Best tunes of 1990: #6 Inspiral Carpets “Commercial rain”

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From my last Best tunes of 1990 post to this one, it’s like I’m jumping from one dance floor to another. I finished up blathering about The Sisters Of Mercy’s “More” with a memory of dancing to it in my high school auditorium but I never did get to dance to Inspiral Carpets in those days. My friends and I discovered them a tad too late, though we did try. As I recall, my friend Andrew Rodriguez put in a request for “Dragging me down” at one of our final dances and the DJ just shook his head in disbelief. He thought Rodriguez was having him on because he had never heard of ‘Inspirational Carpets’.

However, leap forward two or three or four years and I was dancing to this particular track pretty much every Friday or Saturday night at the Dance Cave in Toronto. Released as a stand-alone single in the UK but released on the US version of “Life”, “Commercial rain” has no depth lyrically. It contains a handful of words, repeated over and over, the only ones of which I even understood before googling them this week were: “Ah, commercial rain.” But the words are of little import here, the song was built for the dance floor.

Inspiral Carpets came out of the same acid house scene as their greater Manchester neighbours, The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, though they never did go on to the same modicum of success as those other two. Their sound was well-defined by Craig Gill’s funky drumming, frontman Tom Hingley’s flat but distinctive vocals, and of course, Clint Boon’s whirling organ work. This last is definitely the focal point of “Commercial rain”. It bobs and weaves around the screeching guitars and the upbeat and reverberating rhythms laid down by Gill, all ephemeral, like the sun’s reflection off a watch face or a laser beam refracting off a disco ball. It fills you up with pure joy and begs to be expelled by the burning off of dance floor energy.

Being that this is the second appearance by the Inspiral Carpets on this list and that the words about “This is how it feels” (at #20) were written by my friend, the aforementioned Andrew Rodriguez, I feel it only right to finish off this post with his words here too:

Solid beat? Check. Hypnotising organ work? Check. Mesmerising reverb effects? Definitely a check. Nonsensical but somehow sensible lyrics? Check. 1990’s “Commercial rain” (or “Reign”, depending upon who you talk to) was one of the Inspiral Carpets’ first big songs. While their sound did vary, this one epitomises them at their manic best. As a song, it also encapsulates a time and place tidily – early 90s (Greater) Manchester, at the height of the ‘Madchester’ era. That said, danceability isnt confined by time and space… “Commercial rain” is an infectious groove – and you’ll get down with it wherever and whenever you hear it. As the old Inspirals t-shirt said: “Cool as fuck”.

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

Best tunes of 2001: #25 R.E.M. “Imitation of life”

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And so here we are, all hallow’s eve, as good a time as any to start up a new series. You might have noticed that I finished up my Best of 2000 list a few weeks ago, and so now we’re on to 2001. This list is a bit longer than the one I did up for 2000 but I still haven’t quite gotten to thirty songs for the naughties decade (perhaps for 2002?). First up here, at song number twenty-five, is R.E.M. with their track “Imitation of life”.

As I’ve already mentioned already in this pages, I’ve been following Athens, Georgia’s finest since “Green” hit the charts when I was a teenie-bopper and would most definitely call myself a big fan. I recently endeavoured to narrow down my top five favourite tunes by R.E.M., a rough task, given their vast body of work, and posted the results on these pages. Looking back it at now, it’s noticeable that not one of the songs that made the final five were recorded after the end of the 90s. I personally found the early part of the 00s my least favourite period in R.E.M.’s catalogue, a period of albums that for the most part sounded like watered down versions of their best work, but still, there were some gems to be found.

One such example is “Imitation of life”, the first single off “Reveal”, buried deep in side two of the mix. It bears all the hallmarks of their sound. Peter Buck jangles and Michael Stipe hems and haws through half-nonsensical lyrics. Buck himself has admitted that the song feels like it is plagiarized from one of their early tracks. And yet, there’s something about it (isn’t there?) that begs for head bopping and singing along, especially at the bridge at the 2:40 mark when Buck and Mike Mills sit back, ease off on their instruments and let Stipe do his thing.

“This sugarcane
This lemonade
This hurricane, I’m not afraid
C’mon, c’mon no one can see me cry”

And lastly, if you haven’t seen it, have a gander at the neat-o video below. It’s the same twenty second shot played over and over, in forwards and reverse, simply focusing at different segments in the shot. Good stuff.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2001 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2010: #14 Diamond Rings “Wait and see”

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Number 14 on this list marks the third artist, following P.S. I Love You at #30 and Library Voices at #25, that I discovered at the 2011 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest. Like the two others, Diamond Rings, one of the many performing names for John O’Regan, hails from Canada. His set that year was part of his tour supporting his debut album, “Special affections”, and took place early on a Sunday afternoon on the festival’s smallest stage. I had heard the album in advance, which was the only reason I had made such a special effort to be there so early in the day, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the Diamond Rings experience.

I’m also reasonably sure the early, sun-baked crowd weren’t sure what to make of the skinny white dude with bleached blonde hair and a swath of rainbow coloured makeup swiped across his eyes. And the confusion likely increased when he started, using loops, drum machines, programming, and other trickery while strutting and dancing across the stage with his guitar, brimming with all the confidence of a glam rock hero performing in front of a stadium of adoring fans rather than a handful of people scattered around on the hill facing him. His performance was infectious, though, and he had the crowd, which grew substantially, by the end and it turned out to be one of my favourite sets of the year. Two years later, when he returned to the festival in support of his sophomore album, it was also on a Sunday but this time, it was the headlining set on the medium sized stage. And now, he fittingly had a full band backing him, smoke machines, cool lighting, and a bigger, more adoring crowd.

“Wait and see” is the second track from that debut album, which I went out and bought for my vinyl collection early on. It’s a phenomenal track that you really have to listen closely to in order to guess that it’s a one man show. The sensibility is post-punk revival with a touch of darkness and a whole load of glam. The guitars are like chain saws messing with the industrial beat but it’s O’Regan’s silky baritone vocals that raise this track up to the rock heavens. You can hear and almost taste his persona in the song. He’s like a time traveller from the eighties, a forgotten rebel that had fallen asleep behind a stage, waking up almost thirty years later, and decided to wreak havoc on his new reality.

I loved this song and album and even the next one but lost track of O’Regan, and his Diamond Rings persona, after hearing he was touring with OMD in 2013. It seems like I wasn’t the only one because putting his name into google resulted in a handful of articles titled “Whatever happened to…” and one by Exclaim from last year that talked about a newish, yet still mysterious, project that had nothing to do with Diamond Rings called JG Ballad.

It is a bit of an unfortunate and unfinished story, but I feel like Diamond Rings was never really meant to be anything more than an experiment for O’Regan. Whatever he had to prove, though, I’m sure he did… and then some.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.