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Feb 14

Popular ’96

Popular44 comments • 3,685 views

I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10. This poll is a chance for you to say which Number Ones in a year you’d have given 6 or more out of 10 to.

In terms of my marks, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Four 9s – “Jesus To A Child”, “Firestarter”, “Wannabe” and “Setting Sun”. But a 1 out of 10 – the hapless Barlow – and three 2s (Robson And Jerome and a brace of Boyzones). Use the comments to talk about the year in general, post other lists, reminisce, etc etc.

Which Number Ones Of 1996 Would You Give 6 Or More To?

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  1. 26
    Ed on 3 Feb 2014 #

    Weej @13: I am very happy to be disagreed with! I am prepared to believe there was lots of great stuff I missed or under-appreciated in that era, in part because of my advancing years.

    I agree, too, that Mogwai and Arab Strap seemed like the best of a – to me – very bad bunch of UK indie. The other bands you mention I hadn’t heard anything by.

    Out of respect for the bunny I will say no more here, but I look forward to the discussion when it comes up….

    But there is just one more thing. I see that not even you, as an avowed 96-97 partisan, is standing up for Beck. I have a memory of some critic at the time writing something like “when we look back in 20 years, Beck is the performer most likely to get us asking ourselves: ‘what were we thinking?’.” Sadly I can’t now find the quote.

    Music writing felt like it was at a low ebb – after the heyday of the weeklies, before the creation of FT (hem-hem) – and critics seemed to clutch desperately at any half-pausible contenders. That was how we got Beck, and also that small rash of other terrible US acts ike Rocket From the Crypt and the John Spencer Blues Explosions.

    You can see why the Strokes were greeted with such giddy delight when they turned up.

  2. 27
    Cumbrian on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #13: Interesting that your take on Select was that John Harris was pro-Weller and Oasis. The Last Party is massively anti-Oasis and certainly only pro-Weller before he fell in with the Gallaghers (or vice versa); the prevailing line being Oasis came in and ruined the whole bloody thing, Blur and Pulp were amazing and Suede were a missed opportunity. I suppose having them on the cover a lot is bowing to commercial imperative in some senses though – he might have been holding his nose all the while.

    I also bristle at the the idea that Supergrass and Super Furry Animals were B-League, if such a thing exists. Supergrass were gearing up to release their best album (I Should Coco has higher highs but drifts in the later half, when the sugar rush wears off, whereas In It For The Money is consistent all the way through). I loved Going Out and I return to their albums more than any other Britpop act with the exception of SFA. The definitive version of The Man Don’t Give A Fuck (the live 20 minute version with Cian’s techno section) was still someway off but even the original is rightly, in my view, high up there in the NME list and whilst they were not quite ready to make the big leap (Radiator being a subtle move on from Fuzzy Logic), in retrospect, you can see that there’s more to them than many of their peers too.

    Looking at some of the other lists that have been stuck up though, I feel like the #1s are actually pretty representative in at least one respect – there is some terrible dross in there, along with some stuff that is just wonderful (though was it ever thus? Possibly). No Diggity in particular is tremendous – possibly the stand out record for me of all the stuff that has been mentioned thus far. DJ Shadow’s stuff from this year is also really good – but I can’t help but feel that he trapped lightning in a bottle, as his follow up albums are nowhere near the same standard.

    Re: Beck – more catchy when being an annoying hipster, when being a more reflective “real” person, incredibly boring. I struggled with his records manfully for years on and off, always thinking “maybe I’ll get it this time”. I’ve long since given up, I’m afraid.

  3. 28
    Mark M on 3 Feb 2014 #

    Re 26: Was ‘music writing at a low ebb’? That strikes me as a sweeping statement for which you would need to make a stronger case. What is true is that among people whose primary business was writing about guitar music (which mine wasn’t) there was definitely a tussle to define a post-Britpop world, with contenders suggested by those lists including quiff rock, ‘real indie’, post/math rock… And, to get slightly ahead of ourselves, this was the background for the dramatic policy flip-flops of John Harris’ editorial reign at Select (I’d like to blame John, because he didn’t like me, but I suspect the panic came from further up the ladder at Emap Metro).
    I wasn’t reading the inkies much by then, but if it wasn’t a great time for polemical pieces, then it was (as mentioned in the Wannabe thread) a fine one for in-depth interviews by Miranda Sawyer and Chris Heath in The Face, plus Sian Pattenden was always sharp and funny in Select and elsewhere. I’m sure others can think of more decent writers around then.
    I gave Beck’s Odelay 4/5 in Select. No, I don’t listen to it these days but I don’t think that’s way off.

  4. 29
    Rory on 3 Feb 2014 #

    Kinitawowi, I don’t think you need to feel defensive about the tracks on your list at all – or at least the ones I know (Lightning Seeds, Mansun, Space, Suede, DC, Bluetones, Blur). Great tracks all; “Three Lions” would be my least favourite of them, and I gave it 6.

    This is an odd Popular year for me in that I’ve rated so many tracks as good or better, but only a few of them are things I was actually listening to in 1996 or thereabouts and would listen to much today. (The ratio may change, though, as I’ve finally ordered a 1p used copy of Spice from Amazon…) The stuff I really loved that year was the sort of stuff you and others have mentioned, especially Suede’s Coming Up and Ash’s 1977 – solid 10s for me, and still my favourite albums by each band.

    If nobody else will defend Beck here, I will. My old English Ride/Cure/indie-fan friend, who sent me my first tape of Definitely Maybe a couple of years earlier, by 1996 was raving about Odelay, and I remember Rolling Stone rating it highly too. I didn’t quite get it at the time – as critically-acclaimed albums after popular breakthrough hits went, it was no The Bends – but didn’t mind it, and I picked up his next one. That’s when he clicked for me, and I still rate Mutations, Midnite Vultures and Sea Change highly. The last, in particular, was an amazing album, though I suppose it’s the one Cumbrian is calling “incredibly boring”, as I know many find it to be. Nopety nopety nope. Not boring. Amazing.

    I’ve stuck with him through later albums as a result, even though they’ve been patchy; I wanted to like Guero and Modern Guilt more than I did (I liked “Chemtrails”, at least). The Information is still pretty good. I was excited on the weekend to see that he has a new album out soon, after a long gap, though I’ll probably wait a while before picking it up. Hang on, no I won’t: Wikipedia says it’s a “companion piece” to Sea Change. Ordered.

  5. 30
    Garry on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #2 1996 – the year I got to Uni but the year before I joined it’s radio station and had access to loads of music. So 70% of the tracks in that list are unfamiliar to me or at least I can’t remember them. For a lot of those acts I came in with their next release. For many I still haven’t even heard anything.

    I did hate The Cardigan’s Lovefool with a passion what with the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack escaping from almost anywhere in college 24 hours a day.

    And Beck: I prefer Tropicalia.

  6. 31
    swanstep on 3 Feb 2014 #

    Ah yes, but did anyone here, even Mark or Marcello, get Beck’s 2012 album Song Reader, the one that was issued only as sheet music (i.e., to explore whether there was anything to be gained by temporarily, locally re-inhabiting the pre-recorded music era)?

  7. 32
    Cumbrian on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #32: Rory – educate me please? What’s so good about Sea Change? When I think of “boring Beck”, I think primarily of that and Mutations, neither of which I get. Sea Change in particular – my iTunes tells me, I have listened to that album 9 times over my lifetime with that program, so it’s not for want of trying. I just don’t hear it.

  8. 33
    Mark M on 3 Feb 2014 #

    Re 27: As I hinted, I don’t think John’s personal views on Oasis came into it.
    On the subject of which, this is an interesting piece by Roy Wilkinson, who wrote the infamous Select five-star review of Be Here Now (I found it via either Tom or Wichita on Twitter, but I don’t think anyone’s linked to it here):
    http://thequietus.com/articles/04434-pop-will-eat-itself-oasis-time-flies-as-a-catering-line

  9. 34
    Ed on 3 Feb 2014 #

    @33 That’s a very good piece. Although again with the backstage logistics!… Deeply interesting to a professional music journalist, I am sure – you have to take your free food and booze where you find them – but not remotely so to anyone else.

  10. 35
    Ed on 3 Feb 2014 #

    @28 It *is* a sweeping statement, and I can’t really make a strong case for it. It was just my perception as a moderately engaged consumer at the time. As with the music itself, I am sure there was a lot of great writing I missed.

    I should also confess that I am writing here as someone who discovered this really interesting new thing called The Internet in about 1998.

  11. 36
    Rory on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #32: Now you’ve put me on the spot – it’s one of those albums that I listened to so intently that I’ve let it lie fallow for a few years, and now have to give it another listen to be able to talk about specifics. But it wasn’t really about the specifics for me, it was the mood and the timing. Sea Change feels to me like the definitive post-9/11 album – I know it’s about breaking up with his girlfriend, but it captured (for me) some complex feelings about America at that moment, a waking-up-from-a-dream, the dream being the optimistic late ’90s Web-gold-rush years (which Midnite Vultures in its own way represented). If the new one is Morning Phase, this was his mourning phase, and a year after September 11 that was still all too relevant to all too many of us.

    It feels trite to talk about my personal response to 9/11 to explain why I admire a break-up album, but I’m playing it in the background now (thanks, YouTube uploader), and was just floored by the transition from “Lonesome Tears” to “Lost Cause”, a masterpiece of sequencing – and I’m poring through the lyrics to try to justify the connection, and hardly have to go past “Golden Age”: These days I barely get by / I don’t even try. I spent far too much time in the few years after 9/11 consumed by online commentary on it all, trying to make sense of what had happened, what we’d lost, and what was being done its name, and remember being absolutely wrenched by it every anniversary for years – the worst precursor to a northern winter imaginable, to someone still getting used to northern winters. I’d moved to the other side of the world in 2001 in a spirit of optimism and possibility, and almost immediately it became a struggle to maintain that spirit. I don’t think I really got over that until years later. And it’s possible that I haven’t listened to Sea Change since then, until right now.

    Jesus, “Round the Bend” – it isn’t just Beck, it’s Nigel Godrich, whose production on the album is staggering – the strings with their echoes of Samuel Barber, the discordant piano flourishes he’d developed with Radiohead. And here a couple of tracks later is “Sunday Sun” – There’s no other ending / Sunday sun / Yesterdays are ending / Sunday sun – collapsing into wreckage in its final seconds. And then “Little One” kicks in, again perfectly sequenced: Go to sleep / We’re so tired now / All together in a snake pit of souls…

    I can understand why it isn’t everybody’s music. It isn’t even everyday music. But for me it was one of the albums of the decade, most definitely. More so than other albums I rated more highly at the time.

  12. 37
    punctum on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #31: I was able to read it. Bad Chick Corea would be a charitable description. Sc**nt*l*gy – don’t, don’t do it.

  13. 38
    anto on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #29 Ash 1977 – Initially retailed at a 1977 price (£3.99). There were three stunning singles one after the other – Angel Interceptor, Goldfinger and Oh Yeah. Whenever Ash found form they were hard to resist. They seemed very close to the audience as well because of their youth. It was as if a schoolmates group had somehow gone all the way.

  14. 39
    Rory on 3 Feb 2014 #

    #31: The Song Reader website is worth a visit, because it (now) has a good selection of listeners’ interpretations of the songs. If you “sort by most loved” you get a reasonable bunch of them.

    Alternatively, YouTube has some live versions by the man himself: Sorry and Heaven’s Ladder, or ten tracks played by Beck and friends live at the Barbican last July.

  15. 40
    Rory on 3 Feb 2014 #

    (Whoops, my link-heavy post triggered the moderation queue…)

  16. 41
    swanstep on 3 Feb 2014 #

    @rory, 39. Thanks for that link, I’ll check it out.
    @punctum, 37. Excellent, I’m impressed. I believe that both Corea and Beck are scientologists, although B’s connection to it seems weaker (apparently it’s something his family did rather than something he’s been won over to). That said, knowing about the Scien. connection, you never hear ‘In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey’ the same way again.

  17. 42
    swanstep on 4 Feb 2014 #

    If anyone hasn’t seen Beck cut it up live then this performance of Debra (the track that gave Flight of The Conchords their career) at, of all things, a Fashion Awards show may be mind-opening.

  18. 43
    Cumbrian on 4 Feb 2014 #

    #36: Rory, thanks very much for this post. Very good, very convincing. I, perhaps obviously, don’t hold the same associations with it as you do – for me, it is a straight break up album – though you present a cogent argument for looking at it through a post 9/11 lense, it might be something that I have to have (yet another) listen to and think of it in those terms.

    Up until now, I have regarded it purely as a relationship/break up album and, in that respect, whilst it does a good job of establishing a mood of melancholy, it all feels a bit one note. Compared to stuff like Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love or Graham Coxon’s Love Travels At Illegal Speeds, there’s just nothing that grabs my ears, with everything just drifting past – like a mumble-core Sundance movie, invoking the right mood, reflecting the right feelings but difficult for me to engage with. Some of this is also, perhaps, my reaction to his persona around Odelay and Midnite Vultures (annoying hipster I said earlier – perhaps more charitable, would be Puckish) with the artifice making it difficult to take this stuff at face value from him. This is doubtless my fault to an extent.

    Maybe I have never been in the right mood for it when I have listened to it and just not got it. My fault too, I guess. Might be an album I need to return to when I am in the mood for watching something like Blue Valentine, as well as giving it a listen in a more considered light.

  19. 44
    Rory on 6 Feb 2014 #

    Thanks, Cumbrian. I hope I will have helped unlock for you some of the fine qualities I hear in it, whenever you do return to it.

    On listening to it a second time yesterday, I couldn’t believe that I failed to mention the lyrics to “Paper Tiger” as Exhibit A in my Case for a 9/11 Interpretation: No more ashes to ashes / No more cinders from the sky… O deserts down below us / And storms up above… We’re just holding on to nothing / To see how long nothing lasts.

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