“When the Album was finished and delivered to the label around April time 1996 we were told that it was going to be shelved. There really was no explanation as to why.”
(Carl Lonsdale, “Here is Unfenced Existence“, 2018)
The decision by Mercury Records to shelve the debut album from Hull Britpoppers, Soda, back in 1996 has now been officially recognised as a crime against music lovers by the United Nations. That inexplicable decision meant that one of the best bands of the era were relegated to little more than an afterthought when the history of the time has been written about. Many “authorities” on the era wouldn’t even be able to tell you the name of any of the singles they released let alone tell you the story of the band. That really is something that causes me sleepless nights.
Ocean Reid, Liam Maloy, Mike Milner, Chris Charlton and Carl Lonsdale had entered the Britpop fray in 1994 after a name change (previously they had been Mind Garden…but let’s say no more about that) and a self-funded single they began to generate a bit of buzz and before too much longer they had a deal and the world at their feet. Personal disasters, industry machinations and a cluttered field of bands all contributed to their demise and their relegation from contenders to couldabeens.
Thankfully though things have taken a surprising turn in the past twelve months with the unreleased album being made available for the first time.
And what an album it is.
Eleven songs in total.
Eleven nuggets of powerful, playful, punk, pop splendour.
A chance to hear what all the hype had been about and decide for ourselves if it was justified.
“Artificial Flavour” deserves its place in this list of the forty greatest albums of the time…and if this list were being ranked then it would find itself comfortably within the top twenty.
I spent a lot of my adolescence living in a nowhere doing and doing nowhere things. Wandering up and down the High Street, playing pool, kicking a ball about in the lock-ups behind my home and, more than anything, wondering what it would be like to be in a band.
Hours and hours I spent in front of the mirror, ignoring the acne, focusing on mimicking the moves of all the boys in all the bands I loved. That meant I would try to do that dance Rick Astley does, whirl and twirl like Andy Bell (from Erasure…), flail like a demented Morrissey, pogo like Weller…imagining crowds of adoring fans reaching out to me.
Because I didn’t want to have an ordinary life.
I wanted to be…someone.
Good being a teenager right?
No, not really…not for the likes of me.
A fish out of water.
Being in a band seemed like it could be a form of healing and a revenge on the small town and small minds that made some days intolerable.
Truthfully though I knew that it wasn’t going to happen…or at least I didn’t believe that it could happen for me.
So I didn’t try.
Listening to Soda is hearing the sound of kids who did try, kids who were not prepared to just accept the way things were. There is a ferocity to almost everything…a desperate desire to at least give it a go, knowing that if it didn’t work out they could hold their heads up high and say, “At least we tried.”. If things had worked out differently then they would have achieved much more than that.
I tell you what I hear when I listen to “Artifical Flavour”…hope.
Here are my three favourite tracks…
Album opener “One Sweet Lie” is a furious, eager, romp of adrenaline fuelled power pop that suggests the listener is in safe hands. The band sound, at the risk of sounding like a dreadful muso type, tight…everything just clicks and seems to fit. I know how that sounds…like a load of pretentious tosh but what I’m getting at is that Soda were no gang of chancers, they were a band who could play and write the sort of pop music that makes them worthy of your adoration.
The best known track is, probably, the single “The Young Town The Town” which starts off like “Kick out the Jams” by the MC5 before spiralling into the sort of high camp, glam stomp, youth over substance giddiness that all the best records sound like. When Ocean Reid sings the greatest joy is in the fact that his Northern accent can be heard loud and proud.Is there any sweeter sound than a Hull vowel? No.
“One Track Mind” is the sort of orchestral manoeuvre in the dark that the likes of Elcka and The Dandy’s started trading in a few years later. It’s a grand, near overblown, sweeping and swooning piece of pop that deserved to be a set closer…after a sell out at Wembley. Instead it acts as a stunning reminder of the potential that Soda had and that we were robbed of.
Listen to the sound of the drums on “Destroy This Young Creation”, thrill to the sneer of “No Ordinary Boy”, nod in agreement to “…their lives are so shallow, so narrow” on “The Prettiest Souls”, try not to sing along to “Dragging you into my Dreams”…even on the first listen…marvel at the wilful hysteria of “Down” and be grateful that it makes you feel the exact opposite way, delight at the delicate beauty of “Let Myself Slip” and ask yourself what the Hell was going on when they wrote “Soda Sound One”.
When you have done all of that head HERE to order a copy of “Artificial Flavour”.
You can thank me later.