Björk – Debut

Björk is definitely an artist that I don’t listen to anywhere near enough. For me, as a newcomer to the world of music, she seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere with 1993’s brilliant Debut, but of course to anyone who knew what they were talking about, she had been floating around the alternative music scene for six years already as party of The Sugarcubes. Actually, before all that, she was a child star in Iceland, having released her actual debut Björk in 1977, but this is not the story of her career, it’s a review of her Debut album.

But Debut, or perhaps more accurately, “comeback”, opens with the brilliant Human Behaviour, produced, as most of the album is, by the then-prolific Nellee Hooper, and released as her debut solo single in June 1993. It’s a great song, challenging in the way that Björk‘s songs often are, but also catchy and clever at the same time.

Next comes Crying, a slightly more generic but still enjoyable track that leads us through to the frankly brilliant Venus as a Boy, the second single in summer 1993. Producer Hooper had, of course, not long before, taken Massive Attack‘s Unfinished Sympathy into the upper reaches of the charts, and he’s definitely applying some of the lessons learnt here as well.

At the time, there did seem to be quite a lot of singles coming out from this album, although there only actually appear to have been five after all, so there are plenty of songs that would never have been hits, and There’s More to Life Than This is definitely one of these. It’s got a pleasant house-meets-disco feel, and Björk pronounces “ghetto blaster” adorably, but it’s not amazing, frankly.

Just three years earlier, she had collaborated on a partially jazz-themed album Gling-Gló, and it’s refreshing to know that she hadn’t turned entirely to the dance sound, as Like Someone in Love, delivered with a jazz vocal style, pulls together a manically strummed harp, seashore noises, and not a whole lot else actually.

Big Time Sensuality was the final single of 1993, a brilliant house piece coupled on the second CD with millions of remixed by the fantastic Fluke and Justin Robertson of Lionrock. It’s bonkers, of course, but this is one of the finest songs on here.

One Day is pleasant too, a gently chilled out dance track that bobs along very nicely indeed for a few minutes. Some tracks, though, such as Aeroplane, are less interesting. Pleasant to have on here, and useful within the broader context of the album, of course, but definitely less essential.

But you’re never far from greatness on this album – Come to Me is lovely, and Violently Happy, released early in 1994 as the final single, with more mixes by Fluke and Graham Massey of 808 State, actually ended up as the second biggest hit from this release. The Anchor Song is a bit of an odd interlude, but it just about works as the closing track of the original version of the album.

Play Dead closes the album, on all the modern versions – and rightly so. At some point after Debut was originally released, David Arnold worked with her and Jah Wobble on this track for the film The Young Americans. Justifiably the biggest hit from this release, it’s quite fantastic – and a great one to hide for the end of the album. I do feel a bit bad for the people who bought the original version and missed out on this on the end, but if you weren’t quite that forward thinking, you might have had to buy this album twice.

It’s a great album, though, and a fantastic Debut. Highly recommended.

You can still find Debut all over the place – just make sure you get the version with Play Dead on the end of it.

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NME Awards – The 1990s

In 1994, the NME Awards suddenly went public, relaunching for the first time in twenty years as an annual awards ceremony, The NME Brat Awards. I’d always thought as the NME of the 1990s as being rather closed-minded, but they do seem to have been remarkably aware of non-indie forms of music, presenting awards to the likes of Tricky and Goldie towards the end of the decade.

NME Brat Awards 1994

After taking a break in 1993, the NME Poll finally reinvented itself as an actual awards ceremony in early 1994. Presenters: Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer.

  • Best New Band: Elastica
  • Best Single: Radiohead, for Creep
  • Best Band: Suede
  • Best Album: The Boo Radleys, for Giant Steps
  • Best Dance Act: Orbital
  • Godlike Genius Award: John Peel
  • Live Event: Megadog
  • Rap Act: Cypress Hill
  • Best Film: Reservoir Dogs
  • Worst Record: Meat Loaf, for I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)
  • Best Venue: The Forum
  • Event of 1993: Unity March
  • Best Radio Show: John Peel
  • Hype: Jurassic Park
  • Best Solo Artist: Björk
  • Best New Act: Credit to the Nation
  • Bastard: John Major
  • Object of Desire: Björk

NME Awards 1995

Presenters: Tip Top TV

  • Best LP: Blur, for Parklife
  • Best Single: Oasis, for Live Forever
  • Best New Band: Oasis
  • Best Solo Artist: Paul Weller
  • Worst Record: Whigfield, for Saturday Night
  • Film of the Year: Pulp Fiction
  • Best TV Show: Knowing Me Knowing You with Alan Partridge
  • Best Comedian: Steve Coogan
  • Most Desirable Human Being: Kylie Minogue
  • Best Club/Venue: Brixton Academy
  • NME Album of the Year: Oasis, for Definitely Maybe
  • NME Singles of the Year: Blur, for Girls and Boys
  • Philip Hall/On Award for Best New Act: Gene
  • Godlike Genius Award for Services to Music: Alan McGee, Creation Records
  • Live Act of the Year: Blur
  • Best Rap Artist: Warren G
  • Event of the Year: Glastonbury Festival
  • Bummer of the Year: Kurt Cobain‘s Suicide
  • Best Video: Blur, for Parklife
  • Best Band: Blur
  • Best Live Event: Orbital at Glastonbury

NME Awards 1996

Presenters: Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer

  • Best Live Act: Oasis
  • Best Band: Oasis
  • Best LP: Oasis, for (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
  • Best Single: Oasis, for Wonderwall
  • Vibes Award for Best Dance Act: Goldie
  • Best Dance Act: The Prodigy
  • Best Solo Artist: Paul Weller
  • The Special Award for Services Beyond the Call of Duty: Tony Crean for organising the War Child LP
  • Album of the Year: Tricky, for Maxinquaye
  • Single of the Year: Black Grape, for Reverend Black Grape
  • Worst Record: Robson Green and Jerome Flynn, for I Believe
  • Godlike Genius Award: Michael Eavis
  • Best Musical Event: Glastonbury Festival
  • Non-Musical Event: French Nuclear Testing
  • Best Dressed Person: Jarvis Cocker
  • Worst Dressed Person: Jarvis Cocker
  • Best Video: Pulp, for Common People
  • Live Act of the Year: Pulp
  • Best TV Programme: Shooting Stars
  • Best New Band: Supergrass
  • The Philip Hall Radar Award: Rocket from the Crypt
  • Best Radio Show: Radio 1’s Evening Session
  • Best Film: The Usual Suspects
  • Best Comedian: Steve Coogan
  • Most Desirable Human Being: Liam Gallagher
  • Git of the Year: Damon Albarn
  • Best Venue: Brixton Academy

NME Awards 1997

Took place on 28 January 1997.

  • Best LP: Manic Street Preachers, for Everything Must Go
  • Best Single: Manic Street Preachers, for A Design for Life
  • Best Live Act: Manic Street Preachers
  • Musical Moment of the Year: Skinner, Baddiel and The Lightning Seeds , for Three Lions
  • Best LP: Beck, for Odelay
  • Best Single: Underworld, for Born Slippy
  • Worst Single: Spice Girls, for Wannabe
  • Best Solo Artist: Beck
  • Best Radio Show: Radio 1 Evening Session
  • Most Desirable Person: Louise Wener
  • Best Video: The Prodigy, for Firestarter
  • Biggest Disappointment: The Stone Roses breaking up
  • Best Club/Venue: Brixton Academy
  • Best Band: Oasis
  • Worst Dressed Person: Liam Gallagher
  • Worst Band: Oasis
  • Arse of the Year: Liam Gallagher
  • Musical Event of the Year: Oasis at Knebworth
  • Radio 1 Evening Session Of The Year: Suede
  • Best New Band/Artist: Kula Shaker
  • Philip Hall/On Award for Best New Act: Super Furry Animals
  • Best Dance Act: The Prodigy
  • Vibes Award for Best Dance Act: Orbital
  • Best Film: Trainspotting
  • Best TV Show: Shooting Stars

NME Awards 1998

Took place on 27 January 1998. Presenter: Eddie Vedder

  • Best Band: The Verve
  • Best LP: Radiohead, for OK Computer
  • God Like Genius: Mark E. Smith of The Fall
  • Best Single: The Verve, for Bitter Sweet Symphony
  • Best Solo Artist: Beck
  • Worst Single: Aqua, for Barbie Girl
  • Best Film: The Full Monty
  • Musical Event Of 1997: Glastonbury Festival
  • Radio 1 Evening Session of the Year: Radiohead
  • Best TV Show: Shooting Stars
  • Best Dance Act: The Prodigy
  • Best Radio Show: Mark Radcliffe and Lard (Mark Riley)
  • Best New Band: Embrace
  • Best Club/Venue: Brixton Academy
  • Best Music Video: The Verve, for Bittersweet Symphony
  • Best Dance Single: The Prodigy, for Smack My Bitch Up
  • Dickhead Of The Year: Liam Gallagher
  • Most Desirable Person: Louise Nurding (Louise)

NME Premier Awards 1999

  • Best Single: Manic Street Preachers, for If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next
  • Best Band: Manic Street Preachers
  • Best Music Video: Manic Street Preachers, for If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next
  • Best Album: Manic Street Preachers, for This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours
  • Best New Band: Gomez
  • Best Radio Show: Mark Radcliffe
  • Best Dance Act: Fatboy Slim
  • Best Dance Record: Fatboy Slim, for The Rockafeller Skank
  • Godlike Genius: Massive Attack
  • Best TV Show: South Park
  • Best Film: Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels
  • Musical Event of the Year: Glastonbury Festival
  • Best Solo Artist: Robbie Williams
  • Most Desirable Person: Natalie Imbruglia
  • Worst Record: Billie Piper, for Because We Want to
  • Dickhead of the Year: Liam Gallagher
  • Best Venue: Brixton Academy
  • The Pop Personality’s Brain That Should Be Kept Alive for Posterity: Nicky Wire
  • The Pop Personality Who Would Make the Best Drugs Czar: Shaun Ryder
  • The Pop Personality You Would To See On A Blind Date: Marilyn Manson and Billie Piper
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like as Your Doctor: Natalie Imbruglia
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like to Go Shopping with: Brian Molko
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like to Cook You a Meal: Tiny Woods
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like to Be Marooned on a Desert Island with: Louise
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like as Prime Minister: Nicky Wire
  • The Pop Personality That You’d Most Like as Your Driving Instructor: Jay Kay
  • The Pop Personality You Would Most Like to See in a Ring with Mike Tyson: Billie Piper

See also

Edited 12 Jun 2018 – clarified some formatting.

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

It always surprises me somewhat that Massive Attack‘s third album Mezzanine seems to be their best known, and quite possibly also their best selling release. It’s also rather shocking that it celebrates its twentieth anniversary this week.

Horace Andy was always a mainstay of Massive Attack albums, and we don’t have to wait long for his appearance here, as he leads the vocals on Angel. This was the third of the singles from this album, and was pretty much their smallest hit to date, but it’s a good opening track. The mood is clearly much darker than it had been on Protection (1994), but that’s no bad thing.

Risingson had appeared as the surprise comeback single in late 1997, and while perhaps a little unmemorable, it’s easily as good as the opening track, with a similarly all-pervading darkness that gives it a very unusual feel.

But not every track is this gloomy – for TeardropElizabeth Fraser turns up to deliver the vocal, giving it a bit more of a cheery feel than its neighbours. It’s melodic and less spacious than we might be used to from Massive Attack, but no less brilliant. It’s also probably one of their best known tracks after Unfinished Sympathy, as well as being their biggest hit single, although it only just scraped into the top ten at number ten.

The key here, intentional or otherwise, seems to be to try to get all the singles out of the way at the start, and so the fourth track is also the fourth single, Inertia Creeps, released as a non-charting single in late 1998. This definitely represents a return to the darker sounds of earlier.

Exchange is an odd, almost jazzy piece that slows the mood down, but it’s a pleasant piece, but Dissolved Girl doesn’t entirely work. Maybe it’s just because the first few tracks were so different and groundbreaking, but this just feels like a bit of a filler at best.

Still, things pick up again with Man Next Door, with Horace Andy on vocals again. When Massive Attack are good, they’re exceptional, and this is a fine demonstration of that. It’s slow, and full of reverb and atmosphere. By this stage, you’re either deeply seduced by the dark mood of the album, or starting to notice a bit of repetition, as Elizabeth Fraser turns up again to deliver the vocal on the pleasantly trippy Black Milk.

Title track Mezzanine has little new to offer – in the context of the album it helps build the atmosphere, but it’s nothing special. Group Four stands out a little more, but most of these latter tracks are unlikely to be remembered by most listeners. Finally, we get (Exchange), a vocal version of the earlier instrumental, and Massive Attack‘s best-known album finally comes to an end.

This album marks a definite transition between Protection and the follow-up 100th Window, but it does seem difficult now to understand quite why it’s so well known compared to its predecessors. Perhaps it all comes down to Teardrop. Or perhaps I’m missing something obvious here – it’s far from a bad album, but it surely can’t be their finest hour?

You can still find this album at all major retailers.

Massive Attack – 100th Window

Released fifteen years ago this week, 100th Window was Massive Attack‘s fourth album, released five years after Mezzanine. With increasingly long pauses between each release, Daddy G stepped aside for this album and left Robert “3D” del Naja to record it pretty much on his own, with the help of a lot of guests and co-producer Neil Davidge.

It opens with Future Proof, a dark but engaging return to form with 3D delivering the vocals. You could definitely hope for something more pop-flavoured, but not really for anything much better than this. Then, of all people, Sinéad O’Connor appears to deliver the dull second track What Your Soul Sings.

Horace Andy, long a mainstay of Massive Attack releases, turns up for the pleasant but entirely forgettable Everywhen. The tracks here are long – there’s nothing shorter than five minutes on the entire release – and they’re mostly pretty grungy and dark. There’s a certain apocalyptic beauty to this album, but somehow it doesn’t quite feel like Massive Attack. Even when Horace Andy is delivering the vocals.

Next is Special Cases, another collaboration with Sinéad O’Connor. This was the lead single, and is considerably more engaging than the earlier collaboration, although still far from either act’s finest work. Then the second single follows straight after, Butterfly Caught, which is a 3D solo effort, and is pretty good as well (although some of the remixes on the single livened it up and elevated it somewhat). For the first time in a few tracks, the deep atmosphere and lyrical work really seem to come together particularly well.

Sinéad O’Connor is back next, this time for A Prayer for England, which unfortunately comes across as a rather dreary track. It’s a shame given the moving subject matter – it’s about children killed in England during the troubles – but somehow as a song I’m not convinced that it quite works.

Then comes Small Time Shot Away, which adds Damon Albarn as “2D” on backing vocals, although I’m not sure you would ever notice if you didn’t know that. Nothing special here either, unfortunately. As with the rest of the album, it’s fine as background music, but it would never change and inspire the world in the way that Blue LinesProtection, or Mezzanine did.

Horace Andy returns for Name Taken, another of the stronger tracks on here. When this album works well, the deeply atmospheric backing and abstract vocals come together to form a pleasant track. It’s not – let’s be blunt – something that was ever going to get to the top of the charts, but I don’t think that’s what del Naja was really aiming for here.

The album did, actually – perhaps surprisingly, but Special Cases was a respectable hit, charting at number 15 in the UK, and probably with a significant boost from their previous reputation, the first Massive Attack album in five years shot to the top of the charts, giving them their second number one. But whereas all its predecessors have long since reached double platinum status, this one only went gold.

Finally we get Antistar, perhaps one of the liveliest tracks on here, with a rippling arpeggio that turns up half way through. It’s still dark, but it’s a touch more uplifting than most of its neighbours. The good news is that while your music player might tell you this track is just shy of twenty minutes long, it isn’t – it’s about eight minutes, and then there’s a bit of silence before an almost intolerably dreary hidden track that closes the album out, although that does last ten minutes by itself.

So is 100th Window worth tracking down? Well yes – it’s a good album. Just don’t go into it expecting your world to be changed in the way it was when you listened to any of their earlier efforts, and you might just be pleasantly surprised. This is a single-minded, somewhat depressed and introspective Massive Attack, but they still have plenty to say for themselves.

You can still find 100th Window at all major music retailers, including here.

Chart for stowaways – 7 October 2017

Here are the week’s top singles:

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Reunion
  2. Erasure – Love You To The Sky
  3. Kraftwerk – Trans Europa Express
  4. Kraftwerk – Computerliebe
  5. Depeche Mode – Going Backwards
  6. Saint Etienne – Magpie Eyes
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)
  8. Pet Shop Boys – I’m with Stupid
  9. David Bowie – Heroes
  10. Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP

Retro chart for stowaways – 21 October 2006

Here are the top albums from eleven years ago this week:

  1. Delerium – Nuages du Monde
  2. Front Line Assembly – Artificial Soldier
  3. Kings Have Long Arms – I Rock – Eye Pop
  4. The Future Sound of London – Teachings from the Electronic Brain
  5. Hot Chip – The Warning
  6. Electronic – Get the Message – The Best Of
  7. Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  8. Massive Attack – Collected
  9. Faithless – Forever Faithless – The Greatest Hits
  10. Conjure One – Extraordinary Ways

Artist of the Week – Everything But The Girl

Time now for the last of our old artists of the week. As always, please accept my apologies for errors, plagiarism, laziness, greed, or anything else that might annoy you!

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn formed Everything But The Girl way back in 1984, after each releasing a solo album. Throughout the 1980s, they scored numerous minor hit singles and albums, but their biggest hits were always cover versions, including 1988’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It. In 1992, Ben Watt famously came very close to death, suffering for over a year from a near-fatal illness.

Their return in 1994 with Amplified Heart saw them carefully examining different musical directions, but it was at the end of the year when they worked with Massive Attack on the Protection album, and this saw them head into the world of dance music. Todd Terry‘s 1995 remix of Missing propelled them to the top end of the charts, providing them with their biggest hit, and the following year they returned with the Walking Wounded album, with numerous substantial hits.

In 1998 they wored with Deep Dish on The Future of the Future, and this saw them heading deeper and darker into house and drum and bass territory. 1999’s Temperamental album was a deep and dark affair, with extensive exploratory tracks but a few accessible moments.

Since then they seem to have faltered somewhat as a band, but of course they are now married with children. Ben Watt spent three years running the Lazy Dog club in London, and continues to put out individual deep house tracks on small independent labels including his own Buzzin’ Fly label. They’ve also put out their third singles compilation Like the Deserts Miss the Rain, and, more recently, an astoundingly good remix album, Adapt or Die.