A GUEST POSTING by FRASER P
A worthwhile album sees its vinyl release on October 29, a little after the CD came out. Well, 22 years after the CD actually…
The story of Longpigs is the story of the unluckiest band in rock history. It’s a tale of bad timing and bad faith. It tells of a music industry that took their early promise and then spat on its fulfilment after holding it back until everyone’s goodwill was exhausted. And the final nail was an epidemic of shoddy journalism that denied us all the proper chance to appreciate one of the great lost albums of the 1990s.
Longpigs signed first to Elektra in 1993 after only a few months of live appearances. The Sheffield foursome were on their way to releasing their first single when frontman Crispin Hunt was injured in a car crash and spent three days in a coma. Before he had recovered long enough to rearrange a release plan, Elektra’s UK operation was closed down and Warner‘s, the US parent company, demanded £375,000 from anyone wanting to buy out their contract.
Faced with such a demand, it was well into 1994 before U2’s Mother label stepped forward to free them from their bondage and things finally seemed to be heading in the right direction. Extensive gigging through 1995 pushed their fourth single ‘On And On’ into the Top 20, followed there by a re-release of their first single ‘She Said’. The debut album The Sun is Often Out was released in April 1996 and reached 26 in the album charts, with a further single from the album, ‘Lost Myself’ making it to 22 in July.
Normal practice would see a band touring for a few months to promote the album before settling down to generate material for its follow up. For Longpigs instead, 1997 saw them still on the road, but now across the Atlantic, bending their shoulder to the fabled task of ‘breaking America’. Support slots with Echo and the Bunnymen, The Dandy Warhols and U2 pushed ‘On And On’ into the US Alternative Top 20, and after a Glastonbury appearance they were finally able to start work on the second album in early 1998.
By this time however, the band was shredded after more or less five years of constant gigging. As Hunt later said, touring starts out like a great idea but eventually the strain shows: “You go on to the tour bus and it starts like Summer Holiday, but two weeks later it’s like Das Boot.” Drummer Dee Boyle was jettisoned before work on the album began. He later repaid Hunt at a chance meeting by smashing a beer glass into his face.
They were under pressure to produce the new work, and Hunt himself is not particularly complimentary about it now. Nevertheless, despite Hunt’s sense that it wasn’t as melodically engaging as his lyrics deserved, it should have been recognised as one of the finest LPs to come out of the decade. But once again, record company mismanagement delayed its release and all the while Mother Records was secretly struggling to survive.
It wasn’t until September of 1999 that Mobile Home finally saw the light of day, but Mother put absolutely no effort into promoting it, and a few months later the label itself folded. The patience of the music press had been stretched and when the follow up to The Sun is Often Out failed to satisfy the hacks who expected and wanted another chapter in their own contrived narrative of Britpop, they dismissed it in a slew of petulant and dismissive reviews that read as though they had hardly even bothered to listen beyond the first couple of tracks.
Music journalists are like any other branch of the profession. There are a few competent and diligent practitioners and a mass of journeyman hacks whose expertise in the field of music may be liminal. When I look back to the days when I used to read Sounds and the NME regularly, from the late 70s to early 80s, I realise what a bunch of pretentious adolescents were filling their pages with copy, drunk on the heady elixir of an audience. Self-publicists on the make like Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons and Danny Baker pontificated weekly in their contrarian or smart-arsed fashions, their future careers shaped by the repeated indulgence of their auto-inflated egos.
So I shouldn’t be so surprised or disappointed that the response to Mobile Home from the journalist Class of 1999 was as ignorant, petulant and dismissive as it was. They had been kept waiting a long time, Longpigs were hardly The Stone Roses promising the Second Coming, and when Mobile Home finally arrived it committed the cardinal sin of not fitting neatly into the juvenile reviewers’ pre-prepared pigeonhole. In other words, it didn’t breathe new life into the rapidly decomposing corpse of Britpop, that Frankenstein’s monster stitched together from disparate parts and originally animated by the necrophile music press itself.
Nevertheless, the cursory attention paid to the record shone through in contemporary reviews, and in one case the sheer stupidity of the assessment has done lasting damage to its reputation.
I know that Allmusic.com is a pompous farrago of a website, but in the absence of readily accessible archives from other media it forms an unmerited critical reference point for a great many people. Their imbecile reviewer Jason Damas, for he shall not remain nameless, still seems happy to lay claim to this gem of an insight 20 years on: “Longpigs have also picked up on the slower side of trip-hop and techno, letting it rule, rather than accentuate, their material.” As a result of this enduring record of one man’s aesthetic disability, I have seen more than one classification of Mobile Home as ‘trip-hop’. Even now I can scarcely prevent my jaw from dropping and my eyes from rolling painfully in their sockets. God alone knows what Crispin Hunt thinks of it, though if you asked him he’d probably tell you.
Jason Damas is a prick, that much I can tell you, and once you listen to Mobile Home you will quickly discern why his entire brief dismissal of the album is a testament to his boundless ignorance. There is a brief moment at the beginning of the song ‘Baby Blue’ where an introductory synthetic figure hints momentarily at the kind of ‘scratching’ effects found plentifully in the work of Portishead. And that’s it. That is the entire sum of ‘trip-hop’ influence in Mobile Home. No matter that tracks such as ‘Blue Skies’ could be straight out-takes from The Sun is Often Out with its raucous grungy guitar attack, or that ‘Dance Baby Dance’ is as great a slice of rock-disco crossover as you’ll hear, or that no fewer than three songs on the album employ a waltz rhythm. By rights that should make Mobile Home, by Jason Damas’s stunted frame of reference, either a carbon copy of their first album, or a disco album, or perhaps a collection of folk dances, or a ballroom compilation.
It’s almost as if Damas was too busy making his tea when he was supposed to be listening to the album, stuck his head round the door at the start of ‘Baby Blue’ and composed his review while waiting for his pot noodle to steep. In consequence, anyone ever since looking for a critical evaluation of Mobile Home is directed by Google to his retarded misjudgement, effectively obscuring the thrilling diversity of styles and poignant melodic beauty that it actually contains. What should be cited as one of the best albums of the decade saw out its final months in obscurity thanks to Mother Records’ inability to do its job properly, and has languished ever since in the garbage bin of posterity thanks to the grave unsuitability of one reviewer for his job.
So now, after twenty-two years suffering the cultural equivalent of living in a caravan park, Mobile Home is finally released on vinyl for the first time. Typically, it comes on transparent vinyl, and is housed, apparently, in a ‘glossy UV Sleeve’ whatever the fuck that is. If you stare at it too long, do you get sunburnt? I might buy a copy, though by the time it arrives in New Zealand it’ll probably be twenty-four years since I bought the CD. And the 180gsm clear vinyl and UV sleeve will probably push the price up to about the sum total that Longpigs ever saw from the original release.
The band, exhausted and riven by the tortuous journey of getting it made, broke up shortly after the album was released, further ensuring its descent into utter obscurity. It all makes you wonder what the point is in re-releasing it now. Richard Hawley doesn’t need the money. Crispin Hunt has a day job these days. I don’t know about the other two, but they’ll get nothing in royalties since they didn’t write any of it. All the same, somehow I’m pleased it’s seeing the light of day again, if only to give me the opportunity to sing its praises and help to right the wrongs done to it in 1999. If you were around at the time and revelled in the sounds of Suede and Mansun and Super Furry Animals and heard The Sun is Often Out and liked it, but then understandably missed out on Mobile Home… well, it’s probably about time you rectified that oversight, and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.
mp3: Longpigs – Baby Blue
the offending (to Mr J Damas) ‘trip-hop’ track. Judge for yourself – just how ‘trip-hop’ do YOU think it is?
mp3: Longpigs – Blue Skies
the most ‘first-album outtake’ track, shouty, art-grunge, as Crispin Hunt described the band’s early style.
mp3: Longpigs – Dance Baby Dance
the disco-rock crossover track. This must be what J Damas thinks is ‘techno’. Dance music is really not his strong point. Fortunately Longpigs had a stronger grasp.
mp3: Longpigs – Free Toy
gentle major key intro sucks you in and then stabs you in the heart with a delicious change to minor for the verse. ‘Should have changed the world by now, but I’m too busy milking the Holy Cow…’
mp3: Longpigs – Dog Is Dead
best of the waltz-time songs, a bit of knackered bar-room piano, echoes of choral evensong, poignant, beautiful. A song about his dead dog, as far as I can make out.