|Day 13: The Boo Radleys (Stuck On Amber)
May 9, 2020
As my recent post about The Traveling Wilburys explored, popular music is not fair. It is unfair that the Wilburys couldn't break the Top 40 with "Handle With Care," but it was not the end of the world. Let's face it, Harrison, Dylan, Petty, Orbison and Lynne were not suffering by having 1 million fewer records sold than Chicago that year. I am guessing at numbers of records; who knows what each rung on the Top 40 ladder means in terms of more units sold? In fact, that last sentence puts music into a commercialization paradigm that already cheapens it.
Yet, sales matter to artists trying to be discovered. Beyond the unfairness is an unkindness that comes into play for all of the great artists completely overlooked because of the vagaries of the pop music scene. My next 200 songs in this series could easily feature 200 artists who should have sold more records. I will probably cover those 200 artists before the end of the 365 days, but hopefully most will be represented from a different angle than "unappreciated."
No, for that, I choose The Boo Radleys, for a number of reasons, but mostly because during the time that they made records, the 1990's, I was already becoming disenchanted by rock music's darlings, whomever that would have been at the time, whether Nirvana, Soundgarden, The Smashing Pumpkins, or Oasis (as with other genres and periods, later in my life, I have come to appreciate these groups much more). For anyone to stand out and excite me as a new artist, it was going to take something special. When I first heard The Boo Radleys, it seemed to me that they were doing Oasis better than Oasis.
Granted, they were probably not quite as accessible as Oasis, at least in comparison to Oasis songs on the pop charts. Especially on early albums, Martin Carr wrote songs that the Radleys turned into cacophony. When a band produces a song called "The White Noise Revisited" and that is what it sounds like to the undisciplined ear, well, you probably deserve to not be on the pop charts.
Eventually they ventured into more poppy areas, and Wake Up! was that first attempt. However, even within those attempts to show pop sensibility, they muddy the water with distortion, muffled vocals, and depressing lyrics. Such was the case with "Stuck On Amber" off of Wake Up! However, if I am going to be stuck with anything, this song makes the list.
From the beginning, after distorted guitar, jarring harmonica and unsettling heavy breathing, the lyrics are bleak: "dead in the water/nothing left/except the stench of what has gone before." If the metaphor for Britpop was shoegazing, Carr writes about gazing at his pathetic self: "I stare in my face/I know every trace." However, since the song's instrumentation accompanying the vocals has settled into a fairly melodic milieu, one hopes that the band can find recognition and appreciation. After all, the lyrics of pop music since the 1950's has been littered with moping and whiny narrators.
However, all that changes when vocalist Sice sings what could be the band's motto over and over: "And I make it hard to get along with me." Is it any wonder that the general audience was choosing "where were you while we were getting high" from "Champagne Supernova?" When he stops, a viola and a cello kick in, while Carr's distorted guitar work noses its way in. While I am getting high from the crashing crescendo for the last few minutes of the song, it is probably no surprise that the overall pop music market would rather settle for the trippy last few minutes of "Champagne Supernova."
After Wake Up!, The Radleys went way off the charts, literally and figuratively, with the aesthetically jarring C'mon Kids, then delivered 15 songs of pop masterpieces with Kingsize. Sadly, even fewer people cared, including apparently the band, as Sice admitted they all were tired of making records and touring.
If only all of us could have been stuck on amber, even for just a little while. Since The Boo Radleys and Oasis seemed to be competing in the "we-can-do-the-experimental-Beatles-than-you" contest, such dedication to fossilization through Amber should have been enough. Then, again, are we surprised that we all missed out on a band named after the elusive, shy, reticent hero from To Kill A Mockingbird?
"Stuck On Amber." The Boo Radleys. Wake Up! Columbia. 1995. Link here.
Day 12: Stevie Wonder "I Wish."
Day 14: Cocteau Twins "Persephone." ->
See full unfinished list here.