Lost Alternatives – Steve Lamacq #2


“Most alternative music lived underground. It made a lot of noise, but no-one in the mainstream could hear it…. The nineties would see it go so much further than many of us expected. It wasn’t just the popularity of alternative music which would change; the music was constantly reinventing itself too, sucking in influences from different genres and different eras.
And that brings us to this compilation…Create a compilation which tries to dig a little deeper; which attempts to give another side of the nineties, which wasn’t Cool Britannia, Laddism, and Blur Vs Oasis. What’s here represents, at least one version, of the evolution of guitar music through the nineties, as told, not by the big hits, but by the limited edition singles, The Evening Session cult favourites and the bands who maybe never made it, but in some cases never wanted to anyway.”

(Steve Lamacq, from sleeve notes to “Lost Alternatives)

Disc two of “Lost Alternatives” kicks off with a a visit to the neglected, and even occasionally maligned, New Wave of New Wave.  A scene who, judged by its name alone, is worthy of nothing but the most blistering of ridicule and contempt.  But, go beyond the awfulness of the name and the fact it was clearly, yet another, contrived “scene” that wasn’t really a scene and their are gems to be found.

Gems like “Real Surreal” by S*M*A*S*H and “Speeed King” by These Animal Men.  Both bands were soaked in punk and post-punk.  S*M*A*S*H were certainly the more political of the two railing against misogyny, dreaming of the, literal, end of a whole gaggle of Tory politicians and generally coming over like a more strident Billy Bragg being supported by The Sex Pistols.  T.A.M were a slightly less cerebral affair…a pop band wrapped up in uppers and Adidas.

The earliest rumblings of Britpop are represented by Suede, The Auteurs, Elastica and Sleeper.

It is difficult to imagine now quite how big a deal “The Drowners” by Suede was back in 1992 but trust me…it was a really big deal.  Suede were a genuinely dangerous proposition at that point; androgynous, glamorous and glam, foppish at a time of, often times brutal, machismo, arcane and furiously modern at the same time.  For young people in Britain who just didn’t understand the hype around Nirvana and their ilk, Suede offered hope.  The cover art alone was just about the most thrilling thing to happen in British music since The Smiths stuck a naked man on the cover of “Hand in Glove” in 1846…or something.

The Sleeper track “Alice in Vain” is their first single and it contains everything that would propel them to the Premier League of Britpop and cement their position as one of the most loved bands of the era.  When they reunited to play the Star Shaped festival in 2017 the reaction of the crowd was frenzied…like when England made it to the semi-finals of the World Cup but with better clothes, more style and a more interesting person leading the line.  “Alice…” is catchy, clever and exhilarating.  The fact that they are now back recording new music and playing live again means that 2019 promises to be much better than anyone had any reason to suspect it would be.

Lamacq has also found room to include some bands who recorded some dazzling and delightful music at this time.  Bands and songs who were lost, or ignored, because of the behemoth that was Blur vs Oasis.  Bands like Whiteout, who are represented here with “Starrclub” from their album “Bite It”.  It sounds like Teenage Fanclub if, instead of The Byrds, they had listened to too much T-Rex.  It is a chunky, funky, cheeky monkey of a record.

One of my favourite bands are also here, Salad.

This can only ever be described as a wonderful thing.

The more people who get the chance to hear them the better.

I am firmly of the belief that we can make the world a better place if everyone could just commit to starting their day by listening to “Drink the Elixir”.

Just imagine a world where instead of starting the day with meetings about immigration, war and general unpleasantness the likes of Donald Trump were taken into a room with a glitter ball and were instructed to bop around like a maniac for four minutes to this spiky and slightly peculiar pop song.

The slightly more frenetic side of Britpop is here with Snuff and their manic, demented and brass soaked “Caught in Session” which, listening to it as I write this, I think I would quite like to have played at my funeral.  The only problem is that might mean having to ditch “Happy Shopper” by 60ft Dolls who (whisper it) were the best Welsh band of the Britpop era.  Maybe I could have both if we keep the eulogy short.  I’ll leave it to you lot to sort.  What doesn’t need sorted is for us all to acknowledge that it was records like this that made the nineties music scene…fun.

Quite how “Are You Blue or Are You Blind?” has made it onto a compilation of “lost” anything’s is beyond me.  The Bluetones are such a part of my memories from this time, arguably the soundtrack to the entire period, that all of their songs seem to be number one hits to rival “Love is All Around” by Wet Wet Wet for longevity in my mind.  Of course it didn’t get to number one, because people are idiots (not you lot…other people), but its shimmering, jingly-jangly, sixties sounding glories have not diminished with the passing of time, and all of its sickening crimes, but have, instead, grown shimmier, jinglier, janglier and sixties-er.

Disc two of “Lost Alternatives” proves, beyond any doubt, that this point in British music history was a time of joy, optimism, creativity and peculiarity going mainstream.  I cannot imagine any other point when a band like Salad or a gang of kids from Greenock like Whiteout could have grabbed a moment in the spotlight.  Steve Lamacq was there of course and so he understands, better than most, quite how wonderful the whole damn thing was.

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