Half way through the new documentary, ‘Bros: After The Screaming Stops’, viewers find Matt and Luke Goss wandering around Southwark, visiting old haunts and haunting old homes. They squint and peer. They loiter. They can’t seem to remember. Who were these men, these twins, these blondish bombshells, now tattooed and somewhat unhinged? Oh yes, them, Bros, the boy band to end all boy bands. If only.
“…Does Kevin still live there?” asks one, peering at a house.
“…Nah,” replies the other.
‘After The Screaming Stops’ documents how the brothers recently came together once more for a London payday. Pursued by a camera crew, they take a trip down memory lane to visit their old homes (when not clawing at each other in the rehearsal room), only to gaze out at once-familiar vistas with the blurred vision of the recently born. The viewer watches as the identical twin brothers wander around London as if seeing the city for the first time, not sure of where they are or, indeed, who they are.
And neither are we. They have returned, a plague upon our heads. Perhaps we deserve to be reminded of the foolish world of yesterday, and in being reminded find the perfect position from which to understand the new mess that we as a country have got ourselves into.
The duo’s reformation is not called for, not culturally warranted, not needed, but here they are, re-lodging themselves in our already too befuddled national consciousness to remind us of how bad life once was in the 1980s, and how bad it may yet become. Brexit, already busy eating into the collective mental health of the nation like some medieval bacillus has, after some two years, laid low the people of the UK. It would take only one more snippet of bad news to push us over the edge.
Bros are back. But older and, if this documentary is anything to go by, not much wiser. Matt, the singer, has come to wear the expression of a cabbie who has been bilked of his fare and in so being can’t find a reason to go on living. Jetted in from Vegas, he appears lost, bereft of the comforts of his home town and his own past, a past on which today he sees fit to trade for one last (hopefully) big money cheque. A toupée glued to his head and hidden beneath a cream coloured Superfly Homburg hat, eyes that are shuttered behind a pair of shades scan the rooms into which he swaggers. He berates his similarly confused sibling in tones best suited to the playground. The fans may have stopped screaming, but this pair of popsters clearly has not.
Having been sheep-dipped in the Vegas life, Matt the singer eyes his brother sadly, warily. Luke, the drummer, and seemingly the sharper of the two for reasons too oblique, has gathered about him the empty new age homilies that lie scattered like trash about the Los Angeles landscape. Such homilies drop from his lips at any given moment. He comes across as enriched of spirit, hoping we also believe what he believes, but recent years have seen him acting in straight-to-video thrillers. He sits behind his drumkit and wonders what to do. The session musicians, playing Greek chorus to the brothers’ tantrums, possess the patience of saints. Still, they’re getting paid and it beats busking.
What a sorry sight it all makes. You almost swallow your own tongue at the inanity of it all. As late 1980s’ pop sensations, once crudely fashioned out of the Eddie Cochran visual template, back then the duo (and their discarded bassist) screeched through a fusillade of plastic hits, bagged a few million and then promptly lost the plot and vanished. Only they didn’t: they reconstituted themselves and carried on elsewhere, in the only place that would receive their peculiar type of self-aggrandising promotion: the US. Or more specifically, the West Coast where anything goes, where people rise without trace.
Perhaps this is what happens to individuals who have foregone an education to instead seek a type of fame that would be forever forensically examined under the lens of the media. Under such scrutiny such souls are buoyed. But, as ever, the stage is the thing and the O2 (where the historic gig takes place as the documentary concludes) swiftly becomes the arena to where staggering egos head for a magic hour payday; with its floors well swept and seats neatly bolted American-style to the concrete floor, it’s where the brothers are most happy, most alive, not conversing with one other, merely gurning and prancing, the fans of yesteryear weeping in the aisles and turning back the clock for two hours to convince themselves that they’re 14 for one last time. Where there’s an ego, there are lemmings… thousands of them.
But I suppose we should chuckle at the memories evoked by this documentary. Surely we were more guileless circa 1988? We must have been to have allowed muzak to have taken such a vicelike hold. But back then Thatcher was in power, let’s not forget, and things across the sociopolitical spectrum were not good. Not good at all. Very bad in fact. Just like today.
Plus ça change. And perhaps, just perhaps, neighbour Kevin probably does live where one twin hoped he might still. Perhaps he was hiding behind the net curtains, whispering: “Christ Almighty, it’s them! They’ve come back!”
And not a moment too late.
If this documentary succeeds in one way only, it is in reminding us of how the music industry got itself into the state in which it is currently mired. In going for the easy money boy band bet and cashing in quickly, the seeds of its destruction were planted decades ago, the businessmen (our self-appointed arbiters of taste) creating a wasteland where today no new seed can find purchase.
And so, all leaders of the creative industries, please take note. And beware: at this rate the Britain of the future will be an uninhabitable place. And it will be your fault, having helped pose the perennial, unanswerable question, ‘When will I be famous…’