Friday, 27 March 2015

27/03/15 - Gas Holders

It took me quite a few years to work out what gas holders were. Or, more specifically, to work out that they actually were moving up and down, and I wasn’t just imagining it.
These gasometers are colossi of the industrial age – vast metal frames with a telescoping cylinder in the middle that rises and falls depending on how much town gas is being stored at ambient temperatures within. The way they work (on a very basic level) is that there’s a reservoir of water at the base, and a series of interlocking layers that form the collapsible cylinder; gas enters via pipes from the bottom and the cylinder rises as it fills, with the water acting to keep gas in and air out, thus ensuring that the whole thing doesn’t explode. Because igniting 50,000m² of gas would singe quite a few eyebrows. They fill up during quiet times of the day, then get lower at a noticeable rate when people start using loads of gas – e.g. when they come home from work, flick the heating on and start cooking dinner. So I wasn’t imagining it, they actually were moving up and down. It’s like they’re breathing – an integral part of the respiratory system of urban co-existence, pumping life into the hearts of our homes. When I first realised this at the age of eight or nine, it was quite a revelation, as you can imagine. What a day that was. I told everyone.

Now, you might think that gas holders are an eyesore; a tangle of metal that blights our otherwise brick-heavy townscapes. But I’d disagree with you there. I think they represent an ingenious solution to energy distribution that exponentially altered the landscape of modern life (both literally and culturally); an essential ingredient in the recipe for easy living. But whatever your view, now’s the time to start getting nostalgic, because they’re all coming down…

These days, all but a few of Britain’s gas holders are obsolete anyway. Natural gas from the North Sea usurped the town gas that lived in the holders (town gas being coal gas, i.e. produced from subjecting coal to chemical reactions to create a gas fuel, rather than using natural gas which just, er, exists anyway without us having to do much to it), as it could be piped directly from source without the need to store it in massive hoppers. The gas holders’ cards have been marked since the mid-1960s. By the ’90s, most local gas networks were able to function perfectly well without these mighty reservoirs, and in 1999 the decision was made to start dismantling them all. Given that a lot of them sit on prime urban land that can be sold for juicy premiums – check out the size of the gas holder site near Chelsea Harbour, for example, or the one by the Oval cricket ground – the National Grid is more than happy to cash in on the land sales. Selling off the frames for scrap probably pays for a few decent lunches too.

The dismantling process is taking quite a while, though – sites need to be secured and decontaminated, legal loopholes require closing, oodles of red tape needs to be hurdled. Gas holders across the land have been variously dismantled over the course of the last fifteen years, although it’ll take as long again before they’re all gone. And while this is going on, the National Grid has to keep paying out to ensure that the defunct structures are kept secure and solid, simply because people keep breaking in and climbing them. The last thing you want is for someone to be swallowed up by a vast, rusting cage that’s got your name on the title, trespass or no trespass. So the dismantling process is quite an expensive affair from a number of angles, and you’ve still got a little while to enjoy the angular majesty of your local gas holder (assuming that it’s still there).
Even when the guys with the cranes do arrive, it’ll take a long time – the methodical process of unbolting the frame can take a year, which is plenty of time to mourn the loss of these majestic edifices, so evocative of the cultural shift that saw Britain’s homes perennially flooded with warmth and light.

But don’t feel too sad. English Heritage have already green-lighted the protection of a dozen gas holders, with the potential for more to be added to the list. So when I say ‘they’re all coming down’ and ‘before they’re all gone’, that’s just hysterical hyperbole. There will be a few of them left, which we can treat as monuments to a simpler time when we used to, um, burn a slightly different type of gas. The sites will be few and far between, but we’ll still be able to take our grandchildren on a pilgrimage to see one of these mighty icons of the industrial age. And they’ll look at it with mild indifference, shrug, and say ‘Huh’.
Until it starts to mystically rise up, that is, like a mighty steel phoenix. If English Heritage have any sense, they’ll construct some kind of lightweight inflatable cylinder within the old gasometers so we can still see these glorious landmarks inhaling, exhaling, inhaling, exhaling, echoing the lifecycle of yesterday’s communities. So you can say ‘Look, kids – that’s what they used to do when we were little. See, it’s v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y going down, as if five thousand people have simultaneously switched on the hob. Ah, nostalgia…’
And they’ll say ‘Huh’ again.

Taco Bell - Routine Republic

Oh, bravo, Taco Bell - this breakfast ad is truly superb.


Vying for the title of World's Coolest Dad is Brent Almond, who leaves these awesome notes in his son's lunchbox every day. Click here to see.


Robots: not quite ready to enslave us yet, it seems.


This is fun. Type in a random phrase, have it read to you with movie clips. Click.

Mystery of the Shard

Genuinely spooky.

Musicless Ghostbusters

Another great musicless music video.

Penised logos

Brilliantly juvenile. Clicky.

OK Go - Red Star Macalline

It was only a matter of time before OK Go's genius for music videos shifted to making adverts for the Chinese.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Top 50 Indie Albums of the Nineties

OK, here it is: the ultimate list of must-have indie albums of the 1990s. This took some thinking about…

For some of you, this’ll be a wonderful jaunt down the cobbles of memory lane. For many, a horizon-broadening and life-changing educational experience. And for others, an opportunity to viciously berate me for choosing the wrong albums and missing out ‘vital’ ones (nothing by Sleeper, The Verve, Echobelly or Strangelove in here, sorry), and grumble about the carefree blurring of the parameters of what indie music actually was and is. Because you’ll find a bit of rock, a bit of dance, a bit of this, that and the other…
It’s more about the vibe, you see. My own personal soundtrack to the nineties; something that I shared with my friends and enjoy to this day. It’s not an exhaustive round-up, in that it largely ignores grunge, punk, pop and much else. The original plan was to cherrypick the very best indie albums of the era and present them to you as a concise list (which can act either as a dig-this-out-of-your-cupboard list, or a search-for-these-things-on-Amazon-right-now list, depending on how old/awesome you are). But it was hard to narrow down. So, er, sorry, there are fifty of them.

Let’s go then, shall we? THE JUICYPIPS TOP 50 INDIE ALBUMS OF THE 1990S!

Mansun – Six
I should really have kicked this list off with their first album, Attack of the Grey Lantern, as it features the big singles you’ll undoubtedly remember with fondness: Stripper Vicar, Wide Open Space, Taxloss, Egg Shaped Fred – a magnificent album, put together by very clever people. But instead I’ve opted for their second album, Six, which is a sprawling masterpiece with probably the world record for ‘highest number of tempo changes on an album’. I’ve had it on fairly heavy rotation for the last 17 years and I’m still discovering new things about it.

Longpigs – The Sun Is Often Out
It’s amazing that Longpigs weren’t more popular – this album is just stunning. You probably know She Said, but that’s just one of a broad and delicious platter of piquant ear candy here. Happy Again, Dozen Wicked Words, On and On, Jesus Christ, it’s all sublime.

Kula Shaker – K
People often don’t take Kula Shaker seriously, but they really are an excellent band (yes, they’re still going), and their debut LP, K, was one of the finest indie albums of the era. Complex, intelligent, catchy.

Silver Sun – Silver Sun
Another band that should have been bigger, this album is a flawless collection of Beach Boys-influenced feelgood melodies with hidden razor-edges.

Stereophonics – Word Gets Around
The ’Phonics back catalogue is a bit up and down, swaying between the excellent and the, er, questionable. (Nobody mention Have A Nice Day…)
This LP, their first, got a lot of play on the Radio 1 Evening Session and thus wormed its way firmly into my regular rotation. And anyone who saw them live in period will know that Looks Like Chaplin is a rollicking kickass rollercoaster.

Oasis – Definitely Maybe
This had to be on the list really, didn’t it? While Morning Glory was arguably a more iconic soundtrack to mine and my friends’ teenage years, Definitely Maybe is the one that no record collection is complete without. They were the figureheads of the nineties indie revolution for a reason. Well, along with…

Blur – Modern Life is Rubbish
OK, I’ve contradicted my own logic here, as I should really be putting Parklife on the list as a true essential. But Modern Life… is just such a perfect album, I couldn’t leave it out.

Marion – This World & Body
There are few albums that sound as archetypally nineties-indie as this. Let’s All Go Together is probably their best-known, but dig in, there are gems aplenty here. Try The Only Way and All For Love.

The Boo Radleys – C’mon Kids
To many people, The Boo Radleys are known for Wake Up Boo! and nothing more. But that cheesy slice of indie-pop isn’t at all representative of their sound; have a go at C’mon Kids, their fifth album, and you’ll find a complex and lustrous work that they made to be deliberately difficult and uncommercial because, er, everyone saw them as being the cheesers that did Wake Up Boo!. It’s outstanding.

Spacehog – Resident Alien
An album that wears its influences on its sleeve – you can clearly hear shades of Bowie, Queen, Thin Lizzy, T-Rex, it’s pretty glam in places. Great set of tunes here, too – you’ll know In The Meantime, and the rest are all well worth absorbing.

Reef – Glow
My favourite Reef album is their lo-fi debut Replenish, but Glow was the poster-boy Reef album of the nineties charts. Move past the ubiquitous cheese of opener Place Your Hands and you’ll find oodles of thumping indie party tracks, with the odd sensitive moment too. 

Shed Seven – A Maximum High
Don’t laugh – they may have sold out in later years, but the early Shed Seven material was solid. Debut Change Giver was ace, but it was A Maximum High that really thrust them into the public consciousness and thus into this list. It took a lot of influence from eighties indie stalwarts The Smiths, and flits between jangly Britpop and genuine rock ‘n’ roll mischief. Getting Better and Parallel Lines are particular highlights.

The Bluetones – Expecting to Fly
I love The Bluetones with a passion. They’ve released six glorious studio albums to date – and singer Mark Morriss is kicking out some beautiful solo stuff – and it all stems back to this incredible debut.
A number of big singles here that you’ll be familiar with (Bluetonic, Slight Return, Cut Some Rug), but the track of the album for me is Time & Again. Amazing.

60ft Dolls – The Big 3
An album that everyone should own. A kind of melodic fusion of Britpop, grunge and blues, it's utterly flawless from start to finish. No.1 Pure Alcohol is the track I always used to put on mixtapes, and Streamlined is a bit of a mindblower too. 

Garbage – Garbage
Oh, such a good album! Queer, Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains were everywhere in the mid-nineties, and the rest of the LP was equally strong.
(And did you know that Garbage drummer Butch Vig is the chap who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind…?)

Radiohead – The Bends
A controversial viewpoint, I know, but I think everything Radiohead did post-1990s was pretentious, self-congratulatory and annoying. But the three albums they released in the nineties (Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer) were all magnificent, and we have to have The Bends here because it contains Just, Fake Plastic Trees, My Iron Lung, High & Dry, and Street Spirit (Fade Out). Timeless.

The Charlatans – The Charlatans
Tough to pick the best Charlatans album, but I’m going with their eponymous 4th album from 1994 as it’s the one I’ve probably listened to the most, so I guess that makes it my favourite. The production has a gorgeous richness, a really dark, bassy groove, and Toothache is one of my favourite songs of all time.

Elastica – Elastica
One of the most influential albums of the ’90s, and with good reason: it’s awesome. Steve Lamacq championed the band on the Evening Session, and singer Justine [founding member of Suede, incidentally] Frischmann’s relationship with Damon Albarn also helped fuel the media hype, but the songs really did stand for themselves. Another record collection essential.

Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go
Regular JuicyPips readers will know my feelings about the astounding
The Holy Bible, but I’m putting Everything Must Go in this list because, despite the frequently dark and disturbing subject matter, it feels more like an upbeat indie album. If that makes sense. And what would the 1990s have been without A Design For Life, Australia, and Kevin Carter?

Menswe@r – Nuisance
Menswe@r’s formation was weird – an article in Select magazine about a London mod revival led by Blur’s Graham Coxon quoted two (future-)members of Menswe@r talking about a ‘hot new unsigned band’, despite not having formed the band yet. They appeared on the cover of Melody Maker before they’d even recorded a single song. All sounds a bit Nathan Barley, but the ensuing Nuisance was an absolute corker – Daydreamer is cheeky, Stardust is great fun, Piece Of Me is one of the finest songs of the era.

Ash – 1977
There’s much to enjoy in the Ash back catalogue – debut mini-album Trailer was released when they were still at school and demonstrates what ingenious rock ‘n’ roll prodigies they were, and 1977, which came out a couple of years later in 1996, featured some huge singles: Girl From Mars, Kung Fu, Goldfinger, Angel Interceptor… masterful stuff.

Supergrass – I Should Coco
Supergrass released six albums between 1995-2008, and they were all excellent. We’re going with debut I Should Coco here because it includes the annoyingly catchy and really-quite-cheesy Alright, but also Caught By The Fuzz, Lenny, Mansize Rooster, Time, Sitting Up Straight, and all manner of other delights.

Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
A lot of people only know Fountains of Wayne for the 2003 single Stacy’s Mom, but there’s a lot more to them than that. The 1999 album Utopia Parkway was very lovely indeed, but their best work appeared on their eponymous ’96 debut. Radiation Vibe, I’ve Got A Flair, Leave The Biker, Survival Car, Sick Day, She’s Got A Problem, it’s gorgeous.

Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill
Bonkers hippielooper Alanis popped out this little marvel back in ’95, and it’s aged very well. Sure, she doesn’t understand what irony is (Ironic should really have been called Unfortunate), but this is full of absolute bangers. You Oughta Know is particularly acerbic.

Cast – All Change
Lovely bit of Liverpool Britpop here. You might know Finetime, Sandstorm and Alright – that’s pretty much the feel of the album overall. Good for listening to with a cool drink in the sunshine.

Idlewild – Hope Is Important
It’s been interesting to watch Idlewild evolve – when I first saw them live, supporting Ash in 1997, they were an angry punk band; over time, they sort of morphed into the Scottish R.E.M. They’re still going, and still excellent.
Hope Is Important was their full-length debut (the Captain EP preceding it), which they later described in a 2007 interview as ‘messy and noisy… a band trying to discover what they sound like – if that album came out now, it’d either be massive or totally ignored’. Mercurial, huh?
I think it’s a classic. A Film For The Future, 4 People Do Good, When I Argue I See Shapes, Everyone Says You’re So Fragile – these are all good things.

Embrace – The Good Will Out
Lots of bands sound like Embrace nowadays, but they kinda got there first. They’re a bit lost in the white noise of generic chart rock these days, but back in ’98 The Good Will Out made great waves. People mainly remember the soaring balladry of stuff like All You Good Good People and My Weakness Is None Of Your Business, but try One Big Family and The Last Gas for size. They rock.

Pulp – Different Class
It surprises a lot of people to learn that Pulp actually formed in 1978; still, the mid-nineties was very much their heyday, and 1995’s Different Class was their breakthrough – it went quadruple-platinum, won the ’96 Mercury Music Prize, and sold over 1.2m copies. So you’ve probably already got it. But if not, seek it out and enjoy Sorted For Es & Wizz, I Spy, F.E.E.L.I.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E., Mis-Shapes, and bucketloads of quintessentially British 1990s vibes.

Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix
Grand Prix was Teenage Fanclub’s fifth album, and it’s just wonderful throughout. Sparky’s Dream was one of the best indie singles of the 1990s, and every other track here is equally pretty. Always guaranteed to put a smile on your face. 

Eels – Beautiful Freak
Eels mainman Mark Oliver Everett (aka ‘E’) has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy. His father died from heart failure when he was 19, his sister - who suffered from schizophrenia - committed suicide, his mother died of lung cancer, his cousin was a flight attendant on the plane that hit the Pentagon on September 11th 2001 (striking the side of the building where his father used to work, weirdly) – so his music has an understandably dark edge. But it’s also incredibly uplifting, and Beautiful Freak (actually released before most of the aforementioned events) is arguably his magnum opus – tracks such as Susan’s House, Novocaine For The Soul, My Beloved Monster and Mental demonstrate his almost child-like enthusiasm for crafting solid tunes. Inspirational stuff.

Propellerheads – Decksandrumsandrockandroll
OK, so this is a big beat album packed with samples and breakbeats rather than being an indie LP, but it’s one that all the indie kids had (along with The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole and Fatboy Slim’s You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby). You’ll definitely be familiar with History Repeating, which featured the vocals of Shirley Bassey, but there’s all kinds of disparate treats on the album to discover – try Echo & Bounce, Bang On, and the outrageously groovy Oh Yeah?

Gomez – Bring It On
Gomez were pioneers, fusing traditional instrumentation with emerging electronic techniques, and having three singers and four songwriters. This led to a lot of diversity, and some killer tunes – highlights of Bring It On include Get Myself Arrested, 78 Stone Wobble, Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone, and Whippin’ Piccadilly.

Soulwax – Much Against Everyone’s Advice
Soulwax were cut from the same cloth as Gomez, but are best known for their
2 Many DJs work – before all of those iconic mash-ups, however, came their indie/alt-rock album Much Against Everyone’s Advice. The title track is super, as are Too Many DJs, Funny, Conversation Intercom, and… well, all of it, actually. 

Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
This is basically the sound of the break-up of a relationship, accompanied by a truly heroic quantity of class A narcotics. It’s a vast, near-infinite melodic soundscape that lulls and soothes, occasionally spiking into frantic action (Electricity, Come Together), before dropping back into pools of melody so dark and deep they make you weep. Stay With Me is particularly heartbreaking.

R.E.M. – Monster
Arguably the two finest albums by R.E.M. arrived in the mid-nineties: Automatic For The People and Monster. It’s the latter that I’ve chosen here because, firstly, everyone loves What’s The Frequency, Kenneth? and secondly, they’ve seldom sounded better than on I Took Your Name, Bang and Blame, Circus Envy, and Crush With Eyeliner.

Super Furry Animals – Fuzzy Logic
Some brilliant psychedelic Welsh weirdness here. God! Show Me Magic is a killer way to open an album, and Bad Behaviour, Something 4 The Weekend and If You Don’t Want Me To Destroy You are all little slices of sunlit genius too.

Grass~Show – Something Smells Good In Stinkville
A Swedish indie band that drew massive influence from Britpop, Grass~Show’s one and only album featured such unmissable songs as 1962, Out Of The Void, Cavemankind and Make Love Not War, along with an inspired cover of Ace of Base’s All That She Wants. If you haven’t got this, go and get it!

Weezer – Pinkerton
Weezer’s fans have famously campaigned to stop the band releasing new albums, feeling that the lacklustre latter-day efforts are diminishing the splendour of their early work. Whatever your viewpoint, you can’t deny that they released some kickass material in the mid-nineties. Second album Pinkerton is a particular favourite; it centres thematically around the frustration and loneliness of rock stardom, and is pretty much the zenith of their creative output. Essential.

Ian Brown – Golden Greats
The former Stone Roses frontman’s solo stuff is ace, and Golden Greats is the best of the bunch. Gettin’ High, Dolphins Were Monkeys, Set My Baby Free, Love Like A Fountain – it’s a big, big sound, and endlessly compelling.

The Stone Roses – Second Coming
I haven’t included their debut album as it was released in 1989, although I actually prefer Second Coming anyway. (Ooh, controversial!)
Love Spreads is one of my favourite ever songs; also worth digging out are Daybreak, Breaking Into Heaven, Tightrope, Begging You, and Straight To The Man.

The Wannadies – Be A Girl
Another Swedish band with a hefty Britpop influence. You’ll presumably be familiar with You And Me Song and Might Be Stars. Like them? Try Be A Girl then, it’s lovely.

The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land
Another big beat album here, but I couldn’t miss out The Fat of the Land, it’s such an integral part of the musical landscape of the 1990s. Breathe, Narayan, Smack My Bitch Up, Diesel Power, it’s massive tune after massive tune. My personal favourite, however, is album closer Fuel My Fire – a cover of a track by grunge kingpins L7.

The Lemonheads – It’s A Shame About Ray
A peach of an album, this. The re-release features a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson, which is probably what it’s now best known for, but thankfully it’s tacked onto the end so that you can enjoy It’s A Shame About Ray in its original entirety first. Which you should, as it’s beautiful.

Muse – Showbiz
Muse have been knocking about since 1994 and, although they’ve morphed through the genres of symphonic rock, electronica and space rock, their first album is Muse at their most pure: sublime, uncluttered songwriting, endlessly entertaining. Sunburn, Cave, Uno, Sober, it’s a truly incredible album.

The White Stripes – The White Stripes
Jack ‘n’ Meg’s first album came out in 1999, and is a great big jumble of pastel-hued lo-fi blues. It hasn’t aged a day since. 

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – Brainbloodvolume
NAD had two bass players – one for regular basslines, the other for higher bass melodies. This gave them a rich and tense sound which, by the time of their third and final studio album Brainbloodvolume, had evolved into something big and brash. Traffic, Borehole, Song Eleven Could Take Forever and All I Ask Of Myself Is That I Hold Together are all killer; a long way removed from the early days of Kill Your Television, but, y’know… good different.

Ocean Colour Scene – Moseley Shoals
Inextricably intertwined with memories of TFI Friday (The Riverboat Song was the theme tune, of course), Moseley Shoals brought some classic 1960s songwriting into the Britpop era. You can hear a lot of early Stones in there. And it’s very mod too, as Paul Weller would no doubt tell you.

Placebo – Placebo
Placebo’s debut was staggering, frankly, and still is. Bruise Pristine, Come Home, 36 Degrees and, of course, Nancy Boy – wonderfully crafted. I just wish they’d used the single mix of Nancy Boy rather than the less exciting album version – then it’d be a nigh-on perfect LP.

Suede – Coming Up
Hardcore Suede fans will judge me harshly for not including Suede or Dog Man Star, but it’s their third album Coming Up that I think sits best within this list. The band wanted to create something more accessible after the dark and brooding material that came before it, so Coming Up fused their intelligent songwriting with heaps of jangling Britpop hooks, resulting in such classics as Trash, Filmstar and Beautiful Ones. You can’t not own this album.

The Presidents of the United States of America - The Presidents of the United States of America
PUSA are a consistently excellent band (check out recent album Kudos to You, it’s pure gold), and everybody in the world should own their 1995 self-titled debut. Featuring such vitals as Lump, Peaches, Dune Buggy, Feather Pluckn, and that badass cover of Kick Out The Jams, it’s a belter of an LP, made all the more fun by all the tongue-in-cheek animal/insect imagery and the weird homemade instruments. 

So, there you go. Fifty things that you should have in your house. If you don’t own them already, go and buy them now. You need them. They will make your life better.