The mid-1990’s was a curious time for popular music.
The most ambitious outsiders had managed to take control of the mainstream thanks, for the most part, to the efforts of certain journalists to look for a homegrown alternative to the hideously pervasive “grunge” scene.
The sight of middle-class children wandering the streets of this once proud nation wearing plaid shirts and trying their very best to look like the worst possible sort of trailer trash was too much for me to bare…it was a horrible time. One couldn’t move without being forced to look deep into the eyes of Kurt Cobain or his wife Ms. Love…can you imagine anything more horrible?
Fortunately the oft derided Britpop came along and provided us all with an excuse to start dressing well and having a gay old time of it…of course the whole thing was a media invention and ultimately turned sour thanks to Oasis and the arrival of “lad” culture.
As awful as the gurgling grunge scene was with its screaming trees and literally sub-pop records it wasn’t even half as vulgar as the sight of beer soaked men from Wakefield hi-jacking Manic Street Preachers concerts just so they could roar “WE ONLY WANNA GET DRUNK” during “A Design for Life”.
Ben Sherman shirts, once the staple of every young modernists wardrobe became the uniform of the sort of “men” who read “Loaded” and saw Liam Gallagher as having something to say.
I mean, really.
As Britpop turned into Britpap Simon Price of Melody Maker decided that what was needed was to take the burgeoning underground New Romantic revival in Londons clubs overground…the result?
Well no but what RoMo lacked in substance it made up for in style and, as well know, it’s style wot really matters.
Pretty boys and pretty girls getting their rocks off to elctro-pop of the sort not heard since the Human League “Dare”d us to cut our hair in the most ridiculous fashion imagineable and get all “arty”. RoMo was the antidote to lad culture. It was fey, it was sexy, it was meaningless and it was the epitome of a “scene”.
For the most part the entire RoMo scene was dreadful.
Bands like Plastic Fantastic were the equivalent of Menswe@r…a wonderful idea on paper but without the songs to support the hype.
DexDexter had a wonderful name but no real songs to accompany it.
None of them amounted to very much.
The Melody Maker gave away a free RoMo tape…”Fiddling While RoMo Burns”.
It wasn’t very good.
One track, however, was beyond being simply “good”…it was astonishing.
The track in question was “Natures Hated” by OrlandO.
“I don’t kiss and tell, I’m too fond of kissing”
What a line!
Morrissey would have been desperate for a line like that even at the peak of The Smiths powers.
The music was a glorious marriage of the Pet Shop Boys with Motowns Funk Brothers…electro-soul.
The accompanying RoMo tour was an utter disaster…I attended the Glasgow gig along with, perhaps, 20 other people. It felt a little embarrassing…until OrlandO took to the stage and held me spellbound with a set of songs each the match of “Natures Hated”
Their debut, and only, album “Passive Soul” is, quite probably, the best album released in the ’90’s. Song writer and mastermind Dickon Edwards (what a name) and Tim Chipping, the voice, arrived at the right time but within the wrong scene…RoMo was ridiculous and was the subject of much ridicule. They were doomed. The whole thing felt too contrived and was too London-centric.
This wasn’t the fault of OrlandO…they were victims of the very thing that gave them their chance. Theirs is one of pop musics great tragedies. They coulda been contenders. They coulda been somebodies.
Dickon Edwards had the ability to reduce me to tears in a single line; “I can’t bare to be where there isn’t you”, “Just for a second, you lowered your defences and confessed what the world had guessed, deep down I fear, I might actually be, unremarkable”, “So you lie afraid again, cos freedom brings only, half lives as half lived as ours”.
Tim Chipping had one of “those” voices.
It was flawed, it wobbled around the edges but it soared at times and was so fragile at others that it forced you to really listen.
“Don’t Sleep Alone”
Song titles like that deserve to find an audience.
A band who can write songs like these deserve to find fans prepared to scratch their name on their arms with a fountain pen…that means they really love them.
Here was the natural heir to Morrissey…here was a band that you could believe in.
It wasn’t to be of course.
In the hail of Oasis wannabes where even people who should have known better let themselves be swept along on the “lad” wave (hell, even JDB from the Manics produced an album for “Northern Uproar”!) there was no chance for something as beautiful and delicate as OrlandO to survive.
So, instead, they withered and died with only a handful of people noticing.
It’s a crime…a crime I tell you.
OrlandO are a band you could fall in love with and fall out of love to.
“Passive Soul” a record to treasure.