Stowaway Heroes – Stephen Hague

If you know anything about pop music from the last three or four decades, you have probably come across Stephen Hague‘s name. Producer of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkPet Shop BoysCommunardsErasureSiouxsie and the Banshees, and many more, his impact on music really is immense.

Here’s one of his biggest hits from the 1980s, and a fantastic video to boot – this is New Order‘s True Faith:

In the 1990s, Hague was to be found producing Electronic‘s DisappointedBlur‘s lovely To the End, and Dubstar‘s brilliant debut Disgraceful. Here’s Stars:

In the 2000s and 2010s, Hague has worked with Afro Celt Sound Systema-haRobbie WilliamsClient, and this astonishing comeback from Claudia Brücken:

Yes, we owe a lot to Stephen Hague, and he’s a very worthy stowaway hero.

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Bizarre search engine terms – 2018 edition

I don’t often look at the statistics for this blog, but occasionally it tells me one or two interesting facts. One of the more revealing is the search engine terms that bring people here. These are a selection of the ones that brought you here in the last year or so!

b.e.f. ‎– music for stowaways torrent

No. Just no. I say this every time, but if you want illegal music, this is not the right place to look. Stream, buy second hand, or best, buy the original in some form. Most of B.E.F.‘s debut album is available on the 1981-2011 box set.

“stephen hague” produce

A search which has brought people here on an astonishing nine different occasions. Stephen Hague turns up a lot on this blog, of course, and not always by name. Over a four-decade career, he’s been responsible for producing many of our favourite acts around here, including Orchestral Manoeuvres in the DarkPet Shop BoysNew OrderErasureMarc AlmondElectronicBlurDubstarSarah CracknellAfro Celt Sound Systema-haPeter GabrielClientClaudia Brücken and more. A future stowaway hero for sure.

location of the first brit award in 1981 [and 1981 brits awards]

A lot of people seem to come here now looking for information about the BRIT Awards. As you’ll see from this article, the first BRIT Awards was not in 1981 – there wasn’t even a ceremony that year. The first was in 1977, at Wembley Conference Centre. The first regular ceremony was in 1982, at Grosvenor House.

best kraftwerk album to start with

Everyone will have their own opinion on this, but I gave mine when Kraftwerk appeared on the Beginner’s guide feature three years ago. I’d stand by that judgement – start with Trans Europa Express or The Mix. It’s worth paying extra for the German releases.

vangelis aimless noodling

This might be one of my favourite web searches ever. Honestly, yes, a good chunk of Vangelis‘s music is aimless noodling, and rather amusingly it turns out that I actually used those exact words when I reviewed the Metropolis soundtrack in 2014, although at the time I wasn’t referring to the man himself.

If you want more, here’s the 2017 edition.

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.

Retro chart for stowaways – 15 May 2004

I’m off on my holidays at the moment, so here’s the album chart from twelve years ago this week!

  1. Air – Talkie Walkie
  2. Pet Shop Boys – PopArt
  3. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  4. Dido – Life for Rent
  5. Erlend Øye – Erlend Øye – DJ-Kicks
  6. Zero 7 – When It Falls
  7. Sugababes – Three
  8. Dubstar – Stars – The Best of Dubstar
  9. Bent – Programmed to Love
  10. Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven

Technique – Pop Philosophy

This week fifteen years ago saw the somewhat belated release of Technique‘s debut album Pop Philosophy. A two-piece consisting of infamous Creation Records boss Alan McGee‘s wife Kate Holmes and singer Xan Tyler, they secured the production talents of Stephen Hague, supported Depeche Mode on their Exciter tour in some parts of the world, and were pretty close to finding fame when everything seems to have gone a bit wrong. But more on that later.

The album opens with Sun is Shining, a sweet and simple pop song which is every bit as good as anything else that was on the charts in the mid-1990s. It’s uplifting, cheery, and frankly brilliant. This was also their first single, peaking at number 64 in 1999.

The second single follows, You and Me, which followed a few months later and peaked at number 56, and is another great pop song. So what went wrong exactly? Honestly, I suspect they were just too late. They weren’t alone – Peach suffered similarly by trying to enter the “clever synthpop” realm in 1996, and they failed to capture the popular imagination. Why would Technique have fared any better?

Ultimately, the only reason this album seems to exist is a 2000 Cantonese cover version of You + Me, which caused enough interest in the original for people to want to own the two singles, the five other complete tracks, and two remixes by Matt Darey. Those other five tracks are good, although there isn’t really anything up to the standard of either of the singles here. Unity of Love is a pleasant enough song, as is Wash Away My Tears, but there isn’t a lot else that you can say about them.

There are others which show potential – There’s No Other Way is pretty good. Deep and Blue is pleasant enough, although lyrically it’s a bit… well, I want to call it “wet”, but the lyrics are about the deep blue sea, which makes me even worse. Quiet Storm is bloody awful, but it’s the only thing on here that is.

I had always assumed the somewhat makeshift track listing was due to the band not having finished much else, but it turns out that there’s an earlier version of the album with a whole load of other songs on it. Maybe they just picked out the least bad ones for this release. Who knows?

Either way, history may have forgotten Technique, but this one little album isn’t at all a bad way to remember them. If nothing else, it’s worth having for Sun is Shining and You and Me, as well as the remixes of each of them. Honestly these are both fairly typical Matt Darey trance mixes – they start off with just a kick drum on every beat, and slowly grow into something enormous. They’re nothing particularly groundbreaking, it’s true, but they’re great nonetheless.

Oh, and if you were wondering what happened next… well, Xan Tyler was unable to turn up for the Depeche Mode tour, so Dubstar‘s Sarah Blackwood was draughted in at the last minute. Technique then rebranded as the briefly brilliant Client, and gained a sizeable cult following before eventually Xan Tyler turned up again in 2011 as Sarah Blackwood‘s replacement. Yes, I know it’s confusing – just nod politely…

You can still find Pop Philosophy on import from major retailers, such as here.