Sunday, 27 August 2017

Volume 20 Tracks 6-10 - Gene, Inspiral Carpets, Mark E Smith, The Charlatans, Boo Radleys, Transglobal Underground

6. Gene - Be My Guide, Be My Light (Deceptive)

Gene last featured on volume ten of "Indie Top 20", peculiarly enough, albeit in their Martin Rossiter-less guise of Sp!n. If that group had an edge to them, Rossiter brought along the melodrama, and while Gene were often compared to The Smiths or Morrissey, the force of their instrumental delivery was occasionally more akin to sixties mod groups or even 70s pub rock bands.

"Be My Guide, Be My Light" doesn't particularly highlight that diversity in their sound, with Rossiter's hollering, woebegone vocals taking centre stage and the band trailing along behind, but it was the first single of theirs to chart within the UK Top 75, and became something of a favoured anthem at gigs from that point forward.

While the group were quickly lumped in with Britpop, there was a clear lyrical sensitivity to their work which certainly didn't bear comparisons with Oasis or Northern Uproar. "Be My Guide, Be My Light" appears to be about an evening's worth of drunken shenanigans, though, which doesn't do a great deal to back up my claim - but there's plenty of alternative evidence available.

7. Inspiral Carpets featuring Mark E Smith - I Want You (Mute)

If absolutely nothing else, "I Want You" is the song responsible for putting Mark E Smith on "Top of the Pops". His somewhat wayward performance resulted in Tom Hingley desperately trying to get him back on track lyrically, side-eyeing him in increasing desperation while Smith ambled around the stage plucking lyrical phrases from the track at random. "Right, OK... thank you boys", said a perplexed and typically dry Simon Mayo at the end, and the paths of Smith and BBC TV prime-time would never cross again. Frankly, it was somewhat miraculous that they ever did.

"I Want You" is also an absolutely rip-roaring track, sounding for all the world like The Fall at their most frantic featuring Tom Hingley of the Inspiral Carpets on guest vocals. It somewhat proves Smith's point that "if it's me and your granny on bongos, it's The Fall". It starts as it means to carry on with an enormous ramshackle juggernaut riff, then rallies along, incorporating some quality Smith-isms on the way. "The Dutch East India Company in the USA of A think they can fool/ with their sincere usury" seems to be about the American independent distribution company who he had clearly experienced difficulties with at some point, though God knows who "lost two stone in weight".

The song sticks doggedly to its chosen path, never really developing or choosing new roads. It's akin to a full-force naive sixties garage track in its approach, in total love with its own noise and poking a finger in the eye at the Inspiral Carpets usual considered tunefulness at this point in their careers. It went on to top the 1994 John Peel Festive Fifty, and no wonder. It also went on to reach number 18 in the UK charts, which was somewhat less expected under the circumstances. In all, it's one of the better tracks either party has been involved with, and it makes you wish they'd actually done a few more things together.

Sadly, this is the last time we'll be discussing The Inspiral Carpets or Mark E Smith on here. The former split up after being dropped by Mute Records, and the latter continued ploughing his way through numerous record labels and dozens of singles and LPs, but was just never featured on the series again.

8. The Charlatans - Jesus Hairdo (Beggars Banquet)

The Charlatans take a musical journey into the bluesy swamps of the American South. Though to be honest, elements of "Jesus Hairdo" sound similar to the theme to the long-forgotten Dave Lee Travis and Craig Charles starring action/quiz show "Go Getters", so perhaps they were actually taking a musical journey to Cheltenham to take a ride on a hot air balloon. Who knows?

"Jesus Hairdo" managed to join Primal Scream at the voodoo punch bowl at around the same time, and while it couldn't have sounded less like The Charlatans at their moody baggy peak, it did do a lot to show that the group were more than just a bunch of floppy-fringed blokes who belonged to another point of the nineties.

For my personal taste, "Jesus Hairdo" is one of the least pleasing Charlatans 45s, though. It's all bluesy jam and no bread, and a slightly odd choice for a single. That it failed to reach the Top 40 wasn't actually hugely surprising.

9. The Boo Radleys - Lazarus (Creation)

"Lazarus" appears on Volume 20 of "Indie Top 20" by dint of its reissue in 1994. This upsets the lineage of our discussions about the Boos somewhat, but it probably makes sense to start at the beginning - when "Lazarus" first emerged in 1992, it felt completely unexpected. While the group had developed their sound in leaps and strides prior to its release, there were elements to the track which had never really achieved such prominence before.

It begins with throbbing, echoing dub reggae noises before they collide into a mounful, surrendering trumpet clarion call, which would repeat itself throughout the track at regular intervals and act as the chorus. "I... I must be losing my mind" sings Sice through a crackly, treble-heavy treated vocal, "I keep on trying to find a way out/ there's no need you don't lock the door anymore". Eventually, the other group members join him, "ba ba baing" their way through his vocals like a Beach Boys tribute band drunk and walking in the wrong direction on the way home from the pub. Psychedelic elements twitter and stir their way in their background, and "Lazarus" becomes an incredibly afraid, lonely, lost  sounding record, but wonderful for it. Like The Factory playing "Path Through The Forest" meeting King Tubby meeting Guy Chadwick meeting The Beach Boys in some kind of ludicrous supergroup who could only exist on the continent known as the imagination, this is not what anyone expected. Oh, and Toni Halliday appeared in the video for reasons which were never completely explained.

That Alan McGee opted to give the single a second chance once their LP "Giant Steps" had become acclaimed isn't that surprising. If he expected a proper hit, though, he'll have been disappointed. "Lazarus" was far too unorthodox and mournful to wow daytime radio listeners, and it was left up to the latecomers and stragglers to support the reissue, along with the Radleys fans who wanted to pick up the remixes on the B-side (the Saint Etienne one is particularly ambient and worthy of investigation).

10. Transglobal Underground - Protean (Nation)

Since the whole "Indie Top 20: House" debacle, the series hadn't really gone out of its way to showcase independent dance music much, obvious exceptions such as A Guy Called Gerald aside. The appearance of Transglobal Underground here is something of a surprise, then, though their fusion of world music styles with dance music did make them a bit more of an IPC journalist's dream than a lot of the club music around in 1994.

"Protean" showcases why Transglobal Underground were so respected by so many different audiences. The different elements of their sound aren't lazily bashed together in the form of tossed-off ethnic samples, but fully incorporated into the work. "Protean" therefore sounds both unique and hypnotic, showcasing the fact that the euphoria surrounding communal, danceable music is a global phenomenon rather than a niche youth consideration. "Protean" twitters and shimmers along, sounding joyous and tranquil at the same time. It's hard to hear quite how it fits in with the rest of this LP, but it's nice to have it here.

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