Tuesday 8 June 2021

The BLUETONES: Expecting To Fly



(#543: 24 February 1996, 1 week)

Track listing: Talking To Clarry/Bluetonic/Cut Some Rug/Things Change/The Fountainhead/Carnt Be Trusted/Slight Return/Putting Out Fires/Vampire/A Parting Gesture/Time & Again

1995! What a year! The apex of our new golden age!

What happens next?

Oh...1996 does.

Before, it would have read:

1967! What a year! The apex of our new golden age!

What happens next?


Oh...1968 does.


The parallels are clear. Early idealisation gives way to career considerations. No one else follows through on the leaders' perceived innovations, or else retreat from them, afraid of their potential implications. The industry gladly snaps everybody up, only to lecture them if they fail to come up with endless hit singles and then eject them.

It's like being hired as the C.E.O. of a private equity firm. These engagements generally last twenty weeks. For the first eight weeks the boss says YOU ARE A ROCK STAR! For the next four weeks the boss doesn't talk to you. For the last four weeks the boss says, uh, sorry, but we wanted a rock star, and drops you.

But if Britpop were to gather any meaningful momentum, there had to be other acts coming through to develop and expand on what its leaders had done. New blood, new ideas, all the time. Unless you consider Britpop as fatal and meaning-free a chimera as Brexit.

It was 1996. Oasis, Blur and Pulp were busy consolidating their success, touring, releasing singles, hoping to make it even bigger abroad, working, if they could find the time and energy to do so, on new music, none of which would be released in 1996. It was therefore down to the next lot to step up to the plate and all that dreary sporting analogous bollocks.

The problem was that after those "leaders," the drop to the next level was...significant. It was like following the Premier League with Sky Bet League One. All honest and unthrilling doers at a time when people urgently craved gods who could also be their best mate. I need not emphasise the inherent irony in that observation.


Hence we stride from the achievements of 1995 and limp into the realm of the underachievers of 1996.  This is, I grant, deeply unfair to Hounslow quartet The Bluetones, who throughout their first album try their best; they really do - they do at least work up a Neil Young's Concerned Horse level of steam on "Things Change" and songs like "The Fountainhead" are harmonically inventive (see also the unexpected major-to-minor variants in the chorus of "Vampire"). It is all very well recorded by Hugh Jones.

The problem is this album would barely have been noticed had it been released three years earlier or later. For all the media hype of the time - even after all that had happened, that white male student NME-reading demographic still seemed to want The Stone Roses - Expecting To Fly is a moderately agreeable but finally utterly routine UK indie guitar-based album being expected (ha!) to punch well above its weight. Yes, I'm squashing a grape with a steamroller, but my point needs to be made.

I need hardly say that there is nothing on Expecting To Fly fit to lick the boots of the Neil Young song which gave the record its title - released on a Buffalo Springfield album, but only Young and Jack Nitzsche's orchestra appear on it. A major problem is the offputtingly weedy and nasal voice of Mark Morriss, securely in that Ian Brown/Tim Burgess tradition of Vicks Sinex singing, and the lyrics generally do not stray beyond routine platitudes and, in the case of women, unpleasantly askew (e.g. "Bluetonic," even if its central lyrical conceit was pilfered from Adrian Mitchell).

"Slight Return," which is like Aztec Camera covering "(I Love You) Don't You Forget It," but nowhere near as interesting as that concept might suggest, rose to number two as a single (fittingly kept off the top by "Spaceman" - "it's time to terminate the great white world" indeed) purely because - well, why? Because Chris Evans played it, because a significant British demographic thought that they were still in the middle of something, because the illusion was that "a refreshing return to basic, raw, honest, indie guitar rock" was what the nation was crying out for. Again, that title; if you're going to reference the closing track of Electric Ladyland, you're going to have to be as good as it, or better it. Too much suffocating respect for Received Rock History.


Meanwhile, that summer in Canada, Sloan released One Chord To Another, a genuinely powerful and provocative guitar-based pop album whose best songs ("The Good In Everyone," "Everything You've Done Wrong," "The Lines You Amend") frankly ride The Bluetones roughshod. But Chris Evans didn't play Sloan or invite them over to appear on TFI Friday, and we British allegedly knew better, so you probably still haven't heard them, or that record.

What happens after freedom?

Oh...marketing does.