July 25, 2016
Released On August 11, 1992
Released By Creation Records & Columbia Records
Today it seems that shoegaze is remembered as the genre of My Bloody Valentine and pretty much nobody else. Maybe Slowdive if you’re talking to someone well-informed. It wasn’t like that in 1992, when I was a senior in high school and felt positively overwhelmed by the preponderance — and the variety — of British bands with crooning vocalists and unreasonably loud guitars. Swervedriver sounded like hot-rod jams for the loneliest drag racer in the world. Ride was aspirational music for a girl who wanted a perfect swoop haircut and a really pretty girlfriend. Teenage Fanclub and Mega City Four were basically pop-punk bands who found their way onto my hyperattuned “British guys with guitars” radar by mistake — but boy was I glad they did. The band who knocked me out harder than all of those, though, was the Boo Radleys.
I stumbled upon Everything’s Alright Forever (their first album to be released in the US, though technically either their second or third album depending on the status you’d accord the EP compilation Learning To Walk) when the album’s lead single, “Lazy Day,” was played on 120 Minutes. I’d heard the Boo Radleys’ name before, because they occasionally were played on the local university station, but “Lazy Day” was on an entirely different level than all the songs I’d heard by them before. It had a killer instrumental chorus driven by a super-catchy lead guitar line, gorgeously minimal vocals, and a tendency to shift abruptly — especially on the verses — between pretty acoustic strumming and walls of distorted feedback noise. I was delighted to discover the song, and crestfallen to realize that it was only a little over 90 seconds long. I wanted it to go on for at least three more minutes — but if there’s one thing Martin Carr always understood, it was the fundamentals of pop songwriting. Make your point and get out. Leave ’em wanting more.
When I found the Everything’s Alright Forever cassette in a record store a couple of months later, I dropped every penny I had with me on it. I was usually the sort of kid to stretch her money as far as possible in a record store. After all, why buy one new record when you can buy five used ones for the same cash? But the need to own “Lazy Day” was paramount. My parents picked me up from the record store about half an hour later (I still wasn’t driving) and I listened to my new tape for the first time in the sound system of their station wagon while they were inside buying groceries. My brother, no older than 10 at the time, was with me, and mocked what I was listening to at every opportunity. But I was captivated.
It’s no surprise, really, given what I loved about shoegaze bands in general, and the mystique and hinted-at mythos the Boos managed to conjure around themselves. The strange coded messages in the liner notes, some communicated by things the band members had written on their hands for the inner-sleeve pics, eventually led me to earlier EP Boo Up!, and presaged their later breakthrough hit, 1996’s “Wake Up Boo!.” But regardless of how well-loved that (admittedly near-perfect) pop single was, I couldn’t ever get as into it as I got into Everything’s Alright Forever.
It was all those burning, raging guitars! Listening back now to the catchier, more fully fleshed-out tunes on this album (“Memory Babe,” “Does This Hurt?,” “Smile Fade Fast“), I can easily tune out the walls of barely-intelligible overdriven noise that wash loudly over everything. Underneath, I hear chiming acoustic guitars, Sice’s beautiful high tenor (always very low in the mix, giving it the air of a hidden gem), and Rob Cieka’s bouncy, propulsive drumming. And I think that stuff always mattered to me, even as a hyperkinetic, emotionally troubled 16 year old. But without the towering brick walls of fuzz, the rhythm guitars on 11 blasting through amps overdriven within an inch of their life, I would never have connected with this album the way I did. It said something about my own mind at the time — a deep, submerged, yet always clearly felt longing for beauty and love, constantly interrupted and drowned out by oceans of stress, tension, anxiety, dysphoria, and self-hatred. I needed a record to scour out the insides of my head, to help me believe in love and beauty by speaking to me in the only language I understood — the language of dark, overwhelming chaos.
I hope this all makes sense.
What’s striking about this picture is how no one person seems to stand-out more than the other. Just like all the elements of their music.
Feel good hit of the movement. For the uninitiated to the shoegaze world, this record might be the forgotten best entry point. And for that reason, I almost feel it’s best to just put it in your ears without trying to form too concrete an opinion on what to expect. Yes, it’s deeply rooted in the UK Indie Pop scene, which is more than worth the deep dive and research (Orange Juice, C86, Sarah Records, Field Mice). Yes, it’s part of the Creation cloister (see the documentary Upside Down: The Creation Records Story). Having surveyed much of the shoegaze output over the last 20 years, trust me when I say this is very much a definitive release. While it may skulk behind more prominent albums by My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, it strikes me as no less integral nor less enjoyable. Go pick up a copy and buy some new shoes. Thank us later. Earworm Alert: “Lazy Day.”
Dig, if you will, a picture, of this album without those loud buzz saw guitars. It would very likely be a very enjoyable album. Kind of sensitive, introspective. It might sound like some of the lighter fare from Travis or Passenger (both of whom I hold in high esteem). But would it rock? There’s something about the particular guitar tone used all over this album that offends the ear. My daughter asked what that noise was while “Room At The Top” was playing and my wife replied that it was the guitar on the song and that it did sound a lot like static or white noise. So we switched to something else. And it is that discordant guitar tone that turns this album from good to great. I love the contrast between the lovely melody that Simon Rowbottom (aka Sice) is singing and the blare of the guitars. The Boo Radleys recognize that we like this contrast because they further exploit it by putting in the occasional very lovely horn parts that appear first on “Spaniard” and reappear in several other choice spots on the album. It’s important to remember that this kind of guitar is what made The Ramones sound like more than a band that learned Bay City Rollers songs with the record player on too fast. And it’s what makes The Boo Radleys stand out from a lot of their early 90’s shoegaze contemporaries.
What a curious record this was. Everything’s Alright Forever comes in on this wave that sounds like a druggy, distorted flashback of a Garden State song. But “Spaniard” doesn’t give any real indication of the journey this album goes on where they experiment with a variety of sounds, especially this one tripppy guitar thing they do that sounds kind of like a screeching cat. They go back to that well a few times. I was a pretty big fan. The album seems to intentionally eschew a traditional groove, instead bouncing from quiet, psychedelic shoegaze tracks, to… hard rocking shoegaze tracks. It turns the record into a very active listen, one that rewards close attention. I’m the biggest fan of “Skyscraper,” with its slick, hummable guitar riffs. That one has definitely earned The Boo Radleys a spot on my beer-and-games playlists.
Where would music be without a band like The Boo Radleys? Despite having a very limited knowledge of the group before diving into Everything’s Alright Forever, there are a number of ideas at play that seem to influence a number of traits that have lingered on for years to come. “Smile Fade Fast” made me think of Elliott Smith with the sense of feeling airtight and the chorus is the release of every internalized emotion. “Room At The Top” sits there hauntingly and portrays The Boo Radleys at their most abstract. As the song slowly fades into a cacophony of brash guitars, the moment of hushed vocals that close out the song is kind of amazing. There are the elements we have come to know and love about the direction shoegaze would take and The Boo Radleys certainly seemed to be on the forefront of that. Yet, there is still something that makes it all feel a bit more ephemeral. “Lazy Day” might be highlighted by adding nuances of noise. If you subtracted that from the mix, it wouldn’t hurt the general feel of the song. By looking at the history of the group, it almost seems as if they were a band inspired by the same ideas as My Bloody Valentine at first. Then, they escaped a lot of those sensibilities and moved forward to craft their own sound. Everything’s Alright Forever might have been the moment they started to shift from the prototype of shoegaze and become the band The Boo Radleys would become beloved for.
95 seconds showcasing just what shoegaze could be when bands were struggling with 300 seconds at times.
Cicadas droned a fitting accompaniment as my partner and I first put on this album, a PBR and a whiskey sweltering away in the summer heat between us. “The Boo Radleys,” he mused, looking across at the lightening bugs, “…my high school English teacher was into them.” Although he didn’t say, I could see the residue of stars in his eyes in the silence that followed, and as the album wore on I grew even more understanding. This is the music those kinds of girls listened to, with nails bedecked in Hard Candy and plaid skirts topped by midriff sweaters ordered from Delia*s but worn with disaffection. Though surely recognizable to indie radio listeners of the time, there’s enough variation in the intersong tempo changes and fuzz experimentation to be distinctive. “Losing It (Song For Abigail)” perfectly exhibits that fine line, literally breaking open halfway through from the hazy, heavy exploration of the first two minutes into an open, poppy guitar riff that could be played in a Cardigans song, backed as it is by waves of noise and a tinny electronic melody. Just a few steps off the mainstream, music like this has undoubtedly served as a gateway drug into more experimental noise and shoegaze (looking at you, My Bloody Valentine). Living in those little bleeps of noise and washy guitar lies the special kind of coolness that was those older girls then, and like this album they seemed familiar but fascinating, aloof and somehow still attainable. Maybe I’m projecting, because English teachers are super hot, but this is the soundtrack of total babes.
I’m not a stranger to The Boo Radleys, but I never spent much time with them either. So it was nice to take the time to dive in. Much like Billy Corgan’s Siamese Dream, Everything’s Alright Forever sounds like a reaction to Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, but with a foundation being made of Britpop, instead of psychedelic-indie-rock-turned-alternative, of course. It should be noted that unlike The Smashing Pumpkins, the Boos were on the same label, Creation, and even shared an recording engineer, which wasn’t hard to do considering every available studio and technician was used to create Loveless. As you might have guessed from reading OYR, I really dig the mixture of sounds and styles on this record. Right off the bat we have a song with mariachi horns over shoegaze Britpop — who does that? Plenty of mathy acoustic parts juxtaposed with walls of noisy feedback, and a few songs have cool riffs strongly reminiscent of early Superchunk. I did find the album length to be a little long, even though I really enjoyed this interesting record.
Let’s talk about the trumpet in rock. Not as part of a horn section, but just by its golden self. You’ve got Penny Lane, Dance To The Music, that Scritti Politti song with Miles Davis on it… the top of my head just ran out of ideas. The sax is far more prevalent, hell, even the violin is more common thanks to the Velvet Underground, Fairport Convention, and Dylan’s Desire. Except now I have the definitive fourth song to add to that top-of-the-head list: “Spaniard,” the first track on this Boo Radleys album. One of the things that makes it so great is how the trumpet comes out of nowhere but sounds completely inevitable, foreshadowed only by the pretty, Spanish-style picking during the intro. The song starts with some room ambience, then guitars start strumming and a sweet little McCartney-esque song develops. It gains steam to a head-nodding pace and then, just at maximum nod, this gorgeous trumpet just glides into the track. This may be the glorious sound described in The Book Of Revelations and it goes on for a while, right up to the end of the song. The next song, an all-out rocker called “Towards The Light,” completes a killer one-two punch to open the album, with a fiery guitar solo to seal the deal. And, aside from some more abstract fragments, the album stays at that level, with layers of guitar, some keyboards, a slamming rhythm section, and wide-eyed vocals, a la Ride and The Stone Roses. If this is shoegaze, it’s a classic of the genre and I’m glad to have finally made its acquaintance after years of wondering who The Boo Radleys were.
Later picture of the band that’s more associated with the band. Funny how they seem less playful here as they furthered more into pop.
I really dig the serene moments on this album. It’s almost as if The Boo Radleys spaced them out as interludes on the otherwise uptempo, joyous affair that is Everything’s Alright Forever. You know what it feels like to have a massage, then go ages without another massage, and then you have a massage again? That’s what “Sparrow” and “Song For The Morning To Sing” feel like. Both cleanse the palate and soothe the soul with emotive chords, building to a crescendo that is the next record. I love these moments because, more often than not, it signals a very deliberate effort by the artist. I always admire that self-awareness, which is usually hard to fine amongst musicians (on account of their fancy pants, and whatnot). But easily my favorite track is “Spaniard.” We’re immediately engaged by some somber chords to open, but it’s a complete red herring. By the end of the intro, we find out exactly why it’s called “Spaniard” when we’re showered with some glorious trumpeting reminiscent of Herb Albert or your favorite Tarantino flick. Did I say glorious? I meant triumphant. No, I meant epic. No, I meant glor-iumph-ic! I’m making up words now — that’s a perfect place to stop.
I’ve always loved EPs. They can be so revealing, either because they’re transitional or they’re made up of discarded songs you wouldn’t have otherwise heard. Everything’s Alright Forever isn’t an EP in terms of running time, but it has that same kinetic, evolutionary feel. So many ideas being tossed around. Flip back and forth between the dark and massively fuzzy “Room At The Top” and “Spaniard,” with its acoustic, giggly start and trumpet-laden climax — you’d think you were switching between two different albums. Coincidentally, the songs with the shortest running time are the ones I’m connecting with most. “Towards The Light” has my favorite lyric: “The world is moving faster than you,” a sentiment that’s painfully relevant given the way globalization is being demonized in the current presidential campaign. And “Sparrow” is the track I’m most drawn to in terms of sound. It starts so dreamily, but the shift that happens at the 1:00 mark gives it split personalities. Purposeful, determined chords give the second half serious backbone — what an achievement, generating so much movement in a song that doesn’t even last two minutes. I’ve read that The Boo Radleys’ next album was their creative high water mark, but it’s interesting getting this glimpse of the band headed in that direction.
How does a record become timeless? This question is on my mind a lot lately, as I have gotten back into R.E.M., my favorite band from middle and early high school. What makes me now feel like 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant could have been recorded in any decade? I think having personal memories attached to a record help ground it in a time, but getting some distance from it (in R.E.M.’s case, probably fifteen years) can make it more enjoyable and less nostalgic. I was not around in the ’70s to compare Wings to all the other music of the time, so I can listen to Ram and place it in a modern context and love it endlessly. I ask this question because The Boo Radleys’ Everything’s Alright Forever is very much a product of 1992, a glorious combination of R.E.M., The Stone Roses, Loveless, and a million other wonderful things. But I didn’t listen to it twenty five years ago, and music is cyclical, so “I Feel Nothing” would sound pretty great on a playlist between 2016’s “ACD (Abcessive Compulsive Disorder)” and “Shut Up Kiss Me.” I don’t know if I would have thought that if I’d owned EAF for two decades. Each song on EAF is different and there’s a warm wistfulness (and lots of falsetto!) that will make it fit right into my late summer record rotation. I’ve asked more questions than I can answer thoughtfully with the room I have here, but I will certainly be digging deeper into The Boo Radleys’ catalog over the next few weeks.
“Wake Up Boo!” is a favorite of mine. It’s just hard not to swoon over the golden rays coming through the horns and sweet melodies every time it comes on. I just adore it, so much so that’s it’s ghastly how much I’ve unconsciously avoided diving more into their work. I’ve heard other songs of theirs — mostly from 1996’s Wake Up! like the less celebrated, equally great song “It’s Lulu” — but most of those “discoveries” came about from happenstance. On a mix CD here, odd Pandora choice there, buried reference in a ’90s article elsewhere; none of the other songs I heard were sought out… and this shows my ignorance as a music fan. As Drew herself has told me on multiple occasions, The Boo Radleys were more than just a Britpop outlier in the ’90s and while I had heard them associated with shoegaze in the past, I’d never really considered what that might sound like. Again, “Wake Up Boo!” and “It’s Lulu” — how could those pop auteurs make something murky and twisty? Well, they do so by constantly pushing on what “shoegaze” means and fully embracing the “dreampop” tag line. Even when they did relish in the opportunity to contort a melody or mask it in dark haze, there’s still something bright to find in the mix that’s far from buried and graciously inviting. “Skyscraper” and “Smile Fade Fast” exist parallel to powerhouse songs like “Pearl” by Chapterhouse, but neither get caught up in the sprawling aspect that can turn off the uninitiated from the nebulous sound. “Does This Hurt?” establishes their brand of dreampop beautifully, evoking “Carolyn” in the same timeless way I pointed out back in Issue #24 and never allowing the aching backdrop overtake the song. It’s so many choices like these that separate the band from giants like Ride and My Bloody Valentine. Many of the other contributors have pointed out (rightfully) the horn work too, running concurrent to anything else in the genre at the time. Going furhter on that train of thought, what shoegaze band was going to release a song like “Lazy Day?” The length alone would make some gasp — how could you flesh out something so robust in only 90 seconds? But listening to Everything’s Alright Forever is inherently going to leave you with questions. It bucks what shoegaze was at the time and honestly, still does today, making it both familiar and enjoyable for fans and extremely cathartic for detractors and critics.
Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch
Chosen By Melissa Koch