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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.

Categories
Albums

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.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 2002: #23 Miles Hunt “Everything is not ok”

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I might have mentioned once or twice already on these pages that my very favourite band in the early 1990s was Stourbridge, England’s The Wonder Stuff. When they split in 1994, I was quite heartbroken. Then, after news crossed the ocean that the various band members had formed a couple of groups (We Know Where You Live and Vent 414), I went on the lookout for any output from either one. But of course, in the days before the internet, such a quest was a near impossible one, given that both of those groups were short-lived. Then, one day at work in 1999, I caught wind of a new Miles Hunt solo record, “Hairy on the inside”, on the radio and stopped what I was doing to listen to the new song they played. It goes without saying that I went out to buy the album upon its release and listened to it over and over and saw him live on all three of his swings through Toronto on the corresponding solo tours.

A few years later, Miles put together a band and released another album, a more electric and upbeat album than the previous stripped-down affair. Some of the songs on “The Miles Hunt Club”* were reworkings of tunes on Miles’s debut and “Everything is not ok” is one of these. The original was intimate acoustic pluckings and fiddle meanderings but while beautiful, didn’t quite fit the bill of the song, especially when placed side by side with the opening track on “The Miles Hunt Club”. This re-recording is more straight ahead rock, electric guitars and peppy drums serving up the required bite for Miles’s words.

“Everything is not okay
Things will not turn out to be just fine
All is not well, not this time.”

Originally penned in the days and months leading up to the infamous Y2K, Miles seems to be musing on the end of days and for him, it’s nothing good. Luckily for all of us, all the worry was for naught. Great tune nonetheless.

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

* I was never sure whether this was just the name of the album or the name of the group and the album eponymously named.