God, we’re often told, loves a trier. So it was with a heavy heart that I read last week about the impending demise of both The Bluetones and The Music, two stalwarts of a little sub-genre I like to call second-tier indie.
In the case of The Bluetones, Mark Morriss’ crew of sardonic Britpoppers at least had a good innings: eighteen years, six studio albums, and a smattering of great singles – ‘Slight Return’, ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’, ‘Never Going Nowhere’, ‘Autophilia’ et al – that future generations may come to regard with more enthusiasm than our own ever did.
The Music, meanwhile, arguably weren’t made of stern-enough stuff to deal with the slings and arrows of rock n’ roll (one NME interviewer once famously reduced frontman Robert Harvey to tears), but they did at least leave behind an indisputably ace debut album.
The Music – why they’ll be missed
So to mark their passing, let’s hear it for the nearly men, the flash-in-the-pans, the attention-immune, the unloved and unlucky, the coattail riders, the reliably ‘alright’ and the big-in-Japan bands: let’s hear it for second-tier indie.
They may not be original, they’re certainly not world-changing, and their last single probably entered the charts in the upper 200’s, but we’ve all got a few that we still hold a torch for, even when the centerpiece of their fourth-album promo schedule is a three-song live session on Radio Yeovil.
Now, I should stress that I don’t use the term ‘second-tier’ disparagingly. In fact, the world’s supply of abysmal ‘top-tier’ indie is disproportionately massive, and anyway, success is no barometer of talent: Pulp, one of the greatest bands of the last quarter-century, spent their first decade languishing in pop’s lower leagues.
So there’s no shame in saying that I kind of miss The Eastern Lane, think ‘A Symbol Of Modern Living’ by Paul Epworth’s old band Lomax is one of the most underrated albums of the last ten years, and that the world would be a better place if chronically-unfortunate Glaswegian nu-rave nutters Shitdisco were still around to write songs from the POV of Islamic suicide bombers.
But the real pillars of second-tier indie are the ones who stick it out; the bands who once filled the nation’s medium-sized venues and now man their own merch stalls, who are determined to view being dropped by their record label as “An opportunity”, and who never, ever entertain thoughts of jacking it in and going back to uni.
Somewhere in the world, The Datsuns are hard at work on their fifth album; that’s four more than the world was ever interested in. Stellastarr*, whose melodic alt-rock stole hearts back in the summer of 2003 – and who were supported on their first UK tour by a little-known Las Vegas group called The Killers – are still going strong, despite the fact that their last album wasn’t even released in this country.
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Who could begrudge The Stills their continued existence? And even though I couldn’t identify a member of The Faint if he walked up to me in broad daylight, extended his hand and said, “HI, I’M IN THE FAINT”, I sleep better at night knowing they’re still out there, making albums of danceable post-punk and living the dream.
Why do these bands keep doing it? Partly, one imagines, in the slim hope of transcending their status quo by achieving National-style levels of success and Walkmen-esque critical acclaim. But mainly it’s because they love what they do too much to quit. And that attitude commands a certain level of respect, even if you are talking about The Magic Numbers.
But enough from me; who are your second-tier indie darlings?