Hall Of Fame is the strand of this blog where I discuss my favourite things. It might be a book, an album, a movie or a video game.
The Britpop boom saw nearly every band with a guitar get signed up by a major label. Sometimes these bands were very recognisably Britpop in their appearance and aspirations; according to the best book ever published about Britpop, one of those bands started as a death metal racket squad and suddenly switched to singing about lovely cups of tea and English summer days, or something. The jangly Britpop sound was celebratory, the bands a confident collective. New Labour managed to ride this slipstream of confidence all the way into government, grabbing themselves a little bit of the self-assured swagger that could be found in every song lyric, guitar twang, and music video filed under ‘Britpop’. You saw this confidence…or coke-y cockiness…in Oasis, Blur, Shed Seven, Ocean Colour Scene, and The Verve. You even saw it in Menswe@r. YES YOU DID.
Into this scene arrived Sarah Blackwood, Steve Hillier, and Chris Wilkie AKA Dubstar. They were signed to Food, a subsidiary of EMI that had Jesus Jones (I use their first two albums from time to time) and Blur. Dubstar weren’t like the other bands. They didn’t seem possesessed of immense self-confidence and in their lead singer, the wonderful Sarah Blackwood, they had a low-key yet persuasive frontwoman. Sarah, for me, was Debbie Harry from Blackpool. The electronics of Steve Hillier, the unwavering quality guitar of Chris Wilkie, and Sarah’s vocals flourished on Disgraceful, their debut album. Together they created a dreamy, introverted collection of songs. Disgraceful invited you to take a walk on the mild side. Would it be filed under Britpop or ‘Oh No I Can’t Believe My Giro Was Stopped Pop’ at Tower Records? It didn’t matter, because it could proudly stand alongside any of the best records Britpop had to offer. Britpop was actually more diverse in content and style than many might realise. Dubstar, not the sort of Britpop you’d expect, both fitted neatly into the scene whilst completely being at the window looking in on the rest of them.
The best songs on Disgraceful – and Dubstar’s best songs in general – are the vicious spiteful pop songs that sound pleasant, almost jaunty. Not So Manic Now is one of those songs. It tells the story of someone trapped and under siege. Lyrical hints of mental illness (“The wind’s whistling/my mind’s twisting) and depression take tragedy and turn it into kitchen sink comedy with a chorus. Just A Girl She Said is #MeToo with melody, a stinging lyrical rebuke against a certain sort of man (“It’s all right, I’m just a girl, she said/Talk down to me and take me to bed/I don’t think, I don’t feel/And I don’t really matter at all”) backed by cheery music. It also effortlessly sums up the appeal of what Dubstar offered that was a bit different to their contemporaries.
Stars was the song that brought me to Sarah, Steve, and Chris. I saw the video on The Box and racked up a hefty bill paying some cable station to play the video again. Strangely beautiful and enthralling, I watched and watched and listened and listened. Then I bought the album. I didn’t care much for Britpop. But I cared for Dubstar. I still do. Listening to the album now, it holds up pretty well. They have a new album out (sans Steve) called One and it’s rather nice. It also made me want to listen to Disgraceful again and write this blog about it. And once I’m done I’ll go onto their other albums. But I think I’ll always return to Disgraceful, the most Dubstar of all Dubstar’s albums.