. . .
After recording That Petrol Emotion’s third album, 1988’s End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues — about which the best thing was the title — founding member (and former Undertone) John O’Neill left the band, which you might think would have signaled the end of the project. Wrong!
While John O’Neill had been the principal songwriter, he wasn’t their only songwriter, and not only did bassist Damian O’Neill go to guitar — he was the lead guitarist in the Undertones, after all — he wrote a few more songs than normal, as did guitarist Raymond O’Gorman and drummer Ciaran McLaughlin, and with the help of producer Scott Litt, their fourth album, 1990’s Chemicrazy has my favorite of their songs, “Sensitize.”
Written by McLaughlin — the drummers always have more great songs in them than you might realize — “Sensitize” starts with a straight forward rhythm guitar in one speaker, lead guitar in the other, over which Steve Mack sings.
Heard a secret and
Saw you smilin’
You’re so beguiling
Leave me breathless and
I can’t think straight at all
OK, so maybe the drummers shouldn’t write lyrics. But it doesn’t matter on “Sensitize,” because what puts it across is the chorus, which is lovely and groovy and sits upon a utterly wonderful vocal performance by Mack, who just kills it as “Sensitize” morphs into a horny-ass fucksong.
Head to toe
Burns and glows
Sweet and slow
Once again, on paper, this doesn’t seem like much, but I love the whole thing: the harmonies on “Ultra-fervor / Head to toe / Sensitizes / Burns and glows;” the way Mack slips into a surprise falsetto on “swee-eeeeeeeeet and slowwwwwwwwwwwwwww” and the pause for a drum roll on the orgasmic “Avalanche!!! / Avalanche!!! / Avalanche!!!!!” each one followed by a cool little guitar bend that’s equal parts catchy and surprising.
After that, a couple more verses, but all I wanna do is hear that long long chorus again, which they provide in spades, doubling up on the falsetto “sweee-eeet and slowwwwwww” before a three more “avalanches!” And they are spent, with Mack just singing “Healter swelter / sweet and slow” a few times until the end. Just a wonderfully constructed pop song. Oh, and I kinda love how joyful the music video is, as well.
I don’t think I bought Chemicrazy when it initially came out — I don’t think I bought any of their records when they first came out — I totally and instantly flipped for “Sensitize” when I first heard it, but maybe I was the only one. As the third single from Chemicrazy, it stalled out at #55 in the U.K., and didn’t trouble the charts at all, despite being the follow-up to “Hey Venus” which was a #9 Modern Rock track here — their one U.S. chart foray — but only #49 pop in the U.K.
As for Chemicrazy itself, only #62 on the U.K. album charts, and so when their 1993 album Fireproof went utterly nowhere, That Petrol Emotion broke up, never quite having sustained the greatness of songs like “Big Decision” or “Sensitize.”
“Sensitize” Official Music Video
“Sensitize” Live on the BBC Late Show, 1991
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