Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Not arrogance, but belief: celebrating Echobelly's On with Mark Stratton

For the twentieth anniversary of Britpop, a series of guest posts looking back at the innovators, the opportunists, the individualists who got caught up in a moment, and how they look the other side of the millennium.

Mark Stratton lives in Kent and tweets at @markjstratton. For his contribution, Mark offers us a personal survey of Echobelly's second album and aspirational high-water mark. 


I agree with Noel. 

It was difficult not to pick the debut album by the best band in the world; but for me a Britpop album takes you back to an era of pubescent anxiety, an era of hope and hope lost. Whatever its merits and there are many (Slide Away alone justifies it), Definitely Maybe doesn’t do that; it’s far too important to be limited to such horology. It will, of course, live forever. 

As I subscribe to the theory that God created Manchester on the seventh day I’m not going to choose Modern Life is Rubbish. Neither can I, with a clear conscience, choose the far superior Suede given their reluctance to hold the coveted founders of Britpop title, let alone, pose with our nation’s flag. Both would be worthy contenders.

I have chosen On by Echobelly. It is an album that perfectly mixes the snarling guitar riffs of swaggering youth together with sing-along, fun, playful lyrics so prevalent in the Britpop era. It wasn’t about arrogance; it was all about belief. 

The album opens up with the guitar laden Car Fiction (2:31) setting the tone for the album; yes we are a guitar band (and a girl is singing) – deal with it. 

Next a soundtrack to my Hoffmeister years and forever on the radio and Jukebox: Great Things (3:31). At the time, like everyone around me, I wanted to do something extraordinary and break free from the metaphoric Rousseauian chains - if only I could tell the younger Stratton now that we can find unsurpassable value and achievement in the most ordinary and everyday of things.

Natural Animal (3:27) is all about friendships breaking at the first sight trouble. "Where are you now? You're supposed to be a friend of mine." We have all been there even if we can't relate to the blatant criminality of the song.

We move to the moodier Go Away (2:44) where the familiar Britpop narrative of anti-authority is evident in the Oasian "we see things they'll never see" vain. 

Pantyhose and Roses (3:25) is one of their most famous, best and most played tunes with lyrics clearly approved by Jerry Hall's mother. It’s still a thinking man’s favourite in any Britpop compilation selection though.

We slow down for Something Hot In A Cold Country (4:01), which is the closest Echobelly get to an epic on this album and is clearly all about unacknowledged genius – I know, tell me about it.

"Love" is the Four Letter Word (2:51) alluded to in the next song which is disappointing because its songsake is rather average when compared to the rest of the album. I stand firmly with Corinthians on this.

Thankfully we move to Nobody Like You (3:52) celebrating the prepubescent anxiety that we (hopefully) all felt at that stage of our lives. Extending, so my best history teacher tells me, to even those who held great offices of State: Why do nice girls hate me? Why?

In the Year (3:31) is the other decidedly average song on this album; I often wonder if it was recorded at the correct speed. 

But that doesn't matter because Dark Therapy (5:30) follows. Very nearly an epic; it is a brilliant, moody Britpop song. "If you close your eyes..." A perfect example of the Britpop canon. 

The weirdly almost electro-acoustic and frankly Morrissyesque Worms And Angels (2:38) closes a great Britpop album which will live through the centuries. 

I was lucky to be brought up when the British music scene was thriving, the new great British band was always just around the corner and on the front page of Select shortly afterwards, and it provided a soundtrack to my formative years. At the time, I wanted to do great things, I didn’t want to compromise, I wanted to know what life is and I wanted to know everything. Readers, I have no progress to report whatsoever; I still aspire to these things but perhaps a little less blatantly and a little less forcibly than when I first adopted it as my personal mantra. On will live with me forever.

Together in Britpop,

Mark Stratton

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