It feels a bit weird posting this today.
302: Tracks of the Month (July 1997)
1997 in Review
Well…here’s my latest part of my look back at my music tastes in 1997. Part of this is, yes, nostalgia. But otherwise it is also a look at how my tastes have changed, how with hindsight some bands and songs are seen very differently.
That, and some of this has really not held up well.
Elsewhere on amodelofcontrol.com, there has been substantial work on returning as much of the old content as possible back online. The Countdown section is now nearly complete (my yearly and decade reviews – only 1990s albums to re-add now), and all 34 interviews are now readable under Talk Show Host.
Coming up in the next week or two? Tuesday Ten: 303 next week will cover the best new music of the past month, Welcome to The Future: 005 will preview the upcoming Infest 2017, and there will also be But Listen: 154, which will be looking at the unexpected links between one new and one thirty-year-old album that cover similar ground.
The last Paradise Lost album before they went fully electronic for a while, and in some respects, it’s hard to see why Host got the kicking – while this has some of the most-beloved live tracks by the band on it. I mean, it’s not perfect, but the first half of the album at least does a pretty good job of making you think it might be.
Nick Holmes sings almost entirely cleanly, giving the album a gravitas that it perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have, although the lyrics plumb the usual dark depths for the band, with betrayal and disappointment the common themes. And while long-time live anthem Say Just Words pretty much nails gothic rock like few other bands, the title track remains the song that towers over the rest of the album. A sweeping, three minute gothic drama, with a glorious, soaring chorus, I’m not sure that Holmes ever sounded better as a vocalist.
A twentieth anniversary reissue was released last week – and there is a noticeable improvement in the sound.
The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
Supa Dupa Fly
Fucking hell, this was two decades ago? Missy’s debut album was stuffed with guests, but it was her close collaboration with childhood friend Timbaland (pretty much his first hip-hop, rather than R&B, production) that set this album apart. Obviously nowadays Timbaland’s production style is easy to identify, but back then it sounded like some kind of alternate future. The first single from this album has Missy moving between rapping and soulful singing, but it is against a backdrop of sparse, unusual beats that provide just enough backing for Missy’s flow to keep in the foreground no matter what. As a taster, it was amazing – and proved to be a springboard to more incredible ideas like the chaotic, catchy-as-all-hell, bhangra-hiphop fusion of Get Ur Freak On, and helped result in Missy being one of the most forward-looking artists in the world.
A rather forgotten footnote in the industrial world nowadays, sadly, Kalte Farben (translates literally as “cold colours”) were one of the more interesting acts to be releasing music at the time. Probably closest in style to the likes of Velvet Acid Christ, their electro-industrial sound was almost…blurry. That’s in execution – little if any sound included in the mix had clarity, including the vocals, and I always suspected that this was the point. You had to work bloody hard to understand what was going on, what on earth the lyrics were, but if you got through that barrier, this was an album of extremes. Thematically it was drugs and outré sexual concepts, with the electronics (and heavily sampled and treated guitars) a churning, rolling thunder around them. This album was actually a compilation of two EPs, and this release gave the band a better distribution. Sadly, they rather vanished from view after this, with at least one half-hearted return that saw a couple of songs released, but to my knowledge the promised comeback album never arrived. Unfortunate, really – this was one artist who was vastly more interesting – and challenging – than their peers that rather ran out of luck.
Nowadays one half of Run the Jewels, back in the day El-P was one of the smartest rappers around …so not a lot has changed. But rather than politics, Company Flow were more bothered with otherworldly concepts, with works of science-fiction being far more their thing. The beats and samples were dense as all hell, and the intertwining raps were frankly just as packed in. Yeah, so they were perhaps more critical darlings than chart successes, but listening back to it now, it was some way ahead of the curve, and El-P’s success now with RTJ makes all the more sense.
Dry The Rain
Aside from a few heavy hitters in the summer of 1997 (Radiohead, Spiritualized, The Verve)…man, there really wasn’t a lot to get excited about if you were heavily into British guitar rock. Which is perhaps why the first Beta Band EP made such a splash. Or maybe, it was simply because it was so fucking good. Twenty-two minutes, four songs, all of which were perfect, downbeat electro-folk balladry (with the exception of B+A, which was a perfect, electro-funk drum freakout), and really sounded like no-one else. And also, Steve Mason’s vocals managed the rare trick of sounding desperately lonely and outrageously uplifting at the same time, particularly the extraordinary lead track Dry The Rain, which later on ended up being at the heart of a key scene in the film High Fidelity, and thus entering the music mainstream long after the band had given up any hope of doing so.
The film might have sucked (I managed just shy of an hour before turning it off, when it was on SyFy recently, my wife lasting even less) – the script, the FX and production all absolutely blowing – but the soundtrack was a wonder. Pulling together various metal and rock minds and pairing each with an electronic artist of the time, some really quite mad collaborations just worked. This was one of the more straightforward ones, and it opened the album with good reason. The Crystal Method kinda start things off, with Richard Patrick’s vocals, before the band take over for the bones of the rest, and their collab brought out a groovy, danceable edge to Filter, and it is no stretch to suggest that this really did affect the band’s thinking in future.
One of the bands that emerged from the early, more experimental days of nu-metal – where there was much less uniformity of style, and there were some very, very odd bands around. One was hed(PE), a multi-racial collective who crossed and blurred the lines between metal, punk, dub and hip-hop, and their first album was rather summed up by the cover – a messy, cartoonish blur of a battle where there appear to be no winners. Indeed, it took until their second album (and the snappy singles Killing Time and Bartender) before they settled on a sound that really worked and had wider appeal.
That said, the first album was a lot of fun, it was just a lot of work as it was all over the fucking place. Songs would either extend way beyond expectations, or stop dead and vanish before they’d really got going, as if they just kept going with each track until they ran out of ideas and/or steam, and simply moved on. One song that was fully-formed, though, was the explosion of nihilistic fury that is Darky, where lead singer Jared discusses his own personal journey through discovering racism and how he dealt with it through his life. As this song’s vital hook notes, though: “I don’t give a fuck / never did / never will“, repeated incessantly before the track bursts into one final, climactic rampage of a coda.
Even now, the very idea of an anarchist, ultra-left-wing band having a monstrous chart hit that took on a life of it’s own is one of those things that make me think “did this really happen?”. But back in the summer of 1997, that’s what happened, as their single Tubthumping became an unlikely radio and chart hit (it was in the UK Top 40 for most of the second half of 1997), and bizarrely was also a massive hit worldwide, including in the US!
For over a decade, the band had been a small-scale indie band from the north, having had the odd bit of attention from the mainstream music press and DJs, then this song came out of nowhere, where their commitment to political music with a mainstream sound finally hit paydirt. It became a sports anthem, appeared on at least one game soundtrack, got used on TV everywhere, and saw this unlikely band become pop-stars, whether they wanted it or not. Then there was Danbert Nobacon’s memorable soaking of John Prescott at the BRITs in 1998…
I’ve Seen My Fate
One of the most formidable metal acts of the late-nineties, Will Haven laid waste to pretty much every venue that they played live in (I saw them numerous times supporting various bands, Pitchshifter being one), and terrifying first-timers seeing them every single time. They were also one of the few bands to translate that power onto record, too – even from their debut. The lead track from that debut was this bulldozer of a track, the omnious bass (I think! It’s played right at the top of the neck) intro drops away for the walls to fall in after it, and then Grady Avenell howls his lungs out for four minutes. The ultimate in musical catharsis.
A Thousand Trees
Word Gets Around
Wales provided a great many interesting bands across the nineties, and many of them drew upon their own experiences, at least in the first place. Stereophonics were one of those bands, who emerged in the late 90s from the Welsh Valleys as a band who very much had a hard rock influence, but were astute enough to realise that success at the time would come from more populist songs.
They might have become a bit, well, trite, in recent years – or, if you will, a bit dull and workmanlike – but their first album was a collection of affecting, elegant stories. Drawn from their times in the small Welsh towns, their songs told tales that very much felt like real life, things that actually happened. Some of these were desperately dark (the youth suicide in Local Boy In The Photograph in particular), but the opening track on that first album was just as striking. This one tackled accusations in a small town, how they can spread like wildfire – whether true or not – and the damage that can be done from it. What was interesting was that the band offered little comment, preferring to be curious observers of the minutae of life. When they lost that, and took on wider themes, they rather lost their interesting niche, to me.