I’ve never had a record cull. I’ve lost albums, for sure – discs spirited away when the grim reaper calls time on a relationship, the final show of togetherness one of divvying up a joint collection optimistically presumed to be permanent – but items of importance would have been rapidly replaced, the remainder of which left as loose memory, hanging in the breeze.
A cull, however: no. Call it loyalty, however misplaced. I’m far too fragile to claim a pitch at a car boot sale. Too much of a precious flower to dump dodgy LPs purchased drunk back in ’92 at the door of a local charity shop. I’ve been using ill-gotten gains to buy records since those early teenage years, and to be honest I’ve grown accustomed to what these stacks, heaps and piles of precarious balance represent. The familiarity behind presence (and the ever-expanding space such familiarity consumes). The knowledge that, should track or album suddenly become essential listening, I don’t have to cheat to scratch the itch by firing up the internet, but can hold the sleeve in my paws like precious goods before placing vinyl upon the turntable (or of less ritualistic joy, hammering CD into slot. With a hammer).
Also, having long-since lost the ability to file records in any cohesive order, be it alphabetical, chronological, by genre or value, under the auspices of the Dewey Decimal System, or any of the myriad other esoteric methodologies out there, I’ve managed, as years have dripped past, to forget about some of the less-well illuminated districts of this hoard. LPs played so infrequently, I might have sworn they were nothing to do with me if only I could get away with it.
The question being: by not playing in years, have I done a disservice to any of those albums I have hidden up the back stairs? Should the phrase lost classic be deployed, or – as I suspect – did I buy a great deal of chaff, back in the day? I sent my ears in to find out…
(And remember; I’ll deny all knowledge of ever having owned any of the below if they turn out to be god-awful).
Type O Negative / October Rust (1996)
Ah; goth metal of a Byronic persuasion. Villa Diodati, and all that jazz. Meet me in the cemetery, rather than at the gates…
It can be difficult to take music of this oeuvre seriously. From a literary vantage, darkness, death and depression can function neatly as romantic constructs, just as long as the author keeps their wits about them. In rock and pop however, convention points to a dichotomy, theme prompting minimalism (think how Ian Curtis’ stark lyrics are emboldened by Joy Division’s monochrome musicality), romanticism craving the opposite.
And Type O Negative were never a band noted for nuance when melodrama would suffice. The tracks on October Rust are huge slabs of engorged and florid statement; you almost expect Jim Steinman to be on production duties.
The overall effect is one of gloopy insidiousness, the lyrics, such as the opening passage of ‘Love You To Death (“In her place one hundred candles burning / As salty sweat drips from her breast / Her hips move and I can feel what they’re saying, swaying / They say the beast inside of me is gonna get you”) overblown fugues of sub-Anne Rice nonsense. The late Peter Steele possessed a baritone so deep it hugged the sea floor, making Andrew Eldritch sound like Tiny Tim in the process. And with a vocal this igneous, so the instrumentation couldn’t help but position itself accordingly; there are entire passages throughout this album when it sounds as if the band are an octave too low – even the drums.
I’ll be honest here, and admit that the album’s not as bad as I’d initially feared. The many guitar solos are at least contextual, the epic nature of the material (eight of the tracks breach five minutes) at least provide scope for changes in direction, whilst ‘My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend’, the reason I bought this in the first place, has a neat keyboard-lead hook and an edge of humour to it that still works in a certain light (“My girlfriend’s girlfriend / She looks like you”). But October Rust as a whole is heavy and strangely unsatisfying going, as if the disc is being played at too slow a speed – and that’s without mentioning the cover of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ (bizarrely released as a single), which is simply horrible.
Sheep On Drugs / Greatest Hits (1993)
Whilst engaged in the research for this piece (and yes, I do do research), I was stunned to read that Sheep On Drugs are still a going concern. Stunned, because even in 1993, when I was young and nowhere near as clever as I thought I was, I could tell that the duo’s smack-infused industrial techno shtick was one-dimensional – and the humour even worse; if you’re going to name your debut album Greatest Hits, it speaks much about the levels of sophistication we’re operating on.
I rather suspect that Duncan X and Dead Lee imagined themselves as the New York Dolls refracted through pre-millennial London ennui, but with keyboards and a sequencer, and strained, heretical lyrics about narcotics and motorbikes and yet more narcotics, all re-enforcing the edginess of the seam they were mining (NB: every press shot made them look as if they’d missed their last dose of methadone). Oh; and they also lacked the panache to even come close to pulling it off. ‘Catch 22’ is built upon a nifty riff – and that’s the only even vaguely positive thing I can conjure up when writing about this horrible and quite boring LP. Next!
Embrace / The Good Will Out (1998)
This is not my fault. Working in the arse end of the record industry back in the late ’90’s, freebies were common (which reminds me, what ever happened to that wonderful Mott The Hoople box set I used to own? I’m blaming an ex-girlfriend). I don’t recall ever playing Embrace’s debut album, and for reasons that are obvious as I listen to it whilst typing these very words.
Anthemic – that’s the problem. Earnest music for folk who don’t understand music, and therefore part of the continuum that leads from The Verve through Snow Patrol, Elbow and (*cough*) Coldplay.
So; thoughts upon first listen. Each chorus is very sing-a-long in that heart-warming, kill me now festival fashion. Just as with The Verve’s Nick McCabe, Richard McNamara is a fine and nuanced guitarist who’s fretwork is drowned out by the soupiness of the material (‘One Big Family’). If you’re aiming for a big sound, you probably don’t need a brass band to emphasise the point (‘Higher Sights’; ‘One Big Family’ again). I would rather be listening to something else, and I’m not all that bothered what. ‘I Want The World’ sounds perilously close to an Oasis b-side. The ballads are mawkish, and I vaguely recognise at least some of the seven (!) singles taken from The Good Will Out (‘All You Good Good People’; ‘Come Back To What You Know’), yet my existence has been in no way enhanced by having heard them.
When it comes to the elements of recorded sound that turn me on I at least like to pretend that I’m liberal, able to appreciate touches or undertones even in the vogues and genres I’m pre-programmed never to understand. Not with this; the bonhomie hits as cynical – which is pretty much the worse crime a record can commit.
Day One / Ordinary Man (2000)
Like a comic book spin-off, Day One emerged from the Massive Attack universe. Hence the loose trip-hop tropes splayed throughout Ordinary Man like something from fifteen years ago (which, incidentally, is probably the last time I played this record). Ordinary Man is the Bristol duo’s debut; a vibe that, according to their website, “paved the way for artists such as The Streets in pioneering a unique new British rap style.” Possibly in the same fashion that Embrace paved the way for ramming sharpened knitting needles into your ears with savage élan.
Hyperbole aside, I think the point that’s being made is one of style, Phelim Byrne narrating each track above a series of distended beats and washy instrumentation, subject matter immersed in everyday, kitchen sink motifs – with titles such as ‘Bedroom Dancing’ and ‘Love On The Dole’, you very much get the idea.
The mood here is laid-back, zero urgency, and it’s this paucity of barbs and rough edges that fail to hook the listener’s attention; the themes are similar to Dubstar’s 1995 Disgraceful album, but without any of the charm.
The saving grace is ‘I’m Doin’ Fine’, the underwhelming title disguising some much needed drama. I’m such the sucker for banks of brooding strings, even when synthesised, and here they’re deployed against stop/start mechanics and Byrne’s deadpan vocal to neat effect. Then again, everything is relative, and when the most appealing facet of an LP still feels dated, you can understand why I’ve just hidden this back behind the sofa where I may rediscover it in 2035.
My Life Story / The Golden Mile (1997)
Oh gawd, this is Britpop, ain’t it? Never mind that opener ’12 Reasons Why I Love Her’ starts off with a baroque harpsichord intro (come the revolution, every track by law will require a baroque harpsichord intro); in the rock/scissors/paper universe that is pop, Britpop (bad) trumps harpsichord (good), and you end up with an album such as The Golden Mile, in which chief herbert Jake Shillingford (Jake… Shillingford… is it possible to have a more Britpop name?) flaps about amidst jaunty, music hall melodies and as many musicians he can afford on his Parlophone retainer.
Flap, flap, flap goes our Jake. He’s suited and booted on… er… ‘Suited and Booted’. He’s the King of Kissingdom on the track of very similar name. There are trumpets, and strings, and woodwind, and a bouncy castle (probably). There’s the obligatory ballad (‘Claret’), vaguely reminiscent of Morrissey’s ‘Angel, Angel Down We Go Together’, in which Jake gets to wear his sad face. There’s a cover version of a track (‘Sparkle’) previously seen on the debut My Life Story album, which wasn’t released on a major label and therefore sold only five copies (one of which to me; ah), and in lead single ‘Strumpet’, enough ooh-er-Mrs to keep an audience of Carry On aficionados entertained. “Cinzano drip-fed / Leopard-skin bedspread / Housewife superstar / Her feather boa constricts her.”
And the weird thing about The Golden Mile? I can think of so many albums of this ilk and era that are actually worse.