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Mar 14

OLIVE – “You’re Not Alone”

Popular85 comments • 8,672 views

#767, 17th May 1997

Olive “You’re Not Alone” walks a line between the mind-expanding and the tediously polite, a nexus point for a handful of mid-90s trends and ideas. There’s trip-hop in the mildly skippy beats, or at least what was left of trip-hop after all the scuzzy, stoned, party-friendly elements had been siphoned off elsewhere. There’s the well-groomed soul of the Lighthouse Family in the songwriting – particularly the drab verses: when I started my business career, the Lighthouse Family had already become the conference call and lobby music of choice, and they were more than fit for purpose. And there’s Everything But The Girl’s “Missing”, too, a dance track whose yearning, thoughtful tone had earned it plenty of post-club usage. As the rave generation settled into their mid-20s and beyond, the music of the chill out room found its way out of the club and into the home.

Olive – whose main songwriter Tim Kellett had even worked for the Lighthouse Family – feel part of this rather tepid moment, but there’s a little more happening here. Mood music shares DNA with new age, and as such it’s easy for a group to take a step or two towards the mystical. Olive’s shifting, echoed chords and promise to “stay till the end of time” are as spooky as they are soothing, and the multi-tracked keening at the end is an eerie moment, making the title a warning as much as a reassurance. But the song, in the end, is too slight to make much of its haunting elements: its sense of the uncanny proves a wisp, something easily forgotten in the cold light of, well, whatever you listen to next.

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Comments

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  1. 31
    James BC on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #24 is a bit unfair on Morcheeba – they weren’t just a watered-down version of Massive Attack or whoever. The way they mixed slide guitar and other organic sounds with programmed stuff, on the first two albums at least, has dated remarkably well to my ear.

    Later on they started going for songs rather than sounds and the songwriting wasn’t really up to it (Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day), which is probably where the bad reputation comes from.

  2. 32
    Alan on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Can someone with music-technique savvy describe what ‘a happening in the ‘delayed beat’ effect of the main synth hook. Is it just that? Something unusual is happening there, right?

  3. 33
    Chelovek na lune on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #31 Morcheeba’s problem: building their reputation through two, subtle, intriguing, appealing albums (I was first introduced to them by a friend who’d heard them in the rather decadent clubs of Moscow c. 1998) – and then, having come to public attention [in the UK], blowing it on the third, by dabbling with mostly fairly mediocre pop. Still, their fourth album, “Charango” was a rather enormous return to form, if anyone noticed it…

  4. 34
    Izzy on 3 Mar 2014 #

    32: no musicologist, but I think what it is is that the synths are playing triplets, which the strong delayed beat is doubling into six-beats-where-four-should-be, emphasised further by it being the strongest element in the mix that’s operating to a different metre. It’s an effect I first noticed with the snare on PJ Harvey’s ‘Dress’, and is very disorientating.

    Plus the echo is so strong that the stress is in quite the wrong place. The effect in the chorus is almost like two separate tracks playing at once.

  5. 35
    hardtogethits on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #15. Ruth-Ann BOYLE.

  6. 36
    Rory on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Somewhere out there, Ruth-Ann Kelly and Tom Keenan are fronting an Olive tribute band.

  7. 37
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Kenan And Kel!

  8. 38
    punctum on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #35: Your capitalised correction looks somehow angrier than mine (and mine wasn’t angry at all). Do you find that you get angry about quite a lot of things quite a lot of the time?

  9. 39
    leveret on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #32, 34 – I could be wrong, but I think each note played by the synth/sampler is also reversed so that each begins with the ‘fade’ and then comes to a sharp end. If so, it’s a bit like the technique used by Stephen Street to create some of the ‘abbatoir noises’ on the title track of Meat is Murder (of all things).

  10. 40
    iconoclast on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Hmm. There’s definitely something in this, in particular the way the gentle singing delivers the title hook in the chorus, and it would have been far better if it had been taken in a more atmospheric direction befitting its mood rather than drowning it in the genre-mandated electronic drums and staccato keyboards. As it is, the verses sound underwritten, and the overall effect is of two completely different songs played at once in the hope that they’ll work together, which they unfortunately don’t. Should have been more, but a mere FIVE.

  11. 41
    Izzy on 3 Mar 2014 #

    39: I don’t know if they were first, but the Beatles were fond of backwards sounds (vocal on Rain, guitar on Tomorrow Never Knows, percussion on Strawberry Fields Forever). Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks is supposed to do amazing things with backwards echo, but tbh I’ve never been able to identify it (if anyone can help, I’d love a pointer).

    Backwards cymbal is a common production trick, unnecessarily so imv as a closing hihat produces a similar but much more controlled and pleasing effect.

  12. 42
    sükråt tanned rested unlogged and awesome on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Of the top of my head, I can think no reverse-tape effects in pop prior to Revolver. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop had certainly routinely used them — possibly even on the original Doctor Who theme-tune — and the idea was well known to musique concrete composers in the 50s, when the switch was made from vinyl disc to magnetic tape. It’s certainly curious that it didn’t appear sooner in a pop context: loops had after all been been used (in the sense of repeat gags, like “Wipeout!” in the Surfaris’ “Wipeout”, 1963). It may just be that studio-time was too expensive for experiments that basically required dismantling the machinery — whereas Stockhausen or the Radiophonic Workshop were there to experiment and had anyway built their own studios from scratch and weren’t renting them by the hour, most pop outfits before 1966 were working on much tighter margins, and hence in and out of a studio much too quickly, with no standing to require that the engineers be as playful as them. But the Beatles by then pretty much lived in Abbey Road, time no object, so the rental issue didn’t really arise — plus EMI more or less gave George Martin carte blanche, and experiment became possible.

  13. 43
    Alan not logged in on 3 Mar 2014 #

    (hells bells, the internet can be scary some times – i just duckduckgo’d “reverse synth olive’s you’re not alone” and got sukrat’s comment from just 40 mins ago)

  14. 44
    Cumbrian on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #43: Aside from it being the most comprehensive answer to this vital question in the history of the Internet, aren’t search algorithms now set up to identify the types of sites that you regularly go to and “promote” them up the order of what you might see when you search for stuff? So, beforehand, it might have been that that answer was in the search engine but on page 4 but, knowing your internet habits, cookies, etc, it’s been helpfully bunged on page 1.

    Or do I, on search engines as with much else, know nothing and have grasped the wrong end of the stick?

  15. 45
    Tom on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Nah you’re right except IIRC duckduckgo’s USP is specifically to avoid that filter bubble effect – it’s search results are “clean”. Though recency probably plays a part.

    It’s a good point about the Beatles – that their innovation isn’t just a case of having great ideas but of having the R&D budget/commitment to realise them.

  16. 46
    Cumbrian on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Cool. First I have heard of duckduckgo. Should probably be using them more often – especially at work, so as I can get find stuff more easily from outside my usual circle of suppliers, etc.

  17. 47
    Alan not logged in on 3 Mar 2014 #

    the only thing I find DDGo lacks is a replacement for or quick link into google’s image search

  18. 48
    flahr on 3 Mar 2014 #

    #23 – I reckon Settle could give it a run for its money.

    #38 – “The Popular comments feed is now brought to you by ELIZA”

  19. 49
    Speedwell54 on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Flahr – very funny comment re 38.
    Those capitals look a bit angry. Why do think those capitals look angry?

    You’re Not Alone – 8

  20. 50
    Garry on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Another “Oh THAT track” moment for me. It all comes flooding back, the song and the sound of the era. The start of the post-rave era at the pop level, not that I ever raved. Over time the this sound would place a heavier emphasis on the acoustic: Moloko, onto Turing Brakes etc, but in 1997 we were in the last vestiges of large creative underground electronic scenes and it was from here the chills came.

    I’ve felt it was around 1997 tracks sounded like they were being produced for compilations rather than compilations being assemblages of disparate elements. I always find it interesting comparing the first couple of Cafe Del Mar albums to both the later ones and the slew of Ibiza titled comp which subsequently came out on Ministry of Sound etc. A producer could just slap down some strings, a Spanish guitar and a few wave noises and get picked for a comp.

    (Meanwhile the creative edge of underground electronica turned towards glitch, which only had one endpoint – samples got smaller and smaller until the whole scene, and the last vestiges of the the great 90s electronic exploration disappeared into nothingness. Or so it felt to me.)

    I’m not saying Olive is part of this continuum of deliberate commercialisation, but as the sounds of the underground leached upwards and cross-pollinated with Massive Attack/Portishead-isms leaching downwards, some bands were at the right place at the right time. This was trip-hop’s year.

    I have a far better memory of Lamb from this period, after being introduced to them via the remixes of Kruder and Dorfmeister and Fila Brazillia etc which appeared on Cafe del Mars and Rebirth of Cools etc

    I always felt Lamb had a bit of a cult following, at least here in Australia. I started my radio program in August 1997, and over the next 7 years one of the few requests I got was from Lamb. There was a girl who used to ring up and request them but only once every 18 months. Those few phone calls were the only times I heard from her. It was her interest which led me to track down a full album and give them a spin. I liked their schtick though it is the better known tracks – Gorecki, Trans-Fatty Acid etc stayed with me.

  21. 51
    23 Daves on 3 Mar 2014 #

    Oddly, I thought that this was an incredibly bland and uninteresting piece of coffee table music first time around, but having listened to it again just now I actually quite enjoyed it. Snobbishness may have played a part in my dismissal of it in ’97, since it was widely name checked by the kind of people who name dropped Morcheeba to appear faintly ‘out there’ (I’m older and less irksome these days).

    I’ll agree with the observations that the minimal verses of this song drag it down and stop it from being a great record (rather than merely a quite good one) but the chorus, and most especially the eerie, psychedelic mixing of the keyboards, is far better and more effective than I remember. I’m not sure if someone’s said this already or Tom has eluded to it, but there’s the faintest wisp of “Johnny Remember Me” to this – and certainly the use of echo and bizarre keyboard effects make me feel as if it’s a low-budget record where a lot of the cheap but well-used studio gimmickry is at least half of what hooks the listener in.

    I’m in a quandry about how to mark this now. I came in pretty sure I was going to give it a 4, but it may be a 6 or nearer a 7… I’m actually half-tempted to download it, but I’m not really sure there’s enough to it to keep me interested for long.

    Also just listened to the follow-up “Outlaw”. Now that really IS nothing special.

  22. 52
    Garry on 3 Mar 2014 #

    To touch on Everything But The Girl – the cover of Walking Wounded haunted me – it is perhaps the record cover which most places me into the middle 90s.

    The title track is majestic, but I would say that as I am a huge fan of Spring Heel Jack. By contrast the remix by Omni Trio – the brightest, happiest drum n bass act ever – didn’t feel right.

  23. 53
    Nixon on 4 Mar 2014 #

    OLIVE STORY THAT GOES NOWHERE ALERT

    I remember, when I arrived at uni that autumn, a few months after this hit #1, the union was absolutely covered in Olive posters, some sort of poster campaign competition tie-in with some product or other (possibly a soft drink or something… my mind wants to say Drench, maybe? This is going well, isn’t it?), and the text made it sound like they were superstars rather than one hit wonders.

    I can’t remember what one had to do in the competition, but there were prizes galore to be had (“loads of Olive stuff – and if you win the top prize, Olive will come and play at your uni!”) Even then, just a few months later, I found it difficult to believe anyone was going to be excited by this prospect.

    /STORY

  24. 54
    Nixon on 4 Mar 2014 #

    #19 The much-missed Trish Keenan was the lead singer of Broadcast, if that’s what was going through your mind, Tom?

  25. 55
    Baztech. on 4 Mar 2014 #

    My god. Listened to this and similar songs because of this forum and when chorus hit on Grace “Not Over Yet” I was reminded of delirious times dancing in Liquid Rooms in wonderful Edinburgh during my student days.

    This was due to Klaxons making a “rock/indie” version of it in 2007. Was not aware it was a pilfered sound (OK not quite “step on” levels, but I am still shocked I didn’t know). Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4yxoHwNzEE

    Apologies for the rather esoteric post.

  26. 56
    Ed on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Gorecki is lovely, but I always get Lamb mixed up with this lot, who I like even more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lpTkSs009A

  27. 57
    Ed on 4 Mar 2014 #

    And I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned this lot yet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WZgpvFL5f0

    Surely the album that defined the rave -> coffee table continuum?

  28. 58
    wichitalineman on 4 Mar 2014 #

    Only if you think Higher Than The Sun is coffee table.

  29. 59
    23 Daves on 4 Mar 2014 #

    I may have mentioned this on “Popular” before, but a year or so ago I was in a branch of HMV and they were playing the latest old-school mid-nineties “Greatest 90s Club Hits In The World Ever!” CD over their sound system. I didn’t hear this one, but I did find myself strangely enjoying all kinds of unlikely candidates, stuff I’d have cocked a snook at during the period. It could be that my taste has changed in the intervening years, but a more likely explanation is that a lot of these records were heavily played in the kind of small provincial clubs I went to – cheap places where people often went to carry on drinking past midnight rather than specifically to dance. Therefore, they soundtracked a lot of pleasant moments for me.

    So with stuff like Olive, which was really heavily played at the time, it’s hard to say whether I’m enjoying the single itself now or enjoying the sense of time and place it evokes. This may continue to be a problem until we get to about mid ’98 or so, after which my life took a much more broke, less socially active turn.

  30. 60
    swanstep on 4 Mar 2014 #

    New to me as of a few days ago, “You’re Not Alone” is proving to be quite a grower. Still, it’s not obviously better than a whole bunch of things from around the same time that never got anywhere near the top of the charts. I’m thinking of things EBTG’s ‘Before Today’ , Lush’s ‘Last Night’, but even things like St Et’s album opener ‘Wood Cabin’ are in the ballpark (and all in fact rule my heart in a way that ‘You’re not Alone’ never will). For another example, I really dug Bows’ album in 1999, e.g., King Deluxe, but as far as I know they never had any chart action whatsoever. So it seems to me strange and wholly capricious that Olive got all this attention. That said, I think I now prefer YNA to Sneaker Pimps’ ‘6 Underground’ which was the lone trip-hop-light track that I remember getting any push in the US on MTV in 1997/8. For that surprise sharp chord in the chorus pattern:
    6 or 7 (mood-dependent)

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