Tied to the Nineties - 1993
By Paul Laird - @mildmanneredmax
Farewell to adolescence.
Farewell and thank God.
My teenage years were not what one could call a success and after calling time on my missionary efforts on behalf of the Mormon Church in 1992 I found myself rootless, shiftless and hopeless as 1993 started. I was approaching the end of my teens and twenty sounded terrifyingly…real. I was going to be starting at University and, incredibly, I was in a relationship. A relationship. Me. With a real person.
The object of my affection was a girl with a Frank Sidebottom obsession and the sort of artistic bent that made her seem, in my humdrum life, a creature of near exotic status. Taller than me, cooler than me and, if I must be honest, too good for me. This was love and lust and goodness knows what else thrown into the mix. I accepted a place at a University that would put me within a 6 minute train journey from her front door…and then she accepted a place at art school on the opposite side of the country.
Here I was then, a doomed romantic and a hopeless soul. What, or who, could save me…from myself?
“Dusk” The The
“In our lives we hunger, for those we cannot touch”
I had taken up residence in my girlfriend’s parents home. I was sleeping in what had been her older brother’s bedroom. I was in my first year of university. I was miles away from home. I was lonely. I was scared that I had made the wrong choices in life. I would catch the train to Paisley in the morning, go to my lectures, go to the library and then go to Stereo One to buy records. My Mormonism meant I didn’t smoke, drink or take drugs and so, unlike so many of my peers, I had plenty of disposable income.
Throughout 1993, despite everything that came after this point, I listened to “Dusk” more than any other album. Always at night. I would pull the curtains, turn off the light, press play and crawl into bed. Hungering for the touch of…anyone.
It is the perfect companion for those who sleep alone.
“New Wave” The Auteurs
Here is how the story goes. Luke Haines hears about a musician he knows being booked to play on an album with Gene. Luke doesn’t really care for Gene. Luke pays the musician not to play on that album with Gene.
Is it true?
I really want it to be.
Not because I don’t adore Gene, because I really do, but because I like pop stars to have a bit of bite. I don’t need it in everyone I am invested in. I like that lots of the musicians I have got to know are really lovely. I’m sure Luke Haines is really lovely. But the world needs “edge” and in Haines we get that.
Anyway, “New Wave” is the sort of literate, intelligent, careful and fabulous pop as art music that Britpop seemed to be offering before the label was created and before blokes in parkas sporting
Paul Weller inspired haircuts ruined things.
I don’t know what to tell you.
I’ll tell you this…
I had met Stan and Heather outside of the Caird Hall in Dundee on the 15th May, 1991. We were there to see Morrissey on his first solo tour. We didn’t know each other before that point, they lived in East Grinstead, the home of Scientology in the UK as well as, at that point, the only Mormon temple in the country…a place I knew well.
We bonded over our shared love of the Mozfather. Became pen pals. Ah, writing letters…on paper, with a pen. The joy of the past, the dangers of nostalgia.
A few months later they returned to Scotland to visit. Heather was a dangerous presence. American, a Goth, sexually adventurous and, to my innocent eyes, possessed of a wild and free spirit that could only spell an eternity in Hell. Don’t judge me. Religion does curious things to the adolescent mind.
Heather was full of evangelical fervour for a new band. This was unusual because people like Stan and I were only really interested in Morrissey. Heather though was unafraid to expand her horizons and she was convinced that she had discovered, uncovered, a band worthy of her attentions. They were called Suede she told us…and they were great.
She was right.
Thankfully I had listened to her and when the first rumblings about the best new band in Britain began in the media I was one step ahead. I fell head over heels for Suede. Adored them from the first. Love them to the last.
When “Suede” arrived I was at University and I can still see myself listening to it for the first time. Sat on the sofa of my then girlfriend’s parent’s home in Johnstone, just outside of Paisley. The sun bursting through the huge windows of the sitting room. Huddled together with the inner sleeve clasped between us so that we could pore over the lyrics as each song revealed itself.
I doubt that I will ever feel that way again…the excitement, the thrill, the joy of it all. I’m not sad about that, I’m glad I experienced it then.
“The Infotainment Scam” The Fall
Through it all are The Fall.
Always ploughing their own furrow, beating their own path, dancing to a different drum.
I remember laughing at “The League of Bald Headed Men” as I tugged my follicles into this style and that. I’m not laughing now. The cover version of “Lost in Music” takes a disco classic and turns it into something thrillingly familiar and still funky…but, at the same time, it becomes something maudlin and terrifying. That might just be the entire Fall story in one sentence.
“Modern Life is Rubbish” Blur
There are voices who will try and convince you that it’s “Parklife” or “Blur” or, God help us, “The Great Escape” but the truth of the matter is that THE Blur album is, and always will be, “Modern Life is Rubbish”.
For those of us who were there at the time…and I mean really there, not sort of there and now trying to rewrite history…”Modern Life is Rubbish” changed everything. From the first moment we saw those “British Image #1” images to the instant that we put “For Tomorrow” onto the turntable we were different in every way. Clothes, records, attitudes…all were reshaped and reconfigured by this one album.
It sits alongside anything by The Kinks, The Jam, The Specials, The Smiths as one of the great English albums and marks the moment when Blur became one of the great English bands in their own right.
“Gold Against the Soul” Manic Street Preachers
Following on from 1992’s “Generation Terrorists” which they had loudly proclaimed would be their first and last album came “Gold Against the Soul” and, in an instant, anyone who had dismissed them as bigmouths ready to strike again and again but with nothing to say and no real means of saying it were forced to accept that in the Manic Street Preachers we were dealing with something very special.
Roaring anthems of despair and introspection.
Deeply intimate and, simultaneously, universal.
Suffering, fear, pain, anxiety, upset and revolutionary fervour all clammer, clamber, for space over just ten songs. You could write books about some of the subjects covered by the Manics here… they manage to say everything about them in less time than is available on one side of a C-90 cassette.
This was the moment when I gave in and gave myself over to them. Their are tourists in the world of the Manics…people who get their kicks from those photographs of Richey proving that he was 4-real or who think that listening to “The Holy Bible” means they understand what it is like to suffer while they sit on their DfS sofa, crack open a craft ale and watch “The Queens Gambit” on Netflix with their Stepford wife sat beside them checking her Instagram. Fine. But for others albums like “Gold Against the Soul” are the sounds of something deep within us, something that is broken, jagged and painful…hearing that we are not alone is the only solace we can find sometimes.
“She’s a bit weird” say the boys who don’t like weird things or weird people…certainly not in their music. They like the same music over and over and over. They try to hide that by loudly braying about a great “new” band…who sound exactly like all the other bands they like.
Bjork isn’t for those boys.
Bjork is for people who want art, creativity, eccentricity, experimentation and madness in their music.
Bjork is for people who want new music to sound…new.
“Debut” was a manifesto etched in vinyl, this was Bjork laying it all out for us. This was what we could expect from her…the unexpected. Songs recorded in the toilets of a bar, house music beats, trip-hop musings and everything else that she felt. That is what lies at the heart of “Debut”…feeling.
“Giant Steps” The Boo Radleys
One of the great lost albums of the nineties.
Quite why is a mystery.
It is, in every way, the superior album in comparison to “Wake Up!”, no matter what the sales figures might tell you. Maybe it was just too…much? Too long, too out of step with grunge and shoegaze and those early Britpop moments? Maybe by 1993 something as delicate and wonderful as “Wish I Was Skinny” couldn’t find a place to call home?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that a more ambitious, more careful and more beautiful album you would struggle to find from a British band in the nineties.
“Wild Wood” Paul Weller
A lot of people really hate Paul Weller.
They understand The Jam and they, quite often, really dig the new breed of The Style Council but when it comes to his solo output they rush to words and phrases like “moribund”, “dull”, “dad rock” and a whole heap of other less than positive terms. I know because I have used all of those when discussing the Modfather myself. In large part this is an attempt to provide balance to those men who have decided that he is more than mere mortal. The rabid, evangelical, fundamentalist members of the Wellend tribe are every bit as bad as those tragic souls who have bent themselves out of shape trying to find ways to defend late period Morrissey.
Guys…he’s just a bloke with a guitar.
Honestly, that’s as far as it goes.
This is the one moment in the Weller solo era where he really reached the sorts of heights that his most devout followers shower on M.O.R gubbins like “Heavy Soul” and, whisper this one, “Stanley Road”. This is his finest moment.
“Pussy Whipped” Bikini Kill
While Britpop may well have been the cultural movement that defined, for good and for ill, the nineties the truly revolutionary moments were provided by hip-hope and riot grrrrrl. At the forefront of the latter was Kathleen Hanna who, with Bikini Kill, provided the sort of riotous, angry, strident and meaningful musical manifesto that was beyond the reach of any of the Britpop boys.
“When she talks, I hear the revolution
In her hips, there’s revolution
When she walks, the revolution’s coming
In her kiss, I taste revolution…”
This is a world away from “…to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for” which was the most political statement anyone could provide me from the Oasis canon recently. Now, before anyone gets their underwear all twisted…great pop music doesn’t have to be a political manifesto, not every band has to be attempting to tear down the patriarchy or be setting the Communist Manifesto to a 4/4 beat but don’t try and give meaning to the meaningless or, worse, denigrate the genuinely meaningFULL because the people creating it don’t have a copy of “Rubber Soul” playing on a loop in their heads.
Kathleen Hanna is an inspiration for something more than a haircut.
“Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” Wu-Tang Clan
Speaking of revolution.
Some of you may find what I am about to say unbelievable but it’s true…there are people who don’t get this album. They say things like “It doesn’t say anything about my life”…to which the only correct response is to feel great pity for a life lived without poetry or political activity.
The force of the lyrics here and the power of the delivery is astonishing. Even now, almost thirty years on, it leaves me breathless. Angry, powerful, hilarious, righteous and boundary pushing this is a landmark moment in hip hop.
You can bet your bottom dollar that all of the people who were making the most interesting music during the Britpop era were listening to this album…it is impossible to listen to anything that Damon Albarn, for example, has done post-Britpop and not hear the influence of the Clan.
“Lethal Injection” Ice Cube
There are problems here, of course, with some of the lyrical content…but, as ever, context is everything. Gangsta rap isn’t progressive, it is reflective…a mirror to the lives and communities that spawned it. This is a documentary film in musical form.
Despite those controversies the album is a master class in rhymes, beats and delivery and is a much smoother ride than many other gangsta rap albums. I’m not enough of an expert, or any kind of expert, to offer any detailed analysis of the genre but what I can do is submit this strong, creative, black voice as one of the best albums of the year.
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