Back from Whitby, and straight back onto the regular programming here on amodelofcontrol.com.
291: Tracks of the Month (April 1997)
This week takes me on another visit to my musical past in 1997, where I’m continuing to find that a fair bit of the music from that year hasn’t held up so well. Saying that, though, there are still some great tracks and albums that I’m rediscovering.
Next week, of course, I continue with the new music with Tracks of the Month.
Dig Me Out
The reunion of Sleater-Kinney a few years back was one of those rare occasions where the band’s return actually raised their profile for the better. A band much-loved of critics back in the nineties – particularly for this album – however they never really crossed over like the press seemed to think they might. Vocalist Corin Tucker was previously in Riot Grrrl band Heavens to Betsy, and subsequent to S-K guitarist Carrie Brownstein found fame creating the TV series Portlandia. S-K were lumped with Riot Grrrl in some respects, partly I reckon by virtue of their connections and simply that they were young women playing punkish-rock. They were smart, they were political activists, and were unafraid to say so in song – and Dig Me Out has aged very well. Little Babies is the best track on the album, as far as I’m concerned. The tremulous vocals are still there, but they are alongside a stop-start rhythm and catchier-than-the-plague chorus that all come together to make such a brilliant song.
The Charlatans, as I noted in 269: Tracks (August 1996) were a band in transition at this point, still dealing with the death of keyboardist Rob Collins, who was such an integral part to their sound. When Tellin’ Stories finally arrived, nearly nine months after the amazing comeback single One To Another, the album contained this song. Something of tribute to the work of their late keyboardist, this song is dominated by his hooks and works as a showcase for what he could do, and as an instrumental, the band never bettered it.
My route into Die Krupps was their (still brilliant) II – The Final Option, and III – Odyssey of the Mind disappointed a little, but not half as much as this one did when it was released. This actually turned out to be their last album for sixteen years – the band split for a while, before reuniting for their twenty-fifth anniversary with stellar live shows and an exceptional, re-recorded best of (Too Much History). I think the problem with this album was that the band had rather run out of ideas with their new-found EBM-plus-guitars sound (in the eighties, they were pure EBM with metallic percussion, in the nineties they were industrial metal, broadly), and this album had absolutely nothing we hadn’t heard before, and it was also rather short on great songs, so there was more filler than killer – a point perhaps proven by the band only having two songs from it on a 2-CD best of… That said, the crunching The Gods of Void is still worth your time, and with a bit of luck I might hear it when they play Infest this summer.
C-Tec were an interesting project, that always struck me as a “what might have been”. It was obviously something Jean-Luc de Meyer was concentrating on while 242 were effectively on hiatus for a few years, and with the addition of other members (such as Marc Heal) by this album, it had become something of a supergroup. Darker very much did what it said on the tin, a black shroud hovered over almost every song, with a slightly subdued feel that was quite unlike the member’s other bands. I actually prefer the later album Cut, but Stateless perhaps remains the greatest five minutes by the band. A track that builds from delicate foundations to become a groovy, dancefloor monster.
Not available online
Tim Arnold (for he was Jocasta) had a short time in the light of the mainstream, before retreating to self-releasing solo work. But that short time really was illuminating, with one extraordinary single in particular that I’m unlikely to forget. That was this song, a blazing four minutes of self-confident words and ripping guitars. Arnold had no interest in the popularity contest of the tabloids and music (as they were very much crossing the streams at the time), happy to plough his own furrow and make his own rules. This song – although perhaps sounding very much of it’s time in some respects, particularly those guitars – was the glorious result of that, and I’m only sad that nothing else he released ever made the impression that this did. Listening to it again just recently, I still knew all the words and was happily singing along.
Not exactly your normal background for a band that became part of the “BritRock” idea in the late nineties – guitarist Chris McCormack’s brother used to be in The Wildhearts, sure, but other members came from bands as diverse as Senseless Things, Diamond Head and Skyclad (!) – 3 Colours Red had a surprising level of success for a while. They were never a band that I listened to all that much – my wife still has the CD of Pure on the shelf, and still knows it better than me – but you know what? Nuclear Holiday has the kind of anthemic buzz that The Wildhearts perfected long before, and that’s no bad thing.
The Perfect Drug
The Perfect Drug EP
It was a long, long time between The Downward Spiral and The Fragile, remix albums and David Bowie collaborations aside. But there was one song, which seemed to take everyone by surprise when it was released as part of the Lost Highway soundtrack. This was NIN in a different light, still the seething anger and histrionics from Trent Reznor, but there was very much a case of broadening of musical horizons here, as – like many other industrial artists of the time – he began to dabble in drum’n’bass. Interestingly, this was the only time that I can recall that he did – and as I noted in 279: Tracks (Jan 1997), this was surprisingly divisive – nowadays the use of drum’n’bass sounds in industrial is so common that I barely think an eyebrow is ever even raised.
There are two versions of this album – the original vinyl release, then the much-changed and better known, hour-long, three “song”/multi-part movements version that has been so influential, which was released later on. But, I’m going to talk about both, really, here. When we first heard it, it sounded like absolutely nothing else. Post-rock was already a thing, of course – even if most of the bands involved had very different ideas on how to interpret a similar concept – but Godspeed arrived like this shadowy cabal, their songs constructed like classical movements, with a vastly wider palette of instruments that almost made them sound like an orchestra.
Their songs, at their best, had a similar dramatic flourish, too. It’s impossible to overstate just how important this album is, too – basically the album that cast a shadow over every post-rock album released since, and re-wrote the rules on how bands could communicate their message. They didn’t need to communicate in person, they could respond by e-mail, offering no photos of the band that could positively identify anyone (something they’ve perhaps relaxed a bit since).
I remember hearing a bootleg of the original version, and if you hear it, it’s clear why it got the attention it did, but also, that the final version is another level above it. The three “songs” on the re-issued version of the album are, as far as I’m concerned, near the pinnacle of what post-rock could ever be. The Dead Flag Blues is a band recording live from the end of the world, mournful strings and guitars accompanying a forboding voice that describes the chaos and despair. Providence introduces the street preacher Blaise Bailey Finnegan III, before descending into a half-hour, glorious and delicate epic, but the centrepiece of the album is the roaring, unstoppable power of East Hastings, the core section of which (known as The Sad Mafioso) memorably was used in a breathless chase scene in 28 Days Later. But it takes a little while to get to that, building a head of steam gently before unleashing the mother of all dramatic climaxes – and live, it is frequently used as a jaw-dropping closer. Post-rock was sometimes criticised for being emotionally sterile, but GY!BE have always been full of emotion in their music, and this album was one of fear, despair and foreboding – and at points is a desperately sad, moving listen.
The Colour and The Shape
As time has gone by, I’ve got rather tired of the Foo Fighters. Perhaps it is their constant rotation on music channels on cable (yes, still), perhaps it is just that I can only go so far with yet more guitar-based, straight-ahead rock. The thing is, when they started out – as Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana project – *of course* there was going to be a whole load of interest, but as well as that the first album was genuinely interesting at the time. The follow-up sold the best part of three million copies, and the singles became alt-rock staples, but twenty years on? Even though the video is still a lovely nod to teen horror films, the song feels kinda dreary now. Grohl’s most heartfelt song, that’s for sure, but in two decades, my tastes have clearly changed.
Remanufacture – Cloning Technology
Demanufacture was a landmark album as the worlds of industrial and metal collided, and the remix album that followed it eighteen months later was perhaps as important, but for different reasons. Rather than just using the same-old remixers that other bands had, Fear Factory went into all kinds of electronic realms with Rhys Fulber and Junkie XL, and it provided a totally new perspective, with tempos changed, hip-hop beats, gabba beats and a distinct feel of a band who were really curious about where their sound could be taken. The title track, though, that opens the album, remains the king, as the original is so brilliant that basically anything that was done with it would not fuck it up.