As we continue to sift the waters of the 1990s, Paul Saffer finds some more Britpop gold…
Eggman – ‘Not Bad Enough’ (1996)
In 1996 Creation Records were in release overdrive thanks to their Oasis windfall. Much of it was forgettable (I’d say which was forgettable, but I’ve forgotten), but a lot of it didn’t even attract enough attention for many to fail to remember it. Often unfairly.
Eggman’s First Fruits Fall is in the latter category. Eggman was the pseudonym of Sice (the pseudonym of Simon Rowbottom), the lead singer of the Boo Radleys. The album was brought out in summer 1996, the year after the band had given the world Wake Up!, a big-selling follow up to the acclaimed Giant Steps. With guitarist Martin Carr writing all the Boos’ songs, Sice used the gap between albums to put out a collection of his own tunes.
It’s rather good. Some tracks, like ‘Funeral Song’, have the same dense sound as Giant Steps but mostly the production is a lighter touch than the Boo Radleys, notably the irresistibly poppy ‘Replace All Your Lies With Truth’. The only single, though, was ‘Not Bad Enough’, which does have the distorted guitars and dreamy vocals familiar to Boo Radleys fans but is a more obvious nod to their fellow Liverpudlians the Beatles than to anything from Sice’s main band.
Lyrically Sice (or Eggman, or Simon, or whatever) enters the Catholic confessional and finds it wanting.
Priest told me it was evil
So I said I was sorry for the things that I’d done
But I didn’t really mean it
I enjoyed it all, and what’s more
I’d do it again
Whereas Boo Radleys songs tended to the long side, all the songs on First Fruits Fall clock in at around three minutes, a light touch which suits an album which came and went, but is fondly considered by the few of us who noticed it at the time.
Later in 1996 the Boo Radleys released C’Mon Kids, a distorted commercial suicide note (still a marvellous album) and they split up not long after 1999’s Kingsize, their declining sales meaning they could not afford even to tour in a way that would do Carr’s elaborate songs justice. Sice himself retrained as a psychologist but did briefly return in 2007 as singer in a band called Paperlung.
Edward Ball – ‘The Mill Hill Self-Hate Club’ (1996)
All over First Fruits Fall on bass and keyboards is one Ed Ball (not the pluralised Strictly hopeful who, if he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer last year, would have meant we could’ve avoided all this current nonsense). Ball had been about for some time by this point in the bands Television Personalities and the Times, as well as becoming an executive at Creation, the record label which also just happened to release his solo projects, without much fuss or promotion.
That changed in 1997 with the album Catholic Guilt, the second of two LPs written entirely about the same relationship break-up (after the previous year’s If Ever a Man Loved a Woman). Catholic Guilt, though, had enough popworthiness to be given a commercial push, with musical contributions from several Boo Radleys, Nick Heyward and Andy (Ride) Bell.
The highlight is ‘The Mill Hill Self-Hate Club’, a harmonica-and-horns enhanced pop romp with a little nod to Nick Lowe. Plus some geographical and theological touches in the lyrics.
On London Fields I fell for a girl
On Primrose Hill she changed my world
In a storm at Dover
I knew our love would open up
Then she brought me back to life
Just to have me crucified
For fourteen stations of my cross
From Waterloo to Dover Docks
The chart scorers were not unduly troubled, the single entering for a sole week at #57 in July 1996 and not returning despite various attempts before the album emerged the following year. Catholic Guilt did have an unlikely second life though: the other single, ‘Love is Blue’ (with the line ‘Blue is the colour of our love’), was picked to be played regularly at Chelsea FC (the lyrics themselves a nod by the Blues-supporting Ball). In fact, in the ‘Mill Hill’ video, perhaps you might be able to spot a couple of Chelsea players of the era.
McAlmont & Butler – ‘What’s The Excuse This Time?’ (1995)
Obviously the high point of the 1995 collaboration between soul singer David McAlmont and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler was their hit single ‘Yes’ but the spin-off album The Sound of… McAlmont and Butler (essentially a compilation of their two singles and B-sides) stands up on its own anyway.
The second track, ‘What’s The Excuse This Time?’ (one of the extra tunes on the ‘Yes’ single) is definite proof that Butler had, alongside top-rate indie guitaring, more, erm, strings to his bow. Essentially a Prince pastiche, McAlmont’s vocal range is perfectly pitched while Butler, who also produced the songs, lightly dusts a flavour of funk over the proceedings.
‘The slap-back made me think of Marc Bolan, but I somehow defaulted into Mr Minneapolis,’ notes McAlmont on his YouTube post. ‘I think this may well have been the moment when I first detected Prince’s affection for T-Rex.’
The partnership did not last though the pair have intermittently reunited while continuing parallel careers. But Bernard Butler’s future work and a producer and songwriter, especially with Duffy, clearly had its roots in his partnership with McAlmont.
Me, Me, Me – ‘Hanging Around’ (1996)
Probably people would use this Exhibit A against Britpop, what with it being a novelty single featuring Alex James off of Blur and Elastica drummer Justin Welch, with lots of brass, written as the soundtrack to a Damien Hirst film. Basically, a heady night of the Groucho Club that ended up in a recording studio.
It might be why I like it, though, because it’s just possible that pop, sometimes, is allowed to be a little fun. Plus it also features Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy (as he must always be called), alternating vocals with Alex James off of Blur.
He said: ‘Everything is free, I like coffee, you like tea.’
She said: ‘I’m just happy to be sitting here staying with me.’
He said: ‘Let’s go hanging around, muck about, talk about things.’
That is a pretty typical lyric, plus a bit of French when they run out of inspiration.
Qu’est-ce que tu fais toute la journée?
Je ne sais pas
…which translates as ‘What do you do all day? I don’t know’, essentially the same line as the rest of the song. But it’s barely two minutes long, and a lot less self-pitying (or self-indulgent) than anything on 13. I vote it a hit (well, it did get to #19).
Britpop part 1 (Cud, Denim, Menswear, Zuno Men)
Britpop part 2 (Kingmaker, Telstarr, Elcka, Echobelly)
Britpop part 3 (Sleeper, the Other Two, Helen Love, Kenickie)
Britpop part 4 (Catwalk, Engine Alley, Drugstore, Linoleum)
Britpop part 6 (Anna, 2 Tribes, RPLA, World of Leather)