“A genre difficult to define; no longer restrictive…”
And so it goes. Indie Top 20 Volume 18 was the last one to get a vinyl release, a simple five tracks per side and no bonuses. There are eight copies for sale on Discogs as I write this. The introduction of the album’s review on the Indie Top 20 – The Blog! gives a good outline of the indie distribution rationale that prevailed then. However definitions about what and wasn’t didn’t really bothered me then or now; I am still scornful of the arrogant punk who proudly told me in 1995 that “I don’t buy records on major labels.”
A memory of October 1993 from Unknown Convict: “nlgbbbblth and I did a 6 hour radio show on UCD FM. The studio only had one turntable so we’d have to play a CD while we changed the record. The problem was we only brought 2 CDs between us (both mine) – both by God Is My Co-Pilot. So we’d have these 30 second bursts of queercore nursery punk while we changed the LP and cued the next vinyl track. Good times.”
I recall: “I could never listen to God Is My Co-Pilot in the same way again. That was some show. 2.00am to 8.00am. Graveyard shift. Remember having to play the adverts on the cartridges (Fosters etc). Went into my 9.00am English lecture afterwards and then home to bed. One of my flatmates recorded a hour of it but it’s one speaker only.”
I just remembered that I brought Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish (cassette copy) with me that night. Advert got played and on this Beechwood compilation, they open proceedings with the brash and sweeping Chemical World. The album was their great leap forward. The seeds were sown in the spring of ’92 with the standalone single Popscene. This super punky 45 featured heavy guitars, a drum sound reminiscent of Can and brass from session players the Kick Horns. The band went onto tour the US for two months – Rollercoaster – and gradually became more and more homesick. Modern Life saw Blur engage XTC’s Andy Partridge as producer but after just four songs, they parted ways and replaced him with Stephen Street (who had already produced There’s No Other Way). Three tracks from the Partridge sessions can be found on Blur 21. The end result is a landmark album that’s heavily influenced by the past: The Small Faces, The Kinks, The Who, The Jam. “Now she’s eating chocolate to induce sleep. In a chemical world, it’s very, very, very cheap.”
Bjork’s Venus As A Boy was the second single from Debut, an album that admittedly took me a while to love. Its lush strings, vibraphone and tablas are gorgeous. The music video was directed by Sophie Muller and features Björk in a kitchen, fondling and cooking eggs. There’s also a bearded dragon. Next: the tortured Condemnation, single #3 from Depeche Mode’s Songs Of Faith & Devotion. It was remixed – the Paris Mix. “I entered into this really horrible part of my life. At one point, I ended up sleeping on D’arcy’s floor. I lived in a parking garage for a while. I was completely obsessed with killing myself; it became my primary preoccupation. Out of the depths of this despair, I bottomed out & it literally came down to a simple decision: either kill yourself or get used to it, work, live and be happy. So I wrote this song… As you can see I chose another kind of death which is rock ‘n’ roll. At this point in my life, it’s a positive song; it’s about survival.” (Billy Corgan). Today is immense; a record that oozes nostalgia and feelings of being totally invincible.
After such a front-loaded start, disappointment inevitably sets in. Carter USM’s Lean On Me I Won’t Fall Over was their worst 45 to date; an awkwardly-composed lurcher of a tune. Kindred spirits of sorts – given common grebo fanbase – Pop Will Eat Itself bring the catchy RSVP to the table. Blowing both away are Elastica; their time had come. Stutter was an amazing debut single. Spiky, scuzzy, a complete rush of energy, a Teenage Kicks for my generation. It really should have topped Peel’s Festive 50 that year; I remember being disappointed when it was announced in 38th place. The band would build during 1994 with two more brilliant if somewhat derivative singles before their memorable debut of spring ’95. Back to Stutter – its initial pressing of 1,500 7″ singles sold out in just one day. Elastica were then voted Best New Band in the Melody Maker Readers Poll. Meanwhile Verve were also building momentum in 1993. Slide Away was lifted from the impressive A Storm In Heaven. As I said before, John Leckie did a brilliant job and Slide’s liquid guitar sound is superb. The quality continues with Teenage Fanclub at their most underrated – the Thirteen LP – and the engaging harmonies of Norman 3. Try it again! Not so dusty are Kingmaker on the muddled Queen Jane as they bring the first half to a close.
Things become slightly less even during the second half. The Boo Radleys’ Wish I Was Skinny is the least well remembered single from the sprawling Giant Steps and its video is key to showcasing the song’s message. Outsiders vs normal people. Delicious Monster’s Big Love follows; a bit self-absorbed and miserable but a finely played tune. I wonder is Big Monster Love a fan? And the last will and testament for Chapterhouse, a rather damp squib in the form of We Are The Beautiful. Still in there are Curve, now on phase #2 – the Cuckoo era – and the industrial crunch of Missing Link. The chorus is euphoric and the video wet and memorable. This links in well with Sugar’s sandblasted Tilted, taken from their much heavier second LP Beaster. At the time I was sucked in by it – a very fraught and angry record. But with the passage of time, I much prefer Copper Blue now.
Mezcal Head was Swervedriver’s second LP and a fine follow-up to Raise. Duel is made for summer driving with the windows down; massive melodic rushes. The unremarkable Salad are next with the very ordinary Kent while the Cranes’ Jewel actually turns out to be the slightly better Everywhere, as dreamy as always but a sign that nothing had really developed since Wings Of Joy. Late ’80s veterans The Family Cat knock a surprisingly backhand winner with the beefy Airplane Gardens, shades of Julian Cope. We end with Chumbawamba & Credit To The Nation’s Enough Is Enough. I bought the 12″ at the time – back then, I lapped up everything from the agitated pop stars and was also a fan of Matty Hanson’s Call It What You Want. It also ended up topping Peel’s Festive 50 that year – in the face of much better opposition. While the sentiment remains very laudable, the song sounds pretty unremarkable & formulaic today. “I’ve met clever buggers like you before.”
Elastica – Stutter
Smashing Pumpkins – Today
Verve – Slide Away
Lest we forget
Curve – Missing Link