To the Average Joe, the Britpop movement is likely best remembered by two major incidents: the Blur vs. Oasis rivalry which reached its peak in a race for the #1 spot in August 1995 and Jarvis Cocker’s stage invasion during Michael Jackson’s appearance at the Brit Awards in 1996. Neither had anything to do with the music itself, but were both big enough to over-excite the tabloid press. Those with more of a musical interest might also associate the period with great music from The Bluetones and Cast; hit-makers that managed regular chart appearances, but due to neither band having a tabloid friendly loudmouth a la Noel or Liam, weren’t always so sharp in making themselves known outside of the music papers. Both deserved much bigger success than Oasis.
For regular readers of NME and Melody Maker, Britpop covered a wider range of things and among the many indie bands that both helped shape that movement and subsequently rode on the coat-tails of the scene’s big sellers, there were a whole host of other guitar-driven heroes. For every two that made the charts, there were a dozen that were often left chasing that big breakthrough, despite regular press. In many ways, ‘Super Sonics’ is their story.
Powder’s ‘Afrodisiac’ gets disc one under way with something incredibly infectious. Bendy riffs that echo Gang of Four collide with a chorus that would have been a massive in the hands of Elastica and their nonchalant charm, while Pearl Lowe’s husky vocal almost suggests a homegrown and vaguely pop-ish take on a Riot Grrrl sneer. In terms of retro sounding indie, it sounds superb two and a half decades after recording, as does ‘Rough Lover’ by Posh. Chances are, you remember almost nothing about Posh, but if this track’s main aim was to act as instigator to dig deeper, it does the job. Taking Echobelly’s mechanical riffs, dirtying them considerably and setting them against a Shampoo-esque bratty vocal, Posh sound like the band Bis should have been. Bis also make an appearance somewhere deeper into this box of treats and cast-offs, but – despite being better known and having at least one Top of The Pops credit to their name – are still complete shite. ‘Keroleen’ can’t even claim to be as catchy as the gloriously awful ‘Kandy Pop’. In fact, it’s pretty much without any merit. Rarely has a band been any more bewildering. Bis represent this compilation’s lowest point of interest – luckily, there’s a lot of stuff that makes up for them.
Applying a garage rock twang to a fantastic newwave-ish sound, Showgirls’ ‘So Small’ is another brilliant but largely unknown gem that will definitely appeal to lovers of female fronted guitar bands of the 90s, while Sweetie think a little further outside of the box on ‘Curl Up’, a previously unreleased indie thrasher. With the main riff twisted into an almost un-danceable rhythm while frontwoman Vicki Chuchill belts out her lungs, there’s a great deal of musical muscle. In fact, this sounds like a slightly artier version of more recent guitar-based groups like Frightmilk and Muncie Girls and actually stands a much better chance of finding a few more champions within their fans than anywhere within the Bripop crowd. Also fantastic, Peepshow take the guts of S*M*A*S*H, a hint of Supergrass and the power pop blueprint of Buzzcocks and come up trumps on the superbly retro ‘Charlotte’s Party’ (frustratingly short at just 1:40) and Jacosta’s 1996 single ‘Change Me’ sounds remarkably contemporary at the time of this comp’s release. A flop upon release (reaching the heights of #60 on the UK chart), this is definitely a track that needs serious re-evaluation. It’s guitar riff is taut; the hook is simple but massive. In an ideal world and with a sound that draws almost as much from the US emo of bands like Shift, Jocasta should’ve had huge crossover potential. If ‘Super Sonics’ brings them a few new fans, then its work is done.
Taking a sidestep from the jangling guitars, Sexton Ming’s ‘Conker Fight In Wendy’s House’ is a genuine head-scratcher. A collection of dub basslines applied to twee backing vocals and a sinister (almost) spoken word lead, it’s hard to imagine this as a floor filler even at the most adventurous of indie clubs, but in retrospect, it makes very interesting listening, almost as if Graham Fellowes had invented a new character for Jah Wobble’s amusement. It shouldn’t be good, but it carries a weird charm of its own. Even more marginal, Pram’s ‘Chrysalis’ is a genuine oddity. With synth noises being pitch adjusted randomly, an almost stop-start approach to an arrangement and a twee voice, it actually sounds like something Cherry Red Records would have released as a 7” in 1983, being much closer to Jane & Barton than anything you’d expect to hear at an indie club in the 90s. In this case, it’s interesting for one or two listens, but not a lot more. Also opting for a more electronic mood, the short-lived Earl Brutus tease with minimal beats and an almost Landscape-like approach to synths on ‘On Me Not In Me’ before throwing in an unexpected mention of Harvester, a quirky harpsichord break and a brief burst of hardcore guitar thrashing. Being the kind of mess some bands would record quickly for a b-side, this doesn’t deserve to work anywhere near as well as it does, but when heard as part of this collection it adds a genuine quirk.
So, why else should you buy this 2CD set? There are a good few reasons, actually. The often overlooked David Deviant & His Spirit Wife are represented; you’ll also find contributions from festival regulars Rialto, Add N To X and Delgados. You’ll even be reminded there was more to Shampoo than mega-hit ‘Trouble’. Among this anthology’s forty tracks, there’s just the one solitary “well known hit” (‘Come Out 2 Night’ by Evening Session favourites Kenickie; always a welcome listen) and a nod to genuine Britpop in Menswear’s omnipresent ‘Day Dreamer’, presented in a previously unreleased “Student Union Mix”. Turning down the guitars and applying deep beats for a heavily heavily robotic six minutes, it’s easy to see why this mix was created. Almost like the Chemical Brothers phoning it in, it’s also just as easy to see why it remained unheard until now. It’s fair to say when The Prodigy’s ‘Their Law’, Winx’s ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ and The Chemical Brothers’ absolutely fantastic ‘Leave Home’ had already found regular success in the indie clubs, a Menswear remix would have certainly had a short shelf life. Decades later, things feel different and with the rose tints nostalgia often brings, the remix is an interesting look at what could have been.
Like all good junk shops, there’s treasure here among the dusty relics, but also the occasional broken doll. Playing like a double volume of the much-loved Indie Top 20 releases from the glory days, ‘Super Sonics’ isn’t all good, but still has enough to administer a sharp jolt of welcome nostalgia. Maybe those hoping for a catch-all compilation of Britpop’s shiniest stars and massive hit-makers won’t necessarily glean too much from this release, but there are several indie fans out there who’ll love it. It’s geared more towards those fans who hit the indie clubs hard every weekend in the 90s and, by association, found their older selves frequenting the Shiiine and Indie Daze festivals. It’s for those who’ve still got a boxful of dusty NME’s in the loft (to their wives’ indifference) and for those who still treasure a collection of Fierce Panda 7”s. You know who you are…