EARLIER THIS WEEK ALL FIVE OUT-OF-PRINT STUDIO ALBUMS BY GENE WERE REISSUED. EACH NEW EDITION OFFERS EXTRA MATERIAL AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE BEYOND HISTORY’S LAZILY TROTTED OUT ‘BRITPOP’ TAG.
By 1997’s epic DRAWN TO THE DEEP END, the London four-piece was stretching ambitiously for something grander than the efficient hybrid of The Smiths and The Faces which featured on 1995 debut OLYMPIAN. They just about reached it, too.
The Redskins-meets-Raw-Power single FIGHTING FIT was released (in slightly truncated form) during winter 1996. In a fray with severe depression, on its parent album Martin Rossiter was to draw lyrics from both ends of bipolar – and the single thrust with optimism. Where it energises and enables, FIGHTING FIT’s bleak and lonely b-side – the beautiful DRAWN TO THE DEEP END (ironically enough not on the album it gave a name to) – enervates. Both issued notice that something of substance might be in the works. And it was.
The band’s most perfectly judged combination of voice, lyrical tone and instrumentation, interweaving layers of Steve Mason’s intricate picked guitar cascade around a simple string line and biting rhythm, as Rossiter finds himself tumbling, lost in the fog, stranded somewhere between crisp Autumn and cruel Winter. This is WHERE ARE THEY NOW? – and its melancholy snap elevated Gene far above the general plod of mid-1990s pop.
Amongst moments directly related to the Gene that had gone before are DRAWN TO THE DEEP END’s two further singles: arpeggiating ballad SPEAK TO ME SOMEONE – the Englishman’s EVERYBODY HURTS – and majestic WE COULD BE KINGS. That segues directly into WHY I WAS BORN – perhaps the most unabashedly tender song in the band’s discography, with all respect paid to Rossiter’s earnest words by a terrific flow of Mason’s liquid guitar playing.
Ambition is pressed into songwriting form by NEW AMUSEMENTS (its murky buzz punctuated by a fractious and provocative band) and the darkness which lurks in the experimental THE ACCIDENTAL. But the album’s true ambition was is in the grand delivery. Chris Hughes’ diligent production, Rossiter’s subject matter and the satisfactory-won’t-do self-challenging performances give DRAWN TO THE DEEP END an air of sweeping bohemian grandeur.
If it must stand in the dock accused of being over-reaching, the 1999 follow-up REVELATIONS delivers a swift and defiant kick in the balls to the court officer employed to take the band down. A return to the rat-a-tat writing of OLYMPIAN and the compilation TO SEE THE LIGHTS, REVELATIONS is a far stronger album – much harder, too – than any band has the right to make when public interest has begun to slide from one shoulder and suits loom close at the other.
Despite its defeatist title, rousing single AS GOOD AS IT GETS delivered a loud wake-up call to any of those slumped against wonderwalls suffering the lingering after-effects of Britpop’s cigarette and alcohol binge. The simplistic slap about the face rhetoric probably offers a more relevant lesson in economics during right-leaning short attention span 2014 than it did under disenchanting New Labour in 1999: “the greedy live off you and me”. No surprise to recall that, around the time of REVELATIONS, a fired-up Rossiter appeared on BBC TV’s Question Time. Politics whips through several songs on an album which could easily have been granted the title REVOLUTIONS. “Bevan spins round in his grave – it’s time to charge the gates,” Rossiter sings during NHS-defending MAYDAY and, after the brilliantly menacing piano intro of THE BRITISH DISEASE: “No promise broken will be forgotten”.
STOP, a languid ballad with sleek soul lines and a spirited chorus, and acoustic LITTLE CHILD – an endearing lyric to a yet-to-be-born, set running over a sweetly melodic get-me-home-from-tour-quick motor – propelled the edgier moments of OLYMPIAN and DRAWN TO THE DEEP END further towards the mainstream, but both still sound as good as Gene could get. Additional material includes live recordings and the accompanying b-sides of AS GOOD AS IT GETS and drinking stomp FILL HER UP – including TO ALL WHO SAIL ON HER, with smirk-inducing couplet “Your face, your lines… and oversized behind” revealing that Rossiter could still pitch his tent and camp with the best of them.
In June 2000 Gene sold out iconic Hollywood venue The Troubador – webcasting the gig, and releasing a partial recording of it as RISING FOR SUNSET only three weeks later. Although it’s excluded from the current reissue campaign, it’s worth a shout as it was the first release to contain material from the band’s fated final album LIBERTINE. The spiralling outro of DOES HE HAVE A NAME? is used as intro music (“Hi, I’m Rodney Bingenheimer and – boy! – are you in for a treat tonight”), and RISING FOR SUNSET also contains torch-bearing SOMEWHERE IN THE WORLD. A DVD release added the remainder of the set, including ballad YOU and swamp-blues-reggae dirge WE’LL GET WHAT WE DESERVE.
In the immediate wake of REVELATIONS Gene had begun to explore wider musical horizons. Time and distance reveal LIBERTINE to be much stronger than its sales might suggest – though, as drummer Matt James recalls in a recent edition of The Mouthcast (listen here) the contemporary reviews were positive. Freed from contract with Polydor, in the days before the internet offered up Pledges or Kickstarts, the band self-financed recording of the album – and took their chances. It does contain loose variations on what can be termed ‘the signature Gene sound’ (mournful single IS IT OVER? and sprightly WALKING IN THE SHALLOWS) but, with any major-label pressure gone and independence bringing a new lease of life, for the most part LIBERTINE finds the band determinedly pushing to discover something much more about itself.
Extra material on the new deluxe edition (the only reissue to also be available on vinyl) includes b-side WHO SAID THIS WAS THE END? featuring another choice Carry On Martin line: “Two swallows don’t make a lover”. A surfeit of outtakes demonstrates a band brimming with ideas – instrumental 6AM brews up a storm – while demos of LET ME MOVE ON and YOU (sweet and breezy, less self-conscious than the final album version) are worth the admission price alone.
In 2004, dropping an enormous clue in the title of what turned out to be the final single, LET ME MOVE ON, the split was announced. The band performed a handful of farewell shows, with Sheffield Leadmill captured for posterity on DVD as GENE LIVE. It, and RISING FOR SUNSET, are worthy additions to the catalogue – but the reissued studio albums, despite differing merits and occasional minor gripes, are absolutely essential.
Read our review of Gene’s first two albums, OLYMPIAN and compilation TO SEE THE LIGHTS, here.