ON 3RD FEBRUARY, ALL FIVE OUT-OF-PRINT STUDIO ALBUMS BY MID-90s AESTHETES GENE WILL BE REISSUED. EACH OF THE NEW DOUBLE-DISC DELUXE EDITIONS OFFERS A GENEROUS SLEW OF EXTRA MATERIAL AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE BEYOND HISTORY’S LAZILY TROTTED OUT ‘BRITPOP’ TAG.
The London four-piece seldom shared common ground with notional scene-leaders Oasis anyway (other than a Top Of The Pops and TFI Friday studio or two), preferring to give the supersonic Gallaghers’ high street everyman swagger and broad brush-strokes the swerve in favour of the “grace and style, verve, nerve and guile” of precisely-constructed material with an arch worldview.
Intelligent, sometimes bleak and often wickedly camp bedsit musings from kitchen-sink drama queen Martin Rossiter (death! sex! ale! chimneys!) sometimes, of course, led to comparison with Morrissey. The Smiths were undoubtedly an aesthetic touchstone – as they were for closest sonic contemporaries The Bluetones – and Gene would seem to play that up by putting out early compilation TO SEE THE LIGHTS. But in terms of fine detail, other than muscular rhythm, exceptionally fluid guitar and lyrical dexterity, any similarity was moot. Wider reference points were equally venerated; The Small Faces, The Clash, The Jam, The Style Council, Redskins, Motown – and perhaps even Queen. The Smiths remain, though, a close enough peg on which to hang your dress. A tighter fit, certainly, than ‘Britpop’.
Debut album OLYMPIAN was released in March 1995, following three press-lauded indie singles and a groundswell of support. The lonely YOUR LOVE IT LIES, the mournful LONDON CAN YOU WAIT? and the brooding imperial title track (“I could only be normal with you”) each offer a different shade of black. Brisk forward-motion in the acoustic skitter of STILL CAN’T FIND THE PHONE makes unrequited love seem tolerable, and the chiselled chop of single HAUNTED BY YOU struts the pavements of London in a frustrated sulk. It’s all grim and gripping stuff.
New additional material includes the original mix of debut single FOR THE DEAD (making its first appearance on CD), a more robust single version of OLYMPIAN, exuberant 1995 live sets from Bristol Sound City and Kentish Town Forum plus a handful of BBC sessions.
Issued in January 1996, the thorough TO SEE THE LIGHTS collected together b-sides and singles to date, alongside radio sessions and live recordings. In much the same way that 1984 assortment HATFUL OF HOLLOW followed The Smiths’ debut and quickly transcended mere mission to round up (into the bargain consolidating the cognoscenti as grenades were launched over the ramparts of a wider notoriety), so the deadpan release of Gene’s TO SEE THE LIGHTS advanced the band’s cause. Despite status as a companion piece for OLYMPIAN, TO SEE THE LIGHTS stands in its own right, showcasing a wealth of confident material.
Chief amongst the highlights is b-side SICK, SOBER AND SORRY. Fist-in-the-face dynamics bay like a bruising crowd as another of Mason’s sublime liquid riffs acts as referee to Rossiter’s self-loathe vs self-medicate drink-off. Remixed FOR THE DEAD (Gene’s biggest hit) and live recordings of singles HAUNTED BY YOU, SLEEP WELL TONIGHT and OLYMPIAN reveal a band on the up: energetic and dangerous but tight and in control, with a charismatic frontman in his pomp (“I feel like a returning football manager with the cup…”). The studio cut of second single BE MY LIGHT BE MY GUIDE is a grubby late night cab-ride confessional, the lyrics of which could alter, saltily, when played at the band’s tumultuous shows. A chorus beer-soaked in backseat bravado explodes from gin-weary verse, and tonight the sheets are ours…
A radio session version of The Beatles’ DON’T LET ME DOWN and a Glastonbury run at Bacharach and David’s SAY A LITTLE PRAYER (“… and thank you, Aretha, too”) hit all the right notes. Both slot in neatly alongside Mod knee-tremblers DO YOU WANT TO HEAR IT FROM ME and THIS IS NOT MY CRIME, while rabble-rousing HER FIFTEEN YEARS waves its flaming torch into the supercilious faces of Thatcherism and the Monarchy (most memorably in a chorus of “burn, Windsor, burn”).
Earnest I CAN’T HELP MYSELF appears in two forms. The band’s b-side studio cut takes flight while an intimate piano and vocal radio session leaves little doubt as to Martin Rossiter’s utter sincerity – and in some ways, perhaps, points the way directly to his 2012 solo album THE DEFENESTRATION OF SAINT MARTIN.
Newly included extra material on the deluxe TO SEE THE LIGHTS neatly bridges this early era of Gene and the next. The John Peel Session recorded in December 1995 and Phoenix festival set from the following summer both include nascent versions of songs which would later appear on the epic DRAWN TO THE DEEP END.
Read our review of DRAWN TO THE DEEP END, REVELATIONS and LIBERTINE here.