There are musicians in bands who become faceless and nameless in the presence of their singer. It happened with Blondie, an amazing band but whose presence was obliterated the sheer star power of Debbie Harry. It happened to everyone in Sleeper, who were termed Sleeperblokes by the British music press, their identities removed as a result of Louise Wener’s boundless ubiquity. For Republica, it was a similar story. A good band, full with creative musicians, one of whom was Tim Dorney who’d already had some success with Flowered Up. Yet when we think of Republica (when we choose to), we see one person, hear a single voice. Saffron was such an overwhelming presence that she became the face (and the haircut) of Republica. Sometimes this happens. Even though Siouxsie Sioux is incredibly powerful, fans still know Steve Severin and Budgie. Shirley Manson is the frontwoman of Garbage but we all know about Butch Vig, of course. How this happens with some bands, I’m not sure. I’ve never quite came to a consensus as to the reason, but it’s likely a compliment and a curse. However, if you’re going to have a kickarse frontwoman in charge, then you’d struggle to get better than Saffron.
Republica effortlessly straddled a line between dance and rock, that area where crunchy guitars were complimented by beats, the sort that made tables at the indie disco wobble, drinks topple. They were punk in style, but pop in spirit. They had the right people on the track list, with an early version of The Chemical Brothers (still known as The Dust Brothers) remixing ‘Out of this World’. Signing to DeConstruction Records, the famous boutique dance label that aimed high but often charted low, Republica came at the right time during the shockwave unleashed by Britpop. Bands were popular again. Bands were charting. For me, I got into Republica slightly later than most, enjoying Ready To Go but really embracing them with Drop Dead Gorgeous, which remains for me their most perfect song.
The video is a stylish strobe suffused futurist kitchen sink melodrama. Painted gnomes, broken porcelain, and Tank Girl fashion. It looked great and the song, of course, is still just as catchy and crunchy as it was back when I first heard it. I know my ex-boyfriend lies/Oh, he does it every time/it’s just his permanent disguise/yeah yea but he’s drop dead gorgeous just works, doesn’t it? As a put down, it’s perfect. As something to mutter at work or in the shower, it passes every test of classic pop lyricism.
The album is a menagerie of sounds, each song held together by Saffron’s attitude. Out Of The Darkness and Wrapp are oddities, but my other favourite tracks on the album. Ready To Go is possibly more traditional that the other songs, making it a perfect single. Bloke and Bitch are so ’90s that I can just about see Sara Cox on Channel Four at night making fun of Peter Andre when I hear them. The album is very ’90s though, but remains a fun and diverting experience.
When Republica’s second album was released, I was excited. From Rush Hour With Love is a good song and I really wanted it to smash, but problems behind the scenes with DeConstruction and people naturally moving away from Britpop (a scene from which Republica benefitted immensely) meant Speed Ballads sold far less than their debut. A shame, because it’s actually quite good. It happened a lot with a few of those bands. Kula Shaker suffered a savage downturn in fortune with their second album. Skunk Anansie’s third album wasn’t the huge success it should have been either – and that’s a future post on this blog, because I think Post Orgasmic Chill is an excellent record.
Now reformed, Republica can get out and perform live, at least when venues open up again. Republica is now available in three discs courtesy of Cherry Records, but even if you don’t want to listen to all the unreleased tracks and remixes, the original album itself is still worth listening to and sometimes, when you least expect it, you’ll hear Republica songs on adverts, a testament to their catchy and enduring power.