The Spinners

Eraserheads Anthology (Eraserheads, 2004)

In Alternative Rock, Compilation, OPM, Thor Balanon on April 20, 2010 at 7:51 am

“Rock n’ roll is our epiphany, culture, boredom, alienation, and despair.” – Manic Street Preachers, Little Baby Nothing

1991. I was a miserable lost boy when I first heard the Eraserheads play “Pare Ko” in the Para sa ‘Yo Bagong Isko concert in Palma Hall’s cramped lobby. And they sucked, big time. Sloppy guitars, pitchy vocals, absolutely forgettable performance. Lousy, really, but loved. The support was almost cult-like; everyone knew the words, there was feverish adoration in a thousand eyes. And despite my freshman virtuousness and ignorance, I immediately got it. Right away I understood the iconic yet reserved worship the band received in the echoing halls of the campus, when everybody started shouting the now-immortal lyrics: O! Diyos ko! / Ano ba naman ito / Di ba, tang-ina! / Nagmukha akong tanga / Pina-asa niya lang ako / Letseng pag-ibig to! No other band could be sweet, desperate, and funny at the same time like the Eraserheads.

Their college-rock sound defined the nineties. From their 1993 debut, the hilarious, Beatlesque ultraelectricmagneticpop! to their fuzzy, Sonic Youth-influenced Carbon Stereoxide in 2001, the Eraserheads were consistently imaginative and brave. Though not always successful with their experiments, Ely, Buddy, Raimund, and Marcus consistently (and stubbornly) rocked with the confidence that they knew what they were doing. And rightly so. They wrote songs that appealed to almost everyone. With the release of their debut album, suddenly the kolehiyalas and the hukbalahiphops were listening to the same music. It didn’t matter who you were—student, professional, war veteran, or a senator—the band held your attention and you were glued to the band’s amazing pop hooks and brilliant, yet simple, lyrics. The Eraserheads were and still are the band to beat when it comes to astute songwriting and popularity clearly evident in their double-disc collection of singles and rarities aptly called Eraserheads Anthology.

Disc 1: 1993-95. All the hits. Immediately fulfilling.

Everything that was loved and cherished is here. It perfectly opens with “Ligaya”, an aw-shucks confession of love and an offer that you simply cannot refuse: Gagawin ko ang lahat pati ang thesis mo. Next up is the masterpiece ode to heartbreak and drinking, “Pare Ko”. Unfortunately, what’s included here is the clean version, which takes away the childish pleasure of screaming Di ba, tang-inaaaaa! And when it comes to irreverent pleasures, the Eraserheads definitely know our secret tasty thoughts, like expertly dissing an ex in the crunching guitars and headbang sing-along chorus of “Magasin”: Di ko inakalang sisikat ka / Tinawanan pa kita / Tinawag mo akong walang hiya/ Medyo pangit ka pa noon. Heh.

“Alapaap” was almost banned from the airwaves (Masdan mo aking mata / Di mo ba nakikita / Ako ngayo’y lumilipad at nasa langit na / Gusto mo bang sumama) when the Senate tried to rid radio of drug-laced songs to stop, uh, drug use. I guess it didn’t help that the opening shoe-gazing, psychedelic guitars are deliciously dizzying before the solid riff kicks in and you’re gently lifted by the soaring chorus.

Speaking of choruses that are explosively contagious, “Ang Huling El Bimbo” features one that is downright perfect, the kind of perfection that landed the Philippines a niche in MTV’s buzzing media matrix. Comparison to Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” is inevitable and that’s not bad at all. Eraserheads may also be accused of being too derivative but they make up for it in the pulsating energy and lyrical invention of their songs. “Ang Huling El Bimbo” is an epic-scale tale of childhood love and grown-up loss complete with obsessive violins and a rousing guitar lead. But at the heart of this big production is a tender story of an ordinary man’s first awkward step toward love. Of course it all ends violently, but what’s left as the violins fade is the subtlety of love’s beginning and the fierceness of its remembering.

Ely Buendia, lead lyricist of the early albums, understands the fine art of subtlety. He effortlessly balances humor with gentleness, universal themes with sharp character/story details. “Minsan” was never a huge single, but surprisingly, it always encouraged drunken sing-alongs. It’s just brilliant how one specific reference (Kalayaan) can resonate in the hearts of hundreds.

“Minsan” defines the tone of the first disc. These were the great songs we listened to as we struggled toward adulthood. They were the friends that made us laugh as we suffered through heartaches and hangovers. They kept us company when we were lost in speeding jeepneys, when we were horny in our empty beds, when we were happy on the walk home with our loves.

Disc 2: 1997 – 2004. Experiments, EPs and an unreleased track. Not that great but still important.

1997’s “Sticker Happy” was loud, brash and experimental. They still had hits like “Huwag Kang Matakot” and “Maselang Bahaghari” but nothing as phenomenal as their previous singles.

A welcome addition to Disc 2 is the Eheads’ cover of Ryan Cayabyab’s “Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka”. Think of it like “Superstar” by Sonic Youth in the Carpenter’s tribute album. Unlike the version that has been relentlessly murdered by a particular songbird, Eheads’ “Tuwing Umuulan” retains its delicately shining melody, as the fuzzy guitars and bass reverbs work around the lyrics. They place the familiar against an edgier, audacious soundscape and what we get is a version that is as fresh as wet paint, sticky and vibrant.

Other experiments, however, did not fare as well. “Fruitcake” always had a novelty feel to it, “Bogchi Hokbu” is fun but flat, “Julie Tearjerky” feels like a pop hook exercise, and “Run Barbie Run” sounds just what the title implies, rushed and nowhere to go. But the thing is, with the Eraserheads, you never felt that it was about the money. They could’ve continued to churn out materials similar to their first three albums but they chose what most of us are scared to do, to grow up. Their sound matured, got less melodic, got louder and sonically more adventurous. While hardcore fans admired the growth, most felt alienated by it. But the band had no regrets. In what could be their best written song, “Para Sa Masa”, Ely pays tribute to the “masa” without the usual token we-love-you-all put-on. The dialogue is honest, kind and straightforward:

Ito ay para sa mga masa…
Sa lahat ng aming nakasama …
Naaalala nyo pa ba?
Binigyan namin kayo ng ligaya.

Ilang taon na rin ang lumipas,
. . . Mapapatawad mo ba ako?
Kung hindi ko sinunod ang gusto mo.

Pinilit kong iahon ka
Ngunit ayaw mo namang sumama.

Ito ay para sa mga masa,
Sa lahat ng ibinaon ng sistema…
Sa lahat ng mahilig sa lab song at drama . . .
Sa lahat ng fans ni Sharon Cuneta,
Sa lahat ng may problema sa pera.

And this is why I consider the Eraserheads the best band in Philippine history. They were brave and unapologetic but they also understood. They’re almost too fucking intelligent for their own good and their titanium-assed determination to write music was never compromised. The Eheads knew that their next few albums will never be the spectacle that was ultraelectricmagneticpop! They knew that they would be leaving behind multitudes of fans (and vice versa) but in the end, their loyalty was to music. And I’m guessing that this was the same loyalty that led to the break-up of the band. Maybe each of them had a different vision of what music to write or perform and had to follow opposite musical paths. I’m making this all up of course because I want a happy ending in my head. And I know they’re all out there with new bands, but it’s just not the same.

Eraserheads Anthology ends with a previously unreleased track, “Sa Tollgate”, a relaxed, middle-of-the-road song. We’re all in a pick-up truck driving nowhere, uncertain but happy. We should all be so lucky.

– Thor Balanon

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