“NME Single Of The Week – an instant passport to fame and fortune, your ticket to a world of hedonistic excess where your every move is accompanied by the whirr of the paparazzi’s powerwinders, the screams of young girls and the pop of champagne corks. Just ask The Family Cat.
An NME Single Of The Week is he rock world’s equivalent of a knighthood. It is an accolade not handed out lightly but the product of long, agonising nights of deliberation by one of the NME’s dedicated, hard-working team of reviewers.”
In its late ’80s and early ’90s heyday, getting an NME Single Of The Week was quite a feat. Between themselves and Melody Maker, their influence on people’s taste was pretty wide-ranging and almost didactic at times. I was always proud when I saw an Irish band getting one. From memory, some of these were:
1989: Into Paradise – Blue Light EP
1990: The Would Be’s – I’m Hardly Ever Wrong
1990: Fatima Mansions – Blues For Ceausescu
1990: Power Of Dreams – 100 Ways To Kill A Love
1991: The Frank & Walters – EP1 (Walter’s Trip)
1991: A House – Bingo EP (Endless Art)
1991: The Frank & Walters – EP2 (Fashion Crisis Hits New York)
1991: The Would Be’s – The Wonderful EP (My Radio Sounds Different In The Dark)
1992: Something Happens! – Daisyhead
Accordingly this release – marketed in the magazine during those cold, early days of 1993 – came as a welcome surprise. 18 tracks were carefully picked for inclusion, although in retrospect, they should have gone for all 51 in a three CD set like Ruby Trax: The NME’s Roaring Forty.
Sugar – Changes: “Sort of restores your faith in human beings, really. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t Single Of The Week.” (Cathal Coughlan, 25 July)
Carter USM – The Only Living Boy In New Cross: “Panic stricken, sneering & sufficiently ambiguous in its saga of street life to encourage eager young sorts to quiz Jim Bob about his sexuality.” (Simon Williams, 18 April)
The Wedding Present – California: “The sixth and best instalment in The Wedding Present’s quest to piss off melody lovers.” (Dele Fadele, 6 June)
The Tyrrel Corporation – The Bottle: “As gripping as Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, The Bottle all melodramatic dipsomaniac disco, is as perfect a marriage of electro drive and angst as Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.” (Roger Morton, 21 March)
3 1/2 Minutes – Feelings M: “90% of new Brit pop bands are Eldorado in disguise anyway – purpose built, expensive and badly acted out. Which makes this record all the more challenging and as important as a pop record can be.” (Steve Lamacq, 1 August)
Saint Etienne – Join Our Club: “Saint Etienne are probably the best young group in Britain at the moment, simply by virtue of realising that pop should be (deep breath) aspirational, quick-witted, abstract, clever, sexy, funny, lop-sided, gay and gorgeous.” (Stuart Maconie, 25 April)
Sonic Youth – 100%: “A volatile mixture of pop, rock, free-form guitar improvisations and something special. One hundred per cent brilliant!” (Edwin Pouncey, 20 June)
Gang Starr – 2 Deep: “Between heaven and hell, caught between boasts and implicit threats and uplifting the down-pressed…I despair at their murderous impulses, but also know that there’s value and a glimmer of hope.” (Dele Fadele, 6 June)
The Fall – Free Range: “You’d die to be able to make records like that.” (Curve, 7 March)
PJ Harvey – Sheela Na Gig: “Where others whisper, she shouts; where others dodge the issues, she tackles them with a frankness that would most likely make the others blush. Sensational.” (Keith Cameron, 15 February)
Kingmaker – Eat Yourself Whole: “A bolt of lightning with an electricity and fluency that outstrips this week’s competition by miles.” (Steve Lamacq, 16 May)
Rollins Band – Low Self Opinion: “Tight, slammin’, fuzz bass, from the heart. My man Henry Rollins rocks the house.” (Beastie Boys, 28 March)
The Orb – Assassin (Radio Edit): “It’s brilliant. I love it.” (Pop Will Eat Itself, 10 October)
The Family Cat – Steamroller (Radio Edit): “Teardrops explode, snare drums rattle, guitars squawk, fanfares ring out, ambitious vocalist Fred comes on like Bono, Scott Walker and Nick Cave.” (Andrew Collins, 2 May)
Teenage Fanclub: What You Do To Me: “They understand that the past is always gonna be more beautiful than the present. They’ve gone back to records which they love, which is what we’ve done. They do it ‘cos they love it and never pretend anything else. They look good without even trying.” (Manic Street Preachers, 25 January)
The Beautiful South: Old Red Eyes Is Back: “The Beautiful South come through time and time again with gutsy, intemperate tunes that are somewhere between an affectionate hug and a kick in the slats.” (Stuart Maconie, 4 January)
Gallon Drunk – Bedlam: “Pant, twang, howl, honk, squall, crash, thrash, set the controls for the heart of Bedlam. An astonishing record. Magnificent.” (John Mulvey, 17 October)
Faith No More – Everything’s Ruined: “I just wonder when we’re going to hear the rutting rhinos live, that’s what I’m worried about. Maybe there’s an extended Rhino Rutting mix somewhere. If there isn’t, there certainly ought to be.” (Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, 21 November)
Not long after I started getting into Hüsker Dü, they broke up. I got hooked via a C90 containing Candy Apple Grey on one side with New Day Rising on the other. June 1986, just before we broke up for the holidays. That was the summer of early starts; I’d rise before 6.00am and go strawberry-picking, usually bringing my Walkman and a couple of tapes. “Fresh fruit” was picked in the mornings; meaning good quality strawberries with the stalks left on them. You put them into a basket with handles and ultimately they would end up in supermarkets, shops or sold to small-scale sellers who would then flog them at the side of the road. After about 11.00am, picking then turned to “jam”; you removed the strawberries and chucked them in a bucket. The money wasn’t as good – paid by weight rather than by basket. It was tough work, sitting, sliding or bending over on drills, hands getting wet from the dew and the occasional nettle stings. Sunburn was also a hazard.
I am not sure why Flip Your Wig wasn’t on the tape instead of the record that came after it. Both sides got serious play in the drills; my hands moving like lightning, gathering the plumpest and biggest strawberries to the sounds of Celebrated Summer and Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely. By the time, Warehouse: Songs And Stories was due, I was eagerly anticipating 20 new Dü songs. It didn’t disappoint. As the late David Cavanagh said in Select, November 1992 when the CD was finally released over here in the wake of Copper Blue’s success: “A monstrous double album with a phenomenal fourth side that opened with Mould’s optimistic Up In The Air and ended with Hart’s apocalyptic You Can Live At Home.” In the years that followed the split, both Grant Hart and Bob Mould released solo albums. I purchased Intolerance and Workbook from Comet Records – simultaneously – and also picked up Mould’s Black Sheets Of Rain a year later.
Time for Sugar. Changes arrived in August 1992; just after Féile and was purchased from KG Discs on 12″. The single version runs to 3:58 and is included here. “Guitar tone like a branding iron.” (Scoorie Boy) Copper Blue followed in early September with the music press unanimous in their praise – the NME would go on to make it their album of the year. An awesome, powerful & almost unstoppable record of great intensity which was obviously influenced by grunge, a movement that owed a huge debt to Hüsker Dü. “Hello, good evening, welcome and goodbye” – Carter USM grew up just that little bit more with The Only Living Boy In New Cross and the subsequent Love Album. Naturally we dropped the C in the last word and drank in its melancholy and addictive bass sequence. Next come The Wedding Present with their June single; sixth in a series of 12 and one of the greatest, almost baggy in fact. After Flying Saucer, the quality dipped – going through the motions.
I remember The Tyrrel Corporation performing The Bottle on The Word. Shades of a UK LCD Soundsystem, a distant memory and rarely played now. Likewise, the snotty Feelings M was a true Lamacq baby, a spiky slice of energetic MC4 thrash that seems to have totally slipped through time. Arriving between Foxbase Alpha and So Tough, Join Our Club was a decidedly commercial effort from Saint Etienne, written as almost a protest to Heavenly Records refusing to release People Get Real. Both tracks would appear on their wonderful compilation You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone. Meanwhile Sonic Youth played a numbers game with 100%, a catchy stop-start primer for the commercial but excellent Dirty. I remember Fatima Mansions’ 1000% single also being released at the same time which lead to some confusion if you sent your mother in to the record shop for you. And I will leave Lorenzo Baines to sum up Gang Starr’s 2 Deep: “This record is the essence of hip-hop. The power of this record is in the wizardry of Primo, behind the boards and turntables. Guru is flowing over this track like a young Ray Charles in his prime. The perfect marriage of MC and DJ. The foundation of real hip-hop are those two elements, plus 3 others you should know. A genius recording.” I love the touch of jazz.
The Fall’s final album for Fontana, Code: Selfish wasn’t exactly groundbreaking and in many aspects, was of similar quality to both Extricate and Shiftwork. Their singles from that period were highlights – especially the non-album White Lightning (The Dredger EP), High Tension Line and Ed’s Babe. The 7″ mix of Free Range is approximately 25 seconds longer than the album version but annoyingly is a lot more common on You Tube where you’ll see its audio synced to the official music video and to uploads featuring the single sleeve. You could say it predicts the Yugoslavian / Former conflict and flows along a stream of consciousness. “One of The Fall’s most ferocious …releases, war torn guitars and keyboards cut throught with muttered samples, as Smith’s chilling vision of a pan-European society regulated according to the Nazi/Nietzsche-ian ideal was borne out by the near-similtaneous eruption of the war in the Balkans.” (Dave Thompson)
Enter PJ Harvey. When I first heard Dress in late 1991, I was blown away. The arrival of Dry and Sheela-Na-Gig in early 1992 was electric. The album had a ferocious energy and was full of tension, almost built into the grooves. Early copies came with a disc of demos. The video for the single was directed by Maria Mochnacz and T. Farthling and opens with images of a handbag and women’s shoes revolving in an orange-glowing picture frame. You then get a statue of Jesus Christ being shown alongside polaroid prints and some band footage. Next come Kingmaker and the likeable Eat Yourself Whole, a 7″ picked up from the bargain box. But the Rollins Band’s Low Self Opinion is turgid stuff, aimless and unsubtle. Far better are The Family Cat and the jaunty Steamroller that’s as catchy as anything in ’92. Stuck between are The Orb with their mesmerising Assassin, naturally in radio edit form. On the final stretch: Teenage Fanclub’s short and sour What You Do To Me coupled with Gallon Drunk’s tuneless Bedlam. Far better are The Beautiful South’s sophisti-pop classic Old Red Eyes Is Back, darkly showing the dangers of alcohol. Finally, a song for our troubled Covid-19 times – Faith No More’s doom-laded Everything’s Ruined with its remarkably cheap music video that manages to juxtapose the unconnected with the ridiculous: “Timeless, classic, nostalgic, dated. Everything and nothing.”
PJ Harvey – Sheela-Na-Gig
The Beautiful South – Old Red Eyes Is Back
Lest we forget
Faith No More – Everything’s Ruined