Best albums of 1989: #5 The Wonder Stuff “Hup”

Much like I said of their debut album’s appearance at number two on my Best Albums of 1988 list, the inclusion of The Wonder Stuff’s sophomore album here can be chalked right up to the nostalgia factor.

Indeed, I’ve already admitted a few times on these pages that Miles Hunt’s group of hooligans were my favourite band throughout the first half of the 1990s. It all started off when a friend of mine turned me on to them with their debut long player, “Eight legged groove machine”. I would later purchase a copy of their third album, 1991’s “Never loved Elvis”, on cassette tape and after the initial surprise at the change in sound, proceeded to wear it out with countless plays on my Walkman. Then, another of my friends, Tim, purchased a copy of “Hup” on vinyl and made a recording of it for me on cassette tape. It was like the missing puzzle piece, the light switch that illuminated the previously obscured path between the first and third albums.

“Hup” was the first album on which we hear the contributions of multi-instrumentalist, Martin Bell, though as I recall, he didn’t become an official member of the group until “Never loved Elvis”. “Hup” was also the last album on which appeared the original bass player, Rob ‘The bass thing’ Jones. (A changing of the guard of sorts.) The bass thing would leave the group a couple of months after “Hup”‘s release, head off for the United States to pursue other musical interests, and die a handful of years later. It’s very possible that the first change had a precipitous effect on the second. Jones left the group because he was unhappy with the direction things were moving in and you could clearly hear the change coming through various songs on the record. On certain tracks, you could feel the peppy, catchy, and thunderous guitar rock that playfully toys with samples, all reminiscent of the debut, but perhaps less succinct and bigger in scope. On other tracks, the folk and country influence was more slightly creeping in, an apparent result of touring stateside, a sound they would hone and go on to make their own on the two following albums.

Reading the above, you might get the impression that “Hup” is a disjointed and unsatisfying listen and that might certainly have been the case had frontman Miles Hunt not been quite as good a lyricist or had as good a grasp on writing a catchy pop song. Of the three songs I‘ve picked for you below, two were highly successful singles and the other one likely would have been had it been released as planned. Enjoy.


”Piece of sky”: Machine gun fire drumming and handclaps. Backwards guitar effects drudged in to muddy the rainbow jangles. Malc and Miles harmonizing snarls and swoons. The odd vibraslap thrown in for good measure. Not even two and a half minutes long, “Piece of sky“ was originally meant to be released as the third single but was shelved after Rob Jones left the band. And later, after he died, fans wanted to hear the Stuffies play this track at shows, not because they had necessarily written it about him or with him in mind, but the hard living themes were apt and hit home. “How did you get so very high? You got so high you almost touched the sky. Lady luck couldn’t wish you more luck than I so take a jump and steal your piece of sky.”

”Don’t let me down, gently”: The first single released off the album and the first of their singles to hit the UK top twenty, a trend that continued for a string of their next bunch. It features Gilks’ floppy and heavy handed drumming, lots of roaring guitars, the call and response sounding intro is particularly fun, and of course, there’s James Taylor’s whirling Hammond organs. “It would be great to die together on the first day of the year, ‘cos then we’d be quite legendary. Could you volunteer?“ Yeah, it’s another fun track that packs a punch in a very short time frame. High energy and ammo for doing the pogo. Right? Right.

”Golden green”: “She’s taken all my vitamins, used up my lighter fuel, I’m sure she stole all of my pencil lead in school. Don’t flap. I’ll give it back, but woman its not the lack of my possessions that is making me feel cruel.” The second single to be released off the album is a real stomper. A song about a love gone sour or about to do, the two-facedness of it all, the good times and bad. And it’s set to an old Country theme, albeit with a Wonder Stuff tinge. It’s got Martin Bell’s fingers all over it, twanging banjo, as well as screaming fiddles. And The Bass Thing shines here as well, the bass line definitely feeling upright and solid and jumping, especially on that outstanding bridge. If you hadn’t known better, you might’ve thought a hoe down had exploded all over the place, sending hay flying and beer glasses smashing. So much fun.


Check back next Monday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”
9. Galaxie 500 “On fire”
8. The Beautiful South  “Welcome to The Beautiful South”
7. The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”
6. New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”

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

Best albums of 1988: #2 The Wonder Stuff “The eight legged groove machine”

You can pretty much file this album under nostalgia for me. I won’t deny it. The Wonder Stuff weren’t particularly ground-breaking or influential but I was a rabid fan of the band throughout the 90s. In truth, I fingered them as my favourite band for a great many years. Much of this leads back to my initial discovery of the band, way back in 1990.

A friend at the time, Elliott, loaned me a cassette tape copy of “The eight legged groove machine”. This friend was mostly into thrash metal and hardcore punk so I was a bit dubious. However, he assured me that The Wonder Stuff weren’t of that ilk and that the only reason he had the album at all was that he had liked its cover (yes, we used to do that in the old days). I think I had the album for about a week before I put it on while doing some chores around the house. What struck me immediately was the band’s energy. After a few songs, the lyrical content caught my attention even more. With titles like “Give, give, give me more, more, more” and “It’s yer money I’m after baby”, they were songs that weren’t being played on commercial radio and they appealed to my typically instilled angst and ennui. It was love at first listen.

The Wonder Stuff formed in 1986 in Stourbridge, England and came out of the music scene based in the Midlands, curiously titled ‘Grebo’, that also spawned such luminaries as Pop Will Eat Itself, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. This scene was popular in England at the time but never really took hold here in North America. The Wonder Stuff released a total of four albums before splitting up in 1994, much to my chagrin.* After a few years in which the band members undertook various solo projects, the band re-formed in 2000 as they were at dissolution in 1994, with the exception of the bass player (the original bass player, Rob Jones, had died in 1993 and Paul Clifford wasn’t included in the reunion). Miles Hunt, Malc Treece, Martin Gilks, and Martin Bell, along with Pete Whittaker and a new bass player, played a series of sold out shows at the Forum in London. Since then, there have a been a number of lineup changes and a few new albums released but the only constant from the original lineup now is frontman, Miles Hunt.

“The eight legged groove machine” was The Wonder Stuff’s debut album. Running in at just under 40 minutes in 14 tracks, it was snarling, raucous pop, music that snuck up behind you and sucker punched you every time. The songs were short, fast, rabidly catchy, and the lyrics biting but playful. Each song is a large part of my memories of my late teen years because they were so often the soundtrack that accompanied me on my walkman in those days. Admittedly, the album sounds a bit dated when I listen to it now but there are tracks here that I still count amongst my favourite tracks. Here are my three picks for you, along with some of the Miles Hunt lyrical gems contained within.


”Give give give me more more more”: The cash register ka-ching that starts the song, feels like an echo throughout its three minutes, and frontman Miles Hunt starts in. “Well I hope I make more money than this in the next world. I hope there’s a lot more in it there for me. I’d like my trousers pressed and my shoes shined up by a rich girl, who’s only care in the world is me.” Never demanding much, is he, that Miles. Just everything and more. And it becomes a clarion call with the pounding beat and rifling guitars that bounce and climb, not-so-gently requesting everyone into some pogo action (just don’t stage dive, whatever you do).

”A wish away”: A danceable beat and jangly guitars and you want to jump out on the dance floor to sing along with the repeated chorus line. It all feels so happy and upbeat but the song is anything but about all that. Like much of this album, the short, energetic jolts have dark and cynical undertones. The singer here is never really needing his lover around except at his low times. “But now I need a hug and now I need a love and I really, really wish you were here.” On the title, frontman Hunt has said that they came up on it by way of a recording accident and hearing the vocals sung backwards. The extra line to include it at the end was just a tease.

”It’s yer money I’m after baby”: There’s one thing you can say for Miles Hunt and his lyrics. He doesn’t really use vagaries, at least not in his early work, but he always could deliver a line. “Don’t give me love, oh no none of that stuff ‘cos it’s yer money I’m after, baby.” What The Wonder Stuff as whole does, though, is take the biting wit and sugarcoat it in rip-roaring and peppy pop tunes. Like the previous two, this track clocks in around the three minute sweet spot and deliveries on the catchy and the danceable. The acoustic strumming, the wiry bass line, the almost silly electric guitar high, and of course, Martin Gilks’ super fun drumming. Just another great track that I would listen to over and over again as a teen and that I still know word for word today.


Check back next Thursday for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Sugarcubes “Life’s too good”
9. Erasure “The innocents”
8. Billy Bragg “Worker’s playtime”
7. Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s shocking”
6. Leonard Cohen “I’m your man”
5. R.E.M. “Green”
4. Pixies “Surfer rosa”
3. The Waterboys “Fisherman’s blues”

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

*True story: I learned of The Wonder Stuff’s break up on a camping trip, while cutting down a tree for firewood. After my friend Tim mentioned this piece of news, the tree came down in short order.

Best tunes of 1991: #8 The Wonder Stuff “Welcome to the cheap seats”

<< #9    |    #7 >>

Last week I posted how I discovered the Levellers and the song at number nine on this list (“One way”), all because they had been compared to The Wonder Stuff, and this week, at number eight, we have the band themselves and their hit single “Welcome to the cheap seats”.

It was my friend Elliott that introduced me to The Wonder Stuff, having loaned me their debut CD, “The eight legged groove machine”, a few years after it was released in 1988. There was something about it I connected with (more on that another time) and when I learned they had a more recent album to explore, I jumped on it. I brought “Never loved Elvis” home on cassette and immediately after popping it in my stereo, I noted the striking difference in sound from the debut. Instead of short, peppy, and snarling post-punk, we had fiddle-laden folk-rock but yeah, okay, it was still short and peppy and still had its snarling moments. And did I still love it? Oh yes.

I later learned that the change wasn’t as abrupt as all that but an evolution of sorts when I picked up their sophomore, ‘transition’ album “Hup”. The original four piece of Miles Hunt, Malc Treece, Martin Gilks, and Rob “The bass thing” Jones had become five by the third album, after “The bass thing” had left for America after the sophomore, was replaced by Paul Clifford and they added fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Martin Bell. The Wonder Stuff released four albums in total during their original run before splitting up in 1994. I distinctly remember where I was when I heard the news: out camping with the boys, taking down a dead tree with a dull axe and when my friend Tim arrived with the news, it came down post haste. (And it had a few extra hacks in it for good measure.) They have since reformed, dissolved again, and the name resurrected by frontman Miles with a different set of musicians.

But back to 1991 and “Welcome to the cheap seats” – “where your life’s seen through cracked spectacles.”

It’s brief and upbeat but old-school sounding, like a sped-up waltz, filled with anachronisms and metamusic – it’s what me and my English lit friends in university might have pretentiously termed ‘pre-neo-anti-post-postmodernist’. If you’ve seen the official video (sadly, I don’t have it below), you’d have seen the band dressed in pseudo-Victorian garb, playing their instruments and dancing about an absurd and surrealist set. You’d also have noticed (and if you had a keen ear, you might noticed anyway) that that is Kirsty MacColl singing backup, lending her lilting vocals as she has with many an artist, most notably, Morrissey, Billy Bragg, and The Pogues. And there’s another guest musician on the song, adding her accordion to the already folk-laden palette: none other than Spriit of the West’s Linda McRae.

So you see why I love this tune yet? Enjoy.

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