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.
I kind of missed out on The Libertines the 1st time around, 13 years ago or so. An English version of The Strokes the US press seemed to ramble on about (or so I believed at the time). The band was led by Pete Doherty and Carl Barât, but it seemed like the press gravitated towards the junkie exploits of Mr. Doherty. It was a turnoff for me, to be honest. Well…I was sorely mistaken. The Libertines took elements of The Clash and Blur and created a shambolic racket of punk inspired Britpop. Sometimes it felt like everything was going to fall apart, and sometimes it did – all part of the band’s charm. If you told me that the endless tales of Pete Doherty’s debauchery got on your nerves, well…you wouldn’t be wrong. With such a compelling discography with very few signs of weakness, I’d say…overlook the junkie horrorshow. Indeed – Doherty and Barât have never equalled the highs of The Libertines in their post breakup bands or solo, though Doherty has come the closest. Here we are in 2015, 11 years after the last album by The Libertines. Gunga Din is the lead off single from upcoming album Anthems for Doomed Youth and believe it or not, it might be the strongest single the band has released. Now older, and maybe wiser – the song features separate verses from Pete & Carl, and perhaps the catchiest chorus the band has ever given authorship to. The music moves from a druggy reggae vibe to a positively explosive Britpop chorus. Perfect, it hits every strong point imaginable. A bit from Pete’s verses: “Woke up again / To my chagrin / Getting sick and tired of / Feeling sick and tired again”. Carl weighs in “Woke up again / To my evil twin / That mirror is fucking ugly and I’m / Sick and tired of looking at him”. Both verses lead to that perfect anthemic chorus “Oh, the road is long / If you stay strong / You’re a better man than I / You’ve been beat and afraid / Probably betrayed / You’re a better man than I”. The video features the band out on a night drinking in Thailand, where they recorded their upcoming album. Don’t overlook Gary Powell’s drumming or John Hassall’s bass playing – everything works perfectly here. And what is a Gunga Din? It is an 1892 poem by Rudyard Kipling, written from the perspective of an English soldier and immortalised in the final lines of the poem “Tho’ I’ve belted you and flayed you / By the livin’ Gawd that made you / You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”. There are also songs by The Byrds and Jim Croce that share the name. The Libertines deserve to be discussed among those greats. Welcome back, boys.
Verdict: Here Are the Likely Lads
For Fans of: The Clash, Blur, The Jam, Television Personalities, Comet Gain, The Kinks
Summertime anthems are quickly becoming a tradition with North England’s Sunstack Jones. In 2013 the band released one of my favorite indie singles of that year called You Can Help Me Out. They bettered that in 2014 with a full album of anthems called Roam – Britpop infused melodies with hints of Americana. 2015 continues the tradition with the release of the Good This Time single b/w ace b-side This Can’t Keep Going On.
The title track just might be my favorite release from the band to date. Hints of shoegaze by way of The Verve shine bright on this tune – shimmering melodies, vocals evoking a dream like state. “Listen and I’ll try to talk you out / Listen get your feet back on the ground” urges vocalist Chris Jones, a ghost like voice rising out of the walls of instrumentation. This Can’t Keep Going On is every bit the equal of the A side (so, I guess tied as my favorite Sunstack Jones song). A distinct Slowdive by way of Mojave 3 vibe carries this tune. Still wandering in and out of a dream like state, there is a driving urgency on this song that makes for an engaging listen. Fuzz tone guitar riffs immediately after the chorus recall a Phil Spector wall of sound. Perfect.
Verdict: Hazy Shade of Summer
For Fans of: The Verve, Mojave 3, Slowdive, The Ocean Blue, Swervedriver
At their peak of popularity, Oasis were the biggest band…in the UK. Though they had a few hits in the US, they never broke the US market like many expected them to in the mid 90’s. Driven to success with the double-edged sword of talent & sibling rivalry, it all fizzled out in 2009 after a pre gig fight between Liam and Noel Gallagher. Critics mocked their reverent worship of The Beatles, but I admired it. Is it really so different from the latest crop of post-punk bands who worship at the altar of Joy Division? At their best, Oasis could hang with The Beatles. At their worst, they were left in the dust by The Rutles. Where does a band go when it all crashes down?