I’m a lousy drunk…
Actually, that’s not true. Plastered, I’m the life and soul, full of wit and charm and bonhomie. Right up until it’s time to go home, or everyone else goes home, or off to bed, or wherever it is that the night time folk go. Then, and only then, but also as if by magic, I’m raiding the cocktail cabinet for the emergency booze. I’m reclining on the floorboards with headphones on. I’m wallowing in the suggestive yet maudlin nostalgia of records I’d listen to as a teen…
Okay; transpires that this, too, is an exaggeration. It’s harder to smile when you’ve lied to a friend, or so the saying goes. The thrust behind these Revisited Albums pieces – beyond a devotion to lazily thought-of subject matter – is to measure the extent that something from long ago functions in a different context, now that we’re all terribly post-modern or whatever it is. And whilst every disc featured to date hasn’t been listened to for a decade or more, Hup does from time to time appear on the turntable. When I’m drunk and loose with my musical affections, of course.
In other words, this is Hup sober, stripped of those melancholic memory echoes generated by playing the damn thing every day back in ’89. And ’90. And ’91. And fuck; do I have to? Already the words are beginning to congeal, like a jar of your great-aunt’s homemade damson jam left out in the Mojave. This is the Stuffies’ second album, and the last with the original line-up – which is important (I think), if only because they never sounded the same after this, what with banjo and fiddle and all the accoutrements of a band forgoing the very elements that attracted in the first place (bass player Rob Jones, when gifted his presentation vinyl copy of Hup, proceeded to decorate it with a large scratch before disappearing permanently off to New York, such was his disdain of the final mix).
This is another way of admitting that I totally understand why plenty of comrades (whose musical preference otherwise segues with mine, at least broadly) have no truck whatsoever with The Wonder Stuff. And when bothered to wear a defence, I’ll point to how their concussed twin guitar plus strident bass sound, highly visible on both The Eight Legged Groove Machine and Hup (and far less prevalent thereafter, although there are still moments) fosters an allure that travels way beyond any ambivalence toward the lyrics, unease over the occasional cheesy riff, or aversion to Miles Hunt’s abrasive, back in the day music press persona.
Still, I’ll be honest here and admit that Hup, sober, whilst reminding me a little too much of me twenty-five years ago, works predominately on a piecemeal basis. Highs, and lows. Moments when I’m about to denounce The Wonder Stuff for their unsophistication, only to feel that old pull again, at least for a second or two. I can’t be doing with ‘Golden Green’; its lumpen proclivities cancel out any wry vitriol behind Hunt’s words. ‘Don’t Let Me Down, Gently’ fails to trigger much interest, whilst ‘Piece Of Sky’ feels like an undramatic throwaway this far removed (and if you’re totting up the score, that’s the two singles off the LP, and one would-be single, the Rob Jones walk-out thing scuppering the release schedule).
Nope; it’s the kinkier tracks here that pique interest (‘kinky’ being a relative term, but I think it’s admissible in this context). Songs with a slight edge of mania about their personage; the interplay between the guitars, a wild-eyed texture to the vocal delivery. The album opens with ’30 Years In The Bathroom’, a hodge-podge of lyrical nonsense scavenged from an old Young Ones joke. The song tumbles out of a fifty second sample montage, then a jarring guitar stab, then a slightly unnerving, slightly unorthodox chord progression serving both intro and verse. It shouldn’t work (and the chorus is just plain dumb), yet it’s executed which such impish charm that I can understand that years-ago attraction instantly. (I can’t work out why I wrote to Annie Nightingale, asking her to play this on her next radio show (which she did); the pointlessness of requesting a track I anyway played regularly was lost on me at the time… but the attraction of ’30 Years’ – yeah, I buy that).
Other tracks operate in a similar vein; ‘Radio Ass Kiss’, ‘Them, Big Oak Trees’, and album climax ‘Room 410’, with its big and bolshy riffwork. And whilst that aforementioned lack of sophistication can’t be ignored, the lyrical content itself is surprisingly supple – a mix of pop-culture references, barbed insults and semi-disguised personal reference points, conveyed with just enough humour to escape charges of all-out bitterness. Except on ‘Golden Green’, which carries a slight, misogynistic curl amidst that vitriolic wryness. You see, that’s the problem with this album – its flaws are just as apparent as its attractions. ‘Can’t Shape Up’ is deceptively powerful (The pictures on the wall have faded, don’t you get the feeling that it’s running away?)… followed not long afterwards by the sophomoric ‘Good Night Though’ with its awkward Led Zep puns, or ‘Unfaithful’ – the track from which I borrowed the harder to smile when you’ve lied to a friend line earlier on – which I have filed under ‘trite’. I’d still argue that Hup is The Wonder Stuff’s finest LP – I have very little time for their ‘faux-folk and cheddar-filled singles’ era that followed – yet I still found myself wanting to like this more (whilst simultaneously yearning to like it less, or perhaps cringe more frequently). That make sense? Nope? Good – I’ll call that a result.
The Wonder Stuff / 30 Years In The Bathroom