File Under Unpopular: 90s Albums Revisited
We all have them don’t we? The albums we brought off the back of one great single or on a whim but as soon as we got them home and pressed play couldn’t figure out why we’d bothered? They were the records, cassettes and CD’s set aside for another day, except that day never came so they slipped to the bottom of the pile, quietly forgotten. Cleaning out my garage recently, desperate for more space to store even more shite, I came across a hoard of long gone albums erased from my memory. Perhaps the time had come to give them that one last chance; the one they’d been denied all those years ago.
THE KLF / CHILL OUT (February 1990)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘3 AM (Somewhere Out Of Beaumont)’
In the early 80’s, Chill Out was exactly the type of DIY experimentation non-musicians strove for but didn’t have the wit, gumption or technology to achieve. Back then originality was supposedly everything and lifting huge chunks of well known records was a definite no-no. How Ironic then that having absolutely no desire to be original made Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty the most original of the lot.
That said, I know exactly why I would have put Chill Out to one side. Detailing an imaginary journey along the Gulf Coast of America, it may well be acknowledged as one of the first and greatest works of ambient rave, and in small doses it certainly has its moments, but in its entirety Chill Out is an almost beatless snoozeathon where spotting the next recognisable sample soon becomes the sole source of excitement. Sticking on his king size headphones and adopting his legendary horizontal position, my old man would have loved it.
JAH WOBBLE’S INVADERS OF THE HEART / RISING ABOVE BEDLAM (October 1991)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Everyman’s An Island’
I will always retain a soft spot for Jah Wobble, if only for his massive contribution to Pil’s Metal Box. Having dipped in and out of his solo stuff, I found Rising Above Bedlam in a bargain bin and convinced myself to buy it largely because of Sinead O’Connor’s appearance on ‘Visions Of You’, one of those rare singles adored by everyone. As for the rest, unlike other early attempts at merging world music with pop production, they all manage to sound natural without taking themselves too seriously, the Middle Eastern influence on ‘Everyman’s An Island’ alone making it a real pleasure.
APHEX TWIN / SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85-92 (February 1992)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘We Are The Music Makers’
In 1982, alongside esoteric pioneers like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, I may well have loved Selected Ambient Works 85-92 but a decade later, tainted by the hype of Warp Records Intelligent Dance Music rhetoric, dysfunctional geek Richard D. James overrated, repetitious instrumentals reminded me just a little too much of muzak. It’s no surprise then that in 2014 they still do, the only highlight being ‘We Are The Music Makers’ and Gene Wilder’s immortal line from the 1971 film version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
DIGABLE PLANETS / REACHIN’ (A NEW REFUTATION OF TIME & SPACE) (September 1993)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘La Femme Fetal’
I wasn’t the only one who let the Digable Planets debut fall by the wayside. Check out any best of music lists, hip hop or otherwise, and Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time & Space) is nowhere. So what happened? Maybe we were all put off by the acid artwork or the Digable one’s dippy hippy rap names of Butterfly, Doodlebug and Ladybug. Whatever it was I wish I’d made the effort to get reacquainted sooner because Reachin’ is so full of great samples, vibes and tunes it stands as a refreshing reminder of how hip hop credibility didn't have to rely on how many times you'd been shot or how much bling you wore. This underrated trio existed for the sheer love of it, alternating brilliantly between their own unique brand of humour and the underlying seriousness of tracks like ‘La Femme Fetal’. Without a doubt one of my favourite ‘unpopular’ albums!
THE PRODIGY / MUSIC FOR THE JILTED GENERATION (July 1994)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Poison’
Once blamed for the death of rave, in 1993 The Prodigy were a group with no obvious future. Then came Music For The Jilted Generation, a vague concept album protesting against the establishment crackdown on rave culture. Almost overnight The Prodigy became the rallying point for a mass audience of losers desperate for a rebel music to call their own. While it’s impossible to believe now, for one brief moment that record presented the real possibility of a radical agitprop based around electronic dance.
It never materialised of course. These things never do. Besides, with the merest whiff of fame and riches, The Prodigy became just another bunch of greedy cunts only too happy to see their utopian ministry of sound turn into a branded nightclub as institutionalised and corrupt as the establishment they had once despised. So, no matter how loud, hard and sophisticated the metal machine dance music of Music For The Jilted Generation maybe, the hypocrisy of its makers still sours it’s greatness.
2PAC/ ME AGAINST THE WORLD (March 1995)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘So Many Tears’
The real Tupac Shakur was never the gangsta thug supreme that rap fans and the media so desperately wanted him to be. But like the fool I am, I fell for the exact same bullshit and ditched Me Against The World as soon as I possibly could. Born to Black Panther parents, Tupac’s childhood had been steeped not only in the civil rights movement, black pride and black consciousness but also in poetry, Shakespeare plays and British invasion 80’s pop. When I played it again recently, remembering all that provided a different perspective, challenging me to dig a little deeper, beyond the usual gangsta-isms, to find a resigned defiance, political awareness and intelligence I had been either too indoctrinated or too dumb to notice before.
UNDERWORLD / SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS (March 1996)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Pearl’s Girl’
Just how useful an anodyne album like Second Toughest In The Infants could ever be is debatable. I mean why would anyone bother? More to the point; why did I? The thing is, I can’t even remember how it came to be in my possession. To gloss over my excuses and fast forward almost two decades, I chose to play it, almost certainly for the first time, on a flight back from Spain. And I must say, when the mental techno synced with the turbulence, and the mellower tracks soothed my brow as I nodded off, I felt sure I had found a use for it after all. The only problem is that soundtracks for cheap, routine flights by their very nature are generally as forgettable and boring as the flights themselves.
CHEMICAL BROTHERS / DIG YOUR OWN HOLE (March 1997)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’
Has anyone noticed that when people go all misty eyed about 90’s techno they invariably mean white techno, the type dished up for Britpop kids by Underworld, Fatboy Slim, Bentley Rhythm Ace and the Chemical Brothers? I guess there may be a whole other piece to be written about the secret racism of the 90’s techno scene but right here right now is not the time or the place. Anyway, Dig Your Own Hole must have been an unwanted Xmas pressie because it even had his holiness Lord Noely Gobshite Gallagher on it for Christ’s sake. In truth, I only resurrected Dig Your Own Hole for ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel’ and its burgeoning reputation as a modern day psychedelic classic. And I must admit it is rather groovy in a predictable, very Trad Rock and of course, very white kind of way. As for the other ten tracks? Who cares?
TRICKY / ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (May 1998)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Broken Homes’
Another album bought off the back of a much loved predecessor that went so beyond what I expected that it made for extremely uncomfortable listening, like taking a peek inside a friend’s private diary only to be disturbed by the contents. Whereas Maxinquaye had been a part of the subtle Bristol based conspiracy to transform pop culture, Angels With Dirty Faces was a dark, disturbed beast of a record that defied fashion, dumped trip hop and mumbled to itself about society’s decay, poverty, racism, fame and the overpowering pressure of life in the late 20th Century.
I had no doubt it was a masterpiece but in 1998, having recently discovered a higher state of domestic bliss, I was reluctant to allow it into my life for fear of travelling too far into my
own heart of darkness. Even now it’s a tough listen. Tricky had clearly been to some bad places, met some bad people and done some terrible things, but for pure artistic inventiveness Angels With Dirty Faces is incomparable to any other 90’s album and that includes Maxinquaye.
XTC / APPLE VENUS VOLUME 1 (February 1999)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘River Of Orchids’
Playing these rediscovered albums in chronological order, Apple Venus Volume One came as some much needed light relief after the joyless brilliance of Tricky. XTC’s first album for seven years, Andy Partridge was far more interested in a semi mythical, pagan Britain than in grim reality. Yet I still didn’t play it that much. Now I have, the only album I’ve ever known to start with the sound of a water drop reveals itself as a magical, audacious recording of lush orchestrations and odd time signatures, songs like ‘River Of Orchids’, ‘Easter Theatre’, ‘Greenman’ and ‘Harvest Festival’ only divulging their innermost secrets over multiple plays. What a fine way to end a decidedly dodgy decade!