Nostalgia. It’s a weird beast, phoney and shallow and too liberal with its affections. This series of posts concerns itself with records that are intrinsically relevant today as well as back in the day – any nostalgic traits present are purely a by-product. Yet there are occasions when this force can be harnessed for good – to cunningly flout the fickleness of fashion, in which certain periods become fondly and communally recollected at the expense of others.
If nostalgia for the 1970’s isn’t particularly fashionable these days, in 1992 it was positively perverse. Not that Lawrence Hayward is averse to wilful perversion (as a listen to anything he’s recorded under the Go Kart Mozart moniker will attest), but with Back in Denim, the début Denim release, that affiliation with a somewhat lost decade is tenderly genuine, celebrating the mundane, the mediocre, the just plain naff, and by doing so cleverly subverting conventional wisdom. This is a glam-rock record – and all the better for it, stomping and melodic and full of sly, polyester-attired references – file under joy.
Elsewhere, and the year in question was still locked in a whirlpool of wah-wah pedals and shiny inflexion. Everything’s Alright Forever – The Boo Radleys album #2 – tends to be overlooked, firstly by the gravitational pull of follow-up Giant Steps (which will no doubt appear in a future post), and secondly by the utter aberration that is ‘Wake Up Boo’ (which won’t). And whilst not attracting the same headlines, this is a supple and delicate record, its intricate nature beguiling, its tonality requiring repeated listens.
The problem with using a word such as fey is that the connotations are almost always negative, the object of description as something insubstantial, ineffective. Spooky by Lush is drifting from the stereo speakers as I type, and however hard I try, avoiding fey in this context feels wrong – it is a fey record. Except there’s nothing slight or inconsequential about this; the shoegaze palette is pinioned to elegance. Where-as Ride’s Going Blank Again is a bruiser of an album, ‘Leave Them All Behind’ and that mesmerising intro standing as a monolithic point of immediacy, the duality behind the songwriting – both Mark Gardener and Andy Bell striving to push the momentum in their own direction – is the force that will tear the band apart. With Spooky, the opposite is true, the tracks penned by Emma Anderson different to Miki Berenyi’s, yet also dynamically complementary, seguing in a rush of texture – the coy vocals, the head-rush implicit in every track, fey as something solid, something tangible.
Other ’92-flavoured highlights – deserving of more words than space constraints permit – include Dirty by Sonic Youth. The Wayward Bus by The Magnetic Fields. Moose’s LP X,Y,Z. Ferment by Catherine Wheel – at times brash and earnest, but alluring all the same. And then there’s Slanted And Enchanted; is there a better Pavement album? Well possibly; 1994’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain presses manifold buttons. But I love the jut of this record, its fuggy angularity, its off-centre dexterity.
I struggle with items labelled under grunge, however loose the categorisation – unlike all the shoegaze-orientated stuff I’m constantly rattling on about, the cultural reference points underpinning guitar-orientated alt-rock of the time all too frequently escape my grasp. That isn’t the case with Dirt by Alice In Chains. A commercial record; the 70’s hooks, the sheer and growling reach of the guitar parts. But far more than that, this is a dense, haunting, moving record, its musical weight blasted from a complex face of rock in which the themes – darkness, disturbance, desperation – spell out the nuances of smack addiction. It would be trite to label this a portentous record – vocalist Layne Stanley dead of an overdose, undiscovered for two weeks in his run-down apartment – but there’s brutal honesty sewn into Dirt‘s lyrics, the tacit admission that the sun doesn’t shine down certain roads.
Two début albums from ’92 help to define significant – even if they both deserve far more than a couple of glib sentences on an arcane music blog. Firstly Peng! by Stereolab. The scope of this is astonishing – futuristic yet retro, accessible yet knowing, sliding through left field notions with a panache that’s only enhanced by Lætitia Sadier’s dispassionate Gallic phraseology. There are perhaps moments when Stereolab overreach themselves, frothier upbeat tracks that occasionally border upon hipster kitsch, but as an opener this is enticing, clever stuff. Next: Dry by PJ Harvey – and I’m going to be a tease here, for this record will be the centrepiece of a Polly Jean piece arriving in these parts rather soon – stay tuned.
Which brings me to the final Significant Album of 1992, which convention dictates has to be my favourite. Should you direct your blogging business via the pseudonymous use of a particular record’s title, the implication is of a disc of considerable meaning. Something that defines the both the listening experience and the reason why it’s all important (I’ve met so many people over the years for whom music is little more than wallpaper, something to be processed passively – what the fuck is wrong with these soulless specimens?). So, Lazer Guided Melodies. Jason Pierce as some kind of pharmaceuticalised Philip Glass – appropriating, moulding, sculpting each motif so that the whole riffs against the meditative, a plunge pool of blissed-out sentiment – framed by an intensity of restrained emotion. I’m not (for a change) going to head of into waves of detail and florid adjective here – how I relate to Spiritualized’s music is a background theme to this words about music contract I’ve entered into – but it’s this album above any other that’s influenced who I am and how I listen. A beginning, or a reboot to what spans the gap between song and listener; four suites, twelve tracks, each of which balance on the head of a pin, on a spike of the needle, at the centre of what us atheists glibly call soul. *Sigh*
Denim / Here Is My Song For Europe
Boo Radleys / Smile Fades Fast
Alice In Chains / Dam That River
Spiritualized / Shine A Light