1. Inspiral Carpets - She Comes In The Fall (Mute)
"This is moody and miraculous with a lovely walking on air melody, but then the organ farts in again and firmly stops them becoming stellar".
I first heard "She Comes The Fall" in its Peel Session guise, and loved it - in typical Inspirals fashion, it was a stirling piece of garage pop, but this time with added flourishes. Barging its way into your mind with almost aggressive verses while the chorus turned you over and rubbed your belly with its sweetness, it also added marching military drumbeats and carefully plucked guitar lines to its arsenal.
The "Life" LP version later on wasn't much different. A bit beefed up, maybe, but pleasing and one of the highlights of a now frequently ignored piece of work.
Then this, the single version, was... well, it was as if the band had travelled back in time, gone to the Sound Techniques studio with Joe Boyd, and played with all the toys in there one merry afternoon. That should make the 7" version an absolute triumph, but oddly it sounds gimmicky and distracting instead. It swirls, honks, echoes and whooshes all over the shop while everyone gets over-excited pressing the "special buttons" in the studio, and it ends up smacking of a poor sixties parody rather than a carefully executed radio edit. It places almost alarming attacks of psychedelia where they feel uncomfortable; those howling electronic sirens during the instrumental break, for example, almost utterly ruin a top drawer Clint Boon performance.
None of this silliness can completely murder the song, of course, which remains strong enough to withstand the assault, but I'll still always reach for the LP version over this.
2. The Charlatans - The Only One I Know (Dead Dead Good)
"The Only One I Know, a track blessed with wah-wah guitar and a hammond organ swirling around a pure hypnotic groove" - Sounds.
"The Only One I Know" was a shock. Firstly, to anyone who hadn't been following The Charlatans closely at this point, which I must guiltily confess I hadn't, something as brightly poppy as this didn't seem possible. "Indian Rope" was slightly psychedelic and meandering, not catchy, bouncy and bouyant.
Secondly, even after I heard it, my first appreciative thought was "That might even get into the Top 40 if it's lucky". The fact that the single then soared into the top ten and could even be caught being used as backing music on keep fit programmes was above and beyond my expectations. It briefly made The Charlatans seem like a serious threat to the Mondays and the Roses - if they could keep this sort of jolly rhumba racket going, who knew what else would be in store?
"The Only One I Know" is so much a part of alternative rock's heritage now that it's actually difficult to take any number of steps back and look at it afresh. The first time I heard it, I adored the bittersweet chorus and those swooping, high basslines, but over the course of thirty or forty listens found myself ground down by one of the main hooks, the repetitive squawking keyboard line, which follows you around throughout like a flock of nagging geese. Like a lot of hook-heavy pop, its instant appeal does eventually become a mild irritant.
For all that, though, I've never once found myself needing to turn the radio off or leave the dancefloor for the bar when it comes on. Two singles in, The Charlatans had managed to pull the enviable (and certainly very profitable) trick of writing an ageless alternative pop tune. This is their "Reward", their "Echo Beach", or their "Birdhouse In Your Soul". It didn't necessarily typify their output, which as we'll see was actually rich and broad, but it did become a very powerful beacon to people who may never have otherwise got to hear the rest of their work - and they'd easily avoid becoming one-hit wonders.
3. The Darkside - Waiting For The Angels (Situation Two)
"an irresistable, etherial psychedelic pop song from the darkside, a trio from the centre of England".
Yet another group who splintered out of the dissolution of Spacemen 3, The Darkside were essentially the other members minus Peter Kember (who would create Spectrum) and Jason Pierce (Spiritualized). Perhaps somewhat inevitably, they were the least successful offshoot of them all, but that's not to say that they didn't create some music of note.
"Waiting For The Angels", for example, is dark, brooding, faintly psychedelic and - while not much of a single, if the truth be told - does slowly and lazily unveil a certain majesty across its playing time. There are mild similarities between this and The Charlatans' next single "Then", mainly around the mood and the bassline, which are surely just a vague coincidence.
The band managed two studio albums before giving up the ghost in 1993.
4. Spiritualized - Anyway That You Want Me (Dedicated) - Vinyl and Cassette Only (for some mad reason)
(no sleevenotes were provided for this track).
Talking of which... it's staggering the way ex-members of Spacemen 3 managed to colonise volumes of "Indie Top 20", and in this case, they're living right next door to each other.
In 1990, opening your new band's career with a cover version of a Troggs single was considered an incredibly suspect thing to do, whether the end result was any good or not. Nothing really says "Actually, we're a bit stuck for ideas" as much as a sixties cover. Jason Pierce seemed to have Brexited out of Spacemen 3 and now didn't have a clue what to do. And yet...
The original "Anyway That You Want Me", if you want to take the time out to listen to it, is a very spindly, pale, uncertain little fawn of a pop song, closer to The Velvet Underground at their most stumbling and unsure than a scaling psychedelic song. And Spiritualized took it and made it mighty, creating an ambitious cover akin to Nilsson's reinterpretation of Badfinger's slightly scrappy "Without You". Crashing, heavy-handed Troggs chords still form the foundations of the song, but surrounding them are a wealth of orchestral flourishes and wailing guitars - it's not a cover so much as a total reconstruction, and it's hard to imagine why anybody would prefer the original. If it can be criticised at all, it's for the overlong ending which tries to be agreeably hypnotic but just becomes blandly repetitious. The single wouldn't have lost much by having 30-45 seconds trimmed off it, and indeed at the time I often found myself skipping to the next track on this LP early.
Obviously, when it comes to Troggs ballads that needed a bit more work, Wet Wet Wet hit what some would call the "paydirt" with "Love Is All Around".
5. The Family Cat - A Place With A Name (Bad Girl)
"The Family Cat present, for your delectation and delight, their second single of 1990. So crank up the gramophone, roll back the carpet and get down to 'Place With A Name'".
"Listening to Leonard Cohen, though heaven knows why", begins this track, a viewpoint that sums up a common human dilemma. We depress ourselves with heavy folk singer-songwriter fare from the sixties when what we probably actually need is some Northern Soul.
"A Place With A Name" is a short, sharp, likeable piece of indie rock which failed to really present The Family Cat as much of a force for the future, but was a distinct improvement on the disappointment of "Remember What It Is That You Love". It lacks the scuffed up aggression of "Tom Verlaine" but replaces it with a lot of sweetness - the brightness was turned up on The Family Cat's world at this point, and that's a side of them that would make itself known on future singles too.