(I had intended to write many more of these columns than I’ve managed so far….)
Why has everyone now forgotten all about The Boo Radleys? Of all the 60s-inspired bands lumped together spuriously as ‘Britpop’ in the mid-90s, they were the most concerned with filtering those classic influences through a more radical and inventive prism. The most obvious selection here would be ‘Giant Steps’, the audaciously titled critical favourite, although nobody seems to remember just how adventurous and exciting even that album was. Perhaps it’s simply that we had to put up with months of Chris Evans starting off our days in the most horrific way imaginable with ‘Wake Up Boo!’, that incessantly chirpy and relentlessly upbeat freak hit. Yet the album from which it came contained plenty of inspiration, and some more melancholy and reflective moments too. The consensus appears to be that, afterwards, they fell into terminal decline.
Well, it’s true that ‘C’Mon Kids’ did not repeat its predecessor’s surprising sales figures. But there was no ‘Wake Up Boo’, or even an ‘It’s Lulu’ on this defiant and maverick collection. It veered all over the place in miscreant and deviant style, with no respect whatsoever for taste or decency, but it also retained the key juxtaposition of Martin Carr’s melodic sensibility and Sice’s rampant bellow that made the group so elemental and inspired. Neither has repeated this invention in their subsequent solo work, for the process of collaboration and combination was integral to the group’s success. Carr wrote the songs, Sice delivered and interpreted them.
Perhaps the epitome of this approach appeared with this album’s opening title, a screech of vicious noise accompanied by some thrilling, life-affirming lyrics (‘f*ck the ones, who tell you that life, is merely a time before dying’). It’s one of the best pop songs to crystallise that drive and hunger for something new which exists naturally in youth, but often seems to erode with the onset of jaded thought and cynicism. Sice’s voice never sounded more rampant, and Carr’s guitar squalls are both visceral and engaging.
The rest of the album proved increasingly unpredictable though, and any attempt to second-guess the groups’s preoccupations or modus operandi would always be thwarted. From the bass-directed groove of ‘Melodies For The Deaf’ and the hazy dub of ‘Fortunate Sons’ to the extrapolated psychedelia of ‘Ride The Tiger’ and effortless melodicism of ‘New Brighton Promenade’, the album may have had something for everyone, but it also had plenty to irritate less open-minded listeners.
It’s hard to imagine any of the Britpop also-rans producing a song as bizarre and disconcerting as ‘Meltin’s Worm’ or a song as deeply melancholy and affecting as the wonderful ‘Everything Is Sorrow’ (‘…and you know you shouldn’t have another cigarette/But nothing else makes much sense, nothing else can recompense’). The Boo Radleys were a group that could cover all bases, from the resonant and emotional to the surreal and adventurous. They could deploy the resources of the studio to their maximum potential, and indeed, ‘C’Mon Kids’ is a record in thrall to the joy of noise and confusion.
Rather shockingly, second hand copies of it now seem to be going on Amazon for a mere 25p (could an album be more undervalued?) and a greatest hits compilation seems to have slipped out earlier this year without any publicity or recognition whatsoever. What a great shame that this most unusual and inventive of bands seem to have been reduced to a mere footnote in a history of 90s pop written by the tiresome victors (The Verve, Oasis etc).