Sunday, 16 October 2016

Volume Six - Wedding Present, Snapdragons, Rose of Avalanche, Wolfhounds, Inspiral Carpets, Suicide, Loop

Format: Double LP/ Cassette/ CD
Year of Release: 1989

If Volume 5 was a strange and occasionally rather drab buffet of art-rock and indiepop, you can hear the stirrings of something different emerging in Volume 6 if you strain your ears...

It's not that this LP deviates much from the course we've been on so far, but there are mavericks pulling ever so slightly at the steering wheel - The Shamen emerge almost completely transformed as an indie-pop-House hybrid, The Inspiral Carpets stick their heads over the wall for the first time, and A Guy Called Gerald drops by to entertain us with a seriously huge crossover track.

All these things were indicative of what indieland would become, whereas many of the other artists on this LP represent the last puff of smoke of the old guard. While The Wedding Present would be too good to be deathless and would move on to greater success on RCA, a lot of the other acts from their particular C86 era would cease to be relevant in the mainstream media very shortly.

That does make Volume 6 one of the more compelling and varied listens, though, as all kinds of sounds emerge out of the chaos, from clattering industrial noises to indiefied synth-pop, to 60s garage throwbacks... there's a clear sense here that nobody truly understood which way the wind was blowing yet. Or at least, Chet and Bee didn't.

Once again, I've included the liner notes for reference.

1. Le Cadeau De Mariage/ The Wedding Present - Pourquoi Es Tu Devenue Si Raisonable? (Reception)

"The ferret goes from strength to strength" - David Gedge, March '89

"Why Are You Being So Reasonable Now?" was the Wedding Present's last single on Reception records before they signed to RCA records and became regular Top of the Pops fixtures.

Driven by an almost folk-rock rhythm - those dabblings with Ukrainian folk music make more sense when you think of their earlier records in that context - "Reasonable" is a solid record, but lacks the aggressive drive and the emotional impact of their earliest singles. Moreover, the need for a French language version of the track (sang by Gedge in rather questionable French with definite Yorkshire vowels) has never been fully explained - were the group going nova across the Channel, I wonder, or was it just an experiment?

The more popular English language version reveals that this is a song about a lover's tiff, and while the lyrical snapshots of the argument are well observed ("No-one can change that much in three days!" "It's not yours to take back!") it's a bitter, biting sulk of a track, and as such feels like neither one thing nor the other. There's a certain lack of drama here, and it's probably because Gedge is, for once, the person wearing the boot. The lyrics are clearly informing us that he's refusing to get back together with the lady, rather than vice versa - and as such, it's hard to get too emotionally involved with the sentiments expressed. They wrote better choruses than this one as well.

Still, none of this stopped the record from climbing as high as Number 42. RCA would take over and push them over the line and into the world of early evening television. This felt like an odd victory at the time, even if each TOTP appearance probably did little to convert any New Kids On The Block fans who might have been watching.

2. The Snapdragons - The Things You Want (Native)

"...against abuse to women, anti-anti-feminism. James' pouting/ plaintive vocals seduce your ears with tastefully thrashed and plucked guitar and an imaginative and grooving rhythm".

With a stomp and a twang, Leeds' The Snapdragons arrive on Indie Top 20 and then completely disappear again. Relative latecomers to the indiepop party, they were rather big news for five minutes in late 1988 before the tide very obviously turned.

"The Things You Want" is actually a confident and punchy single with plenty to offer, and got regular bedroom spins from me at the time. It packs a lot into two-and-a-half minutes, from the thudding and driving hook, to the Blue Aeroplanes-esque trumpet lines at the tail end. Truthfully, though, it does feel as if it could have been released three years before, and it's impossible not to wonder what the group could have achieved if they hadn't been so late to the party.

Interesting indie fact - the drummer Pel Riccardi went on to join Utah Saints.

3. The Rose of Avalanche - The World Is Ours (Avalantic) 

"If you like Bros - you'll love these lads!"

The Rose Of Avalanche emerge on the series for the second and last time, and actually manage to get to the point this time around. Unlike "Velveteen", which yearned and yawned and sprawled itself across twelve inches like a woebegone actress having a bad night's rest, "The World Is Ours" is a surprisingly concise and moody strut of a record. The guitars twang, the chorus is subtle and grows in stature with subsequent listens, and while it was never going to lead them on to greatness, "The World Is Ours" did prove that they weren't simply a "goth rock" band.

The group would continue on their own Avalantic record label until 1990, never quite scaling their mid-eighties peaks again, but certainly managing to please a loyal fanbase.

4. The Wolfhounds - Rent Act (Midnight Music)

"There are thousands of homeless people in this country, particularly in and around the Capital. This government persistently passes laws to keep it that way".

Plus ca change. The UK has never really managed to grasp the issue of homelessness since the eighties, and rising rent and property prices are only making the issue worse - so The Wolfhounds howl of protest here was really only indicative of what would become a much bigger problem (and we would have struggled to believe it could get worse at the time).

"Rent Act" is an incredibly good single as well, starting with some psychedelic atmospherics (possibly a studio tape being rewound and put through an echo effect) and gradually building and building into a righteous piece of fury. While many bands of their ilk contented themselves with thrashing out a general message of protest, The Wolfhounds were actually capable of considered songcrafting beneath the noise - "Rent Act" has so many pleasing elements, from the chugging verses, to the soaring guitar beneath the chorus and the panoramic middle eight. All ensure that the song starts off as a pissy protest and grows into something quite majestic and emotive. There's nothing slick or smooth about "Rent Act", but it's also about as far from Crass as you can get.

5. Inspiral Carpets - Butterfly (Cow)

"A Peel favourite, their latest single, taken from the Trainsurfing EP, available on Cow Records".

Hello Madchester. Except perhaps, not really. While The Inspiral Carpets played fellow horsemen of the baggyocalypse along with the Roses, Mondays and Charlatans, at this stage nobody really had them pegged as being part of any dominant movement as such (though to be fair, most journalists were taking The Stone Roses even less seriously at this point). While Manchester bands were beginning to attract stronger press attention, the Inspirals were still being talked about in terms of being a garage rock revival act. To my ears, they also sounded faintly like early Barry Andrews era XTC at this point.

"Butterfly" confirms that. There's nothing funky or dancey here. It's really all faintly quirky mid-sixties melodies, a squeaky organ and rude, distorted guitar lines. They also don't have Tom Hingley on lead vocals at this point, instead utilising the vocal powers of Stephen Holt, who would very shortly depart to form The Rainkings (one wonders whether he regrets that decision now...)

Still, it isn't that much of a leap from this to the material on their debut "Life" album, and only the rough edges give the game away. "Butterfly" also shows that they could pen a powerful chorus along with the best of their travelling companions... even if nobody expected them to become an act who would go on to shift hundreds of thousands of records. I mean, come on, they were hardly The House of Love or The Darling Buds, were they?

6. Suicide - Rain of Ruin (Chapter 22)

"Back after what seems like an eternity but is actually only ten years. Suicide prove that absence makes the heart grow fonder, whilst at the same time showing numerous young pretenders how to do it!"

What young pretenders could they have been referring to, I wonder? And is one of them coming up shortly?

Suicide were a group who barely need any introduction, but whose harsh minimalism alienated swathes of the public in their heyday. Talked about almost as the seventies equivalent to The Velvet Underground, Alan Vega and Martin Rev arguably invented the idea of the electronic music duo, and possibly planted the seeds of some of the ideas later to be found in industrial rock and goth rock to boot, not to mention proving to be an influence on acts as diverse as The Jesus and Mary Chain and MIA. Absolutely critically slated in their day, Suicide's popularity rose enough for them to reform in the late eighties and be given a hero's welcome, and their stature has only grown since (this is an over-simplification of the facts, of course, as Suicide did gain some critical and commercial ground in the early eighties - The Quietus' tribute to Alan Vega following his death helps to fill in some of the blanks).

"Rain of Ruin" isn't much talked about now, but felt like a significant event of a single at the time, being given even more press inches and raves than Wire's comeback received a couple of years previously. It also showed that Suicide weren't really interested in going anywhere especially new. "Rain of Ruin" is much more sparse, bare and hypnotic than any of their influences managed to be, holding your attention through the sheer drone of persistence and Vega's hiccuping sub-Elvis vocals. Whatever ideas they may have given other musicians, in the end there were very few other groups out there who sounded exactly like Suicide - they were entirely their own deal.

7. Loop - Black Sun (Chapter 22)

"From the LP 'Fade Out', Loop take the blow torch and petrol cans to music and deliver their most powerful single yet".

It would be tempting to compare "Black Sun" to Suicide's output, but honestly, you can hear the difference. Loop don't really sit still, and while the foundations for "Black Sun" are a near-perfect doomy bassline, the band constantly pile new ideas on top of it across five minutes - a shimmering psychedelic guitar effect here, a wailing solo there, a rattling drumbeat elsewhere... so this feels more like a slowed down, doped up take on krautrock than an out-and-out Vega tribute.

It's also their finest single to my ears, feeling delightfully hazy and foggy and incredibly addictive. As soon as those riffs and drones slowly disappear into a tunnel at the track's end, you feel instantly compelled to return the stylus to the start of the track again. Five minutes of this never feels like quite enough, and while it might seem like an unlikely Indie chart number one now, this made serious sense at the time.

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