Dubstar – Goodbye

Twenty years ago this week, and just a year and a half after their popularity had exploded with Not So Manic NowDubstar returned with their second album, the huge pop collection Goodbye.

It opens with third single I Will Be Your Girlfriend, an edgy, acid-infested, guitar-driven piece which would sneak to number 28 on the charts six months after the release of the album. Then the curiously baroque Inside comes next.

Dubstar were always prolific – each single came with at least two or three b-sides – and this is the album where they seemed to have decided to push as much as possible onto the album, so you get fifteen tracks here in total. A lot of them aren’t too great, bluntly.

The opening single No More Talk is not one of them – easily the best of the three singles on here, it was actually one of their biggest hits of their career. Rightly so – it’s fantastic. This is what Dubstar should be: creative, inventive, and unapologetic pop music.

Polestar is pleasant, and then we get the catchy pop of Say the Worst Thing First, followed by the jaunty second single Cathedral Park, which just missed out on a top 40 placing shortly before the album’s release. Unfortunately its lack of success isn’t entirely surprising – it’s a fun 1960s pop-styled song, but it’s a little lacking in memorable hooks, and pop wasn’t exactly fashionable in 1997 anyway.

One of the most interesting things about Dubstar‘s first album had been its unique and provocative sleeve design, which was explored in more commercial terms across the singles as well. Goodbye continued this theme, with the somewhat disturbing electric armchair sleeve design.

In spite of the message, It’s Over is probably my favourite song on here – there’s something about the delivery, the creepy warped synth sound, and the rhythmic bass and drums, that come together to make something rather beautifully twisted.

Next we get an updated version of The View from Here, previously one of the b-sides to Elevator Song. Now fully perfected, it’s another great pop song – there are definitely plenty of them on here.

But there’s a lot of filler too – none of My Start in WallsendIt’s Clear, or Ghost are anything particularly special. Eventually we make it to track 12 of 15, the catchy Can’t Tell Me. Surely this could have been a single? Although quite what the sleeve artwork might have ended up looking like is anybody’s guess.

There are three more tracks after that – the entirely forgettable Wearchest, the catchier and snappier When You Say Goodbye, and closing track Let’s Go, which isn’t too memorable either. It’s definitely pretty much over by this stage. It’s not even a long album, either – but somehow there are a few too many tracks.

So Goodbye is a strong second album, even if it certainly could have done with a little more time being taken to get it right and trim out some of the filler. Where Disgraceful was a perfect slice of 1990s pop, and Make it Better was a challenging work, Goodbye definitely occupies the middle ground. For better or for worse.

You can still find Goodbye at all major retailers, such as this one.

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Chart for stowaways – 19 August 2017

Here are this week’s top albums:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Release
  2. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife
  3. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  4. Erasure – World Be Gone
  5. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental
  6. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  7. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  8. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  9. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Format

Mercury Prize 2017

Well, the interesting thing about the Mercury Prize really tends to be the nominees, so finding out who actually won is often a bit anticlimactic. So here’s where we were a couple of months ago…

  • Alt-J – Relaxer
  • The Big Moon – Love in the 4th Dimension
  • Blossoms – Blossoms
  • Loyle Carner – Yesterday’s Gone
  • Dinosaur – Together, As One
  • Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
  • J Hus – Common Sense
  • Sampha – Process
  • Ed Sheeran – ÷
  • Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
  • Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
  • The xx – I See You

This year’s winner is: Sampha. Congratulations to him!

Ladytron – Light and Magic

Fifteen years ago this week saw the initial release of Ladytron‘s second album Light and Magic. The UK release wouldn’t follow until close to Christmas time but did add some extra tracks, so we’ll focus on the initial set of fifteen.

The album opens with perhaps Ladytron‘s noisiest piece to date, True Mathematics, in which Russian spoken vocals repeat over an exquisitely noisy backing track. This leads into the opening single, the glorious Seventeen, which was a minor hit in December 2002. It’s a piece about the throwaway attitudes in the world of fashion, and gave the group their first taste of the official UK charts when it peaked at number 68.

Flicking Your Switch is a gloriously dirty piece of electronica which harks back to early 1990s dance – a genre which was considerably younger then than this album itself is now. Which is a sobering thought. Fifteen years later, this sounds exquisitely timeless – perhaps because it was always out of time, it has dated surprisingly well.

Fire is a strange one – it’s catchier than most of the tracks on here, but somehow it doesn’t quite work as well for me. The retro disco sounds and cowbells of Turn it On, on the other hand, are undeniably brilliant.

By 2002, Ladytron were on the verge of hitting the big time – after the first album featured one single just outside the UK Top 100 and one just inside, this time they were close to hitting the top 40. Second single Blue Jeans was very nearly their breakthrough hit, peaking at number 43 in March 2003. Unfortunately that commercial breakthrough never really happened – to date, that’s still their second biggest hit. Which it probably should be, just a little higher up the charts, ideally.

There are a lot of tracks on here – probably way too many, actually, although many are short, such as Cracked LCD, which only clocks in at a couple of minutes in length. But often the longer tracks aren’t quite up to scratch somehow – Black Plastic definitely isn’t as good, anyway.

The third and final single was Evil, which appears here in what initially appears to be a much more spacious five-and-a-half minute form. It’s a good song, but on balance, it probably isn’t quite as good as Blue Jeans, although you can see how it might have resonated with some people at the time. It turns out anyway that most of the extra space is taken up by an untitled bonus track which got trimmed off the single version.

Startup Chime is one of the more melodic tracks in Ladytron‘s catalogue, more of which is always welcome, although there’s something brilliantly catchy about NuHorizons too, even though it doesn’t really feature any singing. Then Cease2xist restores that particular balance, albeit hidden behind a lot of processing, with a great synth-driven pop song.

By this stage you should have just about got the hang of Ladytron – they’re challenging, and often quite loud, but often also reward you with a great song or at least some interesting noises. You’re also irritatingly close to the end though now, and so Re:agents feels a bit like filler too.

But it’s the penultimate and title track that pulls the biggest punch of all. Light and Magic is completely fantastic. The bass arpeggio seems to be completely out of sync with everything else, but somehow it works together wonderfully. It’s catchy and brilliant, and somehow feels as though it belongs at least four decades earlier. I’m not sure I would want to see them try to perform it live though.

Closing the album is another catchy piece, The Reason Why. When the vocal counter-melody comes in a minute or so from the end, you might find you get one of those moments where you hope the album never ends. Truly glorious.

For me, Light and Magic is far and away Ladytron‘s finest work, but as I’ve been told many times on this blog, it isn’t my opinion that matters, it’s what the public think, and for many their first exposure to the quartet would have been when Destroy Everything You Touch was all over the radio, so of course it is 2005’s Witching Hour that they remember. Either way, hopefully we can agree that Light and Magic is an excellent second album.

The version that you want of Light and Magic is probably the 2011 remaster, although honestly I much prefer the artwork from the original UK release.