Doves – ‘Lost Souls’

As a person I did a lot of growing up in the ‘90s. That said, at times I probably didn’t act very grown up, but I’ve never given myself a hard time about sometimes partying a little too much. In many ways the ’90s was socially gluttonous and by the end of the decade the house scene was way past its best, Britpop was over and shit talent shows with shit judges were appearing. But, like a glorious homage to all that was to be celebrated as well as forgotten about the decade, Doves released Lost Souls, a masterpiece.

Since its release in April 2000 no other album has come close to the number of extended plays through my speakers as Lost Souls. The album feels like a ‘90s hangover, a beautifully reflective and euphoric comedown of epic, melodic proportions. Opener Firesuite lays it down; moody as fuck, dark and heavy with a deep, ambient groove it sets the tone brilliantly. The mood remains the same with the intense Here It Comes, and lyrically we instantly know where we are…

“This is a call
A call to all
It goes out to those who’ve been bad
And I should know
Because I’ve been
Yeah maybe once a week on Mondays”

Lost Souls contains such intensity, and a depth of feeling that you can just submerge yourself into. Nothing is hurried; everything rides along on a dense rhythm, thick with a warm, sometimes subdued glow. I’m already in deep by the time Break Me Gently does just that, and through to Melody Calls I’m riding that warm glow of claustrophobic tales on a sublime, faintly trippy groove. Catch The Sun is more direct, but no less intense, primarily due to Jimi Goodwin’s passionate vocals on top of a throb of rhythm and guitars.

The Man Who Told Everything is so beautiful it makes my soul ache. Goodwin’s vocal over the gentle, hypnotic rhythm is melodic perfection. When he sings of blue skies ahead it just breaks me. The Cedar Room is that melodic comedown, a hauntingly deep, dark and stunningly overwhelming seven and a half minutes, containing a chorus that stabs me in the heart every time…

“I tried to sleep alone
But I couldn’t do it
You could be sitting next to me
And I wouldn’t know it
If I told you you were wrong
I don’t remember saying it…”

Reprise sounds like the after effects of Cedar Room, like the music is coming to terms with what has come before and then it ends, seemingly smouldering in barely burning flames…

“Day after day and the life goes on
And I try to see the good in everyone
If I ever find myself here again
I’ll give everything”

Lost Souls is the best album of this millennium and I doubt very much I’ll hear a better one. Their follow-ups The Last Broadcast, Some Cities and Kingdom Of Rust were all superb, and if I were to carry on writing my musical chronicles would all feature as glorious highlights. But Lost Souls shines like a diamond at a time that the industry was about to sink into a cesspit of talent show bile. Just in the nick of time, a testament to the downfall of the ‘90s. The perfect album for the times.

Supergrass – ‘In It For The Money’

At the start of ’97 I made two notable purchases. A flat and a 1963 Vespa Sportique. I loved that scooter and the ride outs to the Isle of Wight and trips to the New Forest, Sandbanks and Studland. The flat in Westbourne Arcade was a good move. Fun times were had, mostly with MVC comrades and the odd bottle of JD. I was still DJing at Shake Your Mini and having a love/hate thing with much of the indie and Britpop, which, like Oasis’ Be Here Now was an overblown bore. But some bands were on it, and none more than Supergrass, whose second long-player In It For The Money was an absolute gem.

I Should Coco largely passed me by, but Alright was impossible to ignore being the stormer that it was. In It For The Money is bookended by what is effectively an average intro and a below average outro, but what is contained within is all killer, no filler. Richard III should be the opener. Bam! Straight in. No messing. A more grown-up, edgier, harder Alright, it’s another classic, iconic pop single that delivers in deep, heavy spades. Tonight keeps the energy and tempo at max before Late In The Day takes it down a notch or three and wins just because of Gaz Coombes’ vocals.

Sun Hits The Sky wins best track of the album. Nah, best track of the year. This is Supergrass in top gear, in overdrive, at glorious downhill with no brakes full pelt. I’ve no idea what it’s about but it sounds like an exhilarating tour de force with added groove once Mick Quinn’s bass storms the last minute. Going Out has a touch of fairground ride about it with Gaz’s harmonised vocals with added brass before It’s Not Me, an emotive and self-reflective acoustic beauty that rains sincerity…

“It’s not me, no, no, not me,
But I don’t know what is
I try and find my peace of mind
But I know what I miss
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone
Now it’s gone.”

The album chugs along with equal measures of melody and urgency before Hollow Little Reign, which sounds like a dreamy and faintly funky album finale. In It For The Money is an exhilarating ride of positivity, due in no small part to Gaz Coombes’ vocals it emanates everything that Britpop at its best was trying to be. It’s two tracks away from being a classic album, but for Sun Hits The Sky alone it does more than enough to remind me of a very sunny summer, of t.shirted, traffic dodging Vespa rides over to Shell Bay and Studland. Bliss.

Teenage Fanclub – ‘Grand Prix’

Bob, another close MVC compadre looked like Neil Young circa 1967. A very good start. He was also into his guitar-based indie, the best of which was Teenage Fanclub and for a long number of months I devoured their back catalogue. Their most recent release and focus of my favoured attention was the gloriously sparky Grand Prix. I’d liked but not really raved about much of the indie and Britpop around since the early ‘90s, but The Fannies… they were special.

The boorish Britpop thing was overhyped, but there were some great ‘90s indie bands for sure, The Charlatans, The Las, The Bluetones, Pulp, Primal Scream, Supergrass, Belle & Sebastian and Blur vs Oasis was a thing, but the band who won on songs alone was Teenage Fanclub. What sets The Fannies apart is that there’s zero attitude with them, that and the fact that no other band has a guitar sound so gorgeously uplifting. Grand Prix is packed with killer songs that just lift the mood, even with the more musically downbeat or melancholy the band’s shared vocals have such an overwhelming sense of optimism that all just feels good with the world.

Having listened to all Fannies albums pre and post, Grand Prix sounds like the band at its peak, with the democratic attitude to the songwriting and vocals reaping rewards. The guitar intro to About You sets the tone, and lyrically too as Grand Prix is, if anything a love album. There are killer lines throughout and on Sparky’s Dream “She painted pictures that never dried, always tried to keep the feeling alive” was The Fannies all over.

The opening guitars to Don’t Look Back are the most perfect thirty seconds, but the next twenty just tip me over the edge:

“If I could find the words to say
The sun shines in your eyes
So brighten up my city sky”

The Byrds and particularly Big Star shine in their music with the guitars just singing, enhancing the sentiment perfectly, never more so than in the magnificent Neil Jung, Norman Blake’s Grand Prix peach. For me it’s Gerard Love who wins gold on the songwriter’s podium with Sparky’s Dream, Don’t Look Back, Discolite and the gorgeous Going Places which makes my heart hurt.

Grand Prix is packed with exceptional pop songs, perfect harmonies and a guitar sound that just pours sunshine over everything. Songs From Northern Britain was their next, nearly matching the brilliance of Grand Prix, but in 1996 The Fannies gave my heart a gentle squeeze and put a whopping big grin on my face.

Paul Weller – ‘Stanley Road’

Following Weller’s musical resurrection with his debut solo album in 1992, his follow up the next year further enhanced his status. Wild Wood was a stunning album, a notable step up from Paul Weller it was heavier and more soulful, blending folk and psychedelic bluesy jams. Steve Craddock was in and adding the perfect musical foil to Weller’s swank and vigor.

For five or so years from ’94 I saw Weller live more than a dozen times, and he was never less than totally captivating. His passion completely dominated his live performances, riding as he was on the crest of adulation from not just the new wave of Britpop admirers but also his original Jam and Style Council fanatics. Weller’s devotion to his art is unquestionable and his influences are celebrated through his music, never better than on his classic ’95 release, Stanley Road.

Musically, those influences are all over the back of Peter Blake’s album cover: Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane figurines, Artetha Franklin, John Lennon, a dude on a scooter plus mod and Stax iconography. You know where he’s at. For me, Weller’s influences are right at home in my record collection and on Stanley Road they shine magnificently. That said, this is a Weller album through and through; heavy and soulful with a groove that has attitude pulsing at its heart. Changing Man is just a classic Weller single and with Porcelain Gods and Dr. John’s Walk On Gilded Splinters the voodoo groove is blues swamp perfection.

The groove becomes more soulful through Stanley Road and Broken Stones before the intensity returns on the glorious Out Of The Sinking. It’s all there; a rock and blues stomp with Yolanda Charles and Steve White’s rhythm matched by Carleen Anderson’s stunning gospel vocals. The slower, piano lead tracks are great, but for me it was all about the full band at full tilt, and that was at its peak on Whirlpool’s End, a live classic that showcased the skills of Brendan Lynch and rhythm king, Steve White.

Ten years later Paul Weller said: “Stanley Road was one of those perfect moments when everything slotted into place naturally. It was a dream… Initially I wanted to call the album Shit or Bust, because that’s how I felt about it. I put everything into it, emotionally and physically. It was the culmination of my solo career to date. I knew it was special. We had a playback and I could sense the excitement among the people listening to it.”

To me, in over 40 years over making music Stanley Road is Weller’s best ever album. He was idolised by two generations, he’d just split from his wife DC Lee and he was partying with much gusto. His creative juices were fully fuelled, no doubt stimulated by his contemporaries who looked up to him for inspiration, and boy did he deliver.