Review: The Boo Radleys – Giant Steps (30th anniversary edition)

Packshot for The Boo Radleys' Giant Steps 30th anniversary edition

The Boo Radleys’ classic is back in the shop window.

Look, we shouldn’t still be talking about that song because at this point it was in the future, and The Boo Radleys up to Giant Steps were a promising but hardly household name kind of a band.

Also, Britpop wasn’t really a thing yet either – just Brett and Damon and a few others ripping off Bowie and Ray Davies (although to be fair, they were very good rip offs).

For a second though we have to talk about Wake Up Boo!, if only to dismiss the elephant in the room, but more importantly because in the wake of Giant Steps, it presented itself as a such a departure that you wondered if it was released by the same people.

In fact, in 1993 British music was, putting it nicely, in a transitional phase. Grunge had offed shoegaze, rave had become a nudge-wink parody and the cacophonic underground buzz of jungle was yet to morph into drum n bass. Nobody at this point was expecting a classic album like Giant Steps and, further, nobody was expecting The Boo Radleys to make it.

This was largely because, after two promising albums (although their debut Ichabod and I was obscure by almost anyone’s standards), the Liverpudlian quartet had sold a negligible amount of records and were mired in a kind of post-Loveless rut, one in which they were not alone.

Back even before that, the man who would turn out to be their principal songwriter, Martin Carr, met Simon ‘Sice’ Rowbottom at school, where they bonded over The Stranglers and Queen.

Fast forward to 1992 and Carr had elected to ditch the shoegaze-heavy sound of their previous release Everything’s Alright Forever: by now he’d been introduced to Pet Sounds, an album that defined his vision for Giant Steps which he named after a John Coltrane album. In another stroke of unconscious genius, he also concluded that they would also produce it themselves. Totally against the smart money, the consequences were extraordinary.

Trying to summarise the journey the listener takes on it in a linear, song-by-song route is an impossible task and not really the point. As an example, opener I Hang Suspended begins with almost sixty seconds of Eno-type ambience before unexpectedly morphing into grungy, aggressive guitar rock, whilst some brass turns up randomly on Butterfly McQueen and Rodney King sounds like Kevin Shields mangling synth pop. We’ve definitely left Kansas.

This what’s-behind-door-number-three approach might’ve deterred the narrower musical palettes of the time, but thirty years on the spatter effect is glorious and there’s still plenty of orthodox thrills via the likes of Wishing I Was Skinny and the lush folk of Barney (..and Me), whilst Leaves and Sand was a quiet-loud psychedelic monster.

To say Giant Steps was well received at the time is a minor understatement; it was described as ‘momentous’ by Select whilst the NME went further and pitched it as, ‘the album every band you’ve ever met talks about at three in the morning’. Both drew comparisons to The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

Back now, in an age where artists’ back catalogues are being so joylessly pilfered, there can at least be no questions about bringing such an exceptional record back into public eye. No ephemera is really needed to sell its worth, but bonus material featuring St. Etienne remixes of Lazarus and Rodney King is diversionary enough.

Three decades on, Giant Steps is very much the record which should define The Boo Radleys‘ career, a magnum opus which is now if anything more essential.

They wrote a pop song later, but we don’t have to talk about that.

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