Best tunes of 1991: #15 Chapterhouse “Pearl”

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February 20, 1994. I had tickets to see my then favourite band, The Wonder Stuff, a concert for which I had doled out a measly $10. I met my friend Tim and a group of his friends in the lineup for the show and I was a bit shocked to learn that many of them were mainly there to see the opening band: Chapterhouse. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the group, of course, far from it. I had a copy of their debut album, “Whirlpool”, on the other side of a C90 of Blur’s “Leisure”. I had liked it quite a bit and went out to get a copy of their sophomore release, “Blood music” when it came out. However, it was their blazing opening set that night that really got me into them (the Stuffies were pretty awesome too but that’s a story for another time).

Chapterhouse were a five-piece from Reading, England that were led by Andrew Sherrif and Stephen Patman. They were in existence from 1987 to 1994 and in that time released two albums, a bunch of EPs, and were pigeonholed twice, in two very difference music scenes around during that time. The band never identified with either the acid house/baggy or the shoegaze scenes, but you can definitely hear smacks of both in “Pearl”. Thanks to its heavy, muscle-flexing drum samples and heavenly organ sounds it begs for dance floor nirvana but the fuzzed out guitars and Andrew Sherrif’s whispery vocals allow for plenty of floor-staring introspection. It’s explosive and dreamy, foot-stomping and floating, a real beaut of dichotomy. Of course, the fact that Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell added her backing vocals to the mix didn’t hurt the song’s pedigree in the latter genre.

The song was released in two versions on an EP of the same name and as the second track on the band’s legendary debut album. I heard it first on the album, that cassette was rewound many times to this song, especially after that concert. It’s become one of my favourite songs ever over the years. And if you’re looking at that number in the title and wondering how such a favourite song falls so far out of the top ten, that just shows how much I loved the music from 1991. Stay tuned for the rest of this list – it’s going to be great.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.

Vinyl love: Spiritualized “And nothing hurt”

(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: Spiritualized
Album Title: And nothing hurt
Year released: 2018
Details: standard black, embossed morse code on cover

The skinny: Many of you know by now that I’m a pretty big Spiritualized fan, my favourite of their albums still being 1997’s “Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space“. So I was pretty eager to get to listen to this latest, the eighth for the outfit, ever since I heard this album was a sort of return to 1997 form. I’m currently on the third spin through and I’m just letting it wash over me. It definitely sounds better on my turntable than on my iPod and it’s definitely Spiritualized. Perhaps I’ll have a more concrete opinion after a few more spins…

Standout track: “I’m your man”

Best albums of 1987: #1 Depeche Mode “Music for the masses”

On June 18th, 1988, Depeche Mode played the 101st and final concert of its “Music for the masses” tour, selling over 60,000 tickets to Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium, an astounding feat, even for a rock band, which Depeche Mode was decidedly not. (But more on that on a bit.) The show, and tour leading up to it, was immortalized in an excellent documentary and an accompanying double live album, both titled, of course, “101”.

This live album was my real introduction to the band, a couple of years after its release. I had, of course, heard “People are people” at high school dances and “Personal Jesus” had just been released as a single and was being played all over the place. I had told my friend John I really liked the latter of these two and he made me a copy of “101”, a cassette tape that spent a lot of time in my bedroom stereo and opened my eyes and ears to a whole different world of music. It wasn’t very long at all before I was purchasing all of their albums on cassette tape and compact disc.

“Music for the masses” is Depeche Mode’s sixth album and it was made at a time when new wave and synthpop was on the wane. The title is the band being ironic about the fact that their music was unpopular and not commercial in an increasingly hair metal and rock environment. Interesting, then, that this was the album that was their most successful to date and finally broke them in the US. It was daring in that they changed producers for the first time and reduced their use of samples in exchange for more experimentation with synths, but they did not give in to pressure to pick up rock guitars or to make pop music. It is austere and dark. It is love and sex, often of the deviant kind. And interestingly, it is a road record, not just in its lyrical references, but the sound, production, and pacing makes for great night driving.

For me, “Music for the masses” is an iconic band at the top of their game (whether or not it’s their true apex is debatable). It is full of nostalgia for me and never really sounds dated, as some of their earlier material does. Have a listen to my three picks for you below and tell me if you disagree.

“Little 15”: Our first song is one that was never meant to be a single but a French label wanted to release it as such and so it became the fourth one off the album. Because it barely even made the album, it wasn’t one that appeared on “101” so I first heard it in context with the rest of the album. I liked it immediately but originally thought “little 15” was the girl. I’ve since realized that it refers to a teenaged boy in love with an older woman and there is an innocence here that is betrayed by the something sinister in the synthesized strings. The way they jump and cavort always reminded me of a mad scientist, villain type character from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, playing the harpsichord in an off kilter and crumbling castle while creaky bats flit about around him. Sounds quite the contrast with my perceived content of the song, I know, but is it, really?

“The things you said”: Heavy low-end thumping, creating a waft of negative and empty space, space filled by sad and plodding notes, sounds emulating saxophones and xylophones, and Martin Gore’s deeply disappointed and tear-soaked vocals. It’s a song for night time and candle lit bedrooms. It’s a song for teen angst, though I suppose this scenario could occur at any stage of life. One would hope these mistakes, that of ending relationships due to betrayal and the spreading of poisoned words, could only occur during the foolishness of youth. I remember singing along to this one quite a bit when I was feeling sorry for myself, you know those moments, when your own teen-aged drama feels like it’s the most important thing happening. “I get so carried away. You brought me down to earth. I thought we had something precious. Now I know what it’s worth.” Indeed, songs like this were why some of my friends called them “depressed mode” but I still love it.

“Behind the wheel”:  My third pick for you is the third single released off the album and is the most obvious of the “road songs” I referenced above. Indeed, the extended remix of the song incorporates a cover of Bobby Troup’s “Route 66”, another great driving song, and samples of cars roaring by. “My little girl, drive anywhere. Do what you want. I don’t care… tonight.” It all begins with a sort of rattling sound, presumably a hubcap that has loosed itself from a speeding car and left to skid and rest on a dusty deserted highway. Then, the song’s driving beat beams us back into the car, where the driver is determined. We don’t know where she is going or when she needs to get there, but it seems to be soon. It is really just enough for us to be in the passenger seat, letting someone else drive and enjoy the ride. It is dark, sexy, and sleek, inferring speed and a hint of danger. Great tune to dance to and obviously, for driving.

In case you missed them, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Dead Can Dance “Within the realm of the dying sun”
9. Spaceman 3 “The perfect prescription”
8. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Darklands”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Jane’s Addiction”
6. The Sisters of Mercy “Floodland”
5. The Cure “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me”
4. U2 “The joshua tree”
3. The Smiths “Strangeways, here we come”
2. R.E.M. “Document”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.