Unspun Heroes – Puressence, ‘Puressence’

Digging up treasure from the depths of our record collections

Formed in 1991, Puressence are the great lost Manchester band, who arrived just too late to capitalise on the Madchester boom. Whereas their idols The Stone Roses articulated the E-fuelled transcendence and bravado that characterised that scene, Puressence sketched the bleak comedown that followed, all icy atmospheres, cavernous reverb and self-doubt.

That sense of loss, of arriving out-of-time and after-the-event, coloured everything the foursome did. The artwork of their debut album, released in 1996, came plastered with images of rusting urban decay – a nod to their hometown’s post-industrial slump, with shades also, perhaps, of desolate communist Hungary, where singer James Mudriczki’s family had fled from, a generation before.

And it was Mudriczki’s voice that made Puressence so unique – an extraordinary, unearthly, soaring instrument that belied his geezerish demeanour, and meshed enthrallingly with guitarist Neil McDonald’s echoing guitar lines, recalling U2 at their darkest and most turbulent, circa ‘October’.

Those qualities came together in devastating fashion on opening track ‘Near Distance’ – a startling, ever-building epic, punctured with incongruous scally dialect (“Some little scabby young thing sucks me dry”), making it surely the greatest song ever written about searching for meaning and uplift in the wet streets of Manchester.

Of course, this being the height of Britpop, such expansiveness tended to be mocked as “bluster” by an unsympathetic music press. But here again, Puressence’s timing was out. Not long after, the qualities that made Puressence so unfashionable – soulful Northerners playing the Big Music – became a recipe for lasting success for the likes of Elbow and Doves.

It didn’t help that the band became overly slick on subsequent albums, losing some of their chilly, forbidding uniqueness. But this magnificent debut album – by turns both plaintive and gutturally anthemic – still stands as a towering miserablist masterpiece.