1993 was the year Select magazine told the Yanks where to go. Specifically: home. Don’t turn around now, we don’t need you any more.
Because now we have Suede (who you will come to know as The London Suede, and even with that ridiculous name they’ll still be amazing), Denim (the band, not the material, which I guess you made famous, but it’s a French name, so not really yours), Saint Etienne (definitely very, very English, but, um, named after a French football club, big in the 70s), and The Auteurs (whose English lead singer, Luke Haines, doesn't actually like England all that much, but they do have a song called "American Guitars" which we think is about dumb American music, and even though it isn't really, and is in fact a dig at British bands lazily aping US sounds instead of finding their own voice... look, that's not really the point. Anyway, where was I?). And then there was Pulp, who would take another year to truly hit the big time with His n Hers in 1994. Jarvis was already quotable, though:
What I've seen of MTV in Radio Rentals' window I don't like.
Fast forward 20 years and Jarvis is still Jarvis. Not so much the other two though.
So. 1993. We had the bands, we didn’t need the Yanks. Except the biggest selling single of the year was Meat Loaf’s "I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)", and the best selling album of the year was Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell. By Meat Loaf.
Oh well, perhaps Select just meant its rebuke in the context of proper guitar bands. Sorry, "proper" guitar bands. There’s a slight problem there, too, in that the second best-selling album of the year was Automatic For The People by R.E.M., released the previous Autumn but number one on three different occasions in 1993 after the success of "Everybody Hurts" in the singles chart.
In May, Blur released their second album, the very English sounding, and very English feeling Modern Life is Rubbish. They took it to America, along with Damon Albarn's Kinks collection, suffered apathy and homesickness and returned to dear old Blighty only to find the music press in the thrall of Brett Anderson and Suede, who picked up the inaugural Mercury Music prize, allegedly beating a very (even more so than usual) bitter Luke Haines' Auteurs by one vote.
As ever, most of the really interesting music was taking place away from center stage, behind the curtain, in the wings, or was yet to be. Sub Sub had a massive hit this year with "Ain't No Love (Ain't no Use)": three years later a studio fire would reduce their work to ashes; in 1998 they started all over again as Doves.
Giant Steps Up! (Forever)
Neither Denim nor Pulp released studio albums in 1993, while Select placed New Wave by The Auteurs at number 6 in their end of year countdown. Suede's self-titled debut was at four, just behind The Aphex Twin, and One Dove. Topping them all was a widescreen vision of breathtaking scope and accomplishment from an unpredictable, unexpected source.
...it's like being hypnotised in a wind tunnel
The Boo Radleys had come a long way from their debut, Ichabod & I, released on Action Records in 1990. Lo-fi, scratchy, fuzzy and infatuated with J Mascis, it barely exists at all - a limited initial run has never been followed by a reprint or reissue. Everything's Alright Forever, released in 1992 after the band had moved to Creation Records, was largely self-produced by the band. The sound is satisfyingly dense; layers of sound wash over tracks like "Losing it (Song for Abigail)" like an unexpected studio spillage. Mostly the result of their knob-twiddling is a sort of psychedelic shoegazing, but when they plug it all in at once it's like being hypnotised in a wind tunnel.
By the time Giant Steps was released in August '93, Martin Carr was in full-on experimentation mode, talking of how he didn't like to repeat an idea in the same song, let alone across the same album, and playing like he meant it. "I Hang Suspended" and "If You Want it, Take it" are exceptions that prove the rule: it's like the Boos are telling you they could knock this sort of thing out all day long if they had to, or felt so inclined, but with a Chris Tarrant-style "Millionaire" flourish, they don't want to give you that, they want to give you "Upon 9th and Fairchild" and a howling guitar, and a song that veers from dub to post-punk and back again. Or how about a melody and arrangement that could be The Kinks, could be The Beatles, and manages to mix wailing feedback with what I assume is a clarinet. All this variety, all this experimentation could go horribly wrong in less skilled hands, but Carr knows when to hold back and let the horns and harmonies take over, and for the most part the patchwork pieces are strong enough that a more bombastic band would have stretched them into an epic triple album. As it was, Giant Steps was almost too much to take in at the time. Sometimes I wasn't sure if it was a mild letdown after all the expectation, or the most brilliantly, thrillingly ambitious album of its day.
The only certain disappointment in Giant Steps is the song that should have been the album's peak, and which was the song that had got me so worked up for the album in the first place. Near the end of 1992, The Boo Radleys released a single, "Lazarus", that was a world away from the layered obfuscation of Everything's Alright Forever. 6 minutes long and change, it's eerie, spacey, and builds tension through a thrilling three minute intro. An organ roll ushers in the horns, and suddenly all the music in the world is happening at once. And then - brilliantly - they cut the switch almost immediately for an acoustic guitar, slightly distorted vocals and "ba-baa" Beach Boys harmonies.
I... I must be losing my mind
They repeat the loud / quiet pattern a couple of times and then that's it, all gone, see you next time. It's devastatingly simple. And perhaps it's a description I hook out too easily, but it's perfect.
On Giant Steps, "Lazarus" appears half-way through side two, just sort of quietly slotted in there between "Take The Time Around" and "One is For" like it's nothing special. The brooding menace of the first part of the intro from the single version is gone, and the rest of the intro gets an overdub featuring way too much left-to-right-channel then right-to-left-channel swishing.
The thing of it is, even with all that tampering, it's still perfect.