Sunday, 20 November 2016

Indie Top 20 Vol 8 - Side One - Inspiral Carpets, Dub Sex, Depeche Mode, Family Cat, Spacemen 3

Format: Double Vinyl, CD, Cassette
Year of Release: 1990

As a new decade dawned, and Guru Josh uttered "Nineteen nineties... time for the Guru... ooh ah ooh uh!" for us all to nod serenely, one might have expected sweeping changes from the team at Beechwood Music. In reality, Volume 9 would see a huge change in the design and visibility of the series, whereas Volume 8 looks like more of the same and really is.

There's not much to fault here, actually. Hideous public convenience shaded green sleeve aside, it continued to contain the most relevant indie acts and eccentric relative outsiders - Peel perennials and IPC flavours-of-the-month alike.

Indie-Dance was now starting to become a seriously huge deal, and just about any indie band was slapping out dance remixes of their singles - even The Wonder Stuff, who released a single called "Who Wants To Be The Disco King" in 1989 then came up with a dance remix of "Circlesquare" in 1990, without a hint of embarrassment. Volume 8 of the series does hint towards that tendency ever so slightly, but its focus on the dying months of 1989 means we're not quite in the midst of Baggygeddon yet. But that's coming. Oh, it's most definitely coming.

1. Inspiral Carpets - Move (Cow)

"Move showed that Inspiral Carpets were quite capable of appealing to a wider audience than anybody thought. It reached number 49 in the Gallup chart on their own label".

To me, "Move" feels like the start of the Inspiral Carpets finishing the business of being garage-pop retroheads and into the realms of creating much more slickly produced, considered singles. Whereas earlier tracks nodded towards old Pebbles compilation LPs and scratchy old film clips of Question Mark and The Mysterians (one of their early cassettes even included a cover of "96 Tears"), from this point forward they would attain a similar melancholy gloss to The Stranglers.

Their progress towards the National Top 40 was actually greeted somewhat guardedly by the press. On the one hand, the NME in particular wanted Manchester bands to succeed and gain a larger profile, but the Inspiral Carpets weren't rebellious outsiders like The Roses and The Mondays. These were rather plain, shaggy looking men with a workmanlike attitude, not ex-drug dealers or would-be revolutionaries. They appeared to slip through the net quietly without everyone's permission - The Boomtown Rats to The Stone Roses' Sex Pistols and The Mondays' Clash, if you will. They would never quite be forgiven for their insolence.

That's a bit ridiculous, though. The Inspiral Carpets were becoming very good songwriters indeed, and that's apparent on "Move". With a swirling, faintly psychedelic instrumental break but with much more emphasis placed on the moody autumnal hooks elsewhere, it's a track that proves the band not only could take things to the next level, they almost certainly would. It still sounds like a detailed and involving slice of pop to this day, and is one I still regularly play (unlike most of the rest of Side One here).

2. Dub Sex - Time Of Life (Scam)

"Tough times. Many thanks to Alison, Martin, Edward 'Wood' Barton, Chris 'Remix' Nagle, Phil 'Beard' Korbel and Dat 2 Dat. Looking forward..."

Manchester's Dub Sex were around at the birth of the Hacienda and the baggy movement, and were widely regarded as one of the city's most favoured bands, only to be rudely sidelined just as everything went stellar around them. While other bands soundtracked parties, Dub Sex had a doomy post-punk sound which felt like part of Manchester's past rather than present or future. Rather unfortunately, the Indie Top 20 series only gave them space for their last ever single, and the sleevenotes above act as a rather unfortunate epitaph.

"Time Of Life" probably isn't their greatest moment, either. Slamming, clattering, and kicking its way around like a stroppy teenager, it establishes its main mood early on then never really progresses much. There are better examples of their work on YouTube if you take the time to surf around -this really does sound like the towel being thrown in by comparison. Still, future Indie Dancers the New Fast Automatic Daffodils did sound as if they owed a small debt to some of Dub Sex's ideas.

3. Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus (Mute)

"It's nice to see Depeche Mode back where they belong, breeding discontent, shitting over all else in their devout intent, huge fun".

"Personal Jesus" was, of course, a huge breakthrough single for Depeche Mode in America, and is frequently cited as being one of their key tracks. It's just... it's just... as a fan, it really doesn't cut it for me. Not only is it very atypical of the rest of their output, its incessant Duane Eddy styled twanging and stomping feels like four men from Essex attending a fancy dress party in old school rock and roll gear. A lot of silly fun for five minutes, but the post-party snapshots wouldn't be something anyone should want pasted on to the cover of their biography.

Inspired partly by religious phonelines in the USA and the book "Elvis and Me" by Priscilla Presley, it's also one of the most American sounding recordings the otherwise distinctly European group produced. A mere few years before they were holed up in Berlin, now they appeared to be on horseback riding through the prairie and dreaming of Gracelands.

In the end, it feels as if "Personal Jesus" is the favourite Depeche Mode track among non-fans of the band. As it was the lead single off "Violator", I instantly supposed the game was up and the band were now going to descend into some weird mid-Atlantic, guitar-based compromise. That luckily proved not to be the case, but this is still something I tend to skip on "Violator" whenever I want to listen to the LP.

4. Family Cat - Tom Verlaine (Bad Girl)

"For John, Fred, Jelb and Kev. Five loveable hits from the sticks. Fore runners of the Manchester scene, inventors of Acid House and instigators of the Roving Sweeping System 1989... WAS"

I think they're being a bit sarcastic, readers.

Yeovil's Family Cat were never more or less than common-or-garden indie noiseniks who steadily, over time, honed their craft into something much more epic sounding. Subsequent years have been a bit unkind to their output, turning a blind eye to their presence in the indie charts and national music press, and also frequently ignoring the fact that they more-or-less discovered fellow Yeovilian Polly Harvey (who delivered backing vocals on their single "Colour Me Grey").

In fairness, the scratchiness of "Tom Verlaine" is probably one of their finest moments, and the slicker they became the less interesting they got. "Verlaine" is a touching tribute to youthful love spent in pubs listening to cult artists, and supping beer together. It struck a chord with John Peel audiences as it inevitably would, and became their most significant moment.

They clung on to the Indie charts like determined limpets for many years afterwards, though, meaning this isn't the last time we'll be discussing them.

5. Spacemen 3 - Hypnotized (Fire)

"Single of the week in ALL music papers which has not happened since Prince's "Kiss".
'The Spacemen's latest its positively Ethereal, a Velvet Underground sounding blend of rotating guitar  and organ, a shimmering happy love song from Rugby's finest' - Sounds, July '89".

If "Revolution" on Volume 6 was an agitated call-to-arms about some vague cause or other, "Hypnotized" is drowning in hallucinogenic chemicals, with vocals sounding as if they're emerging deep from a shagpile carpet on the floor. It oozes out of your stereo, builds slightly, then slops and slides on the floor fizzing slightly as it goes.

Oddly, I have no memory of ever thinking of it as a significant musical moment - certainly not to the extent that the music press salivated about it - but it is an impressive psychedelic track, even managing to incorporate saxophones in a way that sounds measured and appropriately considered. The long fade section in particular could have been recorded by any number of legendary sixties "heavy" acts, and while "Hypnotized" plays, it's impossible to really get worked up about anything. Admittedly though, if you're in the wrong frame of mind it can occasionally be rather yawnsome at almost six minutes long.

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