In 1988 I was living in Edinburgh in my own flat (well rented) on Comiston Road in Morningside. I’d left school in 1986, 25 years ago (numberwang – I’ve recently received an invitation to the class reunion); did a year at Napier College (of knowledge) studying accountancy (oh yeah!); a summer in Worcester – my parents moved there in summer ’86 – being a petrol pump attendant; and in August ’87 started working for Scottish Widows where I learned all about the use of hyphens and parentheses – a habit I never seem to have dropped (apart from on rare occasions).
Prior to that I lived in a flat in Albert Street off Leith Walk, scarily close to Easter Road for a Hearts fan and it was while I was living there that I was first introduced to the amazing sound of Cocteau Twins. I can’t remember why or where – it was probably a friend because I can’t imagine any of the early material being played on popular radio or in the type of clubs I was going to. Cocteau Twins music was definitely the type of thing that you’d be introduced to by a mate, almost certainly a student, probably one who’d bought in to the whole indie scene and bought anything that was coming out of the 4AD label. I think I was also impressed that the band were Scottish and that the early EPs were recorded in Edinburgh. That seemed entirely incongruous and unimaginable – most of my previous musical loves had a degree of associated glamour; the new romantic thing, The Smiths, London, Birmingham and Manchester, and before that Liverpool; that was where the great music was coming from. The only band of any consequence from Scotland in my past was The Bay City Rollers. Later on we’d end up drinking in the same bars as Robin Guthrie’s brother, who as I remember it bore a striking resemblance to Robbie Coltrane.
Cocteau Twins music was a wonderful concoction and I can’t think of another band with a similar sound. I still occasionally find myself humming the tune from ‘Pearly Dewdrops Drops’ and the titles of the songs were enough to mark the band out as a bit different.
However, by the time of HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS – COCTEAU TWINS (1990) I wasn’t buying although I do have a vague recollection that this was the ‘big’ album for the them – the one that did get them played on mainstream radio. It has all the hallmarks that I expected including the daft titles and annoyingly indecipherable lyrics. Elizabeth Frazer has a beautiful voice but I can’t really grow to love songs that I can’t understand. I know that the voice can just be an instrument but I like music that talks to me, literally. Comparing these songs with her vocals on the fantastic ‘Teardrop’ by Massive Attack, I wish that at least on occasion there was something a bit more direct in the lyrics. It’s actually more frustrating when you get little bits that make sense. I liked this album, with ‘Iceblink Luck’ probably my favourite, but I can’t imagine going back to it often – maybe as background music on a Sunday morning. Yes, that would work.
Two years earlier, and those of us who cared about these things were not long in to mourning the death of The Smiths as a band. We would not have to wait long for new Smiths related stuff, but before I get to that I’ve got to cover I’M YOUR MAN – LEONARD COHEN (1988).
I was quite surprised a couple of years ago to discover that there was much excitement when it was announced Mr C would be playing summer festival gigs in the UK (Big Chill maybe?). This album is a little bizarre, quite a surprise actually, with some sounds reminiscent of The Pet Shop Boys, and others just sounding like they were done over the backing rhythms from a yahama organ. There is something immensely likeable about this though, laid back and easy sounding I particularly liked ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Take This Waltz’. I also remember that I had heard the first track ‘First We Take Manhattan’ before, and it must have been around the time of release. My memory says that it was ex flatmate and bandmate Arthur that played it too me, and I remember being convinced that it was a cover. Or did someone else have a hit with this track around the same time? Someone tell me if you know, I could look it up but there are so many other things to do…
And so to VIVA HATE – MORRISSEY (1998). I will leave major commentary on the glorious combined work of Morrissey and Marr for another day. This album came pretty swiftly after the demise of The Smiths and was probably just sufficient to make the grade while not reaching the quite the highs that band attained, at least as far as I’m concerned. I know that there are those that think Stephen M can do no wrong but for me it’s been a steady downward slide, with only the merest hints of former glories in small doses. This album works best when I think of it as Smiths lite – the diet coke of Smiths. It’s almost got all the flavour but overall leaves me a little dissatisfied. Having said that, there is no mistaking the shining majesty of ‘Every Day is Like Sunday’, and the “hello I’m still here” of ‘Suedehead’. I can’t help wondering what could have been though. Don’t you?
BOY IN DA CORNER – DIZZEE RASCAL (2003) is another one of those on the list that I had to give a go because it’s there. I had no great draw to this, and approached in hope rather than expectation that there would be something to delight and confound my expectations. There wasn’t. I’ll just file this under ‘not for me’ and move on. ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ is ok though.
And for now I will sign off with album 231, TOGETHER ALONE – CROWDED HOUSE (1993). I’m surprised that this is the Crowded House album that made the list – if I’d been told there was one there and asked to guess which one I would have plumped for ‘WOODFACE’ as it was the one that really broke through for the band and has all those ‘classic’ Crowded House tunes on it like ‘4 Seasons in 1 Day’, ‘Fall at Your Feet’ and ‘Weather With You’. Those are the ones you remember, right?
But it’s TOGETHER ALONE that made the chart and why the hell not? Absence of multiple memorable hit singles or not, this is a great record and has great songs all the way through.
It takes me back to my second residence in London – a rented room in a shared house just outside Enfield on the outskirts of North London. Pretty horrible really, probably worse than a bedsit and a huge comedown from that flat in Morningside despite costing me as much in rent for the room as the whole place in Edinburgh. 1993 was an odd year, pretty good in many ways but also a time when I was unsettled and uncertain. I’d broken up with my girlfriend at the end of 1992 – the whole long distance thing doomed to failure – and started a new relationship that turned out to last a long time. But at this point I hadn’t yet worked out how to make being in London work, and more disruption was around the corner in relation to my crappy living arrangements.
More of that soon, because there’s an album coming up that will help me tell that story.