The Eraserheads, Part Two: The UltraElectro Years

The first album, ultraelectromagneticpop! rightly shook up the Philippine music scene, and with much good reason: only a precious handful of albums before 1993 (Gary Valenciano‘s Moving Thoughts, for one) arguably captured the intensity of OPM’s earlier mid-to-late-’70s Metropop heyday. (How thrilling it must have been to turn on the radio and hear Freddie Aguilar, VST and Co., Hotdog, early Apo Hiking Society, the Juan de la Cruz Band and Asin on one station!) The playing, as with Buendia’s vocals, was still pretty raw around the edges, but the album, with its complete lack of pretensions, would be a refreshing contrast to the Chicago / Toto / power-ballad template that underlay some of the more slickly-produced, histrionic OPM singles of the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Indeed, the music scene during that period was, in my opinion, rather bleak. The lessons learned from new wave did not last very long; only The Dawn, with its tight trio playing (and only really on its first album), would follow through with their synth-laden hooks. One must also remember that there was also a mini-generation of listeners suddenly tuned in to Citylite 88.3, ultimately just a more “sophisticated” version of the Mellow Touch. (I have a long theory about Citylite, the marketing of the yuppie aesthetic, and the EDSA Uprising of 1986, but this is not the place nor the time.) The significance of the fact that the recalcitrant NU 107, devoted to college rock, was situated at the very opposite end of the radio dial should not be lost on the reader. Indeed, one can only gauge the stagnation when saxophonist Eddie Katindig (or Eddie K), in a misguided attempt to imitate the moniker of an American lite-“jazz” artist of the lowest species, was reduced to producing sad little covers of Top 40 hits. The social consciousness pervading mainstream music only a decade earlier would at least find its resurgence in Joey Ayala’s re-recordings of his older cassette-only albums, but lightweight pop singles and ballads were, unfortunately, the norm. Listen, for instance, to Martin Nievera‘s “You Are The One”; what actually passed for drama was the mere raising of an octave for every iteration of the chorus. Or the entire Constant Change album, by Jose Mari Chan, which threatened to engulf the whole of Philippine radio with its utter blandness.

However, ultraelectromagneticpop! is still, in my mind, an uneven debut, but for every iffy track like “Maling Akala,” “Shake Yer Head” (if I wrote “Well I ain’t no stupid fighter / I go for flower power,” I guess I’d be kind of embarrassed) or “Toyang” (just what is it with Pinoys and medleys?), there would be an absolute stunner of a song like “Ligaya,” or a flat-out work of irresistible genius like “Shirley.” (The squall of guitar noise at the beginning, anchored with that little throwaway piano riff, is alone worth the price of admission; it’s not very often you can pogo along to a song which so perceptively traces the fall and rise of a relationship.) The breathless, melodic complexity of “Tindahan ni Aling Nena” transcends its novelty-song origins. The humor of the album, as well as the goofy liner notes, was already a nod to the wacked-out anarchy that would pervade later albums.

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