Tied to the Nineties - 1992
By Paul Laird - follow @mildmanneredmax
When 1992 began I was living in a bedsit in Bury St. Edmunds with an American called Gavin Grow. I didn’t call him Gavin, I called him “Elder”. I was a few weeks into my missionary service for the Mormon Church and things like calling people by their name, being near to my family, having the freedom to call home whenever I wanted and enjoying music other than hymns had been taken from me by, well, God?
I spent hours and hours trudging around the streets of that town. Knocking on door after door.
“Hi, I’m Elder Laird and this is Elder Grow. We are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and we are…” and then the door would slam shut. I had spent Christmas of 1991 in the same miserable position and, less than one full month into a two year commitment, I was beginning to regret my decision to serve God.
Soon I was moved out of Bury St Edmunds and on to Grays in Essex where my new companion was a German boy called “Elder” Bumba. We shared a flat with two other missionaries. It was like living in a frat house but without any alcohol to numb the pain of enduring post-adolescent American “Jockhood”. Then to a place called Wickham Market with a faceless American who’s name I can’t remember. Great Yarmouth too. Shepherd’s Bush in London. Somewhere else.
By the end of summer I had had enough and I was on a train heading back to Edinburgh. Free at last.
Free at last.
What had I missed?
And what music it was that I had missed…
Madchester was, officially over, and the sonic flower groove of the second summer of love had been replaced by something much more introspective and downbeat; shoegaze. A blend of grand Gothic romance, the dream pop of the likes of the Cocteau Twins and all delivered from behind fringes heavier than the collected works of Dostoevsky. It wasn’t exactly a scene that burned brightly but it did have flashes of musical luminescence. The brightest of all the stars in this dim sky were Lush.
With a winsome wonder they suggested that behind the murk and in the moments following the gloaming there could be found the bright burst of pure pop. They owed as much to the likes of The Primitives and their garage pop ’n’ roll as they did to the post-punk of Joy Division. In a few years time they would become genuine pop stars with 1996’s “Lovelife” but this is the record where I fell in love with their vision of life.
Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85-92”
What were you doing when you were 13 or 14?
Playing football in the park?
Kissing boys behind the bike sheds?
Dreaming of being a pop star?
Not Richard James.
He was making the sort of music that would define an era.
Some of the music on “Selected Ambient Works…” really does come from those early years of adolescence. They are grand, sweeping, orchestral, disorientating…like the score for a David Lynch film. Or Darren Aronofsky’s “Pi”. This was dance music…but it wasn’t S-Express or M.A.R.R.S which, at this point in time, was all I knew about dance, other than the smiley face and the phrase “ACEEEEEED”.
My friend, Chris, despite his willingness to go along with my indie boy/Mod pretensions was always more experimental than me and it was him who introduced me to Aphex Twin shortly after I returned home from my mission. It twisted my melons in a way that nothing else ever had. I was opened up to a world where music didn’t have to sound like the music I already listened to and I cannot even begin to express how very grateful to Richard James I am for that.
Ride “Going Blank Again”
I guess so but only because I’m a fool who feels a need to pop everything into little boxes.
Like Lush, Ride were actually much bigger than any NME created scene or industry hype. With a bona fide guitar genius in the shape of Andy Bell (please listen to his “The View From Halfway Down” for all the evidence you need) and with a frontman who was so beautiful and charismatic that it used to make me feel physically ill every time I looked at him Ride should have been the biggest band in the world.
“Going Blank Again” is the sort of album that deserves to sit comfortably alongside the supposed big boys of the nineties. As a debut it can hold it’s own with anything else released in British music in the nineties.
Annie Lennox “Diva”
If you don’t know why this has to be on any list of the most important or beautiful albums of this, or any, year then I really don’t know if I can help you.
Annie Lennox is an icon. Just watch her performance alongside Bowie at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert for all the evidence you need for that. A better singer than Madonna, more creative than Gaga…and she has retained a humility and a compassion that eludes so many who enjoy the sort of success that she has.
I’ve not even touched on The Tourists or Eurythmics.
“Diva” may bring forth your most outrageous slings and arrows of vitriol because, through no fault of her own, Lennox was a near ever present on the best British female artist list at the Brits for about 37 years…regardless of whether or not she had released any music. I exaggerate but it is
true that she certainly seemed to be judged much more harshly than many of her supposed peers. Curious because she has more talent in her eyebrows than almost any other British female artist…or any other British artist.
This is a testimony of her flawless vocal, her ability to connect with the listener no matter the distance between them, her soul and her ability to spin gold from the most base of materials at times.
If you’re notion of a genius is limited to men with terrible hair, worse clothes and a guitar then you won’t ever get it. For those of us with a soul and a willingness to look beyond what those endlessly tedious “Greatest albums of all time ever, ever, ever…” tell us “Diva” is what great music really sounds like; light, soulful, heartbreaking, polished and pure.
Spiritualized “Lazer Guided Melodies”
Janine had a Spiritualized badge on her school bag.
She had been a peripheral figure in the sixth year common room back in 1991 before I left to do God’s work. On my return we had bumped into one another on the dance floor of Jackie O’s (I’m not joking) in Kirkcaldy on a damp Thursday evening during the “indie” disco. The badge was still there and I still had no idea who, or what, a Spiritualized was. I did what I always did when a pretty girl was involved, I faked it.
Faking it only gets you so far for so long and so I had to buy the album.
Thank you Janine.
For giving me the second or third broken heart of my young life and for introducing me to a band who, even at that point, were stretching themselves and so their listeners. Delicate songs of love, devotion, pain and heartache. The perfect soundtrack to the emotional storm that you plunged me into the centre of.
She won’t even remember me.
I’ll never forget her.
Or the wonder of “Lazer Guided Melodies”.
PJ Harvey “Dry”
“Look at these, my child bearing hips…”
That was all it took.
Maybe it was on John Peel?
Just that one line was enough to convince me that Polly was going to be someone I could invest in. Someone deserving of the love and loyalty that is reserved for those artists who will be with you for the darkest hours, who will shine a spotlight on your faults and failings, who will educate you and who will improve you as they themselves improve.
With “Dry” PJ Harvey laid everything out in front of us from the get go in a way that, truly, only Patti Smith had managed before with “Horses”. This was the sound of an artist free from the baggage of inconsequential fluff like genre, fashion or a desire to sell records…this was art for arts sake.
She has never changed…despite never staying the same.
Morrissey “Your Arsenal”
For all the fawning and liberal use of the word “genius” that has followed Morrissey as a solo artist the truth is that he hasn’t ever released an album that is without flaw. “Viva Hate” had the utterly risible “Bengali in Platforms”, “Kill Uncle” sounded like it had been recorded in my toilet and contained the line “Your boyfriend he, got down on one knee, well could it be, he’s only got one knee”, “Vauxhall and I” (arguably his finest moment” had turkeys like “Used to be a Sweet Boy” and on and on it has gone. Quality control has never been his strong point.
“Your Arsenal” is as close to a truly great Morrissey album as we are likely to get. At this point in time he was still my personal Jesus.
He was everything.
It is still, nearly thirty years on, a great album, full of wonderful glam rock thump and indie stomp. It broke him in the USA and made him a genuine star there. With production duties being taken by former Spider from Mars, Mick Ronson and with his gaggle of rockabilly scamps revealing that they could, in fact, write pop hits (particularly Alain Whyte) this is a bruiser of an album.
The Flaming Lips “Hit to Death in the Future Head”
And yet it is impossible to label or categorise what The Flaming Lips were doing…nothing has changed. You know an album is going to be good when it starts with a song with a title like “Talkin’ ‘Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants to Live Forever)”. It sounds like it might be a comedy song (yuk) but then you read it again (even before you’ve listened) and it reveals itself to be something else entirely; a surrealist poem, a Bunuel film in song title form and a glorious contrast between hope and hopelessness in just 12 words.
That, darling hearts, is a pretty nifty trick.
Suzanne Vega “99.9F”
A fourth album from one of the finest singer-songwriters to emerge in the eighties. After the stresses of “Days of Open Hand” in 1990 and with the feeling that she was trapped by the industry she decided to make the record she wanted to make…to do things a little differently. That meant a more experimental sound and the result was a number one single in the US with “Blood Makes Noise” and a fourth top twenty album in the UK.
Vega is another artist who deserves much more attention and credit than she receives. She is a fine writer, has a wonderful and distinct voice and isn’t afraid to take chances with her sound.
R.E.M “Automatic for the People”
As close to perfection as any band in pop music history has ever gotten.
It’s that simple.
Save me your terrible and terrifying noises about “Pet Sounds” or whatever Beatles album you think Noel Gallagher loves most, nothing comes close to the sheer beauty and poetry of “Automatic for the People”.
It is possible to make an argument about this not even being R.E.M’s best album (I’ll hear you on “Green”, “Fables…”, “Document” and “Murmur”) but in terms of its impact on the wider public, its ability to apply the soothing balm of Gilead to every wound, the control and artistry of it…nothing comes close.
When the day is long and the night is yours alone, there is only one record to hold onto. This year I have been sure, on more occasions than I care to list here, that I have had E-NOUGH. I’ve cried.
Not sometimes, all of the time…at least some of the time.
Everything has felt wrong…
You see where I am going.
God bless them for this.
Denim “Back in Denim”
And so the story begins.
While “Popscene” by Blur may have been the starting pistol for Britpop for many casual observers the truth is that the seed was planted by the likes of Saint Etienne with their “Foxbase Alpha” and by this nugget of glam rock, British pop from Felt legend, Lawrence.
Everything about it, from the astonishing artwork to the swagger and thump of anthems like “Back in Denim” and “Middle of the Road” serve as a blueprint for everyone from Thurman to Oasis and nearly everything in-between.
It is the one Britpop album that you don’t own that you should…but you won’t, I can’t do anything about that.
Those of us what know…know. And we are right.
Whisper it but despite my protestations there are a great many moments from Nirvana that I just can’t get enough of. I fought against them from the moment I saw the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I will never be able to forgive the hair and the clobber but when I heard their cover of “Molly’s Lips” by The Vaselines I knew that, despite it all, we were kindred spirits and that I could, after all, love them.
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