Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

A synthesis, but what a synthesis: the plummy ballerina swoop of Kate Bush, the exotic drift of Liz Fraser, and – the real genius touch – the sensible suburban pleasantness of a hundred Sarah Records sad-eyed shufflers. One foot in the stars and the other in, I don’t know, Croydon, Harriet Wheeler is a uniquely likeable singer, bringing breathstealing grace into the service of the everyday, taking pop out of the hands of the poets and letting it sing the kitchen sink. One of her girl-next-door songs of defiance or desire is worth a thousand Tori Amos conundrums, easy.

Like, for example, “Goodbye”. Often Wheeler sounds tongue-tied as much as tongue-talking, but here she plays it faiely straight, breaking into flight in the lovely middle eight, but otherwise giving a typically understated performance. What gives her the edge over almost every other indie-pop singer is her phrasing. Even at her most gorgeous and baroque, Wheeler somehow still sounds conversational, like she’s sitting at a kitchen table, hands comfortably clasped around a hot cup of tea, and suddenly this impossibly pretty sound flows out where there should be chatter and gossip. So she sings “Those stories were a good read / But they were dumb as well” with a commonsense forthrightness even as she’s turning “These stories” into a rich, heady lunge and “dumb as well” into filigree.

David Gavurin, excellent songwriter though he is, is considerably simpler to pin down: Johnny Marr, only somewhat feyer. Unassumingly melodic, his careful, intricate guitar pop is an ideal backdrop for his partner’s cartwheeling. “Goodbye” is a top piece of craftsmanship and all credit to him. But it’s the voice that makes it. The Sundays’ lack of output, and their essential gentility, have made Harriet Wheeler probably the most underrated singer of the 90s. “Goodbye” is a pearl, and she is a marvel.