All entries for Thursday 14 July 2005

July 14, 2005

Music:Response 1998–1999

Follow-up to Music:Response 1984–1997 from Hollyzone

Name and shame. I have more CDs than I know what to do with, and yes they are in alphabetical order or I would not be able to find what I want at any given mood swing. But who's responsible?* I'll tell you…

Cerys Matthews.

This is all her fault. I am not joking. As I said before, where was the voice I could relate to amongst a sea of early 30-something blokes and neon abominations of pop groups? For some reason I like British accents on record more. I have nothing against American accents but it afflicts all my relationships with music. I'd rather listen to Dizzee Rascal or Roots Manuva than equally dazzling American artists like Outkast or Kanye West** because I find something comfortingly familiar about someone declaring that they "down ten pints of bitter". I can relate. And singing is the same, use your own accent. That's the real lesson of Britpop.

So, having never seen the X Files, I fell in love with a song namechecking the stars. 14 years old and capitvated by the masterpiece that was Catatonia's 'Mulder And Scully'. The Welsh r's. That brilliant concise opening riff. The smart lyrics – no faux-teenage angst from the mouth (nose?) of whining Americans and wannabe whining Americans. As someone who had very little teen angst it was a relief to hear something playful, witty and smartarsed. That Christmas I had my first 'me' album. The house had one copy of International Velvet and it was my copy.

And then mum got me tickets to see them.

Wow. I was entralled. They had fantastic stage presence, Cerys is a superb frontwoman and it was all absolutely thrilling. It was, in short, as music should be. An adventure both personal and vicarious, the music was someone else's life but the night out was mine. The grand opera style glamour of the interior of the Manchester Apollo contrasts with the slightly dodgy area outside it. It was a proper night out. I was irreperably hooked.

Soon my cassette copy of International Velvet was joined by its predecessor, Way Beyond Blue,_ and its successor, _Equally Cursed And Blessed. Neither is as good as International Velvet and honestly I was a bit let down by Equally Cursed And Blessed. Thus the reality that even the bands you love can make stinkers hit home. So I listened to the radio again, watched Top Of The Pops again. I wasn't sure if there was anything better, but I wanted to have a listen anyway. The results were conclusive. Not much was better, but there was something which was, something I'd missed for nearly a decade despite it being there. As 1999 wore on I realised that, as much as I loved Catatonia, they were only second best, and they were second best to some compatriots. I had fallen for the Manic Street Preachers.

How odd that the much denigrated This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was my way into them. I don't think it's a bad album, the opening six songs are uniformly great and there's a couple of good tracks at the end as well. On holiday in France I hammered by Sony cassette player, an item as old as me, if not older, by playing the Catatonia and, at first, This Is My Truth... . Then I decided to listen to my parents' copy of the previous album Everything Must Go.

The rules changed.

That album is perfect. It is my favourite album of all time. It contains the best song ever written, 'Design For Life'. It, and _This Is My Truth…,_ wanted to be intelligent. Wanted to make big statements and lead from the front. It was what I wanted. The killer opening line

Libraries gave us power/Then work came and made us free

said so much and meant so much. I couldn't believe those who called it depressing. It was so uplifting, they were a band shot through with anger at the crapness. And it was proper crapness, the government, the world, not pointless teenage angst. I loved it and I loved them and I immediately rushed out to find their Richie era albums… which I loved in different ways. The Holy Bible was awesome though impossible to love, its purpose to make music which hurt, which made you understand though you wanted to turn away. 12 magnificent tracks and one which is too much even for me. Gold Against The Soul was a curious piece, the bite was there but they seemed led astray by a desire to sell records. It's the least Manics album. But there's still good stuff there, back in the days when bands weren't dropped if they weren't instantly successful. Times change. Generation Terrorists is not the classic it is said to be. Eight tracks too long (eight!) but boasting some almighty genius, 'Motorcycle Emptiness' and 'You Love Us'. A band who evolved but stayed "4 real". I couldn't be one of those who scorned the post-Richie Manics, I am someone who loved, and still loves, both versions.

And finding something so strong as those two groups made me want to find more. Much more. by the end of 1999, as I bought The Holy Bible and began to convert to CDs, I was wondering if there was more to be found than the exhausted back catalogues of these Welsh wonders. So I looked. And that's when things got really interesting.

*You fucking are. (Name that tune.)

**How good is 'Diamonds From Sierra Leone'? Very.


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