Just as 1983 was a momentous year in my life having accidentally stumbled upon The Smiths, so 1990 was to provide some similarly significant experiences. It was a fantastic time for the indie music fan with incredible albums and singles being released with consistent regularity. Thankfully this was a year or so before I got my own place so I didn’t have any concerns about spending most of my disposable income in Our Price and HMV.
It seemed like every week another essential single was released, we had The Charlatan’s ‘The Only One I Know’, James’ ‘Come Home’ ‘Velouria’ by the Pixies, ‘Kill Your Television’ by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (you don’t hear that one very often), ‘Everything Flows’ by Teenage Fanclub, the mighty ‘White Lightning’ by the equally mighty Fall group and Morrissey’s ‘November Spawned a Monster’.
The Wedding Present released the ‘3 Songs EP’ which I purchased on a cassingle and must have nearly worn out. As the title hinted, it featured three songs, ‘Corduroy’, ‘Come Up and See Me…’ and ‘Crawl’, all tremendous and a hint of what to expect from the next album.
There was one single that stood out from the rest. My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Glider’ EP was just extraordinary, like nothing I’d ever heard before. The woozy tremolo guitar sound hitting you in waves of distorted sound was incredible. It’s a sound that stands on it’s own with no nod to anything that’s come before, or if I think about it, after. I recall playing the first track ‘Soon’ over and over again, it has a hypnotic dreamlike quality that I just wanted to experience again and again. And every time I listened to it I picked out bits that I’d swear I hadn’t heard before. There’s a lot going on.
The next track ‘Glider’ was a wash of effects, layers and layers of noise that somehow created something quite beautiful.
‘Don’t Ask Why’ up next is a softer experience, still dreamy and hypnotic. Like all the songs on the EP the vocals are quite indistinguishable and act more like an instrument, another layer of sound. I’ve never bothered to look up any My Bloody Valentine lyrics, does anyone? I don’t really feel the urge to know what they’re singing about. The songs are things of beauty and the fact I’m unsure of what is being sung about just adds some mystery to the experience. I’ve always felt that having the lyrics so deep within the music meant that we’re not supposed to know what they are anyway.
The EP ends with ‘Off Your Face’, it contains all the necessary ingredients, the murky vocals, ethereal guitars and the feeling you’re being transported to another dreamlike state.
The EP as a whole is an incredible listening experience that hasn’t aged a bit.
Another group that I fell for during 1990 was Ride. I think I caught one of their songs on an evening radio show which lead me to purchase one of their early EPs. I don’t think there are many groups whose first three releases have been so strong. Much like The Smiths, they appeared on the scene fully formed. They had it all, great songs, looked cool and they played Rickenbackers. What more do you need?
Their debut album ‘Nowhere’ was released in October. I think it’s fair to say that it changed my life and the way I thought about music. It’s impact hasn’t lessened at all over the last thirty years and I still get the same rush of excitement and anticipation whenever I hear the opening squeals of the first track. As I’m writing this I’ve just started the album and I can genuinely feel my heartbeat quicken.
It’s a combination of factors that make ‘Nowhere’ such a masterpiece. The strength of the songwriting, the way Andy and Mark’s vocals and guitars complement each other, the layers of sumptuous guitar effects and the very strong rhythm section. Despite it being a very guitar based album, for me it’s the drumming that sets it apart from other similar bands. They’re not only really loud but utterly mesmerising.
The albums starts as it means to go on with ‘Seagull’, a great bass line, guitars screaming and wailing and those drums. Once the vocals come in the guitars fade out and then come crashing back in at the end of the verse. There’s layer upon layer of guitars and then a distorted wah-wah solo of sorts. It’s a very noisy and chaotic start to the album, with guitar noise going off in all directions.
‘Kaleidoscope’ follows with a faster tempo, drums and bass at the fore leading the charge. The drums are firing off like a machine gun with all sorts of guitar noise behind. I really have no comprehension how they got such noise from their guitar set-ups. As someone who’s only dabbled with a rather dull distortion, chorus, delay set-up I’m fascinated how they get such a range of ferocious sounds.
The rather beautiful ‘In a Different Place’ is up next, one of the tracks on the album that demonstrates that Ride were more than just ‘quiet bits followed by very noisy bits’. It starts very gently, restrained drumming, slowly building towards the chorus where it reaches a crescendo
And we’re smiling, when we’re sleeping
And we’re smiling, when we’re waking
Then we start again, the calm before the storm of the next chorus. It’s just a lovely dreamy song.
The opening chord of the next song ‘Polar Bear’ is one of my favourite bits of the album. It’s a gentle start but once you know what was coming next there’s a real feeling of excitement. The song grows slowly, the harmonies joining in on the second verse. You can feel the sound growing especially when those drums come in, then at 3:15 it all comes together and the song takes off.
If all this wasn’t enough then up comes ‘Dreams Burn Down’. I know for many, myself included, this is the high point of the album. It starts with chiming guitar and drums that are difficult not to focus all your attention on. Another dreamy lyric doesn’t prepare you for the onslaught of noise that you’re met with. ‘Wall of sound’ doesn’t seem to do the experience justice. The first time I heard it I couldn’t really take in what I was hearing. Subsequently hearing it live was an incredibly emotional experience, I felt like I was in some sort of trance. There’s never been a song that quite hits the same spots as this one.
‘Decay’ is more of the same, those layers of guitars building as the song progresses. I love the fuzzy noise that kicks in at the chorus. Again the drums and bass drive this song along.
‘Paralysed’ is a beautiful song with a lot of space within it, it’s another drum masterclass and is the perfect set up for the final song ‘Vapour Trail’. I say final song, I have to admit I’ve only just found out that it is.
Let me explain.
On its release I purchased the album on CD. The CD version has eleven tracks on it which I reasonably assumed was the complete album. It’s only after doing a bit of research recently that I found an Andy Bell interview in which he explains how they decided to close the the album with ‘Vapour Trail’.
I hurriedly dug out my CD which confirmed that the last three tracks were ‘Taste’, ‘Here and Now’ and ‘Nowhere’. A bit more digging revealed that they were bonus tracks.
This does explain why I always thought ‘Taste’ didn’t quite fit on the album. Proves I was right all along.
There was no shortage of other fantastic albums released throughout 1990. We really were spoilt for choice with the like of Pixies’ ‘Bossanova’, The Fall’s ‘Extricate, the sublime ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’ by The Sundays, Mega City Four’s ‘Who Cares Wins’ and That Petrol Emotion’s brilliant ‘Chemicrazy’. To name but a few.
There was however one other album that stood out from the crowd.
We were in the middle of the Madchester phenomenon which you really couldn’t ignore even if you wanted to. It was a crazy time with with groups making the jump from the indie scene to chart success. Even Top of the Pops became compulsory viewing again.
There was some great stuff around, I adored the Stone Roses debut and subsequent singles. I didn’t quite get the Happy Mondays at the time, this may be down to my chosen career path which prevented me from experiencing the ecstasy scene. I may have seen the Monday’s through different eyes if things had been different. This still didn’t stop me getting a bit carried away with the baggy scene, buying loads of singles and even queuing for a long time one evening in an attempt to see The Soup Dragons at the Town & Country Club. From what I recall this was purely on the basis of their ‘I’m Free’ single. The queues were so long that my mate and I didn’t get in. Looking back that may not have been such a bad outcome.
The whole scene was quite hedonistic which made one particular album stand out even more.
I think I first became aware of the Inspiral Carpets when they released ‘This is How it Feels’. A song that appeared to be totally out of step with everything else that was being released at the time. You couldn’t imagine a packed sweaty Hacienda bouncing to it, it all sounded too raw. Too real.
There’s funeral in the town
Some guy from the top estate
Seems they found him under a train
And yet he had it all on a plate.
The song intrigued me, these heartbreaking lyrics combined with this great keyboard sound. They definitely didn’t sound like they were trying to jump on the baggy bandwagon.
Their debut LP ‘Life’ came out in April, I snapped it up not entirely sure what to expect. I stuck it into the CD player and waited. At first I wasn’t too sure what was going on, it started with a quiet repetitive keyboard riff that seemed to go on forever. I recall an initial feeling of disappointment until nearly 40 seconds in there’s an explosion of sound and off we went. There was that great keyboard sound and a brilliant bass line. I don’t think I’d ever heard anything so infectious. It was one of those experiences that left you short of breath. I couldn’t wait for whatever was up next.
That prominent bass started off and here we go again. I immediately loved everything I heard, the formula was perfect. The songs were driven along by the bass, it felt like the lead instrument in the same way Peter Hook’s bass does. The keyboards carried the melody and the guitar filled in the gaps with subtle riffs. The brilliant drums held it all together. On top there were Tom’s vocals with Clint Boon’s harmonies. It was (and is) just perfect. This on its own had me hooked but there was another factor which set them apart, that was the lyrical content.
The lyrics were warm, touching and firmly based in the real world. Take ‘Song For a Family’ as an example
See the lollipop lady by the roadside
Some days, the kids are so hard to control
But they bring her lots of presents on her birthday
And their little faces make her feel so old
And she prays each night that her family’s alright
And she’s got work.
This was life being lived by ordinary people. It might even explain the album title.
The album flies by at quite a pace. Just as Ride for me were about the drums so the Inspiral’s ‘Life’ was all about the bass. Every time I listen to it I genuinely consider buying a bass guitar just so I can play Martyn Walsh’s bass lines. I can only put it off for so long I reckon.
Like all great albums ‘Life’ ends with a really strong song. ‘Sackville’, a song that not many groups could carry off with such sensitivity and empathy.
The LP still sounds as fresh as it did thirty years ago. They’ve released some great stuff over the years but I still think their debut is my favourite.
RIP Craig Gill 1971 -2016