Tag Archives: 1999

Rocks In The Attic #813: Super Furry Animals – ‘Guerrilla’ (1999)

RITA#813Blimey, has it been twenty years already? Give it another twenty years and maybe an elderly Giles Martin will be doing a full remix at Abbey Road. Or not. I doubt the Super Furries would be interested in such an establishment move, but their record company might.

Released in 1999, the year I finished university, Guerrilla is the third studio album by the Welsh band. That year also marks the first time I saw the band play live, on the Other Stage at my first trip to Glastonbury. And what a show. Touring to support this album, they encored with a freak-out version of the Steely Dan-sampling The Man Don’t Give A Fuck, a crazy guy drove his van into the middle of the audience, and some Mr. T-looking motherfucker stood on top of it, throwing off anybody that dared to climb aboard.

RITA#813aI used to DJ with this record a lot, so my lovely original pressing looks like it has seen better days. Northern Lites, in particular, used to go down very well at Oldham’s 38 Bar, although I’m not sure why I used to take the record out with me when I had the 7” of that single. Do Or Die used to get a good play as well so maybe that was why, as that single didn’t come out for another seven months after the album. This album sounds like Saturday nights to me, and makes me think of some other great singles released in the same year – Sexx Laws and Mixed Bizness by Beck, Sometimes by Les Rythmes Digitales, Sunburn by Muse, and Pumping On Your Stereo and Moving by Supergrass – all of which would be staples of my set.

Deliberately conceived by the band as a commercial-pop album, Guerrilla definitely sounds more focused than their first two albums. I prefer it to Fuzzy Logic and Radiator but I’ll always lean more towards Mwng and Rings Around The World as the band’s peak. The album’s lead single Northern Lites is its centrepiece and the song’s commercial sheen took it to #11 in the UK charts (the album fared slightly better, reaching #10). Fire In My Heart definitely sounds like the band trying to be taken seriously, but the ballad only reached #25. Third single Do Or Die hit #20, but by then the momentum of the album had been lost.

RITA#813bI remember reading in the NME that the working title of one of the band’s later albums, Rings Around The World, was ‘Text Messaging Is Destroying The Pub Quiz As We Know It’. Sadly that’s not true – the NME journalist saw it written on an ‘ideas wall’ in the band’s recording studio but the band deny that it was ever considered for an album title. It wouldn’t have been too hard to imagine such a song though; Guerrilla features the band’s ode to cell-phone technology in Wherever I Lay My Phone (That’s My Home). That song ends with the once ubiquitous cell-phone interference which sadly you don’t hear too often these days.

Cut at 45rpm over two discs, the album also features the now standard artwork by Pete Fowler, including a pop-up gatefold sleeve depicting a man facing a bank of controls (possibly connected to the giant satellite dish on the sleeve’s rear cover). The album has just been reissued, and so I’m guessing Rings Around The World will be next in 2021, with Mwng already being reissued back in 2015.

Hit: Northern Lites

Hidden Gem: Some Things Come From Nothing

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Rocks In The Attic #799: Various Artists – ‘Go (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#799Following hot on the heels of his breakthrough hit Swingers, Doug Liman’s Go is a quirky little film dealing with youth culture at the end of the 1990s. It borrows liberally from Quentin Tarantino, in particular the time-switching of Pulp Fiction, as it intertwines three stories set in one day in Southern California and Las Vegas.

In the first story, a group of supermarket workers head to a weekend rave and get caught up in a drug deal that goes bad, in the second story one of their co-workers heads off to Las Vegas with another bunch of friends, and the final story covers the tale of a pair of TV actors forced to take part in an undercover drug sting.

As much as I admire 1996’s Swingers, the film that made a star out of Vince Vaughan and boosted the profiles of Jon Favreau (also its writer), Heather Graham and Ron Livingston, I’ve always found it quite bleak. For a Vegas (and Reno!) film dealing with the seedier side of the city, away from the neon glamour of the tourist traps, I much prefer Paul Thomas Anderson’s Hard Eight, released in the same year.

RITA#799aI found 1999’s Go to be much more of a fun ride than Swingers, although admittedly not as groundbreaking. It has an ensemble cast, featuring both Timothy Olyphant and Katie Holmes in early roles, and I’ve always wondered whether this was the film that Tom Cruise saw before he set his sights on Holmes. Or maybe he was just a Dawson’s Creek fan.

Sadly, Swingers and Go were the last small-budget indie films that Doug Liman directed. His talents were obvious and his subsequent filmography shows how much he impressed Hollywood with these two films. His next project after Go was 2002’s The Bourne Identity, and he followed this with similarly-sized blockbusters as 2005’s Mr. And Mrs Smith, 2008’s Jumper, 2014’s Edge Of Tomorrow and 2017’s American Made. He’s currently in post-production on a sequel to Edge Of Tomorrow, taking its name from the alternate title of the 2014 film: Live, Die, Repeat And Repeat.

The soundtrack to Go is very much of its time – all big beats and samples, typified by the inclusion of Fatboy Slim’s Gangster Trippin’. When I first heard the soundtrack was getting a vinyl reissue, I thought that it was another example of record companies scraping the barrel, and so I sat on it until I was able to pick it up in a sale. I’m so glad I did, as it’s chock-full of gems. No Doubt’s New and Len’s Steal My Sunshine get top-billing alongside the Fatboy Slim track, but it’s the lesser-known tracks that I’m here for.

Jimmy Luxury’s Cha Cha Cha, featuring a sample of the Tommy Rowe Orchestra, is a funky little gem, Air’s Talisman is one of the many highlights of Moon Safari, and Lionrock’s Fire Up The Shoesaw is just fabulous, not only for its stuttering sample of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, but more for it’s delicious sample of Fight At Kobe Dock from John Barry’s score to You Only Live Twice (the title song of which, of course, was sung by Nancy Sinatra).

Hit: Steal My Sunshine – Len

Hidden Gem: Fire Up The Shoesaw – Lionrock

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Rocks In The Attic #783: Travis – ‘Live At Glastonbury ‘99’ (1999)

RITA#783I can’t help but think that Travis missed the boat. They were actually stood on the boat at one point, and everybody was waving them off. Then they looked behind them, and realised that everybody was waving at Coldplay, who were stood on an even bigger boat, sailing off into mainstream waters.

1999 marked the year of my first Glastonbury, and Travis were crowned the breakthrough performance of the festival. I stood there with thousands of others on the Saturday afternoon as they played the Other Stage. The festival had been dry and sunny so far, but threatening rainclouds started drifting over the fields.

A fortunate bit of serendipity occurred when the heavens opened as the band played their current single, Why Does It Always Rain On Me? The soaked crowd was delighted, as were the BBC executives broadcasting the highlights of the festival, and the music press heralded the band as the champions of the festival. They returned to headline a year later.

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I saw Travis headline in 2000, but I also caught Coldplay, playing the Other Stage at a similar time slot as I had seen Travis the year prior. I already knew a few of Coldplay’s singles – Shiver and Yellow had already been released, and the radio was already playing Trouble in advance of its October release. I bought their debut LP, Parachutes as soon as it was released a few weeks later.

History seemed to repeat itself: Coldplay were labelled the breakthrough performance of the 2000 festival, and they swiftly became the darlings of the music press and BBC Radio. Just like Travis, they returned to headline the next Glastonbury (in 2002, with 2001 being a fallow year).

But over the years, while Coldplay went from strength to strength, becoming a household name for casual music fans and a shortcut for bland, post-Britpop radio-friendly rock, Travis just seemed to…disappear.

Everybody had agreed that The Man Who, Travis’ second studio album that they were touring at the time of their ’99 performance, was a belter. It spent 11 weeks at number 1 in the UK album charts, and sold over 3.5 million copies. But then Coldplay came along and seemed to blow them out of the water, probably while Travis were stood on that boat in the harbour.

Aside from hearing about their drummer breaking his neck diving into a swimming pool, and an out-of-court settlement for ‘borrowing’ the Wonderwall chord progression for Writing To Reach You, I haven’t heard much else from Travis. Their third album, the aptly named The Invisible Band, was the last I heard from them. What happened?

Hit: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Hidden Gem: Blue Flashing Light

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Rocks In The Attic #671: Aimee Mann & Jon Brion – ‘Magnolia (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

150678 - SMALLER SPINECould Magnolia be the best film of the 1990s?

Rolling Stone rank it at a lowly #26, twelve places behind director Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous film, the arguably more accessible Boogie Nights. The magazine voted Scorsese’s Goodfellas at #1 (followed by a more esoteric run-down than you would expect from Rolling Stone: #5 – Pulp Fiction, #4 – The Silence Of The Lambs, #3 – Safe, #2 – Hoop Dreams).

A reader’s poll in Rolling Stone, ranking the twenty-five best movies of the decade, doesn’t even mention Magnolia, again with PTA’s Boogie Nights making the cut (faring a little better at #19). Not surprisingly, the poll’s top five are populist choices – #5 – Fight Club, #4 – The Shawshank Redemption, #3 – Goodfellas, #2 – The Big Lebowski, and #1 – Pulp Fiction.

RITA#671cBut who cares about polls and lists? They’re usually only there to provoke discussion – and quite why Rolling Stone could vote a three-hour documentary about basketball hopefuls from the inner-city slums as the second-best film of the year is anybody’s guess. I loved Hoop Dreams, but is it better than anything from Tarantino, the Andersons (Wes and Paul Thomas) or Fincher?

Even Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film – the casino-centric Hard Eight (1996), starring Philip Baker Hall, John C. Reilly, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, deserves a look-in. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to inhabit a casino, let alone visit one.

A textbook first film, you can see a lot of the visual flourishes that are the hallmark of films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia before he started to move away to more static filmmaking. The easiest of his trademarks to spot is the fast dolly-in, usually as a character enters a scene or an object becomes the focus of the narrative. These shots define PTA as much as the inserts and birds-eye views of Wes Anderson’s films, or the tracking shots of Scorsese.

The number eight resonates strongly with Paul Thomas Anderson and Magnolia. He debuted with Hard Eight – the number on the dice needed by the craps-playing Philip Seymour Hoffman; he’s just released his eighth feature, Phantom Thread; and the number eight is a symbolic fingerprint of Magnolia – the film culminating with the threat of Exodus 8:2: ‘If you refuse to let them go, I will send a plague of frogs on your whole country.’

RITA#671aSo Anderson spends the three hours of Magnolia interpreting Christianity and emerges with a delicious pun, insinuating that the biblical plague of raining frogs was caused by the producers of the quiz show who wouldn’t let Stanley visit the toilet. He would revisit the themes of religion more seriously later in his career, but this is where he put his toe in the holy water.

It could be claimed that nothing happens in Magnolia, that it’s boring and uneventful. And while it possibly does try to do too much, with too many characters – even Anderson himself has suggested that it’s overlong – its real strength comes from its pacing. I don’t think another film exists as dedicated to building tension as Magnolia. From its opening scene, until the aftermath of the frog-raining finale, the tension builds and builds, until the clouds break and we get a well-deserved resolution across each of the story arcs.

One important aspect, of course, is the music. The soundtrack is comprised of three key elements – pop songs from Supertramp and Gabrielle, together with snippets of the opera Carmen and Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra, a suite of original songs from Aimee Mann, and a lush original score by Jon Brion.

This new release from Mondo Records represents the first time that the soundtrack has been released on vinyl. Split across three discs, the first discs offers the Aimee Mann songs, while the remaining two discs offer the Jon Brion score.

The beautiful packaging also follows the themes of the film, with new artwork by Joao Ruas and the three discs coloured in (1) Sky Blue, (2) Cloudy Blue, and (3) Translucent Gold – in other words, clear sky, cloudy sky, and frog!

Hit: One – Aimee Mann

Hidden Gem: Stanley / Frank / Linda’s Breakdown – Jon Brion

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Rocks In The Attic #509: Don Davis – ‘The Matrix (O.S.T.)’ (1999)

RITA#509I love The Matrix. It’s one of my favourite films of the ‘90s; probably my favourite science-fiction film of that decade. It’s an awesome movie, but I think I like it more for what it represents than for what it actually is. For me, the Matrix represents a truly wonderful thing – the end of George Lucas’ reign over special-effects movies in Hollywood.

Yes, Lucas was responsible for a great deal of my childhood cinema: the three original Star Wars films, and the three original Indiana Jones films. A round of applause, please. But that’s it. Nothing else. His 1973 breakout hit American Graffiti might be an enjoyable slice of 1950s nostalgia, but Back To The Future did it much better in 1985. And let’s not get started on the Star Wars prequels or the fourth Indiana Jones film.

His legacy is one of the things that ultimately curses him: Industrial Light & Magic. The special effects house set up to handle the myriad of effects shots in the first Star Wars film ultimately came to monopolise Hollywood in the decades that followed. The company may have been trendsetters in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and they hit a peak with the groundbreaking effects in 1992’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but by the late 1990s they had lost their edge. Nothing was special anymore; they had become complacent. The company that had once blown everybody away were now resting on their laurels.

Then a film was released in 1999 out of nowhere. Titled The Matrix, it was written and directed by brothers Larry and Andy (now Lana and Lilly) Wachowski, responsible at that point for only directing one film, Bound (1996), a crime thriller starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.

The Matrix came along with no hype. From the outside it looked like just another science-fiction film out of Hollywood, with a steam-punk aesthetic that we had seen before in dull gothic flicks like The Crow (1994) and Dark City (1998). The lack of advance word even led to UK film magazine Empire relegating the film to its ‘Also released this month” section.

I saw the film at the cinema with my good buddy Stotty. Talk about being blown away. I was so engrossed that a Coca-Cola-induced urge to go to the toilet mid-way through had to be repressed. I wasn’t going to miss a second of this, particularly after being sideswiped by the film’s major left turn around twenty minutes in.

The idea, in retrospect, is simple: introduce the audience to the main character, then towards the end of the first act, suggest that the narrative you’re following is a fallacy, and that the film’s protagonist is being similarly hoodwinked. Hollywood had recently provided a film with a similar narrative hook, in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998). Truman Burbank figures it out for himself when he overhears some radio chatter, almost gets pulverised by a studio light falling out of the sky, and notices the regularity of people bicycling down his street, but in The Matrix, our protagonist relies on others to wake him from his dream. Films ever since have played with the elastic nature of narrative. It seems like they’re ten a penny these days, but back in the late ‘90s it felt refreshing and new.

Everything about The Matrix seemed well thought-out. The design, the cast, the music, the sound, the editing, everything; but what grabbed people most of all were the special effects. The Wachowskis rewrote the book, taking their lead from the infinite possibilities of Japanese Anime rather than traditional Hollywood special effects. Finally, seven years following Terminator 2: Judgement Day, here was something that we hadn’t seen before: Bullet Time.

John Gaeta from Manex Visual Effects, working out of Alameda, California, developed a prototype of the effect prior to the film, and the Wachowskis jumped on it. Gaeta’s concept was based on an old idea – that a moving image is simply a sequence of still images played at high speed – but Gaeta’s application of the method to film action sequences was ingenious.

A simple stunt, for example one character jumping up to kick another character, could be transformed from something very simple to something extraordinary. A rig featuring dozens of still cameras would bet set up around the actors, and the cameras would shoot the movement in the scene, before being compiled together to form a moving image. By employing a fairly simple idea, the filmmakers created the illusion of movement around the action, capturing the shot at super-slow motion, but still travelling at high-speed, hence ‘bullet’ time.

There’s an element of The Matrix borne out of a clichéd Hollywood trope – that of the white male protagonist being the saviour of the universe, or the ‘one’ as Neo’s anagrammatical name would suggest – but despite this, the films manages to still feel fresh. The main protagonist is derivative to a degree, taking the base elements of George Lucas’ original Star Wars conceit – that our hero is possessed with a magical ability to transcend all evil forces – but there’s so much innovation in the film, it’s easy to overlook this. It’s like receiving a pair of socks on Christmas Day, but finding that they turn you invisible when you put them on. Erm, thanks Aunty Flo.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about The Matrix without mentioning the sequels. At the time, they were exciting but just like the Star Wars prequels from George Lucas (him again), they suffered from a preponderance of weightless digital effects and little in the way of practical effects. Most Hollywood sequels are lazy rehashes of the same ideas that made the first film so interesting. The Wachowskis couldn’t be accused of this though; if anything, they overthought their sequels, giving them a highbrow slant that hasn’t been see in a sequel since The Godfather Part II.

It’s great to have Don Davis’ score to the film on this lovely slab of green wax. I probably enjoy the score as much as I love the pop soundtrack, which despite a few timeless classics is starting to feel very much of its time. I’m not familiar with Don Davis’ other work, but this is a great score – and its refreshing for a big action film to be scored by somebody other than John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer.

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Welcome To The Real World

Rocks In The Attic #436: Various Artists – ‘Rushmore’ (1999)

RITA#436One of my favourite films of all time, and I finally have the soundtrack on vinyl. Up to now, only the lesser Wes Anderson films have been granted a soundtrack release on vinyl – the Moonrise Kingdom 10” from Record Store Day’s Black Friday a few years ago, and The Darjeeling Limited from Record Store Day earlier this year.

Don’t get me wrong, the soundtracks to Anderson’s films are always universally awesome; it’s just that the later films themselves aren’t a shade on his early films. From The Darjeeling Limited onwards, he’s been repeating himself, with nothing that fans of his early work haven’t seen before. And those weighty Oscar nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel don’t mean a thing – only that the Academy are consistently terrible at recognising talent early on. Just like Scorsese’s The Departed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is far from being Wes Anderson’s finest achievement.

So back to Rushmore. In 1999, I finished University and moved back into my parents’ house. Due to the nightly boredom of living with my parents again, I joined a video shop – and without a car I used to walk the three miles there and back whenever I wanted to visit the shop. One of the first films I rented was Rushmore. I was an instant Wes Anderson fan from that moment on. His brand of whimsy, teenage rebellion and school-notebook perspective on life really struck a chord with me.

Part of the reason those early Wes Anderson films work so well are the scores by Mark Mothersbaugh. From Bottle Rocket through to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Mothersbaugh has been an integral component of Anderson’s work, offering a surprising range of musical styles that you’d never expect from the lead singer of Devo. From Fantastic Mr. Fox onwards, Anderson has turned to Alexandre Desplat as a composer; and while there’s nothing wrong with Desplat’s soundtracks, a Wes Anderson film without Mark Mothersbaugh is to me like a Spielberg film without John Williams.

Hit: Ooh La La – The Faces

Hidden Gem: Making Time – Creation

Rocks In The Attic #430: Muse – ‘Showbiz’ (1999)

RITA#430I used to be a big fan of Muse. Right from the first album too – essentially ever since I read in the NME about a guitarist with crazy effects pedals in an up and coming band from Devon. Then I heard Sunburn in a club somewhere and I was hooked. Muse to me sound like the natural progression of Radiohead if they had gone in that direction after The Bends rather than the avant garde bullshit they swapped their guitars for.

I was lucky enough to see Muse touring this album; a mid-afternoon set on the Other Stage at Glastonbury in 2000. I would see them touring the second album too, and then I stupidly overlooked their headlining slot at Glastonbury touring the third album (but that’s another story altogether).

The Radiohead comparisons are inevitable, with this debut record being produced by John Leckie, producer of The Bends. Showbiz – the title song – draws the most comparisons with Radiohead, borrowing the ominous slow-burn they perfected across The Bends and OK Computer.  I remember being stood at festivals when Muse first came out and listening to people trying to pigeon-hole them. “They’re just Radiohead in different clothes.” “Nah, they’re Queen for the 21st century.” Whatever. It’s a shame that when bands come out, they just have to be put into a box. People can’t just accept that a band exists on its own merits. But then once a band is accepted, that band is then used as a comparison for newer bands. “Royal Blood? They’re just Muse mixed with the Black Keys, aren’t they?” Ad infinitum.

The great thing about Muse when they started out is that they were a solid package right from the get-go. If you look at that Glastonbury set from 2000, Matt Bellamy has all the vocal histrionics down pat. This wasn’t something he developed over time (like Chris Martin’s woeful hopping on one leg holding his ribcage with one arm). It was also nice to see Bellamy dive into the drum kit, hanging onto bass player Christopher Wolstenholme’s back, at the end of the set too. It was things like this that made me sit up and realise that rock and roll was coming back, after a few years anxiously waiting for Britpop to go through its final death rattles.

Hit:  Unintended

Hidden Gem: Fillip