Celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this week is the Inspiral Carpets‘ fourth album Devil Hopping. I’ll be honest here – I don’t know a huge amount about this group. They were always around when I was growing up, and they were signed to Mute, so I always paid a bit of extra attention. Of course, famously Noel Gallagher was one of their roadies prior to finding his own success, which is a good claim to fame.
It opens with the catchy but loud second single I Want You, which on the single version came with additional vocals from Mark E. Smith of The Fall. On both versions, it’s pure rock, almost punk at times, with the manic drumming. Here on the album, it’s loud and does have that manic drumming, but the vocals aren’t quite punk, which is probably why they replaced them. It’s interesting though – definitely a catchy opener.
When I think of the Inspiral Carpets, I think of rhythmic, almost dance-based rock, though, and Party in the Sky is much closer to that blueprint. It sounds as though most of it was played live, but there’s a brilliant flanged guitar sound that plays on the right hand side from time to time that sounds as though a dance producer had a hand in building some of this. And having checked, one did – Pascal Gabriel, later of pop-dance trio Peach was the producer here.
There are times when they channel 1970s rock rather brilliantly, and Plutoman is one of those. There’s a bit of piano and gentle synth backing, with just the slightest prog rock-style guitar noodling until the chorus. The Hammond organ, the sound that always heavily characterised Inspiral Carpets‘ sound turns up for the first time here in the chorus.
Uniform is the track that this album has been building up to – for the first time, this is wholeheartedly the sound that I expect of this group. The verse is soft with rhythmic guitar, the bridge adds a bit of extra synth, and then the chorus just jumps up a notch and explodes with a whole load of Hammond organ. I’m not sure quite why I expect this as their blueprint – possibly just because I know Saturn 5 so well, as we’ll no doubt discuss in a few moments – but this seems to me to be exactly what I want from Inspiral Carpets.
That isn’t to say there aren’t a few dull moments on here, though – there are plenty. Lovegrove is nice, but not especially interesting. Just Wednesday has some fun rhyming in the lyrics, but otherwise you’ve heard most of this by now.
Then we get Saturn 5, the hugely energetic lead single, with its largely incomprehensible lyrics about the Soviet space program (or whatever they’re actually about). It was a modest hit, peaking at just number 20 in early 1994, but somehow has left an indelible mark on my mind. If I hadn’t already been listening to music for a couple of years before this, it’s very possible that this could have become my favourite track of all time – I probably would have got pulled into the indie explosion that followed a year or so later, and this blog would have had some very different content.
As it was, Saturn 5 was probably my first exposure to real rock music, as there just wasn’t much on the radio in the early-to-mid 1990s. I had been listening to a lot of synth-based pop, and increasingly a bit of dance – even some early trance and drum and bass. So, perhaps counterintuitively, I understood this immediately – it’s beautifully structured, with a catchy but softer introduction that leads you through to the verse, an instrumental bridge, another verse, and then an enormous chorus, where everything just explodes. It’s a lot more organic than most of what I had been listening to, but I would have understood that too, having always had my parents’ classical and opera playing in the background when I was younger.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I love Saturn 5. So much so, that when writing this review I decided I had to listen to it twice. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before – it really is that good. Sorry – bit of an essay there, but I think it deserves it. I think I’ve been waiting about a quarter of a century to write this review.
Obviously, nothing else here is ever going to live up to that for me, but I’ll try to be fair. But honestly All of This and More is more of a punk-rock piece, and doesn’t really cut it for me unfortunately. Way the Light Falls is nice, a softer track with huge Hammond organ but relatively little guitar. Half Way There has some fun lyrics, including the brilliant “Would I lie to you? / Yes, I probably would,” in the chorus.
But honestly, by this point the album, I’ll be honest that as a casual Inspiral Carpets listener, I’m actually starting to tire a bit of them. There’s just enough variety to keep you entertained, but some of the songs are a little bit similar to one another – probably fine if you’re a fan, but not really enough to keep a casual listener paying attention.
Cobra is faster, with more of the manic drumming that we heard on the opening track, and it is a bit different to most of the things we’ve heard up to now. Plus, it’s only a couple of minutes longer, soon passing the baton onto the closing track I Don’t Want to Go Blind. This is a more stripped affair, showing us just how good a vocalist Tom Hingley is. Instruments join the song, one by one, until by the end, there’s a fair bit going on. At this point, it does sound a lot like the tracks we heard earlier, but that’s fine. It’s a good closing track. With some extra drum work.
So that’s Devil Hopping. Unsurprisingly, for me, there’s little to grab my attention other than Saturn 5, but this album does have its moments, particularly with I Want You, Plutoman, and Uniform. It’s worth having the album to help understand the context of Saturn 5, but for me, I have to confess that there’s probably only ever going to be one Inspiral Carpets track.
Bizarrely, Devil Hopping seems to have fallen out of print, but you can still find the digital edition through major retailers and streaming sites.