Onto part seven of my 1996 roundup. As a reminder, I’m marking twenty years of writing about music (my writing long pre-dates this website going live) across this year with a monthly look at ten releases from 1996, where possible in chronological order.
1996 in Review:
266: Tracks (Jul)
263: Tracks (Jun)
260: Tracks (May)
256: Tracks (Apr)
253: Tracks (Mar)
250: Tracks (Feb)
By this point in the year, the “big” releases were in full swing. Autumn always used to be a big time for releases, as it was often the time where releases would sell most in the run-up to Christmas. That, and students would (theoretically) have money to burn on music. Both are to a point ideas of a past time now.
Either way, August onwards in 1996 was a fascinating time, even more so than the first half of the year, and this month’s list contains a few of my very favourite songs and albums from that year.
As the title suggests, this was Neubauten in transition. This was the album where F.M. Einheit left the band, and what is now the current line-up of EN was formulated, and the sound was also perhaps somewhere in transition too. The pummelling, frantic percussive chaos of opener Was Ist Ist is followed directly by the elegant, swooning beauty of Stella Maris, and this is kinda an idea of where the album goes – both ways, to both extremes. It is by no means the end of Neubauten being the noise terrorists they have long been painted as, but it was a further step away from it.
Love You To Death
Some might tell you that Bloody Kisses is the best Type O album. They are wrong.
Bloody Kisses, you see, had filler. October Rust has none, even the silent “intro” track (“Hope you enjoyed our little joke there“) has a purpose, and on the album as a whole they never bettered the balance of snarky humour and bleak, gothic despair…oh, and sex. Lots and lots of sex.
Part of the joy of Type O, of course, was that they were rare American musicians of the time – particularly in the alternative scene – that had a sense of humour, and used it to full effect with their odd juxtapositions, themes, covers that in any other hands would sound appalling (Cinnamon Girl really, really shouldn’t work!), and a general understanding of pop music that many of their peers would have killed for.
All that being said, they opened the album with probbaly the most straight-up Goth track they ever wrote. Love You To Death covers all of the goth cliches – beauty, sex, lust, death – stretches out for over seven minutes, has the late Peter Steele’s finest vocal performance, and it sounds fucking fantastic.
Circle of Shit
Songs of Love & Hate
Not my favourite Godflesh album, by any stretch, this was their fourth album and perhaps it could be said that their best material had already been released. One particular change on this album was the use of a live drummer, which robbed the band of something of their rhythmic muscle and despite G.C. Green’s heavy basslines, meant that some of the songs sound rather thin (particularly when you compare and contrast with their earlier material). Godflesh were always about power, rage and a scorching intensity that few other bands ever matched, and that fire was dimmed a bit here. One intriguing diversion, though, was Circle of Shit, which had a near-breakbeat based rhythm and sounds like the heaviest hip-hop backing track ever recorded.
One to Another
Released just a month after the death of keyboardist Rob Collins, this was a massive hit at the time (#3 in the UK singles charts), and not to mention a defiant, roof-raising return for the band. Collins’ untimely death probably boosted their profile, of course, but the fact that the album was at least partly recorded already suggested that this was going to be a step-up for the band anyway. The album would follow in spring 1997, but One To Another remains the band’s greatest single. Loops from The Chemical Brothers provide the bedrock, Rob Collins’ keyboard work the incessant and dramatic hook, and Tim Burgess delivers a vocal that pushes him to the limits, with a song that celebrates the hopes and dreams of a pair of lovers, the future at the time being bright. 1996 into 1997 was one of those periods where optimism in the UK was the dominant theme, and this wonderful song happened to be one of the soundtracks to it.
By 1996, Pearl Jam were in a strange place. Their very public (and presumably expensive) fight against Ticketmaster appeared to sap the will from the band, and in addition they perhaps suffered more than any of the other grunge bands in their deviation from what their fans expected them to be. No Code was not a huge success, and wasn’t especially loved by the critics either, and when I listened to it again before writing this, it was the first time in many, many years that I’d dug it out. In my opinion, the passage of time hasn’t changed my view – this is a pedestrian album, that rarely steps up from navel-gazing lyrics and a sludgy, almost deliberately rough-edged sound that makes it difficult for many songs to stand out at all, and it quickly became clear why I usually skipped this album and went to others. Hail, Hail – about the only song that displays any semblance of energy – is the only one for me here that is worth going back to.
From a to b
Of all the albums I’ve featured on this series, there are few others that I have such vivid memories associated with than this. Octopus were a one-album wonder, signed to Food Records (the EMI offshoot that Blur were on at the time), and sadly never got the success and exposure that many lesser peers got at the time.
Anyway, this album was released at pretty much exactly the time that I moved to London for University, and it was pretty much the soundtrack to my life for the first few weeks, and it rather reflected my mood at the time. There were songs of sunny optimism (the glorious Your Smile, the infectious singalong of If You Want To Give Me More), bitter cynicism (the angular power-pop of Magazine), and bleak despair (King For a Day), and much more besides. That was a tough few weeks as I adjusted, and it didn’t get a great deal easier.
But this album, when I returned to it after a good many years, has held up surprisingly well. A punchy, bright mix helps enormously, and the horn section really help flesh out the sound, and unlike other releases of the time, doesn’t appear to have dated at all. Still my favourite song, after all these years, though, is the sweeping, glittering beauty of Adrenalina, a song that smoulders with summer love and desire.
Well before their debut album At The Club arrived the following year, Kenickie were making waves with a couple of exceptional singles/EPs. Come Out 2Nite – a glorious, two-minute powerpop blast about teenagers going out on the lash – topped the Peel Festive Fifty, while Punka was the follow-up – at number 4 in the same Festive Fifty! – and a marvellously bratty sneer at the hipsters and musical snobs of the time – the Lo-Fi fans. They were serious, snobbish and listened to obscure bands. Sound familiar? The irony, of course, here, was that a band barely out of their teens got more success than the targets of their ire in this song ever would.
Of course, lead singer Lauren Laverne became a BBC presenter, and the love of the band has continued to the point that there is now a (very good) tribute act in London called Kenickers…
Pink Girl With The Blues EP
The mid-nineties were a period where Curve effectively were on hiatus. The tepid reception to the heavier, industrial-tinged Cuckoo in 1993 seemed to knock them off their stride, and a follow-up album only came five years later, in 1998, with Come Clean, an album that led off with the brutal, thundering breakbeats of Chinese Burn, but broadly continued in the same vein and saw a much more enthusiastic audience. In between, one short EP broke the silence. The “A-side” was Pink Girl With The Blues, which took the industrial edges of Cuckoo and made them razor-edged – and is a clear precursor to Chinese Burn – but the “B-side” was the better song. Recovery was used in a soundtrack somewhere, which widened the appeal, I guess (and was subsequently on Come Clean, too), but the song is a smouldering electro-ballad, where Toni Halliday deals with the wreckage of a failed relationship, and starts to move forward, inch-by-inch.
In A Bar, Under The Sea
A band I’ve been listening to since sometime in 1994 – pretty much since they became a known quantity in the UK with the release of Suds & Soda – this second album came out just as I went to University, and was probably the one album of theirs that took me the longest to love. This is despite it containing some of their best-loved songs. Little Arithmetics and Roses in particular are eternal live favourites – any dEUS show will have people bellowing out requests for the latter especially, even though they almost always play it anyway! – while the slow-burning Gimme The Heat and Wake Me Up Before I Sleep are two of their most affecting ballads, but where things get more difficult are some of the, er, experimental moments. Fell Off The Floor, Man is a multi-faceted, chaotic jam session somehow fashioned into a song (complete with drunken snippets of conversations and life advice from Scott McCloud of Girls Against Boys), Theme From Turnpike is a wheezing Beefheartian tribute, and there are number of shorter, near-interlude tracks that seem like half-completed ideas. This might well have resulted from the upheaval the band went through at the time – both guitarist Rudy Trouvé and bassist Stef Kamil Carlens left the band before the album was complete – and by the time of The Ideal Crash a few years later, it was notable that the band had reined in their experimental edge considerably. But this album, in retrospect, was a whole lot better than maybe I thought at the time.
Of all of the bands that saw success during the Britpop boom, and got lumped in with the “scene” – whether they were or not – there were few that seemed to hate the success and attention that it brought more than The Boo Radleys. It’s no surprise, in retrospect – a critically respected, wildly inventive band had a freak hit that then hung ’round their necks like a millstone for the remainder of their career.
They had become critical darlings after the glorious stylistic collision of shoegaze-and-just-about-everything-else-going that was Giant Steps in 1993, and when they followed that album up with the single Wake Up! Boo in 1995, there were more than a few eyebrows raised, especially when it went to #9 in the charts, and the accompanying album went to #1. Martin Carr was vehement that his band was nothing to do with Britpop, but their success meant they were lumped in whether they liked it or not.
So, C’Mon Kids dropped at the end of summer 1996, and it was almost wilfully difficult. There were pop melodies – and great singles – hidden amid the album, but they were strangled by lengthy, meandering instrumental sections, great blasts of guitars, theremin solos, anything to scare the pop kids away. Needless to say, the album sold poorly in comparison, and the band eventually split in 1999.
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