Not long after the release of his band’s first hit single Damon Albarn told journalists that Blur’s third album would be the record that defined the 90s. Of course no one, not even the band’s biggest champions, took him very seriously. Blur’s southern take on Madchester already seemed passe – blown away by an awful racket coming out of the US’s north west.
Nevertheless, in spite of everything, in 1994 Blur issued Parklife the album that more or less patented Brit Pop and if it wasn’t the decade’s best pop album it may well have been its most influential.
Of course third albums are notoriously tricky. You know the story. The band put all the best tunes from their early days on the first album and stick the odds and sods on the second. But the third – that’s when the band needs to show some serious song writing ability or get off the bus. And history is littered with groups whose third albums exposed their weaknesses and saw them implode.
But not always. There are many great third albums from bands who, in the face of overwhelming odds, managed to reinvent themselves and create something that delivered on their initial promise. Like The Jam, who responded to the lukewarm reception afforded Modern World with mini mod masterpiece, All Mod Cons.
So I asked Facebook pals to come up with totally unexpected third albums from bands who pretty much looked as if their career was heading for the ‘where are they now?’ file. Here are ten of them.
1 Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend. If you listen to his first two electro pop-ish records there is absolutely no inkling as to the Neil Young/Big Star influenced monster power pop album Girlfriend that Sweet would issue in 1991. An early contender for album of the decade if you like a bit of jangly guitar and harmonies.
2 The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps – Two albums of fairly uninspired landfill shoegaze and then csme the aptly titled Giant Steps. Like The Beatles’ White Album, if the Fabs had heard a few Leery Perry records that is. Still IMO their finest work.
3 Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque – Save for a good single or two the Fannies had very little track record when Bandwagonesque, with its lethal cocktail of Big Star dynamics and Status Quo riffs came flying out of the blocks in 1991. Neither A Catholic Education nor The King are worth playing more than once, but the Fannies third is still probably their finest forty minutes.
4 The 13th Floor Elevators – Bull of the Woods With the resident genius, Roky Erickson, going off the rails and jug playing supremo Tommy Hall off doing other things it looked as though Texas’ finest psych combo would be all washed up. But Stacey Sutherland stepped bravely forward to complement Roky Erickson’s stellar tunes with a few crackers of his own. Bull Of the Woods might lack the other worldliness of the band’s first two albums but still has many fine, if slightly odd songs including my outside bet for their career high – Dear Dr Doom. It remains hugely influential, as anyone who has heard the new Woods album can attest.
5 Squeeze – Argy Bargy – A couple of albums in and it looked as if Squeeze were running out of ideas. Yet on Argy Bargy they not only delivered their most realised version of south east London geezer pop (with a sensitive side) but in Pulling Mussels, quite possibly their best ever tune.
6 Morrissey – Your Arsenal – I know it is a slightly revisionist view but I always thought that bar a couple of quality singles by 1992 Morrissey’s solo career hadn’t amounted to very much. That was until his third Mick Ronson produced glam monster Your Arsenal. Five, count ‘em, corking singles, National front Disco, some genius ballads and a whole lot more re-energised Moz and paved the way for the career highlight, Vauxhall and I, which would follow two years later.
7 The National – Alligator – They might have issued a solid debut and a reasonable follow up but come on, absolutely no one predicted quite how good Alligator was going to be did they?
8 Love – Forever Changes – There are hints of the brilliance of the band’s genre-bending classic Forever Changes album on their 2nd opus, Da Capo, but really only hints. Forever Changes raised the bar so high that they were never anywhere near that good again.
9 The Lilac Time – So two albums of quirky, but pretty throw away electro pop and what does Stephen Duffy do? Pops off to the countryside and channels Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel on a marvellous slice of folk pop. The most genius musical reinvention since the Spinals went progressive jazz.
10 The Len Price -Pictures – Sure the Medway trio’s first two albums contained many great garagegy beat pop tunes, but I don’t think even their most hard-core fans could have predicted quite how superb Pictures was going to be. Possibly the best garage punk album of the decade so far.
Some rather wonderful news from across the pond. Merge Records has announced that it is to reissue The Clientele’s 2000 debut singles collection, Suburban Light. The new set, which will be available in 2xCD and 1xLP/1xCD includes covers (The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s Tracey Has A Hard Day Sunday), B-sides, and three unreleased tracks.
Pitchfork says the music has been restored from original analogue tapes, and cleaned up to sound “warmer and a bit less like a batch of demos.”
Wow. I have always rated Suburban Light has one of the best albums of the last 20 or so years. The band seemed to have nailed that English autumn afternoon vibe perfectly with their reverby guitars and soft vocals. Also I can’t really think of anyone else how has taken an essentially American musical template – mid period Byrds – and yet made it sound so quintessentially English.
If there was ever a musical dictionary We Could Walk Together would clearly be the choice for the word wistful.
There’s no news of any UK shows or even a hint of a follow up to the superb mini album Minotaur.
Details of the tracks below.
01 I Had to Say This
03 Reflections After Jane
04 We Could Walk Together
05 Monday’s Rain
06 Joseph Cornell
07 An Hour Before the Light
08 (I Want You) More Than Ever
10 Five Day Morning
12 As Night Is Falling
14 Sarah’s Prelude *
15 6am Morningside (7″ previously released in Spain by Elefant Records, February 2000)
16 What Goes Up (7″ previously released in UK by Pointy Records, June 1998)
17 From a Window (Previously released by Merge on U.S. version of Suburban Light, 2001)
18 Driving South (Previously released in U.S. by Merge on Fading Summer EP, 2001)
19 Porcelain (Portastudio version) (7″ previously released in U.S. by Slumberland, 2001)
20 May Has Brought a Change in You *
21 Monday’s Rain (Portastudio version) *
22 Tracey Had a Hard Day Sunday (Previously released in UK by Earworm Records, 2001)
23 Six Foot Drop (7″ Previously released in U.S. by Drive in Records, 2001)
* Previously unreleased
Darren Hayman and Emma Kupa have certainly chalked up some great records in their time. Him with Hefner in the 90s and then with a very impressive solo career (I am a massive fan of his Essex trilogy), and her with the excellent but unfortunately named Standard Fare.
The pair have teamed up to produce a rather lovely new single which may yet go on to spawn a whole album of duets. It is of course standard journalistic practice to compare any male/female duet with lyrics about a dysfunctional couple to Nancy and Lee, and I wouldn’t want to deviate from that, but Boy Look At What You Can’t Have Now does also have a sunny late 90s indie feel about it as well as recalling the 60s coolest duo.
Looking at the video I guess this was recorded last summer, so it seems odd that they have taken so long to get it out. Then again Darren has been busy as part of the Gare Du Nord Records wrecking crew which includes the excellent Ralegh Long as well as John Howard, who has a very good new album out.
It comes on lovely red vinyl and is available here for a fiver.
The new album from The Len Price 3, Nobody Knows, has a great deal to live up to. The LP3’s last album Pictures not only contained a barrage of killer punky pop tunes but no one who entered my home during the month following its release got away without hearing at least a snatch or two of it.
Well the good news is that the trio may have meddled slightly with the template, but not too much and Nobody Knows is still prime Who/Jam style power pop – with a nod or two to the band’s Medway heritage. If anything this time round the melodies are sweeter and the words more barbed. Take Lonely, a jaunty Hollies-esque tune about a thoroughly nasty person, or Couldn’t Get Much Worse, an utterly depressing lyric wrapped in sugary sweet harmonies and jangly guitars.
Speaking of lyrics, main man Glen Page is a class A storyteller too. My Grandad Jim recounts war time heroics over a vicious garage pop tune while the Weller-influenced Billy Mason relates another wartime tale this time of a family friend who built an aircraft in his house. Put simply no one else on the planet is penning lyrics like these at the moment.
And best of all is the finale – the live favourite London Institute, a genius slice of Who style art pop – complete with a thirty second psychedelic interlude and the strangest dreamlike lyrics – which may well be be the best thing they have ever recorded.
This might not quite match the staggering Pictures album, but it runs it very very close. Let’s hope that the band don’t leave it so long next time.
The Smiths were never afraid to shout out about their influences. Whether it be Rita Tushingham on the record sleeve or Johnny Marr bigging up The Byrds the band always gave credit to the artistic pioneers who had inspired them.
So far though I have never ever found a name check from either of the duo for Peep Show, so maybe it is time they came clean.
Exhibit 1 is What A Funny Name which heralds from the sessions the English band recorded in the late 60s. It sounds uncannily like the Manc band who would follow a decade and a half or so later because…
1 What A Funny Name – it sounds like a Morrissey title
2 Its obsession with fat girls would be revisited on several occasions by Morrissey from William It Was Really Nothing to Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others
3 That Girlfriend In A Coma-esque circular guitar sound.
4 But most of all the unusual vocal phrasing is soooo Morrissey.
The band’s only single was also a track called Your Servant Stephen which if there was ever a composite Smiths title it would be a contender.
The odd thing, is that the tracks were never issued in the 60s but only came to light in the late 90s on a limited edition reissue.
You can hear both tracks, plus the excellent psych of Mazy and lots of other Kinksy style strum alongs on Spotify now here.
Uncanny isn’t it!?
I think anyone who loves psychedelic music needs to doff their cap in the direction of Nathan ‘The Active Listener’ Ford, a fella who is doing sterling work at the moment.
For as well as running the well, second best music blog on the planet (coughs) he has also set up a virtual music label which is issuing albums via his Bandcamp page.
The standard of the nine releases have so far been incredibly high with PJ faves Beaulieu Porch and The Shadow Folk among them. Possibly the best so far is a new to me, but originally recorded a few years ago, album from a group of psychedelic electronic experimentalists called White Candles.
Pretty much all I can glean from their bio is that they have a shared love of bands like The United States of America and White Noise and of course the good old BBC Radiophonic Workshop, they come from Philadelphia and they have either had serious runs in with religious cults or more likely possess a bizarre sense of humour.
Either way the EP they recorded a few years back has been reissued to a possibly much wider audience via The Active Listener label and it really does deserve to grab them many new fans.
For although the albums is is festooned with analogue synths and oddball effects as you’d expect from a band who describes themselves as a Radiophonic Space Pop Band, they also have a keen ear for Beatles-esque melody. Listen to Tire-moi Des Mes Reves. It is a dreamy as its title and in spite of its moniker is sung in English. Not only does it have stunning melody its fade out will stick in your head for days too. My other favourite is the EP’s finale Behold The Abstract Eye which adds a quirky drum beat and hand claps to all manner of analogue synth shenanigans. Then after about a minute or so goes all prog rock with a series of ever so slightly bizarre keyboard interludes. There’s a solid tune lurking in there too. They kind of remind me of this intriguing lot too.
So make sure you keep tables The Active Listener’s Bandcamp page and download this – a great way to spend $5.
And Nathan – can we have the vinyl label next?
You have to love the Gare Du Nord Records label mates for the way in which they morph into a kind of wrecking crew for the 2010s. The gang, which includes Stow’s finest folky troubadour Darren Hayman and Austrian legendary power popper Rotifer, gig together, play on each other’s records and quite possibly live in an amazing Monkees style house.
And also a big part of the crew is Ralegh Long, whose gorgeous piano based songs first came to my attention late summer last year.
Ralegh’s debut album should be due sometime this year so to keep up to speed with what he is doing sign up for his newsletter here. And if you do he is throwing in a rather splendid live five track EP download that he recorded at a gig with the rest of the Gare Du Nord crew earlier this year. It contains the brilliant No Use and the equally wonderful Ed Harcourt-esque All The Leaves Are Gone.