Track 31. Come Back To What You Know, Embrace

The Good Will Out, 1998

I’m nearly there. Nearly at the end.

Thirty-one tracks written, and just one more to go after this. The finishing line is in sight.

And I’m tired. Very, very tired.*

The idea behind this blog was to write regularly about music, to demonstrate to book publishers that I work constantly at my craft, hone away, engage with my audience and that they should offer me a contract.

Didn’t work.

Instead, it became a way to promote my self-published Britpop book to fans of the bands therein. And it’s worked to that end; sales are ticking along nicely (thanks, everyone).

But there’s only so many ways to approach an article about 20-plus-year-old songs, only so many angles to take. Eventually you’ll hit a wall.

This track is my wall.

EmbraceI like ‘Come Back To What You Know’ but only because it has a nice tune. I have nothing deeper to share; no clever intuition about what the lyrics mean, no insights about how it shaped the musical landscape.

The band? Let’s try the band themselves. Well, they came quite late to the Britpop party of course, arriving on the scene just as­– no no, I did that one with Travis a couple of weeks ago.

I like Embrace. Everyone likes Embrace (but we did that with Saint Etienne last week). The problem is, I have nothing to say about Embrace. I never listen to Embrace.

Let me think …

My ex-housemate Gordon was a fan, and played The Good Will Out more often than was strictly necessary when it came out. But I’ve already dragged him in for Ether and the Super Furries. It’s not fair to whore him out once more. Besides, does anyone care what my ex-housemate listened to two decades ago? Does anyone care what I listened to back then? Or now?

Maybe, just maybe, there’s only so much to be said about Britpop.

This next statement may be considered blasphemous in certain quarters, but … was it all that special? Do the many naysayers have a point when they say that it was all hype and little substance, that those of us who look back through Union Jack-tinted spectacles are fooling ourselves about its ongoing relevance?

Take Oasis, for example. Great tunes, shite lyrics. Go on, try reading the words to ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’. Read them, don’t listen to them, the melody distracts you.

It’s gibberish. A soup of unrelated nouns, verbs and adjectives. Even when they’re not spouting incoherent nonsense, they’re singing rubbish. So they’re free to do whatever they choose, are they? They can sing the blues if they want?

Great. So can anyone. There are no laws against it, and it hardly demonstrates cutting-edge rebellion. But Liam, here’s the thing: you’re not singing the blues, you’re singing rock and roll. So you’re not even exercising your proclaimed free will.

Next.

Oh, Elastica. Seriously, what’s all the fuss about? They only squeezed out two albums, the Wire smash-and-grab raid and the other one that no one remembers. Robson and Jerome managed two albums in far less time, and both of theirs went to number one.

And then there’s Pulp.

Everyone loves Pulp, right? Of course they do, with all those clever word plays and knowing lyrics about the working classes and seedy council estate sex and being northern. But it’s not as it they were the first to get excited about that. Different Class was basically ‘Coronation Street: The Musical’.

Let’s be clear: Britpop was largely great because we, the fans, were young back then. To anyone born between 1973 and 1978, it formed the soundtrack to the years when we could drink without fear of the hangover, a time when every night out held the vague possibility of sex. We might think it’s special, that it crosses generational divides with its enduring brilliance but, to this day, I have yet to meet anyone more than five years younger than me who likes, cares about or ever thinks of Britpop.

I still love it, though, despite its flaws. It was still the greatest music the UK has ever produced.

Except maybe the Sixties.

But it takes me back to my youth. And I like that. After all, what’s wrong with a little nostalgia?

Top three Embrace tracks (not straying very far from the curve here, admittedly):

ape-530759_1280

* This may also have something to do with two under-threes in the house. Definitely more than twice the work of one.

Track 3: Play It Cool, Super Furry Animals

Radiator, 1997

 

Liam had swagger. Brett had style. Damon was an icon and Jarvis was legendary. But no nineties frontman was cooler than Gruff Rhys, and no band were cooler than the Super Furry Animals.

Just look at the evidence. They turned up at festivals in a tank. They released a song with the word ‘clusterfuck’ in it. Their artwork included cartoon foxes in Zorro masks. They released a song about mullets. They came on stage in a golf buggy. That’s cool.

I was never cool. Being the son of a vicar didn’t exactly help in that particular race – although not everyone was similarly afflicted, so I can’t blame it solely on that. The hair didn’t help, nor did the clothes. Professing a deep love of Erasure probably set me back a little as well, now I think of it.

The coolest kid at my school was Matt. He wasn’t the funniest, wasn’t the loudest, nor the best at sport. I wouldn’t say he was the best-looking, either – but the girls loved him, and the boys did too. He was half-French, which is so much cooler than being totally French. He had floppy hair and dimples when he grinned, which was a lot. He was into cycling years before anyone had even heard of Bradley Wiggins or therapeutic use exemptions.

SFA 1997Matt was also in a band. They were rubbish, and only ever played two songs: covers of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. They were never in tune, at least not with each other, and only rarely did their chosen time signatures overlap. It mattered not: anyone standing on stage with a guitar is cool.

There was no point in being jealous; Matt’s coolness was inherent. I could never have replicated it and trying to do so would have made me look even more stupid than my trainers had already managed. It was the same with the Super Furries. If anyone else had tried what they did, it would have looked forced, attention-seeking. It never did with them. It’s all about being BAE, as I understand the kids refer to it these days.

Their peak moment of coolness is also their finest tune. ‘The Man Don’t Give A Fuck’ still holds the record for the most uses of the word ‘fuck’ in a song (the live re-issue does, anyway). And when Steely Dan, who wrote the song’s main vocal hook, got a wee bit uppity, the Super Furries gave them all the profits from the single, knowing full well it would rarely be played on the radio.

It’s the cover of the single that clinches it, though. It features a footballer flicking Vs and running away. Everyone knows now that it’s Robin Friday, but hardly anyone knew back then. Most people had never even heard of him: this was 1996, the early days of the Internet, when obscurity was still a thing. To discover who that mystery player was, you needed to know someone who knew, or read it in a magazine. That was how we passed information on in those days.

But here’s the thing: not only did they know about him, they picked him to be on their single. Most bands in the nineties would have gone for Cantona, the ultimate don’t-give-a-fuck player. But Cantona did give a fuck. He wanted to be noticed. He needed the attention. Everything he did was for show. By contrast, you never got the impression that the Super Furries were trying to generate headlines. They were simply doing what they felt like doing.

While I hated him at the time, I can accept, at twenty years’ distance, that Cantona was cool – but he was acting cool. The Super Furry Animals just were, and that’s the only way to play it.

Gordon SFA pic

Top five SFA tracks, as selected by Super Furries’ superfan Gordon Thomas: