I know that I’m hardly breaking new ground by posting this, but I’ve been listening to the new album by Elbow on rotation for about a week now, and simply can’t get the refrain from Lippy Kids, which gives the album its name, out of my head. It’s as plaintively beautiful as Oasis’ classic D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman?
It’s not radical, nor outrageous, nor genre-defining, nor anything that you wouldn’t expect from Elbow. It’s just totally, and utterly, fantastically lovely.
Build a rocket boys, build a rocket boys!
Rocket garden by Milan Boers on flickr
In its ongoing bid to have more sub-brands than any other media owner, Absolute Radio recently launched a new niche-station, this time one tailor-made for those of us currently experiencing the dizzying pangs that come with realising nostalgia isn’t just something that happens to your parents: Absolute 90s. And, as part of the ongoing celebrations of the launch, they’re compiling a list of the Essential 90s Albums.
Now, anyone who has ever read this blog before (Hi Mum!) will know that I love a good list and so, taking Absolute 90s compilation of such a list as a challenge, I thought I’d have a go myself. And here, after much thought, is my 20 essential albums of the 90s. It was hard enough keeping it to 20 (and they’re likely to change) so they’re in no-order other than chronological. I’ll happily admit that it tends to skew towards British music & hip-hop, but it’s not my fault that most grunge was shite.
Anyway, for anyone that cares (Hi Mum!), here’s my 20 essential albums of the 90s.
- Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990): Proving that rap & politics made perfect bed-fellows, the decade got off to a storming start with Public Enemy’s magnum opus.
- Happy Mondays - Pills ‘n’ Thrills And Bellyaches (1990): Whilst baggy seems like an 80s phenomenon, it’s crowning glory was released in the 1st year of the decade. A sprawling epic, the likes of which they’d never make again.
- The Sundays – Reading, Writing & Arithmetic (1990): Whilst the 90s was the decade that indie conquered (in the form of Britpop), the fey, jangling type that had ruled the 80s alternative scene was lost along the way. Which is a shame when it’s as beautiful as the début by the laziest band in rock.
- Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991): Era defining. Genre defining. Proof that the UK could do its own blend of hip-hop as well, if not better than the US. You need to own this.
- Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991): Indie never-weres discover house music, and drugs, and get remixed to the hilt. Genius ensues and a generation of white boys learn to dance. Almost.
- Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992): Ex-member of NWA drops his anti-drugs message and starts dropping caps, blunts & bitches. Utterly un-PC, utterly amazing and owning a sense of humour that so much of the crap that came in its wake would lack.
- blur – Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993): Having proved that indie could top the charts, blur decided to try to kill grunge. They failed (at this attempt) but shaped a very-British type of pop that would soon sweep the nation.
- Paul Weller – Wild Wood (1993): The greatest British musical chameleon since Bowie went home, realised that growing old in Surrey wasn’t so bad, and released one of the most beautiful albums of the decade.
- Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers) (1993): Brought rap back to its spiritual home in New York, and stripped it down to its basics. Wu-Tang Clan aint nutting ta f*ck wit’! Remember that.
- Oasis – Definitely Maybe (1994): Gave the British a band to believe in, even if the dream was to prove short-lived. Life-changing.
- Tricky – Maxinquaye (1995): Responsible for some of Massive Attack’s greatest rhymes, Tricky went solo, discovered Martina Topley-Bird, and created an album of paranoid beauty.
- Coldcut – Journeys By DJ: 70 Minutes Of Madness (1995): The greatest mix album of all time, this took eclectic to a new level. House, dub, jungle, hip-hop, Dr. Who. Impossible to explain.
- DJ Shadow – Endtroducing… (1996): Trip-hop was always dead before it was really alive, but DJ Shadow managed to make its obituary an amazing piece of work.
- Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go (1996): Despite originally claiming they’d split after one album, even the loss of their muse couldn’t stop them. Showed that 90s rock didn’t have to be brain-dead to sell millions.
- Radiohead – OK Computer (1997): The best album ever according to every music magazine under the sun. Not sure I agree with that, but it really is breath-taking in its ambition & execution. Made most other bands look like they minnows they were.
- Roni Size/Reprazent – New Forms (1997): Despite being doubly cursed, as a Mercury winner and that year’s choice of coffee table album, this was & is a fine catalogue of the only truly British music genre to emerge since the 1960s.
- Daft Punk – Homework (1997): French house. Never before or since would those words make so much sense together.
- Lauryn Hill – Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill (1998): Left the biggest hip-hop band in the world to release an album showing that R&B could be intelligent, and that soul still meant something.
- Presence – All Systems Gone (1999): Probably the least well-known album on this list, but also one of the best. Imagine that Massive Attack had grown up listening to house instead of hip-hop; this is what Blue Lines would have sounded like.
Now, the observant amongst you will have noticed that the list above only has 19 entries.So, I want you to make suggestions as to which album should fill that space and I’ll choose one of the suggestions and add it to the final list of the 20 Essential Albums Of The 90s.
I should probably warn you now that it’s very unlikely that I’ll add any album that had a picture of a baby chasing a dollar bill on the cover. Just thought I’d mention it.
Back in the early 90s I remember writing a letter to NME (or it may have been Melody Maker, I can’t quite remember). I was annoyed at the amount of hype they were giving to a couple of new bands, undeservedly I felt. The bands in question were Suede & The Verve (or Verve as they were at the time). I thought these two bands were overrated and that the band that should be getting the attention was Adorable, who I thought deserved to be absolutely huge. As I often say, my predictions are almost always wrong.
The reason I thought this was due to their début single, Sunshine Smile. A splendid mix of fuzzy guitars and a thundering rhythm, the song was a call to arms: it came out in 1992, as shoegazing was starting to wane but before Britpop had hit. In many ways Adorable were a dry run for Oasis – signed to Creation, front-man Piotr Fijalkowski had a knack for giving good quote, although he had both the gob of Liam and the brains of Noel. According to Wikipedia Oasis have quoted Adorable as an influence, and certainly early Oasis singles bear a passing resemblance to Adorable’s sound, which took shoegazing style guitars and added a dose of pop sensibilities & rock tempos.
Obviously Adorable weren’t huge. They hit the top end of the Indie Charts a few times, with Sunshine Smile as well as the equally excellent singles Homeboy & Sistine Chapel Ceiling. Unfortunately their (excellent) debut album, Against Perfection, failed to do much business at all, and after releasing another, much weaker second album, they split in 1994. By then of course both Suede & The Verve had been surpassed by the meteoric rise of Oasis and whilst my 17 year old self was probably wrong, Adorable certainly left some amazing tracks for us to remember them by.
Subshine smile by fdecomite on flickr
So last night the winner of this year’s Mercury Music Prize was announced as Speech Debelle’s debut Speech Therapy. I have to say that I was pretty underwhelmed by the decision: it’s not a bad album, but I wonder how many people will still be listening to it in a year, let alone 17 year’s time. Why 17? Because that’s how long the prize has been running.
To be fair to the judges, Debelle was probably as worthy a winner as any – looking at the short-list it’s hard to see any future classics: in fact it was probably one of the weakest selections since the prize’s birth in 1992. So, having had a look at all the winners since the prize launched I decided to pick what I think is the best winner of them all. And, in the end, I ended up back at the start.
The winner of 1992′s début prize was Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Very few albums can claim to be truly iconic, let alone era-defining. Screamadelica can. With its blend of blissed out house and gentle rock & soul, Primal Scream provided a soundtrack to a million Saturday nights & Sunday mornings. The cover art became a badge for the rave genaration, like a clubbed up Watchman smiley. And they didn’t even include the amazing track that gave the album its name, which instead ended up on the brilliantly named Dixie-Narco EP and which you can see below: it’s good eh?
Since then there have been some other great winning albums, though scanning through the short-lists it does feel like more often than not, the best album has not been the winning one. Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, OK Computer & In Rainbows by Radiohead, The Verve’s Urban Hymns – all were left unrewarded – let’s not forget that in one year alone Parklife, Music For The Jilted Generation & Wild Wood were all beaten – by M People.
So if Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is the best ever winner of the Mercury Music Prize, which is the best album that was shortlisted but didn’t win? I’m torn between OK Computer, Parklife & Definitely Maybe. What do you think?
PS – Am I the only one who thought it ironic that in the same week the Mercury Prize was announced, T-Mobile, the brand that killed Mercury when it took over its One2One mobile operation, announced a merger with Orange which will see the T-Mobile brand itself killed off in the UK.
Screamadelica stained window by Gordon Watt on flickr
It’s with some sadness and great relief to tell you that I quit Oasis tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer.
Well, that’s that then. The band who burst on to the scene back in 1994 and revitalised the British music industry in the process, are no more. After what was apparently a physical confrontation which involved Liam smashing one of Noel’s guitars, the man who turned indie never-weres Rain into world beaters Oasis has finally left his brother’s band. The radio stations will be playing Oasis tracks for weeks now, and I’d guess that the next Best Song Ever chart to roll along will be stuffed with Oasis tracks. But for me, the band have been dead for years.
Back in the mid 90s, after the Gallaghers had sacked original drummer Tony McCarroll, George Michael said something about how, in doing so, they had sacked their soul. His argument was that whilst replacement drummer Alan White (also sacked a few years later) was undoubtedly more talented, what had made Oasis so appealing was their simple, straight up energy. Fancy drum rolls and the like would be no replacement for what had made them so great, And, bizarrely, he was probably right.
Back when they first started, many of Oasis’ best tracks were wistful songs of ambition & regret: even if they were played at ear-splitting volume, they seemed to reach for the stars from very humble beginnings. Fade Away, D’Yer Wanna Be A Spaceman & Acquiesce to name but a few. But as the money & coke rolled in, and they moved to Supernova Heights, the songs regressed to being little better than bad Beatles/Kinks/T Rex/insert 60s or 70s band here cover versions. Where Noel had once been a mischievous tinker, lifting little bits of Burt Bacharach here, getting nicked for borrowing some Stevie Wonder there, he ended up just reliving others’ past glories, and adding nothing to the musical canon in the process.
I didn’t buy any Oasis album after (What’s The Story) Morning Glory and really don’t feel like I’ve missed anything: if you own it, Definitely Maybe & Stop The Clocks, there’s really nothing else you need to buy. Whilst I’ll be interested to see what Noel does next (I really couldn’t give a fuck about Liam: he hasn’t been able to sing for years & if he wasn’t in a band the twatt would probably be in prison or dead by now), I’ll keep remembering Oasis as they were at their peak: arrogant yet vulnerable and looking over their shoulders whilst taking over the world.
Graveyard by peterastn on flickr
A while back I was walking down Berwick Street when I happened to notice this in the window of Revival Records, one of the many fine record shops in Soho: it’s a copy of the 2nd Oasis album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? with a YOU ARE HERE post-it note on it. It made me chuckle as anyone who knows their Oasis folklore will know that the cover shot was taken on Berwick Street – the two men shown are Owen Morris, who produced the album, and Sean Rowley, a friend of the band more famous for his Guilty Pleasures series.
I seem to remember reading once that it was taken in the early hours of the morning after the band had put the finishing touches to the album and that, already sure they had a smash hit on their hands, they decided to hit the streets of Soho. I also seem to remember reading that Noel thinks it’s a shite cover. He’s right.
I’ll leave you with Champagne Supernova, the track which, more than any other on Morning Glory, seemed to represent the sense of endless possibilities and open doorways that existed at the time, just 18 months before Tony Blair entered Downing Street. Of course both Blair and Oasis would disappoint us, constantly rehashing their greatest hits, but for the moment let’s revel in the nostalgia.
Hunting around for something to listen to this morning I alighted on the eponymous début album by Suede and was rather taken aback as I’d forgotten quite how good it is.
I remember that at the time that Suede burst onto the music scene I was rather cynical of the hype: proclaimed as the best band in Britain before they’d even released a single, they seemed like a massive case of style over substance. But repeated listens to the album after it came out, along with seeing them headline at Glastonbury changed my opinion of the band.
The band basically imploded after the first album, in a somewhat similar scenario to the Stone Roses: incredibly talented guitarist walking out amidst tales of excessive drug intake having failed to crack the States. They then lost their Britpop crown to blur & Oasis, with lead singer Brett Anderson also losing his girlfriend, Justine Frischman of Elastica to blur’s Damon Albarn. Ouch.
I have to say that I haven’t gone back to Suede’s work all that much, but every time I do I make a resolution to listen to the album more. Tracks like The Next Life & She’s Not Dead are almost heartbreakingly beautiful and have some amazing lyrics to boot:
See you in your next life when we’ll fly away for good,
Stars in our own car we can drive away from here
Far away, so far away, down to Worthing and work there
Far away, we’ll go far away and flog ice creams til the company’s on its knees
Suede boots by starmist1 on flickr
Every so often I get very strange cravings for music – I’ll suddenly feel the need to download tracks by artists I haven’t listened to for years, or groups that most people would never admit to liking. Like the time I suddenly decided that I needed more 80s blue-eyed soul in my life and went on a download spree that took in Hue & Cry, Deacon Blue & Curiosity Killed The Cat. More recently I suddenly got an urge to listen to soft, accoustic rock and ended up buying tracks by Travis, the band that should have been bigger than Coldplay, and 70s cheese-meisters Bread.
Because I was listening to both of these bands at the same time I noticed something that had occurred to me years ago but which I’d forgotten: namely that if Travis weren’t listening to Bread’s Look What You’ve Done To Me when they wrote Flowers In The Window, then my name’s Chris Martin. You can see the Travis video above whilst the Bread song is below.
They both have the same gentle guitar refrain, and you could pretty easily sing the lyrics to Flowers In The Window over the music of Look What You’ve Done To Me and vice versa. Admittedly Bread’s tracks is slightly slower, at least until it goes (by Bread’s standards) a bit rocky towards the end, but other than that the resemblance is amazing. I don’t blame Travis for taking this ‘inspiration’ (which may well have been unwitting) – it certainly puts them in good company.
Noel Gallagher has made a career out of recycling other people’s music, only being caught out when Stevie Wonder demanded a credit on Step Out due to the blatant pilfering of his song Uptight (the legal wranglings that accomapnied this demand were the reasons that the track wasn’t included on Morning Glory, instead being released as the b-side of Don’t Look Back In Anger). Noel probably took his inspiration for creative borrowing from Paul Weller who liked The Beatles so much he lifted the riff from Taxman for The Jam’s early single Start.
And whatever you think of the way that these artists use other’s work as a basis for their own (personally I don’t have a problem with it as long as they add something to it: it’s like sampling) at least they never stooped as low as walking cliche Bobby Gillespie who has raped the Rolling Stones’ back-catalogue so thoroughly that he’s been forced to nicking tunes from The Bluebells.
This morning saw the first official airing of the new single from Oasis, Shock of the Lightning, on Virgin Radio and already some enterprising young soul has slapped a clip of it being played on Radio 1 onto a still image and posted it to YouTube, which I repost here for your listening pleasure.
As anyone who has read my blog for a while will know I was a devoted fan of Oasis in their golden period around the mid-nineties but lost faith in them from their third album now, when they started to believe their own hype. I thought that the singles from their last album were OK, but nothing amazing. Shock of the Lightning isn’t amazing either but it’s certainly a return to form of sorts. Gone are the (futile) attempts to sound like a sub-par Beatles cover band, and back has come some of the attitude that made them so exciting when they first appeared.
When Oasis featured on the cover of The (sadly missed) Face around the time of their debut album they were described as The Sex Beatles, mixing the arrogance of the Sex Pistols with the meoldies of The Beatles but somewhere along the line they seemed to forget about the first part of this mix. With Shock of the Lightning it sounds like they may just have remembered what it was that made them great.