Long time reader and very infrequent commenter from the states – specifically, the former British colony of Massachusetts Bay – who thought I might be able to contribute to your imaginary compilation series.
The Vinyl Villain, in both its incarnations, has had a profound influence in my reengagement with the indie music scene after many years focused on other things. You have helped both to fill in the gaps and introduce me to current music I would have otherwise missed. Of course, Mrs. G. may not be your biggest fan since she now has to spend her weekend mornings listening to The Sad or the FRabbits frustrated by the fact that she can’t understand what is being said, even though she is sure they are singing in English.
In any case, attached please find my attempt at an imaginary compilation of a band that you played a key role in introducing to me. I hope you find it of sufficient interest to include in the blog at some point.
Thanks for all your efforts over the years.
And quite honestly, I’m delighted that someone sees fit to include this lot in this series, so without any further delay here’s Dave’s superb in-depth take on things…….
I suppose it is important for me to come clean from the beginning and admit that I was totally unaware of Gene during their existence as an active band (1994-2004). In fact, there was quite a gap after the late 80’s where the demands of family and career filled up the time and headspace that had previously been used for activities like exploring new music. It is only in the last several years through a collection of B-sides posted on the Morrissey Solo site and JC’s own post on their early singles at the original blog that I was introduced to Gene’s music. Thanks to last year’s reissues of deluxe versions of their four studio albums plus compilation To See The Lights, experiencing their entire catalog along with many demos, radio sessions and live recordings is now quite easy.
Just a few notes before I get started …
Gene is generally considered to be a second-tier band from the Britpop era. While one can certainly debate the appropriateness of both elements of that classification, I’ll save those discussions for another day. Instead, I would just like to share my opinion that relative to some of the better known bands of that time, Gene’s music has often more gracefully stood the test of time. Hopefully, the compilation below will make that point – though, as always, YMMV.
It seems that, at the time, the biggest criticism of Gene was that they were just Smiths wannabes. Of course, fans, quite rightly, argued that musically, their sound was more influenced by bands like The Jam, than the jangle pop of the previous decade. While I completely agree with this, looking back now, I think it is easy to make the case that Martin Rossiter did have a soft spot for all things Moz. It can be seen in various ways through his vocal delivery, lyrical topics, approach to album art and his ambiguous discussion of sexuality in the media. And, that second album release, a compilation designed to counter criticism that their debut album didn’t faithfully capture their true sound? It could easily have been titled Hatful of Hollow 2.
All that said, I really don’t understand this as a point of criticism. Here is this band with really good songs that remind you in some ways of (one of) the best band(s) ever in the history of the planet. Ok – so why is this a bad thing?
JC and others have pointed out the difficulties in putting together these compilations. If only it were as simple as making a playlist of your ten favorite songs. But then you start asking yourself questions like: 1) does this constitute a coherent album, 2) is this representative of the bands overall sound and 3) how musically diverse/consistent is the whole? When creating this compilation, I encountered two challenges. First, too many of my favorite songs were slow ballads and this had the potential to create a bit of a plodding record that wasn’t fully indicative of the band’s sound. Second, with their fourth album, Libertine, Gene made a fairly radical shift in their sound, musical composition and structure. While I am actually quite fond of that LP, I found it difficult to include these songs while maintaining some sense of consistency across the compilation. In any case, here is where I ended up – not necessarily my top ten songs, but hopefully something that works well.
1. You’ll Never Walk Again (from “the difficult third album” Revelations, released in March 1999)
With a lack of resources and limited label support, Gene were really up against it in creating the follow-up to the masterful Drawn To The Deep End. While the record includes several good songs, for me, it just fails miserably as an overall product – too many songs of uneven quality, a messed up running order, some of the better tunes relegated to B-sides, and don’t even get me started on the cover art.
Perhaps the most egregious error was putting one of the best songs they ever wrote all the way at the end of the album. How many people had the patience to sit through the first 46 minutes just to get there? My impression is that the band quickly recognized the error of their ways as You’ll Never Walk Again was often the first song played at live shows of the era.
For me, it belongs as an opener as well. There’s just something about the line “make love, with love, my love” that gets me every time.
2. Be My Light, Be My Guide (single, released in August 1994)
A song that is probably in many fans’ top ten, though it fell just short in mine. However, when looking for opportunities to add a bit of muscle to the compilation, I recalled that Matt James once said that had this song (along with a couple of the other earlier tracks) been added to Olympian, it would have created a debut album much more representative of their overall sound. It does the same thing here.
As a result, I am now prepared to declare the first rule of Gene Club: “All Gene playlists are improved by the inclusion of Be My Light, Be My Guide.”
3. Where Are They Now? (from the album Drawn To The Deep End, released in February 1997)
Quite simply, Gene’s masterpiece – several band members not named Martin have called this the best song they wrote and I find no reason to disagree. If I were told I could only ever listen to one Gene song for the rest of my life, this would be the one.
4. I Can’t Help Myself (Radio 1 Session, 18 May 1994) (from the album To See The Lights, released January 1996)
I know that this version of this song ranks highly on JC’s list since he has written about it more than once. Rather than repeat everything he has said before, I’ll just provide the cliff notes.
Originally a B-side on the Be My Light, Be My Guide single, this striped down, piano only version takes the song from good to transcendent.
5. London, Can You Wait? (from the album Olympian, released in March 1995)
As a New, rather than Old, Englander I haven’t the slightest idea what “kith” are. I do know that the lines “I was having the time of my life. So why did you have to die? I’m lost again” make me sad.
1. Cast Out In The Seventies (B-side from the Where Are They Now? single, released in April 1997)
Whether intentional or not, Gene turned out to be quite a good B-side band. Almost everything on their first five singles ranged from solid to spectacular, which explains why the To See Lights compilation is a worthy listen. All Night has to be better than three quarters of the songs on Revelations. And, let’s not forget Drawn To The Deep End, the title track that wasn’t included on the album of the same name.
For me, however, the best of them all is Cast Out In The Seventies. If there really wasn’t any way to find a place for this on the second studio album, then surely it would have been a deserving non-album single. (Oh right, the press would have accused them of emulating The Smiths again!)
2. Olympian (single version) (from the Olympian EP, released July 1995)
The last three-fifths of the title track of Gene’s debut album are pure bliss. Just a three line chorus repeated over and over again with one of my favorite of Martin’s lines – “For I can only be normal with you.” I’m not exactly sure why it works so well, but had they extended the repetition out to 10 minutes, I would still be fine with it. My only complaint is that it takes two minutes to get there. There is really nothing wrong with the beginning of the song, I guess I’m just very impatient.
I’ve chosen the single version because, in addition to a nicer intro, it reaches the chorus about 10 seconds earlier than the album track.
3. Rising For Sunset (Troubadour, Los Angeles, 1 Jun 2000) (from the album Rising For Sunset, released August 2000)
From the wiki:
“Despite the lack of the support of a major record label, Gene spent a good portion of 2000 touring the world, which climaxed in a sell-out tour of the USA. One of their shows, at the Los Angeles venue Troubadour, was broadcast over the internet in what was then a record-breaking webcast, screened to at least 60,000 people worldwide. Only two months after the recording of that show, Gene released Rising for Sunset, a live album recorded from that Troubadour show…. As well as rehearsing the band’s hits, they released two new tracks, ‘Rising For Sunset’ and ‘Somewhere in the World’; promising songs that bade well for their next studio LP…”
Interestingly, while Somewhere in the World did show up on Libertine, Rising For Sunset did not. With the release of the deluxe edition of that album in 2014, we found out why. While the boys had, in fact, completed a studio version of the track, it simply paled in comparison to this live version. You might want to think of this as Gene’s Jack The Ripper.
4. Save Me, I’m Yours (from the album Drawn To The Deep End, released in February 1997)
I could have made this exercise a whole lot easier by recommending that you put Gene’s second album, Drawn To The Deep End, on shuffle and just listen to the first ten songs that come up. There are so many good choices I could have included here – Fighting Fit, We Could Be Kings, Speak To Me Someone, Long Sleeves For The Summer, just to name a few. But I’ve decided to go with this beautiful lullaby.
As Martin once said, “Sing this song to your children.”
5. For The Dead (original version) (single, released in April 1994)
What better place to end then where the journey began – Gene’s debut single, in its original version, before the record label had a go at making it more “radio friendly.” For me, this is exhibit #1 in the case for how well the band’s songs have aged, just a great piece of indie music, regardless of the decade.
1. Skin Parade (from the deluxe edition of the album Libertine, released in February 2014)
Gene were not above using the old hidden track trick on occasion. I’m hoping you might indulge me the same, so I can make partial amends for largely ignoring the last few years of their career above.
Of all the deluxe edition reissues released in 2014, Libertine is the one most worthy of your hard earned money. In addition to the original album and all the singles and B-sides from the period, it also includes 13 demos and previously unreleased studio tracks. To my ears, Skin Parade is the best of the unreleased material – an observation on the (peculiar, to us Puritans over here) practice at the time of publishing pictures of naked women in the British tabloid press, closing out with another fine guitar solo from Steve Mason. It’s an indication that Gene moved on with something still left in the tank.
mp3 : Gene – You’ll Never Walk Again
mp3 : Gene – Be My Light, Be My Guide
mp3 : Gene – Where Are They Now?
mp3 : Gene – I Can’t Help Myself (radio session)
mp3 : Gene – London, Can You Wait?
mp3 : Gene – Cast Out In The Seventies
mp3 : Gene – Olympian
mp3 : Gene – Rising For Sunset (live at the Troubador)
mp3 : Gene – Save Me, I’m Yours
mp3 : Gene – For The Dead
mp3 : Gene – Skin Parade
Anyone else who feels like contributing to the Imaginary Album slot, then feel free to drop and e-mail at anytime.