Best tunes of 1990: #20 Inspiral Carpets “This is how it feels”

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For the next song in my best of 1990 series, I am reposting some words, with permission, by long-time friend, Andrew Rodriguez, who, back in the day, introduced me to the Inspiral Carpets. I had asked him for 200 words for my old blog, Music Insanity, just a few of his thoughts on this song, expecting to have to build a post around his words, but he delivered me this. I think it stands on its own:

The Inspiral Carpets. It is actually painful for me to admit that I CAN’T recall when I first actually heard them. In 1990 I was firmly entrenched musically and stylistically. I was a Mod. A friend of mine had already introduced me to The Stone Roses. He would later introduce me to Blur. I am being humble when I say that I was one of the first people in Canada to hear either the Roses or Blur. But somehow…I sort of missed the boat with Inspirals. It didn’t take me long to get on board however.

But this is not about me per se – this piece is about the Inspiral Carpets, who I grew to love, and who I believe have been sorely overlooked. More specifically, it is about the song “This Is How It Feels”. And maybe it is about me, maybe it is about anyone who ever felt lonely – without being depressed. Or who felt depressed without feeling lonely. That sounds a bit fucked doesn’t it? Well that is the VIBE that I always got from the Inspirals. The Inspiral Carpets have a ridiculously impressive catalogue of albums and singles.

And they were basically holding it down on their own. The British music press labelled them ‘madchester’. But they basically worked in a world that was pre ‘britpop’. They were not part of a movement. They were simply a band playing simply good music. And for John (the creator and driving force behind music insanity! who also happens to be one of my best and longest standing friends) and I, and others who really just wanted a soundtrack to grow up with…the Inspirals delivered.

“This Is How It Feels” was the second single off their first LP. It was – well it was fucking 1990. Music was crap. The song paints a sort of grim picture. Back then we were too young to fully appreciate how powerfully sucky life can actually be. But – in an era before hyper connectivity, when all you could hope for was hunkering down with your walkman at night, watching the red battery indicator light and listening to tunes…this music SPOKE. And it continues to speak. Catchy tune, simple, but down to earth lyrics. It is not a dancefloor packer by any stretch – but it is highly danceable (trust me). And thoughtful. A good mix. And – I never felt lonely listening to Inspiral Carpets.

Somewhat downer lyrics, and slightly melancholic tones…that are completely offset by the staccato drumming and the upbeat nature of the chorus. This song – there were two versions so far as I know – the North American version had slightly more ‘radio friendly’ lyrics, which I only found out recently – and there were two videos. One for Britain, one for North America. The North American one is what I grew to love – both video and song version.

But regardless – in this song you have spirit, you have honesty, and you have hope. Throw in a catchy tune, some competent organ playing, and you cannot go wrong. This is a song that you can listen to – walking in the rain, driving, relaxing, or dancing. Thoughtful. Reflective. And timeless.

UK version:

US version:


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

Vinyl love: Belle And Sebastian “Dear catastrophe waitress”

(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: Belle And Sebastian
Album Title: Dear catastrophe waitress
Year released: 2003
Year reissued: 2014
Details: black vinyl, 2 x LP, 150 gram, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: This, the Glasgow-based indie pop collective’s sixth long player, was their first for Rough Trade. It featured a more produced sound, real, honest-to-goodness singles, and a 70s throwback and sometimes glam rock, sound.

Standout track: “Step into my office, baby”

Top five tunes: The Tragically Hip

Who? The Tragically Hip

Years active: 1983 – present

Band members:
Gordon Downie (lead vocals) 1983 – present
Paul Langlois (guitars) 1983 – present
Rob Baker (guitars) 1983 – present
Gord Sinclair (bass) 1983 – present
Johnny Fay (drums) 1983 – present
Davis Manning (saxophone) 1983 – 1986

Up to Here (1989)
Road Apples (1991)
Fully Completely (1992)
Day for Night (1994)
Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)
Phantom Power (1998)
Music @ Work (2000)
In Violet Light (2002)
In Between Evolution (2004)
World Container (2006)
We Are the Same (2009)
Now for Plan A (2012)
Man machine poem (2016)

It’s Canada’s 150th birthday today and I can’t think of another homegrown band that is as well-known and is as loved across this large country of ours as The Tragically Hip.

For a good stretch from the 1990s to the early 2000s, they were definitely the undisputed heavyweight champions of Canadian rock. Their blues-infused rock with folk storytelling style leant itself well to sit beside pretty much every genre of music so they were played on all radio formats, from rock to pop to alternative to top 40. In those days, everyone in Canada knew who they were and you were a either a diehard fan of the band or you were just a casual fan. But nobody really hated them. Unfortunately, this phenomenon never translated to international success. Besides a bit of love from Australia, New Zealand, and patches of Europe, The Tragically Hip never really gained traction outside of Canada.

Right up to last year, they played to massive arenas and stadiums and headlined festivals here in Canada but if you crossed the border into the states, you could catch them playing tiny club shows. However, last May, frontman, Gord Downie, announced that he had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The Hip embarked upon what many called their final Canadian tour that summer, culminating in a concert in their hometown of Kingston that was attended by the Prime Minister and televised across the country.

Personally, I never actually owned a Tragically Hip album until my wife’s CD collection merged with my own when we began cohabiting and her copy of “Trouble at the hen house” was filed beside my copy of Travis’s “The man who”. I think it was four years later that they released their first ever “best of” compilation. I went out and procured a copy of the two disc version of “Yer favourites” (it was also released as a deluxe edition including DVDs called “Hipeponymous”) because although I couldn’t ever see myself listening to their albums, they had a few singles that I really loved.

I finally saw The Tragically Hip live for the first time with my wife at the Ottawa Bluesfest a few years ago. We both considered it almost like a rite of passage as Canadians and though neither of us have ever been the biggest fans, both of us knew every single song that they performed. It was almost as if the band’s music was in our bones and in our blood, and it all felt as natural as knowing the words to “O Canada”.

If you’re not Canadian and have never heard them before, these five songs can serve as a great introduction. But if you are Canadian, well… you know all these songs. You might as well sing along. It is Canada day, after all…

The top five:

#5: Bobcaygeon (from “Phantom power”, 1999)

This song and its mellow acoustic groove makes the list mostly because it’s named after a tiny town in central Ontario that I’ve driven through a million times but have never stopped in. But it also reminds me of my first real job after university working in a tool rental shop. “Bobcaygeon” received so much radio play that it drove my boss, Cam, nuts. It wasn’t long before I began randomly mimicking Gord Downie’s whine of the chorus to drive him even more nuts, and strangely, a fondness for the song grew. I still love it today.

Favourite lyric: “Could have been the Willie Nelson, could have been the wine.”

#4: New Orleans Is Sinking (from “Up to here”, 1989)

For a while in 2005, certain radio stations took this song out of their rotations out of sensitivity for the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It’s The Hip’s second ever single and perhaps best representation of their blues rock influences with its killer guitar zingers. Despite being released twenty-five years ago, it is considered one of the band’s best-known tracks and a fan favourite at their live shows. Speaking of which, if you’ve ever seen them perform “New Orleans is Sinking”, you might have also inadvertently caught a glimpse of a future song in development. The Hip often use the middle of this song to test out new songs. “Nautical disaster” and “Ahead by a century” both started out as bridges to this track live.

Favourite lyric: “My memory is muddy, what’s this river that I’m in? New Orleans is sinking, man, and I don’t want to swim.”

#3: Scared (from “Day for night”, 1995)

Don’t ask me why but this song evokes images of late-night chill sessions for me, candles lit and incense burning, people passed out on the floor, and empty red wine bottles everywhere. It’s not as if I lived that sort of lifestyle (he says smiling facetiously) but if I had, this might be just the sort of song that would have been on my stereo of nights like that. It’s quiet and riveting and emotionally charged. Like tears welling in your eyes for no reason but that are wiped away before anyone notices.

Favourite lyric: “Now there’s a focus group that can prove this is all nothing but cold calculation.”

#2: Ahead by a century (from “Trouble at the henhouse”, 1996)

This song was released during what was perhaps the peak period of The Hip’s career trajectory and is likely one of their biggest songs. I was entering the late stages of my university career. It was there, living in residence, that I discovered the ferociousness of their fans. Up to that point, I had only paid them minimal attention but on many occasions in 1995 and 1996, I was subject to polemics from multiple sources on the intricacies of their guitar work and the beauty of Gord Downie’s poetry. He “spoke” to their fans. So when he said in this particular track that life is “no dress rehearsal”, a whole generation of young Canadians swooned.

Favourite lyric: “And disappointing you is getting me down.”

#1: Courage (for Hugh Maclennan) (from “Fully completely”, 1993)

“Courage” has always been my favourite Tragically Hip, even before I learned of the dedication to Canadian author Hugh Maclennan in the parentheses to the title. It’s never even been a close race with number two but that attribution of this loftiest of personality traits to a fellow wordsmith only improved it for me. Never mind that the synergy of the driving drum track with the guitar hook wizardry makes the song arena encore ready, complete with devils horns salutes and white male air guitar dancing. And even as I am writing this down, I can’t believe I am writing it. Without the song to back them up, my words don’t aptly describe something I would normally listen to and enjoy. Yet I do love this track. Perhaps that’s the magic of The Hip and their ability to transcend genre and appeal to Canadians from across the country.

Turn it up! You know you want to.

Favourite lyric: “Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time.”

For other top five lists in this series, click here.