Part five of my monthly rundown, across this year, of tracks from 1996 that broadly, I still love now.
I did consider doing something political this week (held over from last week, actually), but frankly my heart wasn’t in it. So, back to the past this week before I return to the present and future next week.
Down On The Upside
I have to confess that I remember feeling rather underwhelmed by this album when it arrived. After the raw thrills of Badmotorfinger, and the sprawling brillance of Superunknown, the retreat here into more introspective songs (in the main) meant it wasn’t half as listenable, or good – and the tensions that recording this album unleashed led to the demise of the band, at least until they predictably reformed a few years ago. Which led to yet another underwhelming album. Still, the lead song from this album, Pretty Noose, was very much in the vein of what came before. Woozy, thick basslines, Kim Thayil’s distinctive guitar treatments, and Chris Cornell singing wonderful melodies with cryptic lyrics. Sadly this track was all but a one-off here.
The Great Southern Trendkill
The Great Southern Trendkill
Recent history has not been kind to Pantera’s legacy, with the unpleasantness around Phil Anselmo’s politics coming to the fore recently after some years of murmurs – and I have to say that I was considering whether to include this album or not – however this album was great in 1996, so it merits mention. And back in 1996, Pantera were also fighting back – vocalist Phil Anselmo was battling substance abuse and a disintegrating band (the album was recorded independently and cobbled together later), and they roared back with a punishing album that screamed in your face from the off with the blistering title track, probably one of the most intense opening tracks to an album I’ve ever heard.
The second album from the Swedish electro-industrial titans, this album was re-issued the following year as Sequencer:Beta – the version that most people probably know it as. This album was a significant step forward from Dreams of A Cryotank, too. The production was better, and more importantly, the songs were better, too, and it is front-loaded with two of their most enduring songs – Stalker and Figurehead. Both are sweeping, epic dancefloor songs, and the beginning of the bands ability to bridge the gap between electro-industrial and synthpop, something they have used to the full ever since. But it isn’t just that ear for a tune – Eskil’s deep, rich vocals and way with a chorus are also vitally important, and this album was where I fell in love with the band. Europa might be the better album, but this album should be compulsory listening for anyone trying to understand the evolution of industrial and synthpop in the late nineties.
Take It Easy Chicken
Despite the sometime revisionist view that Britpop was little more than boorish lads bellowing choruses between pints of warm lager, some really inventive bands got lumped into the scene that they really had little to do with. Mansun were one of those bands, with a wide and (very) strange set of influences and some even odder inspirations for lyrics – maybe Chester was a more interesting place than many of us first thought. Anyhow, by summer 1996 Mansun were beginning to get noticed, and this EP was very much part of that reason (debut album Attack of the Grey Lantern was still many months away). The pummelling lead track from it had a catchy title (Take It Easy Chicken), a squalling guitar hook, and a synth/drum rhythm that had it nearly bouncing on air. I still never did work out what Paul Draper was on about, though. With Two EP, too, the band joined the small list of peers who had B-sides every bit as good as their A-sides, something that would continue for some years. First evidence, though, was the batshit, fun rock of Drastic Sturgeon, which even made small-town life in the North West sound exotic and exciting.
The Light User Syndrome
This was, actually, one of only two Fall albums I’ve actually bought over the years, and it was probably down to this stellar single – a song that comes with an urgent, rumbling drum rhythm, and jagged, groovy guitar riffs, and of course, Mark E. Smith rambling incoherently over the top of it. Fuck only knows what he was on about, but it was a cracking song, and was by miles the best thing on an album that more than anything marked the end of an era within The Fall – this was the last album Brix featured on.
This was a band I rather adored in the nineties, seeing them live first early on, when the Bruise Pristine 7″ was their only release (late ’95, supporting Whale), and I saw them many times more up until about 2001 (from memory, supporting Suede in late ’96, at Brixton in ’98, somewhere else in Leeds at least once, and a few more times in London besides), and in those earlier years they could do no wrong. Things have changed, and their quality dropped an awful lot, but they\’ve undergone something of a renaissance in recent years and I’m kinda sad I’m going to miss their twentieth anniversary shows later in the year (I’ll be on honeymoon). Still, though, I was happy to find that this debut album still packs a heck of a punch – a post-punk/goth/alt-rock blast that also has a surprising tender side, shown best of all on the gorgeous Lady of the Flowers, but I’m returning back to the song that started it all for me, the catchy grind of Bruise Pristine.
All I Know
Very much the nearly men of the grunge period, their preceding album Sweet Oblivion – despite its obvious brilliance (and the helping hand of Nearly Lost You featuring on the Singles OST) – never really caught on, and the four-year gap to Dust erased any momentum they had gained. Which was a crying shame, as this album was, and is, extraordinary. Easily one of the greatest albums of 1996, the band worked with producer George Drakoulias to create a bluesy rock album that didn’t have even a so-so song on it, everything was gold and each song is stuffed with glorious, singalong hooks – and more than a hint of the wistful darkness that has permeated Mark Lanegan’s solo work ever since. Picking one song from it for this, as a result, remains as hard as it ever has, but I’ll plump for the sweeping harmonies and grooves of All I Know, in my eyes the greatest song the band ever recorded.
Son of A Gun
Yeah, so it still isn’t the best KMFDM album (see also Tuesday Ten: 222), but it does have some great moments, and this is one of them. A techno-industrial-speed-metal blast, it is full of sloganeering, fantastical superheroes and hooks you could anchor ships with, and it is still fucking great.
Lust For Life
Likely one of the greatest soundtracks ever released, there was something about this that resonated perfectly with the time – not to mention being so important to the feel of the film itself, one that became a British cultural touchstone. And yes, Born Slippy .NUXX was the bit hit of the summer, and catapulted Underworld to a level of recognition their thoughtful, sprawling techno would never have otherwise have reached, but the real winner from mass exposure was, as Pitchfork recently noted, Iggy Pop. His 1977 song Lust For Life was the beating heart of the iconic opening sequence, as we are introduced to the main cast of characters in a breathless two minutes, and Renton (Ewan McGregor, of course) gives his just-as-famous “Choose Life…” monologue, and things take a darker turn. Now I think about it, too, I’ve not seen the film in some time, and I should probably rectify that…
It really is amazing to think that back in 1996, Beck was thought of as a “one hit wonder”. His proto-slacker, folk-hop anthem Loser was all anyone associated with him (despite the rest of that album actually being pretty good, too, particularly the other single Beercan), and it was seeming questionable as to whether he had any interest in following it up, too. Enter the Dust Brothers – the American producers, not the British DJs who became the Chemical Brothers – who assisted Beck in creating the sample-ridden, chaotic glory of Odelay. There was everything and anything chucked into the mix. Hip-hop, rock, folk, blues, disco, electro, funk, jazz, TV samples, film samples, you name it, it\’s in there somewhere. But crucially, the clash of styles and mish-mash of ideas is used to enhance the songs, not to bury them, and the result was an endlessly lauded album that transformed Beck’s career, and it is one of those one-off albums that an artist will never, ever be able to repeat as it is so unique.
By the way, the “mop” on the album cover? That is a Komondor.