Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic

Two British kids, he a guitarist and she a singer, meet at their university. They graduate, spend a year on the dole, recruit a couple of friends to play bass and drums in a band, and give their first performance in August 1988. Now, just a year and a half later, the quartet, The Sundays, release Reading, Wrting, and Arithmetic, an album radiant with apparently effortless sophistication. They aren’t trained in music, they say. Did they learn it by breathing it in, like a new employee at a museum learning art by staring at paintings?

The opening track (”Skin & Bones”) is the strangest; the singer’s voice seems to sail off to a universe all its own. Then the band pulls itself together, tossing off songs as unique as some new species of animal, pointed alternative rock with a quick, nervous beat and concise, spiky melody. The guitar rings out brightly; the singer (Harriet Wheeler) throws out phrases at once transparent and amazingly strange. ”Give me a story, give me a bed, give me possessions,” she sings in ”Can’t Be Sure” (a big hit for the band in England). ”Love and money go to my head like wildfire!”

I could quote lyrics endlessly — if the singer’s carefree delivery allowed me to make out more of the words. ”Poetry is not for me/So show me the way to go home.” That’s one lyric quoted in the group’s official bio. There can’t be many bands as artless as this one — and at the same time so unpretentiously artful. A-

Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
  • Music