Radiator – Super Furry Animals
If Oasis and their ilk provided the drinking songs for a generation, Super Furry Animals definitely helped soundtrack the THC team’s weirder weekends. Their first album Fuzzy Logic was a riot of glam-pop psychedelia, but merely a hint of what was to come from their second long player Radiator, which exploded into our slightly more experimental world in Summer 1997.
First single Hermann Loves Pauline high-jumped out of the trusty Panasonic’s speakers with its too-loud cymbals and half-sung/half-spoken verses about Che Guevara, Albert Einstein and the death of Marie Curie, a million miles from the fun glam weirdness of debut album Fuzzy Logic, but still with an intrinsic stink of the planet they created and curated, the lysergic soundscapes soaked in analogue synthesizers and buzzsaw guitars, coupled with Pete Fowler’s now-classic artwork adding to the hyperreal otherworldly-ness of the whole thing.
The sum was definitely more than the parts, but the kingpin is the underrated voice of singer Gruff Rhys providing heartfelt and occasionally fragile moments of pathos, with some truly amazing irreverence. See under Demons (‘clarity just confuses me, the lines drawn on a map a strange assembly’), Hermann Loves Pauline (‘Marie Curie was Polish born but French bred… ha, French bread!’) or Ice Hockey Hair (‘she’s got tennis rules, it’s so confusing it’s not played by fools’). (Yeah I know Ice Hockey Hair is the EP that followed it up, but for no good reason at all I couple them together.)
Super Furry Animals might be my favourite band.
Six – Mansun
This album has a similarly experimental feel to Radiator, but in a far less laid-back fashion, possibly due to the Maradona-level drug-related ‘fun’ that these guys were apparently having at the time. Christ, it’s over the top; but it’s the sound of a band with a budget and a creative free-rein to do whatever they wanted. So you get the shriek of claustrophobia in Negative, the almost ten minute prog prang-out of Cancer and the trippy ‘every guitar pedal in the world at the same time’ soundscapes of the title track, Six, which probably felt like a bit of a departure to the viewers of TFI Friday, just one year on from the release of their breakout single Wide Open Space (from their also-excellent debut album Attack Of The Grey Lantern).
It’s impossible to overstate how overblown this album gets, with its seemingly endless references the Marquis de Sade, The Prisoner, 1984, scientology and Taoism. One song features former Doctor Who Tom Baker reading a monologue about isolation over a harpsichord figure while an operatic duo harmonise from afar… Northern Uproar this is not.
A huge influence on their contemporaries, from Muse to Radiohead, I think time has been – and will be – kind to Mansun. This album, a cornucopia of concepts and ideas, while still dripping with hooks, is well worth digging out if you never got into it at the time.
(Oh and the really weird thing about it, which took me about 20 years to realise, is that hardly any of the lyrics rhyme.)
Sing To God (Parts I and II) – Cardiacs
This is no longer in chronological order, as I got into this late, and I’m cheating slightly, as on paper this is two albums, but I see them as two sides to the same record, if that makes sense. Anyway I’m allowed ‘cos it’s my list. So there. This is a glorious technicolor trip through the mind of genius/visionary/madman Tim Smith, who has made some of the greatest music of all time that hardly anybody has heard. Like a few of the artists in this list, Tim created an entire otherworld for his band Cardiacs, where the artwork and the stageshow feed into the tunes themselves to make a truly three-dimensional musical experience.
Oh, and about those songs… Tim has a knack for incredibly hooky but off the wall pop music which some might describe as prog, some might describe as punk, but, as the man himself would say ‘it’s all tunes, innit?’ This kind of world demands loyalty, and Cardiacs are blessed with the most ardent supporters of probably any band ever.
Sing To God was them at the height of their powers, with new boy Jon Poole getting more or less free rein to stomp his not-inconsiderable stamp all over embryonic riffs and melodies, while Tim created technicolour soundscapes over and under it all to make a truly unique album covering the frenetic (Fiery Gun Hand), the heartfelt (Odd Even), and the own-brand bombast of album highlight Dirty Boy, the coda of which can turn a grown man into a gibbering wreck. It’s only three chords, but it’s the RIGHT three chords. This album(s) is a great introduction to one of the most underrated bands of all time. Go and get it. Then get On Land And In The Sea, Heaven Born And Ever Bright, A Little Man And A House, and all of the others. There is such a rich tapestry in Cardiacs that very few bands have ever come close to achieving.
I think Cardiacs might be my favourite band.
A Grand Don’t Come For Free – The Streets
A term that I recently heard from a music industry person is ‘to girl-listen’ – to listen to a song or record over and over again like a teenage girl might. This is a record that I definitely girl-listened to during 2004/5. Rammed with hooks, hard-hitting beats, funny and poignant lyrics, it comes across like a rock opera gone hip hop, but without the grandiose posturing of rap or the pomposity of rock. I suppose it dressed grime up for a white audience. Grime was big in Leeds in the early 2000s, ahead of the curve of the London-centric NME, and its original down-to-earth realism and scratchy production appealed to me in the same way punk had a few years earlier. This was almost a pop version of grime, packaged up for the Millennials – too skint to own anything but with enough disposable cash for a decent weekend, and without ties. Basically me and my mates.
Producer/writer Mike Skinner is a lyrical and musical visionary as much as any bloke with a guitar; mega singles Fit But You Know It and Dry Your Eyes are obvious proof of this, but also worth checking out are the E-fuelled come-up of Blinded By The Lights or the syncopated dance weirdness of Get Out Of My House. This was my getting-ready-to-go-out album for the longest time, and still sets me up for an ace night out at any given opportunity.
The ending of this album is totally brilliant – two different outcomes to the plot, one minor key with a bitter ending and one major key and triumphant. As conceptual as any of the other stuff in this list. Listening to this now still gives me a big grin… and a couple of gnarly ecstasy flashbacks. Ha!
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Maxinquaye – Tricky, New Boots And Panties – Ian Dury, Songs From The Big Chair – Tears For Fears, Armed Forces – Elvis Costello, The Raven – The Stranglers, Everything – Half Man Half Biscuit, Welcome To The Pleasuredome – Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Suede – Suede, Actually – Pet Shop Boys, Different Class – Pulp (and His n’ Hers, come to think of it), Music For The Jilted Generation – Prodigy, Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan, Never Mind The Bollocks – Sex Pistols, Everything Else – The Beatles, Pills n’ Thrills n’ Bellyaches – Happy Mondays, Loveless – My Bloody Valentine, The Village Green Preservation Society – The Kinks, Pet Sounds – Beach Boys, The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (and the second one actually), Nevermind – Nirvana, Screamadelica – Primal Scream, Everything Must Go – Manic Street Preachers, Songs Of Faith And Devotion – Depeche Mode, Straight Outta Compton – NWA, Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine, The Queen Is Dead – The Smiths, City – Strapping Young Lad, Sea Change – Beck, Everything – Ramones, Mrs Two Dinners – Gargoyles.