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Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps (1993)

The pop cheesiness of The Boo Radleys’ best-known single ‘Wake Up Boo!’ helped to turn a generation of indie kids off true wonder of their music, but before they were telling us that it was “a beautiful morning”, they produced Giant Steps – an innovative and daring album that bridged the gaps between shoegaze and Britpop, with some Captain Beefheart thrown in for good measure. But, 20 years on, does Giant Steps stand the test of time?

The album opens with ‘I Hang Suspended’, which, after a minute of detached synth notes and backwards-masked found-sounds, hits you with loud melodic distorted guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on Blur’s Modern Life is Rubbish were it not for its embrace of heavy fuzz which envelops the sound. The beats are precise and driving, and the vocals are subtle and understated.

‘Upon 9th and Fairchild’ brings a dub-reggae influence to the table, with syncopated reggae drumming, deep moody bass and rhythmic guitar chops. To stop the song sounding like a generic white-boy-reggae track, a painfully distorting guitar screeches over the mix, with feedback allowed to ring uncomfortably around the otherwise gentle tones. The final third of the song sees the dub-feeling drowned out as the guitar becomes louder and vocals are added to the fray.

‘Wish I was Skinny’ is a cheery country –tinged track that seemingly forms the template for most songs by indie band Girls. ‘Leaves and Sand’ takes the loud-quiet-loud structure of most Pixies songs to its logical conclusion by combing a gentle, almost whispered verse with a brash, heavily distorted chorus. What makes this song so appealing is the horn section that takes centre stage during the song’s refrain.

‘Butterfly McQueen’ brings back the dub-influence, but then quickly strips the track of anything resembling reggae, sounding like the noisier cousin of some of My Bloody Valentine’s early EP tracks. ‘Rodney King (Song for Lenny)’ pushes the My Bloody Valentine influence further with a noise-soaked stomper with waves of guitar distortion and breathy vocals creating an effect that undoubtedly takes its inspiration from tracks on Loveless, especially ‘Soon’. What stops it from sounding generic, however, is some of the unusual synth work that holds the song together.

‘Barney (...and me)’ is another cheery piece of jangle-pop: gentle melodies, bright guitars, and the inclusion of a flute give this song a somewhat twee quality. Of course, this being The Boo Radleys, the song gradually gets louder and louder, and knocks away any feelings of sentimentality that the song might otherwise provoke. ‘If You Want It Take It’ sounds very of its time, and, again, the guitar-work could easily be that of Graham Coxon’s.

‘Lazarus’ is easily one of the best songs on the album. The song opens with a dub-reggae intro before kicking in with one of the best trumpet riffs in rock. The chorus is huge and anthemic, and I’d recommend it to anyone who had dismissed The Boo Radleys out of hand because of ‘Wake Up Boo!’. It’s a song packed with charm and intrigue, but is let down slightly by the fact that it doesn’t have the extended intro of the original 12 inch version. ‘One is For’ has the same left-field folkish charm of some of the stranger tracks from Badly Drawn Boy’s Hour of Bewilderbeast, with its calm melodies and gentle guitar plucking drifting across strange echoes and pulsating cellos.

‘Run My Way Runway’ is unbearably weird: it’s an interlude of freeform noise and melody that seems to jump around with fits and starts as white noise flickers around the mix with almost machine-gun intensity. ‘I’ve Lost the Reason’ reminds me of some of Reich and Riley’s minimalist collaborations, with its looped horns and slow vibrations of noise.

Album-closer ‘The White Noise Revisted’ is another odd piece of music: a fractured vocal and skeletal instrumentation turn into something reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens’ wonderful sing-along ‘All Things Go’.

This is a very good album packed with intrigue and some amazing songs, and is one that I’ll definitely be keeping in my collection.

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Scott said...

I saw them supporting Dinosaur Jr. at the Hummingbird in Birmingham, they were excellent.

JC said...

that must have been pretty special.

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