Stuff And Wonder – Vent 414 And A Slug Of Memory
Pulling wires from the wall, pulling records from the shelves. Because there’s an implicit attraction to lost vinyl. Discs purchased, or shoplifted, or permanently borrowed from missing lovers in that hinterland of long ago… and subsequently secreted in the album pile that’s the equivalent of somewhere rarely visited – out by the bins, if you prefer.
And as paradoxical as this may sound – this courtesy of the keyboard of an unabashed music snob – it almost doesn’t matter how good said record actually sounds once recalled from exile and planted on the turntable. Because even the most dated and irrelevant juxtaposition of there + then versus jaded modernity carries at its apex those strands of nostalgia that help to define music fandom. Those gigs we attended, those soundscapes we experienced, and (very probably) that whole ugly heap of unrequited love that’s somehow grown bitter-sweet in the intervening.
Below the words: ‘Life Before You’ by Vent 414. I genuinely haven’t listened to this for at least a decade – probably longer – and was only reminded thanks to this post by Music Insanity, revisiting The Wonder Stuff’s début album The Eight Legged Groove Machine. There’s a wee bit of embarrassment to admitting that, at the time – say the period ’88 to ’91 – the Stuffies were a particularly favourite of mine – particularly 1989’s HUP, with its seam of darkness that ‘back in the day’ felt almost edgy in texture.
I say embarrassed because any allure their back catalogue once held dissipated rapidly once more nuanced fayre became the default listening mode – to the extent that these days I inwardly wince a little whenever I happen across a Wonder Stuff track (Mrs LGM is insistent that she occasionally hears ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ or ‘Who Wants To Be The Disco King?’ echoing from the stereo at 3am when she’s crashed and I’m fucked out of my face on cheap gin – but I don’t believe her).
But back to Vent 414. Mark 1 of The Wonder Stuff split in 1994, after which singer/songwriter/professional loud-mouth Miles Hunt took a brief sabbatical presenting for MTV*, before forming V414 – originally roping in Billy Duffy on guitar, but quickly reverting to a three-piece. The eponymous (and only) album sold next to nothing, not helped by record label indifference, and whilst it shares The Wonder Stuff’s propensity for sounding dated, it was a very different sound to the fiddle-driven, pseudo-indie that the predecessor band became. Any edginess underpinning HUP doesn’t necessarily convince, yet Vent 414 is a sparse, angry, and personal album, balancing its inherent spitefulness with a decidedly pared-back approach and a degree of genuine honesty. Hunt can hardly be lauded as some pioneer of reinvention, of disassociation with past glories, but even on my first listen for many a year what strikes me is just how different this is from The Wonder Stuff template – despite checking in as probably the worst-selling album Steve Albini ever produced. I’m just not sure that I’ll listen to it again tomorrow (3am vodka blow-outs excepting).
Vent 414 / Life Before You
*Kids: MTV was a TV channel exclusively playing music videos – occasionally even non-mainstream tracks as per Hunt’s 120 Minutes show. I’m not quite sure what MTV is today, but I don’t think that popular musical ditties have all that much to do with it…