasvegas are a dead brand now. It doesn’t matter if they return with an astonishing record. No-one will believe it. Everyone who bought the debut would need to be mugged to give more money to Allan et al. It’s just the way it falls sometimes.

Glasvegas managed to squeeze a lot out of very little and fair play to them for that. But the fact is you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. In this case, it seems you can fool about 10%. Expect the solo album from Allan next year and spin about how the band had run its course. He may have got his working wrong, but he’ll get the sum right. Glasvegas were, in the end, a whole big bunch of nothing. Hopefully a few people made a few quid off it.



2 Responses

  1. Interesting article, hard to fall out with. I watched Glasvegas begin, attending early gigs, one of a few punters, biased by knowing the band personally. Despite there constantly being 1000 bands in Glasgow, I thought Glasvegas might just have a novelty hit record, with their distinct style and early setlist. They got better, crowds got bigger, hype got ridiculous. They got signed, put out their record and, to me at least, it was bloody brilliant. I stick by that, their debut is blinding. Daddy’s gone I was never too keen on, cheating heart still gives me goosebumps, flowers and fitba taps I still love.

    Their songs changed. Thoughtful lyrics, melodies and hooks didn’t feature any more. I can only assume that was down to James’ ego, pressure, drug habits, who knows. Some unreleased early demos are better than anything released after their debut album. I listened to their 2nd album, gave it some time hoping it was a grower, and concluded with no shortage of disappointment that it’s useless.

    Personally I’d love it if they could write better tracks again, label or no label, famous or not. Yes they were over-hyped originally, massively so, but their debut had substance and quality. Their follow ups (remember the Christmas release?) just weren’t nearly as good, plain and simple. That’s my take on it anyway, for what it’s worth.

  2. What a brilliant post MyTuppence. Not just about Glasvegas, but it brought back memories of the journey we take take with a ‘new band’ we love.

    Superb stuff.

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