Chart for stowaways – 17 February 2018

Here’s the latest singles chart:

  1. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  2. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  3. The Beloved – Don’t You Worry
  4. Goldfrapp – Happiness
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  6. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  8. David Bowie – Beauty and the Beast
  9. Yazoo – Only You
  10. Saint Etienne – Dive

Chart for stowaways – 10 February 2018

The top ten singles this week:

  1. Simon Mills – Poke EP
  2. Sparks – I Wish You Were Fun
  3. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – What Have We Done
  4. Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
  5. The Beloved – Don’t You Worry
  6. Goldfrapp – Happiness
  7. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – As We Open, So We Close
  8. Yazoo – Only You
  9. Saint Etienne – Dive
  10. Kylie Minogue – Dancing

Bent – The Everlasting Blink

Fifteen years ago this week, the brilliant Bent released their second proper album The Everlasting Blink, which took the charts by gentle nudge in early 2003. Since they’re definitely one of your favourite Nottingham-based chillout electronica acts, this seems a worthwhile anniversary to celebrate.

It had been a couple of years since the minor success of debut Programmed to Love, but relatively little seemed to have changed in Bent‘s world, and they were still able to craft beautiful, elegant chillout music, as the lovely opening track King Wisp ably demonstrates. But nothing is ever quite what it seems, as Mozart makes an appearance in this track.

Next is the adorable An Ordinary Day, full of analogue chirps and built around a vocal by Lena Martell, it’s really rather brilliant. This was, of course, the same year that Röyksopp‘s Melody AM broke the charts, and there are definitely certain commonalities between the two albums. This one did not, unfortunately, sell quite as well, but it’s every bit as accomplished.

Next is a Nana Mouskouri sample for the equally adorable Strictly Bongo, which carries the album gently onwards. But track four is the big surprise, and as I recall this was the reason I started listening to Bent in the first place. I was in a little independent record shop (remember them?) just browsing, and suddenly I heard the voice of one of my favourite singers, Jon Marsh of The Beloved. Knowing that they hadn’t released anything new for several years, I was intrigued. I asked the shop assistant what it was, and bought the album then and there.

The thing with Beautiful Otherness isn’t that it was Jon Marsh‘s first vocal performance for a number of years, though – it’s that it’s absolutely fantastic. The rippling piano, drifting lyrics, and generally perfect mood are what set this track apart. I never realised until researching this that Stephen Hague had a hand in it too, which of course helps. It deserved to be a huge hit single, but that was never to be.

After that, anything was going to be a bit anticlimactic, and sure enough, there isn’t really anything wrong with Moonbeams – it’s very pleasant, in fact, with its pedal steel guitar work – but it does suffer by not quite being Beautiful OthernessToo Long Without You gets closer, as it cleverly samples two different songs by Billie Jo Spears, and works very nicely indeed.

Exercise 3 is joyful and fun, if a little silly, and then we get the first of the two singles, Stay the Same, which was actually Bent‘s biggest hit, peaking at number 59 in July 2003, although unfortunately with a vastly inferior single version. It’s a beautiful song, drawing heavily on a David Essex song from 1974, but rather than sticking to his original slightly naff country delivery, it’s been stripped, re-timed, and turned into a great pop vocal. Clever stuff.

Magic Love was the second single, another beautiful track built around something much older, and then we get the gentle title track The Everlasting Blink, with a bit more pedal steel guitar on it. Then the last track is the short Thick Ear, closing the album sweetly and softly.

Except that isn’t the end – here, Bent bring us not one, not two, but three bonus tracks – 12 Bar Fire BluesWendy, and Day-Care Partyline, none of which were ever going to completely  change your world, but it’s nice to have them on here anyway to round things out.

The Everlasting Blink is a great second album, with a number of exquisite songs – but what happened next was better still – the follow-up, Aerials, which appeared the following year, is by far Bent‘s finest hour.

You can still find The Everlasting Blink at all major music retailers.

The Beloved – Conscience

Most people have probably forgotten The Beloved by now – after all, they only had a couple of hit singles, and they were a long time ago. But hidden, somewhere back in the 1990s, are several extremely good albums, and one of them, Conscience, celebrates its twenty-fifth birthday this week.

Conscience was actually The Beloved‘s third album, following the largely ignored Where it Is (1987) and the hugely successful Happiness (1990). But this was their biggest hit, peaking at number 2 in the UK in early 1993.

The album opens with Spirit, a pleasant but relatively forgettable track with a bit of a gospel feel, which seems to be largely about the trials and tribulations of recording a comeback album. It includes what I think might be The Beloved‘s only example of a key change in the chorus, which maybe wasn’t their wisest move ever.

It didn’t need to be – the top ten hit Sweet Harmony is next. I think indisputably The Beloved‘s finest moment, this was of course the primary reason why this album was so successful. The world had waited a little over two years for their comeback, and then they reappeared with one of the catchiest pop songs of the decade. You can even forgive a extended saxophone solo when the song is this good.

There were actually three singles from Conscience in the UK, plus a couple of overseas and promo releases, and Outerspace Girl was the third of these. A minor summer hit, it easily has all the qualities that it needs, and despite a couple of slightly daft lyrics (“whizzing onwards at warp factor nine”) it’s really rather good.

Lose Yourself in Me is the moment where The Beloved decide to channel Depeche Mode, and while it may not be entirely successful in that regard, it’s still one of the best tracks on here, helped to stand out by the unique sound and mood.

The first weak moment on this album is the longer part-instrumental Paradise Found. I suspect the intention here was to try to recapture some of the mood of their brilliant 1990 remix album Blissed Out, but it doesn’t quite manage it unfortunately, and instead drags a little for its seven minute duration.

The second single was a double a-side of the middle two tracks on the album, led by the beautiful, semi-acoustic song You’ve Got Me Thinking, and backed with the deeper house Celebrate Your Life. Both are fantastic, as is the US-only single Rock to the Rhythm of Love that follows.

Let the Music Take You is a bit questionable, but it’s only the lyrics that are the problem, which are a little on the meaningless side. The general pop-house feel of most of the album continues, and actually it continues to come together rather well.

“Today I woke up smiling,” is the opening lyric on 1000 Years from Today, and it’s very fitting – there’s a glorious early-morning feel to the gentle house beats and rippling piano sounds. It might seem a little dated now, 25 years from its original release, but it still sounds extremely good.

The dreamy feeling continues with the fantastic Dream On, the six and a half minute ethereal piece that closes the album. It’s broad and huge, and a truly wonderful closing track for what really is a great and long-forgotten album.

Conscience is, ironically, one of The Beloved‘s weaker moments for me, and the fact that it’s overflowing with great songs is proof of just how good they were during the decade or so that they were on the charts. For me, a couple of decades on, I still really miss them.

You can find Conscience at all major retailers.

The Beloved – Single File

In spite of their short, one-decade chart career, The Beloved made a good impact in their day, and there’s a good chance you might still be aware of some of their hits. If not, now would be a good time to find out about them, because their singles collection Single File celebrates its twentieth birthday this week.

It skips straight to their 1989 breakthrough hit The Sun Rising, presented here in its album version. Beautifully relaxed and chilled out, and yet at the same time full of energetic beats and an uplifting vocal, this has to be one of the finest singles of the late 1980s. Although it only peaked at number 26, it’s still one of The Beloved‘s best known songs.

The other is next, the brilliant Sweet Harmony, a top ten hit from the start of 1993. Now a husband-and-wife duo, they were briefly to be found everywhere when this was released, and the accompanying album Conscience, although perhaps not as distinguished as its predecessor Happiness, was a huge chart hit.

Some of the lesser-known hits come next – Your Love Takes Me Higher first, which came out twice as a single and never managed to make much of a dent on the charts. It’s a big, beatsy affair, which if it weren’t for the energy – and the acid bass line that turns up from time to time – might almost sound as cheesy as most of the other things that were on the chart in 1989 when it first came out. But it doesn’t – it’s easy to tell that there was something special about The Beloved.

By the late 1990s, they had evolved into a solid house-pop crossover act, so Satellite, from 1996’s exceptional X, gives us our first taste of their then-contemporary sound. It’s a strange mixture in a way, with its clearly accomplished melody and songwriting alongside some very silly lyrics and slightly naff backing vocals. It almost certainly would have sounded better in a club than it did on the radio – but by no means is it bad, and its energy is definitely not in dispute.

Outerspace Girl is next, the house-piano-driven minor hit that closed out the singles for Conscience. It was actually released as the preceding single, but it’s a good fit alongside Satellite, although more laid back than its neighbour.

Next comes the fantastic Time After Time, another minor hit from 1990. Driven primarily by a huge rhythmic bass line, with just a couple of string and pad lines, this is truly pop music at its best. So it’s a natural transition to the third of the big hits, Hello, a memorable hit that lists a lot of famous people, also from 1990.

The Beloved‘s penultimate hit single Ease the Pressure is next, falling just short of the Top 40 in mid-1996. It’s a deeper, more soulful hit than Satellite, with huge house beats and rippling bass lines and countermelodies alongside backing vocals from a male gospel choir. If there had been any justice, this would have been an enormous hit.

Representing the 1990 remix album Blissed Out is the longer, more melancholic, Back to Basics version of It’s Alright Now, a truly wonderful song. It isn’t the single version, and while it’s a shame that that never saw the light of day on an album, this is definitely the more appropriate recording of the track to have on here. After about five minutes or so, you’ll catch yourself wondering if it’s ever going to end. Sadly it does, but it’s a welcome excursion into the softer side of The Beloved.

You’ve Got Me Thinking is next, sweet, acoustic, and summery. The follow-up to Sweet Harmony, it peaked just outside the top 20 in the UK, thanks to some creative repackaging with remixes of Celebrate Your Life and the previous single.

Then comes Deliver Me, the single that never was (it was pulled shortly prior to release, although seems to be widely available anyway). Quite why it was never released is a mystery to me – it’s one of the duo’s finest moments – possibly even their finest – and even though it might not have sold millions, it still would have been a respectable hit.

But by 1996, the writing must have been on the wall for The Beloved‘s time on a major label. Shortly before (or perhaps after) being dropped, EastWest gave us this parting gift, with another fantastic Bob Linney sleeve, just like their early works, and finally a second release of The Sun Rising, packed with excellent new and old remixes. Closing Single File is Mark Pritchard‘s fantastic twelve-minute deep house odyssey. That might sound long – it really doesn’t seem that way when you listen.

Single File is not without its failings – in particular I think it would have benefitted from some more material that wasn’t on the major albums, so perhaps the single version of It’s Alright Now, or an early rarity such as Acid Love might have been nice. But in general, it’s a great introduction to a great group, who really need to get back together and release some new material.

The CD version of Single File no longer seems to be widely available, but you can still find copies or download it from places like this.

Artist of the Week – The Beloved

Many moons ago, there was a radio show called Music for the Masses, which I presented on and off between 1999 and 2005. I’ve talked about it here plenty of times. One of the features was the Artist of the Week, and contained various errors, incorrect opinions, and the following information:

Jon Marsh originally formed a band called The Journey Through in 1984 with fellow Cambridge students Guy Gausden, Tim Havard, and Steve Waddington. After some demos, they evolved into The Beloved, and started making music not a million miles away from the style of Joy Division, early New Order, or even, occasionally, The Smiths.

After a number of minor singles, they released their debut album Where it Is, but following little success and disagreements with the record company, they left, dropped two members, and reappeared in 1988 with their first commercial release Loving Feeling.

It was at the end of 1989 that they saw their first major hit, with the release of The Sun Rising. Further singles from the first successful album Happiness were also hits, including Hello and Your Love Takes Me Higher. A remixed album Blissed Out also saw some success.

The third album Conscience followed in 1993, including the smash hit Sweet Harmony, and saw them starting to explore deeper dance territory with more house-based tracks and remixes. The fourth album in 1996 was in many ways a transitional piece, with the tracks starting to show great signs of depth.

Since then, they’ve done naff all… (that is genuinely what it says here!)

Peel Sessions – The Beloved, 13 October 1985

Long before fame crossed The Beloved‘s path, they recorded two sessions for the John Peel show on BBC Radio 1. Both were recorded in 1985, before debut single A Hundred Words appeared the following year, and long before debut compilation album Where it Is (1987).

The sound on both sessions will be familiar to those who have heard any of The Beloved‘s early material – raw, indie, and owing a lot to some very heavy influences. Intriguingly, most of the tracks were never formally released though – Josephine opens, and then Up a Tree and So Seldom Solemn follow, none of which ever saw the light of day.

Honestly it’s difficult to believe many people will enjoy this session enormously – it’s all entirely pleasant, but there isn’t a lot that stands out. In fact, In Trouble and Shame is probably the only one that has anything special to say for itself, and so it should come as little surprise that it subsequently appeared as the b-side to the debut single and also found a place on the first album.

On this session, cut short at only six and a half minutes, In Trouble and Shame is still a pretty worthy piece to finish the recording. It owes a lot to Atmosphere, and is almost certainly aware of the fact, but it’s a worthy tribute and a great track in its own right.

It would take another four years of lineup changes and experimentation before The Beloved finally hit the charts with The Sun Rising, and while there’s little of that sound to be found here, it’s still a great moment for the archives.

As with the first session, which we covered previously, this recording is available as a download from The Beloved‘s semi-official website here.