Possibly one of the most underrated rock bands of the 1990s, Compulsion produced some of the most addictive songs I've heard, (their best of album 'I like Compulsion and Compulsion likes me' fails to become boring, no matter how many listens one is exposed to). Their music could be categorised as rock, but it is both accessible in a pop-type way, whilst maintaining a punk ethos that never becomes self-conscious or forced (as many latter-day "punk" bands tend to be).
Two of the members of the group were originally in a band called "Three Amazing Colossal Men" in Dublin at the start of the 90s. They relocated to North London and wisely recruited a lead guitarist and a Dutch drummer, becoming Compulsion in 1992. The band was composed of Josephmary Barry - Vocals, Garret Lee - Guitar, Sid Rainey - Bass, and Jan-Willem Alkema - Drums. Initially they released recordings on their own Fabulon Label, but were soon noticed by Interscope and One Little Indian Records who signed them. The first release was an EP, "Safety" in October 1993, and this was followed a few months later by their first LP, "Comforter" in March 1994 and another EP, Boogie Woogie (also 1994). A few singles were apparently released; ‘Mall Monarchy’ was the only single to have any kind of limited success. On the whole, these releases appear to have sunk without trace, except in relatively small pockets of a rock audience still entranced by Nirvana but turned off by the bland and assuming Oasis and mainstream Britpop. Compulsion did tour and their live shows had a reputation for being close to riotous with some bizarre and highly entertaining stage antics; one example being Garrett Lee being hung upside down by his legs from lighting rigs whilst playing his guitar. 1996 saw the release of two singles, "Question Time For the Proles" in March and "Juvenile Scene Detective" in June. Both were taken from their second and final album "The Future is Medium", also released in 1996 and produced by Mark Freegard who had previously produced the Manic Street Preachers "The Holy Bible" album. It was at this point the band took to sporting identical haircuts (shortish, dyed day-glo orange) and all wore black (although not in a "Goth" type way), a symptom of their art-house tendencies perhaps. For reasons that are not wholly clear, the band had split up by the end of 1996 and Compulsion were no more. In 2002 the "best of" album came out, "I like Compulsion and Compulsion likes me".
The reasons for their lack of commercial success and virtual anonymity would seem to be multiple. Whether they were mishandled by the record companies is debatable as the label appeared, (at least from the outside), to have had faith and belief in the band. The fact that One Little Indian released a best of album when the band had only had two LPs, that the album should have seventeen tracks on it, and that none of them are fillers, speaks volumes. As has been referred to, Compulsion existed in a time when Oasis ruled the charts, in the United Kingdom
at least. In the USA
, where some attempts were made to gain the band a foothold, competition was great. Bands such as Alice in Chains
, Smashing Pumpkins
and Stone Temple Pilots
had already established themselves and had the professional gloss and financial backing that perhaps Compulsion did not. I could argue that all this is a shame, and had Compulsion enjoyed greater success, perhaps the band would have stayed together for longer and made more music. But I can't deny that there is a small pleasure in the fact that I've only ever met one other person that has heard of them, as though their music is a secret I can keep all to myself (until now, obviously). Ten years on, their music is still as addictive as ever and kicks the arse of many contemporaries that sold millions more CDs, yet whose music now sounds, for want of a better word, crap (Bush are a very good example, although one could argue that their music never
Thematically, Compulsion tended to concentrate on social issues, middle-class life and the more problematic aspects of relationships between people (not just romantic). Here are a few examples:
'Tom's in the bathroom
trying to end his life.
Sue's in the kitchen
hiding all the knives.' (from Rapejacket).
'Harold Wilson says that things are getting better.
Maurice Saatchi says that things are getting better for you.
Question time for the proles.' (from Question time for the proles).
'Go take a message to Mary.
There's no-on in the grave;
cause he's already gone
and he's taken the up escalator.' (from Easterman).
'Bless our little miracles.
Bless the Mommies and Dads.
How does Linda Evans deal with life without the shoulder pads
And I can deal with periods with lots of help from Dr. Dell.' (from Domestique).
- Safety. 1993 (EP)
- Comforter, 1994 (LP)
- Boogie Woogie, 1994 (EP)
- The Future Is Medium, 1996 (LP)
- I like Compulsion and Compulsion likes Me, 2002 (LP)