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Jan 13

STILTSKIN – “Inside”

Popular101 comments • 4,463 views

#707, 14th May 1994

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Pop’s triumph is when a private language turns out to have been public all along. When the way you express yourself – visual, lyrical, physical, vocal – becomes something hundreds of thousands understand, like a word that was somehow always waiting to be said. This was Nirvana’s triumph too, and part of Kurt Cobain’s doom. His scraping, negating, self-scouring howls and sneers turned out to be a Rosetta Stone, a way for his fans to start making sense of themselves.

But the language he’d helped discover was too powerful – it went too far for him, made him fans he hated, and then rippled out still further, beyond Nirvana and Seattle. “Grunge” mutated quickly, from music to catch-all generational tag – I bought a lumberjack shirt from a British chainstore sometime in 1992, not really understanding why. It was very comfortable. I would never have had the nerve to buy Levis, though. They were for the fashionable, not the misfits.

As grunge spread, and labels moved past their initial panicky gambles, the ideological booby-traps Cobain set in his music (for himself as much as anyone) were quickly cleared away. No more self-questioning, no more gender politics, no more playing rock like you hated rock. What emerged was a brute, very male sound: a glowering take on hard rock – more commercially burnished than grunge but just as sullen.

Utterly charmless to my ears, but here’s the thing about pop’s new-language moments: the people who come in their wake are copyists but also largely sincere. The legion of post-Elvis clones were fulfilling commercial imperatives but, I bet, their own urges too. Which makes the curious affair of Stiltskin – grunge’s great mocking cameo on Popular’s stage – all the more remarkable.

This record seems to be a case where the “manufactured” label – and all its tiresome baggage – is completely deserved. Writer Peter Lawlor put the track together specifically for the Levi’s ad “Creek” (old-timey, women, trousers, bathing hunk, twist ending – it’s a great commercial, I admit). He needed a singer and found Ray Wilson – later Phil Collins’ replacement in Genesis, closing some kind of circle of grudgeful blokiness. It’s Ray’s clench-arsed voice you hear being “broken minded” on “Inside”, but every other instrument is Lawlor.

The result is a spectacularly brazen jacking of grunge tropes, ribboned and bowed in a preposterous choral intro. Guitars thresh, drums thud, quiets loud, Ray’s butt flexes. Midway through there’s a tiny break where the bombast stops and a tres Novoselic bass lick pokes in – just a little memory trigger, a brand reminder: KIDS do you remember GRUNGE it made you buy CLOTHES. Cobain’s body was found in his garage a couple of weeks before “Inside” was released, the kind of sad coincidence that – if you were as serious as Ray Wilson, or grunge – might make you reframe song as insult.

And the lyrics – my God! Pick your favourite – “Seam in a fusion mine / Like a nursing rhyme / Fat man starts to fall” – nursing rhyme, not nursery rhyme, you’ll note, and perhaps feel unreasonably cross at. “Ring out in a bruised postcard / In a shooting yard”. Actually I think the best bit might be “strong words in a ganja sky”. It’s a cataract of nonsense – somewhere, Simon Le Bon sucks air through his teeth in awed admiration.

But look on songmeanings, YouTube, tumblr – you’ll see “Inside” quoted sincerely, cited for its “meaningful lyrics”. Act serious enough, and with enough intensity, and you become serious – no matter how debased your origins. And anyway, the advert teaches you how to appreciate “Inside” – ride the crescendo and grin – and for most of its buyers that’s all you needed.

I never liked grunge, I never even listened to Nevermind until twenty years later. What I remember was how it fitted into a world and an attitude I caught a flavour of, even in Britain. Angry, mistrustful, painstakingly suspicious of authority and commerce but reflexively against turning those feelings into a ‘movement’. “Generation X” was diagnosed with apathy – on the ground it felt more like paralysis: all stances and ideas riddled with their opposites. Nirvana’s records found a language for that. But this gross, shameless, blackly hilarious record is speaking that language too.

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Comments

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  1. 76
    swanstep on 11 Jan 2013 #

    @73, steve mannion. Or maybe some atari teenage riot?

  2. 77
    wheedly on 11 Jan 2013 #

    #75 Bush surely count as the British grunge band that broke through, don’t they? They only had a hit or two in the UK, but they were absolutely enormous in the US. Their second album (Razorblade Suitcase – an album title that Stiltskin would’ve appreciated, I’m sure) got to no. 4 here, according to wiki.

  3. 78
    Steve Mannion on 12 Jan 2013 #

    #76 ha ha, that just makes me want to listen to Senser…

  4. 79
    Another Pete on 12 Jan 2013 #

    #77 Sound wise you are right Bush probably were. Though Bush for me appeared too late on the scene in 1995 and the title was no longer up for grabs. By 1995 the scene was very much on the wane thanks in part to Nirvana being no more and Pearl Jam having a few internal issues and working with Neil Young. Bush along with other bands such as Live and Stone Temple Pilots were only huge in the States as they provided them with their grunge fix whilst we in the UK had moved on to our own scene.

  5. 80
    nixon on 14 Jan 2013 #

    Two bits of trivia, and I’m not sure how pertinent either of them is.

    1. There was a whole Stiltskin album released in the wake of this, which – rather than crashing and burning as might be expected for a group with literally no following, history, or anything else to grab hold of – went top five. I’ve long had a pet theory re Stiltskin and the commoditisation of grunge, much in line with what Tom and others have said: this is not only an access point, a way in for the uninitiated or more accurately the sort-of-initiated-but-daunted, not just because of its accessibility but because there’s no baggage, nobody knew anything about the “band” and so they could be a blank canvas in the way Nirvana never could: perfect for teh n00bs. I wanted to say something about Julian Cope’s Scott Walker compilation there too.

    2. In a neat tie in with the next entry, about 3 years later, Sky Sports chose this as the soundtrack for their Scottish football coverage, with a bunch of kids running over the Forth Bridge lip synching to “Inside”. This years after Stiltskin were declared unhip again due to the manufacturing thing; once they were uncool, they were finished. But it retained its power as an advertising jingle, even with its baggage.

  6. 81
    hardtogethits on 14 Jan 2013 #

    #80. That’s a great point about “no baggage … blank canvas”. I’ve often thought that about new album releases by new artists, and most especially in January’s soft market when the market and the marketers are in equilibrium. Neither has much to lose in investing in someone who had no public profile at Christmas but who could, after all, have made The Album Of The Year So Far. Stiltskin’s album only got to 17 though, not top 5. (Bait? I bit!)

  7. 82
    Mark G on 14 Jan 2013 #

    I think it was one of those situations, like the “New wave of new wave”, in that people generally wanted it to succeed/happen. And gave it more chances than it/they deserved, maybe.

    But also, perhaps they took that album and enjoyed it enough to seek out the ‘real’ stuff, and never needed to go back.

  8. 83
    Izzy on 14 Jan 2013 #

    #80: Scottish football coverage … makes some kind of sense, on some level. It fits in my mind with the rock’n’roll produced by a certain kind of Scottishness – the dour kind. Characterised by fire and heart, and above all passion, it takes the corporeal form of gravel-voiced pub rock. Made by and for the kind of guy whose secret aim in life is still to own a Harley.

    The humorous, fey, shambling kind of Scottishness, or the double-breasted militant strain, don’t feature anywhere in this image. Nor in fairness does the place get marketed in general terms on its new towns or its winebars. So it’s not too surprising that Sky should’ve opted for the safe option of ‘Inside’, rather than say ‘Star Sign’ or ‘Sweet Dreams’, when deciding where to pitch their product.

  9. 84
    Cumbrian on 14 Jan 2013 #

    Coming from Carlisle, the local leisure centre that doubled as a gig venue would sometimes put on “big in Scotland” acts for the border population – so when I think of the type of rock ‘n’ roll Izzy is talking about, I invariably think (perhaps unfairly) of Runrig. Did they get used on Scottish football as well?

    Other thing Izzy is talking about – the different expressions of Scottishness – the one I think about is the “Local Hero” sort of Scottishness. A bit knowing and eccentric but ultimately good hearted, that you tend to see in the rural areas of the country (more experience myself of the Borders than the Isles or Highlands though). Might be the influence of my Scottish Granny that, mind.

  10. 85
    Chelovek na lune on 14 Jan 2013 #

    The Scottish act from this period who really remain in my mind (as unavoidable, almost, north of the border, and invisible, almost, south of it) were of an entirely differnet genre, being for kids all pepped up on Irn Bru and too much tablet: TTF aka The Time Frequency. Cumbernauld’s finest. Still better than Stiltskin, actually, perhaps.

  11. 86
    Brendan F on 14 Jan 2013 #

    Stiltskin begat Biffy Clyro

  12. 87
    Izzy on 14 Jan 2013 #

    I found a Time Frequency megamix on youtube and good lord, it’s nigh-physically painful. The overall arrangement, even genre, isn’t even that far from a much-loved 1995 rave no.1, minus a breakbeat and adding some blocky synths, but the feel of the TTF music is horrible – there’s no space in it at all, no shade; everything’s turned up to eleven at all times. I don’t think it’s been overcompressed, other than the bass drum perhaps, but it’s the same sore head I get from Oasis or Keane.

    I was sure I recalled hearing some indigenous Scottish hardcore from that era, and it did have the same sense of bludgeoning, but in my memory the arrangements were much less lush, even vocalless – this stuff was something akin to flute-band marching songs over an unyielding 130bpm 4/4. It may have been UKwide for all I know, or even never have existed, but somehow it seemed indigenous, traditional even, a beloved old genre given hideous extended life through technology.

  13. 88
    xyzzzz__ on 14 Jan 2013 #

    Don’t recall this at the time but I randomly caught Peter recounting (v proudly I might add) the story of how he made it and then had to assemble the his Monkees at short notice for their appearance on top of the pops. As they looked like bikers and not ‘clean cut’ grungey types it never took off. Might have been a Malcolm Mclaren dream if they did. There was a pop-grunge factory beginning, right there.

    Its this riff that sounds like it has been dis-assembled from the thing that made it — MMM is spot on, other things like Rallizes too except here its highly compressed, indutralized hammering motion almost — with added tone of scream (and this is where the relation to grunge really comes in not so much the guitar as the harshness of ‘Nevermind’ was blunted, much to Kurt’s displeasure blah blah)* and what you have is the beginnings of Limp Bizkit, which sounds to me where this all ended up. For me it works, my ears pick up on it whenever it comes up. I can see the complaints that if you want a song and actual people that say something to you behind it all it might fall short, but surely we can separate that from sound and the pleasure it might give.

    *…and yet after all this time and years later you still see kids with Nirvana t-shirts in the way you never see Oasis or Blur.

  14. 89
    swanstep on 14 Jan 2013 #

    what you have is the beginnings of Limp Bizkit
    Pretty harsh! The pompous intro to the Stiltskin reminded me of (the beginning of guilty pleasure) Vast’s Here from, I think, 1997.

  15. 90
    Steve Mannion on 14 Jan 2013 #

    #85 Some great house and techno coming out of Glasgow at this time tho – mostly from the Soma label (Slam, Otaku, Funk D’Void etc.), who also somehow put out the first Daft Punk tracks in ’94.

  16. 91
    xyzzzz__ on 15 Jan 2013 #

    swanstep – sure, its all part of the erm continuum. Wouldn’t say I was being harsh, as I said its a sound I like.

  17. 92
    Rory on 15 Jan 2013 #

    How great to see a flurry of entries on Popular again. Soon I might even be able to comment on a song I’ve heard before, or even one I genuinely love.

    This is neither, thanks to my being in Stiltskin-oblivious Australia in 1994. But as this is the grunge thread, I’ll add my two cents (the one with the frilled-neck lizard, which was withdrawn from circulation right after Nirvana broke). Not that there were many grunge number ones in Australia; in fact, there was only one, the home-grown “Tomorrow” by Silverchair in late 1994, a band of Aussie teenagers (aged 14 when the song won a TV competition) who absorbed the work of Kurt and Eddie et al. and fashioned their own faithful imitation. I wasn’t much of a fan of that either, but if you’re going to have a single grunge number one that isn’t “Teen Spirit” I’d take “Tomorrow” over “Inside”. In fact I’d take pretty much anything over “Inside” – I’ve tried to get through the video twice but bailed halfway through each time.

    It seems anomalous now, but I was a grunge fan, at least in part – those parts being Nevermind, a couple of Soundgarden tracks, and a lot of Pearl Jam (despite Rolling Stone‘s supposedly scandalous exposé of Eddie Vedder’s foray into funk rock in the late 1980s, Pearl Jam were my favourite). I had the whole Nirvana catalogue, but on checking iTunes find that only two albums have made it into my digital life, Nevermind and In Utero. The rest are mouldering away on cassette, unheard for years. But those two go pretty much unheard now, as well: I never took to In Utero, and know Nevermind so well from my initial year of listening that I never feel the need to return to it… I see the title, hear the tracks on fast-forward in my head, and lose any desire to press play.

    The same is true of a lot of other albums I own from the time. I listen to Pearl Jam more often than Nirvana (though nowadays rarely), but mostly their post-grunge stuff, like No Code. If I counted the Smashing Pumpkins as grunge, which I don’t really, Siamese Dream would be another stayer. And Adore, but that’s even further from grunge.

    Grunge just never really stuck with me. It could have: I wore flannelette shirts in the 1980s (like a lot of Tasmanian teenagers; they were warm), had long hair when it was definitely out but was about to come back in with grunge, was almost the same age as Cobain and got his Gen X vibe, liked hard rock but hadn’t found what I was looking for in hair metal or Guns ‘n’ Roses… it all could have worked.

    But it didn’t, and I think it was because I’d been inoculated by spending 1991-92 in Britain and listening to shoegaze. Not much of that has stuck with me long-term either (Ride’s Going Blank Again and Chapterhouse’s Blood Music being the main exceptions), but as I’d already found some noisy indie rock there was less room in my heart-shaped box for grunge, despite fervent efforts circa 1992-94 to cram it in there. And before long, some different indie rock came along, again from Britain… but that’s a comment for the song I’ve heard before, and the one I genuinely love.

  18. 93
    swanstep on 16 Jan 2013 #

    @Rory. I just checked and Silverchair were the most successful ‘grunge’ act on the singles chart in NZ too. Smells Like Teen Spirit did get to #1, but just for a single week, whereas Tomorrow spent 3 weeks at the top (and another 4 at #2) and Pure Massacre got achingly close, spending 3 weeks at #2. Nirv, AiC, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins all had #1 albums tho’, and Pearl Jam, the big winner, has had 6 albums reach the top so far.

    I resonate with your description of how Nirvana has largely fallen out of your personal rotation. Reflecting recently on why that might be so in my case, I’ve hit on the idea that it’s a combination of the band’s songs feeling very tightly wound around Kurt’s vocal and personality (the music very rarely stretches out beyond that to have an identity in its own right) and then that Kurt’s personality is somehow suffocating. It could just be that the self-laceration that exhausts, but for me, if I’m honest, his prickliness and wiseass-ness while clever did irritate me at the time and hasn’t worn well for me. I listened to the All Apologies B-sides for the first time in ages recently, and exactly *how* deliberately irritating Kurt could be came flooding back. There’s a genius involved in rarking people up like that, but it’s hard to willingly, regularly endure such provocations.

    @xyzzzz__. My apologies; it’s been ages since I’ve heard ‘Limp Bizkit’ used as anything other than a term of abuse!

  19. 94
    Rory on 16 Jan 2013 #

    @swanstep, your take on Kurt definitely strikes a chord for me. I just wasn’t as prickly and disaffected in 1992-94; maybe if I’d heard him at 16 he would have hit closer to home.

    This thread prompted me to listen to Nevermind last night for the first time in ages. A mix of fantastic moments (Teen Spirit, Come as You Are, On a Plain) and wearisome shouting…

  20. 95
    Erithian on 2 Jun 2013 #

    There’s a touch of the Lord Rockingham’s XI about this! Jobbing musician with no particular fondness for the genre being adopted, but happy to adopt it for the sake of a quick buck, and remarkably successful about doing so. Not sure how many Nirvana aficionados they hooked with this, but to anybody hearing the trademark stuff done for the first time on the advert – the bass lick, the drums, the highly-effective riff – it would probably work as something new and startling (and Ray Wilson sounding more convincing than at any time since the 1966 World Cup Final). Again, for how many people this was a gateway to yer Pearl Jams and Korns it’s intriguing to think, but as a one-off number one this sounds fine until you can track down the real thing.

  21. 96
    MichaelH on 26 Jun 2013 #

    If this were judged purely as a record – without the shadow of Cobain, without the context of it being manufactured, without people’s feelings about a genuine underground movement being so perfectly co-opted by the mainstream, and so on – it would be remembered a lot more fondly. It is a genuinely brilliant riff, if nothing else.

  22. 97
    fivelongdays on 26 Jun 2013 #

    @95 – Korn who we can talk about, tangentally, in about six/seven years time, Popularwise, are bugger-all to do with this record or to do with Grunge. Unless, of course, you think all loud American guitar music is The Same Thing.

    @96 Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Although, I as I wrote upthread, this is remembered very fondly by people of a certain age indeed.

  23. 98
    Ray Dawson on 9 Aug 2013 #

    Just a small point, the lyric is “strong words in a Ganges sky” not “ganja sky”.

  24. 99
    Izzy on 9 Aug 2013 #

    How would anybody know, unless … are you any relation to Ray Wilson?

  25. 100
    flahr on 9 Aug 2013 #

    Ray Wilson is the Charlemagne of the 1990s

  26. 101
    thefatgit on 27 Aug 2013 #

    Meanwhile, on the internet…

    http://www.behance.net/gallery/Grunge-Street-Fighters-Project-by-Butcher-Billy/10455943

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