I fully expect, in fifty or so years time, to have great-grandchildren gathering round my fireside chair, and for them to ask: “What did you buy in the great 1991 record k’pow, old man?” And I’ll nod sagely, oblivious the the drool leaking gently down my chin, and what I’ll come out with is something like the below (only I’ll be well into my senile period by then, so it’ll all come out in a series of clicks and whistles – part one of ’91’s aural noodlings is here).
If there’s one central proposition that underpins a significant record, it’s the manner by which texture becomes so, so prevalent. Laughing Stock by Talk Talk; Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque. These are two vastly different records – the first a complex and intense meditation that’s almost metaphysical in nature, and requires top-end audio equipment to do the nuances justice; the other a wonderful suite of jangly, catchy guitar pop – a little rough around the edges and all the better for it. What they both have in common, however, is an intelligent, almost intrinsic understanding of textured sound. A synergy between production, composition and execution that enhances the subtleties. Both are breathtaking LPs.
You could argue that Recurring, the final Spaceman 3 opus, deserves to be listed here twice, considering that it’s effectively two solo records spliced together with gaffer tape and mutual distrust. As you’d imagine, cohesion isn’t on the menu here. Instead, two sets of differently introspective material, both heavily portending the directions Sonic Boom and J Spaceman would be taking in the future – Pete Kember’s esoteric comedown soundtrack, and Jason Pierce’s delicate, drone-fuelled depth perfected on the first two Spiritualized albums.
Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne; my favourite album cover of the year is also a rather nifty record in it’s own right – a great blend of beats and ’60’s pop, as well as possibly the finest Neil Young cover this side of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ by Type O Negative (yes, I’m joking).
Two significant albums that sold well this year: Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and the subversive blow-out that is The KLF’s The White Room. And two significant records that are perversely overlooked. Quality Street by World Of Twist, which manages simultaneously to be both clever Mancunian art rock and dumb Mancunian swagger (‘Songs Of The Stage’ and a cover of the Stones’ ‘She’s A Rainbow’ both hit the spot). And then there’s Distant Plastic Trees, the début release from The Magnetic Fields. Regular readers will be all too aware that my passion for all things Stephin Merritt borders upon the obsessional – hence there will be plenty of words thrown about when looking at the significant albums of later years. So for now I’ll just whisper ‘100,000 Fireflies‘, then leave the track’s wry beauty to resonate.
Electronic, eponymous and their first, felt at the time like a gamble, something unnecessary even if the fretwork of Johnny Marr and the poppier sentiments of Bernard Sumner (and a Neil Tennant cameo) segued with prevailing deconstructionist theory around what constituted the guitar-based and the synth-centred. It’s difficult to argue that this represents the apex of either career, but it is a well-crafted album, at its best deploying the essence of Sumner and Marr’s songcraft in refined, cultured patterns.
I’ve got it written in my notebook that Peggy Suicide is Julian Cope’s last great album. The one before his scope and vision began to separate from the sharp accessibility of his songwriting. And I still really like this record. Its contours, its scale, the confessional tonality – this sounds like a far more mature album than elements of his older back-cat, yet it retains that sense of slyness that devout Cope heads get off on.
Finally, 1991 wouldn’t be complete without some sad shoegaze obsessive riffing on that subject in waves of awkward adjective. And there’s three significant records out in this year that work as a definition of band + pedal board (and that’s not including Loveless, written about in the last episode). Raise by Swervedriver includes tracks released on previous EPs, so strictly doesn’t meet the criteria for inclusion here – it’s still a belter, mind. Slowdive’s Just For A Day is masterpiece in refined poignancy – spooky, delicate and enticing in equal measure. But my album of the year is (and probably always has been) Whirlpool by Chapterhouse. Should you wish to strip this type of music down to its component parts – the swirling guitar, the waves of crashing texture, alluring backing vocals, songs that when placed back to back, slide towards some kind of togetherness greater than the sum of its parts – this début (!) album has it all, and then some. Certain records make the listener tremble – and its not always wise to work out exactly why. Perhaps all you can admit when you look into the mirror is that this album enfolds you in its echoed embrace. This, ladies and gents, is the definition of swoon.
Saint Etienne / Only Love Can Break Your Heart
World Of Twist / She’s A Rainbow
Slowdive / Brighter
Chapterhouse / Pearl