1. Verve - Man Called Sun (Hut)
"'The Stones at their most stoned' is a good point of entry as any to the wonderful world of Verve. 'There's an aura surrounding them, a real palpable bitch of an aura, that makes you feel like dogs in the presence of ghosts; you can feel it but you don't know what it is. Verve are gigantic'".
Verve - or The Verve, as we now know them due to a legal dispute with the jazz label of the same name, even though that still sounds utterly wrong to me - were a very big deal in 1992. They were the subject of frothing prose from almost every IPC inky magazine being printed, and there was tremendous pressure to acknowledge them as our new saviours.
By fluke rather than judgement, and just at the point where the hype began, I caught an early London gig of theirs at the Tufnell Park Dome, prior to their debut single "All In The Mind" being released. I noted that a critic being quoted on the flyer declared they had an "enormous" sound - "Like God falling down the stairs" - and waited excitedly for them to take the stage, preparing myself for a transcendental musical moment. Inevitably, it never came. The band crashed, thundered and noodled away while Richard Ashcroft fell to his knees and lifted himself up again with his arms raised multiple times over. An exhausted gig-going companion of mine found a chair by a table, and literally fell asleep during their set.
A minor freelance music journalist cornered us outside after the gig. "What did you think of that, eh?!" he asked, smiling from ear to ear, daring us to say anything negative. Another friend of mine, without batting an eyelid, said "Shit. Tedious hippy shit. I was close to falling asleep".
The journalist stormed off, went over to a crowd of young and pretty people he knew, pointed at us and could be heard to say "You know, it makes me SICK to the stomach when people can't recognise genius EVEN when they're in the same room as it".
We laughed at him. His friends sneered at us.
In retrospect, were Verve as bad on the night as we seemed to state? No. Problematically, though, they weren't as colossal as the press claimed, and I think we were reacting against the early hype. It was a bad time to be a long-haired dreamer in an indie group. We had Terry Bickers, Spiritualized, lots of shoegazing bands, and more droning crusty groups than the circuit could cope with, so there was plenty of competition. Indeed, I was very much a devotee of Spiritualized at this point in my life, catching all the live shows of theirs that I could - what struck me at the Dome was that the Verve didn't seem as if they'd earned their critical plaudits. By comparison, they didn't make you feel transported. They just seemed like a bunch of cocksure hairies who had taken some mushrooms once. Note - the key word here is "seemed". First impressions count for a lot and linger for a long time.
Debut single "All In The Mind" landed and really wasn't worth getting your knickers in a twist about. "I was born to flyyyy - flyyyy - pretty high!" sang Ashcroft. "Oh, fuck off, move out and take your wind chimes with you", I replied. Nestling on the flip, however, was "Man Called Sun" which perhaps showed another side to the band I might not have been aware of at first. Sitting somewhere between Pink Floyd's "Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun" and a Jim Morrison meditation, it's a soft, gentle, 3am car journey through life's B roads, filled with gentle swells of sound and jazzy riffs. It's like a heavy swig of codeine infused cough mixture, and really rather good. Genius? The sound of the future? No. Just rather good. If I hadn't felt bullied into liking Verve when they debuted, chances are I might have been more charitable towards them initially.
2. The Breeders - Do You Love Me Now? (4AD)
"Sex, astral projection, abortion, television, human nature, God and magic. These were just some of the themes handled in a jaggedly explosive anti-fashion on 'Pod', the 1990 debut album from The Breeders. Eighteen months on, The Breeders have taken time out from their globe-trotting rock 'n' roll careers to assemble some more garuulous guitar graffiti in the shape of an EP 'Safari'. 'Do You Love Me Now?' is one of the four tracks featured on the EP which reached number one in the British independent chart."
"Do You Love Me Now?" is a strange blip in The Breeders catalogue. Rather than being a slab of jagged aggression, it awkwardly sways along pleadingly, a drunken ballad to a departed loved one. "Come back to me right now!" begs Kim Deal. "Come on, come on, come on, you loved me before!" If it resembles anything at all, it's a slow grungey garage stagger through a Motown styled track - which is probably exactly what it was designed to sound like. The Breeders weren't a "girl band" in the traditional Doo wop/ Supremes (or even, heaven forfend, Bananarama) sense of the word, but this is the closest they got to sounding like one.
It's as human and imperfect as you'd expect. The drunken sounding distorted bass fuzz shows they weren't going for anything polished, but the yearning nature of the track is still very effective. It's actually a very strong piece of songwriting dragged down a back alley and scuffed up a bit. If you were told that it had been penned as a minor hit in the mid-sixties and The Breeders were merely covering it, it would be very easy to believe. In fact, even at the time I checked the songwriting credits for this very carefully indeed.
If anything, I suspect that the "Safari" EP made people realise that Pixies were far from solely dependant on Frank Black's talent - Kim Deal had bags to spare of her own.
3. Kingmaker - Celebrated Working Man (Sacred Heart)
"Outspoken, different, arrogant, spoiling for a fight, Kingmaker although signed to a major, represent an independent teen spirit so often squeezed mercilessly out of a young band in the industry's clutches. Expect a brace of foot-tapping, ear-burning, government-popping, mind altering EPs throughout '92 and beyond. These monarchs ain't abdicating just yet!"
Kingmaker were indeed touted as an enormous band with a big attitude and a hugely promising future in 1992. Interesting, as they occasionally sounded like little more than an amalgamation of the ideas of all the alternative bands around them, with Miles Hunt's sneer and his snappier melodies pushed to the forefront. For as much as they sounded like a major label's idea of a hit indie band, however, they did show occasional sparks of an uncommercial racket early on. Their debut major label EP "Two Headed Yellow Bellied Hole Digger" featured a live track called "Pockets of St. Malachi" which rattled, screeched and bawled its way to a raucous conclusion. It sounded semi-improvised and furious.
Those kinds of ideas very rarely found themselves pushed to the forefront of Kingmaker's promotional campaigns, though, and what you tended to hear the most of - especially after their first LP - was swaggering early nineties styled indie-pop, with Loz Hardy's finger wagging proclamations on the state of modern Britain at the forefront. Their debut single "Celebrated Working Man" showcases some of this, but with its skiffle styled shuffling rhythms and its basic sloganeering, it's nothing ground-breaking or especially exciting. Chrysalis Records obviously thought otherwise, and signed the band not long afterwards.
[Sadly, "Celebrated Working Man" is unavailable online anywhere at present, being the subject of numerous copyright takedowns - so you may have to dig around a bit to actually hear it.]
4. Revolver - Venice (Hut)
"Revolver are back with their Ralph Jezzard produced 'Venice' which has a much harder edge to it than any of their previous work. All the tracks featured on 'Venice' highlight the fact that the band are moving in a progressive direction, they even bring a flash of inspiration to the old Strawberry Switchblade 'Since Yesterday'. All of Revolver's previous singles are now available on the import album 'Baby's Angry'. However, look out for their debut album which will be with us very shortly".
"Venice" is probably one of the most likeable of Revolver's songs, driven by an Eastern sounding guitar riff, pounding, crashing drums and throbbing basslines. While it does admittedly sound rather too close to Ride for its own good, it's certainly the most impressive Revolver track on the "Indie Top 20" series.
In similar with a lot of their other work, however, it does sound like one very simple idea stretched to four minutes - there's no verse/ chorus structure here at all, just the bare simplicity of one pleasing riff wandered around and prodded at with angry sticks.
5. Spectrum - How You Satisfy Me (Silvertone)
"'How You Satisfy Me' is the debut single from Sonic Boom's new band Spectrum. It achieved the coveted single of the week position in The Melody Maker and was described a 'a triumph of low fidelity'. Spectrum's debut album 'Soul Kiss' on Silvertone is Sonic's seventh, in one form of another".
Talking of simplicity, though, Sonic Boom really leans on a rough, honking keyboard garage riff for this one, which sounds like a fluttering piece of late-sixties pop on a small regional American label. If overlong - certainly longer than most singles of that era, anyway - it does do a lot with very little, though. Whooshing, phasing and roaring its way down the psychedelic highway, "How You Satisfy Me" is one part Archies styled candy-pop, another part acid-addled haze.
Unsurprisingly, the straightforward nature of this single failed to illicit as much as excitement as the activities of his old bandmate Jason Pierce in Spiritualized, but it did show that many of the elements of the old Spacemen 3 sound had worked their way into both groups.