There comes a point in a teenager's life when you must decide what you intend to do with music. The options are fairly simple. Take what's presented to you by the mainstream, the so-called cheese and high profile genre music. Or get way too into your chosen field. No prizes for guessing what someone who is writing a series of large essays (disguised as blog entries) decided to do. Around the start of the new millenium (or 2000, if you're a pedant like my dad and insist the millenium started in 2001) I was drawn into the indie/alternative music scene. Six songs can be used to explain this.
Doves - 'Catch The Sun'.
I was intrigued, at the time, that Catatonia's single 'Game On' did not climb the dizzy heights of it's fellow International Velvet tracks like 'Strange Glue' and 'Road Rage', in chart terms. Instead it stalled in the 30s. This made me wonder if good tracks might not necessarily rise to the top. So I decided to listen to the Top 40 from the very start, 40, as opposed to the top 20 or so as I had done prior to that. The results were worth it. 'Catch The Sun' by Doves may not be their best song but it is one of their most immediate, in fact possibly the only one of theirs which I haven't required repeated listens to 'get'. Within a few weeks of listening from the start of the Top 40 I had been rewarded by discovering this song. I liked it, I liked it a lot and put the album on my wishlist at a time when it took me between three and five weeks of work at my paper round to be able to afford one album. It made my purchases more targeted and I was less able to take risks. But I was willing to give Doves a try.
It was dawning on me that maybe the mainstream was not the source of all the best stuff, merely the most accessible. Anyone who owns Doves' Lost Souls album will be able to tell you that the best tracks on it are slow burners like 'The Cedar Room' and 'Sea Song', tracks which did not make huge splashes as singles. Maybe, and whisper it quietly, Top Of The Pops was not the number one as it so readily claimed…
Idlewild - 'These Wooden Ideas'/'Actually It's Darkness' and Muse - 'Unintended'/'Uno'
Despite having made a note to buy Lost Souls it wasn't the first album I bought by a not-particlarly-high-profile act. Having saved up sufficient funds to purchase one album for the upcoming school trip to Austria I found I was stuck between two albums- Idlewild's 100 Broken Windows and Muse's Showbiz.
Idlewild I came to not long after Doves by the process of listening to the charts. Muse on the other hand popped up from a more unusual quarter, a free CD given away with some cereal I no doubt didn't eat but which ended up in the house some other way. Called, somewhat incongrously (and, in retrospect, completely inaccurately) 'The Best Music Of The Next Millenium', or some such nonsense, it insisted that the eight indie-ish tunes contained within represented a new wave of British music. Now as we all know artists like Cable, Trippa and Serum are huge chart toppers now (ahem) but the act that intrigued me most from the morass of obviously-going-nowheres was Muse. The track was 'Uno', not their best but it had the audacity to not sound like Travis, unlike twenty trillion other contemporary acts. Nothing against Travis but I was not keen on the immitators.
Anyway, I could only have one CD. So would it be Idlewild and their chart hits like 'Actually It's Darkness'? Or would it be Muse with angst hysterics like 'Uno'? The easiest answer was to listen to their new singles and pick the album with the better track. 'These Wooden Ideas' vs 'Unitended'. Idlewild just edged it. Just. When I got back from Austria I bought Muse's album anyway. But 100 Broken Windows remains the better of the two albums and worth a flutter of anyone's paycheck. Not sure what the moral of that story is but I concluded that taking a chance was a good thing.
Elastica - 'Connection'
It may sound odd from someone who's clearly obsessed with music but I find it quite difficult to like the old stuff. For years being a borderline uptight indie snob meant I had this strange belief that I should like certain old bands, the ones who influenced the ones I liked. And I did like some old stuff, The Beatles, The Pogues, lots of punk/new wave. But some stuff just left me cold. It wasn't until recently that I had a conversation with someone else who feels the same way, most old music just doesn't move me. But why does some? It was relatively simple, according to Carts, the music we like is of our time, it affects us because we relate to it. Any old music I do like is either stuff I've heard before, hence The Beatles and all other music my parents liked or which the media saturates us with, or it is stuff which reminds me of the modern stuff which it resembles. There's no shame in the fact I'm not a big Rolling Stones fan, or a big Pink Floyd fan, or a big Happy Mondays fan. They just didn't click with me.
And this is relevant because of a TV show. Trigger Happy TV had a good soundtrack and a very familiar theme tune. I racked my brains trying to place it before I remembered – Elastica! 'Connection'! Wow, that was a blast from the past, a track I could remember from Britpop's heyday. It had the immediacy of a lot of Britpop, hence why it wsa popular whilst other indie (Doves for instance) doesn't hit such dizzy heights. I decided to buy their album after borrowing a copy from my local library (Napster before Napster was born). It was great! I'm even using exclamation marks it was that good.
This was not very old music, but it was music I hadn't consciously registered much at the time, apart from 'Connection' I found I wasn't familiar with most of the tracks… apart from one or two which rang tiny (indie) bells. But it was stuff which sounded like what I wanted to hear. That's not a particularly articulate way of describing it but it's hard to put down in words the way it was. I guess that's a reflection on the power of music. In a good way.
Plus, upon being told by my mum that amazingly, after about a million years of heroin induced inactivity, Elastica were touring in mid 2000, we hurtled off to Manchester to catch them. The results were twofold-
- I consider Elastica's debut Elastica to be the second best album ever made.
- As a result of seeing, hearing and (best bit) feeling the bass courtesy of Annie Holland, I acquired a bass guitar. On my insurance forms there are three items of largescale value – my laptop, my CDs and my bass. The laptop is a piece of crap but the other two are worth every penny I pay to keep them safe.
So I went "indie", made a conscious decision to listen out in as many places as possible for as much music as possible. But not necessarily like an "indie snob" would. After all. most forms of music produce something of merit…