It was April 1994 and “The Reliable Alternative” reached its 19th volume. A very most intense month: the Nirvana gig that never was (long since postponed) with Sebadoh and The Raincoats, Kurt Cobain’s shocking suicide and the wall-to-wall MTV repetition, Hole’s Live Through This on white vinyl from Freebird, The Charlatans’ life imitating art on Can’t Get Out Of Bed and the slow realisation that the second year exams were coming soon.
If the ’90s were the ’60s: unruly ghouls / Madchester survivors Inspiral Carpets kick off with Saturn 5. A Farfisa swirl, mournful for the 35th President, interplanetary craft with a soaring chorus. It reminds me of 96 Tears which they also covered. When Craig Gill died in 2016, there was a campaign to get this to #1. Their fourth album Devil Hopping was coming soon; sadly the band would dissolve soon afterwards. Also coming to an end (commercially anyway) were Carter USM who had just released a B-side album Starry Eyed And Bollock Naked. The sparkling Glam Rock Cops was the lead single; their last great 45. Adjoining are Blur with the raucous Sunday Sunday, possibly the weakest track on Modern Life Is Rubbish. Far better are The Charlatans, just getting ready to unleash album #3, Up To Our Hips. Can’t Get Out Of Bed is simple but with a mighty groove and in the music video, they look like the almost imminent Oasis. “I can’t be no one else.”
Radiohead’s Creep is not censored here. While it remains terribly overplayed and loads of people hate it, the lines “I wish I was special” and “I don’t belong here” still pack a punch. From despair to where: another Suede B-side, this one is lifted from Stay Together – My Dark Star. Ageless & timeless, so evocative of that early 1994 optimism and the discovery of new friends and experiences. Meanwhile I’ve always had a soft spot for Depeche Mode’s rock monster In Your Room. The Zephyr Mix from Butch Vig is pretty full-on, a tortured stomp. The music video features multiple references to previous promotional videos like:
Strangelove (a model posing in her underwear), I Feel You (a woman dressed as Dave Gahan, wearing a pinstripe suit, sunglasses, and a wig), Walking in My Shoes (the bird costume), Halo (the people wearing clown makeup), Enjoy The Silence (a woman dressed as a king, holding the folding chair while walking in the road), Personal Jesus (a woman wearing a cowboy hat), Condemnation (the white dress with ribbons on it that one of the women wears) and Never Let Me Down Again (tea drinking).
Another fourth single from a major LP, Bjork’s Violently Happy is also remixed to enhance its danceability, this time by Graham Massey. It runs 6:15 and leads into Saint Etienne’s gorgeous – almost Balearic – Pale Movie. Highly literate with choice Spanish flourishes, yet dark & moody in parts. La Resistance! Stereolab playing French Disko on The Word was one of the show’s most memorable musical highlights. Serene velocity with Tim Gane looking like Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout. And those dancers! It was originally French Disco on the Jenny Ondioline 10″, then re-recorded with the k coming in for the c. They later played Columbia Mills with Laika in 1995 and many orange t-shirts were sold.
The second half of Indie Top 20 Volume 19 sees a sharp change in quality. It starts reasonably well with the buoyant sound of the Boo Radleys on Barney (…And Me); all perfectly crafted psych pop for the ’90s and another winner from the classic Giant Steps LP. Next are Magnapop with the brittle Slowly Slowly, all start-stop and tick tock savage riffs. The law of diminishing returns doesn’t set in until the next track, Tiny Monroe’s VHF 855V, all dull & angular. I keep mixing them up with Ultrasound. And repeated with Salad and Sharkboy, both tuneless and hard to love. The rot stops with the tuneful Where I Found My Heaven, a heady slice of noisy indie pop by the Gigolo Aunts before the Blue Aeroplanes return with the jagged jangle of Broken & Mended. Also present are another group of veterans from the early years – Pop With Eat Itself and the portentous Ich Bin Ein Auslander. We get more Compulsion, this time it’s Mall Monarchy, neither amazing or colossal – just very ordinary. We end with an obscurity – Plan B (sadly not a Dexys cover) but a noisy industrial mess by Rancho Diablo. Come back Gallon Drunk, all is forgiven.
Inspiral Carpets – Saturn 5
The Charlatans – Can’t Get Out Of Bed
Stereolab – French Disko
Lest we forget
Saint Etienne – Pale Movie
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