Some thoughts from Jo Payton: “Blur were still enjoying the success of their fourth album, The Great Escape, released in September 1995. The album spent an impressive weeks on the UK chart and included the top 10 singles Country House, The Universal, Stereotypes and Charmless Man. During the year, Blur’s Damon Albarn also contributed to the soundtrack of top British cult flick Trainspotting, recording the James Bond-inspired track, Closet Romantic, for the project.” Yes, you’ve read it correctly – she doesn’t clarify the number of impressive weeks. There’s also a form of collective amnesia knocking around – one that fails to notice that Blur’s The Universal was already included on Now That’s What I Call Music 1995: The Millennium Series, released a mere three months earlier. Of all the sloppy errors with this project, including the same track on two successive volumes has got to take the booby prize.
All bar one of the 36 songs have already been discussed as follows:
Smash Hits 3: Backstreet Boys – We’ve Got It Goin’ On.
The ’96 Brit Awards: Blur – The Universal.
Now That’s What I Call Music 33: Lighthouse Family – Lifted, Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger, Pulp – Disco 2000, Babylon Zoo – Spaceman, Cast – Sandstorm, Supergrass – Going Out, Gabrielle – Give Me A Little More Time, Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out).
New Hits ’96: Garbage – Stupid Girl.
Now That’s What I Call Music 34: Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught The Train, The Bluetones – Slight Return, Joan Osborne – One Of Us, Space – Female Of The Species, Suede – Trash, Underworld – Born Slippy, Spice Girls – Wannabe, OMC – How Bizarre, Louise – Naked, Peter Andre – Mysterious Girl, Livin’ Joy – Don’t Stop Movin’, JX – There’s Nothing I Won’t Do.
Huge Hits 1996: Babybird – You’re Gorgeous (also on Now 35)
Now That’s What I Call Music 35: Boyzone – Words, The Beautiful South – Rotterdam, Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is), East 17 featuring Gabrielle – If You Ever, Dina Carroll – Escaping, Neneh Cherry – Woman, Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over, 911 – Don’t Make Me Wait, Stretch ‘n’ Vern – I’m Alive, BBE – Seven Days And One Week.
The Brit Awards ’97: Dodgy – Good Enough.
Boyzone started CD2 of Millennium 1995 but for the 1996 edition they were promoted to CD1, track 1. Their cover of the Bee Gees’ Words is just ok; a passable entry for the quintet seen by some as inheritors of the Take That legacy. It’s followed by the smooth sound of the Lighthouse Family, the almost gospel-like Lifted. Keeping things easy, the Beautiful South’s wickedly great Rotterdam, so far superior to the Wedding Present track of the same name. You’ll find the latter on 1991’s Seamonsters; by 1995 the band were struggling after the comparative failure of their Watusi LP (Island records’ underrated gem produced by Steve Fisk). No further albums were recorded for Island, and the best part of 1995 was spent the same way as 1993: touring, writing new material, no recording. Paul Dorrington decided to quit the band; no replacement was made as Darren Belk doubled on bass and guitar. In the autumn of 1995, they released Sucker, a self-financed single that was sold at their gigs only. Shortly after, the band signed with independent label Cooking Vinyl.
And so to Brit pop: Ocean Colour Scene – Oasis – Pulp – The Bluetones – Space – Dodgy – Suede – Cast – Supergrass – Radiohead – Blur. It’s all here. London’s Bluetones formed in 1993 and appeared on two Fierce Panda releases, the Return To Splendour double 7″ (No. 11) and Nings Of Desire CD (Slight Return). During 1995, they released Slight Return in February (#21 on John Peel’s Festive 50), Are You Blue Or Are You Blind? in June and Bluetonic in October. Slight Return was reissued in January 1996, reaching #2 in the national charts. It was kept off the top by Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman. The debut album, Expecting To Fly followed shortly, a solid and well-crafted album that didn’t get enough credit at the time. Pyenapple would disagree: “One single gleaming gem in a bag of mostly unremarkable stones.” They went on to release a further single from it Cut Some Rug and a standalone 45, Marblehead Johnson, in autumn 1996.
Waiting for the great leap forward: the difference in quality between Pablo Honey and The Bends is nothing short of remarkable. Radiohead’s debut album was a plodding and dull affair, enlivened by the singles and a memorable video for Anyone Can Play Guitar. Supporting The Frank and Walters on their UK tour of 1993 seemed entirely appropriate for them – although people are aghast to hear it now. The Bends arrived in March 1995 and The album was produced by John Leckie and engineered by Nigel Godrich, who would go on to co-produce all future albums by the band. It also marked the band’s first full collaboration with graphic designer Stanley Donwood, who with Yorke experimented with snapshots taken from videotape recordings. More abrasive that the debut but with a much more multi-layered texture, it’s aged brilliantly. What they said at the time: “Powerful, bruised, majestically desperate record of frighteningly good songs” (Q), “The consummate, all-encompassing, continent-straddling ’90s rock record” (NME)
There were five singles released from The Bends. My Iron Lung EP emerged in September 1994. Its lyrics were telling – the millstone of Creep:
“This is our new song
just like the last one
a total waste of time
my iron lung”
In February ’95 we got a double A-side, Planet Telex / High And Dry. While both tracks got their chance at leading CD1 and CD2, High And Dry got most of the airplay. The superb Fake Plastic Trees followed in May – a record that’s associated with cramming for my finals. The sound of panic and Jolt Cola coupled with heaped instant espresso. August gave us Just with its enigmatic video – man lying on street. Finally Street Spirit (Fade Out) hit the shops at the end of January 1996. Anthem. Video directed by Jonathan Glazer who said “That was definitely a turning point in my own work. I knew when I finished that, because they found their own voices as an artist, at that point, I felt like I got close to whatever mine was, and I felt confident that I could do things that emoted, that had some kind of poetic as well as prosaic value. That for me was a key moment.”
The Pet Shops Boys’ sixth album, Bilingual, was released three years after Very. You can read about the 1993 PSB experience in my review of Now That’s What I Call Music 1993: The Millennium Series. When Bilingual emerged, I was ecstatic and considered it their strongest work to date: I wasn’t the only one. “The last of their great LPs, a checkpoint-charlie between the lost magic and the ongoing craft. I’d risk to call it a concept album, with an untold story behind it, an overall message wrapped in cerebral tunes. The outstanding B-sides don’t drive away from the album at all – they just depict the amount of material the Boys had then, and how much energy, magic, and melancholy was in question.” (Eliks PostIndustry) There’s a big worldwide vibe going in here; especially the influences of Latin America. It Always Comes as a Surprise contains a sample of Astrud Gilberto from Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars) by Stan Getz. Single (titled Single-Bilingual for single release) is a Spanish / English language composition while Se A Vida E (That’s the Way Life Is) has a wonderful Portuguese / Brazilian feel. Behaviour = winner.
Eternal’s soaring ballad I Am Blessed is the only song here that has not been previously discussed or included on the canon compilation releases of the time. They performed it for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican during 1995. Madness’ House of Fun was top of the British charts when the same Pope visited there in 1982. “So during the first Papal visit for some time (and it would be decades before another one), the #1 song was about contraception.” (as pointed out by regular reader Feel The Quality) The Pope came to Ireland at the end of September 1979 but nothing so subversive topped our charts. We got:
29 September: Catriona Walsh – Viva Il Papa
6 October: Jim Tobin – Welcome John Paul II
The commemorative album was released by RTE and brings together some of the great moments of the Pope’s autumn journey through Ireland, from first greetings to last farewells, as recorded in Dublin, Killineer, Clonmacnoise, Galway, Knock and Limerick.
Dodgy – Good Enough
The Bluetones – Slight Return
Cast – Sandstorm
Pet Shop Boys – Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is)
Lest we forget
Radiohead – Street Spirit (Fade Out)
Missing tracks and other thoughts
Blur duplication notwithstanding, this 1996 Millennium edition does a fairly decent job in covering the year’s hits. The first disc is well sequenced with a somewhat easy opening sequence before going into a comprehensive Brit pop charge. Garbage and Babylon Zoo both provide meat for the indie disco while it’s just Joan Osborne that seems out of place. Ending the first half with Born Slippy is a nice touch; Trainspotting was the big movie of the year and its soundtrack was immense. I love its final track: Damon Albarn’s Closet Romantic – a piece of music that treads the same conceptual ground as Parklife album-closer Lot 105. Meanwhile CD2 rounds up a solid pop and R&B selection with a neat slow section (Dina Carroll to Crowded House) and a few really choice dance bangers to see us home. 1996 was when I purchased two KAM turntables and a two channel mixer that’s so dusty and covered in stickers that I cannot remember the make. Two transform buttons enhancing the likes of JX or BBE into something out of this world. Bedsit bangers.
There were three regular Now albums released in 1996 and 31 of their songs are featured on this Millennium entry. This includes You’re Gorgeous which was first nabbed by Huge Hits 1996. We got a whopping 24 number ones in 1996 with a measly four included here. George Michael’s Jesus To A Child or Fastlove should have been first out of the bag. Also missed: The Chemical Brothers’ Setting Sun, anything from The Fugees (Killing Me Softly was the best seller of 1996), either Firestarter or Breathe from The Prodigy and I would have used 2 Become 1 instead of Wannabe. More, more, more: Mark Morrison’s slamming Return Of The Mack, Gina G, Three Lions, Robert Miles’ haunting Children or One & One, Jamiroquai’s cosmic Virtual Insanity, Faithless’ Insomnia. Elsewhere Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill got seriously heavy airplay in 1996 and you can take your pick (Ironic, All I Really Want, You Learn, Head Over Feet). And what should replace The Universal? Easy, A Design For Life by the Manic Street Preachers. An indie anthem in all but record label.