James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 26: Zeitgeist

James Proclaims (4)

And so we arrive at ‘Z’ in my shamelessly nostalgic A-Z of albums that I liked to listen to when I was young.

Thanks to everyone who has chipped in with comments along the way, even if it’s to tell me that you’ve never heard of the bands I liked or that you completely disagree with my choices.

But, unless I’m much mistaken, ‘Z’ is very much the last letter of the alphabet, so it ends today.

And whether you’ve enjoyed my jaunt down the memory lane of the musical tastes of my youth or been largely indifferent to it (I assume if you’re reading this then you haven’t actively disliked these posts because, y’know, why would you have bothered to read them at all…) what you cannot deny is that they have involved me writing words.

Which, in the spirit of generating content for a blog, is largely better than not writing words.

Whether I’ll continue to use words to write about things other than music from the nineties is something only time will tell.

But today I will, again, write about an album from the nineties.

One that begins with ‘Z’

Z2020

Z is for Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist_(album)

The Levellers are another band that headlined Glastonbury in the nineties, which seems a strange thing to write in 2020. But they did, in 1994, performing to what was then a record number of people.

They hadn’t even released the album ‘Zeitgeist’ at that point. It came out in 1995 and it remains their only album to top the UK album charts.

The peak of the Levellers success does correspond roughly with the general Britpop phenomenon, but they had been enjoying a bit of success prior to that, (hence the headline slot at Glastonbury), and they don’t seem an obvious fit for the Britpop label. Whether they’d have been quite as big in the nineties without Britpop is doubtful though. They’re still going, still seem to have a loyal enough fanbase, but their days of headlining Glastonbury and the like are long behind them now and the demise of Britpop also seems to correspond with their general decline in mainstream popularity.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive fan; I like them, I’d probably see them live (I think in fact I did see them live but I saw a lot of bands in the nineties and unless I held onto the ticket stub I struggle to recall whether I was actually there, or just saw them performing at a festival on TV and my memory has subsequently placed me in the crowd…), I’ve listened to most of their albums at one point or another but only a few tracks really stayed with me.

‘Zeitgeist’ would be the one album I really listened to a lot (which is quite serendipitous when it comes to writing an A-Z of nineties albums, because there weren’t any other ‘Z’ albums leaping to mind) and it’s the one I’d probably stick on if I was in the mood for the intrinsically left-wing folk-rock sound that the Levellers bring to the table.

I liked the single ‘Just The One’ and I think a lot of people enjoyed that as a kind of ‘pre-getting-drunk’ anthem (the nineties was perhaps also the beginning of the British bing-drinking culture that appears to continue to this day. I was very much a part of it in my time – I like to think I’ve outgrown it but it could be that increased responsibilities have reduced the opportunity rather than the inclination to drink irresponsibly). Alas though, the album version of ‘Just The One’ is not the same as the single version so we can’t end on that.

So we’ll end instead on ‘Hope Street’, which seems as good a place as any to conclude my A-Z.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 25: You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

James Proclaims (4)

It’s the penultimate day of the A-Z challenge 2020 and it’s time to ask ‘Y’.

Specifically we must ask ‘Y’ to tell us what today’s album is.

It wasn’t easy. I assumed a lot of album titles would begin with the word ‘you’.

Or ‘yesterday’.

But these were not popular choices in the nineties apparently.

So I’ve had to step a little outside my comfort zone.

I could have gone with Pearl Jam’s ‘Yield’ but I stopped listening to Pearl Jam after their third album ‘Vitalogy’ and didn’t get into them again until many years later. If I was going to include Pearl Jam it would’ve been for ‘Ten’ or the aforementioned ‘Vitalogy’. And I didn’t so I’m not going with ‘Yield’ either. It would feel dishonest.

Another option was Welsh band Feeder and their 1999 album ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’, but while Feeder always seemed like a band I would probably like, the only album of theirs I really know is 2001’s ‘Echo Park’ so, again, it would be disingenuous to include them.

Ultimately I’ve switched genres and gone with something that screams the nineties like few other albums could.

Y2020

Y is for You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

220px-YouveComeALongWayBaby2

While two members of The Housemartins went on to form The Beautiful South, one decided to go in a slightly different direction.

Or a very different direction.

Norman Cook became known as Fatboy Slim and was a pivotal part of the Big Beat movement that was very different to Britpop but largely seemed to exist at roughly the same time.

Not really my cup of tea in theory but I actually did like a lot of the acts associated with that genre of music and they were easily as big a part of the nineties soundscape as any of the indie music I was listening to.

In any case, ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ was a massive album that transcended its genre.

The singles off that album were everywhere and on everything.  You’d be hard pushed to listen to Radio One (my default radio station until I outgrew their target demographic) without hearing ‘The Rockafella Skank’.

‘Gangster Trippin’ must have been the accompaniment to many a sporting montage.

And you certainly couldn’t expect to go on a night out without at some point finding yourself drunkenly dancing badly and singing loudly to ‘Right Here, Right Now’.

It was unavoidable.

It pretty much was the sound of the late nineties.

And because this A-Z has always been a nostalgia driven exercise, I have to go with the ‘Y’ album that invokes the most nostalgia.

Even if it was rather forced upon me at the time, it’s as evocative of my youth as anything else I’ve written about.

And it’s hard to argue that it isn’t an excellent album.

The track that I liked best back then would definitely have been ‘Praise You’

The video was genius too.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 24: XTRMNTR

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No A-Z would be complete without the letter ‘X’.

Because ‘X’ is very much a part of the alphabet.

But it’s not the most accommodating of letters and it’s pretty hard to do an A-Z of anything without cheating a bit on ‘X’.

But I don’t think I’ve cheated too much today.

The album I’ve come up with is very much in the spirit of a nineties retrospective.

It just wasn’t quite released in the nineties.

But if you’re going to miss your self-imposed window of a specific decade then being one month out isn’t too bad.

X2020

X is for XTRMNTR

XTRMNTR_album_cover

Could any nineties retrospective be complete without Primal Scream, the band that put out what is oft regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time in ‘Screamadelica’?

Of course it couldn’t.

But this post isn’t about that album.

What about the much less critically-acclaimed ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’? Yes it was universally panned but it still produced two of their biggest hits in ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’ and was an album that I was quite fond of, even if the critics weren’t.

Nope, can’t write about that either.

Because much as those two albums might be worth revisiting, neither of them begins with ‘X’.

That honour goes to ‘XTRMNTR’, which may not have been released until January 2000, but was clearly recorded in the nineties. Plus the first single off it, ‘Swastika Eyes’ was released in 1999.

So it counts.

It does.

Forrest Gump’s mama apparently claimed that life was like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re gonna get”. If only someone could have pointed out the little card that comes with the box of chocolates that tells you exactly what you’re gonna get.

What she might have said, were she not a fictional character living in a different time period, is that life is like waiting for the next Primal Scream album to be released because you really don’t know what you’re gonna get.

You have to admire the band for constant reinvention, but if you love one Primal Scream album, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like anything else they put out.

XTRMNTR is a more aggressive album than a lot of their other records, but releasing their rage clear suits Primal Scream (the clue was perhaps always there in the band’s name) because it is generally regarded as one of their better efforts. Not quite up there with ‘Screamadelica’, but as close as they’ve ever been.

Any of the singles would be a fitting way to see us out, but let’s go with ‘Accelerator’. If ever a song was aptly named this would be it.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 23: Wake Up!

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Who, what, why, where and when are all words that begin with ‘W’.

And so does today’s album.

Because we’re on ‘W’ in my A-Z of albums.

So it should begin with ‘W’.

That is literally the only expectation we can reasonably have of this album.

But it is also one of my all time favourite albums.

W2020

W is for Wake Up!

Wakeup_thebooradleys_cover

Wake Up! was the album that was by far the biggest commercial success for The Boo Radleys, and until recent years it was the only album of theirs that I really knew.

Which is strange because I enjoyed this album so much that you might imagine I’d have investigated the rest of their back catalogue. But their 1996 follow-up, ‘C’mon Kids’, didn’t really generate the same level of interest as ‘Wake Up!’ and I neglected to add it to my collection. Which with hindsight was a mistake because that too is an awesome album.

I have rectified this error in recent times and after paying closer attention to their other work, I feel it’s probably fair to say The Boo Radleys deserve to be recognised as more than ‘just another Britpop band’.

But the success of ‘Wake Up!’ did owe a lot to Britpop.

I don’t know if an album like this would have been successful in another era, but I’m glad it came out in 1995.

Firstly, because I might not have heard it otherwise.

But also because, the day after I finished my last GCSE exam, it was absolutely brilliant to switch on my CD player the following morning, with the longest summer of my life awaiting me and listen to the opening track, ‘Wake Up Boo!’ as I lay smiling in bed. It really is the perfect post examination track.

 

 

May The Soon Be With You

James Proclaims (4)

millennium-falcon-1343464_640

Without a shadow of a doubt, life on lockdown has hit other people harder than me. I am, under the circumstances, relatively lucky. I have a job that still needs me to work (I mean the work bit is mildly irritating but in the current climate, gainful employment seems to be a definite asset), I have a small but perfectly adequate garden available to me, I live close enough to supermarkets to not worry too much about accessing supplies yet I also live close enough to a river to make my daily allocation of exercise quite tolerable (apart from the actual exercise, which has always been far more functional than fun for me).

Also I live with a very energetic toddler, so boredom has yet to really be an issue.

By far the biggest asset for me in surviving lockdown though, is that I am something of a misanthrope. Maybe not a fully-fledged misanthrope but certainly someone with misanthropic tendencies. I don’t wish any ill to befall my fellow citizens, but I’m perfectly happy to avoid them. Social gatherings have always been things to tolerate rather than enjoy and though there are a small number of people on the planet whose company I do enjoy, I am perfectly content, for the most part, with my own company. Certainly, my own company alongside the company of my wife and daughter are more than sufficient for me at the moment.

Which is not to say I don’t find the whole pandemic thing deeply distressing.  I would much prefer there not to be a life-threatening virus at large and the obvious misery, hardship and fear being experienced by people worldwide is profoundly upsetting.

And at times of difficulty, I do what any sensible person would do, and I look for comfort wherever I can find it. I have spent much of April writing about music and listening to music is something that I find can bring me a lot of solace. But times are extraordinarily bleak at the moment so I’m having to resort to the ‘big guns’.

And when I am at a point where everything has become too much for me, there really is only one recourse I can take.

And that is to watch Star Wars.

A lot.

I love Star Wars. I have always loved Star Wars. I think I probably will always love Star Wars.

But I am not, necessarily what you would call a ‘Star Wars geek’. I don’t know all there is to know about Star Wars. I haven’t, for example, read any of the associated novels or comic books. I haven’t played, nor do I intend to play, any of the associated video games.

I just really like the films. As do literally millions of other people on the planet.

They’re really popular.

Maybe I do love Star Wars more than some of those other millions of people and maybe I do know more about the movies than a lot of people. I’m not an expert, I wouldn’t purport to be an expert but when people have conversations about “who shot first?” I know exactly what they are talking about and I know that the correct answer is “Han”. But I still think that probably puts me in quite a large group of people.

‘Geek’ as a general term might be a fair description of me. I wouldn’t eschew it. I just wouldn’t want to claim that I love Star Wars more than anyone else. Because there are loads of people who love Star Wars as much as me, if not significantly more than me.

But it’s still true to say I love Star Wars.

I couldn’t tell you why I love Star Wars. I just always have. My mum tells me that, when I was a very small and difficult to please child (as opposed to the large and difficult to please adult I’ve become) she could stick me in front of Star Wars and I literally wouldn’t move for the duration of the movie. Alas, back in those days my mother was fairly reliant on Star Wars actually being shown on the telly, which tended to happen around Christmas time. For ages I thought of Star Wars as being intrinsically a Christmas thing, but these days I’m too busy watching other movies (as the very small number of people who keep reading my blog in December when I write about nothing else will be able to attest) so Star Wars has to fit in at other times of the year. And to be honest I’ve seen some of the movies so many times I have taken to restricting how often I allow myself to watch them.

But currently all bets are off, and with the recent arrival of Disney Plus in the UK (and what a timely launch that has turned out to be) I now have most of the movies and a lot of other Star Wars related stuff available without even having to go to the trouble of inserting a DVD into the player.

As a consequence, I might have, in recent days, resorted to watching a lot of the movies and associated TV shows.

When I haven’t been working or looking after my daughter obviously.

And with the month of May being around the corner, what better time is there to devote a lot of my blog to writing about Star Wars? What with people often referring to the fourth day of May as ‘Star Wars Day’. Because, very cleverly, you can say “May the Fourth be with you” on that day…

As the central set of movies (‘The Skywalker Saga’ if you will) was notionally completed last year, this year seems a particularly good time to be writing about Star Wars anyway, but with the current state of the world, and me needing to go to my happy place a lot more than normal, it’s probably all I can write about.

So once my A-Z of music is completed on Thursday, I will be mostly writing about Star Wars until I’ve exhausted every possible avenue for writing about Star Wars.

In honour of Star Wars Day, I’m going to title each of my posts in a similar fashion, starting with ‘May The First Be With You’ on Friday and so on. Which is exactly the kind of thing I would do.

I imagine I’ll run out of Star Wars stuff to write about soon enough and be back to writing about the mundanities of life, which is the content that has resulted in literally tens of people all over the world following my blog.

But until then, it’s all going to be about stuff that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 22: Version 2.0

James Proclaims (4)

As we near the end of this A-Z of albums that I liked when I was younger than I am now, and mostly still like today (except for some albums that frankly only made the cut because they began with the right letter) I feel I should acknowledge the heavy bias towards UK acts.

This in part stems from the fact that I am British. I don’t go out of my way to only listen to music made by people from these isles but there is obviously an element of increased exposure. This is particularly true, given that I’m mostly writing about albums I encountered in the nineties when there was a definite media bias towards British acts.

Not that my music tastes are that international anyway. Aside from a few albums I purchased when I lived in Paris, the vast majority of my music collection (for it is a collection – I have now uploaded it to ‘the cloud’ for ease of consumption but I mostly listen to stuff I bought and so large was my music collection before streaming became a thing, that I have eschewed subscribing to a streaming service to date – occasionally parting with my cash to download albums I really want still seems to be cheaper overall, particularly as most music can be sampled for free via various platforms before I decide whether it is worth spending my money) is English-language, but that does tend to include a fair number of artists from the US.

Why then, have I neglected to include any US acts apart from Weezer and Green Day in my list to date?

I’m not sure.

I definitely liked a lot of American bands back then. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, REM and Foo Fighters all could have made the cut for a nineties-themed extravaganza such as this.

That they didn’t is perhaps a little disingenuous on my part because I liked all of them a lot. To be honest, although it pains me a little to admit it, even Bon Jovi was no stranger to my CD player back then. But when it came to it, while I’d happily concede that Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ is a far superior album to Ash’s ‘1977’ (to the point where even comparing the two is beyond ridiculous) it’s the latter album that spoke to me more as a teenager. I may have been wrong as a teenager, but as this has been a largely nostalgia-driven exercise, we have to go with the judgements I made back then.

And so to ‘V’ and Pearl Jam were really in with a shout for this. They released not one but two albums that began with ‘V’ back in the nineties and both ‘Vs’ and ‘Vitalogy’ spent a lot of time in my CD player.

But instead I’ve gone with this:

V2020

V is for Version 2.0

Garbage_-_Version_2.0

It may come as some consolation to my American friends that 75% of the rock band, Garbage, do indeed hail from the States. And indeed if you’re apoplectic with rage that I overlooked one of the seminal albums of all time in ‘Nevermind’ then it may be some consolation to know that Garbage’s drummer, Butch Vig, was the producer who worked on that record.

Nonetheless Garbage are fronted by Shirley Manson who is Scottish, so I may still be employing a certain level of British bias.

But it is unintentional.

I did really like Garbage.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me which Garbage album I liked the best then I’d be very scared and wonder why you’d pointed a gun to my head to find out such a trivial piece of information.

But I’d tell you truthfully that I preferred their 1995 eponymous debut.

But ‘G’ was taken and I did still really like this 1998 follow-up.

So did quite a lot of other people.

Because it is really good.

So put the gun down and let’s listen calmly to one of the better tracks on the album.

Which is, perhaps unhelpfully, called ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 21: Urban Hymns

James Proclaims (4)

We’re now at the part of the A-Z Challenge that is all about ‘U’.

“About time,” ‘U’ must be saying.

And I’m sorry I had to make ‘U’ wait.

However, there are 20 letters that come before ‘U’ in the alphabet.

But they’ve had their time and now we finally get to ‘U’.

U2020

U is for Urban Hymns

The_Verve,_Urban_Hymns

If the phenomenon known as Britpop was beginning to decline by 1997 then someone forgot to tell Richard Ashcroft.

Because ‘Urban Hymns’ was about to launch a dysfunctional and fairly unknown band called The Verve very firmly into the spotlight.

Although they’d enjoyed some moderate success with their very decent second album, ‘A Northern Soul’, they had, to that point, been largely overlooked by the record-buying public, who had bestowed greater fortunes on inferior bands.

If you’d asked me before 1997 if I’d heard of The Verve, I could have answered yes, but mainly because their song ‘History’ was on a compilation album I owned, back when owning compilation albums was a thing. I liked the track, but this was pre-Internet, or at least prior to the ubiquity of the Internet (which is a weird thing to write but it really was) and I couldn’t very easily check out the rest of their material. I had no intention of buying their album on the basis of one song. I just didn’t have enough pocket money for that kind of frivolity (actually I would have had a Saturday job by then but I thought pocket money made for a funnier sentence. I’ve now ruined that by adding this, but I don’t want you to think I was some kind of workshy teenager who relied on his parents to pay for everything. I was and I tried to, but they made me get a Saturday job anyway). Also, The Verve split up after they released ‘A Northern Soul’ so it didn’t seem worth investing any time in them.

But then they reformed and released ‘Urban Hymns’. And it was one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums in British music history.

The success wouldn’t last especially long, the band were a pretty self-destructive entity and rather that reap the rewards of becoming the band of the moment, arguably the only band that could stop the direction of British guitar-based music becoming dominated by Coldplay and their ilk, the Verve split up. Again.

Richard Ashcroft went on to enjoy some success as a solo artist and they did reform one more time and released a decent enough fourth album in the mid-noughties, but really their moment in the sun was ‘Urban Hymns’.

But what a moment it was.

It’s a brilliant album from start to finish, but a few tracks still stand out from the crowd.

‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ secured them their only UK number 1 in the singles chart, but the album and the band are probably most synonymous with the opening track, ‘Bittersweet Symphony’.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 20: Tellin’ Stories

James Proclaims (4)

We’ve finally got to the 20th letter of the alphabet, which means the end is in sight.

But we’re not there yet.

First we have to stop for ‘T’.

I prefer mine with milk but no sugar.

Cos I’m sweet enough (ah that office banter that we’re all missing out on because of the lock-down).

But there’s no time for hot beverages because we must press on with the album of the day.

T2020

T is for Tellin’ Stories

Tellinstoriescover

The Charlatans have to be contenders for the most underrated British band of all time.

At least they appear to be underrated by me.

They were around during the pre-Britpop days of Madchester, they were around during the heady days of Britpop and they’ve pretty much been around ever since.

But when I think of Madchester, I tend to think of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays and when I think of Britpop, the first bands that leap into my mind are Oasis, Blur and Pulp.

For some reason The Charlatans are not a band I really think about, until one of their songs pops up on my playlist, or I catch them on the radio or TV (which still happens from time to time).

Then I remember that I really like them.

Because they are a really good band.

And 1997’s ‘Tellin’ Stories’ is a great record.

‘One to Another’ was the biggest hit of the album, but I slightly prefer ‘North Country Boy’.

So we’re having that today.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 19: Spiders

James Proclaims (4)

If this were an A-S of albums I liked when I was young, then we’d already be at the end.

But it’s an A-Z, so we aren’t at the end.

Because ‘Z’ comes after ‘S’ in the alphabet. But if you look at ‘S’ in the mirror, it looks like a kind of curvy ‘Z’.

I’m sure there’s a point in there somewhere.

S2020

S is for Spiders

Spidersspace

The demise, in the noughties of so many of the bands associated with Britpop, might not have been that surprising given the ever-changing tastes of the music-buying public.

But for Space, it must have been quite surprising that they were ever that big in the first place.

To describe their sound as eclectic would be to do them a disservice. They are absolutely bonkers.

Bonkers in the best way possible though. They were one of many bands that I saw live in the nineties and they definitely seemed to be the group that were having the most fun.

While other nineties bands, even those who have struggled to recapture their former glories, have at least managed to maintain some kind of platform to put out their music commercially, Space appear to have struggled and the only two studio albums you can still easily get hold of are their debut ‘Spiders’ and it’s immediate successor ‘Tin Planet’.

I couldn’t comment on any of their post ‘Tin Planet’ material, but those first two albums were both records that I played a lot in my youth.

Though notionally labelled as Britpop at the time, they really weren’t like anything else out there.

But they were great, and ‘Spiders’ in particular is an album that I enjoyed immensely when it was released.

I could pick any of the singles from this album to play us out today. ‘Me and You Versus the World’ was the biggest UK hit, but ‘Female of the Species’ is probably the track that first brought them to public attention and certainly the reason I bought the album.

So I’ve gone with that.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 18: Return To The Last Chance Saloon

James Proclaims (4)

If you’ve been looking forward to this A-Z getting to the eighteenth letter of the alphabet then here we ‘R’.

But where exactly ‘R’ we?

At the letter ‘R’ of course.

I’d have thought that was abundantly clear from the way I just cleverly substituted the letter ‘R’ for the word ‘are’ above.

And then even more cleverly, I explained what was an obvious and poor joke, in order to increase the number of words in this preamble.

Anyway, on to the music…

R2020

R is for Return To The Last Chance Saloon

Bluetones_RTTLCS (1)

In 1996 The Bluetones exploded onto the scene with an album that stormed to the top of the charts and marked them out as heirs apparent to the Britpop crown.

That album was called ‘Expecting to Fly’, and I loved it.

What I loved slightly less was this, their follow-up album, ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’.

I wasn’t alone in not fully embracing the Bluetones sophomore effort, because, while it did OK, it really marked the beginning of the end of The Bluetones brief time at the top table of British music.

But, while it didn’t enjoy the commercial success of its predecessor, it’s not at all a bad album. It doesn’t have as many standout tracks as ‘Expecting to Fly’, and it certainly doesn’t have anything as radio-friendly as their breakout hit ‘Slight Return’ from that first album, but it’s arguably a more coherent work as a whole.

With thirteen songs, it’s probably a little longer than it needs to be, but there are some good songs on ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’ and with the benefit of hindsight, The Bluetones might just have been victims of the overall demise of Britpop.

The stand out track from this album is called ‘If’.