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

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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 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.

 

 

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

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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

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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 19: Spiders

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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 5: Everything Must Go

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And so, on the fifth day of ‘James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young’ we arrive at ‘E’.

And for this there were a few contenders.

But there was one that invokes so much nostalgia it was ultimately the only choice I could make.

E2020

E is for Everything Must Go

EverythingMustGo(1996album)Albumcover

The Manic Street Preachers fourth album was their first release as a trio following on from the tragic and mysterious disappearance of lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards.

Although Richey’s musical contributions were questionable, his lyrics and personality were a fundamental part of the Manics DNA up to that point. Plus they were all friends from school, so the band felt his loss on a personal level.

‘Everything Must Go’ could therefore have been something much darker than it actually is. After all it’s predecessor, the Richey-inspired ‘Holy Bible’ is as bleak an album as you’re likely to come across.

‘Everything Must Go’ confounded expectations however, and is an uplifting (insofar as the Manics do ‘upbeat’), poignant and cathartic collection of songs, that marked the beginning of a period of sustained commercial success.

Growing up in Wales in the nineties means that the Manics are essentially royalty to me, and they are the band that I have seen live by far the most times.

I like pretty much all of their albums, including some of their more recent efforts. But the nostalgia-inducing albums are the ones from the nineties, both as a quartet and as a trio. Their 1992 debut ‘Generation Terrorists’ and the aforementioned ‘Holy Bible’, both could have been contenders for this alphabetised walk down memory lane.

But ‘Everything Must Go’ was an album that saw me through some of the worst of my teenage angst and it’s still a source of comfort when things are getting me down. Which, given the state of the world, means it’s been on the playlist quite a lot lately.

As with a lot of the albums I’ve been revisiting, it could be hard to pick a favourite track from ‘Everything Must Go’. Except that there is one track that just picks itself.

‘A Design for Life’ might just be my favourite song of all time.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 1: Attack Of The Grey Lantern

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And so here we are in April, which means I can stop writing about the terrifying worldwide pandemic and start writing about some albums I liked when I was young (and mostly still like now if I’m honest).

Because today is also the beginning of the 2020 version of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, which is an annual blogging event that, for some reason, I seem to only take part in every other year.

Last time around I wrote mostly about cartoons and this time around I’ll mostly be writing about music.

But it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t throw in some mawkish nostalgia, so I’m mostly writing about music I liked in my teens/early twenties. Which puts us back into the last millennium for the most part and the decade known to many as the nineties.

Although because it’s specifically an alphabet challenge I have had to commandeer the year 2000 a little bit.

But nothing after that and some people think the current millennium anyway didn’t start until 2001 so they’ll forgive me.

And most people won’t care either way.

But to kick off, we’re going to revisit an album from 1997.

1997 was not a great year for me for many reasons, but I did spend a lot of it listening to music.

And this album made the playlist a lot that year (or more accurately occupied one of the three available spaces in my CD player, which is how we listened to music back in the nineties).

So without further ado, allow me to introduce the album that will be representing the letter ‘A’:

A2020

A is for ‘Attack of the Grey Lantern’

Mansun_-_Attack_of_the_Grey_Lantern

Mansun’s debut album was definitely a quirky affair. Sort of, but not entirely, a concept album notionally about a superhero called the Grey Lantern, and with periodic references to the characters within said hero’s world, most notably someone called Mavis, who pops up in quite a few songs. The song titles are nothing short of bonkers, including ‘The Chad Who Loved Me’, ‘Egg-Shaped Fred’ ‘Stripper Vicar’ ‘She Makes My Nose Bleed’ and not forgetting the finale of ‘Dark Mavis’.

The things is though, in spite of it’s eccentricities (or possibly because of them) Attack of the Grey Lantern is completely brilliant from start to finish. It garnered the kind of critical acclaim and commercial success that perhaps should have seen Mansun become a much bigger band than they ever actually were.

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with their subsequent output, Mansun never really lived up to the promise of their debut and seemingly imploded just a few years later while recording their forth album.

But in 1997, Mansun were legitimately being hailed as a potential ‘next big thing’, and Attack of the Grey Lantern is worth an hour of anyone’s time.

But, if you don’t have an hour to spare, then the track that still features most heavily on my playlists today, and is arguably their best song, would have to be ‘Wide Open Space’.

Enjoy.

Alphabetical Albums

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Two years ago this blog was positively thriving. Between November 2017 and May 2018, I wrote a post everyday for 200 consecutive days.

I write a lot less these days.

I would like to write more, but the time to do so is rather less available.

Because my 19-month old daughter has been occupying a lot of that time.

I could, and probably should, write about her. She certainly gives me enough material and indeed I do plan to write about some of her exploits in the near future.

Much as I love her however,  this blog has always been primarily about me. It’s my little space on the internet for my own little brand of narcissism.

But it’s no good having a blog if you never actually, y’know, blog.

So I need to start producing more content.

This is my second post in two days, so I’m heading in the right direction, but I’d need to produce another 198 to match my record.

I feel that may be stretch at the moment.

But part of how I achieved that previous double century was by taking part in blogging challenges and adhering to specific themes.

And one such challenge was the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Which does exactly what it says on the tin.

In April 2018 I wrote about my favourite cartoons from the eighties, because for me the eighties was all about watching cartoons.

This year I thought I might look at another period of my life. The ensuing decade in fact, when my life was less about cartoons (although obviously still a bit about cartoons) and more about music. Mostly listening to music if I’m honest, as I have nothing in the way of actual musical ability. I did own a guitar in the nineties but I couldn’t play it very well. I believed I might get good at playing the guitar and go on to be an international rock star.

I did not.

But I did listen to a lot of bands.

I also went to a lot of gigs.

So this year’s A-Z challenge will be entitled:

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young

Tune in on April 1st to see which indie album beginning with A that I liked to listen to when I was young.

A to Z Challenge 2020: 2009-2020