For the uninitiated, Kevin Cummins is one of rock’s (albeit not exclusively) foremost photographers.
To anyone with a cursory knowledge of iconic imagery in music, his work will be familiar, having captured everyone from Joy Division to George Clinton.
Last year he released a book of his work which chronicled the Britpop years (While We Were Getting High) during which he was the NME’s chief photographer and now, so as to give the book the chance to shine, under his name an accompanying compilation is being released.
If you think you don’t need another Britpop compilation, think again. This is no ‘Biggest Britpop Anthems’ or anything so vulgar, but a collection of curios and lesser-heard tracks by the biggest (and not-so-biggest) bands of the 1990s.
The choices are summed up by the Oasis inclusion; it would be bizarre not to have the track which the compilation takes its name from (Champagne Supernova), but rather than the over-played version from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, here we are treated to a lesser-heard, Brendan Lynch mix of the song.
As for the other big hitters of the era, Blur, Elastica and Suede are represented by B-sides; Blur’s Young And Lovely (taken from Chemical World) captures the band just as they had started moulding music around them, rather than following the curve. Arguably their greatest B-side, it’s Blur at their most Britpop.
Ever so slightly fey but with an undertone of melancholy, Coxon’s guitars are at their scratchiest. A lost gem for years until the band performed it at their (second) reunion shows in 2012, it deserves its place in the limelight.
The insouciant Pussycat by Elastica shows all their promise and demonstrates why, 25 years and only two albums on, their name still stands tall when discussing the era.
The choice for Suede (the Metal Mickey B-side He’s Dead) is a reminder of their uncompromising beginnings and how they were more experimental than they are now given credit for. They reappear later (of a fashion) via Manic Street Preachers’ somewhat straightforward cover of The Drowners, a fascinating blend of two iconic bands who otherwise rarely crossed paths.
Radiohead also get a remix (a bubbly, breakbeat version of Planet Telex), while Pulp are represented by an acoustic but inessential version of Razzmatazz.
There is a logic to some of the song choices; Longpigs and The Supernaturals, for example, get their signatures (On And On and Smile respectively, both of which still sound great) because to select a deeper cut would be churlish. Elsewhere, the tracks by the ‘second tier’ of 1990s bands (Cast, James, Space, The Bluetones…) are familiar but no less powerful for it.
But it’s the offcuts and covers that are the main attraction; Rush by Feeder, in all their early period, Nirvana-flecked glory, gets only its second ever release, while The Lightning Seeds’ cover version of Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam is worth the price alone, with Ash’s cover of Does Your Mother Know? not far behind.
While not so unfamiliar, Sleeper’s version of Atomic is always welcome, and The Cardigan’s bare-bones take on The Boys Are Back In Town throws a whole new perspective on the bruising anthem.
Also included are some excellent remixes: your reviewer didn’t know he was missing the Sleepless In Balham mix of Audioweb’s Sleeper in his life; New Order’s wonderful Regret only benefits from being extended, and the Lemonentry mix of Saint Etienne’s Pale Movie is a pure slice of one of the 1990’s other prominent genres (trip-hop).
Gene, The Fall, Supergrass, Kenickie, The Auteurs, Bis, Menswear, These Animal Men…the gang’s all here. It takes an effort to think of British bands from the era who aren’t included on the exhaustive tracklist.
Indeed, Out Of My Hair and Whipping Boy aren’t likely to be names recognisable to the masses. Boy Wonder by Speedy was unfamiliar, but with its brass and shouted chorus it’s instantly evocative of the era, as is the Alex James-featuring Me Me Me’s (ironically charmless) Hanging Around.
For the record, and this has taken a lot of thought, The Verve, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Mansun are (barely) noticeable by their absence, as are The Prodigy (whose peers The Chemical Brothers feature with their ferocious remix of Primal Scream’s Jailbird), but such is the effort that has gone into the curation there are surely good reasons for their omissions.
Today’s track of choice is the sensory-crushing I Want You by Inspiral Carpets, featuring Mark E Smith. Tomorrow it will likely be something different, as is the way with all great compilations.
Such is the nature of the tracklist, which has clearly undergone scrupulous consideration and love, that there is so much more to say but so little time. Regardless, this collection is a trove of treats which importantly delivers on its promise.
So much more than a cynical cash-in, through the songs on display it offers an alternative view of British music in the 1990s which proves it wasn’t all about common girls and boys living forever.