2015 saw the release of one of the most ambitious British records of the 2010s so far: The Eccentronic Research Council’s Johnny Rocket: Narcissist and Music Machine, I’m your biggest fan. A 40 minute allegorical album that combined the visceral story-telling narrative of Maxine Peake (of Shameless fame) atop eerie atmospheric pop songs made on brooding vintage synthesisers. The Johnny Rocket album told the narrative of Peake’s deranged and twisted character, the archetypal obsessive fan gone too far; from the fictional town of Valhalla Dale, a northern township a simple bus ride away from Sheffield. She becomes infatuated with Johnny Rocket; frontman of local rock and roll band The Moonlandingz. When the narrator’s infatuation becomes too much, the album reaches a heavy literary climax and-
Well, I won’t give anything more away at this stage, because if you’ve not heard the album it’s about as pleasurable and enthralling a listen than you could ever imagine. But the band in question, the fictional group described as provocateurs of “cosmic synth krautabilly group doing fuzzy Joe Meek style pop” weren’t as fictional as the term "fictional" implies. In fact, this March saw the group release their debut record, a forty minute stomper called Interplanetary Class Classics.
Comprised of Adrian Flanagan and Dean Honer (The ERC’s head honchos), Lias Saoudi (shamanic frontman the Fat White Family), Saul Adamczewski (Fat Whites and ex-Metros guitar maestro) and a cast of other mystical musical movers and shakers, The Moonlandingz operate in a liminal realm between fact and fiction. Like De Niro, like Rourke, like Downey Jr or any great method actor you can think of, Lias Saoudi lives the role of Johnny Rocket, from the 70s Doctor Who costumage, to the fact he actually relocated to South Yorkshire - the “home of electronic music”, Sheffield. This fictional character, though, is adopted free of gimmick, so far removed from any tacky shtick; and the novelty of the idea allows you to get on board with any rock ’n’ roll cliches in a way that’s difficult with “serious rock and roll stars”. In fact, it’s with this kind of self awareness that our protagonist Johnny Rocket declares as a mission statement: "Consider this album two great monoliths, one of misanthropy the other self-love, it is unyielding in its perfect duality.”
The aforementioned serious rockstardom is toyed with from the outset of the band’s debut album, Interplanetary Class Classics, which came out at the tail end of March. As Adrian Flanagan promised in a recent interview, “it’s a celebration of (amongst others) the sexually inept”, something which is executed on opener Vessels and the single Strangle of Anna. The opening drums from the start of Vessels have a Glitter Band stomp: a note perfect carbon copy of Gaz’s Rock and Roll Pt 2 on the drums, met by some tetchy vocals promising rock and roll lechery and some swamping dark melodies. The Strangle Of Anna though, is almost the binary opposite of this, a slower one that celebrates femininity as the protagonist (voiced by Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club) is implored to ditch her useless failing trad-rock indie rock ’n’ roll boyband member boyfriend.
The narrative presented is added to by an array of cameos, co-stars to Johnny Rocket. “I’m proud that I managed to pull together such a disparate, lunatic bunch of one-offs and make a really ace album with them, and that none of them died,” said Flanagan. This was in reference to Yoko Ono - now aged 82 - and her howling performance on the closer, This Cities Undone, as well as Randy Jones (the cowboy from the Village People) and his caterwauling baritone on the glam-stomper Glory Hole. More than the sum of its parts, this album doesn’t give over to being a platform for big names. Instead, Johnny Rocket remains the star and the likes of Ono and Jones only serve as his playthings. Ono or no Ono, This Cities Undone is a roving piece of brilliance and throughout it’s duration it’s difficult to ignore the genius of the band themselves.
The sheer ground The Moonlandingz have the ability to cover is what ensures the band truly make the transition from the pages of fiction to an immortal reality. The dynamic variety on their record is far more apparent than even; the slow, ticking ballad of Strangle of Anna is immediately preceded by the frantic, Halloweeny nugget of motorik sleaze-pop IDS, on which Johnny Rocket’s howls of “forty thousand years!” spirals and spirals into the realms of depravity even more with every retort. Black Hanz has an infectious swagger, an array of vintage synths give way a shimmering cosmic backdrop for Rocket’s goat-like bleats of “Black Hanz! Do it again!”, whilst Neuf De Pape sounds scary in an ever so comic way, with OTT organs and a lecherous vampire croon.
All of this is executed perfectly, there’s not a second where the band give anything but their most. A total shamanic thunderstorm, a psychic attack, every second is vital, a constant bombardment of perfect, in-your-face pop music with frantic vocals and some amazing sounds. Everything about this debut is perfect, and in truth, it might just be better than (our album of 2016) the last Fat Whites record…