Don’t Mention The Prog: It Bites’ Eat Me In St Louis

eat-me-in-st-louis-527b870be5b7fVirgin Records, released June 1989

9/10

Bought: Our Price Hammersmith, June 1989

It Bites go Metal? Nearly. A brave attempt to break the US? Possibly. Even Kerrang! magazine took notice of this one. Riff-heavy, blues-based rock was making a big comeback on the late-‘80s UK music scene, typified by the success of Thunder, The Quireboys, Gun and Little Angels.

The gifted Cumbrian four-piece came up with a neat twist and produced their heaviest album yet – but they could never completely jettison their penchant for brilliant pop hooks, colourful instrumentation and intricate arrangements.

it bites

Francis Dunnery’s guitar playing was leaner, meaner and more direct than before, with a stronger blues flavour; Hendrix and Clapton were touchstones now rather than Holdsworth and Gambale. The song and performance were paramount. He had also added a lot of grit to his vocals and talked glowingly of David Sylvian and The Blue Nile in interviews. Producer Mack brought the big drum sound and ban on reverb. Dick Nolan expanded the grooves with his new six-string bass. There were three near-hits (‘Still Too Young To Remember’, ‘Underneath Your Pillow’, ‘Sister Sarah’). Roger Dean provided the album cover concept/graphics/masks, possibly a weird move for a band trying to escape the Prog tag. It was red rag to a bull for the NME who ran a sarcastic mini-interview with Dunnery which barely mentioned the band’s music.

First single ‘Still Too Young To Remember’ was Classic Rock of an early-‘70s vintage, sounding more like Family, Cat Stevens or Free than Genesis or Marillion. Virgin flogged it mercilessly with not one but two re-releases but there was still no sign of a hit. I remember excitedly rushing out to the buy the 12” version one beautiful spring day in 1989. Its superb B-side ‘Vampires’ features one of Dunnery’s most outrageous guitar solos. Other fine B-sides of the time include ‘Bullet In The Barrell‘ and ‘Woman Is An Addict‘ which features a killer whole-tone Nolan/Dunnery riff.

As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, It Bites were shaping up to be one of the bigger live draws in British rock – they embarked on three tours in the space of a year, selling out the Hammersmith Odeon and impressing everyone. A glorious night at the old Town And Country Club featured on the ‘Meltdown’ TV show. They played extensively in Japan and toured the States with Jethro Tull. The feeling in the Virgin camp was that the fourth album would deliver the big hit they were striving for. Too heavy for pop but too pop for metal? Too good for the charts? Suddenly, despite the lack of singles action, it didn’t seem to matter too much.

But the cracks were starting to show – Dunnery was a barely-functioning alcoholic whose self-loathing tendencies led to sublimely pissed-off guitar solos but more often than not wound up the rest of the band – especially the equally gifted yet far more docile John Beck (Dunnery recently said in a Classic Prog interview that they had very different ‘energy levels’), often leading to some thrillingly edgy onstage duels but also some resentment.

Decamping to Los Angeles to write songs for the fourth album proved a career move too far – Beck, Dalton and Nolan refused to work with Dunnery who was AWOL periodically throughout the sessions. The band splintered and that was that, despite a brief reunion of the original line-up the early noughties. It’s fascinating to imagine what might have been if they’d been able to hold on a bit longer and harness the creative tension between Beck and Dunnery. The breakup was a sad end to one of the most prodigious groups of musicians in the ‘80s pop pantheon.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t Mention The Prog: It Bites’ Eat Me In St Louis

  1. Thanks for shining a light on this wonderful band, Matt. I had been unaware of them prior to Eat Me In St. Louis, but based on the recommendation of a coworker who knew I was a big prog-rock fan who was seeking current prog artists, I bought the record & became an instant fan. Sure, it’s got that big late-80s production but the performances & songs are excellent. I think I might enjoy this album a little more than you do, but maybe that’s because it was my first exposure to them & I have a special connection to it. I’m probably more of a solo Dunnery fan, yet I smile anytime I play It Bites and I wish they achieved a little more mainstream success….especially here in the US.

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    • Thanks Rich and delighted you share my enjoyment of this brilliant band. I actually reconsidered my mark out of ten based on your comment! I was being a bit harsh… I wonder what sort of release ‘Eat Me’ got in the States? I think I read somewhere that Virgin released it as a compilation of all three albums over there. Also did you manage to see them live? I think they supported Jethro Tull in late ’89 or early ’90.

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      • I think “Eat Me…” pretty much sank without a trace here. And yes…it was more of a compilation in the US, with 5-6 songs from the UK edition and a handful of songs from their previous releases. My next purchase was an EP version of “Once Around The World.” It wasn’t until several years later that I found the full-length version. Never had the good fortune to see It Bites. A good friend of mine, who is the only other It Bites fan I know, saw them on that Tull tour. I saw Dunnery multiple times after he started recording for Atlantic, always at a small club. That guy is ridiculously talented.

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      • That’s interesting that you’ve carried on as a big solo Dunnery fan. I loved a lot of his first album ‘Welcome To The Wild Country’ though have struggled a bit since, but really enjoyed seeing him live a couple of times. Did you manage to check out any of his recent ‘Frankenstein Monster’ thing? Apparently it’s his most ‘prog’ project since It Bites but I haven’t heard yet.

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      • I love the fact that Dunnery will change styles from album to album, but his songwriting, guitar chops & vocal style are always clearly identifiable. I loved the “Frankenstein Monster” album, which I believe was based on songs written by his late brother. It’s one of his proggiest releases, although he went full-on prog with 2009’s “There’s A Whole New World Out There,” which consisted mostly of covers and self-covers, including It Bites tracks. He credited his musicians at the time as “The New Progressives.”

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