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You listen to me, listen this time.

July 7, 2009

Well, if you must know — no, I haven’t been in mourning over the Michael Jackson issue, I’ve just been swamped with work and travel in the past couple of weeks and haven’t had a chance to update the site. 

Caramba.

For some reason (maybe not unsurprisingly, however), the Jackson post became probably the most popular post ever on this or the former blog page — netting more than 2,000 views in one day alone. I feel so unreasonably popular.

But anyway, onwards with music postings.

It’s a new month, and I say it’s about time we take a look at another album that’s gone pretty much forgotten since it’s release.

 

Bernard Butler (Friends And Lovers)

Bernard Butler
Friends and Lovers
Creation/Columbia, 1999

01. Friends & Lovers
02. I’d Do It Again If I Could
03. Cocoon
04. Smile
05. You Must Go On
06. No Easy Way Out
07. Everyone I Know Is Falling Apart
08. What Happened To Me
09. Let’s Go Away
10. Precious
11. Has Your Mind Got Away?
12. You’ll Feel It When You’re Mine

 

It’s really hard to figure what went wrong with Bernard Butler’s second solo album. Coming only one year after his critically lauded solo debut, People Move On, momentum should have still been in the ex-Suede guitarist’s favor, but as it usually goes, timing seemed to kill this album. Not that it’s a thoroughly amazing record — even Bernard admits as much. But as bad as everyone seems to want to remember it? Hardly.

By 1999, Butler had established himself as his generation’s Johnny Marr (who just happened to Butler’s own personal hero). He’d provided the musical muscle for a lyrically astute and sexually provocative frontman in Brett Anderson with Suede, before abruptly leaving the group during the recording of Dog Man Star citing irreconcilable creative differences. In the mid-1990s, he teamed with David McAlmont to produce the glorious single “Yes,” and the somewhat lackluster Sound of McAlmont and Butler album. By the end of the decade, he’d shared the stage with Paul Weller and the Verve and was heavily in consideration for a role in Oasis following Bonehead’s departure. 

A solo album seemed the logical next step by 1998 and while People Move On did boast some glorious moments (“Stay” — one of the most criminally underrated tunes of that or any decade), it seemed like the novelty of the one-off solo album from a famous guitarist was enough to placate fans and critics (see the similar popularity of ‘solo’ projects by John Squire, Johnny Marr, Keith Richards, et. al).

Sure, Butler suffered from the same problem that most guitarists turned frontmen do in not having the vocal chops of the frontmen they’re more closely associated. Following Brett Anderson would be one thing. Following Anderson and then David McAlmont proved an altogether more Herculean task.

But People Move On proved Butler could pen a good tune and while not possessing the most golden of vocal pipes, certainly was no slouch when it came to singing either.

Did it merit a follow up? I think fans would say yes, and I think most critics figured the merits of the album were worth repeating.

On most days, I’d almost consider Friends and Lovers a better album than People Move On. Both are uneven affairs, but Friends and Lovers returns a few more beautiful moments in my humblest of opinions. 

The problem is that by 1999, no one f*cking cared anymore. You could bask in the Britpop afterglow in 1998 — and as Butler had experienced varying popularity in the Britpop era in TWO bands, he was certainly due his own returns. But in 1999, that whole scene was beyond passe.

The Spice Girls and Prodigy had confusingly proved to be the biggest dual British successes in America since the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Oasis were stuck in a creative rut and losing original members by the month. Damon Albarn was writing multiple singles about how distraught he was over his breakup with Justine Frischmann. Kula Shaker split and no one flinched.

See, had Friends and Lovers been issued even two years earlier, it might have been considered a great triumph of the decade in Britain. Creation Records handled distribution, there were at least three solid singles to be found, and the musical tipping of the hat to 1960s and 1970s rock and roll classics were just the kind of reasons why punters were filling soccer stadiums.

Yet, the combined critical response proved to be, “What? Another solo record? Why?” Creation Records was in the midst of closing shop, so promotion lacked and while the album yielded a few inspired cuts, it was a pretty trying piece as a whole.

But masturbatory indulgences aside (I’m looking at you, 8+minute “Has Your Mind Got Away?” and pointlessly meandering “Cocoon”), the good moments were particularly good.

“You Must Go On” was a solid single and the video provided an enjoyable showcase of Butler’s jagged dance moves. The title cut is one of the most arresting things Butler’s ever put his guitar (or voice) to, and “Let’s Go Away” is the kind of song bands whittle away their careers trying to write. 

While people in Britain at least got to hear “You Must Go On” and the title track by way of promotion on television shows, it proved not to be enough to move copies of the album. In America, some kind of “Come on, you owe us for ______” agreement got the album a brief release on Columbia, but it went out of print almost as quickly as it came into print. 

Which is a shame. People should look back on things like “Animal Nitrate” and “Yes” as fine examples of Butler’s fretwork and songwriting abilities. On the same token, his post solo-career work with a reunited McAlmont & Butler and production and songwriting work with Duffy is also pretty damn great.

But to just ignore Friends and Lovers because it was categorically unimportant in 1999 is just stupid. I mean, sh*t, was Robbie Williams’ “Millennium” really that much better? There are a few songs that are worth at least equating to “Stay,” folks.

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One comment

  1. Found your blog a few days back and just thought I’d drop a comment to say I love it – I check back here quite often now. Keep it up!



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