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Sep 12

D:REAM – “Things Can Only Get Better”

Popular56 comments • 3,348 views

#701, 22nd January 1994

A song of many lives: we’re catching it at the end of its first, after a failed release in 1993 and a bounce around the charts. In three years time it’ll be changed for good, the soundtrack to Tony Blair’s first election win. From then on its critical fortunes are linked to its grinning patron’s, and at some point in the early 00s it stops being a naff take on real optimism and becomes a different kind of reflection: brittle, shallow, endlessly on-message.

The problem with it in ’97 was that it was too small for its moment. It was a record for diligent staffers to let their hair down to after a long campaign, it said hardly anything about the giddy hopes and vengeful glee of May 1st, which means it can’t – for me at least – summon them to mind now. It sounds tacky, not poignant or bittersweet.

So can we scrape all that away and put “Things Can Only Get Better” back in its 1994 place? We can try, but it was never much of a record. It’s part of a strain of tune-heavy, hands-high dance-pop which was hitting big at the time – sometimes excellent (Sub Sub’s “Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use)” for instance), usually at least momentarily seductive. This is as memorable and catchy as any, but pushy with it, which is the risk you run with gospel-tinted music. Gospel does not come easy to the British, who focus on the uplifting handclap qualities and ignore the spiritual elements that elevate the ecstasy and frame more complex or painful emotions. The result are records, like this and some M People songs, that walk a very fine line between inspiration and aerobics. Not to mention that Peter Cunnah’s voice isn’t really up to it – his strained micro-grunts surfacing dark memories of the Goss twins. I bet it all sounds pretty good if you’ve just won an election, but what wouldn’t? By the same token, there are worse songs out there for events to ruin.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    The Lurker on 21 Sep 2012 #

    L7
    U2
    ZZ Top

    There is another political context for the song – Peter Cunnah and most of the rest of the band (not Brian Cox, obviously) are from Northern Ireland and at the time this hit #1 the wheels were turning in the Peace Process (the Downing Street Declaration happened at the end of 1993). Given the song was first released a year earlier, as Tom mentions, they presumably didn’t have this in mind when they recorded it, but it’s slightly surprising that it ended up being adopted by New Labour rather than the Peace Process (which did have a few years yet to come to fruition).

  2. 27
    lonepilgrim on 21 Sep 2012 #

    soundbite house

    as I wrote about Brotherhood of Man’s Angelo yesterday: it’s a hook in need of a song. I quite like the burbling bass-line

    re Gospel-tinged dance I preferred Rozalla’s ‘Everybody’s free (to feel good)’ and Candi Staton and The Source’s ‘You got the love’

  3. 28
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 21 Sep 2012 #

    I favour Z’ev over ZZ Top (by faintly arbitrary rules I only just formulated, which also lean towards X Ray Spex over XTC) (but erm allow L7 and U2, except U Roy/U-Roy was claimed first) (he seems to be both on his record sleeves)

    Anyway, CHEERFUL DIGRESSION OVER, back to your popchat.

  4. 29
    Steve Mannion on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Z-Factor (‘(I Like To Do It In) Fast Cars’)

  5. 30
    thefatgit on 21 Sep 2012 #

    I thought I had a handle on this one, but it appears all my thoughts relate to New Labour, Blair/Brown, sweeping away the broken glass of the turgid Major years. So in terms of 1994 and TCOGB’s relevance to that year, I’ve drawn a blank. First entred the charts in 1993, you say? Stumped. I know I must have heard it on the radio back then, but I just can’t cleave it from the all pervading New Labour optimism of 1997. Which in itself just goes to show how party propaganda can seriously skew your thinking.

    J Magik?

  6. 31
    Chelovek na lune on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Trying hard to forget E-Rotic, whose “x-rated anthems” (though the x-rating is partly to do with the inanity of the rhymes: “Fred come to bed, I won’t let your dreams get wet; Tex, don’t have sex with your ex, it wll make your life complex”) were inescapable in both Romania and Ukraine when I was living thereabouts in the mid-90s.

    They were worse than D:Ream

  7. 32
    weej on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Or, for that matter, rollerblading boy-band E-Male.

  8. 33
    swanstep on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Headline in the NY Times today: ‘Apple Says Maps Can Only Get Better’. Sing it people…

  9. 34
    Chelovek na lune on 21 Sep 2012 #

    O-Town: also bloody awful (and not beneath cringeworthy lyrics)

  10. 35
    Steve Mannion on 21 Sep 2012 #

    H-Blockx! German hip-rockers

  11. 36
    MikeMCSG on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Painful memories of seeing this on TOTP at my ex-girlfriend’s house – the title couldn’t have been more inappropriate for the next couple of years at least.

    I agree with the consensus here – can’t be separated from that wonderful footage of Cook, Kinnock and Prescott. All the people New Labour least wanted on show in their victory parade with Mandelson there to prevent them straying into a shot with Blair.

    Given Cunnah’s performance on Chris Tarrant’s Pop Quiz later in 94 I’m surprised he and BC ever found much to converse about.

  12. 37
    wichita lineman on 21 Sep 2012 #

    i-Level. Regulate britfunk era.

  13. 38
    DietMondrian on 21 Sep 2012 #

    T. Rex, Shirley?

  14. 39
    Lazarus on 21 Sep 2012 #

    D Train
    N-Dubz
    R Kelly

    but not ‘L Bimbo’

  15. 40
    speedwell54 on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Re 25
    W.A.S.P. – US rock outfit.

  16. 41
    enitharmon on 21 Sep 2012 #

    Ah, the sound of betrayal, as it always will be to me. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was busy moving to Bristol and settling in while this was number one. But I was noticing Bristol pub acts like K-Passa and Chris Scott’s Blind Lemon Beefcake, either of which would knock spots off the track under review.

    And I’m leaving the ENTIRE matter of the star-gazing keyboard player to you lot, aren’t I generous?

    A physics graduate writes: Brian Cox (the irritating face of popular physics) is not a star-gazer, he’s a bubbly. That is, he inhabits the very opposite end of the physics spectrum, dealing with the indescribably small and not the indescribably big; the strong and weak nuclear interaction and not gravity; quantum mechanics and not relativity; bosons, fermions and leptons rather than galaxies and black holes.

    A disgruntled former Labour activist turned sideline cynic adds: Now a Labour victory under the late Robin Cook, whom I’d certainly have voted for in 1994 had he stood for the leadership (I voted Beckett Beckett by the way) wouldf have been a wonder to behold)

  17. 42
    lockedintheattic on 21 Sep 2012 #

    E-Smoove (90s remixer)
    U 96 (Das Boot)

    …and as for ‘W’ google autocomplete has helpfully supplied Swiss DJ W-Unit & Japanese boyband W-Inds

  18. 43
    abaffledrepublic on 22 Sep 2012 #

    M Dubs, 2 step garage outfit from the late 90s.

    This song exemplifies more than most, how the meanings of songs change over time. I’ve no strong feelings about it either way, but imagine if it had been one of your absolute favourites, and not being able to listen to it again without thinking of New Labour.

  19. 44
    Another Pete on 22 Sep 2012 #

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned B-52′s for B. There was of course a band from Lowestoft called simply ‘A’ their track Nothing being a top ten hit in the early 2000s. They also had an album track called ‘A’

  20. 45
    DV on 23 Sep 2012 #

    I somehow heard this record recently and was struck by how dreadful the earnest semi-spoken intro is to it.

    I also remember how my then flatmate somehow met Mr D-Ream (or was it Mr Ream?) back in the day and said “I’m a big fan of your music” (my then flatmate was and is a strange man). “Thanks”, Mr Ream replied, “I’m more used to people saying their kids are big fans of my music”.

  21. 46
    Mark G on 23 Sep 2012 #

    That’s a pretty cool response!

  22. 47
    Alan not logged in on 23 Sep 2012 #

    re B Cox the quantum physicist not the astronomer, he obv had mates at that end of things, hence the D:Ream video set on the Lovell Telescope and around Jodrell Bank

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNzkx5y_0JI

    sorry, that should be

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QapZEgy6Vik

  23. 48
    JLucas on 24 Sep 2012 #

    The best D : Ream story is of course the one – confirmed by the girls – that Peter Cunnah was beaten up by Bananarama after being drunkenly obnoxious to them.

    http://dancemusic.about.com/od/artistshomepages/a/BananaramaInt_3.htm

    RS: I’ve got to ask you about one story that’s floated around over the years. Tell us about the run-in you had with the lead singer of D:Ream, Peter Cunnah.

    Keren: We’d be sitting there and he was saying some really, really odd things to us, and I think he’d had a few drinks. Then it all got a bit bitter and we’d just about had enough of him. He just turned round and said ‘come and talk to me when you’ve written a hit song.’ He’d had the one and we’d had quite a lot at that point. I think Sarah just gave him a push off of his seat and I gave him a dead leg on the way down really… Thanks for the memory, though I wouldn’t want you to think that we were violent girls. I haven’t done anything like that before or since in my life. But yes, he was a strange one and it’s amazing how many people seem to have heard about that.

  24. 49
    enitharmon on 24 Sep 2012 #

    @47: It’s a Manc Uni{1} thing innit.

    Do I detect a subtle dig. Alan? Imagine the outcry if I committed such a solecism as to say ‘reggae’ when I should have said ‘ska’, or confused my trance with my dubstep’! ;)

    {1} No, erithian, not that one!

  25. 50
    punctum on 4 Oct 2012 #

    The sleeve makes Peter Cunnah look like he’s got a mullet.

    That is all I have to say on this record.

  26. 51
    Alan not logged in on 6 Oct 2012 #

    “Do I detect a subtle dig. Alan? ”

    if that was for me, absolutely not! a flimsy excuse for posting two contrasting ‘jodrell bank’ pop cult clips

  27. 52
    Billy Smart on 8 Oct 2012 #

    TOTPWatch: D:Ream performed ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ on Top of the Pops on six occasions. Details of the Christmas edition shall be provided anon:

    6 Jan 1994. Also in the studio that week were; East 17, The Mission, DJ Duke and Wet Wet Wet. Tony Dortie was the host.

    20 Jan 1994. Also in the studio that week were; Inspiral Carpets, Tori Amos, Haddaway and Phil Collins, plus a live performance by satellite from Toni Braxton in the Apollo, New York. Tony Dortie & Joe Elliott were the hosts.

    3 Feb 1994. Also in the studio that week were; Rozalla, The Charlatans, Wendy Moten, Joe Roberts and Mariah Carey, plus a live performance by satellite from The Gin Blossoms in the Arizona Desert. Simon Mayo was the host.

    10 Feb 1994. Also in the studio that week were; D Mob & Cathy Dennis, Elastica, The Cranberries, Shara Nelson and Suede. Mark Goodier was the host.

    2 May 1997. Also in the studio that week were; Robbie Williams, 991, Shola Ama, Kenicke, Republica and Katrina & The Waves. Cathy Dennis was the host.

  28. 53
    Billy Hicks on 9 Oct 2012 #

    This must have made an impression to me age 5, as a contemporary school book from Reception class has me scrawling the word ‘Dream’ but putting two dots between the D and the R, ala the band. Same book has a ‘What do you want to be when you grow up’ page, where I’ve drawn a sideways-haired, stickman figure of myself in some sort of odd costume and almost illegibly put ‘I want to be an actor’ at the bottom, confirmed by my teacher writing it out in much clearer red biro underneath.

    As probably one of the biggest lovers of absolutely anything 90s on here, this one suffers with perhaps one overdub too many, a nicely uplifting song somewhat hampered by that bloody annoying stuttery-saxophone thing over the top. A couple of years back me and a friend drove to Newbury and listened to almost all of ‘Now 27′ in the car, but skipping over this one straight away as it had “bad memories of New Labour” for him. And yeah I guess it’ll never stop being associated with a grinning Blair shaking the hands of a suspiciously large crowd outside Number 10 a few years later – not awful but there’s a lot better ’94 dance anthems I’d choose over this.

    I’d give it maybe a 5, a 6 if I’m feeling generous, a nice idea spoiled by execution. Interesting to note that nothing on Popular’s got a 10, or even a 9 since 1990! Looking forward to seeing if 1994 adds to the list – there’s at least 2 #1s that year I’d definitely rank that high, but I shall avoid waking the bunny…

  29. 54
    Wizi on 11 Oct 2012 #

    I like this one a lot, but don’t love it, despite being a Labour activist to this day.

    U R the best thing, now there’s a track I really love and would just listen to the CD single over again with all 40 minutes of mixes. It was very pleasing to see that one enjoy its re-releases.

    I had forgotten that TCOGB had been a number one.

  30. 55
    Erithian on 11 Jan 2013 #

    There’s not a great deal going on here besides the chorus, is there? The verses bubble along nicely without pulling up any trees, and the buildup from the end of the verse into the chorus is no doubt supposed to build up tension before the euphoric release etc etc, but had me looking at my watch a bit. And as for the farty sax noises – next!

    Nice nod to Sir Bernard Lovell up at #47. He was knighted for services to rhyming slang you know.

  31. 56
    Patrick Mexico on 26 Mar 2013 #

    I’m so sorry, I just can’t get into this! Nowt to do wi t’politics innit – I can enjoy Born in the USA knowing it was originally about a Vietnam vet screwed by the system, and not blatant ’80s Reaganism. But I can’t listen to the happy/sad Prozac optimism without thinking of THIS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GM1cx9XXWaE. (nsfw?)

    Well Tom, for one, it’s certainly no Sub Sub.. the band Doves could have been!

    Also: is this a Christian rock band? Kick religion out of the charts, unless Sir Cliff tops himself live.

    3.

    P.S. This is disturbing.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfZxIjTizEE

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