1996 was a vintage year for my CD rack. Keith Flint stood in a tunnel, monochromatic yet brighter and more colourful than anything else around. Britpop approached a zenith, Jarvis Cocker’s arse made The Brits relevant, Alanis made us reach for a dictionary to check the actual definition of irony, Ash arrived perfect and pure, The Cardigans made me a forever fan, Garbage seduced and horrified at once, and the Spice Girls crushed every cliché in pop music to become the biggest band in the world. Cibo Matto. Sheryl Crow. Pepper. Gina G. Eels. It’s gotta be big. This was the bewildering environment Alisha’s Attic arrived in, out of place, yet completely right for the time. They were a pop duo, a format that had increasingly gone out of fashion. Just ask Shampoo. 1996 was the year they lost their grip on the charts (and I’m still annoyed).
1996 was a period where I felt myself becoming me, trying hard to find out who I was while lacking the ability for self-reflection. The easiest way to accomplish that was to find the things I liked, the iconography of bands, books, and fashion. It’s how we all define ourselves until we’re ready for the next stage. I knew I wasn’t a goth, yet I felt emotionally connected to a lot of their music. I loved Britpop, but the idiosyncratic, more playful side of it. A lot of Britpop bands were too laddish for me, their cokey confidence the complete opposite of my bright but essentially passive presence. Also, being Scottish, I couldn’t relate to the pomp and pomposity of The Royal Family, who were part of Cool Britannia through default. I knew pop music was for me, but not all of it.
Alisha’s Attic were sisters Shelly and Karen, which put them in an even less cool position of being family who sing together. How often do we get that? The Corrs? The Bee Gees? The Righteous Brothers? Good quality bands, but not entirely cool for a teen in 1996. Sparks were too old. No, none of it worked for me. But the Poole sisters were different. Immediately, they just looked cool. Eyes full of thick smeared make-up, like two women on a night out that started the previous weekend. Then there was the casual chic of their oversized jumpers, thrift-store sweaters, and high street gear. Also, I loved how nonchalant they came across on television. Yes, they were on television quite often. The 90s was a brilliant time for live music. If you had a song to promote, there was a TV show for you and your band. The White Room was essential viewing. Live And Kicking. Flava. The Chart Show. TFI Friday. Later, there was The Priory. There was opportunity to promote and push your songs, and for Alisha’s Attic (who didn’t appear on all the shows I’ve mentioned), they managed four top twenty hits in a row. The secret wasn’t just promo. They had the perfect album, a fantastic display of their songwriting skills and ear for pop hooks. They weren’t Britpop, yet I always have them in that category. Their debut album Alisha Rules The World feels very much like it could be a Britpop record. Ostensibly named after an imaginary friend, Alisha’s Attic first came to me through the television. The Box, a music channel where you called in to select your favourite music video, which would then take an hour to appear. Sometimes, if you were canny enough, you’d spot people selecting the same video you wanted to see. That felt nice. It seemed like somewhere, other people liked what I liked. Alisha Rules The World was never off The Box. Easy to sing even if you can’t, I bought it from Our Price on disc. What I found was a collection of classy pop songs, some charmingly strange, others straight-forward, all of them fun, which wasn’t something I necessarily appreciated or approved of as a bratty teenager.
I Am, I Feel makes desperation sound like a lively pastime. Alisha Rules The World is Rebel Girl for Britpop era, the chorus so good it sticks for hours. Indestructible (my favourite off the record) is a friendship anthem performed by sisters. Personality Lines lampoons premium phone calls, one of many smart caustic moments on the album. The best sort of album, the ones I treasure, feel like they pass fast, then you press play again at the end and start it all over again. Alisha Rules The World is one of those records. This is pop music done to the highest standard.
I don’t know why I didn’t take to their second album, but I was in a different place, stuck between exams and what would happen afterwards. Musically I found solace in harder sounds, louder guitars, and harsh beats. Maybe I associated Alisha’s Attic with the past and wanted…needed…to find something new to reflect the person I was starting to become at that time. Listening to Alisha Rules The World now, I’m taken by how good it sounds and how much I miss this kind of music. We need more pop duos than we currently have, songwriters who can pull from two worlds, the real and the unreal, can straddle different genres along the way, making their sounds into our music.
Thinking it over, I reckon if the Poole sisters reformed as Alisha’s Attic for a tour of this album, they’d probably be surprised how many people would buy tickets. Alisha Rules The World sold 400,000 copies in The UK alone. Doesn’t it seem like the sort or album everyone you know owned? And yet it seems completely forgotten now, which is a real shame. For me, it remains close by, comforting and enduring.