I’ve had a bit of back to the early 90s binge this past fortnight, thanks to the effect of last week’s Levellers gig. There has been some musical revisionism at work in recent years that paint the time immediately before the explosion of grunge and then Britpop as a creative wasteland.
That era may have been arid for metal fans but there was a fantastic grebo (think crusty skate punks, sort of) scene that has largely been forgotten except by the fans.
You probably had to be there first time around to love this music quite as much as I do. When I crank up Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, I still get as charged as I did when I was 14 years old jumping up and down on my bed to Kill Your Television.
So for those of you who are curious about British indie before Blur, Oasis and Pulp or for nostalgia hounds, here is my guide to those halcyon days. None of these bands were cool in the same way as the Stone Roses or, in a very different way, The Smiths, but if you liked them, you loved them, and rabidly.
Ned’s Atomic Dustbin
One of the most underrated UK bands ever.
Many foolish people turned their noses up to the Neds. Dayglo artwork, a scuzzy image and the fact they didn’t take themselves seriously, meant no-one else really did either.
It’s a crime as 1991 debut God Fodder is a riotous thrashy pop-punk masterpiece. Neds’ secret was twin bass players with the second bass part typically played high on the fretboard, adding not just bouncy energy but a harmonic richness that gave their original sound real depth.
There was always something slightly melancholy underlying the sugar rush. This became increasingly pronounced as Neds matured over subsequent records Are You Normal? and Brainbloodvolume.
The latter album – Neds’ swansong – undeservedly sank without a trace. This pisses me off to this day as it’s a masterful evolution of the God Fodder sound into something heavy and sample-laden yet frequently quite beautiful. The melody of Talk Me Down makes the hair on my arms rise even now.
The Wonder Stuff
Long before Liam Gallagher, Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff was the arrogant mouthy sod the music weeklies loved to hate. Much like the Neds and most other bands of this era, The Stuffies’ early records were critical and (relatively-speaking) commercial successes before Britpop landed like an atomic bomb on the British musical landscape and rendered them instantly obsolete.
Hunt’s caustic wit and acerbic lyrics lace the band’s buzzy guitar pop (later, folk-rock) and give it real bite. The Wonder Stuff have some genuine classics, as well as oddities such as godawful No.1 hit Dizzy with comedian Vic Reeves, in their back catalogue. Highlights include:
And the (imho mediocre) song that everyone remembers:
Pop Will Eat Itself
I never quite got into the Poppies (didn’t bands have better nicknames then?) at the time but there’s no denying they were a massive part of the grebo scene and one of the most innovative.
Their tongue-in-cheek sample-heavy, hip-hop influenced, Beastie Boys by way of the Midlands sound has dated quite badly but they were ahead of the curve. One their early t-shirts had the slogan “sample it, loop it, fuck it and eat it”. Brilliant.
Interesting fact: lead singer Clint Mansell is now a well-respected composer whose film score credits include Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream and Moon.
Some bands are timeless. Others are like Senseless Things.
Brilliant at the time but generally better left in the past. This Twickenham group played jangly bubblegum pop-punk years before Green Day and Blink-182 made millions with a sun-drenched Californian take on the style.
I bunked off school to get my Senseless Things albums signed but I don’t think they would be worth much even if Jamie Hewlett (Tank Girl/Gorillaz) did the artwork for debut First of Too Many.
I can see why I jumped around to it at 14 but there’s not enough originality or force of personality to make them relevant almost 20 years later.
If nothing else that proves it’s not just nostalgia for my own youth that keeps me coming back to the best of these bands.
However Senseless Things did have two stone-cold classics in Hold it Down and Easy to Smile that justify their inclusion this post.
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – After The Watershed
Jesus Jones – Right Here, Right Now
Inspiral Carpets – This is How it Feels (technically Madchester but it’s ace and Carter USM covered it, so bollocks to it)
For anyone wondering where the heavy went, normal service will resume next week. Probably.