1. Darling Buds - Shame On You (Native)
Ah memories, misty water coloured memories, of the way we were... it sounds almost unfathomable now, but The Darling Buds were an incredibly big deal around this time, featuring in the "Great Hopes for 1989" section of many a music magazine at 1988's tail end. Bursting out of Newport way before Cool Cymru was dreamt up, and fronted by the very blonde and pretty Andrea Lewis with the moody, smouldering Harley Farr on guitar, they looked the part, sounded spiky and could clearly pen a catchy ditty. Whatever could go wrong?
As always with this question, it's difficult to give a precise answer, really, but they never quite hit the same heights as the rather similar Primitives, never mind The Stone Roses or even The Wonder Stuff. "Shame On You" makes some hints as to why - sharp and sparky the whole affair might be, but there's actually very little to set the band apart from their indiepop compatriots apart from presentation. It zips along in one big rush but doesn't sound in any way significant, cheeky, snappy little lines like "Of all the things you could have said/ you had to say 'let's go to bed'" aside.
Away from all the hype, though, it is possible to admire the track's sheer driving force and sassiness. And in fairness to the band, they had better tracks up their sleeves, albeit none strong enough to really push them into the frontline of pop.
Overall, though, another group for the "Not quite as good as The Flatmates" file. And once The Darling Buds of May became a major hit television series, their name became faintly absurd too, rather than them seeming like another indie band named after an old tome.
2. Talulah Gosh - Bringing Up Baby (53rd & 3rd)
Some unintentionally cruel track sequencing here. 1989's great hopes are followed by a group who had largely fallen into irrelevance in the music press by this point. At one particularly fruitful, fresh post-C86 point, you couldn't even pick up a copy of the glossy Record Mirror without reading about Talulah Gosh, but by the end of 1988 eyes had turned elsewhere.
It's not overly surprising, really, because while the music press love to champion fresh new faces and underdogs for a year or two, they tend to lose patience and wander off if the act either remains resolutely underground or just plain doesn't break through. Talulah Gosh were clearly in the former camp - despite the enormous strides they had made by the time we last caught up with them on Volume Two, they remained on a tiny indie, always sounded charmingly amateurish (or irritatingly so, depending on your point of view) and continued writing songs about subject matters which were never going to resonate with the broader public. "Bringing Up Baby", for example, seems to be partly based on a 1938 Katherine Hepburn film of the same name. I've never seen it, but it's apparently a "screwball comedy", which makes the slightly melancholic air and detachment of the song feel rather strange. It seems more likely that this is about an ordinary couple desperately imagining themselves to be like Hepburn and Cary Grant in the film.
It's a sweet, lonely, fragile little song which sounds like the band beginning to explore more interesting depths, but their final single "Testcard Girl" was just around the corner, and that would be the end of that. Like The Flatmates before them, there would be no album, although Amelia Fletcher, Mathew Fletcher and Peter Montchiloff would re-emerge in Heavenly, who became full-on indiepop legends with a much more rounded, tougher style. "Atta Girl" in particular highlights how much their lyrical and musical approach would build on the Gosh foundations.
Fun Indiepop fact - In 2014 Amelia Fletcher was awarded with an OBE for her services to Competition and Consumer Economics.
3. The Sugarcubes - Deus (One Little Indian)
"Birthday" was such a beguiling single that there was a period spent wondering how on earth The Sugarcubes would follow it up. Most journalists predicted a Cocteau Twins styled career, consisting of atmospheric, wobbly songs with disorientating lyrical content. It didn't happen. "Birthday" was a complete one-off, and the follow-up single "Cold Sweat" was an aggressive, almost threatening single about sexual intercourse.
We won't get a chance to discuss that one here - a shame, because it's probably one of the more under-rated singles in their catalogue, forever referred to as a "disappointing follow-up" for not being another "Birthday". Third single, "Deus", on the other hand, did get space on "Indie Top 20" and is different yet again, being a piece of laidback, loping funkiness about a God figure who forces people to have baths upon meeting them. "He was not white and fluffy!" complains Einar about the deity before him. "He just had sideburns and a quiff!"
Musically, the track has chiming guitars and a polished finish - it sounds like laidback, FM, adult pop, with only Bjork's vocal acrobatics and Einar's bizarre interjections skewing it in stranger directions. The group once claimed in an interview that it had been designed to be a French pop hit, in what was widely regarded to be a slightly sarcastic comment to a typically parochial British journalist who enquired about when they were going to have a "proper" hit in the UK charts. However, it may have had some truth behind it. From my parent's house in sub-suburban Southend, you could clearly pick up French and Belgian radio, and "Deus" definitely got on there alongside all the middle-of-the-road pop hits of the day.
In the end, though, it had to content itself with a number 51 placing in the UK and not a great deal anywhere else (apart from, presumably, their home country). I'd also argue it's not the finest single in the band's catalogue - it's enjoyable but the inventiveness begins and ends with the lyrics, and the band were at their best when they all really pushed the boat out. You could imagine elements of "Deus" being given to The Police to use as a backing track, which isn't something you could easily say of most of their other output. Still, if nothing else it showed they had baffling versatility.
4. Another Sunny Day - I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist (Sarah)
Whenever a music journalist seeks to skewer the output of Sarah Records with their case for the prosecution, "I'm In Love With A Girl Who Doesn't Know I Exist" is normally first on the list. And why in hell not, I suppose? This, really, is a mere minute-and-a-half of sparsely recorded guitar plucking and musing on unrequited love, the musical template for weak, fragile young souls with tea-stained Sartre books from the library in their satchels that they're never actually going to read. AmIrite?
Not really. While I can't get geared up for this single in the manner that a lot of Sarah aficionados can, its economy of style and folksy melody are significant plus points. There's an awful lot going on within not much time, in a manner that the best sixties folk rockers managed but very few cult indie figures did.
Lyrically, of course, it's as simplistic as anything ever produced by a hair metal band, if not more so - it has delicate sensitivity in buckets, but Harvey Williams (the main driving force behind ASD) despairs "I could speak to you, you could speak to me/ Oh but it will never happen, what will be will be", which besides being startlingly lazy writing also underlines adolescent romantic idealism. He's in love with a girl who doesn't know he exists, purely because her dialogue with him has been non-existent. All she's aware of is that occasional intense gaze across the playground, which is getting more and MORE intense and uncomfortable by the day... pack it in, Harvey. She probably fancies a boy in the year above anyway.
As I pointed out in my entry about The Razorcuts, though, swap the gender roles around in the song to the more traditional "I'm In Love With A Boy Who Doesn't Know I Exist", and the creepiness and hopelessness somehow fades away. Which is maybe at least half the point.
5. Swans - Love Will Tear Us Apart (Jarboe vocal) (Product Inc)
New Yorkers Swans are usually known for piercing, grinding experimental rock, and tend to repulse as many people as they attract. Their 1988 cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" marks a sudden and surprising change of style. Rather than overload the song with harsh, eardrum threatening guitar noises, they handled it with respect and care, recording two versions. One, the Michael Gira sung version, was so close to the original as to be of questionable worth. This, sung by their keyboardist and co-vocalist Jarboe, takes a different tack.
Jarboe seems to interpret the song as a spiritual, hollering the words to a minimal keyboard backing. It sounds at times agonised, other times resigned, sweeping upwards before falling earthbound moments later.
It's ambitious despite its simplicity, and is a worthy reinterpretation, but it's not something I return to very often. It certainly showed that "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was a powerful piece of songwriting which could stand up to all manner of arrangements, but nothing new unveils itself after the first listen here. It does, however, act as a downbeat, sombre and calm resolution to Volume 5.