This article is taken from Issue 64 of the Mudhutter Football Express, copies are still available now through the usual sources and on www.mudhutter.co.uk. A playlist inspired by the article is available on our mixcloud page, or by pressing play on the widget below. Press play then enjoy the read…
[mixcloud https://www.mixcloud.com/thepieatnight/one-sided-story-1991-and-all-that/ width=600 height=60 hide_cover=0 mini=1 light=1 autoplay=0]
It started with a tweet…
As these things so often do. This one was one of those “on this day in…” tweets, claiming that Primal Scream’s opus, Screamadelica was released on 23rd September, 27 years ago. Once I’d got past the strangeness of celebrating something’s 27th anniversary, I focussed in on the obvious error, surely such a landmark album couldn’t have been released in such a sh*t year? Surely it came out the year before?
Although all the cool kids know that 1988-89 was really where it was at, 1990 was brilliant. 1988-89 still had homework, getting up early and waiting for the bus in the rain. 1990 had legal drinking, staying up late with no reprisals, girls, staying in bed until dinner time, a World Cup, Gazza and there was the music. 1991 failed in comparison. It felt like a hangover from the year before, uni was sh*t, relationships worse, I had nothing to get up for, Latics were slowly unravelling, and… well… there was the music.
Music had been a bit of a comfort blanket to me down the years, if nothing else it gave me something to retreat into, somewhere to hide and something to perpetuate my cultured image as a melancholic youth. Now I had actual cr*p going on in my life the music I was surrounded with was about as comforting as lying in a bath of actual brown stuff.
1991 belonged to those kids who lived in the dark recesses, downstairs in the Pier “Nitespot”, cuddling their Newky Brown and waiting for the Violent Femmes, Levellers or the Dead Kennedys to come on. A scuzzy year where dog on a bit of string replaced soap on a rope and the blissed out balearica of the year before was overtaken by a slew of sludge.
Effing Jesus Jones, Carter the Unstoppable b*****d Sex Machine, Neds Atomic tw@ting Dustbin, Pop Will just eff-off and Eat Itself and the massive Wonderc**ts managed to ruin an entire year. And they were probably all smug and pleased about it too.
You think I’m being unfair? Well, try and find anyone who wasn’t flouncing around in dirty cut-off jeans, massive cardigans and too-big flowery shirts at the time, who remembers anything by any of those bands fondly and I’ll take it back. Right after I’ve checked them for the whiff of patchouli and rollies and called them a liar.
As if greebo, fraggle or whatever it wanted to call itself wasn’t bad enough on its own, the greasy haired mess left the door open for the storm that was rising in American music. My views on Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins have softened over the years (current mood: they were ok). But I can’t even bring myself to insert semi-amusing swear words into the names of the likes of Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Hole, The Melvins or L7, let alone revisit their back catalogues.
And so I found myself driven from my natural environment of the indie night, pushed out by kids in plaid, with skanky hair and practised thousand centimetre stares that aimed for “I know what smack is like” but never got further than “muuuumm, can I have a smack from the chippy for my tea?”. Driven into the arms of horrendous dance clubs, full of more smartly dressed, actual drug casualties who spent as much time wondering why I was drinking beer, “man” as I did wondering what I was doing there.
And that was just as sh*t, to be honest, I only stayed because my mates were there and, I could write about that but, it’s harder to direct your ire at a faceless DJ or producer than it is an unemployable lumberjack from Seattle.
But I’ve digressed, and it turned out that Screamadelica really was released in 1991 and far from being the only jewel in a crown made from musical turds, it turns out that it was one of a few albums that came out that year that could quite comfortably sit in a “Top <pick a number, any number> Albums of All Time” list, should anyone ever ask me to make one. So, yes, 1991 was sh*t, but that doesn’t mean that these three were…
Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha
These guys took the phrase “Indie Dance” a lot less literally than many of their peers, employing a cut & Pritt Stick approach to sound clips and samples that was more reminiscent of an indie fanzine than it was hip hop or dance music. The result is a cinematic scrapbook of backstreet London which was the perfect antidote the brash, grungy noise emanating from across the Atlantic at the time and still soothes the nerves nearly 30 years on.
Primal Scream – Screamadelica
If Foxbase Alpha was a comforting patchwork quilt, Screamadelica was a spikey, MDMA laced hotpot that challenged the senses. An exercise in mixing and matching musical styles, from doped up country to blissed out house – and plenty of stops in between; if you look up the word eclectic in the dictionary, you may well find a child’s drawing of the sun on a red backdrop.
Massive Attack – Blue Lines
I’ve not covered it above, but 1991 was a pretty good year for Hip-Hop, and although the notion of UK Hip Hop was ill defined at the time, this album went a long way to putting a singularly British slant on proceedings. From the first bars of grinding bass on opener ‘Safe From Harm” though to the lullaby lines of closer “Big Wheel Keeps Turning”, Blue Lines sounded like nothing you’d heard before. The pace of it was all wrong, the attitude too laid back, it was dark and moody, but it was a thing of beauty all the same. An album so inspired that it took a few years to come up with a genre to pigeonhole it into and a record so ground breaking that people are still playing catch up to it, a bona fide classic that 1991 really, really didn’t deserve
And elsewhere on the Jukebox Juror, err, jukebox…
Keeping with the “on this day theme” the Stevie Wonder “masterpiece” Songs in the Key of Life was released on 28th September 1976. Whilst not quite as old as me, it’s getting there, and yet still sounds a lot fresher than I do when I get up of a morning.
Canadian band The Souljazz Orchestra make songs that (unsurprisingly) fuse Soul and Jazz but do it via Latin America and Africa. If any of those tickle your musical taste buds then their new Album “Under Burning Skies” is well worth a listen. If they don’t then why not?
A lot of my changed attitude to Nirvana came down to their MTV Unplugged performance, particularly their cover of Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”, it’s not as good as Lulu’s version, but it’s on topic so we’ll stick with it.
An album with a genuine anniversary is New Order’s ‘Substance’ which turned 30 this year. Blue Monday isn’t necessarily the best track on the compilation, it’s by far and away the only one with the word blue in the title.
And that playlist again…
See you on the other side
The Jukebox Juror
We discussed whether 1991 was as bad as all that on episode 34 of the Pie at Night Podcast. Stuck in The Middle is available now from all your usual podcast sources, or on the player below. Give it a try, you might like it…