The 49 Americans were a band only in the very loosest sense of the word. As sometime member David Toop puts in the liner notes to the newly reissued We Know Nonsense, "Think of The 49 Americans as a band in the conventional sense, and you're lost." The We Know Nonsense compact disc features that album, plus 23 (!) bonus tracks. It is one of the most unusual collections of music I have ever heard, and one could easily get "lost" just trying to get to the bottom of it all.
On the eve of their 15th anniversary, the Staubgold label have re-released We Know Nonsense, and it was clearly a labor of love for them. The 49 Americans grew out of the London Musician's Collective in the late '70s. The scene was wildly improvisational, and The 49 Americans have come to be regarded as the ultimate British DIY "super group." Andrew "Giblet" Brenner was the nominal leader, and the talents that appear on this set include the aforementioned Toop, Steve Beresford, Max Eastley, Lol Coxhill, Viv Albertine, and Vivien Goldman, among many others.
We Know Nonsense was the second album to see release from The 49 Americans, in 1982. The Wire listed it in their memorable "100 Records that Set the World on Fire (While No One Was Listening) + 30 Extra Records." This is where I first heard about it, but it was not until this reissue that I have had the opportunity to actually hear it. The 17 cuts run the gamut from doo-wop, disco, samba, and pop, and are uniquely enjoyable on a number of levels. The individual songs are great in and of themselves, although I think that the album is best listened to as a whole.
This record is a marvelous thing to finally hear all of these years later, and I would have been satisfied if that were all that there was to the set. But Staubgold have upped the ante considerably with the incredible amount of bonus songs. The 49 Americans were in many ways an art project, brought to musical life. There is no better example of this than their debut, The 14-Track Single (1979). The punk explosion, and just about everything that followed were driven by the good old 45-RPM single, and The 14-Track Single was kind of the ultimate example of this.
Giblet and company discovered that the maximum time per side for a seven-inch single was seven minutes. The 49 Americans wrote and recorded 14 songs, each of which were 58 seconds long. Thus, The 14-Track Single was born. 12 of those 14 songs appear as bonus tracks. The 11 remaining bonus cuts are from their first full-length LP E Pluribus Unum (1980).
With a grand total of 40 individual tracks, We Know Nonsense is a fantastic package. Not only that, but it provides one of the best glimpses into the early days of the London DIY movement I know of. Fantastic stuff.