The Sundays - Reading, Writing & Arithmetic
1989. The Smiths had split in 1987 - I was grieving, lost, looking for a replacement. No one band could take their place. But gradually some contenders were emerging. The Wedding Present were already nicknamed The Smiths' fans' second favourite band. The Stone Roses had arrived. James were just taking off.
But none of them quite cut it. Don't get me wrong, they were great bands and had bigger followings and successes. But The Sundays were the first band that filled that gap for me. The perfect mix of soaring jangly guitars, sublime imagery, completely English, funny, cutting, gentle, beautiful. If a band was more made for an audience wearing black jeans, DMs, gig t-shirts and saggy cardigans, I'd like to know who.
I first heard them on The Chart Show on Channel 4 (ah remember those days when we only had 4 TV channels?). It was just a stream of music videos, with an occasional focus on a specific chart (indie, pop, etc), the videos subtitled with some banal bit of trivia. Can't Be Sure was a swirling slice of perfect indie. And Harriet Wheeler was mesmerising and her lyrics matched Mozzers - "England my country, the home of the free, such miserable weather".
I ran out and bought the single the next morning. They were on Rough Trade (home of The Smiths). They were perfect. The Smiths, with a dash of Cocteau Twins, a slice of Wedding Present, and a drop of Pretenders (if Chrissie Hynde had been English).
The album followed in early 1990 - the songs quintessentially English, singing of things I was living and seeing each weekend (Skin & Bones' "Oh, you see me in a cardigan, in a dress, dress, dress that I've been sick on" was most girls I hung around with on a Friday night). Elsewhere A Certain Someone wigs out, manic guitars and Harriet imagining making a mess of things - "Oh, be careful living in a block of flats and I never take the lift to the top. No, I never take the lift to the top".
Here's Where The Story Ends and You're Not The Only One both offered an embarrassment of riches - perfect, gentle pop music with smart, sassy, honest lyrics ("What’s so wrong with reading my stars, when I’ll be in the lavatory").
Rhyming barmy with Salvation Army, and Civil Service with Piccadilly Circus, Hideous Towns further confirmed Wheeler was a lyricist of some stature and wit. And in Dave Gavurin she had her Johnny Marr. Wheeler and Gavin were a couple - maybe if Moz and Marr dated, things might have worked out?
Closer Joy is the killer track, with its hypnotic, circular guitar and bass lines, while it's lyrics question the wiseness of conformity "Joy, joy, joy. Work, work, work harder". It's a perfect subdued end to an album with no flaws.
Though the next two albums were not as strong, each had their moments. And I finally got to see them at their last ever show at The Union Chapel in 1997. They were still wonderful, Harriet was still beautiful and her and Gavurin were a perfect combination.
It's often rumoured they will reform, something I truly desire and "if desire, desire's a terrible thing, you know that I really don't mind".