Repost: We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!

NOTE: I’ve been listening to their album Big Bang nonstop lately, partly because I love it so but partly because it’s inspiring some ideas on a new story idea that’s gestating over in my daily words. Thought I’d share a post from six(!!) years ago about one of my favorite 80s bands, with updates and edits. Enjoy!

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!!, aka Fuzzbox here in the States, was a cute and punky quartet out of Birmingham UK, and one of my first music crushes when I started listening to alternative rock. They’d been brought to my attention right about the same time as Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the glossy music mag Star Hits, and upon seeing their crazy-colored and spritzed hair and punky Oxfam chic, I was completely hooked–which in all honesty wasn’t really hard, considering it didn’t take much to rebel in a small town like mine. They made me realize punk wasn’t just about rebelling against society, like American punk had suggested — it was also about doing your own thing, however bizarre it might be, and not giving a shit about what other people thought about it.

Fuzzbox was initially together only for a short time, releasing just two albums and a handful of singles before going their separate ways, but they were just so damn fun to listen to that it didn’t matter.

Credit: last.fm - l-r, Tina, Vix, Magz & Jo
Credit: last.fm – l-r, Tina, Vix, Magz & Jo

Fuzzbox started sometime in 1985 with four friends who’d decided to start a band. And like any punk band worth their salt at the time, mastering your instrument wasn’t exactly high on the list of priorities. Consisting of Vickie Perks (aka Vix) on vocals, Tina O’Neill on drums and sax, and sisters Maggie (aka Magz–vocals, keys and guitars) and Jo Dunne (bass, guitars and keys), they immediately jumped in on the occasional open mike night at the local bars and learned their chops onstage. It’s said Maggie was the creator of the band name, announcing that they did in fact have a fuzz distortion guitar pedal they were about to use.

Their debut single was the gritty and poppy “XX Sex”, with shockingly direct feminist lyrics about exploitation and sexism in the media. They followed up with a ridiculous and silly summer single with labelmates The Nightingales and alternative comedian Ted Chippington with “Rockin’ with Rita”, and by summer’s end they were given a spot on the highly influential NME C86 compilation with “Console Me”. They prefaced their debut album that October with a jittery and bass-heavy single about unrequited love, “Love Is the Slug”, my musical introduction to them via MTV’s 120 Minutes.

Credit: fuzzbox.angelfire.com
Credit: fuzzbox.angelfire.com

Bostin’ Steve Austin (released as a self-titled album here in the US, but with the same cover) was released in December of 1986, featuring a dozen gems about the girls’ life in Birmingham–not just containing the teen heartbreak of “Love Is the Slug” and “Jackie”, it also contains the confrontational “XX Sex” and “What’s the Point” (their follow-up single released in January of 1987) and “Preconceptions”, as well as a weirdly hypnotic cover of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky”. The quality of the music here is surprisingly tight, even when it hints at sounding on the verge of disintegrating into a distorted mess. Vix’s lyrics alternate between playful, angry, and emotional, and despite the simplicity of the melodies there’s a lot going on musically. The stop-start of “You Got Me”, the building tension in “Love Is the Slug” and even the 60s-girl-group pastiche of “Hollow Girl” works perfectly.

Bostin’ Steve Austin got a ridiculous amount of play on my tape players between early 1987 and mid-1989–this was the side of punk that I gravitated to, the revelation that I didn’t have to try fitting in with the in-crowd anymore. I didn’t really need to do much, of course–wear some of my college rock tee-shirts, my grandfather’s green trenchcoat, and let my hair grow out of its quintessentially 80s spiky ‘do (but not to the point of longhaired metaldom), and start writing music reviews for albums hardly anyone else in my school listened to.

Fuzzbox disappeared for a short while, and would reappear in early 1989 with a completely new and unexpected look and sound. I admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach it at first, having twitched and thought “oh god, they’ve become Jem and the Holograms.” But there was something about it…something about the slick late 80s production, the chart-ready poppiness, that called to me. I began to realize that this was the forbidden candy for me as a fan of college rock, the ultimate test: do I dare admit that, after labeling myself an alternative music nerd and a nonconformist, I actually enjoyed this admittedly catchy music?

Credit: www.independent.ie - clockwise from top left: Vix, Maggie, Tina, Jo
Credit: http://www.independent.ie – clockwise from top left: Vix, Magz, Tina, Jo

Gone was the thrift shop fashion as well, replaced by glitz and glamour. The fuzziness of their sound was also gone, replaced by shiny synthesizers and sequencers. They now had an outsider as a cowriter of songs in the form of session musician/producer Liam Sternberg. And yet…

…and yet, there was something about this new album, Big Bang, that I just could not give it up. I was older and now in college, and yet the music hinted at the readymade poppiness of 80s Top 40, the kind that was throwaway and yet catchy and likable at the same time. The Brummie humor was still there, hiding in the lyrics of lead single “International Rescue”, a loving ode to the Gerry Anderson tv classic Thunderbirds (and, in the video, a humorous nod to Jane Fonda’s Barbarella as well, featuring Adrian Edmonson from The Young Ones as an evil scientist).

Credit: musicstack.com
Credit: musicstack.com

Big Bang kicked off with the irresistibly poppy “Pink Sunshine” (and also released as the second single) and my immediate reaction was to wonder where the hell my punk goddesses had gone off to…but I soon understood what they were doing. This wasn’t about rebelling, not anymore. It was about being an adult now, having gotten over the teenage growing pains. These were the Brummie girls stuck in their jobs, dealing with the drudgery of the real world and letting it all loose at the end of the working week.


There’s a lot of flirting and sexiness going on with this album, and that’s part of what makes it so irresistible. There’s the rocking sci-fi of “Fast Forward Futurama”, the heartbreak of “Self!” (featuring the guitar work of none other than Queen’s Brian May!), and the gorgeous dancefloor bliss of “Versatile for Discos and Parties” (quite possibly my favorite track off the album). There’s even a brilliant cover of Yoko Ono’s “Walking on Thin Ice”, retaining the song’s mystique but giving it additional emotional beauty. The album ends on a very somber yet lovely note with a track called “Beauty”, which sounds like nothing else they’ve ever recorded.

I realized that Big Bang‘s shameless pop wasn’t shameless at all — it was a loving tribute to the dance pop of the decade, one that was about to come to a close. The sound of 80s pop would age, and often not for the best, but when it was done right, it was still fun to listen to. A few years later, once I discovered anime movies and series from the 80s and 90s such as Urusei Yatsura and Silent Möbius and later to the Gall Force series and Sailor Moon, I began to realize that, thanks to Big Bang, I now had begun a long-lasting love affair with JPop. I began seeing the album as an unintended but spot-on paean to the J-Pop so prevalent in the credits and montages in anime, and that made me love the album even more. It’s pure pop, but it’s still irresistibly fun.

In 1990 they would release a final single, “Your Loss My Gain”, written for a never-realized third album, and while it seemed they were progressing in a more mature pop direction, they soon split up. They all went their separate ways. Only Vix remained in the music industry, recording under various band names including Vix n’ the Kix. Three compilations would surface a bit over a decade later: two albums of demos and outtakes called Fuzz and Nonsense and Rules & Regulations to Pink Sunshine: The Fuzzbox Story, and a greatest hits collection amusingly titled Look at the Hits on That (a very Fuzzbox-worthy pun title). And in 2010, Vix, Maggie and Jo reunited with the help of Vix’s backing band for a one-off single, a cover of M’s classic track “Pop Muzik”. Sadly, Jo would pass away from a cancer-related illness in 2012, but a year later, Vix decided it was time to rerelease the band’s 80s discography. Bostin’ Steve Austin would finally have its debut on compact disc, and Big Bang would contain all the remaining 80s tracks, including the “Your Loss My Gain” single.

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But there’s more! Since I first posted this, Vix and Maggie have returned to music under the Fuzzbox name and have dropped a few new singles over the last few years! In 2016 they released a new single called “Let’s Go Supernova”, and in 2018 they crowdfunded another single, fittingly called “WGAF…AWGUI!!”. In 2019 they released a video-only single called “Say Hello” for a local Birmingham project. And they will soon be releasing a box set called We’ve Got a Box Set and We’re Gonna Use It!!. It certainly is great to see them still going strong, still irreverent and still full of poppy goodness.

We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! is a band that influenced not just my listening habits but my way of life when I was growing up in the late 80s; it was a refreshing view of punk-as-freedom rather than punk-as-anger, and helped me realize that the music I listen to, then and now. My tastes still lean towards the alternative, but I’m not above the shamelessly pop, especially if it’s done well. In relistening to Bostin Steve Austin I now hear a lot of the intelligence and fearlessness in the lyrics, which makes me appreciate it all the more. And as an added bonus, they’re there if all I want is some great and fun music to listen to.

2020 New Releases So Far, Part 2

Oh hey! It’s time for another month’s worth of new releases! The first quarter’s music so far has been surprisingly fruitful with a lot of great albums, and I’m quite happy about that! Here are a few new records I’ve been playing on my mp3 player as of late…

Destroyer, Have We Met, released 31 January. This is a rather quirky band that’s been around for quite some time, but their music has always been consistently melodic and intriguing.

Joseph, Trio Sessions: Vol 1, released 31 January. This is a fine alt-folk trio that channels the sounds of 70s Laurel Canyon and their three-way harmony is just lovely. I highly suggest checking out the rest of their work as well.

Poliça, When We Stay Alive, released 31 January. This Minneapolis band has always been a bit on the strange side with their music, but this new one is far more soulful and moving than their previous work. It’s an unexpected but wholly welcome direction and I love it.

Revolution, I Love You, Black Feathers, released 7 February. I don’t even remember where I’d discovered this band (NoiseTrade, perhaps?) but I fell in love with their strange but amazing mix of shoegaze, goth, synthpop and maybe even a bit of punk. The new record goes in all sorts of unexpected and wonderful directions.

Green Day, Father of All…, released 7 February. The new album kind of reminds me of their late 90s/early 00s era records, especially Nimrod and Warning, as the songs slide between all-out punk assaults and radio-friendly groovy rock. Not that that’s a bad thing, because they still manage to pull it all off.

Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida, released 7 February. They’ve lost two singers and that’s enough to break any band, but the DeLeo brothers soldiered on to write and record a stunningly gorgeous and heartbreaking album.

Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor 1 EP, released 7 February. The Paramore lead singer finally releases her first solo outing and it’s well worth the wait. It’s darker and quieter than her band work, but it’s just as powerful.

Best Coast, Always Tomorrow, released 21 February. I’ve always liked this band, and I love how they’ve completely embraced their own brand of that California sound — sunny, punchy, and just that little bit off-kilter. This one’s a fun and infectious record and I really should be playing it a lot more!

Grimes, Miss Anthropocene, released 21 February. I did not expect to enjoy the new Grimes as much as I do! She’s quite firmly in the ‘off in their own universe’ column when it comes to musicians and personalities, but the new record is just brimming with really neat sounds and ideas that pulled me completely in from the beginning. One of my favorites so far!

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More to come soon!

More on Revisiting the 90s

I can easily divide up the 90s on a musical and personal note: the college/post-college years (Jan 1990 – Sept 1996) and the HMV years (Sept 1996 – Sept 2000). And I often do, because I approached my listening habits according to how much money (or more accurately, how little) I had in my coffers at the time. The former was filled with mix tapes of things recorded off the radio, dollar bin raids at the various used record shops I frequented, dubs from friends, and the occasional splurge when I really should have been paying a bill. [I’ll totally own up to that. But they were of course few and far between.] The latter was filled with meticulously crafted mix tapes of things bought at a discount from my store, freebies, even more dollar bin raids, and, erm, maybe a few dubs surreptitiously made in the back room of the store? The music of the post-HMV years, aka the Yankee Candle years, would be informed almost entirely by Newbury Comics. I’m pretty sure I singlehandedly kept them in business then. But that’s another post.

Personally, I would say the personal delineation is around the same time, and surprising no one, was informed by financial reasons; I was finally able to pay off overdue bills and stop deferring my student loans. I would also posit that it was also the time I got my shit together and started my writing career on a much more serious level. Whatever worked to dislodge myself from the spiral I’d found myself in. And once I found myself in a better mental and emotional state, there was no looking back.

I couldn’t listen to those early 90s years without feeling a sense of failure. I could have been such a better student. I could have applied myself better. I could have done this, I could have done that. Giving into my moodiness and lack of self-esteem far too often. So it’s with no surprise that I avoided obsessing over that era here at Walk in Silence for quite a number of years. The HMV years were much more positive, not to mention directly tied in with my Belfry years writing The Phoenix Effect and the Bridgetown Trilogy.

So why now? Why am I picking up these pieces? Well, it’s been three decades on, and I’m in a much better place. It’s time for a bit of closure on a lot of things related to that time. Make peace with what I couldn’t achieve, and celebrate everything else I’ve done since. I’m listening to these albums and singles the way I’d wanted to in the first place: without all the extra baggage. Experience them as the creative endeavors they are, and if I’m lucky, learn to appreciate them a hell of a lot more.

Updating the mp3 players

I’m ridiculously picky when it comes to updating my mp3 players. I currently have three, which I’ve acqured over the years: a Creative Zen Mozaic, an older SanDisk Sansa Clip, and a newer SanDisk Sport Plus. Do I use all three? Yes, of course I do! Normally I tend to have them filled up with specific themes or sounds; the Zen is usually reserved for new and recent releases plus the Beatles discography (because come on…do you know me?) while the Sansa Clip has older favorites.

Now that I work in an office again (grumble grumble), I’ve been putting all three to good use throughout the day. I don’t have direct access to my music library unless I use up a significant amount of phone data via our Plex server, so I make do with the old-school travel-sized players.

Lately I’ve been playing around with a new possible writing project (no promises yet) in which I sort of decided its soundtrack would be the music of the early 90s up to the early 00s. Why? Good question, but I won’t go into detail just yet. Suffice it to say, I’m going to start listening to these albums for first time without equating them to the Bridgetown Trilogy. I’m not doing it on purpose, it just happened that way. But in the process, I’m getting to revisit these songs with fresh ears and no prior influence.

But more importantly, I get to revisit these songs without the emotional attachment I’ve long had with most of them. I’ve written so many blog posts about those lean post-college years, and about the music I listened to during that time, but this time out I’m finally giving them a spin without getting caught up in all the personal drama. I’m listening to them in the context of what was going on in the world during the time of their release. [I suppose in a way you could say I’m purposely not making it all about me this time. Heh.]

Also, it’s kind of fun to revisit some of these songs and albums that I know pretty well but haven’t visited in ages. In particular, I’ve been making it a point to revisit some of the mainstream pop albums I enjoyed — the downside to being so into alt-rock is a habitual avoidance of all things pop — and getting something new out of them. It’s to the point that I’ve been tempted to do another visit to Amoeba Records’ dollar bin to find more of those albums that passed me by.

And who knows — maybe I’ll rediscover a few tracks that flew under my radar!

2020 New Releases So Far

Hey there! It’s been far too long since I’ve posted one of these, and I’m trying to be good and keep up this time out. There promises to be some interesting new albums coming out this year, some from new bands and some from old favorites. And now that I’m able to listen to my favorite station at work via a phone app, I’m going to try to stay on top of this again!

Here’s a few new releases worth checking out:

Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 3 January. Well, this was unexpected! I had no idea they’d gotten back together (their last record was their self-titled fourth album waaaaay back in 2001), but their new record is a banger. They’re still loud and noisy as hell, and that’s just how I like them.

Field Music, Making a New World, released 10 January. On the other end of the spectrum we have a band steeped in that quirky angular sound that feels and sounds very much like Eno, Belew and Byrne. A bit odd but still catchy.

Beach Slang, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City, released 10 January. Not as frenetic as their previous albums, they seem to have embraced that 80s new wave guitar group sound, and they wear it really well. I’m really digging this one a lot.

Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I know I’ve posted this track earlier, but I just cannot stop listening to it! The entire album is full of that soaring guitar reverb slicing its way through tracks, gorgeous spacey passages and dreamy vocals. This one’s been getting the most play on my mp3 player lately!

Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. Another band I knew of (due to its, er, distinctive name, of course), but I hadn’t expected them to be so groovy! And bonus points for having Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor on the vocals on this excellent track.

Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. I’m intrigued by the last few Wire records, as they feel like hybrids of both old and new sounds. This one in particular sounds a lot like their early 00s Read & Burn / Send output but also is quite similar to the darker melodies of 154 and Chairs Missing, and I love it. Great to see they’re still consistently amazing after all these years.

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More to come!

Best of 2019 and Singles Mix

It’s a few days late, but as promised, here’s my best-of list for 2019! I have KEXP to thank for pretty much all of my listening habits these last few years…after slipping between a few online and satellite stations, I found myself returning to a station I’d listened to briefly a few years ago, and realized just how much their playlist resonated with my musical tastes. So much so that when I moved back to the office for the Day Job, I found I truly missed listening to that station. [I’ve since found that I can stream the station on my phone, which I am doing only for a few hours a day so my phone data isn’t all screwy.]

This past year’s soundtrack and purchases also showed a significant change, in that there’s a lot more in terms of inclusivity as well as flavor. So many more albums and songs in different genres, different countries, different genders. I found myself listening less in terms of “this is a great writing soundtrack” and finally returning to “this is just a damn fine album/single” enjoyment. And I haven’t had that in a long time.

So without further ado…

TOP 15 ALBUMS
15. Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy
14. Hatchie, Keepsake
13. Honeyblood, In Plain Sight
12. Jay Som, Anak Ko
11. American Football, American Football (LP3)
10. Lamb, The Secret of Letting Go
9. Lemolo, Swansea
8. Elbow, Giants of All Sizes
7. The Beatles, Abbey Road Anniversary Edition
6. The Cinematic Orchestra, To Believe
5. Sleater-Kinney, The Center Won’t Hold
4. White Lies, Five
3. Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror
2. Coldplay, Everyday Life
1. Haelos, Any Random Kindness

TOP 15 SONGS
15. True Damage, “GIANTS”
14. Deserta, “Hide”
13. Beck, “Saw Lightning”
12. Boy Harsher, “Face the Fire”
11. Drab Majesty, “The Other Side”
10. New Age Healers, “Satellites”
9. Hatchie, “Without a Blush”
8. Jay Som, “Superbike”
7. Toro y Moi, “Freelance”
6. Silversun Pickups, “It Doesn’t Matter Why”
5. White LIes, “Tokyo”
4. Haelos, “End of World Party”
3. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “Life On Mars?”
2. DJ Shadow feat. De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”
1. The Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”

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And of course, here’s my Singles 2019 mixtape for your pleasure…

Side A
1. DJ Shadow feat De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”
2. Beck, “Saw Lightning”
3. Toro y Moi, “Freelance”
4. Jay Som, “Superbike”
5. The Quivers, “You’re Not Always On My Mind”
6. New Age Healers, “Satellites”
7. The New Pornographers, “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”
8. Coldplay, “Orphans”
9. Honeyblood, “She’s a Nightmare”
10. Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
11. The Beatles, “You Never Give Me Your Money”
12. Haelos, “End of World Party”

Side B
1. Rudy Willingham, “Pool Party”
2. Charly Bliss, “Chatroom”
3. Sampa the Great, “Final Form”
4. The Chemical Brothers, “MAH”
5. Elbow, “Dexter & Sinister”
6. White Lies, “Tokyo”
7. Drab Majesty, “The Other Side”
8. Foals, “The Runner”
9. Silversun Pickups, “It Doesn’t Matter Why”
10. True Damage, “GIANTS”

Side C
1. Billie Eilish, “Bury a Friend”
2. Big Wreck, “Locomotive”
3. The Chemical Brothers, “No Geography”
4. Drab Majesty, “Long Division”
5. American Football, “Uncomfortably Numb”
6. Fontaines DC, “Boys in the Better Land”
7. DJ Shadow, “Rosie”
8. Beck, “Uneventful Days”
9. Michael Kiwanuka, “You Ain’t the Problem”
10. White Lies, “Never Alone”
11. Angel Olsen, “All Mirrors”

Side D
1. Holy Ship, “Mind Safari”
2. Tallies, “Midnight”
3. Roosevelt, “Falling Back”
4. Mercury Rev feat. Margo Price, “Sermon”
5. Lamb, “Armageddon Waits”
6. Beck, “Tarantula”
7. Boy Harsher, “Face the Fire”
8. Idles, “I Dream Guillotine”
9. The HU, “Wolf Totem”
10. Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, “Life On Mars?”

Side E
1. Sleater-Kinney, “The Future Is Here”
2. Hot Chip, “Melody of Love”
3. Haelos, “Kyoto”
4. Deserta, “Hide”
5. San Fermin, “The Hunger”
6. Sault, “Don’t Waste My Time”
7. Hatchie, “Without a Blush”
8. Underworld, “Listen to Their No”
9. Moon Duo, “Lost Heads”
10. Cosima, “Close to You (Moonlighting)”

Side F
1. The Black Keys, “Lo/Hi”
2. Lo! Peninsula, “Another Divine Joke”
3. Malibu Ken, “Tuesday”
4. 311, “Don’t You Worry”
5. Lemolo, “High Tide”
6. Elbow, “Empires”
7. Coldplay, “Trouble in Town”
8. Black Pumas, “Colors”
9. Mavis Staples, “Change”
10. Lucy Dacus, “La Vie en Rose”
11. Mint Royale, “Show Me [The 2019 KEXP Super Extended Version]”

Recent Releases, Summer 2019

Oops! I’m a month late on this, so this is going to be a slightly longer one, encompassing the various releases I’ve been raving about from June to September. Enjoy!

Silversun Pickups, Widow’s Weeds, released 9 June. Always twitchy, always off-kilter, and always amazing.

Hot Chip, A Bath Full of Ecstasy, release 21 June. A rather laid back and mellow record for them, bu this style suits them extremely well.

Hatchie, Keepsake, released 21 June. One of my favorite finds thanks to KEXP, they’re good alt-poppy fun with some killer bass riffs!

Drab Majesty, Modern Mirror, released 12 July. Highly recommended if you like that 80s gothy synth sound. Definitely reminds me of Clan of Xymox.

311, Voyager, released 12 July. As said before, whenever 311 drops a record I will always pick it up. Good funky fun.

DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel” single, released 24 July. Another KEXP find, this has to be one of my top favorite songs of the year. It’s a fantastic throwback rap tune you’d have heard in the late 80s. Definitely a nod to Run-DMC on this track.

Jay Som, Anak Ko, released 23 August. Light and lovely guitar alt-rock topped with dreamy vocals. But not shoegaze! “Superbike” is another track that’s been stuck in my head for months.

NAVVI, 25O2 EP, released 30 August. Filed alongside HAELOS as one of my go-to bands for blissful dance alt-pop. It’s a short five-song EP, but it’s got some ace tunes on it.

Tennis System, Lovesick, released 6 September. This band reminds me of Swervedriver with their loud and dissonant shoegaze guitar crunch. Surprisingly a great listen for my writing sessions!

Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie, released 13 September. The long-awaited new Pixies record is strangely spooky this time out. I’m not too surprised considering Frank Black’s forays into weird subject matters, but the creepiness translates well in this case.

Brittany Howard, Jaime, released 20 September. The Alabama Shakes singer brings us an amazing soulful and jazzy solo record filled with blazing funky riffs. Excellent stuff.

blink-182, Nine, released 20 September. We got to see this band live at Outside Lands this year and they were just as amazing as I thought they’d be. Older and ever so slightly more mature, they’re still tight as hell.

The Beatles, Abbey Road Super Deluxe Edition, released 27 September. Of COURSE I have to have this on the list! I’ll give you all a much more detailed response to the release once I finally get my copy (it’s in the mail at this time), but from what I’ve heard via streaming, Giles Martin has remixed it just enough to improve on what is already a fantastic album. The extras are also a hell of a lot of fun!

Martin Gore’s ‘Counterfeit ep’ De-Counterfeited

The mini-album is thirty years old as of this past June. It was one of my favorites to listen to during that summer and right into my freshman year in college. Gore has always been one of my favorite songwriters, as he certainly knows how to write an absolutely gorgeous ballad like “Somebody” and a brilliant pop gem like “Enjoy the Silence”. This record popped out just a few months after Depeche Mode’s live album 101 and sometimes gets overlooked, especially since it’s a set of six covers. It’s more of a curiosity than anything else, but you can definitely hear how deeply they influenced Gore’s songwriting style over the years.

So! Instead of posting the Martin Gore versions, I thought I’d so something I’ve been wanting to do for years: listen to the originals in this running order! Enjoy!

Track 1: “Compulsion”, originally by Joe Crow. I’d never heard this version until a few months later when someone on WZBC (Boston College’s station) played it. It’s a good example of the brittle and sparse post-punk synthwave from the early 80s.

Track 2: “In a Manner of Speaking”, originally by Tuxedomoon. This is one of those bands I’d heard so much about (thanks in part to the Trouser Press Record Guide and plenty of music journalists) but never heard at all until years later, because they were just so damned hard to find!

Track 3: “Smile in the Crowd”, originally by The Durutti Column. One of Factory’s first signings, they didn’t translate at all here in the States unlike their label mates Joy Division/New Order. Essentially a one-man-band of Vini Reilly (plus whoever happens to be around to help), his output is surprisingly lengthy, and he’s still putting out music years later.

Track 4: “Gone”, originally by The Comsat Angels. Now this band I knew about (they were called “The CS Angels” in the US) and I really liked their Chasing Shadows record from a few years previous. Sadly it took me forever to get around to getting the rest of their discography! They’re a great band worth checking out.

Track 5: “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth”, originally by Sparks. An American band that ended up being so much more popular in the UK, they nonetheless had a dedicated following here. They’re kind of weird and quirky, but they write such amazing songs! Yet another absurdly prolific band.

Track 6: “Motherless Child”, traditional. It’s not known which version Martin Gore was inspired by, if any, but his version seems closest to the slow gospel version of The Les Humphries Singers and Liz Mitchell.

Favorite Albums: Spacehog’s ‘Resident Alien’

In late autumn of 1995, having just gotten all my anger and frustration out of my system after moving back home from an extended stay in Boston, I reconnected with an old friend of mine from high school and we started hanging out. To be honest it was a friendship of convenience at the time, considering a) we’d both boomeranged back to our home town that we’d both been so vocally desperate to escape five years previous, and b) there weren’t too many others we knew of in the immediate area that we could hang out with. She and I spent a lot of time driving around central Massachusetts, listening to music, smoking cigarettes, going to a few shows here and there, and making ridiculous plans to escape the clutches of our hometown once more. She’d escape in a few years; it took me almost nine more to do the same.

Spacehog’s Resident Alien was on heavy rotation during that time, partly because she had a mad crush on the guitarist Antony Langdon. There was also the fact that their debut single “In the Meantime” was getting mad airplay on all the local alt-rock stations we could get in, and I loved that they’d cribbed Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s “Telephone and Rubber Band” and used it brilliantly as the backbone sample of the entire song. We saw them at Pearl Street in Northampton not that long after its October release, and we stayed behind after the show to mingle with the band. While the the brothers Langdon (Antony and bassist/singer Royston, later to become Mr. Liv Tyler) were their usual strange and silly selves, lead guitarist Richard Steel and drummer Jonny Cragg were more laid back and amiable. [I remember surprising Jonny by mentioning I knew him from when he played in The Hollow Men back in the early 90s!] They were an unabashedly fun band to see and hang with.

They wore their Bowie influences not just on their sleeves but pretty much all over the place. You can hear traces of most of Bowie’s 70s output throughout the entire album, going from psychedelic Hunky Dory grooves on “Starside” to bluesy Ziggy Stardust riffs on “Candyman” to ridiculous Lodger camp on “Space is the Place” and back again. There’s even a nod to Tin Machine there on track two, “Spacehog”, in which that band’s “Crack City” is quoted near the end. [This is no fluke; during their tours for this album they would do a cover of the song, which ended up on their Hamsters of Rock EP.]

I think what makes this a strong record for me is that it shows that the band was solid and confident straight out of the gate; not only could they swagger like Bowie, they could balance their sillier songs with some truly heartfelt ballads. I also liked that there was a consistent sci-fi theme throughout, whether it was implied (such as “Shipwrecked”) or direct (such as “Starside”). And ending the album with the absolutely stunning epic track “Zeroes” is always a big winner for me.

They ended up being a bit of a 90s one hit wonder for the most part, but they’ve put out three further albums (the latest being 2013’s As It Is On Earth) and each of them has their own distinct charm, a healthy dose of Bowie influence, and of course their trademark goofiness. They’re all worth checking out, but I’ll always come back to Resident Alien as a solid mid-90s alt-rock album that’s stood the test of time.

Favorite Albums: Oasis, ‘Heathen Chemistry’

Oasis is a band you either love, or love to hate. I’ve been a fan of them probably since hearing “Live Forever” on WBCN way back in the day (I love how it starts off with its slow, slinky drums before Liam Gallagher’s northern sneer kicks in). And those who are fans have their own particular favorite record of theirs…the fans-from-the-beginning will of course sing the high praises of their 1994 debut Definitely Maybe, and the majority will agree that 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is indeed a fine album. They will also most likely agree that 1997’s Be Here Now is a bloated and self-indulgent mess. And…yeah, all their other albums tend to be seen as leftover table scraps.

Heathen Chemistry from 2002, however, is a band finally deciding to mature. By this time, bassist Paul ‘Guigsy’ McGuigan, guitarist Paul ‘Bonehead’ Arthurs, and drummer Tony MacCarroll had left the band, replaced by ex-Ride bassist Andy Bell, guitarist Gem Archer and drummer Alan White. The ever-feuding Gallagher brothers were the only remaining original members. Perhaps the newer line-up was a plus, as it changed their sound considerably. Heathen Chemistry sounds like a band finally taking themselves seriously and it contains some of the Gallaghers’ finest songwriting.

The record kicks off with first single “The Hindu Times”, a strong rocker similar to those from Definitely Maybe with an added nod to psychedelia, with a noted sitar-like riff from Noel. Unlike their previous records, this sounds a hell of a lot less like posturing and more like an honest love song.

It’s followed up by interesting deep cuts “Force of Nature” (a boozy Lennonesque blues track featuring Noel on vocals) and “Hung in a Bad Place” (a boisterous two-chord rocker) before hitting gold with the powerful and lovely ballad “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”. It might be yet another nod to their heroes the Beatles — this one definitely has a 1967 Pepper feel — but it’s a gorgeous song and one of their best. I sometimes wish they’d play this rather than “Wonderwall” on the radio!

It’s followed immediately by what would end up as the fourth single from the record, “Songbird”, and the first single written by Liam instead of Noel. It’s a short and simple semi-acoustic ballad that has perhaps a bit of REM in there, but it’s a nice track and shows that Liam’s songwriting had improved vastly over the last few years.

And to fill out the first half of the album, Noel comes back with a fantastic track and third single “Little By Little” — a double-A side with a later track we’ll hit momentarily — and it’s a deeply personal one compared to their previous songs. It’s one of Noel’s best to date, and one can tell he put is all into it.

The second half kicks in with a brief instrumental interlude, “A Quick Peep”, written not by a Gallagher this time out but Andy Bell. It’s like a miniature entr’acte before we’re brought back into the sunshine glow of yet another Beatles nod, “(Probably) All in the Mind”. Intriguingly, this song sounds a bit more like late-60s Stones than Beatles, despite the obvious title reference to Yellow Submarine and the White’s drumming nod to “Ticket to Ride”.

It’s followed by “She Is Love”, the other half of the above-mentioned double-A single, and it’s another powerhouse track from Noel. It’s a nice acoustic track that is not only devoid of any of the trademark Oasis swagger, it’s full-on that trademark Oasis psychedelia and full of heart and joy.

Next up is an amazing song written by Liam that definitely should have been a single. It’s dark and brooding, and while the lyrics and subject matter may be a bit simple compared to their other more well-known songs, it’s nonetheless a stellar track that helps finish out the album.

The last song (plus its hidden track “The Cage” at the far end) is “Better Man”, which feels like another stab at post-Beatles Lennon, especially during his Some Time In New York phase. It’s grouchy and full of sloppy, crunchy blues guitar. It does feel a little bit like an afterthought but it’s actually a perfect final song for the album as it helps end it on a positive, uplifting note. It’s the band closing out the record on a loose, freeform jam that makes the entire record worthwhile.

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I wouldn’t say Heathen Chemistry is Oasis’ best album, nor is it the most perfect one, but for me it’s their most consistently enjoyable. It was a step in the right direction for them, one they needed to take after working on the same classic sound over multiple records. The new style was hinted at with 2000’s Standing On the Shoulder of Giants, but that particular record felt more like a transitional one than a thorough evolution. This was Oasis growing up, and it fit them incredibly well.

It shows even now in the brothers’ solo output; Noel’s latest work with his High Flying Birds moniker shines with his stellar songwriting chops, and Liam’s work both with Beady Eye (essentially Oasis sans Noel) and on his own is just as strong. They may still be the same quarreling brothers who can’t be in the same room without eventually throwing a punch (their verbal snipes at each other on Twitter and elsewhere are often quite hilarious), but that hasn’t gotten in the way of them remaining fine musicians.