NME Poll Winners 1952-1992 (Part Two)

Finally, having worked through all the other categories, let’s take a look at the artist winners for the NME Polls from 1952 to 1992. As I mentioned last week, it’s hard to trace the winners of a particular category through time, so I’ve taken a few liberties. Essentially anything that seems to be roughly the same category has been treated as the same thing. Also, for the year ranges, there are a few missing years here and there, so for instance 1967-1970 could mean anything between 2 and 3 wins.

Best Newcomer

For thirty-five years, the NME Poll included a newcomer award, variously titled “World’s Most Promising New Name”, “Best New Group”, and various other things. It’s an amazing time capsule of new acts throughout the ages – who would have thought that Cliff Richard and The Stone Roses could appear on the same list?

Best New Artist

  • 1956 – Ronnie Scott
  • 1958 – Cliff Richard
  • 1959 – Craig Douglas
  • 1960 – Emile Ford
  • 1961 – John Leyton
  • 1962 – Frank Ifield
  • 1963 – Gerry Marsden
  • 1964 – Mick Jagger
  • 1965 – Seekers (group) & Donovan (solo)
  • 1966 – Spencer Davis Group (group) & Stevie Winwood (solo)
  • 1967 – Bee Gees (group) & Engelbert Humperdinck (solo)
  • 1968 – Love Affair (group & Mary Hopkins (solo)
  • 1970 – Jethro Tull
  • 1971 – McGuinness Flint (group) & Elton John (solo)
  • 1972 – New Seekers (group) & Rod Stewart (solo)
  • 1973 – Golden Earring (World) & Leo Sayer (British)
  • 1975 – Bad Company
  • 1976 – Eddie and the Hot Rods
  • 1977 – Tom Robinson
  • 1978 – Public Image Ltd.
  • 1979 – The Specials
  • 1980 – UB40
  • 1981 – Altered Images
  • 1983 – The Smiths
  • 1984 – Bronski Beat
  • 1985 – The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • 1986 – The Housemartins
  • 1987 – The Proclaimers
  • 1988 – The House of Love
  • 1989 – The Stone Roses
  • 1990 – The Charlatans
  • 1991 – Kingmaker
  • 1992 – Suede

Technical Categories

A lot of categories seem to have come and gone throughout the history of the awards to celebrate particular types of performer. Here are some of the highlights!

Musician of the Year

  • 1952 – Ronnie Scott
  • 1954 – Eric Delaney
  • 1957 – Eddie Calvert

Best Guitarist

  • 1954 – Bert Weedon
  • 1973 – Eric Clapton
  • 1976 – Jimmy Page
  • 1978 – Mick Jones
  • 1979-1982 – Paul Weller
  • 1983 – The Edge

Best Bassist

  • 1973, 1976 – Paul McCartney
  • 1978 – Jean Jacques Burnel
  • 1979-1982 – Bruce Foxton
  • 1983 – Peter Hook

Best Keyboardist/Electronics

  • 1973, 1976-1977 – Rick Wakeman
  • 1978-1981 – Dave Greenfield
  • 1982 – Vince Clarke
  • 1983 – Steve Nieve

Best Drummer

  • 1973, 1975 – Carl Palmer
  • 1976 – John Bonham
  • 1977 – Paul Cook
  • 1978 – Keith Moon
  • 1979-1982 – Rick Buckler
  • 1983 – Budgie

Best Instrumentalist

  • 1962-1963 – Jet Harris
  • 1973 – Roy Wood
  • 1975-1977 – Mike Oldfield
  • 1981 – Saxa
  • 1982 – The Emerald Express, Violin
  • 1983 – The TKO Horns
  • 1985 – Johnny Marr

Best Producer

  • 1973 – David Bowie
  • 1975 – Eddie Offord

Best Songwriter/Composer

  • 1973 – Elton John / Bernie Taupin
  • 1976 – Bob Dylan
  • 1978 – Elvis Costello
  • 1979-1982 – Paul Weller
  • 1983 – Elvis Costello
  • 1984-1985 – Morrissey / Johnny Marr

Best Solo Artist

Curiously, the solo artist categories were for the longest time broken up into “world”, “British”, and even “US” for a while.

Best Female Singer

  • 1952-1954 – Lita Roza
  • 1957 – Ruby Murray
  • 1958 – Alma Cogan
  • 1959-1961 – Connie Francis
  • 1962-1964 – Brenda Lee
  • 1965-1967 – Dusty Springfield
  • 1968 – Lulu
  • 1970 – Dusty Springfield
  • 1971-1973 – Diana Ross
  • 1975 – Joni Mitchell
  • 1976 – Linda Ronstadt
  • 1977 – Julie Covington
  • 1978 – Debbie Harry
  • 1979 – Kate Bush
  • 1981-1983 – Siouxsie Sioux
  • 1984-1986 – Elizabeth Fraser
  • 1987 – Suzanne Vega

Best British Female Singer

  • 1955, 1957 – Alma Cogan
  • 1959-1960 – Shirley Bassey
  • 1961-1962 – Helen Shapiro
  • 1963 – Kathy Kirby
  • 1964-1966 – Dusty Springfield
  • 1968, 1970 – Lulu
  • 1971-1972 – Cilla Black
  • 1973 – Maggie Bell
  • 1975 – Kiki Dee

Best US Female Singer

  • 1955-1957 – Doris Day
  • 1958 – Connie Francis

Best Male Singer

  • 1952-1954 – Dickie Valentine
  • 1955 – Frank Sinatra
  • 1956 – Dickie Valentine
  • 1958 – Frankie Vaughan
  • 1959-1962 – Elvis Presley
  • 1963 – Cliff Richard
  • 1964-1972 – Elvis Presley
  • 1973 – David Bowie
  • 1975-1976 – Robert Plant
  • 1977-1978 – David Bowie
  • 1979 – Sting
  • 1980 – Paul Weller
  • 1981 – David Bowie
  • 1982 – Paul Weller
  • 1983 – David Bowie
  • 1984 – Bono
  • 1985-1992 – Morrissey

Best British Male Singer

  • 1955, 1957 – Dickie Valentine
  • 1959-1967 – Cliff Richard
  • 1968-1970 – Tom Jones
  • 1971-1972 – Cliff Richard
  • 1973 – David Bowie
  • 1975 – Paul Rodgers

Best US Male Singer

  • 1955-1956 – Frank Sinatra
  • 1957 – Pat Boone
  • 1958 – Elvis Presley

Outstanding Popular Singer

  • 1955 – Frank Sinatra
  • 1957 – Pat Boone
  • 1958 – Elvis Presley

Best Instrumental Personality

  • 1958 – Eddie Calvert
  • 1959-1960 – Russ Conway
  • 1961 – Bert Weedon

Best Musical Personality

  • 1955 – Bill Haley
  • 1956 – Dickie Valentine
  • 1957-1959 – Elvis Presley
  • 1960 – Duane Eddy
  • 1961-1972 – Elvis Presley

Best British Musical Personality

  • 1956 – Dickie Valentine
  • 1957 – Tommy Steele
  • 1958-1959 – Frankie Vaughan
  • 1960 – Lonnie Donegan
  • 1961 – Adam Faith
  • 1962-1963 – Joe Brown
  • 1964 – Cliff Richard
  • 1965 – John Lennon
  • 1966-1972 – Cliff Richard

Genre-Specific Categories

These are just a selection of the categories that relate to a particular genre of music.

Best Soul / Funk Act

  • 1973, 1975 – Stevie Wonder
  • 1984 – Womack & Womack
  • 1985 – Cameo

Best Reggae Act

  • 1984 – Smiley Culture
  • 1985 – UB40

Best R&B / Blues Act

  • 1964-1965 – The Rolling Stones
  • 1966 – Spencer Davis Group
  • 1967-1968 – The Rolling Stones
  • 1970 – Fleetwood Mac

Best Traditional Jazz Act

  • 1961 – Acker Bilk
  • 1962-1963 – Kenny Ball

Best Group

Finally, we reach the categories for best group – of which there are a few.

Best Group

  • 1954 – Stargazers
  • 1955 – Four Aces
  • 1956 – Stargazers
  • 1957 – The Platters
  • 1958-1962 – Everly Brothers
  • 1963-1965 – The Beatles
  • 1966 – The Beach Boys
  • 1967-1970 – The Beatles
  • 1971 – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  • 1972 – T. Rex
  • 1973 – Yes
  • 1975 – Roxy Music
  • 1976 – Led Zeppelin
  • 1977 – Sex Pistols
  • 1978 – The Clash
  • 1979-1982 – The Jam
  • 1983 – New Order
  • 1984-1987 – The Smiths
  • 1988 – The Wedding Present
  • 1989 – The Stone Roses
  • 1990 – Happy Mondays
  • 1991-1992 – R.E.M.

Best British Group

  • 1955 – Stargazers
  • 1957 – King Brothers
  • 1958-1959 – The Mudlarks
  • 1960 – King Brothers
  • 1961-1962 – The Springfields
  • 1963-1971 – The Beatles
  • 1972 – T. Rex
  • 1973 – Yes

Best British Small Band

  • 1952 – Johnny Dankworth Seven
  • 1954 – Ronnie Scott and His Orchestra
  • 1955-1957 – The Kirchins
  • 1958-1959 – Lonnie Donegan
  • 1960-1963 – The Shadows

Best British Large Band or Orchestra

  • 1952-1961 – Ted Heath and His Music
  • 1962-1963 – Joe Loss

Best British Instrumental Unit

  • 1964-1971 – The Shadows
  • 1972 – Collective Consciousness Society

Best Live Act

  • 1973 – Alice Cooper (World) & Genesis (British)
  • 1975 – Genesis
  • 1982 – The Jam
  • 1985 – The Pogues

That’s it for now – we’ll continue our journey through the NME Awards soon.


NME Poll Winners – The 1980s

Throughout the 1980s, the NME Poll Winners suffered without an annual ceremony where they could drink lots and vomit on the politicians of the day. Overshadowed by the more popular BPI Awards and British Rock & Pop Awards, it’s notable by the late eighties that contemporary pop has been eschewed altogether by NME’s readership.

Oh, and you might enjoy the slightly questionable choices for “human being of the year”…


  • Best Group: The Jam
  • Best New Act: UB40
  • Best Male Singer: Paul Weller
  • Best Guitarist: Paul Weller
  • Best Drummer: Rick Buckler
  • Best Songwriter: Paul Weller
  • Best Bassist: Bruce Foxton
  • Best Keyboardist: Dave Greenfield
  • Best Other Instrumentalist: Saxa
  • Best Single: The Jam, for Going Underground
  • Best Album: The Jam, for Sound Affects
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: The Jam, for Sound Affects
  • Best Disc Jockey: John Peel
  • Best Dressed Person: Adam Ant
  • Haircut of the Year: Eugene Reynolds
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Paul Weller
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Event of the Year: Death of John Lennon
  • TV Programme: Not the Nine O’Clock News
  • Movie of the Year: The Elephant Man


  • Best Group: The Jam
  • Best New Act: Altered Images
  • Most Missed Person: John Lennon
  • Best Songwriter: Paul Weller
  • Best Female Singer: Siouxsie Sioux
  • Best Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Best Single: The Specials, for Ghost Town
  • Best LP: Echo and the Bunnymen, for Heaven Up Here
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Echo and the Bunnymen, for Heaven Up Here
  • Best Guitarist: Paul Weller
  • Best Bassist: Bruce Foxton
  • Best Drummer: Rick Buckler
  • Best Keyboardist: Dave Greenfield
  • Best TV Programme: Coronation Street
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel
  • Best Film: Gregory’s Girl
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Paul Weller
  • Best Dressed Person: Michael Foot
  • Creep of the Year: Adam Ant*

* The NME website says “Adam Andy” but I suspect this must be a typo – please correct me if you disagree!


  • Best Group: The Jam
  • Best Male Singer: Paul Weller
  • Best Female Singer: Siouxsie Sioux
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Paul Weller
  • Best Songwriter: Paul Weller
  • Best Single: The Jam, for Town Called Malice
  • Best Longplayer: The Jam, for The Gift
  • Best Live Act: The Jam
  • Best Dancefloor Favourite: Wham!, for Young Guns (Go for It)
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Siouxsie and the Banshees – A Kiss in the Dreamhouse
  • Event of the Year: The Jam Split
  • Best Dressed Male: Paul Weller
  • Best Dressed Female: Siouxsie Sioux
  • Best Haircut: Paul Weller
  • Best Electronics: Vince Clarke
  • Best Guitarist: Paul Weller
  • Best Bassist: Bruce Foxton
  • Best Drummer: Rick Buckler
  • Best Miscellaneous Instrument: The Emerald Express, Violin
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel
  • Best Music Video: Madness, for House of Fun
  • Best TV Show: The Young Ones
  • Best Film: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial


  • Best Group: New Order
  • Best New Act: The Smiths
  • Best Dressed Female: Siouxsie Sioux
  • Female Singer: Siouxsie Sioux
  • Songwriter: Elvis Costello
  • Male Singer: David Bowie
  • Best Dressed Male: David Bowie
  • Best Long Player: Elvis Costello, for Punch the Clock
  • Best Single: New Order, for Blue Monday
  • Best Film: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
  • Best Promo Video: Michael Jackson, for Thriller
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Paul Weller
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • TV Show: The Tube
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: New Order, for Power, Corruption and Lies
  • Best Radio Programme: John Peel
  • Best Guitarist: The Edge
  • Best Drummer: Budgie
  • Best Miscellaneous Musician: The TKO Horns
  • Best Bassist: Peter Hook
  • Best Keyboardist: Steve Nieve


  • Best Group: The Smiths
  • Best New Act: Bronski Beat
  • Best Reggae Act: Smiley Culture
  • Best Soul Act: Womack & Womack
  • Best TV Show: The Tube
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel
  • Best Single: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for Relax
  • Best LP: Cocteau Twins, for Treasure
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for Welcome to the Pleasuredome
  • Promo Video: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, for Two Tribes
  • Best Film: Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • Best Male Singer: Bono
  • Best Songwriter: Morrissey / Johnny Marr
  • Best Female Singer: Elizabeth Fraser
  • Best Instrumentalist: Johnny Marr
  • Best Dressed Person: Paul Weller
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Arthur Scargill


  • Best Group: The Smiths
  • Best New Act: The Jesus and Mary Chain
  • Best Male Singer: Morrissey
  • Best Female Singer: Elizabeth Fraser
  • Best Songwriter: Morrissey / Johnny Marr
  • Best Single: The Jesus and Mary Chain, for Never Understand
  • LP of the Year: The Smiths, for Meat is Murder
  • Best Soul/Funk Band: Cameo
  • Best Reggae Act: UB40
  • Best Live Act: The Pogues
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Bob Geldof
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Best Dressed: Morrissey
  • Worst Dressed: Bob Geldof
  • Best Haircut: Morrissey
  • Worst Haircut: Feargal Sharkey
  • Biggest Mouth: Bob Geldof
  • Best Film: Letter to Brezhnev
  • Best TV Programme: The Old Grey Whistle Test
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel
  • Best Video: Talking Heads, for Road to Nowhere
  • Best Dressed Sleeve: The Pogues, for Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
  • Best Hype: The Jesus and Mary Chain


  • Best Single: The Smiths, for Panic
  • Best LP: The Smiths, for The Queen is Dead
  • Best Male Singer: Morrissey
  • Best Female Singer: Elizabeth Fraser
  • Best Group: The Smiths
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Morrissey
  • Best Club/Venue: Town & Country Club
  • Best Dance Record: Cameo, for Word Up
  • Threat of the Year: AIDS
  • Sex Symbol: Joanne Whalley
  • Event of the Year: 1986 FIFA World Cup
  • Best Film: Mona Lisa
  • Best TV Show: The Singing Detective
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Best New Music: The Housemartins
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel


  • Best Group: The Smiths
  • Best Single: Prince, for Sign O The Times
  • Best LP: The Smiths, for Strangeways Here We Come
  • Male Singer: Morrissey
  • Best Female Singer: Suzanne Vega
  • Best New Act: The Proclaimers
  • Best Dance Record: M/A/R/R/S, for Pump Up the Volume
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Morrissey
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher
  • Bad News of the Year: Another Conservative Victory at the General Election
  • Safe Sex: Morrissey
  • Radio: John Peel
  • Best TV Programme: Brookside
  • Best Film: Angel Heart
  • Event of the Year: Nuclear Agreement


  • Best Band: The Wedding Present
  • Solo Artist: Morrissey
  • Best New Band/Act: The House of Love
  • Best Single: The House of Love, for Destroy the Heart
  • Best LP: R.E.M., for Green
  • Best TV Show: Brookside
  • Ugly Bastard of the Year: Bros (collective award)
  • Object of Desire of the Year: Wendy James
  • Film of the Year: A Fish Called Wanda
  • Favourite NME Cover of 1988: Morrissey
  • Best Night Out: The Wedding Present
  • Radio Show of the Year: John Peel
  • Stimulant of the Year: Acid
  • Event of the Year: Nelson Mandela‘s Birthday Bash
  • Bad News of the Year: US Election Result
  • Most Wonderful Human Being: Morrissey
  • Creep of the Year: Margaret Thatcher


  • Band of the Year: The Stone Roses
  • LP of the Year: The Stone Roses, for The Stone Roses
  • Single of the Year: The Stone Roses, for Fool’s Gold
  • Best New Band/Artist: The Stone Roses
  • Best Solo Artist: Morrissey
  • Best Dance Record: Happy Mondays, for WFL
  • Hype of the Year: Batman
  • Object of Desire: Wendy James
  • Radio Show: John Peel
  • TV Show: Blackadder
  • Film of the Year: Dead Poets’ Society
  • Fashion of the Year: Flares
  • Club/Venue of the Year: The Haçienda
  • Event of the Year (Music): Reading Festival
  • Event of the Year (Real Life): Revolution in Eastern Europe
  • Bastard of the Year: Margaret Thatcher

See also

Pet Shop Boys – Actually

By 1987, thirty years ago this week, Pet Shop Boys were comfortably at the top of their game. Actually may have only peaked at number two on the charts, but it yielded two number one singles, plus another number one that wasn’t actually on the album (Always on My Mind), a number two, and another top ten hit. That’s quite impressive, by anybody’s standards.

It opens with One more chance, one of the many songs that they originally recorded with Bobby O in 1984, and that had already been released as a single in some territories. They completely re-recorded it for their second album, and then remixed it as a 12″ version, removing an entire verse in the process, and that’s the version that opens the album. Putting 12″ mixes on your album was still considered pretty revolutionary at this point, and so this is an unusual but undeniably catchy opener.

Then Dusty Springfield turns up out of nowhere – literally, as she had barely recorded anything for about a decade – to duet on the brilliant What have I done to deserve this? The shift of dynamic is ingenious – neither of the first two tracks really have much in common with anything on the debut album Please, and yet they still sound familiar.

Shopping is next, a social commentary on Thatcherite 1980s Britain. This is the single that never was – it’s catchy and you’ve almost certainly heard it before, but it was never released anywhere apart from on Actually. In a way it has some similarities to Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money) from the first album, and you have to wonder whether they intentionally wrote it as a “catchy” song. Pretty good though.

The singles alternate on each side of the album, so next comes the album’s one flop – the autumn single Rent only peaked at number 8. It’s a beautiful track though, one of the gentlest of Pet Shop Boys‘ early career, supplemented on the single by a couple of brilliant François Kevorkian remixes. The album version is a bit more plodding than the single mix, but still a brilliant track.

The pressure to write hit singles was clearly on at this stage, and so Hit Music pastiches a number of other people’s songs. It’s my least favourite track on here, but you can still easily appreciate the songwriting talent behind it – there’s a wonderful melancholy in the middle section that seems to appear from nowhere. This is also the second of three consecutive songs to talk about paying bills and rent (It Couldn’t Happen Here contains the line “Who pays your bills?”) which does make you wonder slightly what was going through Neil Tennant‘s mind at the time.

Side B opens with the slowest track on here, the exceptional It Couldn’t Happen Here. Famously co-written with Ennio Morricone and scored by Angelo Badalementi, it’s a beautifully melancholic piece about a friend of Neil Tennant‘s who had been diagnosed with AIDS. It also gave its name to the 1988 film which Pet Shop Boys famously released when they were unable to fund the tour they wanted to stage.

This leads to the enormous opening single It’s a Sin. If you don’t like this, you have no soul. Appearing on pretty much every top 100 list in the last thirty years, it hit number one across most of Western Europe and made the top ten pretty much everywhere else. With an appropriately overblown video to accompany it, it is a truly era-defining track.

I Want to Wake Up is the only track on here other than Hit Music that realistically never would have been a single, but it’s a strong album track. Strangely, Johnny Marr chose to rework it for his 1993 Remix, which took it to a very different place. Then the album version of Heart is, of course, not quite as good as the version that topped the charts six months or so later, but it’s still an excellent song, particularly when you reach the trick ending.

Nothing can really prepare you for the haunting quality of Kings Cross, another song about Margaret Thatcher, the then-British Prime Minister who was at the time busy selling off the nation’s public services. But even a conservative would appreciate this song on some level – it’s an exceptionally beautiful, if poignant, closing track.

So Actually sees Pet Shop Boys at their chart-topping, era-defining best, and anything that followed could never be this good. Or could it? If nothing else, the thirty years that have followed have been full of surprises.

At the time of writing, your best bet is to wait a little before purchasing Actually. It will be available again soon with the accompanying disc Further Listening 1987-1988.

Beth Orton – Daybreaker

She had risen pretty much out of nowhere over the preceding decade or so, and could now be regarded as a mature musician. For her fourth and most successful solo album, Beth Orton worked again with one of the stalwarts of what I hesitatingly call “folktronica,” Ben Watt, and also perhaps more surprisingly, Johnny Marr turned up to help out as well.

Daybreaker was released fifteen years ago this week, and opens with a sweet pop song called Paris Train, although there’s little clue in the lyrics why that might be a suitable title. When Orton is at her blandest, her songs are pleasant but distinctly unmemorable, and this is a good example of this.

Concrete Sky is the collaboration with Johnny Marr, and perhaps because of this, it does stand out somewhat, although Mount Washington, which follows, is the first track on here that really gets anywhere close to catchy. Then comes Anywhere, which was the lead single – and deservedly so – it’s probably the best track on the album.

Honestly, it might have sold well, but this isn’t a great album from this point onwards. The title track Daybreaker is pleasantly trippy and has some fun sound effects in it, but it’s not exactly exciting. Carmella and God Song are either pleasant or dull, depending on your perspective. The titles are still pretty perplexing for the most part, as well.

Some of them are witty, at least – This One’s Gonna Bruise, a collaboration with Ryan Adams, is a pleasant listen too. Orton’s haunting vocal breathlessly works its way through the notes, and the contrast with the electronic rhythm of the opening beats of Ted’s Waltz is notable too. But don’t get too excited – there’s nothing that would pass for uptempo on this half of the album.

Maybe not getting excited is exactly the point. There is a nice rhythmic quality to Ted’s Waltz, making it stand out somewhat, and while this might be a downtempo album by its very nature, it certainly isn’t boring. But hopefully it’s also OK to find it a little dull at times.

In which case, closing track Thinking About Tomorrow is entirely appropriate, as it’s forgettable on every level. It’s a shame, but there it is. Ultimately Daybreaker is far from a bad album, but it’s not even Beth Orton‘s finest hour. Get Central Reservation instead.

You should still be able to find Daybreaker at all major retailers.

Electronic – Twisted Tenderness

Electronic‘s first album is widely celebrated as being excellent, and as I found out a couple of weeks ago, the second one turns out to be a lot better than any of us remembered too. But as I listened to that one to write the review, I found myself questioning my memories of the third one – is it really as bad as I remembered? Let’s find out.

I’m always a bit suspicious of noisy, industrial electronica, and listening to opening track Make it Happen, I wonder if that might be where my dissatisfaction with Twisted Tenderness stemmed from. It’s a nice enough jingly synth line at the beginning, and then a funky guitar line comes in before we get the vocal. This is telling: “Sometimes we find ourselves searching for something new,” Bernard Sumner tells us.

Well, doing “new” things just for the sake of it is a bit misguided, but let’s give it a chance anyway. Bernard and his bandmate Johnny Marr had clearly been listening to a lot of The Chemical Brothers (and as it turned out, Sumner was also working with them on Out of Control, which was rather better than this and appeared a few months later).

The other telling aspect is Arthur Baker, who turns up as producer here, with some supporting work from members of Doves and Black Grape. Baker has plenty of electronic music on his CV of course, but by the late 1990s seemed to have settled on a much darker, more industrial sound. Which is OK, of course – guitars are “electronic” too, but I suspect Electronic might have been on a mission to alienate their established fanbase here.

Eventually Make it Happen draws to a close and the charmless Haze begins. Where this succeeds over the preceding track is in its chorus: this time it fits nicely, whereas Make it Happen‘s seemed shoehorned in at best.

There’s a noticeable change in mood at the start of the one and only single Vivid, with its curious mix of electronic backing and harmonica with guitars and live drums. Despite that, it’s actually a pretty good song – it could have just about fitted as one of the less good moments on the preceding album Raise the Pressure. But that’s about it – it’s good, but nothing too great. And I can’t help but worry that might be as good as this album gets.

Neither is it ever too bad though – at worst, it’s listenable, even if it’s not really our thing. The less good moments (Breakdown) are always balanced by the better ones (Can’t Find My Way HomeTwisted Tenderness). I suspect the latter is intended to provide continuity to the previous releases, but even so, barely a moment goes by when you don’t find yourself looking at this album’s neighbours on the shelf and wishing you were listening to one of them instead.

Like No Other is forgettable, and Late at Night was almost going to be the second single, but never quite got its full release, and honestly that’s no major injustice. The better moments still appear – Prodigal Son drags on a bit, but it’s pretty good, but closing tracks When She’s Gone and Flicker are nothing special.

When I write these reviews, I just listen to the album and write what I think. Sometimes I’m wrong, and people quite rightly call me out for it. Other times their arguments (like mine) are clearly tempered by their memories. But I wonder if anyone will rush in to defend this album? Because honestly, right now I think I’m right – either it isn’t very good, or I’m just not its intended audience. Probably the latter, but in that case, who is?

You can still find Twisted Tenderness at all major retailers.

Electronic – Raise the Pressure

It was a painfully long five-year gap between Electronic‘s eponymous debut and the follow-up Raise the Pressure, released twenty years ago this week. Often forgotten and overshadowed by its older brother, this release saw them collaborating with Karl Bartos, both bucking and following the trend by creating a contemporary indie sound using soft synths.

I have to confess, I do have fond memories of this album, but it isn’t one I listen to often these days – I had assumed it was perhaps best left in the past, but now, twenty years on, it sounds amazing. First track Forbidden City is just so good! It’s a catchy song, with Bernard Sumner all over it, and somehow it’s very good indeed.

For You is rather closer to my memories of this album – it’s far from bad, harking back in its own way to Johnny Marr‘s past, but somehow it seems a little clumsier and less elegant than its predecessor. The middle section is nice, but the “la la la” coda seems a bit unnecessary. As the second single, it definitely didn’t have the power of the first, although a great package including tracks from earlier singles did make it worth owning.

For much of the album, it seems to flip backwards and forwards between then-contemporary indie-style songs, and the more “electronic” sound that you might expect from a group called Electronic, and so promo single Dark Angel is a pleasant inclusion. Honestly I think it sounded pretty dated when it came out, and now it definitely belongs in another era, but it’s a strong song. This time, the middle section is nothing short of brilliant.

This album is a mixed bag, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s also varied enough to always be interesting. One Day isn’t anything too special, but then we get the wonderful Until the End of Time. Nothing really sounds as though it was recorded in 1996, and I wonder if that’s the timeless quality that Karl Bartos brought to the table. If you can put that out of your mind, this is an easy album to enjoy, and with its energetic 303 work and catchy chorus, Until the End of Time is definitely one of the better things on it.

Third single Second Nature comes next, with its enormous piano introduction. The track that emerges is great, but you can’t help but feel a little disappointed after the way it began. This isn’t true of the beautifully Teutonic If You’ve Got Love, which in spite of a somewhat lacklustre chorus, is largely brilliant. Then Out of My League is a great, if unstirring rock track.

After a short interlude (Interlude) we get another of the best tracks on here, Freefall. For the first time in a few songs – possibly since the first – the melodies and lyrics actually fit together perfectly, and the backing complements them too. This is what Electronic sound like at their best.

It would be easy to ignore the last few songs on here – this album has thirteen tracks in total, and that’s just about enough to feel a bit burnt out by this stage. But Visit Me refuses to be forgotten, surprising you with one of the best melodies and one of the cleverest lyrics on here. How Long, an attempt to close things out in particularly triumphant fashion, is only a success to a certain degree – this time the backing is rather better than the slightly dubious chorus lyric.

This is a long album, but when the end comes, it’s a bit like the end of the encores at a concert – your legs are killing you and your ears are ringing, and part of you should have been fast asleep by now, but you really don’t want the moment to end. Time Can Tell is the perfect album closer – it’s another of the best songs on here, and seems a worthy reward to those who stuck this release right through to the end.

Twenty years on, it turns out that Electronic‘s second release is well worth a reappraisal. Maybe it isn’t quite as good as Electronic, but that would be a lot to ask. Difficult it may have been, but this is a worthy second album. I wonder if the third one still stands up this well.

There was a digital-only special edition at one point, but if you’re looking for a CD, there’s just one version of Raise the Pressure, still available here.

Vinyl Moments – Electronic

Following last week’s session listening to vinyl from New Order, an obvious next step was to move onto Bernard Sumner‘s side-step with Johnny Marr, Electronic.

IMG_1468Electronic burst into most people’s consciousness in 1989, with the magnificent one-off single Getting Away with It, a collaboration with Neil Tennant of Pet Shop Boys. Inexplicably (inexcusably) omitted from their debut album on its initial release in the UK, it made it on to the US version, and subsequently the later UK releases too. I chose to listen to the 7″ version, from the sleeveless single which I remember finding in a record shop in Surfers Paradise in Australia some time around 1996.

Side B on both the 7″ and the 12″, which I found somewhere else a lot later, is the pleasant instrumental Lucky Bag. While this may have never changed the world, it definitely has its place in history – if nothing else, as the b-side to Getting Away with It.

Following a couple of years later was Get the Message, noticeably better mastered on its 7″ single. It’s also an even better single than the first – somehow Marr’s guitar work and the electronic backing come together perfectly, and Sumner is on fine form here.

The second side of this disc brings another lovely instrumental. This one, Free Will is short and sweet, and also considerably better than Lucky Bag. Somewhat unusually, this is a particularly great 7″ single.

The third release from the album was the more subdued Feel Every Beat, the back cover of which was included on the image above (I think that’s the back cover, anyway – it’s a little difficult to tell). Side A of the 12″ single features Danny Rampling‘s 12″ mix, but that’s been released elsewhere so I jumped straight to the exclusive dub mix.

Having initially picked the wrong speed to play it at (I guessed 33rpm), I discovered that  Rampling had had a lot of fun mixing in elements from Kraftwerk‘s then-recent album The Mix. As with any good dub version – and there are plenty of bad examples – this takes interesting elements from the original and 12″ mix, and draws them off in some interesting and unusual directions. Electronic never included a lot of remixes on their UK singles, and this one is a particular treat.

There’s just one bonus track on the 12″, Lean to the Inside. I remember not being too impressed by this when I first heard it, but actually it’s pretty good. Another instrumental, not entirely dissimilar to Soviet on the album, it bobs along pleasantly with its pizzicato lead for four minutes or so before this particular journey comes to an end.

Of course, the next single, Disappointed, which sadly I don’t have on vinyl, saw Electronic collaborate again with Pet Shop Boys, which gives us a good link to next week’s vinyl moment, when we’ll be exploring their early days.