Tag Archives: Britpop

Rocks In The Attic #434: Placebo – ‘Placebo’ (1996)

RITA#434Twenty years on, Placebo suddenly sound very dated. Their brand of edgy, off-kilter rock was pioneered by the likes of Manic Street Preachers (on The Holy Bible), Radiohead and from lesser-knowns like Dark Star. At the time, Placebo seemed like the future. They were dangerous. They had a chap with a lady’s haircut wearing eyeliner. They were just three, making the noise of four or five.

But in the shadow of a band like Muse – a band who did this topsy-turvy future rock arguably better, and was more successful – Placebo sound a little redundant. They almost sound a little like a nostalgia act. Remember the ‘90s? We used to watch Friends and TFI Friday, laugh at the Spice Girls and drink lots of snakebite? Placebo was a core element of all that.

On one hand there was Britpop – Oasis and their imitators (Ocean Colour Scene, Embrace, Space, Cast, ad infinitum), and then on the other hand there was bands like Placebo; bands which promised that the bland indie bogeys just might not win the war. Looking around in the good year 2015, aside from a few successful indie revivalists (Kaiser Chiefs, Coldplay, Elbow) and crossover acts (Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand) I’m claiming a win for the heavier end of the wedge.

Hit: Nancy Boy

Hidden Gem: Come Home

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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

Rocks In The Attic #426: Supergrass – ‘I Should Coco’ (1995)

RITA#426I’ve been waiting a bloody long time to get my hands on a vinyl copy of this – my original pressing of In It For The Money has always been very lonely next to so many Supertramp records, and I finally have a companion piece for my 7” of Alright / Time.

Recently reissued to celebrate the album’s twentieth anniversary, the re-release comes with the record’s original bonus 7” – an energetic blast through Hendrix’s Stone Free, backed with a John Peel session of one of their own songs (the sticker on the front of the record strangely says it comes with a “one sided 7” vinyl” when in fact it’s a standard double-sided 45rpm 7”).

Although I’m more of a fan of album number two, I like I Should Coco more and more with every listen. It sounds like speed, and it’s not hard to imagine how different this sounded at the time compared to all the rest of Britpop’s dull, plodding Indie rock.

Alright? Mansize Rooster? Caught By The Fuzz? It’s choc-full of hits, but for me the real gem of the album is Time. They sound like kids on the rest of the album, but with Time they really display a maturity that’s beyond their (teenage) years. They would write more soulful material like this – Late In The Day from the second album and Moving from the third album are good examples – but their debut record is really all about the energy of their live set.

What’s not to like about Supergrass? A fantastic songwriter in Gaz Coombes, a driving bass player with great backing vocals in Mick Quinn, and in Danny Goffey a madcap drummer from the Keith Moon school of percussion. The only thing not to like is that horrible rumour that Steven Spielberg saw the music video for Alright and wanted to turn the band into a Monkees-style TV experiment.

Most of the first record sounds like it was recorded in one take with very minimal production. It was actually recorded for less than the budget for the Alright video, which is a horrible example of misplaced record company investment.

Hit: Alright

Hidden Gem: I’d Like To Know

Rocks In The Attic #277: The Bluetones – ‘Return To The Last Chance Saloon’ (1998)

RITA#277The Bluetones are, for me, the epitome of sub-par, late ‘90s Indie / Britpop. I don’t know what I dislike more – Mark Morriss’ overly adenoidal vocals, or their propensity to arpeggiate chord progressions with jangly guitars, as if the Smiths and the Stone Roses invented music and left no other choice. Needless to say, I stayed far away from their anorak-wearing warblings of their first album of 1996.

It was only due to laziness – and the fact that I’d just seen Live play live on the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury on a sunny Friday afternoon in 2000 – that I caught their set. I remember a lot of Frisbees flying around – heavy blue-plastic ones that looked like they hurt when they hit the occasional festival goer in the bonce – and beach balls flying around in the crowd at the front of the stage.

I also remember the band playing Solomon Bites The Worm, having never heard the song before, and I’m a sucker for a decent guitar riff. I also like lyrics that follow a set pattern – in this case, the days of the week. The other surprise of their set was a cover of the Minder TV theme, I Could Be So Good For You, complete with fumbled piano parts.

I bought this album on my return to Manchester, on white vinyl, with a nice saloon door pop-out on the inner gatefold. Aside from Solomon Bites The Worm and the infectious If, the rest of the material doesn’t really do anything for me. I struggle to make my way through its mostly boring 62 minutes. Like a lot of albums from the late ‘90s, it’d be much better if it was half as long.

Hit: If

Hidden Gem: Tone Blooze

Rocks In The Attic #190: Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’ (1997)

RITA#190I remember being at University when this album was released, and seeing the music video to Going Out. I hated it. It was everything that Britpop was in my eyes – twee, kitsch and horribly self-confident.

Then I heard Radiohead’s The Bends, and my tastes started to soften. Prior to this, I was stuck in a world of sleeveless denim jackets, guitar solos and ‘heavier than thou’ rock and metal. Listening to The Bends, I realised that there could be a lot of good material to be found in this genre – as long as I stayed away from the overtly-kitsch stuff.

This was all cemented when I bought a compilation CD called Danger Zone. This mainly consisted of heavier examples of Britpop, like Blur’s Song 2 and Supergrass’ Richard III. Aside from that Going Out video, the only thing I knew about Supergrass was that catchy Alright single from their first album, which was exactly everything I hated about Britpop – smiley, over-confident drivel.

When I heard Richard III, I changed my mind about the band instantly. I couldn’t believe that such a poppy band was capable of recorded a tune that rocked out more than the rock music I was listening to at the time. There’s a lovely bit in the song when the drums fall out after the chorus, and the guitar plays a two-chord motif. When the bass comes in as a counterpoint, it sounds as though the guitar is changing key, but it’s just a trick of the ears. This to me, was of greater musical interest than any British rock bands of the time like The Wildhearts and Terrorvision.

I’m not a huge fan of Supergrass’ first album. I’ll listen to it, and enjoy it when I do, but I think In It For The Money is a masterpiece (and a huge step forward from their debut). As a guitarist, it’s fantastic to come across such an album full of riffs and chord progressions you want to play. Richard III, Sun Hits The Sky, Tonight and Late In The Day all feature really nice guitar parts that are seem to be natural progression to ‘70s guitar-based rock. I owned the guitar tab book for it at one point, but must have sold it when I was losing ballast to emigrate to New Zealand.

It took me a long time to realise but it’s so important not to listen to what the music press says, especially when they’re pigeon-holing a band into a specific genre. For me, Supergrass are the personification of how dangerously misleading such labelling can be. I was only fortunate to see the band play live once, at Glastonbury in 2004 but I immensely enjoyed standing in the rain in the Pyramid field watching them race through their afternoon setlist.

Hit: Late In The Day

Hidden Gem: Tonight