Paul Den Heyer deserves to be more widely known. He made his first splash with Fishmonkeyman in the 90’s – who’s If I’ve Told You Once was a memorable Britpop hit in the early 90’s. From there he’s played with and produced many memorable bands – two of them very dear to my heart. I’m talking about the summer drenched tunes of Sunstack Jones and John Lever’s project The Red-Sided Garter Snakes – whose two albums showcased several artists influenced and inspired by John and his work with The Chameleons and The Sun and the Moon. It was a last influx of creativity before John passed away and it left me wondering what would come next from these artists, chief among them Paul Den Heyer. I didn’t have to wait long, as Paul’s been in touch with me letting me know about his solo work and sharing snippets over the “world wide web”. And now that it is here, how does it stack up? Does it live up to everything I had hoped?
When I was about 19 in the mid 90’s in the midst of the Britpop scene, I used to wander the aisles of the Princeton Record Exchange (Princeton, NJ) looking for the latest and greatest up and coming bands. Back in those days record collecting wasn’t as easy as following the links on the “world wide web”. You had to read, read, and read some more. And sometimes, I went with my intuition if an album cover caught my eye. And so it was with the 2nd Strangelove album, Love and Other Demons. A “blind” purchase, if you will – it instantly became a favorite record. There was a connection to the band Suede, but I truly had no idea about that when I bought the album. It has remained a treasured album in my collection for over 22 years since. A perfect mix of hope, melancholy, and a sense of being out of control. I loved it, love it, and will always love it. Singer Patrick Duff in particular spoke to me on a deeper level. Lyrically, I related to the themes of loss, love, and despair. Vocally, he was somewhat indebted to the nuances of Depeche Mode’s David Gahan, as filtered through the glam rock sensibility of Suede’s Brett Anderson. The years passed, the band sobered up, broke up, and Patrick forged his own path as a solo artist. But that path was quite unlike any he had walked before.
In the late 90’s I found myself outside of Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern desperately trying to listen to a sold out Super Furry Animals show. The Welsh band were about to release another masterpiece in the form of Guerilla and were playing a mix of hit songs and yet to be released songs. Sadly, the sound was almost imperceptible from the street and I went on my way walking around the city. It was a sign of things to come, unfortunately – each time Super Furry Animals or Gruff Rhys solo came to town I’d either have a show lined up already (Black Sabbath being the most notable) or simply couldn’t make it. That’ll change this October when I finally take in a Gruff Rhys solo show in an intimate venue. He’ll be supporting his latest solo album, Babelsberg one of the finest records he’s been involved with, solo or otherwise.
Gaz Coombes is perhaps an unlikely solo star. At the height of Britpop in the mid 90’s, he fronted Supergrass – a band lumped in with the scene but who were more punk inspired, more fun, and yet – had a deep sense of melancholy as their career progressed. My personal favorite was the underrated self titled third album, with my favorite Supergrass song What Went Wrong (In Your Head). The songs struck a balance between sadness and euphoria, something that will endlessly appeal to me. 3 albums more would follow before the band split in 2010 citing the usual musical differences. As a solo artist, Coombes has deepened his sound while retaining some of the elements that we loved about him in Supergrass. You just have to dig a little deeper to find that playfulness. Middle age is a bitch. World’s Strongest Man is his 3rd album and it just may be his finest album yet.
EP Two continues the return of Paul Draper, formerly the lead singer for Britpop outsiders, Mansun. As with EP One, the quality offerings continue, whetting the appetite for Draper’s upcoming full length, Spooky Action. Many years ago I saw Mansun open for The Seahorses in a fairly small club in Philadelphia. Truth be told, Mansun were so good that my friend and I left before The Seahorses took the stage (apologies to John Squire + company). I’d love to have the opportunity to see Paul Draper solo, perhaps in 2017. EP Two feels like a continuation of EP One – 3 unique songs along with an acoustic version of lead off track Friends Make The Worst Enemies. The proper version kicks off the EP in stunning fashion. Has a better song title existed or truer words been spoken? A mid tempo slice of melancholy, it wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Mansun album. Vocally, it is superb – dare I say it, Paul’s voice seems to have grown in stature after all these years. Co-written w/ Catherine AD (The Anchoress) it features cutting lyrics with an air of despair. “Get people on your side / the effective use of lies is how to work”. Indeed. Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid is my favorite song of 2016 from Mr. Draper. An acoustic lament for the 1st 90 seconds with the refrain “wish I had told you” on repeat, it segues into some of the finest orchestration I’ve heard in ages for the last minute or so. It hits the emotional core. Regret, longing, sadness. Perfection. Don’t You Wait It Might Never Come is a classic rocker that could be an A side in its own right. Glam, Britpop, Mansun like. Might be the most Mansun like track of Paul’s solo career to date. The EP closes with an acoustic version of the lead off track. Stunning in delivery, it is a hell of a way to close an EP. The full length can’t get here soon enough.
You can follow Paul on The Social Network here. You can catch the latest news at his official website, pauldraperofficial.com. The EP is available now on all digital outlets w/ physical copies & special packages also available through the store section of Paul’s website.
Verdict: Winning Streak Continues
For Fans of: Mansun, Strangelove, Blur, The Twilight Sad, The Anchoress, The Cure
When I think of the mid to late 90’s era of Britpop, I gravitate towards a select few bands. Sure, I love Oasis, Blur, and Pulp. But my absolute favorite bands from the scene were the ones that were just a bit more slightly off kilter. Suede, Strangelove, My Life Story, and of course…Mansun. A bit glam, a bit prog, a bit Britpop – Mansun took those disparate elements and made them all their own. I remember driving to the Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ (of course) to buy any release I could get my hands on. Each EP had quality b-sides that were the equal of their album counterparts. In fact, I think there are more non album singles & b-sides than total album tracks. After 3 studio albums & multiple singles / EP’s, the band called it a day. A posthumous box set was issued in 2004 comprising the 4th album sessions along with assorted b-sides & rarities. Singer Paul Draper participated in one-off collaborations with artists from a variety of genres in the intervening years, but really announced his return to music with his work with The Anchoress in 2014. Now we have the 1st Paul Draper solo EP, fittingly titled EP One.
Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.
The mid 90’s saw former shoegaze critical darlings Ride move from their noisier past towards a more melodic future. Released in 1994, the band’s Carnival of Light was a critical and commercial failure, which has baffled me for years. The band didn’t sell out to play Oasis styled Britpop – in fact, Carnival of Light came out 2 months before the debut Oasis album, Definitely Maybe. So why was the album such a dividing point for fans and critics? I guess if a band releases one of the definitive albums of a different musical movement (1990’s Nowhere) it is tough to see the band in a different light. I’d say early Ride with its shoegaze centric aesthetic sounds like a completely different band from the mid 90’s Britpop centric version. I Don’t Know Where It Comes From was the 3rd single lifted from Carnival of Light and is my favorite track from the album. A dreamy, 60’s vibe courses through the song – the meeting of nostalgia & wistfulness. It’s a perfect introduction to this period of Ride – a period that would only last 1 album and still hasn’t found popular or critical acceptance 20+ years later. That’s a damn shame, but it doesn’t dilute the impact of these memorable tunes. Start with this song and work your way into the full album.