Sounds Of The New West (Uncut, 1998)

It’s amazing how music magazines can accumulate. I purchased the NME from 1983 to 2001 (just missed two issues); their unwieldy & yellowing paper eventually ended up in my parents’ attic – with similar friends Melody Maker & Hot Press – before making their way to the local recycling centre around 10 years ago. Smash Hits and Number One magazine had numerous unhappy accidents with scissors while some years later, when I moved into my own house, magazines started to sprout up in every nook and cranny. Neon, Empire, Premiere, The Wire, Record Collector, DVD Times, The Word, Mojo and Uncut. The latter two were my favourite source of covermount CDs; a practice that really kicked off around 1997 and still continues, albeit the jewel cases have sadly been superseded by cardboard.

The September 1998 Uncut is one magazine that I will never throw out. My copy still has the price sticker – A.M.-P.M. £3.92p. Neil Young is on the front cover; the exhaustive 20 page feature focuses on his Doom Trilogy 1973-1975. Other articles include a look back at The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Endless Highway (a fine take on road movies), a piece on the new technology called the DVD player and a look at Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. And if that wasn’t enough, a free CD with the enticing title Sounds Of The New West along with an intriguing feature on the genre known as New Country. All 20 tracks on the disc get a sizeable comment along with a very comprehensive A to Z on the entire movement, complete with the obligatory sidebars and photos. Plus the token Silk Cut Ultra advert before the Shakey piece: “Life. Death. Hard drugs. The wilderness years.”

So we begin with Hazeldine’s Tarmac, described as “sensationally coruscating”, searing rock and top class harmonies. As a first impression, it immediately draws you in. A rush and a push and the land is ours: we then go back to the past, the roots and the template – The Flying Burrito Brothers with Sin City. Some background from 88WildCat: “The lyrics are about L.A. The song was written after someone broke in to the house that the FBB were staying at and stole all their equipment. The guy on the 31st floor was some record label head who screwed Parsons over earlier. The last verse is about RFK, shot and killed in L.A.” The Gilded Palace Of Sin remains one of the greatest LPs of all time, one of the finest country rock albums. In the wake of genius comes Josh Rouse and the lush vignette that is Suburban Sweetheart, a gorgeous melody unfurls. It stops suddenly and in comes Emmylou Harris and her atmospheric cover of Neil Young’s Wrecking Ball, originally included on 1989’s Freedom. Produced by Daniel Lanois and Neil is on backing vocals.

The Pernice Brothers’ Crestfallen can be filed under chamber country, a most striking arrangement with deeply evocative lyrical twists. It slows down later on, almost like a death march onto the end. Next is Neal Casal with Today I’m Gonna Bleed sounding like Teenage Fanclub re-imagining The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. And then Kate Campbell’s storytelling giant Crazy In Alabama, a personal take on a particular period in US history. Meanwhile the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Evening Mass is immense, a slumbering lament that builds and builds over six minutes. Another epic is Wagon’s Two Hours Alone, a low-key number that reminds me of a countrified Michael Stipe leading REM in an album of Rockvilles. Bringing the first half to a close are Freakwater and the doomy, almost macabre Lorraine. They were described as a “post-punk Carter Family.”

The tempo rises somewhat with Vic Chesnutt’s Until The Led, a joyful southern bop. Produced by Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner who pops up with his own band later on the beguiling Saturday Option from the fabulous What Another Man Spills. I still remember using How I Quit Smoking to get the children to sleep; a great lullaby record. Elsewhere Calexico’s Trigger is brief and atmospheric, sinister & ghostly border rock, worthy of a Rodriguez film. It’s followed by the stupendous American Gothic of Weightless Again, my introduction to The Handsome Family. Alex Kraemer puts forward: “I think we all feel weightless—as in care free, hopeful, without worry—at some point in our life, but after that we never quite find that same elation again. We all just want to be shorn of our anxieties and concerns, but we can’t, not until we die, and then we cease to be and cannot enjoy the fruits of our weightlessness. The cruel nature of our existence: we all want to be free, but we can only really be free in death, and at that point freedom is meaningless.”

At this point we head into Freebird Records customer territory as the Silver Jews fade into view with the mournful How To Rent A Room. Its “Chalk lines around my body, like the shoreline of a lake” sounds tragic now. And then Will Oldham, not so bonny on the austere Apocalypse, No! lifted off the uncompromising Joya before Sixteen Horsepower’s driving Coal Black Horses. Neil’s spirit hangs over the next track, The Walkabouts’ superb cover of On The Beach, perfectly gloomy and as desolate as Jim Rockford’s trailer. It’s well paired with Nadine’s corrosive Darker Light. So we reach the end and it’s almost an afterthought or an encore: Emmylou Harris’ live version of her haunting Boulder To Birmingham.

And that’s all from me. This is the final compilation review; I have covered everything that I set out to do. The Mixes & Words sections may be periodically updated with new content in the future – if so, this will be publicised on Twitter. A sincere thank you to all who have read, followed and commented on A Pop Fan’s Dream over the last seven years. Take care.

Favourite tracks
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Sin City

Willard Grant Conspiracy – Evening Mass

Lambchop – The Saturday Option

Lest we forget
The Handsome Family – Weightless Again

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The Best Of Shine (Polygram TV, 1998)

After 10 uniformly strong volumes and one impressive round up of 1997, Polygram TV wound down the Shine franchise with a Best Of released in late 1998. It was an enhanced CD which I dreaded as they always crashed my Compaq PC. Tracks sourced as follows:
Shine: James – Sit Down, Suede – Animal Nitrate
Shine Too: Elastica – Waking Up, Boo Radleys – Wake Up Boo, Paul Weller – The Changingman, The Stone Roses – Love Spreads
Shine 3: Pulp – Common People
Shine 4: Ocean Colour Scene – The Riverboat Song
Shine 5: The Wannadies – You And Me Song, Ash – Goldfinger, Shed Seven – Going For Gold
Shine 6: The Cardigans – Love Fool
Shine 7: Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Shine 8: Placebo – Nancy Boy, Mansun – Wide Open Space, Reef – Place Your Hands, Cast – Free Me, Eels – Novacaine For The Soul
Shine Best Of ’97: Supergrass – Richard III, The Seahorses – Love Is The Law
Shine 10: Embrace – All You Good Good People, Ian Brown – My Star, Cornershop – Brimful Of Asha (Norman Cook Remix)
Curiously nothing was included from Shine 9.

In what was presumably an incentive to buyers, 13 of the 38 tracks had not previously appeared on a Shine release, albeit none of them were obscure. These were: Garbage – Stupid Girl, Republica – Ready To Go, The Charlatans – The Only One I Know, Manic Street Preachers – You Love Us, Blur – M.O.R., Chumbawamba – Tubthumping, Oasis – All Around The World, Oasis – Wonderwall, Catatonia – Mulder And Scully, Space – Avenging Angels, Primal Scream – Loaded, Prodigy – Breathe, Underworld – Born Slippy

There’s a line in Garbage’s Stupid Girl that’s oddly prescient of social media. “You pretend you’re anything just to be adored” could sum up the user experience in any number of platforms. Nominations were numerous – two Grammy Awards, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist and an MTV Europe Music Award for Best Song. Shirley Manson said that it was about “squandering potential” which is something that many of us can identify with. Select referred to the song as “mighty doomy pop neatly tailored to enhance one’s natural discontentment.” No matter the outlook, it’s timeless for that generation & future ones.

SITU 30L was the catalogue number for the limited edition version of The Charlatans’ Some Friendly LP. It came in a white PVC sleeve in which the regular cover fitted snugly within. The street date – 8 October 1990 – was one week after the Pixies’ legendary National Stadium concert. In a marketing move that harked back to Factory’s c.1983, The Only One I Know was left off the vinyl. A top 10 hit during May, it became (and still is) the band’s signature song with its swirling organ sound like Hush. The follow-up, Then, a steady groover is included on side 1 and holds its own on what’s a very strong, spacious and melodic debut. The band would go onto release two non-album singles in 1991, Over Rising and the now almost forgotten Me In Time. Their second album, the atmospheric Between 10th And 11th was even better, benefiting from Flood’s amazing production.

The cobwebs are swept away by the rush and sheer energy of the Manic Street Preachers’ You Love Us. Yes, it’s the Heavenly version that’s on The Best Of Shine. I was one of the lucky ones who saw the band play a 25 minute set at the Back Of The Mansion, Waterford on 26 April 1991. The next day, Blitz Records was flooded with people the next day – all looking for the Motown Junk 12″. He had one copy in stock. You Love Us is just the equal of the previous single, a stupendously arrogant sentiment married to a thrilling musical performance. They would shortly sign to Columbia Records and life would never be the same again. On that fateful Saturday afternoon of 27 April, we boarded the Rapid Express to Dublin, catching the first date of Morrissey’s Kill Uncle tour at the National Stadium. What a rock ‘n’ roll weekend that was, still the most intense concert experience of my life.

Blur’s M.O.R. owes a massive debt to Lodger-era David Bowie, specifically Boys Keep Swinging and Fantastic Voyage. Bowie and Eno eventually received a credit on the Blur song after some legal intervention. Here we get the promo Road edit which lasts exactly 3:00. Meanwhile Space’s catchy Avenging Angels – contrary to popular belief – is not a cover of Robbie Williams’ Angels with slightly different lyrics. In summary, the Best Of Shine is a somewhat inessential yet solid listen with not too many surprises. Considering it just has two discs to work it, is an decent summary of a fairly sprawling period for those who don’t want to delve any deeper. If you do, take a look at Rhino’s The Brit Box, Martin Green’s top notch Super Sonics or Kevin Cummins’ Caught Between The Landslide.

Favourite tracks
Garbage – Stupid Girl

Blur – M.O.R.

Ian Brown – My Star

Paul Weller – The Changingman

Lest we forget
The Stone Roses – Love Spreads

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Shine 10 (Polygram TV, 1998)

The front cover of Shine 10 is like a Network 2 graphic or programme slide. Or a promo for Heineken’s Green Energy Festival that was a regular May bank holiday event. Very 1998. The chosen artists are Eagle-Eye Cherry, Garbage, Space, The Seahorses, Reef, Radiohead, Pulp, Fatboy Slim, Catatonia, The Dandy Warhols, Ian Brown and Embrace. Good times.

Garbage are Shine 10’s Kajagoogoo with two entries, both from Version 2.0. I Think I’m Paranoid is first, full of bendy twists and turns. Later on we get the dark Push It; Shirley said “It’s about the schizophrenia that exists when you try to reconcile your desires and demons with the need to fit in. It’s a song of reassurance.” Both tracks were heavily caned on MTV and are burned-in heavily on my memories of that era. Here come ace Catatonia whose Road Rage is instantly dated as late ’90s with its “We all live in the space age” lyric. Next is the gentle strum of Eagle Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight – “Fight the break of dawn” always gets me while Ian Brown’s My Star is nicely played space rock. In its wake, the death row blues of Embrace and All You Good Good People. Trigger Happy TV. Just say no! The Dandy Warhols smug anti-drug anthem Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth still raises a knowing eyebrow; caught in the shadow of Bohemian Like You.

The ubiquitous Rockafeller Skank was everywhere in ’98, its repeated line “Right about now, the funk soul brother / Check it out now, the funk soul brother”, a truncated vocal sample of rapper Lord Finesse on the Vinyl Dogs’ Vinyl Dog Vibe. Meanwhile Space are Shine 10’s UB40 with two entries, neither of which are Avenging Angels. Begin Again carries a certain orchestral flourish but doesn’t hold a candle to Natalie Imbruglia’s sprawling Big Mistake. Later on there’s the enchanting Ballad Of Tom Jones featuring Cerys Matthews. Next are Mansun and the almost epic Closed For Business before the cinematic genius of Rialto’s Untouchable, proving that lighting can strike twice. Two drummers as well. And then Reef’s Yer Old, the obligatory to post for your friends’ FB birthday timelines. Elsewhere Warm Jets’ Hurricane, a much improved radio edit which leads into the Super Furry Animals’ superb Badfinger-style ballad Ice Hockey Hair. 1997’s best album was Primal Scream’s Vanishing Point and Burning Wheel, already a classic was a magnificent banger. Check out the Echo Dek remix album too; a box of 45s or 8 track LP.

As I write this, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones have racked up 29 million views for The Impression That I Get, a key example of the ska punk genre that’s impossible to dislike. Unlike Chumbawamba’s hypocritical Amnesia which is one of the few blights on the disc which ends with the Norman Cook Remix of Brimful Of Asha. CD2 starts with Pulp’s thoughtful A Little Soul, equally gentle like Help The Aged. I recently revisited the deluxe 2CD of This Is Hardcore and the extra tracks are real lost classics. Radiohead’s exquisite and mystifying Karma Police blends into Bernard Butler’s almost gospel Stay. Meanwhile The Best Of James was trailed by the immaculate swagger of Destiny Calling: “Cute ones are usually gay.” whereas The Seahorses’ arrogance manages to carry Love Me And Leave Me over the line. Going quiet, Travis drop the melodic love song More Than Us before Shed Seven’s rare misstep She Left Me On Friday and Silver Sun’s catchy Golden Skin.

Drugstore join forces with Thom Yorke for the (still) slight El Presidente while the landfill beckons for Puressence and their cliched This Feeling. Pop fans will delight in spotting Sophie Ellis Bextor as fronting The Audience on the wry and knowing A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed. Shades of Simpsons Moz when looking back now. And speaking of such things…Gene’s Where Are They Now is a melancholic masterpiece. For the last furlong, there’s a step down in quality starting with Baby Bird’s aimless dirge Bad Old Man and bottoming out with the atrocious Nanny In Manhattan (Lilys). In between there’s Ocean Colour Scene’s sentimental It’s A Beautiful Thing and the Stereophonics’ driving Local Boy In The Photograph and The Levellers’ upbeat Celebrate. Bringing up the digital rear are Symposium and the anthemic Blue while we finish with a relative obscurity, Comfort’s The Proof Of You, a strangely anodyne creation that draws you back in. “Just a plastic chair.”

Favourite tracks
Primal Scream – Burning Wheel

Rialto – Untouchable

James – Destiny Calling

Gene – Where Are They Now

Lest we forget
The Audience – A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed

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