Tuesday Ten: 253: Tracks of the Month (March 1996)

This is part two of my look back at 1996, where I continue what I started in Tuesday Ten: 250 by looking at releases that were broadly in February/March of that year.

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1996 in Review:
250: Tracks (Feb)

As I’ve already noted, 1996 was quite something for music, but I wanted to dig deeper into my memories than just the songs we always refer back to. So there are some lesser-known bands in this month, especially. Anyway: on we go.

This World and Body

There have been few bands that frankly squandered their talent like Marion. Their career was initially a short one – this album came out during the Britpop boom, but never really fitted in, while their second album was mainly successful in Japan (and was criminally overlooked here – it’s much better than many would have you believe). But by the release of that, vocalist Jaime Harding was in the throes of a heroin addiction that ended the band, and sporadic reunions of the band by Harding (with and without his ex-colleagues) have by all accounts been patchy – I was lucky a few years back getting them on top form, others (including my wife) have not been so lucky.

But this first album. Still brilliant twenty years on, with two brilliant, timeless singles (the charging Sleep and the more plaintive Time), countless other songs that could have been singles, and the feeling even then of a band that had seen more heartache and failure in their lifetimes than they ever needed to. Similar in many ways to Suede, except that Suede rode through their issues to greater success and acclaim, while Marion were all-but-sunk by them.

Roots Bloody Roots

Arise and Chaos A.D. had seen Sepultura burst through as one of the most forward-thinking metal bands of their time, but I’m not sure anything quite prepared us for the savage power of Roots. Notable also, of course, for being the last album from the band that involved Max Cavalera, and they were never the same since.

What heralded the arrival of the album was the titanic, primal roar of the title track. Brazilian tribal drums and subtle electronics underpinned Igor Cavalera’s already powerful beats, while Max sounded like he was unleashing every ounce of fury from his body in his vocals.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Stagger Lee
Murder Ballads

Yes, I know another song from this was featured last week, and it’s been featured before that (most memorably, perhaps, in 192: Reader’s Perfect Albums, where Daisy simply submitted the Pie Chart below), but any rundown of 1996 needs to include this. The album where Nick Cave finally gave in to what everyone thought he did anyway, and released an album entirely about death. One where the body count is high, and the humour level is similarly so.

It is a mix of new songs and traditional adaptations – but while the subject matter is frequently pitch dark, Cave’s brilliance here is to never let us forget that these songs are fantastical fictions and frequently over-the-top in almost cartoonish ways. The song I’ve featured here is Stagger Lee, a profanity-filled take on the infamous folk song (and based itself on a real-life murder case) which Cave delivers with malevolent glee – and the video is a hoot too. There are other glorious moments worthy of mention – two smouldering duets (with Kylie Minogue and PJ Harvey respectively), and also The Curse of Millhaven, a dizzying romp through a fictional town (one created by Peter Straub!), with a young murderess who reaches the highest bodycount on the album.

Skinny Puppy
Hardset Head
The Process

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The album that hung like an albatross on Skinny Puppy for so long, that saw the death of keyboardist Dwayne Goettel during it’s recording period, various producers, being dropped by their long-time label, and the end of the band’s first active period. With the benefit of time, and hindsight, though, this album is better than perhaps many thought at the time. Vaguely a concept album, although as is so often the way with ‘Puppy, you really have to work to understand what the fuck is going on, this is a murky, intense listening experience. It also is possibly even less coherent in stylings than any other ‘Puppy album, but that can be excused with the chaotic gestation, and it does have a number of exceptional tracks on it – best of all for me is the pummelling rhythmic power of Hardset Head that keeps diverting to random electronic interludes amongst the beats.

Hoops EP
[date undetermined]

It really is hard to explain just how much of a shock Lesley Rankine’s first solo(ish) material was after her days in punk-terrorists Silverfish (here’s a reminder). Teaming up with Mark Walk (who later worked with OhGr and Skinny Puppy), having relocated to Seattle, they unleashed Salt Peter, an album with industrial, trip-hop and rock influences that sounded like little else at the time, and despite it’s frequently mellow nature (made the more explicit by the litany of drum’n’bass and ambient remixes of the material that was to follow) was full of spiteful lyrics and gritted-teeth delivery of the clearly rather personal lyrics. The album was actually released in 1995, by the way, but this EP was released at the turn of 1996 in the US (later in the UK) so counts here – and the lead track Hoops was one of the standouts on the album – a rolling rhythm, vocal treatments aplenty and a kicking chorus.

Also of note – after releasing her third album under the Ruby name a year or two back, Lesley Rankine is finally touring again and plays London on 03-May.

The Auteurs
Light Aircraft on Fire
After Murder Park

Marion weren’t the only losers in the Britpop lottery. Luke Haines and his band The Auteurs perhaps were even bigger losers – touted from the start along with labelmates Suede as “the next big thing”, a run of insane bad luck and self-sabotage (told in honest and hilarious detail in Haines’ book Bad Vibes: Britpop and my part in its downfall and it’s follow-up), it really never worked out, even if Haines has explored fascinating territory since with Black Box Recorder and his solo work.

Listening to this single, though, and the album it comes from, it’s hard to see how this was ever considered for mass consumption. It’s like Haines wanted it to fail, with dark, bitter lyrics and song subjects that would likely have the tabloids hounding him at his door if they’d had more success – not to mention it being produced by Steve Albini (who actually shows a delicate touch here not often associated with him). What was even more amazing is that his label backed him to the point of having Chris Cunningham doing the video…

Gravity Kills
Gravity Kills

A band that I passed up a few chances to see live (particularly supporting Skunk Anansie, which was a tour I somehow passed on. Fail), I’ve loved this band’s first album since I first heard Guilty when it was released, and I still own the original CD single and the album similarly. It was, maybe, a little derivative, yes, but it did what it set out to do – thumping industrial beats with guitars liberally scrawled over the top, and along with way produced at least three club bangers from the album – Guilty, Blame and Enough. All three were scorching tracks, very much of their time but still fun to spin as a DJ. Following albums had something of the law of diminishing returns about them – Perversion followed a similar template but didn’t really have the hooks, while Superstarved was more “organic” (read: less industrial electronics) and really suffered for it.

Girls Against Boys
*Super Fire*
**House of GVSB**

Not that we knew it in the Spring of 1996, but the release of this album – their third, nearly peerless album in a row – was the end of an era. They were snapped by major label Geffen after the success of this album, and set to work with a different producer (Nick Launay) who ended up sucking the life out of the band’s sound and infusing it instead with the then-popular ‘electronica’ influence.

What was worse was that they didn’t need to do anything with their sound. **House of GVSB** had electronics already, but only ever to bolster the signature sound of the band – two basslines to provide a thundering bottom end in lockstep with Alexis Fleisig’s drumming, while Scott McCloud provided the vocals and guitars. Super Fire was the powerhouse opener to the album and lead single – with a rhythm built like a bulldozer and a strobe-effect of a chorus.

Down-Lift the Up-Trodden

A band I had long-forgotten until they were mentioned in the big 1996 thread on my Facebook recently, listening to them again reminds me that they were basically one of the few UK bands that would have fitted right in on Touch & Go alongside Girls Against Boys (most of this album), the Jesus Lizard (just listen to the carnage of Murdering Spree here. Someone had certainly been listening to Goat and Liar like they were life instruction manuals) and others. They had the similar, bass-heavy, dense sound that they built their sound around, similarly oblique lyrics…and stood out like cybergoths at a trad goth night in Britpop-mad Britain in early 1996. But at their best – like the bruising roar of Hydra – it is rammed home that Cable were one of a number of bands of their time that deserved to do so much better, it’s just that those doing their promotion clearly had no idea what to do with them.

Regular Urban Survivors

Ok, so it’s not a patch on How To Make Friends And Influence People, but this was Terrorvision’s most successful album, as I recall. ‘Slicker’ is probably the best way to describe it, and it’s no co-incidence that almost all of the best songs on it were the singles (with the exception of the marvellous crime caper that is Hide The Dead Girl) – the ‘whales and dolphins’ hook of Perseverence having entered the British cultural lexicon shows in one way just how popular the band were at one point. But what was so great about Terrorvision was their ordinariness. They were just a gang of lads from West Yorkshire who loved rock music and beer, and having a good time, and managed to make a successful career out of it.

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