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.