Decades – 1992
Updated: Mar 14
1992 was a good year for me. I was in my second year at University in Exeter. I had ditched the ridiculous (and self inflicted) bleach blonde bob haircut of my first year (think the Magic Roundabout's Dougal on acid, but without the acid). I had a bar job on campus I loved and had cash on the hip to fund the occasional album purchase and gig ticket. Unlike my four housemates, I didn’t go and see My Bloody Valentine, thus avoiding permanent hearing damage. All good so far.
And best of all, I had a girlfriend. I had already broken by disastrous first year record, by "pulling a fresher" in freshers' week (I apologise for these terms, it was a different time). We dated for a term, but I ended it before Xmas 1991. My God I had gone from crashing and burning to ending relationships - this was progress, of a sort.
In February 1992, I started seeing a woman in my own year, who was clever, beautiful, funny and for the next couple of years fabulous fun. That said, she had the worst music taste of any woman I have ever dated, insisting on playing Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard soundtrack whenever I stayed at hers. Including our more ‘intimate’ moments. I have an unfortunate, near Pavlovian reaction whenever I hear tracks from it and can get quite “flustered and excitable”. Does I Will Always Love You make you randy? I sincerely hope not.
Fortunately, I lived in a house full of great music, each of us buying different albums to maximise our purchasing power. And there were lots of great albums to buy. So here are (in true Spinal Tap form) 11 of the best albums for me that year.
11. The Hit Parade – The Wedding Present
In 1992, The Wedding Present released a single a month, with one new song backed by a b-side cover version. Each song was limited to (I think) 10,000 copies and sold out quickly. My housemate Andy got the first single, Blue Eyes. I was well jel as it was brilliant, and remains one of my favourite songs by them. Its b-side was a fabulous cover of The Go-Betweens' Cattle And Cane.
The singles kept coming, and were great, with one or two exceptions (I was never bothered by Love Slave or No Christmas but that's a pretty good hit rate). California, Three and Flying Saucer were superb. Though technically not an album, they released The Hit Parade as a collection of these singles and b-sides, initially sold as two separate albums, and later the whole 24 songs collected.
They are doing the same trick in 2022. It's easier to get each copy, as I have subscribed and they are already arriving regularly ( the cost is quite phenomenal, but I am not complaining - I am supporting a band I love to keep going, and that's great).
I have had the most minuscule of arguments with their leader, and only consistent member, the marvellous David Gedge (see I'm Picking Up Good Variations...), I am just thrilled he read what I wrote. They are still great, and these songs stand up 30 years later.
10. Nonsuch – XTC
The last album 'proper' by XTC, this is one that's grown on me over the years, rather than being an immediate 'fall in love' moment. I had a summer job in 1992, working in a County Court in my home town. A woman there (who's name I shamefully forget) taped me the album - I loved The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead immediately, but the rest of the album has grown on me over the years.
Around this time, lead songwriter Andy Partridge had had an aborted attempt at producing Blur's second album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, but the initial outputs were rejected (not sure if that was by the record label or by the band themselves). Perhaps this album would have garnered more attention if it had been more closely associated with BritPop through this connection.
But while the songs are quintessential English pop - quirky and varied - it's mining a very different Englishness to its then youthful usurpers. Dear Madam Barnum is The Hollies reimagined; My Bird Performs is a slice of circular, pastoral folk; Humble Daisy is all harmonies and mellotrons - the whole thing is a brilliant slice of retro-pop, but far cleverer and more sophisticated than the Britpoppers. It's aged better than most of Britpop too. Well worth a listen back now. I attempted to see EXTC, a tribute band last month playings tracks from this and from their whole career - sadly, Storm Eunice had other ideas, but I will see them one day, I am sure.
9. The Rockingbirds - The Rockingbirds
My friend Stevey inspired my approach to music buying more than I give him credit for. He bought an album by Boltthrower just because he thought it was important to have thrash metal album in his collection. Similarly, in 1992 I decided I should own a country and western album. Not the country and western my folks listened to like Don Williams (all cheesy ballads, double denim and ten gallon hats), but instead something more modern. I exchanged some old records I had outgrown at the Notting Hill Music and Video Exchange and spotted a promo copy of this album.
I liked the cover and the blurb describing the band so took a punt (no mobile phones, Spotify or YouTube to check out bands back then - new bands were often a gamble). The gamble paid off. Songs like Standing At The Doorstep Of Love, Searching and the sublime Gradually Learning were right up my alley - this was country and western, but not as we know it.
It also introduced me to Jonathan Richman, through the marvellous homage Jonathan Jonathan, about meeting their hero ("I shook your hand at the Hammersmith Odeon, that's something I won't forget"). Plus they must have been good - they included members of The Weather Prophets, were produced by Langer and Winstanley (producers of Madness amongst others) and were signed to Heavenly, about as English a label as you could imagine - yet they made music that would sound not out of place in Nashville. Quite a trick.
I loved it all, it was different to everything else I listened to back then and I still love it now. I finally got to see them live 18 years later at The Borderline and they were splendid. It still stands up now. If you are feeling a bit "yea-hah", give it a spin.
8. Seven – James
I fell in love with James, having seen them supporting The Cure at their Crystal Palace Garden Party in 1990. Before they came on there were a group of evangelist girls running around selling their now famous flower t-shirts and telling anyone who'd listen that James were the best band in the world. I am not sure I quite agreed with that statement, but they were bloody good and I bought a few singles. By the time I went to University that year, I was wearing a James flower sweatshirt a friend had given me.
James played Exeter in October 1991, touring tracks for what would become Seven. I remember the gig, I was there with my new girlfriend Ros, the aforementioned fresher I had charmed. Better hair helped, but also I had a job on campus and felt a bit more settled. I was starting to really enjoy University and make the most of all it offered.
The merch stand at that gig had these brilliant grey t-shirts that had the city they were playing emblazoned on the front in the same lower case lettering as the 'james' lettering on the back. I bought one naturally, and lived in this for some time. I even tolerated me and Ros wearing matching t-shirts - it's tragic, I know.
New songs like Born Of Frustration, Ring The Bells and Sound seemed huge that night - particularly the former, as Tim Booth danced like some deranged whirling dervish, whooping madly. Sound saw Tim singing into a megaphone, resembling a more tuneful Mark E Smith. It was brilliant stuff.
The album came out soon after, and I remember buying the cassette and playing the whole thing repeatedly on my long walk up the hill from St David's where we now lived to campus. Bring A Gun had been in the live set back in 1990 when I first saw them with The Cure. It's a rage against mad James Anderton, then Chief Constable of Greater Manchester. Anderson clamped down on the club scene, raves but was also openly homophobic, believed in the death penalty and castration for rapists. He also believe he was a channel for god - if there is a god, they have better taste. "Get a license for that grin or they'll lock you away" yodelled Tim Booth. This was righteous anger, backed by an even angrier, pounding tune.
Live A Love Of Life dallied in baggy, Heavens is straightforward great pop and the closing title track is just epic - it wouldn't sound out of place on a U2 or Simple Minds album. They probably wouldn't like that comparison, but James were sailing closer and closer to stadium rockers and pulling it off with aplomb. They would pull back on Laid.
James played the student ball in 1992, but I didn't go. I think they were a late addition and I couldn't be arsed. A shame, as they were also a late addition to Glastonbury that year, replacing Morrissey (who had cancelled - there's a surprise). Their Exeter Ball gig was a Glasto-warm-up. They started their set with a cover of Moz's We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful, allegedly about them and their new found success. I have always regretted missing that, just to see them belt that out archly.
James are still brilliant today and for me, this was the first album that was a proper step away from rising indie stars to something bigger. My copy of Seven has disappeared in the mists of time...I will have to rectify that...
PS I should give an honourable mention to my friends Nick and Heather. As James played Sit Down at that 1991 Exeter gig, all the audience dutifully sat down - as did I and Ros. However, Nick steadfastly refused and Heather loyally stood with him, as Nick sang "Sell Out" instead of Sit Down. At least that's what I remember. Must check if I dreamt that - I fear I didn't. He's still lovingly belligerent now.
7. Between 10th and 11th – The Charlatans
During lockdown in 2020, I got up early and went for long walks to escape the four walls of our flat when allowed and to get some exercise, dutifully socially distanced, of course.
My soundtrack was often a look back at albums I hadn't listened to in years and this was one of them. I tend to default to their eponymous fourth album, and 1997's Tellin' Stories, plus more recent material (their last four albums are all fabulous, especially 2008's You Cross My Path, which is possibly their best to these old ears).
A listen back to Between 10th and 11th was a complete surprise. Weirdo remains a regular in their setlist and I remember still seeing it on Channel 4's The Word one Friday night back in 1992 at Uni and thinking it was magnificent. But I had complete forgotten how great the rest of the album is.
This was guitarist Mark Collins' debut, having replaced original guitarist Jon Day after their Over Rising single. Although the album is not loved by the band (it barely gets a mention in Tim's autobiography), I think it's a hidden gem. Flood's production might have felt too polished at the time, but I think it's given the album a longevity their debut just doesn't have for me. Flood's production meant the album made inroads in the US they hadn't made at that stage of their career.
And the songs are great - Page One is an epic, bringing more depth to their music than just the garage, Doorsy grooves of Some Friendly. It sounds a little like tracks off U2's Achtung Baby, Flood's other big hit of the time - this is quite a compliment as far as I am concerned. Page One should have been a single and why it's not still in their live set is a travesty.
Mark brought bluesy guitar to I Don't Want To See The Sights, which still sounds amazing now. The End Of Everything is propelled along by Martin Blunt's superb bass, some fabulous Hammond organ and Tim's brilliant harmonies. Listening back, only Tremelo Song and its Italian House piano opening sounds dated.
Weirdo remains its highpoint, apocalyptic, but motoring along, irresistibly - this is a great album, much in needs of reappraisal and love.
6. It's A Shame About Ray – The Lemonheads
I didn't get Evan Dando's detached, grunge-lite meets California folk schtick. Inconsequential covers of Luka and a general stoner persona meant they, and he, just didn't interest me. And their pointless cover of Mrs Robinson did little to change that. Nick may have sung Sell Out when James played Exeter, but this really was the act of a corporate whore, as we would have called him then. Most of the attention they drew seemed driven by the fact he was handsome. They felt little more than an indie boyband then.
But It's A Shame About Ray is a fabulous album, that put paid to that perception, with hidden depths that Dando had not revealed until its release. Five of its twelve songs are under two minutes, showing admirable restraint, and while the songs are short and sweet, they never feel unfinished. They are neat little vignettes, rather than a paucity of ideas. They are economical and the songs are as long as they need to be.
Confetti and its "kind of, should of, told her that he loved her, but he couldn't" sets the scene for some doomed love - the album is informed by Dando's depression, and the impact his parents divorce had on him. But it's also upbeat, insanely catchy, concise and finally delivered on the promise others had seen in him, that I had not. My Drug Buddy is Americana at its best, and heartbreakingly honest lyrics - "I’m too much with myself, I wanna be someone else". Evan is channeling Gram Parsons to fine effect.
Title track It's A Shame About Ray is sublime, while Rudderless and its "waiting for something to break" lyric is sung with a strained vocal that give it real depth.
There's no flab, waste or excess on this album, it's just straightforward, simple tunes and it's all the better for it. Come On Feel The Lemonheads, its follow up is just a good, and seeing The Lemonheads at Indigo2 a few years ago was great fun, though one had the sense that Evan was definitely there with his drug buddy once more.
5. Copper Blue – Sugar
Over the summer holiday in 1992, between the end of our second year and returning for our third year, Stevey would stay in touch and I remember him eulogising about this album, by former Husker Dü frontman Bob Mould. I never got Husker Dü, too heavy for my tastes, but this was pure pop perfection.
Having previously been the doyen of the post-punk scene, Bob let his sunny side loose and produced this taut, no frills, to the point collection of wonderful songs. From opener The Act We Act, it motors along and rarely lets the pace slip. Whilst the lyrics weren't always that cheerful (the Pixies-esque A Good Idea is about a drowning man), the tunes just belt along. Changes was almost a "fuck you" to the Nirvana fans and shoegazers to say "this is how it's done".
And If I Can't Change Your Mind is as perfect a pop song as you will ever hear. If Pearl Jam had released this, it would have been huge. I still don't get Hoover Dam, with its proggy keyboards, but that aside this is perfection.
4. Generation Terrorists – Manic Street Preachers
I have written elsewhere on this blog about missing seeing the Manics on this tour (see Ten Bad Gig Decisions), instead going with my girlfriend to see some fairly pointless film (possibly Frankie and Johnny, though more shamefully possibly My Girl - the promise of sex will make you make some truly distressing decisions - well it certainly has me).
The Manics seemed initially to be a bit of a joke, all Clash slogans and outlandish statements (remember, this was going to be their only album and then they would split up - they are on album 14 now). But in fact, Generation Terrorists is just great fun.
Yes, it's too long, there is a compete lack of quality control, there are some really questionable inclusions, and they were still a bit too comedy metal in places (there is an alternate universe where the Manics become The Darkness - what a horrible place that must be).
But when it's good, it's REALLY good. Stay Beautiful is fabulous, its unsaid "fuck off" chorus a joy live (and on my headphones walking the long walk to campus back then, and the long walk to work now). “All broken up at seventeen… we’re a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint” - the lyrics exactly described them. There was no pretence - they really were 4real.
Their influences were worn firmly on their sleeves channelling The Clash on Natwest-Barclays-Midlands-Lloyds, aping Guns'n'Roses on Slash'n'Burn, and even Public Enemy on Repeat (Stars and Stripes). You couldn't fault their bravado and genre defying ambition. And singing "repeat after me, fuck Queen and country" was a brave thing to do back then, which we forget.
But songs like Little Baby Nothing, You Love Us and of course Motorcycle Emptiness are magnificent. Thank God their realness did not extend to delivering on the promise this would be their only album,
3. Going Blank Again – Ride
Ride were one of the bands that Nick, Stevey and I bonded around in our first term in 1990. Stevey had already seen them and had their first two EPs on vinyl (I really must steal those next time I visit him...). We saw them in the Lemon Grove in October 1990, Stevey and I volunteering to use Nick's recording walkman and mic to record the gig - you can hear us on the tape (if we could ever find it) questioning if the damn thing was on, as they blasted through set opener Seagull. With real dedication to bootlegging, we stood by the right of stage speakers and I swear my hearing has never quite recovered. The thing we do for love (of shoegazing pop music).
At the end of that first year at Uni, Stevey and I jumped on a coach to Crystal Palace to see Pixies, supported by The Boo Radleys, Cud, The Milltown Brothers and Ride. Ride took the stage with their new, previously unheard, epic, Leave Them All Behind. With its Who-esque keyboard opening, and it's eight minutes of heavy guitars and wonderful harmonies, we knew Ride were no one album wonder - this was GREAT,
By 1992 I reconciled that the bass guitar I had bought in 1990 was very much a white elephant, that I was never going to be in a band and that I could either try and survive on fuck all money or sell the guitar and amp and have some cash and some fun. I chose the latter path, ever the pragmatic and realist, and sold my guitar and amp. To console myself to the fact I would only ever be proficient on air guitar (and not even great at that), I bought Ride's second album, Going Blank Again with my new riches.
Opening with the shoe gazing beast we had heard back at Crystal Palace, the album exceeded all expectations. It's a tremendous follow up to debut Nowhere - Twisterella is perfect indie pop, giddy and mischievous, flippant fun - "Look at Twisterella, she hasn't got a fella". It out-Stone Roses the Stone Roses at their own game. Marvellous.
Time Machine with its weird, spacey, almost dub intro could have been on New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies (see New Order - Power, Corruption and Lies (and sneezes and chat up lines) if you are not sure how much of a compliment that is from me).
Chrome Waves is all shining acoustic guitars, Mousetrap almost trips over itself with enthusiasm and OX4 is an epic, missing home closer that still kills live. Ride lost the plot over their next two albums, but finally got it back together in 2015 and have made two crackers since then. I am glad Mark has accepted his baldness now - I love a good hat, but I fear his trilby was ill advised. Not as ill-advised as the turquoise jeans I bought, inspired by Mark's red trousers when we saw Ride at Exeter's Great Hall in 1992. If you are a handsome indie rock star, you can get away with such things. I am just glad there any no pictures of the rather terrible fashion choice - not the first of such things and definitely not the last.
2. Automatic For The People – R.E.M.
Another band from my Ten Bad Gig Decisions blog, I had missed them on the Green tour - sadly there was no tour for Out Of Time or indeed Automatic For The People. I'd get there eventually on the Monster tour.
This album was very much a studio affair, a band consolidating their indie star position and now becoming rock aristocracy with this stately, subdued masterpiece. Gone were the indie rockers of Pop Song, Finest Worksong and Stand - this was more considered, orchestrated, minimal, beautiful. First single and opener Drive made it clear this was different - a slowed down, darker Losing My Religion.
It's brooding, distant, yet warm and comforting. Everything Hurts may be overused on soundtracks to films and TV shows, but it's still truly beautiful. A song undamaged by overfamiliarity. Try Not To Breathe with its suicide story defies the lightweight, catchy acoustic tune that underpins it. This album is light, airy but also dark as fuck.
Ignoreland rages against Bush Snr's America, while Man On The Moon is an homage to the great comedian Andy Kauffman, only known to us Brits from sitcom Taxi. Its cod-Elvis "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" is still great fun.
The album has its flaws (though I don't hate The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight as much as I used to - it's still this album's Shiny Happy People - someone should really have had a word with Stipe and Buck about SHP though, it's still shite, what were they thinking?).
Album closers Nightswimming and Find The River are as lovely as anything in R.E.M's considerable canon. I am sat writing this in a pub on a Sunday night, and I can see the bar staff wondering what I am listening to as my head bobs and I sway along to the latter...I may have to explain before they bar me...
1. Your Arsenal – Morrissey
Right. So my views, and discomfort, with my former hero are well documented here (see When Heroes Go Down - Dumping Morrissey). I am now firmly #morrisseyneutral which either my friend Simon or I invented: "Morrissey offsetting" is basically carbon offsetting for flights reimagined - I donate money to the Refugee Council to counter any financial benefit Morrissey might get from me listening to his music.
Back in 1992, Moz's rightwing views were not clear. He wrote some difficult and dodgy lyrics but it was all obfuscated - I really believed he was just narrating a story, not advocating the views of the characters he sung about. Sadly, having endorsed right wing parties like For Britain, and defended Tommy Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, it's impossible to defend Moz now, as far as I can see.
I have been damned by Morrissey fans as a "hater", yet that's clearly nonsense. I have seen him 19 times, and for decades championed him, worn his t-shirts, bought his records, his sticky badges, berated anyone who criticised him. But there's a point you have to step back and say no. He's long passed that.
But setting aside those views, this and its follow up, Vauxhall & I, are brilliant albums. After the relative disappointment of his second album, Kill Uncle, Your Arsenal was a revelation, Muscular, rocking, this was Moz reborn. It comes out of the traps at speed with You're Gonna Need Someone On Your Side, a belting, drum heavy, feedback ridden glam-rocker. This is no one-off - Glamorous Glue is another glam stomper, with its "London is dead, London is dead" refrain.
National Front Disco has one of his greatest tunes, and I always believed (at least back then) that this was some Bowie-esque story - it was not his views, just the story of a boy falling in with the wrong crowd. I thought that the Disco reference was to provoke rather than eulogise the NF bigots he described. That seems naive now, given where his views at least appear to be.
Certain People I Know is Ride A White Swan reimagined and although its lightweight lyrically for him, it's a great tune and a great vocal. We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful is a fun poke at his former proteges James' success, and one of my favourites of his singles with its "ha ha ha" refrain and its "and if they're northern, that makes it worse" lyric.
You're The One For Me, Fatty is the most unlikely love song you will ever hear (either in Battersea or indeed anywhere else). Apparently, this was Moz's declaration of love to Madness’ Cathal Smyth. It's sweet and great fun. A playful Moz, a trait often forgotten when people talk about his songs. Seasick, Yet Still Docked was stunning, a rewrite of That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore, but still brilliant.
But it's perfect moments are its closing two tracks. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday is an homage to Bowie's Rock'n'roll Suicide, producer Mick Ronson giving weight to a song that out-Bowies Bowie (though Bowie later covering it is even more peculiar and wonderful). And Tomorrow is his most Smiths-y moment - it should have been a massive hit, and has that wonderful quiet piano ending, a nod to The Smiths' Asleep. I remember my friend Jackie wondering if this was a sign - did he want The Smiths back? I think he did but Marr had moved on...
Listening back, it's a wonderful album. Over the years Moz has taken action that assured me he's no bigot and in truth, I really still don't believe he is a racist. But I can't in good conscience ignore his confusing messages and support for the far-right - I just don't understand what he is thinking and he does not offer any explanation. If he came out and denounced Islamophobia, if he supported multiculturalism and immigration, I would be back seeing him live and buying his records and no one would defend him more than me.
Instead, we are left with this confusing, sad, disappointing, fallen hero. For a better explanation, please take the time to read these two pieces in The Guardian by Joshua Surtees - As a black teenager, I loved Morrissey. But heaven knows I’m miserable now and Morrissey and the Fuck The Guardian T-shirt).
But if you can separate the man from the art, this is still a cracking, album and it soundtracked my 1992, and occasionally, still soundtracks my 2022.
So that's 1992. 1982 is already done...I'll get to 1972 soon, then 2002 and 2012. Stay safe, x