“Try to remember the time for the rest of your life is close by,
Christ, I’ve remembered again
That the rest of my life’s wandering by…
No-one will love you in a thousand years.”
(Strangelove, “Time for the Rest of Your Life”, 1994)
Bristol isn’t a city that enjoys the sort of attention for music that the likes of Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and London do. That’s unfair because over the years there have been several really interesting, peculiar, groundbreaking and influential acts to have crawled from the Tote End Road to stardom. The Brilliant Corners, Portishead, Massive Attack, The Pop Group, Ben Gunstone and Tricky are a few of the Brizzle contingent to have made their way into the ears and hearts of the nation. A variety of sounds and styles but bound together by a willingness to look at the darker side of life. If misery loves company it must feel very much at home in the home of the Gas, outrageous and free that is Bristol.
Strangelove were Bristol’s contribution to Britpop. Except they were never really Britpop…they were something…else. Something other. Alongside the likes of Marion, Elcka and Mansun they presented an alternative vision of what British pop was; eccentric, outsider art, edgy, troubled and yet still wedded to the notion of motion and emotion in the music.
Melody makers each and every one.
Soundtracks to the lives of others.
“Get in the car, you’re going to be a pop star.”
(David Francolini to Patrick Duff in 1991)
After David Francolini bundled Duff into the back of his car they headed to an attic room rehearsal space and recorded their first song. Less than a year later Strangelove released the “Visionary E.P”. A collection of four songs that sounded exactly like…well, that was the thing, they didn’t sound like anything or anyone else. They were gothic without being goth, they were grand and yet intimate, they were bold but delicate. The only thing they sounded like was Strangelove and, at that point, nobody knew who, or what, that was.
They soon would.
I remember hearing “Time for the Rest of Your Life”, the lead single from the debut album of the same name, and feeling a sense of tremendous relief and gratitude. I was relieved that there was a band who were not using the first Madness album as their only reference point and I was grateful that they were speaking directly to my heart. I loved the sunshine, the glamour, the laddish larks, the carefree wonder of Britpop but at home, alone, in the night I was plagued by darker and more troubled thoughts…I felt a sense of isolation, of worthlessness and of emotional and physical pain that couldn’t be soothed by Northern Uproar. When Patrick Duff sang about nobody being able to love me in a thousand years I believed him and then when he sang that the time for the rest of my life was close by…I felt a wonderful surge of hope.
Three minute pop songs were few and far between on that first album. Strangelove were an entirely separate entity to the other bands who were making waves at this point in time. They were the sound of the morning after…the dull ache of broken hearts…the near deafening roar of the silence inside your empty room. Patrick describes them now as “experimental” and I think that’s about as good a description of what was going on as any. They were experimenting…with music, with words, with sounds, with drugs and with stardom.
The results of those experiments resulted in a second album that was the best album released during the Britpop era that wasn’t a Britpop record. Many people get very excited about “OK Computer” by Radiohead and hold it up as some sort of milestone in British popular music…progressive, experimental and blah, blah, blah. Whenever I hear anyone describe that album in those sort of terms it serves to confirm one thing for me…they haven’t heard “Love and Other Demons”, because if they had then they would have realised that “OK Computer” was nothing more than the musical equivalent of the Emperor’s new clothes.
I’m going a bit overboard with the Radiohead criticism but I’m doing it for a good reason.
You have to understand that “Love and Other Demons” is a collection of songs that are so beautiful, so full of love, so broken, so charged and so emotionally brutal that just one listen is enough to leave you gasping for air.
They’re saving up their hatred
Just for twisting knives into the back of you
You gotta help me to find
That certain something lacking here
In everybody’s life
In the city of grey and it’s meaningless day
For something or anything to wipe me away
My heads plugged in where the sun don’t shine
Walked the streets
Trying to leave her ghost behind me
I saw her face
In everything so clear
But I once loved that girl
Though she tore out the heart of me
I spent a lot of time up to the point of this albums release trying to convince myself that only Morrissey understood me…the truth is that I was trying to make myself fit the life that Morrissey was singing about. When I heard these songs, when I heard those lines I realised that the person singing in them actually did understand me…the real me. What Strangelove did was blow away the affectation and pierce the very heart of me. I listened to it over and over and over again. Each time it had the same effect. It’s the same now…over twenty years have passed and it’s the same now.
Even as I write this I’m listening to “Beautiful Alone” and I can feel tears welling up. I’m probably just tired. It’s been a long day. Or it could just be that when Smokey sings I hear violins but when Patrick sings I hear the whole orchestra…which is a line I’ve pinched from someone else about someone else but is true.
One of the most striking things about Strangelove wasn’t just the power of the lyrics or the charm and charisma of Patrick as a front man but the craft and guile of the musicians in the band. Alex Lee is one of the finest guitarists of his generation…a lot of attention is given to John Squire, Bernard Butler and Andy Bell when discussions of guitarists from that time are under way but Lee is worthy of a place at that table. The fact that he has continued to work with a variety of other bands is testament to his ability…Placebo, Goldfrapp, Suede and Florence and the Machine have all benefited from his talent. Julian Pransky-Poole didn’t just contribute a great name, he was another fine guitarist, Joe Allen laid down bass lines that drove the songs directly to your soul and John Langley was a genuinely brilliant drummer, crafting beats and rhythms that perfectly framed the riot of emotion that was raging in front of him.
Despite all of this “Love and Other Demons” failed to make a dent in the top forty and only one of the singles, “Beautiful Alone”, made it into the singles charts. While I’m fairly sure that for Patrick, and possibly the rest of the gang, chart success was less important than simply making music it troubled me at the time that a band I cared so much about were passing other people by. I was evangelical in my attempts to get other people to listen to them…including one of their tracks on every mix-tape I made, buying more than one copy of each of the singles (and on multiple formats too) and singing their praises whenever conversations turned to music.
I was a loyal and faithful disciple.
Twelve months later a third album arrived…”Strangelove”.
The lead single was “The Greatest Show on Earth” and it was as close to a Britpop record as they ever came…a pop song even. It had strings and pop culture references to Disney and Christopher Robin as well as a proper sing-along chorus. If a conscious decision had been made to be more radio friendly then it had worked as “The Greatest Show…” made it to number 36 in the charts. It seemed, at long last, that some momentum was building behind them and that the sort of success that had catapulted lesser talents to the pop stratosphere was to be theirs for the taking.
Incredibly the next single, the towering, brutal, thumping glory that is “Freak” failed to deliver a similar level of success and when the album appeared it too managed to avoid the top 40, charting at number 67. Their was a third single “Another Night In” which was a brilliantly peculiar and eccentric little gem of a song, but when it too set only the hearts of the converted alight but not those of the Gentiles the writing was on the wall and Strangelove were over.
I’ve remained true to Strangelove ever since I first placed “Time for the Rest of Your Life” onto the turntable in my desperate student accommodation in an even more desperate Scottish town in 1994. I knew from the very first listen that in Patrick Duff I had found someone I could believe in. Those songs have soundtracked some of the darkest moments and the longest nights in the years since…and I’ve been glad of their presence. If you find yourself alone or lonely and need to hear someone who understands the awfulness of that situation then turn to Strangelove, give your heart to Patrick Duff and he will comfort you.