Yes, it’s Wednesday, not Tuesday, and this features twelve songs. A day later than planned due to Whitby, of course, this is the very last look-back in my two-year series looking at 1996 and 1997. It has been an interesting delve into my musical past, and indeed has dredged up memories I’d long thought forgotten. There were good times, some very bad times, but in the context of this, there was some brilliant music to enjoy once again. But all things must come to an end, and so this is it.
Tuesday Ten: 313
Tracks of the Month (October 1997)
1997 in Review
310: Tracks (Aug/Sep 1997)
302: Tracks (Jul 1997)
298: Tracks (Jun 1997)
295: Tracks (May 1997)
291: Tracks (Apr 1997)
287: Tracks (Mar 1997)
283: Tracks (Feb 1997)
279: Tracks (Jan 1997)
That said, this is a good time to remind what else is coming up this year on amodelofcontrol.com. Next week Tuesday Ten: 314 will be the last new Tracks of the Month for 2017, and there is also coverage of The Birthday Massacre (their recent London show and an interview with the band) to come. In addition reviews of 11grams, Encephalon and LEGEND are all imminent, and if I have time a couple more (and something else entirely that I’ve been hinting about) will follow.
Then, from 28-November, Countdown: 2017 will begin, where as usual I’ll wrap up the best compilations and re-issues, the best tracks, the best albums and the best gigs of 2017 on successive Tuesdays.
In the meantime, here are those last songs from 1997.
I’m Afraid of Americans (V1)
With all the posthumous reverence (rightly) given to Bowie after his recent death, it’s easy to forget that for some time in the eighties and nineties, he was very much in critical and popular wilderness with his new work. The less said about Tin Machine the better, of course, but his other solo work of the time – pretty much after Let’s Dance – was, well, not very good.
Signs of a renaissance began to appear with 1. Outside, a decidedly industrial-tinged album that seemed to be following trends rather than creating them – and despite claims in the press that it was little more than NIN-worship, Bowie was keen instead to note the influence of The Young Gods, but he did tour with NIN just before release (a tour that was reported to be excellent, and one I never saw). That NIN link instead became more explicit in Bowie’s work a few years later, when Trent Reznor toughened up I’m Afraid of Americans, adding in slashing guitars and a much sharper edge to an already seething track.
Another name from the past undergoing a critical rebirth around this time – and again just recently, with a #2 album in the UK in 2017 – was Gary Numan, whose journey into dark, shadowy industrial rock had only recently begun at this point. And this was very much a shadowy sound. Electronic percussion dominates the track, with Numan’s vocals only coming to the forefront for the striking chorus. The bleak, black heart of this song meant it was an obvious choice to be used on the much-underrated film Dark City that was released not long after.
Around The Fur
The commonly-held view is that Deftones long since transcended the “nu-metal” tag and became something far more interesting, but really, they moved away from that dead-end before most had even started. Adrenaline, their first album, was rough, difficult and abrasive, the vocals in particular blurred and buried amid the raging music. This album, though, was much more…direct. Shorter, snappier and sequenced so that many songs flowed into one another (something the band have done on subsequent albums, too, to great effect), it only paused a couple of times to draw breath – and two of those moments were album highlights, in the form of the pitch-dark Mascara and the surprisingly tender Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away), which seemed to be the point where they were suddenly taken seriously.
But the killer moment for me is perhaps the most emotional. Headup features Max Cavalera (who had left Brazilian metal titans Sepultura the year before), and it is apparently a venting of emotion over the death of his step-son Dana Wells. It is certainly an extraordinary track, and live it is something else. The people being pointed out by Chino in this video from Brixton a few years back? Me, my wife and our friend Chris, who were the first to recognise what was coming…
I’d already had a passing interest in the ever-swelling ranks of bands being dubbed “post-rock” by this point, but Mogwai were the band that made me understand exactly what I liked about it. Partly because Mogwai remembered the “rock” half of the definition, and partly because Mogwai were more inventive than their peers (and remain so, twenty years on). There was impossibly pretty songs (Tracey), petty and nasty, calculated noise (hello, With Portfolio, with it’s extreme volume and sadistic phasing – try it on headphones and see how you get on), and of course the songs that they made their name with in the first place. Mogwai Fear Satan remains one of the most elegant instrumental songs I’ve ever heard, a three-chord hurricane of epic proportions that finds time for a flute piece amid the maelstrom that roars around it, while Like Herod uses immense explosions of guitars like landmines, catching the unsuspecting every time – which includes those that have been listening to it regularly since release. Mogwai never quite dialled back on the sonic force – as the occasional song on subsequent albums attests, not to mention their often deafening live sets – but they did go and explore other realms, but this album looms like a gigantic shadow over everything that they do. That’s the thing about brilliance – it sets expectations, rightly or wrongly.
Buy Me! I’ll Change Your Life
Dave Thrussell is kinda the arch-anarchist within industrial music, the one artist who runs on an explicitly anti-capitalist agenda and broadly practices what he preaches – with the exception of the rather capitalist practice of reissues and reworkings (see also the recent Corporate Slave 2525 release) – and is more than willing to push his audience to their limits, some of which work, some don’t. Twenty years ago, though, this agenda was nice and clear, and this gloriously poppy groove is hastening the end-times – and Thrussell is celebrating it. The song is still so fucking great that it’s rather difficult not to cheer along…
It is, of course, one of those bitter ironies that The Wannadies’ best song was not the hit that it should have been and was titled as – the re-released You & Me Song (which of course featured on the much-loved by many Romeo + Juliet) was their big moment in the sun. Hit is two minutes and twenty two seconds of breathless dual vocals, blazing choruses and a playful sense of fun that was at the heart of the best moments by the band – but hidden behind that is a darker edge, and her that comes out in the interplay between the two vocalists.
Front Line Assembly
FLAvour of the Weak
For me, after Hard Wired, this was such a disappointment, and it took me some years to go back and appreciate it at all. Chris Peterson joining the band (replacing Rhys Fulber) rather changed the sound, out went the guitars and the aggressive sound, and in came something more…measured? This track is one of the highlights, in retrospect, a heavy, slower beat the bedrock of distorted vocals and those classic FLA synths, but that’s about it, really – it didn’t take their sound forward, and indeed was the beginning of the best part of a decade lost to treading water, the band roaring back in 2006.
Black Death (French Concept)
Dried Blood of Gomorrah
Rudy Ratzinger finally announced the end of his :w: project this year, after well beyond two decades of industrial experimentation that helped initially to usher in new styles, before later doing little more than rehashing old ideas. That first decade, though, was really quite something. A staggeringly aggressive, loud and heavy take on electro-industrial, heavily nihilistic and destructive in tone, it was never particularly easy listening and that early work was definitely a massive influence on the entire style known as aggrotech that followed it. None of those followers, though, ever came close to the scorched-earth fury of Black Death. This is industrial by way of speed metal, taking the quiet-LOUD dynamic to hurricane force, and that build into the chorus thrash by way of the repeated “Make my body burn” refrain still makes the hairs on my neck prickle in anticipation.
Stupid Stupid Stupid
It’s not a patch on their debut, for sure, but it wasn’t all bad. That first album had a riotous, “fuck you” feel from Shaun Ryder and his mates (as this band broadly was), didn’t give a shit about who it was offending and every single idea worked. A couple of years on, this was a much, much darker album, even down to the black-based album cover (after the psychedelic, eye-popping cover of It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah!). The first single from it, too, followed that template. Yeah, it’s still about getting binned, but this is the comedown afterward, rather than the party itself, and as a result the song just felt rather tired in comparison, and hasn’t aged particularly well either.
Velvet Acid Christ
Calling Ov The Dead
One of the songs that made Velvet Acid Christ a Big Thing in electro-industrial – and feels like an ever-present within the scene, too, as it has re-appeared in any number of versions and remixes over the years. It is, of course, anchored by most of the best moments of se7en, and the thundering beat and synth chords are constructed so well that the dramatic moments of the film are made all the more affecting (especially as you know what is coming). Bryan Erickson may have made better songs later into his career, but this is a calling card for a reason.
I Will Buy You A New Life
So Much For The Afterglow
Another band I indelibly associate with Romeo + Juliet, actually (thanks to their excellent track Local God being featured), they had much more to enjoy at the time than just that. This was their third album, and probably their best (and most radio-friendly, too). One of the singles, though, was the most affecting on the album – slower paced than many of their songs, it is a song about hope, about making something better of the situation you have. And more particularly, that appreciating what you have and what you gain, after times of poverty and despair.
Left of the Middle
OK, so I’ll admit that my wife was very surprised indeed that I was going to feature this, but I was surely not the only person here who owned this album on release. After all, the reality was that this ex-Australian soap (TV) star actually ended up with an album of very good alt-leaning pop. And the strongest moment by far was the ubiquitous Torn. A monstrous single that interestingly (I didn’t know until researching this) was originally a single for an obscure US band (Ednaswap) and then re-recorded with Imbruglia on vocals, and it sold over 4 million copies alone (the album then sold 7 million more), mind-boggling numbers for releases nowadays.
Frankly, though, this being featured here sums up my views on genre boundaries. I broadly stick within the realms that I specialise in, have DJed in, and so on. But there is worthwhile music beyond there, and it will also be covered as I see fit. Great music often transcends what is cool, what is fashionable, and what you might pigeonhole yourself as.