I'm going to save you some time…there will be no mention of “Parklife” or “Definitely Maybe” here. That’s not because those albums didn’t mean something, or maybe even everything, to me in 1994 because they did. It’s not because they are not wonderful albums even a quarter of a century on, because they are…age has not withered them. I’m not trying to rewrite history or be “that'' kid in the corner of the common room who stopped listening to anyone and everyone as soon as they shifted from Peel to the charts, because I’m not that kid and I never really listened to John Peel. It’s just that here, now, they are not the records I listen to from 1994…I’ve moved on, even as I am looking back.
I was 21 in 1994…a year into my degree at the third rate university that had accepted me. I had only applied to be close to her and she had then accepted a place at an art school on the opposite side of the country. I was a young man trapped in an old boy's mind. I had shuffled off most of the Morrissey affectations that had defined my late adolescence…the hair was different, the clothes were different but I was still the same broken collection of insecurities and guilt I had always been.
Paisley was still very much defined by the worst of Thatcherism…a once vibrant town now home to large numbers of boys from broken homes and who had found identity in gangs and solace in the warm embrace of drugs. It didn’t pay to be different or look different, on more than one occasion I was hunted and hounded by boys in trackies with those sports socks pulled over the hem and a Berghaus jacket. I would make my way from Gilmour Street Station to the entrance to the university with glances over my shoulder that must have left passers by convinced I had a nervous tick.
At the same time I can’t remember a single day when the sun wasn’t shining. I know it must have rained. I know I must have needed a winter coat. But I don’t remember. Everything seemed possible even as I felt the grip of depression for the first time. Strange.
I bought so many records, I had disposable income by virtue of student loans, holiday shifts in McDonald’s and my abstinence from cigarettes and alcohol…and drugs. I was a monastic figure. The other boys had girlfriends, lots of them, and were experimenting with different drinks and different classes of drugs. Me? I had…the music.
Kristin Hersh - Hips and Makers
Thanks to my indier than thou schoolmate Dave I was familiar with Throwing Muses. I had copies of “Hunkpapa” and “The Real Ramona” on a C90 tape. I was obsessed, for a long time, with “Devil’s Roof” from the former. Something about Kristin Hersh’s voice made me feel…less alone. Not just what she was singing but the way she was singing. I had the impression, without knowing anything about her, that she was a bit like me…but with more talent. I could hear the crack and the break in her soul in her voice, and knew that she understood what it meant to be lonely in a room full of people.
I saw the video for “Your Ghost” on the Chart Show one Saturday morning…felt giddy at the presence of Michael Stipe and knew that I had to hear the rest of the album. When I did I was left gasping on the floor of my student digs.
“Between us is nothing but change”
“That cloud stomps around my house, does whatever it pleases, it teases me, what the Hell?” “Paper burns and my heart melts when I tear at you”
“I been on the mount transfiguration, been there with my ma and my pa”
“Sees Ann offshoot in his bottle when he wants to see me dead”
“I laugh til my heart drops down deep”
“Stop you ruined all my memories, you ruined all my memories”
“When I kiss the angel I have a taste of you”
I could go on and on.
A line from every song.
A word, a line, a note…that captured my mood, gathered up my pain, soothed the wounds in my soul.
I’ve seen people try to make the case for some songs by Oasis having more “meaning” than perhaps might present itself on first listen…I’m not saying those songs don’t have their charms, of course they do, but there are no songs, let alone moments from songs, in the canon of Oasis that have the grace, charm, power and poetry of what is unfolding here. I don’t mean to single Noel Gallagher out here, but this is 1994 and he looms large in the story of the year so it seems fair to mention him.
I know some people won’t like that but I can’t apologise. The truth must be defended or else we have nothing.
Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
She had a copy of “Slanted and Enchanted” on cassette. On Saturdays when she would leave for her weekend job at the local pharmacist and I was left alone in her parent’s massive house I would lie on her bed and listen to “Trigger Cut/Wounded-Kite At :17” over and over again.
By the time “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” arrived I had forgotten all about Pavement. Then I heard “Cut Your Hair” late one night on the radio and I was back on her single bed, the sun streaming in from the big window…holding her pillow in the absence of her body. I remembered the wonky delights and fell in love all over again.
There is a real argument to be made for “Cut Your Hair” as single of the year, it sounds so bright, so optimistic, so witty. It’s like the soul of Britpop bundled up in American alt-rock ’n roll. Lovely.
Divine Comedy - Promenade
A fop, a wit, a dandy, a flaneur.
The soul of the young Hannon was perfectly captured on “Promenade”. Slightly pompous and a lot pretentious this was the sort of literate, achingly intelligent, knowing and arrogant pop musing that Morrissey thought he was making but that he never did.
What happened next in the story of Divine Comedy was bigger, bolder and more successful but my heart belongs to “Promenade”. In my heart I am the narrator of “The Booklovers” slightly snooty, perfect diction and a library to make grown men weep lying at my fingertips…in reality I’m a dull, boorish and vulgar man. But I can dream, no?
Pulp - His ’n’ Hers
Ken Loach as pop opera. All human life is here. Sex, power, relationships, control, boys, girls, perversion, dark romance. It is difficult to imagine a better representation or encapsulation of life on the edges than this. It doesn’t have the raw power or class consciousness of the likes of Sleaford Mods but for a shy boy from a nowhere town and with no real understanding of the world of the bedroom this was more revolutionary than a thousand Momentum meetings could ever hope to be.
This was the moment, after years of toil, when Jarvis Cocker became the overnight success he was always destined to be. It didn’t put them on the main stage at Glastonbury, it didn’t sell as many copies as “Different Class” but this is the best album Pulp ever made and those who know, know I’m right.
Beastie Boys - Ill Communication
From the moment the Jeremy Steig sample from “Howlin’ For Judy” starts to the moment that the funk grooves of “Transition” this is one of the most complete, most controlled and most masterful albums in hip-hop.
A perfect fusion of sampling, soul, funk, punk attitude, sharp rhymes and even sharper beats.
People who had been watching and listening since 1986’s “Licensed to Ill”, who had thrilled at their naughty boy antics and who had then been startled by the great leap forward of “Paul’s Boutique” were now sure of something they had, up to now, only suspected…the Beastie Boys were the best band in the world right now.
Nobody else was as creative, as bold, as brash or as fantastic.
Pansy Division - Deflowered
He hasn’t included “Definitely Maybe” but he’s including this?
Yes my bucket hat wearing chum I am ignoring the oik and roll stars from Mancfester and am forcing you to read about Pansy Division.
I apologise for nothing.
The reason is simple…”Reciprocate”.
Arguably the greatest opening track on any album…ever.
“At the dinner table
You were vegetarian
But you smiled and said that you became
A carnivore in bed
But the evidence I’ve seen
Does nothing to support that claim…
All work and no joy
Means I’ll be chowing down on a different boy”
Well Toto, I don’t think we are in Burnage any more.
This changed my life when I heard it.
Out went the lazy, casual, homophobia of my working class upbringing and in came understanding and curiosity. Lovely.
Deee-Lite - Dewdrops in the Garden
“Groove is in the Heart” is, of course, one of the greatest singles in the history of popular music and anyone who disagrees probably owns about half a dozen different copies of “Definitely Maybe” and one of those guitar books that let very boring men learn how to play the chords to very boring songs by other very boring men.
Now that we have established that let me blow your minds further…”Dewdrops in the Garden” is an album full of songs even better than “Groove is in the Heart”. The sort of crafty, polished and carefully constructed pop music that only the very worst sorts of people don’t love.
Try this experiment…pop a link to this up on your Twitter profile and watch the replies. Every single person who makes a negative comment to it will have a dreadful haircut and be wearing a band t-shirt.
Portishead - Dummy
Despite those slightly mean, borderline aggressive, things I had to say about people who own more than one copy of “Definitely Maybe” I have to state, again, that it is an album I adore and cherish.
But…this month in 1994 I listened to “Dummy” more often.
Laying in bed at night, alone and filled with fear and anxiety about the future isn’t the time for feeling supersonic. It’s a time for feeling like someone else feels…numb?
The trip-hop moment was brief but it spawned three of the most incredible artists of the nineties in British pop music; Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack. A Holy Trinity of lyrical skill and musical craft.
“Dummy” is a widescreen, sonic soundscape, a soundtrack for the most grotesque and lonely nights that delivers more beauty than most of us will experience in our lives.
Veruca Salt - American Thighs
I saw Veruca Salt on the NME “Brats” Tour in 1995 along with Marion, Skunk Anansie and 60ft Dolls. Because I had convinced myself that I was actually living in 1965 and that anything American was some sort of threat to my own national “identity” (blame Select, blame Morrissey, blame my being a cock) I ignored them. That was a mistake. For many reasons. “American Thighs” is a wonderful album. More melodic, fragrant and thoughtful than any of the grunge big hitters it was littered with pop ’n’ rock ’n’ roll gems like “Seether” and “Celebrate You”. It was, clearly, drawing on very different influences than the bulk of what was going on in British pop at the time but it isn’t difficult to hear the connections between them, Skunk Anansie and Sleeper (at their most raucous).
Suede - Dog Man Star
How could it be anything else?
A grand, grande, operatic, gothic, manic, intimate, shocking, visceral, romantic, Romantic and surreal trip through the bleakest, darkest and most disturbing thoughts and experiences of…well, everyone who really “got” Suede. Outsiders. Drowners. Litter on the breeze. Insatiable ones. You get the idea.
Despite the countless attempts by people (including me) to try and make a case for Suede as part of Britpop the truth is that they were something else entirely. They had nothing in common with Northern Uproar, Oasis, Paul Weller, Ocean Colour Scene, Blur…they were, resolutely, violently, their own thing. Certainly “Dog Man Star” can only be viewed as a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and not a mere pop record.
Better than any other album this illustrates the clear divide in “Britpop” between those who celebrated the notion that the cultural heartland had been occupied by alien forces and those who just wanted to live out some Mod revival live action role play.
TLC - CrazySexyCool
That it includes the two best singles of the decade (“Creep” and “Waterfalls”) is only part of the story. This is the sort of dementedly creative and achingly cool music that people with “that” haircut think their favourite bands are making and that, maybe, the bands themselves think they are making because they get someone to snap a pair of scissors half-way through the chorus.
Funk, soul, hip-hop, R ’n’ B and so much more is all in the melting pot here.
The vocals are so on point that they become THE point. The lyrics are simple, gloriously so, and yet reveal universal truths about love, relationships and life itself. T-Boz, Left Eye (God rest her soul) and Crystal are part of a long, glorious, line of girl groups that includes the likes of the Supremes and the Vandellas. Arguably only The Spice Girls came close to them…and even they were miles behind.
The Stone Roses - The Second Coming
Take a five year hiatus, a pinch of record company legal wrangling, add a hint of bitterness, throw in industrial quantities of cocaine and then far too many hours spent listening to Led Zeppelin before placing in the oven for about 45 revolutions per minute and you have…an album that you really wanted to be incredible but that, if you are being honest with yourself, is a bit stale.
“The Second Coming” isn’t a bad album and had anyone other than The Stone Roses released it then it would probably be thought of much more fondly. The problem was the first album…one of the few that regularly crops up in those “Greatest Albums in the World Ever, Ever, Ever” in Mojo that actually deserves its place. Following that was always going to be tough. The wait just heightened the expectation and, inevitably, it couldn’t live up to that.
But there are wonderful moments here like “Ten Storey Love Song”, “Your Star Will Shine” and “How Do You Sleep” that, along with the big comeback single “Love Spreads” make it a thrilling listen today.
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