/ Therese, Creation, 1986
After our Dunedin detour, it’s time to get Backed with back on track with a proper B side by a group who almost had it all, but never quite managed to build on the bright and shining promise of their early recordings, and so lie relatively forgotten in a few ageing vinyl collections of Creation Records vintage.
Recorded for Creation in 1986, and also appearing as the flip of their major label debut ‘Skankin’ queens’ the following year, ‘I feel’ is a tour de force of jangle, a Cartesian affirmation of the self via the four-piece pop group and the three minute pop song; or, maybe, a fuck off note delivered to the establishment, or God, or the stifling limits of a small town. Singer Michael Ryan delivers his somewhat enigmatic lyric with a surety that tips its balance from the vague and meaningless towards the emotionally wise. What’s being sung sounds important to the singer. You feel obliged to take note, and when the plectrum-plucked treble strings insist on the point, you are won over to the cause. Michael Ryan’s is an essentially 21st century voice; not unique, or idiosyncratic, but one which without much forcing conveys emotional weight, freighting the words with a hint of melodrama that he may have learnt from Ian McCulloch. ‘Paradise’ on the first single bears this vocal influence most strongly, while its double A flip ‘God bless’ enters the fray with a riff that might have been stolen from the Bunnymen’s ‘The back of love’. By the time ‘Skankin’ queens’ appeared not much had changed, and yet everything had. The Bodines had cast aside notions of influence, and played with the swagger of a football team on the rise, certain of victory, surprised when they were held at bay or beaten. So here we have yet another dream featuring four lads who wanted to shake the world, but that dreams are the lifeblood of pop culture is beyond dispute. The songs of the Bodines come wrapped in dream textures, are performed in the same dream bubble as enveloped the Beatles or the Monkees, and with no less dream accomplishment. In contrast to the innocence of those sixties templates, they exude an arrogant but brittle cool; the (relatively) sophisticated side of Creation, besides whom Oasis are a crude and oafish caricature. With their handful of singles and a solitary LP, the Bodines felt their way towards the two moments of glory given us a decade later by the Verve. And in ‘Therese’, they minted their own classic pop 45, complete with a dream pop pun and a dream pop reference: ‘It scares the health out of me / I’m weakening, I’m shakin’, rattlin’ and everything’.
Michael Ryan – an earlier incarnation of Richard Ashcroft – was described in the pages of the NME as ‘sex on a stick’ and I remember friends concurring with this. They recorded two sessions for Janice Long before their solitary date for Peel. They played a sell-out show at the Astoria (footage here comes from their earlier show at the Astoria supporting the Go-Betweens), and the house moved. Truly, they could have been contenders. They signed to a major, issuing releases on their own Pop imprint via Magnet (part of BMG) in a guileless attempt to defuse the unexploded bomb at the centre of the then contentious move from cottage industry to corporation – and the LP flopped.
Like Shack’s Zilch, Played was produced by Ian Broudie, and while it’s tempting to saddle him with the blame again, it’s not actually fair. On this occasion little or none of the production damage reportedly inflicted by Broudie at the time of release is now visible. If there are limitations, they are of scope rather than engineering. Like the truism about everyone having a novel in them, perhaps the Bodines only had one set of songs in them, and all of a type. But what a set, what a type, and how well and how consistently they managed to realise them. ‘Therese’ aside, if you were presented with their song book as a folder of mp3s, it would be difficult to tell A side from B, or B side from LP track. By today’s standards, the songs sound like mainstream pop, with their timeless melodicism and a sense of purpose underlined by a fondness for dramatic intros – the exclamatory clanging guitars at the top of ‘Tall stories’ and ‘Clear’ being two of the finest. The delivery of their songs shows an ambition beyond Creation, beyond indie, but being ahead of the time when such talent stood a chance of being more carefully nurtured and much better exposed – not to mention better recorded – they found themselves beached as major label rejects. If not damaged goods, then goods without long-term value.
There was a 1989 single for Dave Haslam’s Play Hard label, ‘Decide’, which featured Laugh’s Spencer Birtwistle on drums, and two decently baggy-sounding run-outs on the B side. Despite trying to catch hold of Happy Mondays’ coat-tails, all three songs were on a par with the earlier set, and belied the view that they were stuck in a dimension from which they could not move on. But their heart mustn’t have been in it, for this was the final word from the Bodines. Played out. Having been leaders, albeit briefly, they evidently did not want to be followers.
There are however two postscripts. One in the shape of Medalark Eleven, the group subsequently formed by Michael Ryan, who released an LP on Creation in 1994. The other courtesy of recordings made in 1988 and issued by German label Firestation in 2007. ‘Shrinkwrap’ is redolent of what came before, although its melody does seem to have wandered away from the studio at the crucial moment. But the B sides see the Bodines actively searching for the direction that would be more evident on ‘Decide’, expanding their envelope with gentle reference to what was happening in Madchester by grinding out a guitar-flanged letter to a girl in a league above the writer’s own on ‘With you’, and punching out naivety with the élan of Lowlife-era New Order on ‘Wake up and smell the coffee’.
With a second-hand vinyl copy of Played currently retailing on Amazon for £100, it surely won’t be along before someone is astute enough to put out a collection that brings together everything that the Bodines recorded – B sides and all.