All the years I’ve spent listening to music have taught me too many lessons to count, which is good because I’m rubbish with numbers. One of the most important of these lessons is that sometimes, when I least expect it, Kay Hanley will turn up somewhere unexpectedly. I’ll hear a song that sounds like Kay from Letters To Cleo, only for it to be Kay from Letters To Cleo. A character on a hit TVshow will appear in shot wearing a Letters To Cleo t-shirt. Her name will appear as a co-writing credit on a Dollyrots album. This happens a lot, but these wonderful cameos will never be a bad thing, because they always remind me of the times I spent escaping into Kay’s songs, back when my headphones were constantly tangled around my ears, the perils of listening to CDs in bed at night – just me and music. Back in the ’90s, Letters To Cleo had a strangely unique coolness about them, especially if you watched all those movies that were part of our high school diet. 10 Things I Hate About You. Jawbreaker. The Craft. Kay and her bandmates soundtracked (and yes, sometimes appeared) in those movies. Letters To Cleo were big enough to be known by name, but obscure enough that you didn’t feel like you were sharing them with everyone. They were for weird movie geeks who survived the ’90s. Really, the biggest surprise for me is that Letters To Cleo didn’t perform at The Bronze.
Once I’d identified Letters To Cleo as the band from 10 Things I Hate About You (which came after pausing the VHS video at the right moment during the end credits), I *knew* their album would be mine. Aurora Gory Alice was finally located at Missing in Glesga and bought in haste. Thankfully, I loved it. But then I knew I would. Artfully written rapid-fire pop punk? Yes, please. Songs in that genre have rarely been this fun or energetic. In saying that, I’d be lying if I said there was anything particularly unique about Aurora Gory Alice. But it doesn’t need to be anything other than what it is: a cracking collection of top pop that makes you recall trousers with dangling key chains, nail polish, and big boots with vests or plaid shirts. Also, Kay Hanley writes songs with huge, memorable choruses that teenagers can sing the second the track ends. The song titles, all bite sized, unfortunately don’t take up much room in your memory or the CD inlay. Big Star, I See, Come Around, Step Back…they don’t tend to stick, yet I listen and love anyway. Strange, isn’t it?
Constantly compared to No Doubt (though for the most part, I preferred Letters To Cleo) hampered the band, which meant they were never seriously considered here in Scotland, but Aurora Gory Alice has endured regardless. Hearing it now, as I write, reminds me that something you love will always have meaning even if the years make you forget every now and then. Strangely, I experienced another Kay Hanley cameo a few days ago. It came via Bandcamp, when I downloaded a tribute album to Adam Schlesinger, who died earlier last year from Covid. Whose name immediately appeared when I looked through the track list? Kay Hanley, of course. 90s movies gave her something in common with Adam, who’d written the iconic title track for That Thing You Do. It feels like a fitting connection. Her contribution (Radiation Vibe) is one of the better songs on the tribute. It made me realise how good a Letters To Cleo tribute album would be, with all the songs performed by bands who grew up loving ’90s movies, and the musicians they discovered while learning to pause at the right moment in the end credits of movies – for kids of my generation, a lost art and a last resort that usually added a few more CDs to the stack.