In the last few years of my run at HMV, I was given the go-ahead to do special orders for customers, as well as order the occasional import. This came in handy when NSYNC released the single “Bye Bye Bye” some time before the No Strings Attached album; I knew it would be a huge seller despite the price, so I had them order a good hundred or so copies. They all sold out within a few days.
Around that time, I’d been reading all the reviews in the British music magazines and catching up on bands that may or may not break here. One of my favorite finds was a five-piece called Ultrasound, whose sound was a fantastic cross between crunchy guitar-led Britpop (very similar to Kaiser Chiefs, predating them by at least a few years) and seventies psychedelia, with a bit of Pink Floydish prog in there as well. They released a handful of singles and one album, Everything Picture, before breaking up. [They would, however, reconvene twelve years later for a second album, Play for Today, and have just released a new mini-album at the end of 2016.]
It’s a sprawling album, twelve long tracks stretching an hour and a half over two cds (most of the tracks are around six or seven minutes long, with the last track featuring a truly epic freakout that lasts a little over 21 minutes plus a two-minute hidden track!). Due to its length and wide scope, many critics found it bloated and meandering, but despite that, it reached to number 23 on the UK Albums chart, and it’s remained a fan favorite. I for one loved that it was a long album; a sort of The Beatles only with fewer and much longer songs. I dubbed it onto cassette and listened to it constantly whenever I drove around New England.
The single “Stay Young” is one of my favorites from this album. It’s a wonderful rock anthem from the loud-soft-loud school, a twenty-first century rewrite of “My Generation” in a way.
The track “Aire & Calder” is another favorite. I love its driving beat and folksy melody that evokes the feeling of riding a caravan through the British wetlands. [Aire and Calder are two rivers that meet up near Goole and Castleford just outside Leeds; both towns are name-dropped within the song as well.]
The album still holds up well nearly eighteen years later. I can see where the critics were frustrated, as it slides all over the place, changing moods and sounds constantly (again, much like the White Album), but taken as a whole, it remains a strong record from start to finish.