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Albums

Best albums of 1991: #5 The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”

Throughout the first half on the 1990s, I made no apologies and did not waffle either way. The Wonder Stuff was my favourite band. Period. And though I’ve listened to them less and less over the years, I’ve learned, while doing these Best tunes and Best albums list series for this blog, that they are, in fact, still, one of my favourite bands.

I’ve already written the story of how I discovered them a number of times on these pages so I won’t tread those paths again. If you’re interested, you can read about that in my post on their debut album, “The eight legged groove machine”, when it appeared at number two on my Best albums of 1988 list, or the post on “Hup”, their sophomore album, which appeared at number five on my Best albums of 1989 list. I was almost apologetic at their appearances so high on those two lists, blaming the nostalgia factor. And while that was most certainly case for those two records and the same can be said of all of The Wonder Stuff’s early work for me, there’s more to it than that when it comes to their third album, “Never loved Elvis”.

I bought this album on cassette tape, with my own money, from “Hooked on video”, our small town’s only music store at that time, where and when I went looking for more music where “The eight legged groove machine” came from. It turned out to be not at all what I expected but I fell for it just the same. “Never loved Elvis” became a constant fixture in my walkman. I learned every nuance of the fiddle, mandolin, and juke-joint piano influenced folk-rock that underpinned Miles Hunt’s biting pomes (yes, I misspelled that on purpose).

Legend has it, the original working title for the album was “F*ck Elvis”, which absolutely toes the line of Miles’ typical combative, don’t give a shit attitude in those days. However, the title got a tone down when he heard comic Dudley Moore state in a television interview that he “never loved Elvis”. The album was anti-pop and rock and anti-establishment and fit its moniker. Funny, then, that it became the band’s biggest selling album to date, initially all on the back of the band’s first huge hit, “The size of a cow”. Not to worry, the irony of it all was never lost on Miles, who has always appreciated the song and the fact that it made him lots of money.

This version of The Wonder Stuff* would only make one other album after this, their fame and Miles’ innate self-destructiveness were the main culprits, but for “Never loved Elvis”, the stars aligned perfectly. Or maybe it was just the alcohol and those late nights hanging out with The Mission’s Kevin Hussey.

I can forever listen to each song on this record, just enjoy the originality of it all, and to sing along with and deconstruct Milo’s excellent lyrics. Every one of them has been and will be a favourite of mine through the past and the future. The three songs I have picked to highlight for you are all ones that have a lot of personal significance but are also excellent examples of The Wonder Stuff’s, in my mind, very underrated talents. “Thanks for your time and ears to lend…”


”Maybe”: Speaking of which, I’m starting things off here with track nine of thirteen, a song that was never released as a single but was one of my favourites by the group nonetheless. “Maybe I should be a writer, write a book and feel much brighter, share my thoughts with the world.” Those first three lines that start off Miles Hunts’ musing on being at a crossroads, trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life, it’s those words that completely rung true with me as a teenager. Even back then, I wanted to be a writer, dreamt of writing the great Canadian novel, was serious about meaningful lyrics in songs, all of which hooked me on to this band in the first place. I identified with all the questioning going on, since I was yet a teen and had no idea then where I would end up. I loved singing along with these words. I loved the whirl of organs, the rambling harmonica and of course, those fiddles that start off the proceedings against Martin Gilks shuffling drum beat. And each of these make an appearance all the way through, taking turns accompanying our man Miles as he name-checks the lead singer of R.E.M. and questions the sanity of the world and his own spot in it. Yeah, it’s still a favourite.

”Caught in my shadow”: The second single to be released in advance of the album was this one, featuring the following lines that run through it thrice: “These streets used to look pretty. This town used to look like a city. These people used to talk to me.” It sounds to me like Miles is feeling nostalgic for home, but not just home: the home of his youth. A sentiment with which many of us can identify and one that I’ve known every time that I’ve swung through the town in which I grew up and found it unrecognizable. Fittingly, the video for this track was filmed in Birmingham, not far from the band’s roots in Stourbridge. Originally planned as a commando, surprise busking gig, requirements for city approvals meant that a sizeable crowd appeared and were treated to acoustic renditions of a bunch of the band’s hits and of course, this tune. Bongo drumming, acoustic strumming, a shine of the beautiful mandolin, and Hunt’s snarling memories, all highlight this otherwise driving pop song. And heroically done.

”Welcome to the cheap seats”: “Arriba!!!” Released as the fourth single to “Never loved Elvis”, my last pick for you today has already appeared on these pages in the number eight spot on my Best Tunes of 1991 list. It was actually released the following year to headline a double EP and was accompanied by a documentary film of the same name, both of which I owned copies of in the past, the former on cassette and then compact disc and the latter on VHS. “Welcome to the cheap seats” features the accordion work of Linda McRae of Canadian folk-rockers Spirit of the West (with whom the Stuffies toured and became friends) and the backing vocals of everyone’s favourite, Kirsty MacColl. It puts excellent use to these two extraordinary talents, contrasting Kirsty’s smiles with Miles’s snarls and pairing the accordion with the fiddle, all set against the driving strum on the acoustic and the peppery drums. It all makes for a ridiculous waltz, a tear and reel through a shattered looking glass, everything distorted and nothing as it seems. The lyrics are equally nonsensical and surreal, adding up to three wonderful minutes of whimsy. “Imagine his suprise when he opened his eyes and I’d run the lawnmower over his thighs. Imagine the disturbance at the time of the occurrence, when his life became a burden and we laughed at his cries.”

*The Wonder Stuff broke up in 1994, which I’ve bemoaned in other posts on these pages. Miles resurrected the band in 2000 and they’ve soldiered on with their intrepid leader and a varying supporting cast ever since.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”

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

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Albums

Best albums of 1991: Albums #10 through #6

Here we are, exactly three weeks into 2021 and this here will mark my sixth post of the year (though I consider the first one a continuation of the themes of 2020). And so far, I’ve been hanging out quite a bit in the early 1990s – happier and simpler times, in this blogger’s humble opinion. I’ve shared a couple of ‘Vinyl love’ posts on treasured pieces of my vinyl collection, albums originally released during a high point in my youth, and a few days ago, I wrapped up my Best tunes of 1992 series with Ride’s amazing “Leave them all behind“. So I thought I’d keep with the era and have another look back thirty years ago to explore my ten favourite albums from 1991.

As I mentioned when I counted down my thirty favourite songs from that year, 1991 was a big year for me in terms of musical exploration and discovery and because of this, it is one of my favourite years for music. To this day, a lot of my favourite albums ever were released in 1991. So as you can imagine, this one was another tough one for me to narrow down. Indeed, when the dust cleared, albums that I thought would be on this list, were not here. (Apparently, there can only be ten albums in a top ten.) Similarly, there are a bunch of iconic and influential albums that many of you might expect to be in this list that didn’t make the cut. Thus, I’ll forewarn you from now and spoil the twist ending in which you won’t find “Achtung baby”, “Nevermind”, nor “Loveless” anywhere in this particular series (though this last just narrowly missed the cut).

If you’ve been around these pages before, you’ll recognize today’s post as the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten. However, I’m changing things up with this series from here, and I’m not just talking about dropping the pretence that these first five albums are honourable mentions, though I’ve decided to do that too. Normally, after this one, I would lay out my five favourite albums for the year over the course of the next five Thursdays, one per week, but given that 1991 is one of my favourite years for music, I’ve decided to stretch things out and take my time with it. I will still focus on an album per post, doing my best to the paint each album’s importance to me and to music in general, but instead, will do so every other Thursday and wrap all this up by the beginning of April.

Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be, if you had to rank your top ten albums for 1991, in the comments section provided with each post.


#10 Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “God Fodder”

The debut album by the five-piece from Stourbridge, England was just all kinds of energy and fun. Recorded when a couple of the band’s members were still just teenagers, “God fodder” and its songs are not deep lyrically, focusing instead on flashy and memorable titles and letting the rest just fall into place. Of course, it helped that their tight, Grebo sound that mixed punk thunder with electronic samples and dance floor rushing beats, had enough depth to cover off. The drumming was hectic and complex, the guitars loud, but it was the two bass players that really had Ned’s Atomic Dustbin standing out. I blasted so many of these songs at high volume when I originally purchased this album on CD. “Kill your television” is probably the track that most will remember from the album (it appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at #21) but I also really dug the track below.

Gateway tune: Grey cell green


#9 Spirit of the West “Go figure”

My introduction to the now iconic Canadian folk rock band from North Vancouver came by way of this, their fifth full length record. I caught the video for the song below, “D for democracy”, on the music video show, “Good rockin’ tonite”, and the love affair took off from there. I loved the sound but it was the depth of the lyrics that really hooked me. “Go figure” was a political record. It wasn’t that Spirit of the West didn’t venture here prior or since but there was a definite bent against the Brian Mulroney-led Conservative government at the time. This was also the point in the band’s storied history that they ‘went electric’, toying with rock, and adding drummer (gasp) Vince Ditrich to their official roster. This effectively alienated some of their previous folkie fans but drew in a larger alt-rock audience. For me, though, this is simply eleven unforgettable tunes.

Gateway tune: D for Democracy


#8 Chapterhouse “Whirlpool”

When people talk about the iconic shoegaze albums, the names often bandied about are “Loveless”, “Spooky”, “Souvlaki”, and “Nowhere”. I would humbly posit that “Whirlpool” should be considered as part of this same conversation. Chapterhouse’s debut was, for me, especially at the time, among the best that the genre could offer up. The five-piece from Reading, England collected for their debut nine beautiful tracks that walloped you from the inside. It was reverb-drenched washes of strobe lights, shoegazing with a danceable beat. It was organic but felt electronic, subterfuge and magic, perhaps foreshadowing their next move. But that’s a story for another day. We’ll just leave this near perfect single I’ve reference below for you to chew on.

Gateway tune: Pearl


#7 Blur “Leisure”

It’s funny that this album directly follows Chapterhouse’s “Whirlpool” on this list (and I swear that this wasn’t by design). I’ve mentioned before in these pages that I used to have a C90 cassette back in 1991, upon which these two albums were recorded on either side. So yeah, inextricably linked are these two albums for me. But where Chapterhouse’s debut knew exactly where its feet were planted, Blur’s wasn’t so sure. In the past, frontman Damon Albarn has called “Leisure” a bit of a mess. However, I feel that he’s being a bit hard on the album. Sure, it played both the shoegaze and baggy cards, but it played them well and there were some excellent songs that are still favourites of this big Blur fan today. You can include the one below, “Sing”, which appeared on the “Trainspotting” soundtrack”, and “There’s no other way”, which appeared on my Best tunes of 1991 list at number six.

Gateway tune: She’s so high


#6 Levellers “Levelling the land”

I’ve already told the story on these pages about how I discovered these guys watching MuchMusic’s City Limits when their video for “One way” was played on the show. I bought “Levelling the land” on cassette tape just based on hearing this one song. (We did such things back in those days.) And it became my Sony Walkman’s favourite cassette for a time. The fiddle/mandolin/harmonica/foot-stomping folk punk on the band’s sophomore release was great for walking around my small town, something I did a lot of in those days, because there wasn’t much else to do. It got so that I was singing along under my breath to each and every song and the many upbeat numbers put a hop in my step. Levellers are still a going concern today with many great tunes to their name but this is still quite possibly their high water mark.

Gateway tune: Liberty song


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

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Tunes

Best tunes of 2002: #11 Levellers “Wake the world”

<< #12    |    #10 >>

Levellers have already appeared on these pages, care of a post a year and a half ago, in support of their appearance on my Best Tunes of 1991 list at the number nine spot with “One way”. I wrote in that post how I discovered the band and fell in love with their sophomore album, “Levelling the land”, on which appears the aforementioned track. The next album, their self-titled third, was just as a great and I purchased a ticket for their local stop on the ensuing tour but for some reason, their North American leg was cancelled.

Things were not so rosy with me and the five piece from Brighton, England after that. I continued to buy their albums but found them not quite as solid and I considered packing it in after their 2000 release, “Hello pig”, which to this day, is my least favourite by the group. Nonetheless, I was still enthused enough by their back catalogue to drag Victoria to see them play an acoustic set at Lee’s Palace when they finally managed another North American tour in 2001. Of course, it was excellent and when they announced a new studio album in 2002, I couldn’t help but check it out.

“Green blade rising” didn’t return the band to its former status as biggest indie band in Britain but it was still seen as a return to form. Indeed, the album’s title was taken from an earlier song the band had written but renamed. It breathed new life into their folk and granola crunching infused pop/punk rock, raising the fist and calling to arms, and preaching to their already converted choirs.

“Wake the world” wasn’t released as a single from the album but it closed it off perfectly. It’s a quieter number. A humming bass rumble lurks throughout its three and a half minute duration, haunting and sustained piano chords keep time and move it along, and of course, Jonathan Sevink’s plaintive violin pops in to say hello and add to the mood. On top of all that, frontman Mark Chadwick is wistfully railing against indifference and ambivalence to the world’s woes while sitting safely in our own lives.

“Been sitting in silence safe inside four walls
Trying to remember the moment when we changed the rules
Do you take to your bed or do you take the cure
Been getting out of my head lately that’s for sure

So tell me when are we gonna wake the world”

Indeed, Mark, indeed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.