And All Throughout The Years: Sugar’s Copper Blue Revisited

It’s difficult to give too much credence to anything filed under the banner of Album Of The Year. Particularly anything slotted (shoehorned…coerced…hammered…) into some type of ranking. 1-10. Or 1-50; with the exception of yourself, dear reader, the general public can’t be trusted with any calibration of this variety – for the sole reason that left to their own devices, they’ll always be purchasing the aural equivalent of workhouse gruel. Can’t help themselves, the poor loves…

So should we placing our confidence in the paws of the professionals?

Yeah right. (Insert sarcasm here).

Flippancy aside, we all know that any countdown where suffrage is solely at the behest of music journalist appreciation needs to be immediately discounted – if only because the character traits required to become a music journalist spell ATAVISM in bold, strafed letters. (Seriously, have you ever hung out with a quorum of music journos? I alas have; never been fun evenings).

(Have I mentioned that LGM’s Album Of The Year will be appearing in December? Free pinch of salt to all visitors? Good – carry on).

Thoughts upon credence, of Album Of The Year garbage, they flickered across my mind the instant Copper Blue was slipped from its inner sleeve and placed lovingly on the turntable – because the coke-addled, ego-infested journos at the NME voted this their Album Of The Year back in 1992. Which feels like a lifetime ago on so many levels. It never helps when the specific vintage of a certain record arrives as a surprise, but lifetimes are lifetimes…

If an era is all about context, the early ’90’s were defined by the bold brush strokes, by channelled abrasion and those tropes of alienation that arrived pre-packaged with sub-grunge, American alt-rock. Hüsker Dü fulfilled the criteria of sharp, lucid music and then some – but they were releasing records in the mid-’80’s, at a time when critical acclaim and underground devotion for their particular sound rarely translated into Zeitgeist-sponsored pomp and circumstance.

Fast forward half a decade, and we were all (apparently) stalking the vogue in our lumberjack shirts. Chips on shoulders and cheap drugs in our pockets; Copper Blue isn’t especially divorced from the themes Bob Mould piloted on the Hüsker Dü tracks he was responsible for. Indeed, this slab of vinyl registers highly on the melodic, power-pop end of the outsider spectrum (even if the guitar-enforced annunciation is more polished than the post-punk aesthetic prevalent in 1985).

So yeah, here is a record that feels instinctively dated. A suite of songs that maybe benefited from an upswing in interest in some wide-angled mode, back in the day. That Copper Blue doesn’t feel like a period piece, fit only for museums of piques of nostalgia, is specifically due to the songcraft. The lyrics are tender, elegant, eloquent. The melodic inclinations are expansive, hinting at a refined honesty. Sound aware of its own imperfections yet simultaneously unafraid to dig deeper.

As with many an album there’s a conscious nod towards catchy = unit shifting; ‘A Good Idea’, ‘Changes’, and ‘If I Can’t Change Your Mind’ were all singles , and understandably so. But this is an album that also works as singularity; the production technique may fail to translate to our twenty-first century ear, but when listening to a track such as ‘Hoover Dam’, the listener is guided towards vista. On opener ‘The Act We Act': subtle allusions to the whole grunge statement. On the tune below the words: an empathetic under-current of fragility.

In short: hunt for depths and you may find them (and pretentious blogging should never detract from that). I dig this album because it still sounds liberating.

Plus: only sometimes does Album Of The Year = bollocks.

Sugar / If I Can’t Change Your Mind 

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3 comments

  1. japanese forms (@japaneseforms)

    Well, it WAS a lifetime ago… to some. Anyhow, I don’t think I’ve listened to that disc since 1992. I got caught up in the web of hype (©NME) and invested some hard-earned kopeks in a couple of Sugar discs. And a T-shirt !!! Which I still have but would imagine to be a very tight fit nowadays. I think I even saw the band play (but I’m not sure because I saw so many groups back then that my memory fails me – due undoubtedly to going to shows almost every other night and alcohol abuse). Will add to my list of vinyls for reappraisal.

  2. lazerguidedmelody

    Never caught Bob Mould live, alas, although he has been gigging this very album of late – live interpretations of the back cat as singularity being where it’s at once the public stop buying your new material.

    The production on this album is very 1992. But I enjoyed giving this a spin. Well worth a revisit (even if follow-up album ‘Beaster’ is darker, far superior listen).

  3. Dig Me Out Podcast

    Listen to a podcast review of Copper Blue by Sugar on Dig Me Out at digmeoutpodcast.com, a weekly podcast dedicated to revisiting lost, forgotten, overlooked and under-appreciated rock of the 1990s.

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