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May 12

CULTURE BEAT – “Mr Vain”

Popular48 comments • 4,357 views

#694, 28th August 1993

The formula for 90s Eurodance was well established by now: strobe-lit dancing to urgent beats, big-voiced singers, a rap somewhere in the middle to change up the pace. It wasn’t the most thoughtful of music, but done well it had a real kick. And “Mr. Vain”, latecomer though it was, does it very well. It’s one of the most direct Eurodance hits, and one of the most aggressive. Eurodance lyricists could tend to pseudo-profundity, or calls to spiritual awakening: there’s none of that here.

Instead “Mr.Vain” heads straight for the dark heart of the club, sketching a dancefloor predator who – like Eezer Goode – is as much metaphor as character. For drugs, lust, loss of control – who knows? The lyrics’ almost-there English works to the song’s benefit – there’s an awkward poetry to “Call him Mr Raider, call him Mr Wrong” – and for once the obligatory rap isn’t an embarrassment, with Jay Supreme’s gloating, bassy flow reminding me of knowingly devilish Chicago house classics like “Your Only Friend”. “Mr Vain” is the hustling flipside to “All That She Wants”, and almost as good a pop record.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    23 Daves on 3 May 2012 #

    #24 – I loathed “In Utero” and absolutely despised “Siamese Dream”, so you’re talking to the wrong person here! Meanwhile, I’ve never listened to “Zooropa” from start to finish, but probably should get around to doing that soon.

    There definitely was stuff going on in 1993, but if I’d picked any other year in the nineties I’m sure you’d have been able to rattle off a longer list than that, and you wouldn’t have mentioned a revival in the process (but yes, Suede’s debut album was disappointing – I put so much hope in that, too).

  2. 27
    DietMondrian on 3 May 2012 #

    @24, 25 – A chronic seller rather than an acute one, then.

  3. 29
    swanstep on 3 May 2012 #

    @26, 23daves. Heh, I know Billy Corgan is pretty all-around hateable/embarrassing, but I’m surprised that any teen or college-age person could dismiss all of Siamese Dream. Especially the more stretched out, jammed tracks like Hummer and Mayonnaise just seem dialed in (in a Floyd-y, Zep-y way) on what those years feel like (at least some of the time). Great roadtrip music… Your dig about my mentioning the Abba awakening is fair enough, but it really meant a lot to me at the time! Would other years be much easier to formulate a quick what-I-was-listening-to-so-shoot-me-list for? Maybe.

    Anyhow, what of Mr Vain? Punctum’s said about all that needs to be said I find. A routine record (that honestly sounds like it was knocked out in about 30 minutes pro-tooling of Rhythm is A Dancer) that kind of makes makes me despair about people and pop somewhat out of proportion to the music itself. Need to listen to some Earth Wind and Fire to cheer myself up…

  4. 30
    punctum on 3 May 2012 #

    #22: “Dreamboat” is right; I don’t remember a 12-inch or CD of the 1989 “Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey” (unless it also came out on cassette grr!).

  5. 31
    Mark G on 3 May 2012 #

    “Discogs” website has a 12″ version of the Ferry Aid single. (So does Wikipedia, but you know..)

  6. 32
    chelovek na lune on 3 May 2012 #

    Fairly sure “Ferry Cross The Mersey” had a cassette single – all those sales at Woolworths to mop up!

    best song of 1993 in my Sixth Form Common Room then: “Alright” by Urban Soul. Wrongly overlooked by the wider world and probably largely forgotten now.

    As for 1993: the Love Post. Hmm. Carter USM’s follow-up album (to 1992: etc) in 93 was a big, big, disappointment, and really didn’t warrant repeated listening at all. It was the year I went to university and more or less lost contact with pop music and popular culture (beyond what could be heard on Radio Tay…) – but so much of it was dire at this time – it was a very worthwhile break, and a good time to take such an interlude.

  7. 33
    Cumbrian on 3 May 2012 #

    It took a while but I think I’ve worked out why I don’t rate this as highly as some others here (not to say it’s not reasonable, it’s decent enough in a gonzo, fast paced sort of way). I think it’s because I prefer the formula the other way around – if Eurodance is “urgent beats, big-voiced singers, a rap somewhere in the middle to change up the pace”, I think I prefer it when the beats are more laid back (or at least not as rapid), the rap the main focus and the big voices coming in to break it up (the US seem to have cornered the market for this in the early 90s with stuff like Bust a Move by Young MC, Things That Make You Go Hmmm and, in 1994, En Vogue/Salt N Pepa’s Whatta Man).

    Mr Vain is OK as things go. Unfortunately, the stuff that’s the other way around didn’t get to #1 here. Never mind.

  8. 34
    Billy Hicks on 3 May 2012 #

    Another song that has memories for me but in a completely different era to when it was released. Not the 4 year old me of 1993, but the 15 year old of 2004, discovering this at the same time as ‘3am Eternal’, ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ and most other number 1s of the early 90s. Like The KLF and Snap this totally blew me away, utterly exhilerating and made me wonder just what the hell happened in the intervening eleven years for music to become so dull. It’s picked up again since 2009, but that’s another story.

    The mix heard on the video is different to the radio edit, to my slight disappointment when I downloaded the mp3 – the video mix starts with that epic synth riff, while the ‘Special Radio Edit’ (even though it appears to be the only radio edit) starts with something much more watered down and duller, not kicking in until the second chorus. Happily the 12″ mix starts the same as the video, so if I was truly bothered I’d edit them together.

    Definitely a 9 for me!

  9. 35
    Steve Mannion on 3 May 2012 #

    Yeah the radio edit’s replacement sound was like a weaker marimba preset and not as good.

    Cumbrian what you describe as a preference sounds like stuff that bases its template around Hip-Hop, then incoporating other genre’s elements/associations whereas for Eurodance the starting point is House/Techno (into which rap had been incorporated since the beginning anyway really albeit differently).

    You could recreate almost exactly Mr Vain’s string synth sound on a Yamaha PSR-400 (cute and far more affordable ‘my first synth’ type product for youngsters, alas I didn’t get the one with the little blue drum pads below the keyboard as that was like £50 more) but I’m sure theirs didn’t come from the same kit.

    Unlike KLF and Snap #1’s ‘Mr Vain’ doesn’t have an instrumental melodic middle eight. It also lacks quite the same sense of menace/mystery as them despite its subject and the faster, more hostile rap – but it does seem more dancefloor-focussed than them which is the trade-off I guess.

  10. 36
    DietMondrian on 3 May 2012 #

    Dearie me. All these years I’ve disliked this song for what I thought was the incongruity of having a female vocalist singing “I am Mr Vain”, not realising until now that she’s quoting the man. I’d not noticed the “He’d say” before the main vocal hook.

    As shown by my thinking Take That were singing “All I do is shine this thing,” I really must pay closer attention.

    Upgrading from a 3 to a 5.

  11. 37
    AndyPandy on 3 May 2012 #

    32 Urban Soul’s ‘Alright ‘ had already been overlooked by the time of this number 1 as it was first heard in clubs at the end of 1990 and was a minor pop hit in early 1991.

  12. 38
    chelovek na lune on 3 May 2012 #

    @37 hmm, that’s a good point. (Chart peak of no 43 on – was it its third release? – in September 1991) Clearly it lived on in someone’s CD collection in my sixth form…

  13. 39
    Dan Quigley on 3 May 2012 #

    #36 I made the same mistake and am now slightly disappointed to learn that the singer is merely quoting the song’s subject.

    Having been ten at the time my affection for this may be more Proustian than musicological, but I think I like it as much as most of the other dark pop house things from around this time, and more than ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’, which made no impression on me then and holds for me now none of the cheap mystery that this retains.

  14. 40
    Tom on 5 May 2012 #

    Slightly weird posting schedule coming up as I’m about to go off to Berlin. I’ll get the next one up tomorrow, but there might be a gap to Thursday after that.

  15. 41
    Erithian on 6 May 2012 #

    It’s OK I suppose, and if it were to be played at a wedding reception or whatever I’d bop along to it without any great enthusiasm. The moment that lifts it more than anything else for me is the crescendo building up beneath the second rap section. Otherwise it’s pretty standard – at least for the present: you could certainly imagine something like this being released this month.

    No need to keep us informed about upcoming post times, Tom – we know they’re coming sometime and we can wait (unless it’s self-motivation!)

  16. 42
    Lazarus on 9 May 2012 #

    Nobody’s done a #2 watch, so here goes … one week of the previous incumbent, then two of Bitty McLean “It Keeps Rainin’ (Tears from my Eyes)” – then, rather more cruelly to my mind, the Pet Shop Boys glorious rendition of “Go West.” Surely the last time they got anywhere near a number one. Radiohead’s “Creep” entered the chart at #7 in the last week of Mr Vain’s reign, its peak position and only week, surprisingly, in the top ten. Culture Beat had several follow-up hits, including “Got to get it” (#4) and “Anything” (#5) which have utterly escaped my memory, and I’m in no hurry to have it refreshed. A later top 30 hit came with “Crying in the Rain”, surely not the old Everly Brothers number, although that might be worth hearing.

  17. 43
    punctum on 10 May 2012 #

    “Go West” would have gone top had it not been leapfrogged by the next Popular entry.

  18. 44
    Pearly Spencer on 5 Jun 2012 #

    Am finding it funny that all the songs I despised at the time, I adore now. I suppose it didn’t help that my stepfather took a liking to this and sang it repeatedly for most of our 1993 family package holiday to Portugal *runs off to the Global Wizzy Club to watch Dumb and Dumber dubbed into Portuguese*

  19. 45
    Auntie Beryl on 10 Jan 2013 #

    This IS great. It’s an 8. It’s no Anything, or World In Your Hands, but it is one of the better number ones of 1993.

    I love them dearly, but PSB deserved a number two with Go West. Surprisingly straight in at 2, then off. That is the PSB way. I wouldn’t have wanted the last PSB number one to be a slightly cynical cover version, when at least Heart was something they wrote, and the downturn was a year away.*

    *Yes, I know, Always On My Mind was a slightly cynical cover. But that was in the Imperial Phase. Not even slightly desperate.

  20. 46
    tiesu on 24 Sep 2013 #

    culture beat, nietzkov, whigfield

  21. 47
    Patrick Mexico on 21 Feb 2014 #

    An 8 from me for this, but not the main reason I’m posting.

    Just wondered if anyone could please help me: no, I’m not reporting a nasty boil on one’s nether regions, I’m looking for some good and detailed music literature on the Culture Beat/Cappella/Captain Hollywood Project era. Simon Reynolds’ Energy Flash covers jungle, garage, trance and any club genre you could name brilliantly and concisely, apart from Eurodance. Anyone got any good writing on it, positive or negative? I’d be particularly interested to see how people from the late-eighties rave scene perceived things like this. Maybe as if it was a claret and blue shirt in the Millwall home end, but hey, hostility is interesting :)

    It’s mostly because I’m trying to write a few novels/plays/independent films with Mr. Vain-type music as the soundtracks, but about that, for now I will keep schtum :)

  22. 48
    Mostro on 18 Apr 2015 #

    Disliked it at the time as a blatant and cynical- and less forgivably, second rate- ripoff of “Rhythm is a Dancer”. Can’t say there’s much there to change my mind twenty years later.

    The only thing to be said in its favour is that it doesn’t feature any lines as godawful as “I’m as serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer”.

    Okay… that *is* a large plus point, but this is still a Tesco Value “Rhythm”. (Sorry Will (#10)… right sentiment, wrong band!)

    #23, Anto; “I suspect it sounded very ’92 in 93.” One might suspect this was due to its similarity to a major 1992 hit. ;-)

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