1991: The End of an Era

Posted by in Culture, Music

After all this time, she’s still got a kiss like ether.

JANUARY: KISSING THE ETHER

Everyone has a golden era of music. One that symbolises youth, their teenage years and perhaps  early adulthood. An age of discovery before life finally consumes us all and we stare at the TV screens only to sigh, and say Who the fuck are they? Where did they come from? And things were much better in my generation.

My golden era was most likely 1981-1991 and it’s hard to believe it was 30 years ago. SEAL then a newbie is now a veteran of the business. In 1991 I was naive as a newborn but knew what I liked. So let’s take a journey through the magical year that began with a misty morning visit to Cheltenham College to be rebuked amid a soundtrack of Claudia Brücken’s Kiss Like Ether.

Sting reappeared after some time fighting off writer’s block with the Police-like All This Time in January. But it’s the exquisite b-side I Miss You Kate that seduced me (there is a live version doing the rounds which doesn’t have the same finesse as the studio version – to me anyway, some will obviously prefer it). 

Let’s go down to the sound tonight.

FEBRUARY: A NIGHT RIDE HOME (IN A SILVER THUNDERBIRD)

Meanwhile demigod Joni Mitchell returned with her first of the nineties, Night Ride Home which some say is bland! While it didn’t have anything as insane as a duet with Billy Idol and Tom Petty, I never had a problem with it and enjoyed what I was hearing with Karen Peris, David Baerwald and Brenda Russell among the guest list. 

Sticking with singer/songwriters was the near flawless debut from Marc Cohn offering up winter walks in Memphis and on water, cruises in a Silver Thunderbird and 29 Ways (to make it to his baby’s door). Perfect Love is the kind of song only Americans can pull off, ‘well they worked one summer together at the ’64 world’s fair, they met Robert Kennedy there.’ 

Can you imagine a Brit singing ‘they met Winston Churchill there?’ Somehow this is a romanticism that doesn’t translate and True Companion was rightly sequenced as the closing song yet wasted and should have been a single. Think of the wedding’s that song could have been played at and maybe is anyway.

Ex:el – more than just a spreadsheet.

MARCH: SAN FRAN BEGINS, ASTURIAS AWAITS

March begins with Manchester’s techno futurists 808 State delivering their third ex:el and what a winner, much better than 90 (the one with Pacific on it). Ex:el was big on atmospheres like the opening San Francisco and the otherworldly desert soundscapes on … The guest list wasn’t bad either (New Order’s Bernard Sumner makes Spanish Heart sound well, like New Order and Bjork!)

Scritti Politti reappeared after three years away with an interesting take on The Beatles She’s a Woman with Shabba Ranks. Unfortunately on this lap of Scritti’s three year release circuit there was no album but judging by the artwork maybe that’s just as well. It’s hard to believe it’s the same design team as Provision and other winning arrows of the visual music kind.

Moving on to the more etherial and a song that never fails to mesmerise. Asturias was one of the places in Spain that I never got to but this musical sound postcard by Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists ensures its mystery is unhindered.

Old Gold Dream; post punk 10 years later.

APRIL: WAKING UP TO REAL LIFE 

April was a big month, first let’s go to the final instalment from the This Mortal Coil franchise (Blood). It had its moments but like Filigree and Shadow was a bit long. The single You and Your Sister and other curios like Loose Joints which showed them edging toward the hood (yo!) were ok as was D.D and E (Daylight, Dreams and Echoes in case you were wondering). 

Two more refugees of the eighties; Simple Minds and the reconfigured JAPAN (Rain Tree Crow) issued new recordings. Real Life is entered via its title track. It carries a vibe that is desolate yet  simultaneously bright and hopeful – echoed on Let There Be Love and Stand By Love. It was if anything a step up from the overblown Street Fighting Years which for me was as disappointing as their live record.

Virgin Records do a grand job of shooting themselves in the foot as I may have mentioned previously with second single See The Lights issued in May which is hardly logical when you consider the first line is ‘Summer’s gone, winter’s in your eyes.’ Doh! Rain Tree Crow I write about on the Polytown and David Sylvian blogs.

Now let’s go to Bristol for a masterclass in modern soul dressed in trip hop clothing? Just how does one describe Massive Attack’s masterpiece Unfinished Sympathy? Even the video is coming from street as the camera follows Shara Nelson as she sings (well mimes) the song. Meanwhile The Orb throw out another masterwork Little Fluffy Clouds this time featuring Rickie Lee Jones.

Unknown to me at the time, in Australia, ICEHOUSE release Where the River Meets the Sea, the final single from Code Blue but it doesn’t chart. I didn’t hear it until 1993 when I bought the album at great expense on import, more on the Crossing Borders blog.

Finally to YES and the tumultuous (re)UNION which came about in a similar way to the bands mega selling 90125 – via the record company. Both kind of made sense and although unaware of UNION on its release, it’s the ABWH tracks that are the stronger. Blasting open the door is I Would Have Waited Forever, still a fave. Bruford and Howe’s Evensong is rather lovely. Give and Take however sounds like Duran Duran in 1983.

SEAL (he’s the A) and the reissued electronic (because it went better with the SEAL than the orange of the original – see the Manchester blog for that).

MAY: THE ART OF ELECTRO-SOUL

Something of an overhang from 1990, ADAMSKI’s single Killer signalled the shape of things to come; a strapping great six foot plus black guy from London with the name SEAL. His own single Crazy and its b-side Sparkle that autumn was another step in the right direction. 

Some people didn’t like Future Love Paradise but for me it was further proof this was no flash in the pan ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ act. On the FLP EP was the moody A Minor Groove which never made the album and a piano version of Violet. 

Either way SEAL’s debut was hotly anticipated and shot to the top in no time on its release. The Beginning was issued aided by some excellent remixes by Mark Moore (S’EXPRESS) and Robin Hancock but it couldn’t match the success of Crazy or the album from which it came. 

Meanwhile, Manchester conjured up an equally alluring combination of Johnny Marr (The Smiths) and New Order’s Bernard Sumner (again) who debuted their first Electronic album, sans the hit single Getting Away With It but this didn’t do the album any harm and there was plenty of, well, electricity charging through the songs. 

The raucous new wave post-punk of Idiot Country starts things off nicely, Reality – a long time fave continues. The Pet Shop Boys contribute to Patience of a Saint and Gangster is an electro glide in twilight blue. The second side opens with the short and sweet instrumental Soviet before another killer single in Get the Message. I like Try All You Want but the drum machine is a bit paper thin. Feel Every Beat? You bet.

Awakening from a lengthy sabbatical was OMD (albeit Andy McCluskey trading under the name). That however did not stop the resulting Sugar Tax from being one of his most successful albums as Sailing on the Seven Seas and Pandora’s Box box cruised into the top 10, the first time they had done so in a decade.

I should mention here, that the pretty Then You Turn Away (issued in September) came in a blue velvet box with a perfumed postcard – the scent was very nice wherever it was and better still it was only £2 – bargain! The single however couldn’t get past 50.

They were on Highway 5, she just had to go now.

JUNE: MIXING IT UP

Summer is always a patchy affair for those of us from Britannia. I can’t remember what it was doing weather wise but I was drawing lots of pictures and reading (The Shock of the New) for my impending foundation course in art at Newport. 

Kraftwerk had not been in action since the mid-eighties but Electric Cafe (now called Techno Pop) was proof they were still very capable and aware of the zeitgeist. In 1991 they recycled their best known tracks for THE MIX. It is then I hear Computer Love and the Trans Europe Express trilogy of songs (TEE, Metal on Metal, Abzug). Spellbinding stuff if armchair travel is your bag. 

The Blessing, according to singer and fellow nomad of the wind, William Topley, floated their Prince of the Deep Water debut this month with tales from The Hurricane Room, Back from Managua and the cajun Delta Rain which was (and is) gorgeous but didn’t sell.

Marillion’s Holidays in Eden I didn’t buy at the time though did note the artwork and its singles purchasing Dry Land on release. If I were choosing now I’d say Splintering Heart or The Party and also the title track and first single Cover My Eyes. Read more about frontman Steve Hogarth here.

Toni Childs was on her second album, the first Union (1988) had been on regular rotation and thus House of Hope was like SEAL hotly anticipated (at least by me and her huge fanbase in the Antipodes). It had its moments; Next to You, the title track featuring Andy Summers, I Want to Walk With You and the brooding Three Days but was otherwise a bit of a let down. 

The summer – such that it was – also presents the brilliant indie pop burst that is And Then She Smiles by Martin Coogan’s Mock Turtles, complete with pop art cover, just a pair of lips on a green backing. In a way it’s rocky pop freshness reminded me of Flowers We Can Get Together a decade earlier.

Their other singles that year Can You Dig It and Strings and Flowers (sampling Propaganda’s Dr Mabuse) along with other acts like Blur signposted the beginning of baggie fey English vocals against a psychedelic danceable groove.

June also saw a more poppy Siouxsie Sioux together with her Banshees for Superstition led by single Kiss Them For Me. For all its exotic tabla imbued sound, Kiss Them is only of moderate interest and I’ll take second single Shadowtime over it. Who would have thought Siouxsie Sioux could be so lilting or pastoral?

Whirring into action were the reliably prolific Erasure whose single Chorus hit airwaves during the grey days of the semi-summer. The album of the same name didn’t appear until October. On the radio’s Pop Panel Blue Pearl and Pink Floyd backing singer Durga McBroom isn’t too kind, saying it sounds like something that would bring on an epileptic seizure!

Strange but good!

JULY: EL-EF-EVE

SQUEEZE release their single Sunday Street which seems to be omitted from many of their compilations – personally I liked it. At the opposite end of the musical spectrum…

LFO (the electronic duo, not the Lite Funky Ones) issued their album FREQUENCIES album this month and despite a bleep-tastic namesake single the previous year and name checking Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Yellow Magic Orchestra on the sleeve and on the introductory track was a bit like the summer itself, a bit of a damp squib. Love the play on LFO – EL-EF-OH.

The Railway Children continued their run of singles for Virgin having somehow failed to gain any first flight chart exposure with 1990’s Every Beat of the Heart, Music Stop and So Right (the remixes were in some cases better than the standard version of the song, especially Steve Proctor’s gospel take on Music Stop). Something So Good was another winner that wasn’t; OMD’s Andy McCluskey praising it on the pop panel.

As a measure of how under the radar this was, I didn’t even know there was a third Robbie Nevil album until 2004 when I came across it in a store in Malmo (Sweden). It’s a scrappy old record that contained a huge hit in Australia with Just Like You. It was sizeable in the States too but nothing for Britannia.

All About Eve kind of belonged to the clutch of bands calling themselves goth but weren’t necessarily. I liked this single, Strange Way, that traversed July and August, the limited CD I had came out in August ahead of the album Touched by Jesus. Aside Julianne Regan’s lovely vocal was Marty Wilson-Piper’s (him of The Church) guitar effects. The autumnal Drawn to Earth drew them toward ambient and to an extent beats! 

L-O-V-E love conquers all ..until it’s over, enter queen of the aftermath Julia.

AUGUST: SWEPT BY SUMMER

Late summer and Julia Fordham issues her third album Swept and from that came I Thought it Was You, sophistipop with a capital S! Especially love the shift around the 4:25 mark when it switches into its jazz imbued outro. Some great stuff on the CD singles spread over two discs in a cardboard sleeve.

I quite liked ABC’s Abracadabra which more so than its predecessor Up showed them marrying the dance elements and hippy L O V E vibe to their sophisticated brand of thoughtful, lyrical creations evident in soulful lead single Love Conquers All eg ‘When Bogart saw Becall, he knew that love conquered all.’ Second single Say It continued the run with mixes from Black ‘Ride on Time’ Box. Both stalled at #41 in the UK which was as cruel as it sounds.

Kenny and Mick both took leaps of faith, Mick came off the winner (at least in Europe and the UK).

SEPTEMBER: 21 YEARS AND STILL HUNGRY (FOR NEW MUSIC)

By September I hit 21 and Eg & Alice’s Indian was on the airwaves. At first I’m not sure what I’m hearing but there’s no warning of the album it would come from – 24 Years of Hunger – which has since become somewhat of an urban classic missing in action for many years. Four stars in Q mag and well deserved! 

Lloyd Cole had ditched his commotions a year earlier and followed his self titled debut with Don’t Get Weird on Me Babe. Still polished the single She’s a Girl and I’m a Man had a dirty little guitar lick to it and that leads nicely to Canada’s finest power trio which can only mean… RUSH!

From the Rupert Hine produced Roll the Bones came the daft sounding title Neurotica. What I do like is its sheer sense of raw and ballsy North America (including Canada), it feels like a road trip through LA in a convertible on a hot day.

And sticking with rock, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora released a blinding single Ballad of Youth sounding fresh yet classic and somehow missing the top 40. Back in sophistiville Something Got Me Started revved Simply Red’s fourth record Stars into gear. The Perfecto Mix is also rather pretty if you haven’t heard it. 

Prettier still is My Father’s House from Kenny Loggins environmentally aware Leap of Faith. And who would guess the featured female backing vocalist on that album is none other than Sheryl Crow sounding nothing like the Shezza we would come to know in the following years.

If Rain Tree Crow was not enough for JAPAN fans, members Steve Jansen & Richard Barbieri were back from their attempt at commercial fortunes (The Dolphin Brothers) and had receded into (mostly) instrumental work. Stories Across Borders is their Italian job conjuring up moods of empty piazzas, nocturnal canals and moody marble alcoves at night.

I can’t recall if I was or wasn’t aware of it at the time, but after the shock of Spirit of Eden and with Achtung upon us Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock may have gotten lost in the blur of life that was now unfolding – even if it is a mostly autumnal record. Two tracks stood out, nine minutes apiece: the slow burning After the Flood and New Grass.

Hello Memphis, Goodbye Cruel World (didn’t Floyd say that too?)

OCTOBER: MOVE TO MAINDEE 

The maestro returned with Diamonds and Pearls, though as often with Prince it was a bit hit and miss and I wasn’t getting it after the brilliance of say Batdance or Sign O’ The Times.

The emperor of Japan, Ryuichi Sakamoto was on his second album with Virgin and it was a winner, taking the multicultural ethic of 1989’s Beauty and expanding on it. This time the album comes across as more cohesive with a striking guest list including Youssou N’Dour and regular musical brother David Sylvian.

And how alternative for newbies Lush to bring out an EP called Black Spring in October (unless you’re from or intending it for an Antipodean market). A-ha meanwhile had gone all funky with their Move to Memphis produced by none other than funky town’s David Z. Funk with an icy Germanic synth to boot, I loved it! 

Another 4AD band that had caught my attention was obscure Australian duo Dead Can Dance who had put out their first retrospective A Passage in Time. On it were two new pieces and one of those was the hypnotic tribal ambience of Bird. 

I’ve been listening back to that track now and it still sounds like nothing and no-one else, though truth be known like Mick Hucknell, Lisa Gerrard’s voice can be a bit grating at times like on Song of Sophia – later sampled on no-man’s song Simple – but on Bird she snakes around the track like some sort of third world deity. 

And sticking with things Antipodean, DO-RE-MI singer Deborah Conway was back in action with an album half produced by fellow Aussie Richard Pleasance (more on below). String of Pearls I don’t know as much as I should but Under My Skin and Will You Miss Me When You’re Sober offer up a slice of an artist in transition. 

Also out this month was Terry Reid’s beautiful cover of Louise Goffin’s Fifth of July from his album The Driver. Reid another survivor of the rock n roll road of what might have been. Here he was produced by the ever resourceful Trevor Horn.

Shakespears Sister premiered their sophomore effort with a stunner that stalled short of the top 40. For a moment it seemed they too would be as their major hit attested ‘history,’ perhaps they should have waited until January but they fact they didn’t meant 1991 got another stonker of a single in Goodbye Cruel World produced by Chris Thomas, the video equally awesome. 

A black spring in autumn and U2 back from Berlin.

NOVEMBER: ACHTUNG!

Heading toward the Christmas market and the then mighty U2 issued their Berlin masterstroke Achtung Baby which I don’t have to mention here but what an opener! From the adrenalin rush of Zoo Station, to the majesty of One, to the serenity of So Cruel and Trying to Throw Your Arms Around the World, the funk of Mysterious Ways and the neurotic futures conjured up by The Fly and Until the End of the World ensured this would be a tough act to follow – and it was. 

‘Zoo’ conjured up enough excitement in its opening minute to guarantee a ride into the unknown. Namely parties on Stow Hill (a regular student haunt in Newport). There I heard Eno’s Another Green World and just about everything by the Cocteau Twins. It was, as Joni Mitchell would later name one of her compilations, the beginning of survival.

DECEMBER: I CAN’T DANCE

GENESIS rejoined the parade with their We Can’t Dance album a couple of months earlier but it’s the second single and almost title track I Can’t Dance which I liked released right at the end of December. Both the video and single (sex mix) showed they had a sense of humour.

A man in a hat and stopping to smell the roses.

POSTSCRIPT: THE WILD CARDS

There had to be a few that are important but sadly I couldn’t locate a specific date. One of the biggest is of course is Peter Kingsbery’s solo debut A Different Man. Neither Pete or Pat (Mastelotto) can remember when it came out. I first saw it in Calais in Jan 1992 so it could have come out end of ’91 but I read somewhere Feb so it’s anyone’s guess. 

Still a fantastic piece of work even if the opening Do a Dance is in itself a bit of a wild card and can be off putting for some. Get past that and you’ve got the best Daryl Hall/Prince hybrid neither got round to making. Oh and Cat Stevens for Helene.

And finally to Richard Pleasance who issued his own solo set, Galleon, this year (again was unable to find out which month) but a solid record from the former Boom Crash Opera bass and guitarist. Notable tunes? Well most of it really but I do play the first two Don’t Cry, and Jesus the most. And there we have it, 1991 in a snapshot – I must’ve forgotten someone’s fave but don’t shoot the messenger – stay safe all.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
Kiss Like Ether (single mix) – Claudia Brücken
I Miss You Kate – Sting
Passion Play – Joni Mitchell
Walk on Water – Marc Cohn
San Francisco – 808 State
She’s a Woman – Scritti Politti
Asturias – Robert Fripp & The League of Crafty Guitarists
You and Your Sister – This Mortal Coil
Banging on the Door – Simple Minds
Cries and Whispers – Rain Tree Crow
Unfinished Sympathy – Massive Attack
Little Fluffy Clouds – The Orb
Where the River Meets the Sea – ICEHOUSE
I Would Have Waited Forever – YES
Reality – Electronic
A Minor Groove – SEAL *not on album
Sugar Tax – OMD *title track not on the album
Computer Love (from The Mix) – Kraftwerk
I Want You – The Blessing
Dry Land – Marillion
House of Hope – Toni Childs
And Then She Smiles – The Mock Turtles
Chorus – Erasure
Sunday Street – Squeeze
EL-EF-OH – LFO
Something So Good – The Railway Children
Just Like You – Robbie Nevil
Strange Way – All About Eve
Love Conquers All – ABC
I Thought it Was You – Julia Fordham
Indian – Eg and Alice
She’s a Girl and I’m a Man – Lloyd Cole
Neurotica – RUSH
Ballad of Youth – Richie Sambora
Something Got Me Started – Simply Red
My Father’s House – Kenny Loggins
Long Tails, Tall Shadows – Steve Jansen & Richard Barbieri
After the Flood – Talk Talk
Money Don’t Matter 2 Night – Prince
Sayonara – Ryuichi Sakamoto
Fallin’ in Love – Black Spring EP – Lush
Bird – Dead Can Dance
Under My Skin – Deborah Conway
Fifth of July – Terry Reid
Goodbye Cruel World – Shakespears Sister
Move to Memphis – A-ha
Zoo Station – U2
I Can’t Dance – Genesis

The Wild Cards…
Five Fingers – Peter Kingsbery
Jesus – Richard Pleasance