Thursday, 31 August 2017

Volume 20 Tracks 11-16 - Pop Will Eat Itself, Ride, Sugar, Velvet Crush, Sleeper

11. Pop Will Eat Itself - Everything's Cool (Infectious)

There's a rumbling noise emerging... could it be a spot of distant thunder? No, it turns out it's just another one of Pop Will Eat Itself's late singles playing loudly on your middle-aged pink-haired neighbour's stereo. The group had begun their careers on Volume One of this series as a trashy, slapdash Grebo outfit with songs that sounded as if they'd been recorded on a budget of fifty pounds, then became a slightly lumpen indie/dance/hip-hop hybrid nobody took that seriously, then had slowly worked their way towards some minor, but nonetheless noticeable, underground credibility.

"Everything's Cool" is one part tribal rhythms and world music samples - so the placing next to Transglobal Underground on the tracklisting does make some sense - one part gut-churning, buzzsaw racket. Its predictions of a dystopian, riot-riddled future seemed faintly quaint and sci-fi in 1994, as if Clint Mansell had become an eccentric "The End Is Nigh" self-delcared prophet, but as I'm sat here listening again now, I'm slightly chilled by the record. PWEI were never lyrical geniuses as such, but what if this record and "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" proved they knew all along? We would be forced to re-write rock history before humankind's inevitable bedtime; PWEI 1, Morrissey 0.

Musically, parts of "Everything's Cool" sound slightly dated in their industrial churn and grind now, but the track still pins you to the floor by force. They were far, far better at this kind of caper than they were given credit for at the time, and while they quit the music industry on a creative high, it's a pity most people tend to remember the rather less interesting earlier material instead.

12. Ride - How Does It Feel To Feel (Creation)

This was the first time Ride had ever featured on "Indie Top 20", choosing instead to gallivant around on any number of major label "alternative rock" compilations like "Happy Daze". Sadly, while the group had produced a number of astonishing singles prior to this, "How Does It Feel To Feel" is just an unnecessary record.

The pop-art/ mod group The Creation (who Creation Records were named after) first issued this track in 1967, and two versions emerged. The UK single was a piece of relatively clean mod riffola, which fell on to the release schedules at least two years past the point where such things had become yesterday's news. The US single, on the other hand, was a searing mix of feedback, guitar abuse (the group used to occasionally play electric guitars with a violin bow to a discordant and noisy effect) and fizzing psychedelia. That version is one of the finest singles to emerge in the sixties, during a period where it wasn't exactly bereft of competition.

Ride seem to take the blueprint of the UK single for their cover version, and manage to produce something that sounds as good as neither the sanitised issue nor the towering US release. Really, it's a slice of pub rock which would have been better utilised as a B-side, if at all. The only good thing that could possibly be said about it is that it might have caused more listeners to investigate the original version. Let's not waste any more time thinking about it.

13. Sugar - Your Favourite Thing (Creation)

"Your Favourite Thing" is a surprisingly bright blast of rock music from Sugar, who prior to this point had been more popularly renowned for the darker, more frantic efforts. While the response to their debut two LPs had been ecstatic in the UK, by this point they were beginning to lose a bit of momentum, and no amount of sunshine was going to change things.

Sugar broke up not long after the third LP "File Under: Easy Listening" was released, and it's possible that the ongoing shifts and changes in musical tastes in this country caused Bob Mould to fall back underground, and he's one of the least deserved casualties if that's so. "Your Favourite Thing" proves that beneath the grease and grime of the average Sugar 45 lay a skilled songwriter with years of experience who could turn his hand easily to all manner of moods.

14. Velvet Crush - Hold Me Up (Creation)

Velvet Crush were a peculiar anomaly in alternative US rock, having had records released by the quintessentially English Sarah Records in the UK in an early incarnation as The Springfields. Eventually, the core members Paul Chastain and Rik Menck developed a power-pop sound and emerged as Velvet Crush. A cover of Teenage Fanclub's "Everything Flows" caught the ears of Alan McGee, and they ended up on Creation Records.

Sadly, despite their association with arguably the UK's most watched independent label at this point, their records didn't sell in huge numbers, and their 1994 LP "Teenage Symphonies To God" was their last for them.

"Hold Me Up" is bright and breezy, but given the sheer volume of competition from other groups making similar noises at this point (does anyone want to produce a definitive "early nineties Big Star inspired power-pop" compilation?) it's possibly not that surprising that it didn't break through. The UK press were strangely indifferent to the group too, not granting them the same amount of enthusiastic column inches they would for their labelmates. Nonetheless, they had enough of a cult global following to carry on in one form or another until 2004.

15. Sleeper - Delicious (Indolent)

Hard to fathom it now, but when Sleeper first emerged they were actually a rather spiky, jabbing little proposition of a band, their energy and drive matching the force of Louise Wener's softly spoken sarcastic observations in the British music press.

By her own confession, Wener's fear of the group being dropped and sinking into oblivion fired her resolve to start writing good old fashioned songs the milkman could whistle, and "Delicious" is probably the last example of the group sounding like they truly belonged in session on the John Peel show. At this point, a slight pop sensibility is coming into play, but it's an absolutely fantastic record for all that, which has hardly been on the radio since due to its lyrical content and the fact that it fits nobody's popular preconceptions about the band.

Three minutes of celebration about the joys of sex, "Delicious" is less graphic than it sounds - half the sauce is actually in the vocal delivery - and contains a line which according to Wener has frequently been misinterpreted. It should not be written or heard as "We should both go to bed until we make each other raw", but "We should both go to bed until we make each other roar". No, I don't believe her either. Still, "Delicious" is an exhilarating pop-punk rush about the drunken bump and grind of millions of lustful Saturday night drinkers everywhere, and uncannily manages to simulate the rush of desires and the - er - slightly dazed post-come comedown through its delivery.  It somehow also manages to be witty rather than trashy in the process.

It peaked in the British charts at number 75, with a lack of airplay possibilities perhaps restricting its success. It did, however, create enough gasps among the "chattering classes" at IPC to improve the group's standing in the media, building a higher platform for them to drop their poppier efforts from in future. As for the rest of us, we probably wouldn't hear a record like this again until Ida Maria's similarly rushing, exhilarating "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" in 2008 - and even that didn't quite match it.

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