Best tunes of 1990: #28 The Wonder Stuff “Circlesquare”

Song number twenty-eight on this young list is a non-album single from Stourbridge, England’s finest, The Wonder Stuff.

These guys were one of my favourite bands through the 1990s, having picked up on them almost by accident in the very early days of my music explorations. I found their debut album, “Eight legged groove machine”, in my friend Elliott’s cassette tape collection one day and borrowed it, liking the look of the cover and the sound of the names of both the band and the album. I listened to it constantly thereafter, loving the angst-ridden pop sensibility and the sneering attitude of the frontman, Miles Hunt. They sounded unlike anything I was hearing on Canadian radio at the time and though they did eventually become a big deal in England, they never really made it here in North America. Very few people that I knew ever heard of them so it was like having a favourite band all to myself.

The band formed in 1986 and originally comprised of Hunt (vocals, guitar), Malc Treece (guitar), Martin Gilks (drums), and Rob “The bass thing” Jones (on bass, of course). They released a string of four albums between 1986 and 1994, adding and losing members along the way, before ultimately falling to pieces just prior to completing the tour cycle for their fourth album. The band reunited in 2000 for a one-off show that turned into a handful of sold out gigs in England that year. Four years later, Miles Hunt announced he would be soldiering on under The Wonder Stuff moniker with only Malc Treece from the original lineup and a couple of new members. They have since released four albums of new material and continue to play live.

I never actually heard the song “Circlesquare” until a couple of years after it was released, and even then, it was a stripped-down acoustic version of the song that was included as a B-side on the “Welcome to the cheap seats” double EP. It wasn’t until after they broke up and released their career spanning retrospective, “If the Beatles had read Hunter”, that I got my first glimpse at the original.

“Circlesquare” is classic Hunt. Jaded and self-deprecating even way back then, even at a time when life must’ve been good for the band. “I’ve been a long term disappointment to myself, but it hits like a hammer when I’m that to someone else.” Hunt wails away on his acoustic while Treece, his partner in guitar crime, cranks up the machine gun effects pedals, Gilks gets funky with drums and Martin Bell (aka Fiddly) fills every vacant cranny with his fiddle flourishes. It’s an almost perfect snapshot of the band in flux, having been recorded after “The bass thing” left the band and Martin Bell became an official member and just before new bassist Paul Clifford joined. It’s a blend of their electric and electrifying, high energy pop off their aforementioned debut and the acerbic, fiddle crazy folk rock of their most popular album, 1991’s “Never loved Elvis”.

If you’ve never experienced The Wonder Stuff before, you could do worse than start here.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2000: #15 Badly Drawn Boy “Once around the block”

We start this list off at the number fifteen position with “Once around the block”, the first single released off “The hour of the bewilderbeast”, Badly Drawn Boy’s debut long player.

I first caught on to Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) in 2002, two years after the release of this debut, when I fell hard for the instrumentation that soundtracked the film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s “About a boy”. If you’ve never read the book or seen the film, it is about a rich and single 30-something living off the royalties of a song his father wrote, who meets a young boy without a father. They become friends of a sort and in trying to help the boy learn to be cool, the man grows up. The man is portrayed by Hugh Grant, a role he was seemingly born to play, perhaps it wasn’t even much of a stretch, and the music Damon Gough provided for the soundtrack perfectly reflected his character. It was slick and cool (though perhaps not as hip as it thought itself) and meandered seemingly without aim and at its own pace, until it went on to the next thing, no song, or snippet of a song, lasting more than a few minutes.

After playing my way through the soundtrack many times, I went back to explore “The hour of bewilderbeast” and discovered it was very much of the same ilk. Laid back and slacker cool, teasing us knowingly with nods to his influences. It even plays like a soundtrack, cinematic in sound with interludes between the proper tracks. If it sounds accomplished for a debut, it’s likely because he cut his teeth releasing a string of EPs beforehand and with this album he continued the trend he started with those EPs by performing most of the instrumentation himself, though he did enlist the help of Doves members on some tracks. Incidentally, Doves was one of the bands he beat out in winning the prestigious Mercury prize for best album with “The hour of the bewilderbeast” in 2000.

But back to “Once around the block”, a song that was, truth be told, originally released in 1999 but I can get away with including here due to its re-release a year later. It’s a track that has for its backbone some wild wah-wah guitars and a wicked jazz shuffle and Gough throws in his vocals almost incidentally, as if the words he starts with could easily be replaced by the scooby-doo-wah-wah scat singing he moves into later in the song. The song ambles along cyclically, instruments dropping in and out, showcasing each, with no real climax or peak, it’s like a jazz piece in this way, and structured like a leisurely walk around the block. And then, it all just fades away with the vibes being the last voice to peek back as it turns the corner and out of earshot.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Allo Darlin’ “We come from the same place”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Allo Darlin’
Album Title: We come from the same place
Year released: 2014
Details: black vinyl, normal weight

The skinny: The third and final album by the London-based, indie pop quartet, Allo Darlin’, led by Australian-born, Elizabeth Morris. Wistful and sad but at the same time, full of sunshine and happiness, the world has a great sources of lovely music here.

Standout track: “History lessons”