Sunday, December 4, 2022

Melody Maker's 1991 Year End Review / Best Album + Single Blurbs


(Published in the Xmas issue, December 21/28 1991. Via Nothingelseon.)

As the below were not bylined and tended to be written in a slightly "official" Melody Maker house style, I am not 100 % certain that every single one of these was actually penned by me. Well, nearly all give themselves away by some tell-tale troping or favorite (a.k.a. over-used) adjective. But there's a couple of "is this me?" moments, which are flagged up. 


The Year In... Commentaries

Seems like I'm on the cusp of saying "post-rock" towards the end of this mini-survey of the rock leftfield, in fact it would take me almost another two years to get there. Notice also yet another precocious use of "poptimism" here. 

(inexplicable remark there about Main being like Faust in being "absolutely drained of humour"!)

Albums of  1991

This next one totally reads like me - up until the last half-sentence about spunk and songwriting. Maybe an editor added that. 

Not 100% on this being one of mine - that said, did do a rave review of Foxbase Alpha, "neo" is one of my standby prefixes, "acid mantra" and "sampladelic" are boilerplate SR.  

Singles of 1991 

Now this blurb is the one where I'm doubtful - that said, I was Consolidated's most fervent champion at MM (and there weren't many others), reviewing both their LPs and doing the interview.  So it would make sense that I would also be tasked with doing this blurb.  


Eee said...

This was the year I started reading the UK music press (I started out with NME around the time of the Richey Manic "4 Real" farrago , but MM soon established itself as by far the superior product), so a very evocative trip down memory lane - I was shocked by the Gunners placing so highly in MM's end of year list (I recall NME savaging both albums) and PM Dawn's wanting to be "colourless" is VERY out of step with with today's cultural politics! Also noted 1991 being a "make or break" year for Jacko - you were nearly correct, it was 1993 that ended up breaking him..

Ed said...

Someone posted the full list of the 1991 MM albums of the year on Twitter recently, giving the world an opportunity to be shocked and amused by the tastes and attitudes of this distant vanished era. There was a lot of hilarity about the Wonder Stuff album placing above Loveless, and someone asked the question: what was the album that was a bit better than Nevermind, but not quite as good as Out Of Time. The answer is Yerself Is Steam, which can absolutely live in that company, IMO. There was also some entirely undeserved snark about the Dream Warriors album, which is both terrific and prescient about the coolness of Dungeons and Dragons.

In hindsight, the only real shocker is Blue Lines placing all the way down at 23. The NME, which as Eee says was a greatly inferior product at that point, did at least manage to get it into their top ten.

Nick S said...

A lot of this holds up really well, foregrounding your unusual ability, from sentence to sentence, to sound both geeky-partisan and professionally objective. (A crime that "Foxbase Alpha" didn't crack the Top Ten, but I know the rankings weren't solely up to you.)

The Morrissey piece is interesting to me because I'd begun to read the UK music papers in 1990/1991 just as I was in the middle of a blazing infatuation with his music. During this fallow period of Morrissey's creativity (one of many, it turned out), I was in love with his back catalog more than his limp recent stuff. As for the latter, I winced to read criticism like yours: I had to concede, despite fervently *wishing* it wasn't true, that your assessment of his recorded output in 1991 was obviously and undeniably correct. Re-reading these capsules reminds me of how clear-sighted your work has always been. (Question though: would you have been as kind to U2 without Eno's testimonials?)

But your piece also flips my own experience on its head. You wrote mostly about Morrissey's crap records and mentioned his success in America at the end, almost as a footnote.

I lived in southern California in 1991 and his "Kill Uncle" tour dates there were, yes, "rapturous", but somehow that doesn't begin to describe the frenzied adulation and supercharged punk-ish energy at his gigs. Bemused oldsters compared it to Beatlemania; he didn't just "appear" on Carson's show, he and his fans stormed the studio in a really unique bit of off-script TV. For a teenager too young to have seen The Smiths, that tour reinvigorated their legend and utterly restored my confidence he'd find a way out of the creative fog in which he was stumbling.

I only mention this because, looking back at some of the pieces from that period, it's striking to notice the rift forming between the UK press and Morrissey. I'd hunted down every older article I could find. From '83-'88, the weeklies were essential to understanding him. After 1991 the Morrissey spoken of in the NME and MM had almost no resemblance to the Morrissey we knew in the States. Some crucial part of his story wasn't missed by UK writers, exactly, but under-reported from a broader perspective. The NME coverage of Finsbury Park in 1992 really blew that rift wide open, slamming him with accusations of racism at a time when, from my perspective thousands of miles away, his live shows in southern California were eye-opening precisely because of the racially diverse collection of fans who attended them, and whom he seemed to embrace.

Anyway, I know this is boring ancient history. But I find it interesting to revisit these bits of criticism, though, because Morrissey had what seemed to me a unique relationship with the UK weeklies. MM's coverage was always saner and tougher, while the NME had what seemed to be a love-hate marriage that eventually turned into a flaming wreck. But both of them, after an early honeymoon period, began to write about Morrissey and The Smiths with a harshness that belies the "classic", "best British band of the 80s" status the band (if not Morrissey) enjoys today. In retrospect, the knives were out a lot earlier than "Our Frank", and if you went by what was actually written, you might assume they were the 19th best band of the decade, not among the handful of the very best.

Believe it or not, I'm far from complaining. The combativeness, aside from the occasional witless cheap shots, was hugely enjoyable to read. I ate it up. And heaven knows he deserved a lot of the flak he got-- as an artist, for what he put on vinyl, never mind the rest.

Sheesh, I really miss the UK weeklies.


Ed - the Wonder Stuff is an enduring mystery for me, what exactly was the appeal. Another band of that moment - Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Are both about this sort of indie as inelegant boisterousness thing? the Indie Disco - dance without sex OR sacred frenzy.

Amor - my thing with Morrissey at this point, 1990-91, is a bit like someone who's had a bad breakup. You need to be vicious and vindictive to move on. I'd really thought Viva Hate was wonderful and that Vini Reilly would be his new Marr. But then he hooks up with much less impressive accomplices, presumably because they were more biddable. Kill Uncle was so depressing, and the singles that made up Bona Drag had not been much better. (Then I was part-swayed by Your Arsenal and in moments fully wowed by Vauxhall & I - "I Am Hated For Loving" is some kind of ultimate Moz statement, equal-first the best thing he ever did without Marr, alongside "Late Night Maudlin Street").

You are right that the Brits didn't see what was happening in terms of M becoming a phenom in America - the extreme passion. I didn't notice for sure and I was in NYC with increasingly regularity and duration. But then some Smiths zines came into my possession later in '92. I was very struck by the religiosity of the tone and this whole thing of "the goal, the grail, is to get onstage and hug Morrissey'. I wrote a little column largely about this zine Sing Your Life.

I had caught an early glimpse of this fan frenzy at his first solo show in Wolverhampton at the end of '88 - people getting up onstage and throwing themselves at him. I don't remember that being an element of the Smiths shows I'd seen. Suddenly it was happening, I guess pent-up ardour during the long gap where there were no concerts.

Nick S said...

Thank you for posting the link to those two pieces of writing. Again I applaud you-- you nailed it, and in real time. I wasn't quite as far gone as those sensitive souls in the zines, but I knew of them. Your analysis rings true. (Well, perhaps I *was* one of them, if I'm still bothering to jot down a few words about Morrissey in 2022, long after his sell-by date.)

The thing is, it wasn't just the fans' passion in the U.S. which got missed, or as I say under-reported. When I attended my first Morrissey gig, expecting to see a stereotypical crowd like the Wolverhampton show (which I knew from the video), I was surprised to find a very racially diverse crowd. As many brown faces as white. I went to a bunch of gigs in '91/'92 and a few more during the '90s. It was almost always the same.

Now, it's a whole other discussion as to whether or not that fact alone is significant, or if it says anything at all about Morrissey himself, or if it should move the needle in how the public sees him today. Maybe it's just, you know, L.A. looking like L.A. (except I never found it to be as true at the gigs of other KROQ faves).

All I mean to say is that in 1991 something in Morrissey's career had started to diverge from the long-accepted views of him and his fans. It never seemed to line up with what I read about him in the UK press. The coverage I read usually wasn't wrong, often maddeningly spot-on, just never quite the whole picture-- a misalignment which, maybe, has turned out to be somewhat important, in recent years, with respect to his reputation?

But I am not in any way knocking you. Your commentary on him, then and now, has always been fair and, anyway, your jabs at Morrissey are more clear-eyed and astute than the majority of his fans' praise. Just sharing a perspective from back in the day, as it's something I can speak to personally. I enjoyed the brief return to 1991 these pieces afforded me.


I think even in the UK, Morrissey's songs spoke to a lot more people than the stereotypical white image of the 'sensitive student-y bedroom moper". Sensitive mopers exist in all groups, after all. But beyond that there is an extra level of resonance to songs about being an outsider, marginalized, etc. Just anecdotally I know Asian-British people who loved the Smiths, absolutely clasped those songs to their bosoms. Which made "Bengali in Platforms" and "Asian Rut" all the more inexplicable - something that couldn't be reconciled with the apparent meaning and purpose of The Smiths / Morrissey.

Matt M said...

*Gulp* I am going to attempt to defend The Wonder Stuff. And Carter USM.

OK. The Stuffies. The first album (8-legged) is a lot of fun. Sometimes nasty. Sometimes plaintive. Sometimes funny. There is an energy there - and just enough skill to hold it all together. Then they blew up in 1991 with the folky stuff. And it all feels a bit laboured to my ears. And yes its indie disco central. But that's surely the dark secret of the early 90s inkies - they might aspire to art of Loveless, but they are funded by people jumping around to The Size of a Cow in the student union on a Thursday night.

Carter are different. They the most bathetic group the UK has ever produced in both sound and lyrics. And yet they are totally committed to their schtick. Their commitment wins me over. Jim Morrison's (yes, really) intent on mapping South London after closing time comes across as part Iain Sinclair, part Norman Wisdom. It is extraordinary how potent cheap music is. And Carter USM are the cheapest there is.

As for Morrissey, the faith that marginal people put in him has meant that his treachery is all the more heinous.

Matt M said...

And I saw The Pixies on Saturday in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House on Saturday. They played nothing from after 1991. Fuck me they're old. They just need to stop.


"the dark secret of the early 90s inkies - they might aspire to art of Loveless, but they are funded by people jumping around to The Size of a Cow in the student union on a Thursday night."

Very true. That and the Goth stuff (endless cover stories on the Mission, Fields of Naffilim, All About Eve, Sisters of Mercy.. and I guess The Cure count here) is what paid the bills. There was a heartening moment when it seemed like the MM readers might be going along with the Aesthetic Program - Young Gods even made the polls on year, Throwing Muses started to place well. But then it went back to this huge gap between what the writers favored and what the readers routinely voted for.

The guy who scans old MMs and NMEs and puts them on Twitter, Nothingelseon has reached 1992 - I was amazed how often Wonderstuff were on the cover.

Greil Marcus is a huge fan of Carter - called them world-class Jeremiahs or something like that.

Nick S said...

Simon, since your attention is momentarily captured here in a look back at 1991, can I ask if you have any additional thoughts about The KLF? Commercially, 1991 was their annus mirabilis and, as it happened, their last before "retiring" in early 1992. I know you wrote a few pieces about them in '91, and they get a few mentions in "Energy Flash"; I gather you thought of them as a mildly interesting curio.

Just curious if your thinking has changed in any way. I didn't care about them at all when they were around, but after Bob Stanley's "Yeah Yeah Yeah" brought them back to my attention I threw myself down a YouTube rabbit hole and discovered all sorts of delightful things I didn't know about Drummond and Cauty. While it's hard to take them seriously, the fact that they actually disappeared and deleted their back catalog gives their stuff a halo of art-pop authenticity. They've both done interesting stuff outside of music since '92. After the passing of so many years, The KLF's brief explosion starts to look like a very special, subversive, one-off pop happening and not merely an outburst of prankery.

Any postscriptural thoughts?


I like Bill D and I think he's a really good writer and thinker about pop. The "irony and reference points are the dark destroyers of music" line he came up with is one of the great maxims / mission statements.

I can't say I get too excited by the art-shock provocations - KLF are like the last, or nearly the last, in that McLaren-type conception of how to use publicity and prominence in the pop mainstream to do these acts of "cultural terrorism". It's a concept I find tenuous - the metaphor doesn't hold (there's nowhere the level of risk and commitment involved in actual terrorism, it's not as effective as real terrorism). It's mischief really, and it dissipates fairly quickly. Pretending to shoot the audience at some record biz awards ceremony - am I supposed to be impressed? It's like a faint echo of the scene in Great Rock and Swindle where Sid machine guns the audience, including his own mother. But Vicious seemed genuinely like a monster so it had more edge then.

And then burning all that money - if they did do it, what a silly waste that could gone to tangibly improve some people's lives... if they didn't and it's all a tall tale, then I dunno, just seems sillier. It doesn't mentally free people from the tyranny of the concept of money in their lives, because we're all at its mercy.

But I enjoyed the unlikeliness of Tammy Wynette on TOTP singing over a techno-ish tune. The other singles stand up well - particularly 'What Time Is Love'. Chill Out is listenable and an amusing gambit.

The JAMMs/ KLF sort of belong in this other post + comments going at the moment, the ShitBrit one . When they started, as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (I did one of the first pieces on them, around their debut 12 inch - could never have imagined how far they'd take it) they definitely seemed a bit ShitBrit in the sense of "see how far you can get on very little by stirring up talk in the cloistered discourse of the weekly music press". The sampling seemed very cack-handed compared to either hip hop or what The Young Gods were doing. "Doctorin' the Tardis" getting to Number 1 seemed like the kind of novelty single that the UK is very susceptible to. That book they did which I once had and then got rid of and now wish I had (I believe it's worth something!) - it's almost the ShitBrit Manifesto insofar as it's saying, and showing step by step, how you can get to the top with some ideas and some cheek but without talent as such.

But then they gradually acquired some musical substance - the big hits are solid dancefloor anthems somewhere between the Belgian hardcore techno and the more Eurobeat /SNAP, Technotronic etc type pop rave. I remember dancing to "What Time Is Love" at a New Year's Party. I started to like them. I think the mischief is definitely more appealing when there's some functionality backing it all up.

Nick S said...

The KLF's amateurism and mischief were part of the Discordian schtick, yeah, but with the important difference that they knew they'd be *perceived* as performing Discordian schtick. The delicious twist of machine-gunning the audience at the BRITs is that they knew the smart observers would roll their eyes and dismiss them as the last bleating batch of McLarenites. At their best, The KLF weren't culture terrorists using parody as a means of unleashing art-shock provocations. It was so much better. The KLF were artists using a parody of culture terrorists unleashing art-shock provocations to achieve, at least briefly, almost total freedom to escape from the "dark destroyers of music". They warped their various art-pop convolutions into a spectacular canceling-out which left only fun behind. Along with a few bloody sheep carcasses.

That alone would still only make them a novelty act. The crucial part of their story is that they left the music industry and actually deleted their back catalog. They grasped that the only way out of the maze is the ultimate negation-- death, or the music industry equivalent thereof. In so doing they dramatized an escape from the "tyranny of the concept of money". You're skeptical they pulled that off, and maybe I am too, but couldn't our skepticism be a symptom of capitalist realism, the inability to imagine an alternative?

This is why I think it's interesting to look back on The KLF after so many years have passed. To see and appreciate the negative space The KLF's abrupt departure carved out. To see all their antics in the light of their vanishing act. As time passes they look more and more like a genuine and glorious disruption to the status quo, and those are all too rare.