n honor of this week’s I Love 1998 episodes on Stylus, we thought it’d be a good chance to take a look at some of the chart toppers in November 1998 in the United Kingdom. Do they hold up? Are they as bad as we remember? Dom, Peter, Barima, Cecily and Dave attempt to find out.
Cecily Nowell-Smith: I never understood why Steps did so many cover versions when the songs they had written for them were so damn good. “One For Sorrow”, for example: timeless, classic. Though “Tragedy” did have that dance, the brunette one's hands drawing circles on either side of her head and nodding in different directions. It was pretty good. We were all too cool to do it in school, of course, but play it nowadays and you can see peoples' bodies longing to echo that iconic move, reflexes learnt in front of the telly and the bathroom mirror. They were like a team of Butlins' redcoats, all jazz hands and big bright toothy white grins, sparkly and chirpy no matter the subject matter, moving like cheery mannequins to that same eurobeat four-four. Singalong-a-heartbreak, fun fun fun!
Peter Parrish: Quite blatant bowel-rupturing awfulness in a can. With extra mingbits. But I’ve always wanted to give something a massive score just to screw around with the averages. Bwuhaha! Behold my classic 90s self-empowerment! Unless it gets edited, or something.
Barima Nyantekyi: Perfunctory UK disco-pop update, an area of diminishing returns generally (and I'll also throw in the new 'Carwash', even though it's American). But you can't screw up that chorus, no way. It's also more gay than the original, which goes some way to explaining its enduring appeal, years after Steps imploded. The rest is covered by a noise that goes "TRAGEDY!"
Dom Passantino: Steps were the token gay friend of 90s pop: shiny, cheeky, and totally devoid of any actual sexuality whatsoever. Lisa Scott Lee’s recent attempt at reinventing herself as a lad magazine sex kitten fails on these principles: her appeal resided in entirely in the fact that Steps were the most asexual band of all time. Like Barbie: conventionally sexy, glamorous, kitsch, and entirely plastic where it matters. Of course, nowadays we have Bratz so we don’t need Barbie.
Dave McGonigle: Always be wary of acts whose appearances on compilations vastly outnumber their own tally of albums… so step up, Steps, and receive my bile. This band (whose relationship to music mirrored that of IKEA to Louis XIV furniture) always seemed to me to be a particularly savage and ugly example of the crassness of bands chosen to fit demographics, rather than the more natural vice-versa. So why can’t I raise my foot to crush this one into the bargain bin? Maybe it’s to do with their choice of cover—‘Tragedy’ was always a below-par Bee Gees effort, and at least Steps up the tempo and have a lassie singing the falsetto bits, thus circumventing the all important ‘whose-gonna-wear-the-tight-trousers-today?’ question that forever haunts all high-pitched bloke-singing combos. Having said that, I have no desire to ever listen to this again. Ever.
The Bartender and the Thief
Cecily Nowell-Smith: I seem to recall a Kelly Jones interview—probably in Select, poor dear departed Select—where he told the undoubtedly fascinating story behind this song. It may have involved a faintly incestuous pair, thief and bartender, lady lovers, and then they killed her husband and locked him up in a trunk and went on a crime spree across south Wales. Or something. I don't remember exactly. You knew it was quality because he based it on real people, like, not just stories he made up out of his head. Authentic Welsh Small-Town Life, neatly repackaged with a straining gravel-and-adenoids voice and a shiftless pub-rock accompaniment. It's not... it's not that bad a song, really, nicely fast-paced and that. I feel dirty saying this, but, really—compared to everything that came after it, it's nearly listenable.
Peter Parrish: Oh no, The Stereophonics! Now I’ll have to tell it like it is! I’ll have to tell it like it really is! I’ll have to tell it like it always is! Well, ok. The clown in that video scared me and this song is pish. Did it appear in one of those FIFA footy games? I suppose that could be a vaguely redeeming quality. Unless you attend the church of International Superstar Soccer, of course.
Barima Nyantekyi: Does it matter? They only had a quarter of a good song in their entire career ('Have A Nice Day'), and everything else just made me ache that little bit more painfully. Like a talent embargo or something.
Dom Passantino: As today is my birthday, Stylus’ present for me was that I didn’t have to download and remind myself how a Stereophonics single of six years ago sounded, and I can just give it a 0 on principle.
Dave McGonigle: Proof that they weren’t always the Manic Street Preachers Lite (does this mean they have no calories and taste like wee? Discuss.). I do remember this tune (denied, Rekal), and also remember the endless column inches devoted to deifying its brave attempt to fit a story into a simple pop song. After I’d had my tongue surgically removed from my cheek, I noted that this song showed how much the Stereophonics had once listened to Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy before an overdose of estrogen forever silenced them.
The Dope Show
Cecily Nowell-Smith: Didn't like this much at the time—I was more of a System Of A Down girl, to be honest—but it's pretty catchy, innit? That portentous drawl/growl, those pretentious lyrics, a grind of band in awfully swampy production for something that was supposed to be Manson-goes-electro-oh-no!, the Big Pop Chorus, the breast implants he got for the album cover. Not a patch on 'Rock is dead', but then very little is.
Peter Parrish: Strangely subdued offering from Marilyn. It crawls along merrily enough, ranting about the war on drugs or whatever and kindly offering us a rather half-hearted sub-Suedeian chorus. Mr. Manson had clearly yet to hit upon the successful ‘do an exact cover of a classic 80s tune’ recording method.
Barima Nyantekyi: Marilyn has only excelled at one thing - being Marilyn Manson (and that bit in Bowling For Columbine, and when he watched The Rules Of Attraction while sitting in front of James Van Der Beek, and turned to his date at the end to say how messed up he thought it). All the rest is just fodder for column inches and in-denial repressive over-40's. This is dull.
Dom Passantino: From when Big Bri was still seen as something actually shocking and challenging to the status quo, rather than a pantomime dame for the Urban Decay generation. Also the last thing he recorded that was worth a damn. A very small damn, but a damn nonetheless.
Dave McGonigle: A genuine freakazoid phenomenon, MM was either the genuine savior of America’s disenfranchised youth, or just another cynical performer who changed his public persona with the zeitgeist. Whichever theory you subscribed to, it’s significant that Manson’s music often took a back seat to his public persona, and most of the outrage directed towards him seemed channeled towards his right to exist and infect middle America, rather than towards anything he committed to CD. ‘The Dope Show’ is typical early Manson, unsure whether to cast his message of individual empowerment in robes of metal or glam. It sounds a bit like a NIN B-side with a side of weak Bowie; he’d do better later.
Tell Me Ma
Cecily Nowell-Smith: See the name of the band? Get that massively funny pun? Now you, too, know everything you need to know about this song, i.e. it is novelty oirish bobbins.
Peter Parrish: Cheesy trance + Celtic folk = success! At least that was the plan, I suppose. I like pizzas and peanut butter, but that doesn’t mean they shou ... oh, they have that now? Ok, forget it. I think I first saw this being performed on some godawful Saturday kids show. Possibly with some muppets. Or maybe without the presenters, I really don’t know. You’ll be humming it by your toaster in the morning AND YOU WILL LOATH YOURSELF.
Barima Nyantekyi: For the lyrics alone…
Dom Passantino: If it wasn’t for the sterling efforts of Soul Asylum, this would be the worst single of the nineties.
Dave McGonigle: Challenging, pensive, genre-busting: the music of Sham Rock was none of these things. I have no memory whatsoever of this record, and have a funny feeling that if I rummage in my pockets I’ll find a receipt from Rekal Incorporated that proves I had Sham Rock’s assault on the charts wiped from the ol’ cells and a two-week affair with Madonna inserted instead. But I still yearn for Mars.
Cecily Nowell-Smith: When did mock-eighties stop sounding dated? That guitar—if this had a cowbell, it would be the Rapture. Except BETTER. 'pump it up pump it up pump it up, da da DA!' and the New Order bassline; I had forgotten—did I ever know?—that this was such a good song. Manda Rin's voice is a little overly shrill, all those shiny-sharp vowels and crisp consonants, but. Indie house!
Peter Parrish: Throughout my pleasingly sheltered life I had somehow managed to avoid subjection to this horror. Until October 31st 2004, whereupon my ears were forced open and brutally stuffed with the pineapples of dystopia. Witness the sound of Duran Duran being forced down a small tube into a huge vat of gloss paint. Or, don’t.
Barima Nyantekyi: Awesome. When they were on (and usually, they were), I could never fault Bis, especially when they'd go all electronicly indie and bouncy on us. Bis had HOOKS, people. They could get pop music in a way most acts kill virgin animals to try and achieve. Manda Rin and the boys had a psychotically exuberant way dripped in twee and honey just about no one else outside Japan could muster. Bis should have been Japanese (and now they are: Japan's Plus-Tech Squeeze Box are Bis x10 and you should all hear them now).
Dom Passantino: Still so twee as to make Afro-Ken vomit.
Dave McGonigle: Bis surfed into public consciousness via their infamous Top Of The Pops appearance (first and last unsigned band to appear: a nation exhaled with relief), but they quickly ditched their Grrrl Power platform for an upbeat pop image that won them zero new fans and alienated all of their old ones, who went back to writing badly-spelt zines and mourning the break-up of Huggy Bear. Shame, really, because Eurodisco is actually pretty great, all polished surfaces and pre-club vibes that’s guaranteed to get anyone dancing around their bedsit. And a note to all the playa-haters: Manda Rin is pretty fit now.
By: UK Stylus Staff
Published on: 2004-11-10