Sunday, 10 September 2017

Volume 21 Tracks 6-10 - Radiohead, AC Acoustics, Spiritualized, Suede, Ride

6. Radiohead - My Iron Lung (Parlophone)

Acting as the first single from the legendary "The Bends", it would be tempting to revise history and suggest that "My Iron Lung" was a hotly anticipated and much loved single on its release. In fact, the reception it received got Thom Yorke's goat so much that he could barely contain his contempt for music critics during promotional duties. In one audio interview I was sent by a PR company to promote the single's release, Yorke was asked "It is quite similar to 'Creep' isn't it?"
"Yes!" Yorke is heard to splutter sarcastically. "It has guitars and drums on it! It's exactly like 'Creep'!" (you have to wonder why he gave everyone bait by including the sneering lyrics "This is our new song/ just like our last one/ a total waste of time" then).
Elsewhere, he sneers about how all the music magazines are basically "comics" who changed their minds on a weekly basis as to whether Radiohead were any good or not.

Throughout the interview - sent out to regional journalists for promotional purposes so they could grab key soundbites to publish, unbelievably - there's no sign whatsoever that Yorke thinks they're about to release their pivotal LP. It's a faintly detached and vinegary sounding interview which just makes the group sound like a pile of rank outsiders, or worse still, a group of privileged EMI signed Oxford boys who dearly wished to be as credible as an American underground combo like Dinosaur Jr.

I don't think many people thought much more than "Oh" when the single finally emerged. It's a piece of claustrophobic angst which could quite easily have fitted on to "Pablo Honey" without any issues, sounding more like a continuation of their bitter peans on that LP. Only the rough, very underground sounding discordant guitar riffs which emerge throughout sound like something a bit more daring might be stirring in the group's ranks. It doesn't even have an arty, expensive looking promotional video as their later singles all would.

When it was finally released in March 1995, "The Bends" was a slow-burning album, spending one week at number 6 before crashing out of the top ten and then spending weeks on end bobbing up and down the Top 75. It took over a year to re-enter the top ten again, and the first few singles weren't hailed much outside their fanbase. By the time "Street Spirit" was issued in February 1996 and went straight in at number five, however, a watershed moment occurred, and the group were suddenly being hailed as "the next U2" (though somewhat interestingly, The Bluetones entered the charts above them at number two in the same week and were hailed as "the next Stone Roses". 1996 was obviously, if nothing else, a big year for predicted next big things). If you weren't paying very close attention, the fact they had become huge emerged on you in a moment of shock.

While it's been rather over-exposed and heavily imitated in the years since, there's little doubt that "The Bends" was a masterstroke, and that's understating the case by some margin. "My Iron Lung" is possibly one of the weakest tracks on the album, and a strange choice for the first single. The only thing that can possibly be argued in its favour is that it sounds like a continuation of their previous ideas, a bridge between the old and new, and therefore less of a jarring prospect than "Just", "High And Dry" or "Fake Plastic Trees" might have proven to be.

7. AC Acoustics - Hand Passes Plenty (Elemental)

Glaswegians AC Acoustics initially emerged as underground dinmakers, before easing off a little to produce more intricate sounds which surprised listeners with their considered and slightly experimental nature rather than jolting them.

"Hand Passes Plenty" is a particularly mellow excursion into their mid-nineties catalogue, hanging for so long on a central acoustic riff that it feels impossible to believe it will ever progress. It does, however, eventually finding unexpected sliproads off its main route to get distracted by. It's a single that feels strange and otherworldly without actually doing anything terribly unusual, seeming to jab you in the shoulders with faintly absurd diversions just when you feel you've settled into the womb-like environment it initially offers.

AC Acoustics would continue until 2003 before splitting up, proving themselves to be a durable cult band on the way, but one who were too esoteric to become successful, even in the particularly forgiving mid-nineties.

8. Spirtualized Electric Mainline - Let It Flow (Dedicated)

"Let It Flow" indicated that Spirtualized were blossoming into something far beyond their basic psychedelic roots. Their previous "Electric Mainline" EP left you in little doubt about that, of course, with its four tracks managing to sprawl from lush, rich psychedelia to minimal electronic ambience. This, however, felt like a more powerful hint to their future direction.

"Let It Flow" absorbs primitive electronica, gospel, the excesses of seventies rock, and the angst of mid-nineties indie to create something which is a surprisingly rich tapestry given its very minimal melodies. Hypnotic and shimmering, just as you think you've got the hang of its direction, it taunts you with another element.

The group's rise from cult act to the late nineties go-to group for spliffheads everywhere was so slow and steady that by 1997, it just seemed as if everyone living in a houseshare with three other people, a cat, a light fog of smoke and the perma-whiff of oven-ready pizza had always been listening to them. Never favourites for daytime radio play at any point in their careers, Spiritualized built on their initial post-Spacemen 3 cult following steadily, building on their ideas from one LP to the next until eventually, hardly anyone seemed to be able to ignore them.

9. Suede - The Wild Ones (Nude)

Do my eyes deceive me, or has a bona-fide Suede A-side managed to find its way on to an "Indie Top 20" compilation? And not just any A-side at that, but one of their finest.

One of the most frustrating things about Suede's post-debut album state possibly isn't that it lead to the loss of Bernard Butler, but the strange manner in which they deigned to grace us with their presence again, damning everything with awkwardness. "Dog Man Star" may not have been an album with many obvious singles on it, but the psychotic glam howling of "We Are The Pigs", with its "Peter Gunn" styled horn section and chorus of "We are the pigs/ we are the swine" was an enormous and vaguely unsatisfactory red herring. In my mind I've always had an alternative version of events, which saw them return with "The Wild Ones" as their comeback single, managing to release something that not only appealed to their fanbase but to a much broader audience in the process. I frequently fantasise that it would have changed everything.

Brett Anderson's voice nearly shakes the room when it introduces itself here, sounding like he's auditioning for a new stage musical about the lives of the Righteous Brothers. From there, the track builds, keeping many of the usual Suede lyrical cliches intact but knotting them together with something altogether more relatable and straightforward - the story of a departing lover. "The Wild Ones" is eerie and spine tingling, with faint callbacks to songs such as "Johnny Remember Me" in its bones (is it a coincidence that Anderson is wandering around on the moors in the promotional video? Or that I know at least one person who seems to think the song itself is somehow about death?) but also an astonishingly perfect piece of songwriting. The first time I heard it, I was immediately convinced that it's entire melody must have been stolen from somewhere else, because there was something so familiar about it, something that seemed buried deep within my subconscious - but there are no obvious comparisons. The song's themes, pace and even production echo back to classic ballads from previous decades, but the track itself has its own distinct feel and melody.

"The Wild Ones", while being a song entirely about a love affair that might have been, is also one of the most frustrating non top ten hits I can think of, and begs many "if onlys" itself. Brett Anderson was apparently sorely disappointed with its commercial performance, and out of everything in their catalogue, it's surely the single most due a film soundtrack opportunity to bring it back into the public eye. It's too glorious to go to waste.

10. Ride - I Don't Know Where It Comes From (Creation)

"I Don't Know Where It Comes From" enters seeing Ride sounding like some kind of early seventies studio group, marrying a jangly sixties melody to a distinctly polished, almost bubblegum arrangement. Initially, it's hard not to get the urge to put the theme from "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" or an Edison Lighthouse single on instead.

Eventually though, the song builds itself up into a slightly chilled and folksy pop affair, having a breeziness to its arrangement a lot of Ride singles completely lacked. Of course, had this been a debut single by a new group, it's completely impossible to imagine it attracting any attention at all, and by this point there was a sense that Ride were coasting on their previous glories. Nonetheless, the sunshine bursting through the track, despite the gloomy lyrical conceits, does make it likeable.

By this point, the group were on their last legs and bickering about their creative direction. Their final album "Tarantula" would be tossed off in 1996 and widely regarded as one of the biggest disappointments of the decade, to the extent that no member of the band can be bothered to defend it to this day. Their 2017 comeback has provided them with a golden opportunity to put things straight.

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