17
Feb 13

WET WET WET – “Love Is All Around”

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#709, 4th June 1994

I have as you might have noticed a kind of default setting for cover versions, amounting to “you can’t keep a good tune down”. Certain approaches are almost guaranteed to ruin tracks – think “advert pianos” – but in general pop songs are resilient little bastards, able to withstand much greed and deformation. So hearing The Troggs’ “Love Is All Around” for the first time, after years of weathering this other version, was a bit of a shock. Here was a song – a very lovely, surprisingly artless song – that it seemed really had been ruined by the pawings of commerce. Not that Reg Presley saw it that way, and why should he? If memory serves he objected loudly and publically to the eventual decision to withdraw this “Love Is All Around” lest it be number one for ever.

As it was, fifteen weeks seemed quite ever enough. So with the knowledge of the original to make Wet Wet Wet even worse, what exactly goes wrong here? I think the clues are all in the first few seconds. Instead of the heartbeat rhythm of the Troggs, you get a fanfare for string beds and guitar. It’s actually an uncanny glimpse at the gross future of British rock, late 90s edition, with its lazy, gluttonous guitars and its grievous addiction to string arrangements. But what makes it so unpleasant on “Love Is All Around” is that it sets a tone which the record never strays from: one of triumph.

Here’s a vast generalisation: most good love songs aren’t triumphant. They’re doubting, hoping, fearing, bittersweet somehow – even the most unabashed and delighted have a kind of humility to them, and actually the original “Love Is All Around” is a great example of that. There’s nothing of this in Wet Wet Wet’s reading – Pellow acts the lover as winner, all his ad libs and showy additions meant to point us to the fact that he’s got his girl, his happy ending, his full stop. Curtain up, show’s over.

Obviously this is something a soundtrack single can get away with to some extent. Its emotions don’t have to be earned – they can be outsourced, and a recording as bumptious as “Love Is All Around” can work because it’s a payoff for the film’s narrative. But soundtrack singles should also stand on their own – and stripped of context Wet Wet Wet’s “Love Is All Around” feels overblown and empty. When Presley sings that love is all around, he sounds humbled by his sincere discovery of one of the universe’s great principles. When Pellow sings it, he sounds like he means it more tangibly – love is something he’s being showered in, like applause or champagne or confetti or maybe just money.

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  1. 1
    lonepilgrim on 18 Feb 2013 #

    this production oozes tastefulness – from its syrupy strings and ‘soulful’ vocals to its leaden beat. Whereas the original is short and sweet this drags on and on. The film tie-in helped to cement its place at number 1 as did its release date but its long reign seemed like a curse at the time.

  2. 2
    heather on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I like this a little more than I should – my mind says 3 but my heart says 5. I think it’s because of the acting in the last verse. It sort of goes from shiny/smooth/smug to almost genuinely happy. It just… doesn’t annoy me that much for this sort of syrupy overproduced thing. I quite like the ‘triumph’ for some unholy reason I can’t even explain to myself. It… seems ?healthier? All context aside, it does sound like a wedding song, and maybe they should be certain and triumphant rather than all creepy and “I’m not worthy”. Just for a moment.

  3. 3
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    They sound like a wedding band doing it which is surely the point? Reg’s munchkin vocals slightly spoil the otherwise lovely original for me, but it’s still better than this bildge.

    Anyone heard the Athens/Andover album?

  4. 4
    DanH on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I’m surprised this wasn’t a bigger hit here in the States, only made #41. I’m pretty sure I heard it every morning before school at the time, when Mom had the Adult Contemporary station on, hence I thought it was a bigger US hit than it was.

  5. 5
    hardtogethits on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Some might think that good love songs aren’t triumphant, but others contend a great love song has hymnal qualities. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

    I agree with Heather at #2, that this sounds (and reads) like a wedding song – and whatever sense of “bewildered awe” at what is “all around”, this is also a very earnest pledge. This is not the time for doubt, it is the time for commitment. Humility? Lyrically, this almost defines humility by example – there’s even a tiny adjustment to the original lyric that makes this version display MORE humility than the Troggs’ version. But I find it hard to accept that humility is being communicated with sincerity and understanding, and nearing the end Marti Pellow gives the game away in the ad libbing. “Come on and let it show, baby.” Baby? Why? It turns it from devout pledge to desperate plea.

    A song which calls for a response of “I do” and “I will” ends up inviting the challenge “but will you love me tomorrow?” What a shame. 4.

  6. 6
    Weej on 18 Feb 2013 #

    This is one of my favourite recent reviews here, well worth the wait.

    I watched the video on youtube the other day and was surprised by what a visceral reaction I had to it – even after twenty years I could feel this wave of anger rising. That’s probably not a healthy response, but there you go, I hate Wet Wet Wet.

    The REM version of the song (b-side to ‘Radio Song’) isn’t bad.

  7. 7
    23 Daves on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I don’t wish to speak ill of the recently deceased, but for me The Troggs’ ballads were never their strong points – they had some excellent singles and some surprisingly abrasive, garage punk B-sides under their belts, but as soon as Presley pulled a ballad out of his bag I usually lost interest. Therefore, the fact that I’ve never liked “Love Is All Around” doomed this whole enterprise for me from the start.

    Whatever I thought of the original song, though, Pellow’s delivery never fails to irritate the shit out of me. I’ve been widely assured that he’s an incredibly pleasant man, one of pop music’s rare examples of an approachable and ultra-friendly chap, but on records he always sounds insufferably smug. Critics have frequently pointed out that his ad-libbed commands on records signpost everything you’re supposed to feel, as if he’s not confident enough in his own delivery. Hearing “Oh-here-we-go-now-OHHH-YEESSSS-IT-IIIIS!” on endless Wet Wet Wet tracks is like having the vinyl equivalent of a DVD commentary stuck on – “Yes listeners, we’re coming up to the chorus now, get your lighters out if you’ve got any at home!” There’s something I find supremely aggravating about that kind of stadium posturing placed on slabs of vinyl, and much as I’m aware of the fact that Pellow wasn’t the only exponent of it, he did set me on edge the most. In a similar way, a lot of Richard Curtis films heavily signpost the romantic and comedic moments in a manner I find ineffective and irksome, so there was something of an ideal match going on here.

    This record doesn’t feel as ubiquitous now as it did in the mid-nineties, but nonetheless when I returned home broke from a period of travelling and set up home in my parent’s spare room in 2005, this was the first song I woke up to on the radio alarm, bang on the fanfare of guitar and strings. Thanks, Essex Radio. In a peculiar way I found that fanfare quite comforting, almost like the noise of an odd British obsession I would have once despised, but that gave way to anger after about forty seconds of Pellow and I had to pull my jet-lagged head out of bed.

    It also feels astonishing that we’ve talked about Wet Wet Wet three times on this blog now. They feel quite irrelevant as a band, despite this long-serving number one and a string of other hits besides. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone in my life who has actually declared themselves to be a “huge Wet Wet Wet fan”, though perhaps I move in the wrong circles.

  8. 8
    Brendan F on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I never had the same weary reaction to the endless reign at number 1 that this enjoyed that I had from Bryan Adams or Whitney Houston. I think that’s because of the nature of the song. It’s lightweight and inoffensive (especially as I only heard the original once, probably around the time that this was number 1) which makes me treat it more favourably than those aforementioned behemoths. Also, by now I’d pretty much given up on pop music altogether by this point so it wasn’t as apparent to me at just how long it stayed at number 1.

  9. 9
    punctum on 18 Feb 2013 #

    LONG FORM COMMENT INCORPORATING YEAR IN MUSIC MUSINGS KLAXON:

    Some of the longer-term consequences we could have done without, but Britpop, despite its doubtful genesis, beyond question cleared the path for at least two years of creative and invigorating new music to be heard. Convenient history has funnelled it down to the twin tunnels of Blur and Oasis, and it is scarcely surprising that Parklife and Definitely Maybe dominated both readers’ and writers’ polls in 1994. But each needed the other to react against. If my personal inclination bends towards Blur, then that has to do with Parklife being the kind of record which, despite its encyclopaedic reach and its Walthamstow dog track inner sleeve photo, was ideally understood by those who lived and worked in certain quarters of West London; the citings of traffic queues in Greyhound Road (just around the corner from where I worked!), the general lively M4/A40 bonhomie/ennui tightrope, Phil Daniels, the personification of Jimmy the Shepherds Bush/Acton mod. Covering – and forwarding – everyone from Syd Barrett to Jerry Dammers and far beyond, its greatest moments were its quietest; “To The End,” anticipating and outdoing the imminent lounge boom, unthinkable without Laetitia Sadier’s cooling French parallel narration, the immense “This Is A Low” which foretold the eventual, inevitable failure of Britpop at such an early stage. Then the brass interludes, so reminiscent of Carla Bley, “Girls And Boys”…the second part of their Westway trilogy, its potency still undiminished.

    But only an especial churl would bypass Definitely Maybe with any degree of determination, even if this was the kind of record which was ideally understood by those under the age of sixteen living and not quite working in certain quarters of Northern England; at the end of 1993 Melody Maker yawned at the thought of their being influenced equally by the Roses and the Mondays, but they managed to square the rectangle; Liam and Noel played the Brown/Squire Remember Now roles but in their unique, indomitably vulnerable way (and had a clearer field to do so after the Roses’ Second Coming, a straight-ish rock album infinitely superior to their first one but perhaps too fivesquare to have the same impact at their late stage) but brought in an insouciance and unthinking lyrical surrealism direct from Shaun Ryder. Middle-aged cynics sneered (and listened in private) while kids identified immediately with the simple and clear ambitions and messages of “Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” “Cigarettes And Alcohol” and “Live Forever.”

    The success of both records was an unmissable gateway for everyone else to come through, and of course the story barely began with them, let alone ended; Pulp finally came out of exile with His ‘N’ Hers, Jarvis just about maintaining the right balance between experience and fresh awe (and “David’s Last Summer” may be one of their two or three masterpieces). Suede, never happy with being tarred with the Union Jack, went into the abstract to come closer to their audience; their top three single from early 1994, “Stay Together,” culminates in Brett Anderson howling “Don’t take me back to the past!” And Dog Man Star, particularly its near-faultless second side, finds some of the most quietly and transcendentally sublime playing and performances in all of British rock music, an artistic and emotional peak which Anderson and/or Butler couldn’t quite scale again.

    There were yet other voices; the New Wave Of New Wave trumpeted in 1993 had prematurely burned itself out, but albums by S*M*A*S*H* and These Animal Men were hardly a disgrace (even if the former was a six-track compilation of their singles to date). Morrissey came back with the autumnal majesty of Vauxhall And I, his best work since Viva Hate. Elastica’s brace of singles “Connection” and “Line Up” were smart, sleek and made us impatient for the album (that would eventually become a familiar phenomenon). Supergrass, whom nine Saturday afternoons out of ten in Oxford I would see loitering about on the corner of Park End Street, issued their debut single “Caught By The Fuzz” with its Charlie Drake/Adverts crossover of red-faced inhaling teenager escorted by the local plod back to his stern mother.

    Not everyone was merry; and for those who thought Britpop an absurd indulgence in the wake of Cobain’s passing, there were the Manics; inescapable but, in 1994, largely unbought. The Holy Bible was released on the same August Bank Holiday Monday as Definitely Maybe, but we didn’t see too many other customers clutching both at the queues in Bond Street HMV; this was difficult, scathing stuff, Closer as Plath might have lyricised it, a burningly eloquent mess of protest about revolution, anorexia, death camp ovens, self-loathing, self-mutilation with no clear resolution, and the group, let alone their principal lyricist, could hardly be blamed for running away so determinedly from its skull of a void. But the few who bought The Holy Bible, and believed in it, found in its red slashes of anguish a too-real mirror of their own lives; the subsequent extended debate on teenage self-mutilation which dominated the MM letters pages for months, if not years, did at least help bring something important out into the light, even as it ushered its creator into apparent darkness.

    There was also something deeply terminal about Saint Etienne’s Tiger Bay, the soundtrack which 28 Days Later should have had; a slow, unwinding journey out of a London on the eve of apocalypse, back into the woods of the dawn, back to a folk song older than Thomas Hardy and sung by Stephen Duffy – their most sustained work of album-length greatness. Bark Psychosis’ extraordinary Hex took, if it were possible, the scenario to an afterlife of dank East End wharves and distant lights, taking the journey begun by Talk Talk on Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock and twisting its post-rock – it was one of the first records to which that label would be appended – into concentrated, engrossed fugues of reality and blip (its techno twin was 94 Diskont by the German electronic group Oval, one of the nineties’ absolute key records; the beginning of glitch and therefore, for many, time).

    But rueful lightness was also on offer; Stereolab’s Mars Audiac Quintet remains their most successful record, both commercially and artistically – this was a time when the album’s lead single “Ping Pong” could be playlisted on daytime Radio 1 – a beautifully wrought, civilised collision between post-lounge meditations, Marxist tracts, Wyatt generosity and, particularly in its later stages, an inkling of where Brian Wilson might have ended up sailing. Much of the latter was down to the considerable input of Sean O’Hagan, and Gideon Gaye, the debut album by his own group the High Llamas, was an instantly overlooked classic, an entrancing combination of side two Abbey Road melancholy, immaculate post-sunshine pop harmonies, pre-Guilty Pleasures TM soft rock and post-Terry Riley minimalism; inseparable from memories of that melting summer, wandering through Maida Vale on weekday afternoons.

    Much American music of 1994 stayed firmly within the shadow of the deceased Kurt, and a compass can be drawn whose boundaries would be the first volume of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings – a soul saved by Rick Rubin just in time – and Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, in its own way the most soberly irrational reflection of the pain…and yes, if we must, and we must, the hurt…which most of us felt deeply, deeply inside. But of course there was also good humour (for the sake of living, there had to be); Beck’s Mellow Gold abruptly came up with a new profundity/goofiness equation which seemed to work – to see the indie anti-star of Stereopathic Soul Manure breakdancing to “Loser” on TOTP was a moment to savour at a time when such moments were sorely required. Pavement, as ever, cheerfully remained an autonomous independent state even within the state of American indie; Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain was intended to be their “breakthrough” record but their mainstream range of flexion was always going to be at right angles at best, and quite rightly so too – and ensconced within its fun are subtle warnings of future negative decadence, as well as far more obvious antecedents for the good things which are happening now. Meanwhile, the preposterously charming goofballness of Orange, the debut album by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, was subsequently found to be less preposterous when it helped invent the White Stripes.

    The main hip hop event was the belated UK release of Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), another beginning of time for a group for whom I can find no useful precedents anywhere in pop; though producer The RZA was careful to foreground lyrical rather than musical innovation, the multiple deliveries, approaches and tactics of ODB, Method Man, Raekwon, Genius GZA et al gave rap a new multidimensionalism from which the more creative hip hop has continued to benefit. But Nas, son of the great free jazz trumpeter Olu Dara, dropped a huge bomb with Illmatic (“The World Is Yours” was another great Maida Vale tune), and people finally came around, a year after it came out, to the manifesto for pretty much all rap music to follow, Dr Dre’s The Chronic (and Snoop’s Doggystyle). In Britain Fun’Da’Mental shattered expectations with the brilliant fission and raging militancy of Seize The Time. And the Beastie Boys enjoyed their second coming (they had actually begun it with the Check Your Head album two years previously, but sometimes you have to wait for others to catch up) with Ill Communication, a scabrously entertaining record which almost uniquely succeeded in taking the memes about to become suffocated by Tarantino-induced overfamiliarity and turning them in favour of getting towards now (and it has some terrific chilled post-Roy Ayers/Bob James jazz-funk instrumental interludes). DJ Shadow’s astonishing four-track E.P. What Does Your Soul Look Like? brought 1967 back into 1994 in yet more unanticipated ways.

    By 1994 jungle was evolving – or being made to evolve – into drum ‘n’ bass, its skittering rhythms heard battering out of every tooled-up car thrusting through every London backstreet; best experienced in retrospect on Kodwo Eshun’s excellent 1995 2CD round-up Routes From The Jungle, or on good compilations of the period (e.g. Surburban Base’s Drum ‘N’ Bass Selection Vol 1, which did feel like punk returned), or better still on pirate radio tapes from the period with their unending flow of DJ/MC gabble, pizza orders and coded languages. But everyone stood up and blinked at the 21-minute twelve-inch of “Inner City Life” by Metalheadz (its creator not yet billing himself as Goldie), knowing that everything was on the brink of going somewhere else. Only two real chart crossovers in 1994 – M-Beat and General Levy’s “Incredible” and another, imminently to appear on Popular – but its sound and aura were everywhere, and best summarised in mainstream dance terms by the Prodigy’s dazzling Music For A Jilted Generation, at least two-thirds of which redefines the term “dynamic.”

    The juddering sideshow which would shortly become the main attraction of Big Beat had also begun; the Chemical Brothers were still calling themselves the Dust Brothers (before the latter called them out in a Shadows/Drifters manner) and their E.P. My Mercury Mouth was gigantic. Elsewhere in techno, Underworld’s dubnobasswithmyheadman was the kind of masterpiece which could only have been created by cracked pre-punk heads; and while Primal Scream rediscovered fudgy old rock ‘n’ roll, Andrew Weatherall contented himself by making the Sabres of Paradise’s excellent Haunted Dancehall album with its brilliant, Jah Wobble-driven “The Theme” and the superlative voodoo rave mantra “Wilmot.” Orbital also made their best album in Snivilisation – Nyman meets Jarre via Laurent Garnier and nobody complained. Mike Paradinas, as μ-Ziq, created two titanic double albums in Tango N’Vectif and Bluff Limbo which redefined the angle of the moon.

    And then there was trip hop – the mighty Bristol triumvirate. Massive Attack once again redefined pop with the untouchable, yet so, so touchable, “Protection,” one of the songs which should be saved as an example to future generations of the profound art of which we were capable – Tracey Thorn’s vocal and lyric so selflessly generous yet defiant (“I’ll take on any man here”), alternating between protector and protected, mother and child, boy and girl, domestic violence and universal peace. “I’ll stand in front of you, I’ll take the force of the blow,” “That’s the way I feel…I’ll put my arms around you”…it is one of the great feminist songs, all the more so because it incorporates everybody. Portishead’s Dummy invented yet more new shapes, while reviving and renewing old ones; Beth Gibbons’ post-Joplin vocals (already previewed earlier that year in Herd Of Instinct by frustrated Talk Talk spinoff O’Rang; orange and brutal its music indeed is) are made to shimmer and sob rather than explode in melismatics, confined within those old seventies samples which in this new context of theremin, drums both live and looped and scratch vinyl present themselves as stark and unprecedented; Lalo Schifrin and Johnnie Ray morphed into cracked gargoyles of themselves, Pimlico cooling towers looming in the grey dawn…and yet, at the end, peace and determination, Isaac Hayes memories and Gibbons demanding the reason to be a woman. Tricky’s brace of singles, “Ponderosa” and “Aftermath,” meanwhile redefined gravity, the latter perhaps the greatest exegesis of the mother-child relationship in all of pop, and we were likewise impatient for his album.

    And finally there were the year’s two unpassable towering achievements, unpassable even in a year such as this – one American, one British. We’d been alerted by Live At Sin-É but nothing prepared us for Jeff Buckley’s Grace; initially baffled by what seemed a clear reincarnation of someone we’d considered lost forever, the unanswerable power of a new voice in music was not long hidden. Britten and Cohen alike held no fear for him, and his own songs, from the planet-demolishing title track to the bleeding, resenting love of “Dream Brother,” advanced Zeppelin and the Cocteau Twins as surely as he advanced the template of his own dad; they breathed life into emptily bright Chelsea crescents of the sunnier summer mornings, they were eternal, his vision changing everything into varyingly bright shades of yellow. When seen by us that summer in a sweaty, packed Highbury Garage, he seemed like the answer to everything from Cassidy to Kurt.

    But Selected Ambient Works Vol II by the Aphex Twin had ramifications and repercussions which went beyond music…with its Braxton-borrowed construct of colours and patterns for track titles, it challenged the boundaries between waking and dreaming, between bluff and lucid, between existing and living, between ear and brain, between regretted past and unanticipated future; to enable such radical music to become a Top 20 best-selling record would have justified the existence of Britpop on its own.

    1994, however, was also the year that High Fidelity was published, and despite its very acute passages on mortality, emptiness and the aimlessness of a life spent jumping from island to island, avoiding anything approaching commitment, it is difficult to evade the feeling that a desperately wrong turn has been taken; here we have affluent relationships, where nothing, not even parental cancer, is really ever at stake, where people do indeed jump from relationship to relationship as the whim or the desperation takes them, such that a rather unattractive crossword puzzle or abacus of needlessly interweaving connections is formed, where seriousness is invariably shaken off with a wry shoulder shrug, even when the multiple clues which Hornby provides throughout the book leave us in no doubt that Rob Fleming is at best one step away from being Patrick Bateman (and that is one of numerous reasons why American Psycho is the greater book – Ellis allows Bateman to plunge into the bloodied emptiness which Hornby, being an All-Round Good Bloke, can only imply).

    Far, far worse, however, is an incipient reactionism which very much resembles the long-held grudge of a middle-aged man given the rejection slip by the NME at an impressionable age and duty bound to take his extended revenge. High Fidelity marks the beginning of the New Anti-Seriousness in Britain, where under a completely misguided misreading of the principles of socialism, the only music now worth considering is that purposely furnished to provide the masses with what they want. It sets its bias in favour of the mass consumers and against the creative individual (since new ideas are now considered de facto Thatcherite) with such matey virulence that any attempt at making genuinely new music – or writing about it, or because of it – will now be routinely scoffed at as elitist and pretentious, an act of treacherous individualism against The People. This way lies the Exhibition of Degenerative Art, not to mention Nuremberg. At the end of High Fidelity Sonic Death Monkey – the kind of invented group name which could only have been invented by someone who despises new music with all of his blackened heart – become Backbeat, and noisy experimentation gives way to “Twist And Shout.” This cosy scene is depicted as a happy ending, and to this day it chills my blood to the colour of lapsed vinegar.*

    The triumph of Four Weddings And A Funeral, and “Love Is All Around,” gave early warning that the Hornby side would win this argument by sheer demographic weight. The film is a deviously constructed snakes and ladders board of nothing very much, except finding ways to delay Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell from ending up together. Is it the act of a spoilsport to point out that there is so much more to Auden than having his words traduced to the level of Rent-An-Elegy? Or that Kenneth Griffith’s ancient madman – played by the same man who spends much of the first half of the final episode of The Prisoner delivering an extended lecture on the varying nature of revolt – provides the film’s only spark of actual life? In the end we are presented with a toytown Britain of bright bricks of placid agreeableness; like the Village it looks new and colourful and beneficent, but try straying a millimetre out of its hidden boundaries and see how quickly Rover is unleashed upon you.

    “Love Is All Around” as ruined by Wet Wet Wet would seem sufficient reason for any McGoohan to want to kick his radio speakers in (only to have them speedily replaced by an electrician five seconds later); as written and recorded by the Troggs in the autumn of 1967, its “feel it in my fingers” mood and dazedly floating music place it as late period pop-psychedelia. Typically for the Troggs, it was slightly out of time – the Autumn of Love was deteriorating into the Winter of Big Ballads – and their slight clunkiness when approaching a ballad was to be expected; but the stylistic conflict works (“Any Way That You Want Me” was their other slow-burning classic, and Spiritualized at least understood its greatness sufficiently to cover it) in such a way that you want to believe Reg and the boys that such peaceful disorientation and rebuilding could still happen.

    In other words, even with a band of blundering beefcakes like the Troggs, the original works because of its subtlety. You know that disappointment is imminent when the bombastic drums and overwrought rockist guitar which open Wet Wet Wet’s reading give way to Pellow’s utterly shade and nuance-free delivery. Enticement and charm are replaced by robustly ruddy bellowing, everything highlighted in CAPITAL LETTERS just in case you haven’t long since got it. Pellow doesn’t waste time in adding entirely irrelevant asides (“Got to keep it moving!” – but why, if love is allegedly all around you everywhere you go?) and there is a particularly unpleasant Glasgow pub belch of a “Hey!” at 3.02. But it gave off the correct signifiers of Soul and Passion and Et Bleeding Cetera and, as with Mariah, people were happy for Marti just to pull the approved faces. Since it became 1994’s top-selling single, spending 15 very long weeks at number one – just one short of Bryan’s record – Pellow would presumably turn around, give a wry shoulder shrug and genuinely wonder what was wrong; after all, wasn’t he simply giving the people what they wanted, as opposed to giving people things they didn’t know they wanted? But look again at all the alternatives I have described above, all else that was available to the music lover of 1994, and the success of “Love Is All Around,” a record which appears to argue that Engelbert was the real point of 1967, looks like one of the biggest disasters in all recent music – if we’re talking long-term consequences.

    *if I sound as though I’m being hard on High Fidelity and Hornby in general then I’m bound to point out that one of the novel’s fleeting characters is based directly on me, and that the narrator asks how often, or how deeply, the character in question thinks or cares about music. You could view my blogs as constituting an extended response to that question.

  10. 10
    swanstep on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Reader, I bought this one [without knowing the Troggs’ original or its truly fantastic video :(]. I’ll be back with a real comment latter. Bravo to punctum’s entry!

  11. 11
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Indeed, thank you punctum, for such an insightful and incisive overview.

    This tedious and overblown, yet not utterly horrible, record bores me to tears. The contrast with Spiritualized’s take on “Anyway That You Want Me” – respectful, mystical, pure [if drug-addled] – in comparison with this over-commericalised over-produced bumpf is pretty instructive.

    It wasn’t the first time that Pellow had uttered “unpleasant Glasgow pub belches” on a record (there is a killer one on the otherwise pretty agreeable single “Angel Eyes (Home And Away)”), but it was at least clear by 1994 (as it had not yet been in 1987) what the band was about. The mainstreaming, de-emotionalising of emotion, the careful distillation and filtering out of anything that made a song interesting, and all turned up loud and with a cheesy (and possibly genuinely endearing – on the basis of what someone I know who used to see him down the chippy in Clydebank) grin for the cameras.

    In short the Tennants Lager of popular music. In ever shorter terms, pish.

  12. 12
    James BC on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I never quite understood why Pulp and others singled out Wet Wet Wet as a hate-sink. It’s not like they were shoved down anyone’s throats, or had an annoyingly confrontational fanbase. They just popped up every so often with a pleasant song that found an audience with occasional record buyers – where’s the harm in that?

    As to this song, it isn’t deserving of 15 weeks at number 1 (ie it isn’t the second best song ever) but there’s a lot good to say about it that isn’t said above. It sounds more like the original than the original, Marti Pellow has a great voice that suits the song, and the arrangement is well realised (the strings are several cuts above the syrup that undercut all those Verve dirges five years later). Yes it does get a bit celebratory and self-congratulatory, but sometimes people want to celebrate and congratulate themselves.

  13. 13
    JLucas on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Maybe I’m just lucky enough to avoid it, but does it feel to anyone else that – compared to the other chart-gobbling soundtrack hits of the 90s (Everything I Do, I Will Always Love You, My Heart Will Go On) this is comparatively quite forgotten?

    I never hear it these days, save on #1s of the 90s/biggest selling powerballads rundowns. I feel like it was just a souvenier for the film more than anything.

    Anyway, out of interest, here are the songs it held off the top during that interminable reign:

    Big Mountain – Baby I Love Your Way (3 Weeks)
    All-4-One – I Swear (7 Weeks)
    Let Loose – Crazy For You (2 Weeks)
    Red Dragon – Compliments On Your Kiss (1 Week)
    Kylie Minogue – Confide In Me (1 Week)

    Confide In Me would have been a *fantastic* number one. Can’t say the others really bother me, but I bet All-4-One were bitter…

  14. 14
    swanstep on 18 Feb 2013 #

    This record is a conundrum for me. I bought it at the time and distinctly remember finding it wildly romantic and charming. Yet I listen to it now and it sounds completely dreadful (certainly compared to the original) and leaden and quite unimaginable as something I would ever have given the time of day. I almost can’t believe it’s the same record.

    This almost never happens to me! I still have incredible fondness for almost everything I’ve actually been struck by enough to purchase. My tentative explanation for this strange pass is that I was going to lots of weddings at the time, was somewhat stereotypically in love myself, was at my peak rom-com consumption, and so on, so WWW’s LIAA evidently just hit the spot for me right then (albeit in the US where, as someone mentions above, it was all over the radio and MTV despite not officially charting that well). God help me.

    Anyhow, 3 strikes me as a fair score for WWW’s LIAA now (abstracting away from my own tortured history with the track). ‘Not my sort of thing’ as many things that enjoy epic chart success aren’t but unctuous and annoying (for some of the attitudinal reasons that Tom gets at I think) and dragged out in a way that makes it a solidly inferior instance of its genre (whatever precisely that is).

  15. 15
    Chelovek na lune on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #13 Hmm, the only one of those I care for is “Crazy For You”. But even that doesn’t say “number 1 material” on it to me (for all that that label was well on its way to becoming meaningless).

    Song of the summer for me: “The Patience of Angels” by Eddi Reader. No 33 with a bullet!

  16. 16
    Cumbrian on 18 Feb 2013 #

    The one band that Punctum missed out in his excellent overview of 1994 was Radiohead – who in October of that year made their attempt to break out of their self-made straitjacket with the release of My Iron Lung. The explicit statement against Creep in the title track of the EP was rendered redundant by the following 6 tracks on the EP clearly signposting that there was a way out of their potential one-hit wonderdom. Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong in particular is only clichéd Radiohead given what followed – at this point, there’s more to that track than in their catalogue up to that juncture (with the possible exception of Stop Whispering). Lozenge Of Love, particularly the last minute with Jonny Greenwood augmenting the acoustic guitar, seems especially like prophecy for their guitar based tracks that would follow, even up to now (that said, they were also obviously listening to some of the rest of Punctum’s 94 playlist, not least Jeff Buckley and Aphex Twin). The rest of the EP rests between some scabrous guitar and atmospherics. Of course, they finished that EP with a joke – an acoustic reading of Creep undercutting the sentiment inherent in the rest of the EP.

    Also, from Punctum: “only an especial churl would bypass Definitely Maybe with any degree of determination, even if this was the kind of record which was ideally understood by those under the age of sixteen living and not quite working in certain quarters of Northern England”. Yep – you absolutely nailed me there. I’ll save my opinions of them overall for the relevant singles.

    Love Is All Around though. I did listen to this again on Youtube, despite being able to hear every inflection, beat and strum in my mind’s ear without doing so (I am not looking forward to my dotage if this is the sort of thing that is going to stay with me). I wasn’t expecting anything special. I didn’t get anything special. I don’t think it’s as unutterably terrible as some here though. I think it might even be better than The Troggs’ version (at least for me) to be honest; I don’t find that version well sung and it patters along in a very samey way until the groove runs out. If you’re going to stick to the same thing from the first minute to the last, you’d best make it damn interesting, is my view on this; not even Wild Thing was just banging the riff out all the way thorough. By contrast, this version of LIAA actually tries to insert some sort of dynamism in between verse and chorus, which at least makes the ear prick up. I can do without Marti’s “soul man” interjections (Yeah! Mmmmm) but this at least rises to the level of the mediocre.

    In some respects, it’s the perfect song for the film – achieved near ubiquity, despite not being all that original but bounces along hitting the beats where you expect them, although the odd clunker is definitely distracting (Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed).

    Other notes from the #2 watch:

    Confide In Me would have been a good #1. I thought Let Loose’s record was alright in a weird boyband meets hair metal way when I listened to it, though I can only just about remember the chorus for it now.

    Also, in an everything’s connected sort of way referencing back to Punctum’s post, Baby I Love Your Way is mentioned in a bit of High Fidelity where the 3 music snobs/rockists see a gorgeous woman performing it in a pub and say to each other:

    “Is that Peter Fucking Frampton?”
    “Yes”
    “I have always hated this song. Now I kind of like it”

    If you’ve not read High Fidelity, you might be able to understand something of whether you’ll enjoy it from that.

  17. 17
    anto on 18 Feb 2013 #

    I don’t know if it was mentioned in the obituaries for Reg Presley but there is a story of how he wrote this song after returning from tour and spending a much-needed evening of domestic contentment with his girlfriend so it actually came to him fairly quickly.
    I suppose capturing a moment is one thing and dominating an entire summer is quite another. As was also the case with the Bryan Adams song I think a lot of peoples tolerance for this song was simply used up at the time. Certainly I can’t bear to hear it now even for a few seconds.
    The review is correct in pointing out that the arrangement is a big part of the problem. It has a very Habitat scatter cushion vibe about it and leaves plenty of space for Marti Pellow to do a Stars In Their Eyes version of Marti Pellow.

  18. 18
    James BC on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #13 Thanks for the number 2 list – some great memories. Compliments On Your Kiss was absolutely charming, coming at the tail end of the charts’ weird slip into reggae but somehow sounding a bit music hall at the same time. I can still do most of the rap.

  19. 19
    punctum on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #16: very good call on Radiohead! Retrospectively I always now think of “My Iron Lung” as part of The Bends (and therefore ’95) but you’re absolutely right; they too were digging their own way out of the tunnel.

  20. 20
    D.C. Harrison on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Despite not having much clue of pop music at the time (I rarely paid attention to the TV beyond Match of the Day, never listened to the radio), even the 13-year-old me knew this song inside out at the time. One of my parents (probably my ma) quite liked the band – we had their Greatest Hits on tape for the car – and bought the album that followed this, on which I think Chris Difford co-wrote a track. I wonder if that’s the only time he’s been at #1 in the UK?

    Perhaps because of that, I’ve never minded them, or this. OK, I’m not going to care if I never hear it again, but it doesn’t cause me to sigh if it does crop up in my day.

    On the topic of “High Fidelity” – when I first started to really get into music, I remember enjoying reading it. Picking it up again maybe 10 years later, well, I can’t add anything to what Marcello says above. Though am I alone in trying to remember the character based on his good self?

  21. 21
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    Punctum @ 9: wow, thanks for such a great retrospective! It made me both nostalgic for my youth and guilty that I’d missed out on so many cutting edge sounds because I was all about learning to play the guitar at the time (although not that guilty because I’m still playing it now – http://www.soundcloud.com/white-ape if you’re interested) although I hadn’t become the awful rock snob that I would a couple of years later and even bought a couple of jungle and ragga records. I’m definitely going to go back and listen to a load of your reccomendations.

    I read High Fidelity several years later and hated it (though enjoyed About A Boy). I think the most telling episode is where Rob is offered the box of ultra-rare records by the vengeful cuckolded wife for a tenner and can’t bring himself to take the philanderer’s record collection. Given that his life’s vocation is buying and selling records, this makes him worse than Hamlet in my book. Why not sell them on and give the money to charity if it bothers him that much?

  22. 22
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #19: My Iron Lung was restrospectively included on The Bends, but sounds very much like a stepping stone from the disappointing Pablo Honey to the more full-realised stuff on The Bends.

  23. 23
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    James @ 18. Good shout on KOYK – loved that tune! The Uk-obsession with ragga/dancehall was one of my favourite sounds at the time before awful britpo-inuced rock snobbery befell me for a few years.

  24. 24
    Mark G on 18 Feb 2013 #

    They would return to this “formula” for a cover of The Beatles’ “Yesterday”, which for some reason I find impossible to bring to mind without thinking of The Beatles’ own “cover version” on the 1965 Christmas fan-club flexidisc..

  25. 25
    punctum on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #20 – The guy in the suit who comes in at lunchtime and buys the Fireball XL5 theme for his wife’s birthday; that was yours truly (I bought it, in Rock On Records in Camden Road, though paid a fiver for it, not a tenner as it said in the book. Also there were no car keys for me to dangle, since I don’t drive).

  26. 26
    Mark G on 18 Feb 2013 #

    #21, I recall that ‘episode’ in the book as being one of those “Scruples” type quiz questions (even if it wasn’t in the board game) I’d heard of before the book.

    (Didn’t he actually buy the records, after haggling the woman up in price?)

  27. 27
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    He bought a rare Otis Redding 45 for a quid or thereabouts but refused to take the rest of the records.

  28. 28
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    To be fair, in the book, Rob berates himself for sympathising with the cheating husband over the wronged wife.

  29. 29
    tm on 18 Feb 2013 #

    And it’s not hard to imagine one record collector emapthising with the time and patience another’s spent putting an awesome collection together. I suppose if Hornby intended it as an illustration of his character’s diffidence then it worked, if it was meant to show his humanity then it doesn’t quite do it for me (I’m aware this says as much about my own magpie-ish character as anything!)

  30. 30
    thefatgit on 18 Feb 2013 #

    There’s nothing much to add from me, except Punctum’s re-examination of 1994 highlighted what was an amazing year for music of all shades and forms, a lot of which I came across in later years. Britpop overshadowed everything of course, and LIAA, at the time felt very much like it was almost preventing the future from happening, rather than the deep intake of breath, before marching on, it actually was.

    Four Weddings And A Funeral is *whisper it* an enjoyable movie, but I get more pleasure from the cameos rather than Grant’s or McDowell’s performances these days. And the ending of course (“Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed”), is desperately clunky. Still one of the worst endings to any rom-com I’ve seen.

    We don’t get to talk about Wet Wet Wet after this. They weren’t a terrible band. They were just a band that had terrible hits.

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